Thursday, 15 September 2016
Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016; Second Reading
As I was saying just before question time, we are dealing with this omnibus bill which is a political tactic—wrapping up a whole range of measures into one piece of legislation to avoid scrutiny. It has bypassed normal Senate process, we have not had a public inquiry, we have seen a deal to radically overhaul parts of this legislation which has not received any scrutiny and now we are debating this because an hours motion has been passed so that we stay in this place and pass this bill under the cloak of darkness. That is how we got here.
Let's look at some of the specific elements of this bill and at the merits of whether these changes are warranted. Specifically, I want to talk to the half a billion dollar cuts to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency that the coalition have put forward and that the Labor Party have now agreed to. Let's recognise the context in which these cuts are occurring. Last month was the hottest August ever on record. The past 11 months have been the hottest months for each of those respective months on record. That is the hottest year on record on the back of the previous year which was then the hottest year on record. We are breaking these records at an alarming rate. We are on the precipice of runaway global warming where our capacity to be able to mitigate these changes is slipping away from us. And let's look at what we are doing in response. We know that the Abbott government took away a price on pollution. We are the only country in the world to have a price on pollution and then remove it. We saw another grubby deal between the coalition and the Labor Party to slash the renewable energy target. And, now, we are taking half a billion dollars out of clean energy.
To give the coalition credit, their targets are pathetic when it comes to emission reduction. They are not based on science. So to achieve those paltry targets will not require much. At least the Labor Party have showed a little bit more ambition. They went to the last election campaign with a 50 per cent target for renewable energy by 2030 and economy-wide emissions reductions of 40 per cent below 2000 levels—not where it needs to be but certainly an improvement on past policy. Yet, their prescription for allowing us to achieve a 50 per cent renewable energy target is to, firstly, slash the renewable energy target and, secondly, to take money out of clean energy by taking out half a billion dollars from ARENA. This is magic pudding stuff. We are going to achieve our targets on renewables by taking money away from it and by reducing the targets that we know are the only mechanism in place to help us get there. They might as well join the tinfoil hat brigade from One Nation because their policy has as much merit as theirs.
We had the numbers in the Senate to block these cuts. We had Senator Xenophon who, I know, said that he did not support the cuts to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. We had Senator Hinch who expressed a similar opinion. Had the Labor Party joined with the Greens and with the crossbench, ARENA would now have half a billion dollars in additional investment. That is the impact of these cuts.
Let's look beyond the issue of renewable energy to the issue of family payments. The cuts, specifically, to family tax benefit A. We learned in this deal made a minute to midnight between the government and the Labor Party that there will be a cut in family tax benefit A for households of over $80,000. We have not had the opportunity to investigate those cuts to interrogate which families will be affected and exactly what impact they will have. Let's also remember that this is in the context of a tax cut, agreed to again by the coalition and Labor Party, for families on incomes over $80,000. So all of us in this place who are on significantly higher incomes are getting a tax cut while both the Labor Party and Liberal Party have decided to take away family tax benefit support for households at $80,000 and over. It is a tax cut for people earning many hundreds of thousands of dollars—it is still there—while we attack some of the more vulnerable people in this community. That is worth $1.6 billion. That was the agreement negotiated—again, between the two old parties. It is the biggest source of spending cuts in this bill. It will hit people hard. There is no scrutiny whatsoever for a deal struck at a minute to midnight. Yes, we are pleased that a number of people have been spared the cut to the clean energy supplement. That was effectively a cut to Newstart—to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.
ACOSS shared their disappointment during a public hearing that the Greens led, because we were denied the opportunity to have a formal Senate inquiry. This is what ACOSS had to say about the changes:
While people on income support payments have been spared from the proposed cuts, low income families will still be hurt by the loss of the Energy Supplement from family payments. A single parent family with two teenage children will lose $284 a year, or $5.50 a week.
That was the deal that the Labor Party struck with the coalition. The loss of the energy supplement, in the words of ACOSS, follows a series of cuts to these payments over the last few years, and ACOSS say that we simply cannot afford to further cut family payments. That is what we are dealing with right now.
You look at the youth payment cuts which remain before the parliament, and ACOSS say that that would result in an unemployed young person losing $47 a week and having to wait four weeks for payments. That is the deal that Bill Shorten said was consistent with Labor values—cuts to the most vulnerable people in society, slashing renewable energy investment; that is now what represents Labor values.
We know, of course, that there are some challenges in the budget and that this bill is designed to address some of the challenges in the budget. But why balance the budget on the back of some of the country's most vulnerable people? Why balance the budget on the back of cuts to clean energy when there are alternatives?
We put forward a number of those arguments to both the government and opposition and said: work with us to make Australia a fairer place and a more innovative nation that is actually leading the charge when it comes to tackling climate change rather than being a climate change laggard.
Let's, for example, start with the diesel fuel rebate. If we were to take away the diesel fuel rebate for the fossil fuel industry, if we were to take away those massive perks that the mining industry gets through accelerated depreciation, over $10 billion would be saved to help address some of the structural long-term issues within the budget. We do not need to take it out of the pockets of ordinary Australians.
We agree with the Labor Party—in fact we led the charge when it came to negative gearing. If only the government would listen to those many voices within the community—in fact most mainstream economists—to end the inequitable and distorting effect of negative gearing, coupled with those massive perks through the capital gains tax system and the discounts allowed, again, we could raise billions of dollars.
The government talks about the difficulties within the health system and has attempted through this bill to abolish Medicare funded dental care for kids—one of the proudest achievements of the Greens through the 2010 parliament. Rather than cutting Medicare funded dental care for kids—and I note the government has said they plan to bring forward specific legislation to deal with that issue at a future time—why not take away the inequitable, inefficient and distorting private health insurance rebate and reinvest that into the public health system? That is how you address spending. That is how you address the issue of structural problems within the budget.
This legislation that will make this country less fair. It will increase those structural inequality issues that we know are now embedded within our tax system. It will take us backwards when it comes to tackling dangerous climate change. It should have been rejected by the Labor Party; instead, it is up to the Greens to show that we are now the real opposition in this parliament.