Senate debates

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Governor-General's Speech


1:40 pm

Photo of Robert SimmsRobert Simms (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

As I was saying, the ACL are an extremist, fringe organisation, and their views are being legitimised by the Treasurer and, by extension, by Mr Turnbull. He is the leader of this government. Why hasn't he taken action to bring his Treasurer into line? We know that he failed to do so when Mr Abbott flew to the United States to speak to a similar hate group earlier this year. Mr Turnbull sat back and said nothing because he is captive to the conservative forces on his backbench.

We saw that same approach used on the issue of Safe Schools as well. We had this ridiculous situation where Senator Bernardi came into this place and made a range of outlandish and bizarre claims, and, rather than condemning them—and a leader of vision and courage would have done that; he would have stared Senator Bernardi down and told him that he was on the wrong course—what we saw Mr Turnbull do was capitulate to Senator Bernardi, cave in and force an inquiry into Safe Schools.

Lo and behold the inquiry came back and said that, actually, this is a good program and it does not need significant change. But that was not enough to appease the conservative forces on the coalition backbench. That was not enough to appease them. So what did Mr Turnbull do? He did not show leadership. He did not stare them down and say, no, we are going to support this program because it is about making schools safe for kids; it is about supporting LGBTI young people. No, of course he did not do that. He backflipped. He flip-flopped. That is his modus operandi. He caves in and supports the likes of Senator Bernardi, who is coming in here now. This is emblematic of the approach that has been taken by Mr Turnbull on so many issues.

Senator Bernardi interjecting—

That's right. The man behind the throne walked into the room dictating the policy agenda of Mr Turnbull. That is his approach. We know who is calling the shots, Senator Bernardi. But that brings me to the issue of higher education, another portfolio of mine and the key priority for the Greens during this election.

When Mr Turnbull took on the Prime Ministership many Australians said that we might see a different direction—maybe we will see Mr Turnbull drop the appalling, unpopular agenda for deregulation of university fees. This Senate played a critical role in defeating that appalling agenda, one that was going to price people out of university in this country. We saw the Senate knock it back. But now we see the Liberal Party under Mr Turnbull electrifying that cause, bringing it back from the dead. Deregulation will be back on the agenda after this federal election.

We have also seen the Liberals talking a lot about wanting to hike up student fees even further, lowering the threshold so that you start paying back university fees at an earlier point but also by hiking up fees for HECS and HELP. We saw the consequences of that in the PBO costings that showed that the HECS liability in this country could blow out to $180 billion. Well, the Liberals like to talk a lot about debt, don't they? They talk a lot about debt, but they do not mind shifting the debt burden onto young Australians so that they leave university with a HECS debt that is bigger than a house deposit. They have no hesitation in doing that and shifting the debt onto individuals. They have no problem with that.

The education minister may not be able to remember what his HELP or HECS debt was, but he is ensuring that every Australian who goes to university will never forget their HECS and HELP debt. They will be paying it for a generation, if the Liberals get their way with $100,000 degrees. That is the agenda of the Liberal Party that is being pursued by Mr Turnbull. That is the agenda that we are seeing as part of the vision of this new government—talking a lot about innovation, talking a lot about job creation, but when it comes to putting the ideas on the table, putting the meat on the bones, having the investment in universities that our nation requires and making universities accessible and affordable to everybody Mr Turnbull is missing in action, as he is on so many issues.

But let's also consider the issue of climate change. When Mr Turnbull was opposition leader he was rolled by his party over the issue of climate change. For many Australians he has often represented some leadership on this issue. But what does he do when he finally gets the opportunity to pursue this issue, which is a key priority for our nation and our planet? What does he do? He does nothing at all. We see the Liberals still pushing these pathetic targets that the climate sceptic Tony Abbott endorsed as Prime Minister. We have Mr Turnbull still pursuing that same policy agenda. This is in stark contrast to the vision and the courage shown by the Greens on this issue. Just recently the Greens announced our plan for a national renewable energy target of 90 per cent by 2030 to stimulate investment in renewables but also to create thousands of new jobs across our country at a time when we desperately need them.

The Greens have also been leading the debate on negative gearing. Obviously we welcome the Labor Party's interest in the issue, but it was the Greens who kicked off this debate some time ago. But we have the Liberal Party under Mr Turnbull once again showing no leadership, no vision, no courage on that issue. We have young Australians being priced out of ever being able to afford to buy a home, and we have the Liberal Party sitting on their hands and doing nothing about it because they continue to be captive to the big end of town. That is Mr Turnbull's leadership model. They continue to be captive to the big end of town in business and they continue to be captive to the conservative forces on their back bench, the likes of Senator Bernardi, who is smiling and laughing, no doubt relishing the power and authority he has over our Prime Minister as kingmaker and someone who is dictating so much of the vision of this Prime Minister during this term.

The Australian people are looking for a better approach from this election. They are looking for politicians that have leadership, that have vision and that have the courage to offer new solutions for our nation's future. The Greens have a positive vision for the future of our country and we look forward to talking to the Australian people about that in the coming days.


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