House debates

Tuesday, 23 May 2023

Grievance Debate


6:30 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Like the climate, the right to protest in Australia is under threat. It's under threat from Labor governments who are more concerned with protecting the profits of coal and gas corporations and increasingly introducing laws to put protesters in jail. In South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales, Labor is backing new laws which imprison people who are making legitimate peaceful protests against coal and gas corporations. Labor is standing up for private property and against the public interest.

Last week, brave activists stood outside the gas conference being held in Adelaide and demanded and end to fossil fuels. One woman, 69-year-old Ms Thorne, suspended herself from a bridge, blocking traffic to raise awareness of the damage gas is causing to our future. We should all be supporting her cause, but instead SA Labor rushed into parliament to introduce new antiprotest laws to give them the power to lock up anyone who obstructs a public place. At the same time, the world's scientists once again warned that we were heading into dangerous and uncharted territory, driven by mining and burning of coal, oil and gas.

The member for Macnamara is here interjecting, defending. The 69-year-old woman, Ms Thorne, is defending each and every one of our futures. The right to protest is a fundamental right. It's not something you can just write off because the gas industry doesn't like it.

Around the world people are increasingly being criminalised for fighting for a safe future. In February police in Western Australia raided the home of a climate campaigner who was opposed to Woodside's climate-wrecking profiteering, in what can only be called state-sanctioned intimidation. Under the laws in New South Wales, Violet Coco was sentenced to 15 months of prison for a protest on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. She was released after the court heard she'd been imprisoned on the false evidence of police. We need to protect the right to protest, not the coal and gas corporations.

Labor needs to remember its history. It needs to remember the importance of protest in the Labor movement and the many things protest has delivered to working people. We in the Greens do not forget our roots about the history and the importance of protest, which has protected the rivers, reefs and forests across the country which were going to be subjected to dangerous destruction.

We are in a housing crisis. Rents and mortgages are going through the roof, and people are waiting years and years for a public home as the waiting list grows longer. The fastest-growing group of people who are becoming homeless is children. There are nearly half a million women over the age of 45 who are at risk of not being able to find a secure place to live. It is incredibly stressful trying to find and keep secure housing, and it doesn't need to be. Housing should be a fundamental human right. In a country as wealthy as ours, everybody should have a secure home. No-one should be homeless.

For people in public housing, life is even more stressful because the Victorian government is selling off public housing land to property developers. Labor has always been too close to the property developers. Before the last election in Victoria, Labor proposed making developers pay a levy, which would have gone towards social and affordable housing. Under pressure from developers, they scrapped it and kept selling off public housing to private developers. The whole housing market is stacked towards profit and against people. We need to give the power and the homes back people.

Last week, two of my constituents, Brian and Marise, invited me over for a piece of cake and a chat about their experience living in public housing. Brian and Marise have lived in public housing for years. Over the course of about a year and a half, their home was flooded 10 times through no fault of their own. Each time, their furniture would be ruined, water would run into their electrics, their walls would become mouldy, their mattresses had to be replaced and their prized possessions, including Marise's own artworks, would be damaged. Understandably, this was a very stressful and disruptive time for Brian and Marise, who were moved into a motel for long periods of time each time the flooding occurred. The department offered no solutions and expected them to go on living like that forever. The folks in my office fought for Brian and Marise, and we were overjoyed when the couple finally got moved into a new property where they didn't have to live on high alert anymore.

These are the people who should be the focus of our public housing policies, not the developers or the wealthy landlords. Brian and Marise could be kicked out if their public home is sold off. Labor likes to say it's tackling the housing crisis, but really it is making it worse. It's pushing up rents, pushing up mortgages and giving billions in tax concessions to property moguls who've got more than three properties.

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I remind the member for Macnamara that the Leader of the Australian Greens is entitled to be heard.

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It's time to end the handouts and ensure that everyone has a secure place to live. To achieve that, we need a rent freeze now, we need to build more affordable and public homes, and we need to do that now.

Labor does not care about renters. What's worse than doing nothing? It is making the rental crisis worse. The gall of the members of this government, who brag about their supposed action on the housing crisis! Look at what they have done. They have lifted rent assistance by a measly $1.12 a day. That is $1.12 a day while rents in capital cities are growing 10 times faster than that, and there is nothing for the over 5½ million renters who don't get rent assistance. Yet they crow, skiting of the fact that they've done more, supposedly, than any government in the last 10 years, as if just being a bit better than Scott Morrison is the bar that we should be setting. That is not something to be proud of; that is a joke.

