Thursday, 15 September 2016
Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016; Second Reading
The Leader of the Opposition is the master of broken promises as outlined in this bill tonight. Back in 2014, opposition leader Bill Shorten proudly proclaimed, 'Labor will vote against these cuts to university funding and student support.' Well, what a difference two years can make—broken promises, and Blinky Bill has folded. These students are copping half a billion dollars' worth of cuts in this bill because the Labor Party did not have the gumption to stand up for them tonight.
These cuts will hurt vulnerable young Australians and make it harder for them to access quality, affordable higher education. It is one of the reasons I will now foreshadow that I will move a second reading amendment later this evening that outline these dangerous cuts and the sickening nature of using university students in this country as scapegoats for the government's budget repair.
The other issue that I, as a senator for South Australia, want to touch on briefly is my deep concern for the half a billion dollar cuts to ARENA and to renewable energy in this country. Ripping half a billion dollars from funding for renewable energy projects will hit my home state in South Australia the hardest. We are a leader when it comes to renewable energy, and we must be because we have to do something not just to tackle climate change but to deal with our ever-soaring electricity prices. We have a system in South Australia that is rigged towards the big energy producers, ripping off South Australian households and small businesses day in, day out. In order to bring those costs down, we need more diversity in our energy production and more diversity in the market. Today, we have Labor and Liberal senators from South Australia voting to make it even more difficult for the South Australian energy market and for South Australian households to deal with our energy crisis going forward. Gutting $500 million from investment in renewable technology will be devastating for South Australia, the state with the highest percentage of renewables in its energy mix.
With innovation and proper investment South Australia can be supported in being the leader of the nation and the world in renewable energy jobs and technology. Right when our state needs more support than ever from our federal government to invest in job creation, we have the Labor and Liberal parties ganging up here to cut one of the most richest job-creating industries that we have—that is, renewable energy. The solar thermal plant project in Port Augusta, which has been planned for a long time and has huge community support not just in that regional area but across our state, desperately needs that extra $100 million to bridge the gap to make this project viable. Where is it going to come from now that half a billion dollars has been cut from the organisation and the agency that was meant to fund it?
South Australia can lead the nation when it comes to investing in renewable energy and tackling dangerous global warming, but we are being let down by the old parties here in Canberra. It is time the government stood up to the vested interests of the fossil fuel companies, whether it is in energy production, the price gouging of electricity prices in my home state, or BP trying to drill in our Great Australian Bight. Here we have today the Labor and Liberal parties doing exactly what the big, old fossil fuel companies want more than anything—that is, to stick the boot into the development and the flourishing of the renewable energy sector. It is, frankly, outrageous that there are handouts given to the mining and fossil fuel companies every year. Yet, for the industry that we know we need to be investing in into the future, and that will be jobs rich, in South Australia alone thousands of jobs are on the line tonight because of this bill. Cutting half a billion dollars out of ARENA will cost jobs in South Australia.
I want to know what the South Australian Liberal senators and the South Australian Labor senators are going to say when they get back home to Adelaide tomorrow and explain to South Australians that they just cost jobs in South Australia because they gutted the renewable energy industry. Jobs in the solar thermal plant in Port Augusta will not go ahead now. Jobs that are needed in the wind industry in South Australia will not go ahead now. What will my South Australian colleagues say to the public back home? 'Oh, well, we just decided to cut renewable energy, but don't worry, Malcolm Turnbull has just confirmed that he's still going to give big tax cuts to business and high-income earners. She'll be right.' It is time that the government stood up to these vested interests and stopped propping up a dying, backwards-thinking and regressive industry that is so outdated that it cannot stand on its own two feet.
Hear in this chamber tonight we have the Labor Party and the Liberal Party pushing through a bill that has not had proper scrutiny. We have not been able to see all of the impacts of what their dirty deal is going to deliver. But what we do know is that it relies on three main things: cuts to renewable energy; putting action on climate change on the backburner; cuts to higher education and support for students; and making it harder for the most disadvantaged in our communities. Rather than making the big end of town pay a fair share of tax, rather than ensuring that we deal with things like negative gearing, proper reforms around the tax rorts of those who have massive superannuation fund contributions and, of course, the high-income earners who are about to get a tax cut, and rather than tackling actual inequality in the system we have the government and the Labor Party ganging up to stick the boot into renewable energy, education and welfare recipients. It is shameful. And it gets rushed through late at night on a Thursday at the end of a sitting week.
We know that the government needs to do it now because the only other big thing going on for the government is that we have a Prime Minister who cannot even get through his own agenda in his own cabinet. He is totally crippled by the right-wing grumps on his front and back benches.
Not many people in Australia would have even known who George Christensen was until recent weeks when all of a sudden he has been promoted, it seems, to prime adviser to the Prime Minister—calling the shots on what laws will pass this parliament, calling the shots on what laws will be put by the government of the day. I can tell you what: those right-wing grumps on the front and back bench of the Liberal Party do not give two hoots about the sustainability or certainty of the renewable energy industry and they certainly do not give a damn about the impact of cuts to education or support to students in this country. They do not give a damn about those who are on low incomes in this country who are struggling every day. They have just signed off on giving the richest people in this country a big tax rort and have let them off the hook when it comes to superannuation.
So we are debating a bill, because we need budget reform in this place, and yet we have just seen the Prime Minister say: 'We're in such a budget crisis. We'll start giving tax cuts to the wealthiest in this country.' Seriously, grow a spine.
And to the members of Labor Party here: if you care about tackling global warming, if you care about tackling inequality in this country, don't push this bill through—pathetic penny grabbing from those who can least afford it; a bill like this that attacks the poor, attacks renewable energy, attacks students. Instead, show some spine when it comes to standing up to those tax cuts for Australia's richest people.
The wealthy in this country are about to get a lovely Christmas bonus. That is the bill we going to be dealing with when we come back after this week is over. The last few weeks of sitting are going to be dominated by giving the rich not as much reform as we need in terms of superannuation, but we are going to be giving them tax cuts, because the Labor Party cannot stand up to Malcolm Turnbull.
The people standing up to Malcolm Turnbull right now are the rabid right wing of his party, and it has made him a weak Prime Minister, backed now by a weak Leader of the Opposition.