Senate debates

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Governor-General's Speech


1:13 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Water) Share this | Hansard source

Today, at the start of the 44th Parliament of Australia, I would like to begin by welcoming and congratulating the new senators who have just been sworn into this place. I would particularly like to acknowledge the first Indigenous woman elected to the federal parliament, Senator Nova Peris. I am very much looking forward to working with Senator Peris, and I would like to acknowledge not only Senator Peris's connection to the Northern Territory but also her family and cultural connections to the Gija and Yawuru people in the Kimberley. I look forward to working with my Labor Party colleagues not only to hold the Abbott government to account but also to build support for Labor's alternative vision for the country. It is a big task but we will prevail.

I note that the Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, when he was in Western Australia during the federal election campaign, made a claim that he wanted to use the Barnett government as a template to run his own government. I can tell you that the Barnett government template operates under a veil of secrecy and deceit. That is exactly what we have also started to see from the Abbott government. It is hiding behind a veil of secrecy in its asylum-seeker policies. They have promised no cuts to health or education, and yet these agencies are lined up as part of the Commission of Audit; and yesterday's budget emergency has disappeared and here we have a lift in the debt ceiling with no comprehensive rationale and no mini-budget to outline why we are in this situation.

The Barnett government has indeed had its worst six months since being re-elected in March this year, and it has broken scores of promises. So on both fronts in my home state we have born-to-rule conservatives who will say and do anything to get elected. They said one thing before the election and quite another after. Mr Barnett did not come clean with the electorate about his real intentions before the election, and I think the coalition's true arrogance has come to the surface on both fronts. We have in the coalition in this nation born-to-rule conservatives who want to tear down fairness in our workplaces. They want to tear down action on climate change, they want to tear down equity in education, they want to tear down fairness in our taxation and superannuation systems and they want to make no contribution to quality of life in our cities, towns and remote communities. They want to tear down quality services, like the National Broadband Network and our postal services.

You could not get a clearer example of this than Colin Barnett claiming in parliament that 'Gonski is dead'. Colin Barnett did not tell the people of Western Australia before the state election that he intended to cut three per cent of the budget from every school around the state—that is, every school around the state has had a three per cent budget cut. He did not tell those schools that he was going to fund his government by imposing a levy on those schools—on each and every school around the state—of $600 for every teacher and $400 for other staff within the school. He did not want to tell the people of WA that he was going to impose a tax of $4,000 per child on educating the children of guest workers in the state.

Nor did Mr Barnett announce, which he just has, plans to lift TAFE fees by up to 500 per cent for some of the most in-demand but poorly-paid workers in the state. Aged-care TAFE qualifications will now cost up to 368 per cent more than they did before. Disability is up 576 per cent, health service assistance is up 265 per cent and nursing by 383 per cent. These are some of the most hard-to-staff positions around the state. At a time when these occupations are under such great demand, it is simply unreasonable and irrational—it is not in the interests of filling these positions to have fee increases of this scale.

The Barnett government has shown its true nature with its cuts to education and its true colours with cuts to public services. These are cuts that have hit my home state's most disadvantaged schools and its most disadvantaged students. We know already that these cuts have meant cuts to programs such as literacy, numeracy, English as a second language, children with learning difficulties, art, counselling and truancy services.

And in the same week that Colin Barnett announced all of this, what did Minister Pyne do? This happened in the same week that Minister Christopher Pyne confirmed that the coalition plans to rip up the six-year Gonski agreements in the five jurisdictions across our nation that had already signed on. So, gone is any incentive for Colin Barnett to lift his game and do the right thing by Western Australian students. That incentive has gone. Any accountability Colin Barnett had within the national coalition to lift his game and do the right thing has been destroyed.

The coalition is no better on many other questions, and I will start with the National Broadband Network. Cuts to the National Broadband Network in my home state of WA are to nearly 100,000 households—I think there were some 94,000 households in Perth and regional Western Australia that were due to be connected that will no longer be connected in the near future. These are places like Geraldton and Kojonup in our regions, Bateman in Perth; Katanning in the regions, Calista and many, many communities right around the state that were looking forward to, were planning around and were relying on the rollout of this infrastructure. I think it is a complete travesty and shows a great deal of lack of vision from the coalition.

The coalition has expressed concern about the need for productivity growth in this nation. Where does productivity growth in our nation come from? It comes in large part from quality infrastructure, and we know that the National Broadband Network, built properly, will have an enormous impact on the productivity of our nation. Similarly, the coalition is no better on dealing with the major issues confronting Perth communities. On the very same day that Alannah MacTiernan was preselected as Labor's candidate for the federal seat of Perth, Mr Tony Abbott was in WA saying we cannot expect a cent from him for WA's public transport system. The irony of this is significant—because Alannah MacTiernan was a fantastic planning and transport minister who oversaw the building of the railway line from Perth to Mandurah as well as of the freeway down to Bunbury. These are significant milestones that have made the lives of Western Australians, particularly those in Perth and Mandurah, much easier. Tony Abbott said that the Commonwealth has been in the business of funding 'national infrastructure':

'That means roads of national significance, it means freight rail but it doesn't mean urban rail, commuter rail …'

This is a terrible state of affairs for Western Australia.