Rents are going through the roof. Real wages are going backwards at the fastest rate on record. More and more people can't keep their heads above water. Yet this government likes to pat itself on the back and given itself an achievement award for giving some renters about $1 a day. Labor likes to say that no-one will be left behind, but renters are being left behind. Labor is choosing not to address the rental crisis. Labor has chosen to spend $313 billion on stage 3 tax cuts for the wealthy. Labor has chosen to spend $368 billion on nuclear submarines. And Labor has chosen to give $74 billion to property moguls with three or more properties who are determined to drive up the cost of housing. That is $74 billion to push the cost of housing up out of reach of first home buyers and push up rents so that more and more people will be unable to have the basic security which comes with having a roof over your head.

Last week in the Victorian parliament, Labor joined with Moira Deeming to block an inquiry into the rental crisis. It bent over backwards to deny an opportunity to find out what's causing the rental crisis and what could be done right now about it. One renter sitting in the public gallery shouted, 'What a disgrace!' when Labor did all it could to stand in the way of parliamentary action to back renters.

We need a rent freeze now. Labor has controlled the cost of electricity, calling together parliaments from across the country and recalling this parliament for an emergency sitting. Government should start doing with rents what it did with power bills. We can control the cost of rents. Labor can drive this through National Cabinet, holding every seat at the table, except for Tasmania. We've had rent controls before, and we could have rent controls again. Rent control is a reasonable response to this crisis. It is unreasonable to expect a young person to be able to afford the rent when a landlord lifts it by $200 per week. It is outrageous to expect a nurse or a midwife, being paid what they are, to then be able to afford to rent in one of our capital cities. It is not okay to expect anyone to stand in the cold with 50 or 60 other people and beg to rent an overpriced and poorly maintained rental property.

The Prime Minister claims that rent controls are fairy dust, but he is wrong. Leave no-one behind. The Greens are the only party for renters. We are the only people who want to ensure that every person can afford a roof over their head. We are for the renters, and we are going to fight for the renters. We're not going to fight for the people who have scores of investment homes and keep giving them more money to push up prices and rents. We are for the people who are struggling to keep their heads above water. Labor might not care about renters, but you'd better believe that the Greens do.

6:40 pm

Photo of Matt BurnellMatt Burnell (Spence, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm in the Federation Chamber this evening to take part in my first grievance debate. This evening I feel more inclined to speak and reflect on the year that was rather than taking note of grievances and the name of this debate in a literal sense. But knowing myself all to well, and to avoid any possibility of misleading the House, I may air a grievance or two by the end.

A year and two days ago an election was held, in case there was anyone here that was unaware of that fact. This could be entirely possible if they managed to miss private members' business and 90-second statements over the past two sitting days—a difficult feat, indeed, but not completely impossible to accomplish. A year and two days ago the Australian people voted out a government, a government that spanned nine years and three prime ministers, and they did so for a new government, a Labor government, a government led by our Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, a government that handed down its second budget a fortnight ago today. No matter what one's opinion of what transpired on that fateful day, 21 May 2022, happens to be, we can all agree that it brought about a tectonic shift in the course of this nation. Any change of government is a defining moment in history, whether it be in Australia or abroad. We are a lucky country in Australia. Not everyone can claim to be in a country with a democratic system of government, one that leads to a peaceful transition of power.

Before I speak a bit more about our government, I'd like to reflect on this past year and two days since I became a member of this place. I am eternally grateful to the people of Spence for putting their faith in me to represent them here in the 47th parliament. There are certainly a number of other milestones that happened not long after, such as the first sitting day of this parliament on 26 July or even when I delivered my first speech on 1 August. But, for me, it all changed on election day last year. The sheer weight of the responsibility of knowing tens of thousands of people from my local area cast their vote to put me down to stand up for them really began to sink in on election night. It happened roughly the same time as the fatigue of the several long months on the campaign trail did as well.

It goes without saying how extremely proud I am of my electorate of Spence. The resilience it's shown to bounce back after the death of Holden is a remarkable achievement. I'm always the first to put the invitation out to the Albanese Labor government to visit Spence and see firsthand what makes this an incredible place to live and to ensure that Spence and the people that live in it remain at the forefront of our government's attention.

Only last week I had the privilege of hosting our Prime Minister and my South Australian colleague the Minister for Health and Aged Care in Spence and then the Treasurer two days afterwards. The Prime Minister was in Spence to talk about our government's policy to ease cost-of-living pressures for thousands of people in Spence when they visit their GP. For many people out there a visit to the GP was becoming not an option even at times when it should have been a necessity. Many doctors up in Spence still bulk-bill despite the cost to their clinics because they know that, at best, some of their patients would wind up in the emergency department to the detriment of others that are then forced to wait longer in addition to stretching the resources of the doctors and nursing staff on call at the time. But that scenario was the best case, as many of their patients drop off completely, ignoring warning signs that they might require medical attention. That's the human cost of policy neglect on full display. I'm glad we can now move the dial back in the right direction.

