Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 April 2019


Statement and Documents

9:36 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

On the eve of this latest budget being handed down, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology confirmed that this has been the hottest quarter on record. We are all staring down the biggest threat humanity has ever faced, and this budget pretends it doesn't exist. No wonder people are angry and fed up with politics. They're crying out for leadership, for a clear plan to tackle the climate breakdown and to transition us to a renewable economy, one that exports clean energy to the world instead of climate-damaging coal. They want to know that we've got a plan to look after people—those people who work in the coal industry—because they understand this transition is inevitable. They want a plan for jobs right across the country that are at risk from the climate change caused by the mining, burning and exporting of coal. They want a plan for farmers, for tourism operators, for people working in construction, hospitality and emergency services. But this budget is not planning for their future. Instead, environment funding has hit rock bottom, as Australia's animal extinction crisis—the worst in the entire world—accelerates. The budget's electric vehicles offering is an embarrassment, and the handout to big polluters continues.

This budget was an opportunity to protect our climate, our jobs, our farmlands and all the precious places we love—to fight for the Murray-Darling and the Great Barrier Reef and all of those communities who rely upon them. But this budget does none of these things, because this is a government that is totally lacking in vision and leadership. Their only plan is for their re-election—a cynical attempt to buy a few votes with election bribes instead of planning for this nation's future. It is verging on the criminal that the Liberals have budgeted just $189 million over the next four years to deal with the climate crisis that the Bureau of Meteorology is telling us is already here.

Meanwhile, over the coming four years, the next Australian government, whether it be Liberal or Labor, will spend 174 times that amount to subsidise the burning of fossil fuels. A staggering $33 billion is set aside in the budget papers to underwrite the burning of our planet. Money is going from people's hard-earned wages into the offshore accounts of polluting corporations set up in elaborate tax havens. This is nothing short of a betrayal of future generations. It's a betrayal because there is no economic strength, there is no hope for economic resilience, without a safe climate. We should have no expectation of continued economic prosperity if we continue to destroy the life system that sustains us.

Both the Reserve Bank and Australia's prudential regulator are telling us, very frankly, very clearly, that Australia's economy is dangerously exposed. They have made it clear that we've two big problems ahead. First, our economy is skewed towards carbon-intensive investments. We're an emissions-intensive economy and global capital is already moving to lower-emissions countries because they have less carbon risk. Across our economy, investments are exposed to dramatic price re-evaluations and stranded assets as the world moves on without us. Secondly, our agricultural and tourism exports are on the front line of climate change impacts. These crucially important industries have the most to lose from the breakdown of our climate system, destroying the crops and livelihoods and ruining those beautiful places that bring millions of visitors to our shores each year. From our temperate rainforests in Tasmania to our world-famous wine regions in South Australia, to the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, every one of these crucial national assets is at risk if we remain on our current path. Senator Hanson-Young reminds me of the impact on the Great Australian Bight—indeed, another one of those magnificent wild places that is under threat. Our country and our economy is hopelessly exposed but our leaders are more stubborn than ever. The tragedy is that the longer we delay serious action, the worse these problems become and the harder it is to get these multiplying risks under control.

There are more jobs in new industries devoted to protecting our environment, improving agriculture and cleaning up our energy system, heavy industry and transport than there are jobs in yesterday's dying, dirty industries. Yes, it's true that around 45,000 people are employed in the mining, burning and exporting of coal. But the Greens' alternative plan, the independently costed Renew Australia plan, would create four times the number of jobs every year over the decade. That is hundreds of thousands of new jobs—jobs in engineering, construction, planning, IT, research and development; jobs for designers, farmers, public servants, land managers; jobs in entirely new retail industries; jobs for our regions; and jobs for our cities. The science is crystal clear. A clean, modern jobs-rich economy is ours to make if we can embrace progress and invest in the technological solutions that are already available to us—but, no; instead, the Liberal government is standing in the way of progress, standing in the way of this transition. The Labor government-to-be aren't campaigning for change at the scale or the speed that is required—hardly a surprise. Dirty donations from the polluting coal, oil and gas industries are making sure of that.

One thing this budget does make clear is that our government doesn't lack the financial resources to solve the problems we face as a nation. What they lack is the political vision. Our collective wealth is being squandered with the $302 billion tax splash—a giveaway paid for by cutting public services over decades. Let me tell you what the Greens would do. The Greens would use this money to make TAFE and university free again. We would get dental care into Medicare. We would increase Newstart. We would build half a million new affordable homes, we would invest in a clean energy system and guess what? We would have billions to spare. But all the Liberals have are tax cuts. This is the full breadth and depth of what they think this country needs. Albert Einstein characterised this as insanity—trying to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

These tax cuts will expand economic inequality. These tax cuts will hamstring future parliaments from investing in quality schools and hospitals. These tax cuts will prevent us from creating the jobs that society needs but that a private market will never create. Of course, we know that the wealthiest Australians, those who rely least on the public services that have been cut, are the ones who will benefit most from these tax cuts. Middle- and low-income earners will pay for these tax cuts in crowded GP rooms and in hospital waiting rooms. They'll pay for them in overcrowded classrooms and with burnt-out teachers. Meanwhile, two-thirds of the infrastructure funding in this budget will go into military hardware—in other words, we are spending twice as much on machines of war as we are on public services.

We didn't get to this place out of nowhere. It's been through the long, slow and meticulous cultivation of political influence. This budget, like all budgets before it, is the product of a political system that can be bought and sold. Our political donation system is legal corruption. It is state-sanctioned bribery. Nowhere has the sale of our democracy been more damaging than in its impact on this government's pathetic climate and energy policies, as we saw in yesterday's budget. The coal, oil and gas industries have given $8 million to both parties. They have created a giant merry-go-round of money and favours in which cash goes in as private donations and comes back out in many multiples of public funding.