I am proud of the fact that, in contrast, federal Labor delivered a substantial commitment to passenger rail. We delivered $236 million towards the sinking of the railway line in our city. Labor understand that our congestion problems in Western Australia are very real. It is why we put in $500 million for either the MAX light rail or the airport rail proposed by the Barnett government. For its costing of these projects, the Barnett government relied on the federal government to fund 80 per cent of the airport rail and 50 per cent of the MAX rail, despite the fact that Tony Abbott said he will not pay a cent towards them. So, on the one hand, you had a coalition state government budgeting for important public infrastructure and making election promises just in March this year off the back of a federal government commitment that only Labor was prepared to make, and Colin Barnett knew it. On the other hand, Mark McGowan's Metronet policy was fully costed and fully funded.

The people of Western Australia, in particular the people of Perth, are being done a great disservice by coalition governments right around the country. For both road users and public transport users we need efficient systems to keep our roads ticking over smoothly. Sadly, Tony Abbott has proclaimed that public transport is not in his knitting. But the people of Australia can be assured that public transport is in Labor's knitting, and we are as committed as ever; just as we are as committed as ever to capping pollution and acting on climate change; just as we are committed to a strong economy, a fair economy and fairness for workers; just as we are committed to foreign aid that creates a better life and opportunities for the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.

I acknowledge we had to make some tough decisions in government that impacted on the federal aid budget, but not once did we ever sway from the principles that our aid budget should continue to grow, and it did continue to grow, and that Australia had a responsibility to reach 0.5 per cent of our gross national income in foreign aid. This is in Australia's interests and it is the right thing for our country to do. We know that Australian aid has made an enormous difference right around the world. Western Australians have a strong mandate for Australian aid. You can see that in the hundreds of Western Australian schools, church and community groups and corporate supporters that all raise funds for overseas aid as well as in the hundreds of Western Australian local and returned overseas volunteers. This is something that Australians get; it is something that Australians think and feel is important. They feel it is morally important, because it is. Data from just 23 of the Australian Council for International Development members show that more than 14,000 people in the electorate of Hasluck, 23,000 in Fremantle, 23,000 in Perth and 20,000 in Durack are individual supporters of foreign aid projects globally.

In Minister Julie Bishop's electorate of Curtin, there are 32,000 individual overseas aid supporters. What a fantastic number of people. I know that her own constituency would object to the cutting of the foreign aid budget. It is appalling. There is a huge community mandate for foreign aid. Australians are generous and they want their government to give meaningfully. I do not think it is any wonder that, in the dying days of the last election campaign, the coalition just slipped in this massive cut to the foreign aid budget. I know that Julie Bishop made no mention of it at community forums held in her own electorate on the topic of foreign aid during the election campaign. This is the minister responsible and she made no mention that this was actually going to be policy. The forums were all about increasing support for our foreign aid program. Julie Bishop had, in fact, been busily reassuring Australia's aid community that the coalition's intentions were good. It is now up to Labor, hand in hand with the Australian community, to keep making the case for the importance of Australia's foreign aid efforts. Labor know that as the country of the fair go we should not be dragging our heels on this important moral issue, on this important principle of reducing world poverty. Labor's principle of a fair go does not stop at our border. We know that our concept of a fair go is part of a broader concept of human rights and human dignity.

Similarly, Labor knows we must hold true on the issue of climate change. We have before us a massive issue that needs to be dealt with now, and for future generations: we want our children to live in a world where people are properly cared for and to have an environment that is in at least as good a state as that which we currently enjoy.

The issue of climate change—which, as we all know, is scientifically proven—is a great moral dilemma that is now before our parliament. We have been burning fossil fuels and allowing large and small businesses and transport to pollute our atmosphere unfettered. We do not have the framework, without the legislation that is already in place in this nation, to help our economy lower its emissions in a responsible way. Instead, we have a coalition government that simply wants to repeal the tools that we need to manage our emissions.

I feel that we have a government and a Prime Minister that are effectively climate change sceptics. The repeal of the carbon tax and the desire to replace it with a second-rate system, the Direct Action Plan, is immoral and irresponsible. We know that carbon trading systems are the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions and should be at the centre of government efforts to tackle climate change. This is recognised by the OECD study Effective Carbon Prices,which found that policies such as feed-in tariffs, industry regulation and subsidies are much less economically preferable than carbon pricing. We know that this Direct Action Plan, of which very little detail has been released, essentially will seek to reward polluters by providing them with taxpayer funds to get them to attempt to reduce their pollution, without even a mandated cap. It is an extraordinarily inefficient way to seek to reduce our emissions. But I think there are many in the coalition who understand that this is the wrong path to go down. We heard Senator Cormann make reference to an ETS in his first speech to this place. I think that the Direct Action Plan will simply mean fewer services and increases in taxes for all Australians. It is a hidden carbon tax—just like the hidden taxes that Colin Barnett has foisted on the Western Australian public with his increases to utility charges and hikes in government fees across the board.

In closing, I want to say: Labor in opposition has a role to play not only in holding the Abbott government to account but also, I feel, most importantly, in campaigning on and continuing to build community support and momentum for the values we hold dear, and for an alternative vision for this nation, including foreign aid, climate change, education equity, secure retirement incomes, workplace fairness—all of these things. And we know we will have to fight for it. A progressive agenda does not create itself: it takes an engaged Labor movement and an engaged Labor community embedded in our towns and suburbs, our remote communities, our social media, our cities, our workplaces and our community centres. And I am here to tell you today, in this debate on the address-in-reply, that that is exactly what we will do.


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