The Minister for Social Services came from one side of Adelaide to mine in Spence to talk about Labor's plan to make child care cheaper for many families not long after being elected. These are real savings. They are savings that help children reach their full potential the moment they start school. I have also been delighted to receive a visit from the Minister for Skills and Training, who talked to our local TAFE in Elizabeth, and to see many students reaping the benefit of the fee-free TAFE courses that our government has partnered with the state government to roll out. Seeing policies working on the ground is special in so many ways but is even more so in my backyard.

It is one thing to talk solely about policy and the Albanese Labor government's relentless agenda to enact its election commitments within its first year in office. I also want to touch a bit on the human experience of this past year, and I realise that I do so with the risk of exposing a little bit of how the sausage—or, more aptly, the democracy sausage—is made. I must admit that at the start I was somewhat sceptical when I was told that it wasn't unusual for members to work closely and form friendships with those on the other side of the chamber. On Mondays I may verbally joust with the member for Riverina during private members' business, and I shared some of the most rewarding experiences as part of a delegation to Kenya late last year.

This spirit was further reinforced by my involvement with the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties and the House Standing Committee on Agriculture. All too often it is only the rough and tumble of question time that the public gets to see or finds interesting enough to captivate its attention, albeit briefly, which is a shame. Committees perform a lot of vital work in examining and refining policy and legislation. For the most part, committees are an extremely collegiate environment that is propped up by the tireless and learned members of their respected secretariats.

This bipartisanship has extended to my participation in the Australian Defence Force Parliamentary Program, an excellent program that provides members of parliament, whether or not they have served before, with a better understanding of a variety of activities within the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. It was only in April that I and the member for Flinders spent a week submerged in HMAS Rankin, a Collins-class submarine. After my days as a seafarer, spending time on the seas is not entirely new. But to spend time below the sea was a new experience entirely, and to spend it with a fellow member of this place, along with scores of servicemen and service women, cramped in the claustrophobic confines of a submarine, was an absolute honour. I'd encourage all members to reach out to Lieutenant Colonel Andy Martin of the ADF Parliamentary Program to get involved.

Having a greater appreciation of those who serve goes hand in hand with having a greater appreciation of those who have served. I am a proud co-chair of Parliamentary Friends of Veterans, along with the member for Menzies. We, along with the Speaker, share the honour of having served with the 8/7 Royal Victoria Regiment. This is a friendship group that comprises members and senators from all sides of the chamber and all backgrounds. You needn't be a veteran to champion veterans' causes, but our parliament has 19 veterans amongst its ranks.

Ensuring tripartite unity and purpose amongst this wide cross-section of the parliament is important, for we in all likelihood expect to address the findings of the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide—something this government takes very seriously—and I am honoured to have such a good working relationship in this space with both the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and the Assistant Minister for Veterans' Affairs, who have both visited Spence, with the minister speaking with a number of veterans and veterans groups over in Salisbury last year. Spence is home not just to RAAF Base Edinburgh but also to the largest veteran population in South Australia, which is even more reason that we have to right past wrongs and to better serve those who served.

My trip on HMAS Rankin also shone a light on the need for Australia to update our fleet of submarines. Although I was underwater off the shores of Western Australia at the time, the experience brought me back to Spence and the immense value that the build of the AUKUS submarines will bring to my electorate. Our defence industry is strong up here, and I've had the pleasure of speaking to many innovative minds who have set up shop in my electorate and are using it as a staging area, not just for aiding Australia's sovereign capability but also for staging a comeback for manufacturing in the north after the closure of Holden.

Not long after the election we were brought to this building and shown the ropes by senior parliamentarians, chamber staff and other building staff. It was, in a very surreal way, like going back to school. I cannot overstate the support shown to me by some of my fellow 2022 classmates, particularly the member for Tangney, the member for Holt and the member for Hawke, who were my neighbours in this building before we were all moved to more-permanent lodgings on the eve of budget week. It was a surreal feeling knowing that as members of this place each of us is only one of 151 members of the House of Representatives in this, the 47th Parliament. That would be diluted slightly with 152. The number might rise slightly, but it does not diminish the fact that we have been tasked by our constituents to act in their interests and in the interests of our nation. This is a feeling that does not cease with familiarity. It does not cease over time. And this is important: not a single day should ever be taken for granted, and I look forward to capping off this government's second year in office in the not-too-distant future.