Let me give you an example. The gas industry is the fastest growing source of pollution in Australia but neither party will make it pay for its damage by reinstating the carbon price. Why? Because it makes big donations to both sides of politics year in, year out. Australia's now the world's biggest exporter of gas, and the Commonwealth isn't collecting a cent in royalties or superprofit taxes. It is hard to conceive of a public policy that is more broken than that. If this budget makes one thing clear, it is how much a strong Greens voice in the Senate is needed to push back against the tide of political donations and hold the next government to account on a whole range of issues, but climate change chief among them.

Now the Liberal Party is a lost cause. The National Party are a lost cause. We hope their days are numbered. But Labor's climate policy isn't based on the science of what needs to be done to keep our oceans from rising and our land from burning. It's based on neutralising a tricky political issue and keeping vested interests onside. Labor are more afraid of political damage than of the damage facing our forests and farms. They have proposed a 50 per cent Renewable Energy Target by 2030, when experts tell us that we'll exceed 80 per cent by doing nothing. Labor's climate policy actually reduces the amount of renewables rolling out rather than increases it. On coal, the situation is even more dire. Coal is the single biggest contributor to climate change and, given that 80 per cent of the coal that's mined in Australia is shipped off overseas, if you don't have a plan to phase out coal exports, you don't have a climate plan. It's as simple as that.

Of course, we know the Liberals are addicted to coal; they bring it into parliament and they cuddle it. They kiss it. They share it amongst themselves like a precious stone. But what is the Labor Party's plan on coal? Well, they don't have one. For them, it's just business as usual. Only a strong Greens voice in the Senate will push Labor hard to take real action. You know what? The good news is that we've done it before. Because of the Greens working constructively in a balance-of-power parliament with Labor in 2010, we got the world's best climate package and we drove the sharpest reduction in Australia's emissions on record. We've done it before, and we can do it again. Just consider what the alternative is: without the Greens in the Senate, the next government will be beholden to climate deniers like Pauline Hanson's One Nation. It's only the Greens who will help create a new, clean and resilient economy by getting the lobbyists and the donations out of politics and bringing the people in. Only then will we create a future for all of us.

People have had a gutful of politics as usual. We've had a gutful of it too. It doesn't have to be that way. Politics should give people something to believe in. At this election, the Greens are putting up big, bold evidence-based ideas that set Australia up for the future. We can tackle the big challenges we face as a nation. We can do it in a way that creates hundreds of thousands of new jobs, protects our environment and helps those people who have been left behind.

Of course, the Liberals don't want you to believe that an alternative is possible. They want you to think that the pressures and the problems that you're experiencing are all the fault of the people who have chosen to make Australia their home. But we know where the blame lies: it lies squarely at the feet of the Liberal and National parties, who have let big corporations rort the system for their own interests. Sadly, the Labor Party aren't much better. They want you to believe that the bare minimum is enough. We won't accept that. We will continue to use our influence in the Senate to ensure that we do more than the bare minimum.

Through our big, forward-looking ideas, the Greens have worked with the community already to set much of the agenda in our parliament: marriage equality, the banking royal commission, a bank levy, a royal commission into people with disabilities, a national anticorruption watchdog and a boost in funding for Landcare—I could go on and on. They are all the Greens' ideas, were all opposed by both major parties and are all now government policy. Our team will continue to set much of the agenda in the next parliament too, built on our clear, achievable, fully costed plan for our country.

Let me tell you a bit about that plan. It includes ending the billions of dollars in handouts to the mining industry and ending the $11 billion a year tax avoidance industry. We are doing that so that we can give every child a place in child care, so we can bring back free TAFE and university, and so we can lift Newstart and other government payments by $75 a week and return some dignity to the lives of those 838,000 Australians who depend on those payments, but are now committed to living a life of poverty. Our plan includes taxing capital gains like regular income and ending the tax breaks on investment properties so that we can build half a million sustainable and affordable community homes over the next decade. No-one in this country should be homeless. Everyone should be able to put a roof over their head. We would end the massive handouts to the private health insurance industry so that we can put those billions of dollars back into public hospitals, wipe out waiting lists and give everyone dental coverage under Medicare.

It is the Greens who have a concrete plan to create a publicly owned bank and energy retailer so that we can drive competition, lower the cost of essential services and bring an end to the toxic profit-at-all-costs mentality. It's the Greens' plan to ensure that the biggest polluters actually pay for the damage they are doing to our oceans and atmosphere. It's so we can fund the infrastructure we need to modernise our cities and regions and to get to 100 per cent clean energy by 2030 and so we can ensure a managed transition for coal-dependent communities.

With our evidence-based transition plan, we will phase out thermal coal exports over the next decade and build a clean energy export industry. It's an industry that will replace the dirty coal we currently ship overseas to our two biggest export markets—Japan and South Korea—with clean, hydrogen-based power. This is the vision that we Greens will bring to the next parliament. It's one that is based on science. It is one that is based on what is good for people. These are the values that we'll ensure are in future budget papers.

Getting rid of this rotten mob might feel good—I think it's going to feel bloody good, actually!—but it won't be good enough if the next Prime Minister is only marginally better, with a different coloured tie and an uninspiring and mediocre vision for the future. Our job is to make sure we do better than that. Our job is for us to be our best selves. The Greens are the only party that you can rely on to think about the future, to care for people and to fight for the environment. This is our commitment to all of you. We can't wait to get started when the 46th parliament returns!


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