Senate debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022


Excise Tariff Amendment (Cost of Living Support) Bill 2022, Customs Tariff Amendment (Cost of Living Support) Bill 2022; Second Reading

7:03 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I'll also be relatively brief, but I want to reflect on the fact that the opening of the Treasurer's budget speech last night was very grave. He said:

… as we gather, war rages in Europe.

The global pandemic is not over.

Devastating floods have battered our communities. We live in uncertain times.

Indeed, this parliament and parliaments and governments around the world are faced with these weighty issues, to which he could have added that we are living in an era when the planet's climate is breaking down around us. Yet, having set out in these Churchillian tones, the Treasurer proceeded to introduce a budget that, instead of rising to the gravity of the times and to the gravity of his opening remarks, is designed to do nothing more than get the government through to polling day in just a few short weeks.

The budget confirms that this government is completely devoid of a moral compass, 100 per cent transactional, politically and electorally desperate, and cynical to its core. The budget is nothing more than a money-for-votes pitch. Sure, people will be happy to see an extra $250 or $420 in their wallets or their tax returns, but, individually and as a nation, we'd be much better off if we had a government that actually addressed the weighty issues of our time and went about ensuring access to reliable, affordable and high-quality essential public services so that, in a country as wealthy, safe and prosperous as ours, no-one would actually need budget handouts on budget night just to help them pay next week's bills.

We'd also be much better off if we had a government which hadn't actively campaigned—as this government did in the last election—against the transition to electric vehicles. We all remember Mr Morrison three years ago doing his Chicken Little routine about electric vehicles being the end of the weekend. Well, how's the Prime Minister's weekend looking now? What's his solution? We've got a six-month cut to fuel excise proposed in this legislation. That could easily be wiped out overnight, before it even gets to the petrol pump, by a spike in global commodity prices and the endlessly voracious profit gouging of multinational oil and gas companies, who, let's not forget, have obscenely profited by contributing so massively to the breakdown of our climate.

So we've got temporary cash payments and a temporary cut to fuel excise. They both highlight that this government has no plan and no interest in addressing the fundamental cost-of-living pressures that people around the country are facing. Even with the temporary relief—and it's very temporary—that is offered by this budget, rents will still be going up thanks to this government giving $13 billion of tax breaks to property speculators in this budget so they can buy their third, fourth, fifth, 10th, 20th or 50th investment property. These tax breaks have turned what used to be regarded as homes for people into just another investment class. We will see medical expenses still going up, because this government is more interested in subsidising the profits of the private health corporations than it is in running a world-class public health system. We will see young people continuing to be priced out of a turbocharged housing market that is significantly increasing pressure on rents and pricing many people out of the rental market.

Young people will also still be saddled with crippling levels of student budget. In this budget, another $9 billion is added to the student debt in this country, thanks to a government made up of ministers who almost without exception got free university back in the day. We should be abolishing student debt in this country. That's what we should be doing, and we can afford it easily by making the big corporations and the billionaires pay their fair share of tax and ending the $10 billion that we see going every single year, including in the four out years of this budget, to direct public subsidies to burn fossil fuels. House insurance will continue to go up thanks to this government doing nothing to prepare cities and towns for the impact of climate change, whether that be floods, sea level rise or bushfires.

Meanwhile, what do we get in this budget? Confirmation that the millionaires and billionaires can look forward to a $9,000-a-year leg-up when the stage 3 tax cuts come into place. This is a budget where there are tiny cash handouts for people who are struggling to make ends meet. The $250 for people on business will lift a group of people out of poverty for two weeks and then plunge them straight back into poverty. Meanwhile, the billionaires get a $9,000-a-year tax cut in perpetuity. It's an utter, utter disgrace. For the rich and powerful, the billionaires, the big corporates—the planet cookers—the handouts in this budget are massive, just like they are in every budget each and every year that this government has been here. I will never forget—and I will never stop reminding the Senate of it—that the Prime Minister once infamously said: 'This government looks after its mates.' So it has in this budget, because this is a government of its mates, by its mates and for its mates.

The good news is that this country is less than 50 days away from kicking them out. We're going to see the back of this government that doesn't even believe in being a government. I genuinely hope that, when this parliament next convenes, we will have more Greens here in the Senate, and I believe we will, and that we will have more Greens in the House of Representatives as well, and I believe that we will. We actually have a positive vision for this country. With more Greens and with the Greens in the balance of power in the House of Representatives and the Senate, we can build more affordable housing; we can get rid of negative gearing and the capital gains tax concession; we can give people who are renting proper rights, so we can address the housing crisis head-on; we can get dental and mental health into Medicare; we can abolish student debt; we can keep coal and gas in the ground; we can restore a price on carbon pollution; we can protect the beautiful environment and the magnificent nature of this country; we can drive investment in clean energy; and we can make Australia a renewable energy superpower.

We need to do those things because, as the Treasurer said at the start of his budget speech, we are living in very challenging times. Our climate is breaking down around us. Economic inequality has been turbocharged. We are living through the sixth mass extinction event in the history of this planet. We need to take action to address those things. The budget did not take the necessary action, and that is because it is nothing other than a panicked scam—a desperate and cynical attempt to buy this government's way back into power. But what lets me sleep at night is that I know it's not going to work. I know it's not going to work because it is time that the Liberals are kicked out, and I genuinely believe the Australian people will do it this time around.

I hope the Australian people put the Greens in the balance of power in the Senate and in the House of Representatives so we can push the next government to go further and faster on those significant public policy areas that are the cause of some of the great challenges of our time.


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