Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 May 2023


Living School Lismore, Budget

7:40 pm

Photo of David ShoebridgeDavid Shoebridge (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

SHOEBRIDGE () (): Empowering young people to build a future they believe in is incredibly important, especially in the face of a government increasingly committed to producing a surplus, which is overtaking action to help struggling communities escape from poverty. This past weekend I was made aware of a wonderful example of this in Lismore in the Northern Rivers. The Living School is an independent school in Lismore. Last year, Lismore and the Northern Rivers were hit by the biggest floods in modern Australian history, and the school was flooded not once but twice. True to their ethos of creating a sustainable and socially-just future, the school has bounced back, with pontoon classrooms and old train carriages for learning rooms. In May, head middle school teacher Emma Wilson piloted a sustainability symposium with her kids and kids from other grades. In this symposium, students were taught design thinking strategies to solve practical real-world problems, empowering them to increase sustainability on their school campus and in the broader community.

One of the student projects was called 'loss stuffing'. This idea proposes lost-and-found clothing to be collected and repurposed into soft toys. A portion of the toys will be donated to children's charities and the other portion will be sold to the general public, to make it a self-funding project. It's a lovely, practical and imaginative idea that came from the students. Thinking critically and living sustainably are more important now than ever. I commend the work and the creativity of the students and teachers at the Living School in Lismore for their efforts to make this a reality and for their efforts to come out of the floods stronger, more together, with brighter ideas.

Twelve months ago this country voted for change. Instead, the Albanese government's first big budget has left millions behind. Funding for the NDIS has been cut, and the government will earn more from indebted students than coal and gas royalties. The Australia Institute recently released data showing the much-hyped petroleum resource rent tax, which is supposed to provide fair returns to the Australian people for the exploitation of our—the public's—natural resources. It turns out it will only raise $2.7 billion next year.

Labor is actually going to take more money from people paying off their student debts than it will be taking from some of the largest multinational fossil fuel companies in the world for their resource rent tax. Under Labor's budget, taxes on tobacco will be a whopping five times more than the PRRT. How is it fair that we are taking so little in tax from global multinationals who are trashing our environment and so much more from mainly poorer people who are addicted to tobacco? The $2.85-a day increase in JobSeeker, which was trumpeted by the government and the $8 to $16 a week increase in rental assistance go nowhere near breaking people out of poverty. It doesn't touch the sides of increasing rent and food prices; it is literally a fraction of what is needed.

We're told now isn't the time for bold spending in programs that address poverty, the cost-of-living and the climate crisis. We are told there's a surplus this year, but there are deficits forecast for coming years, so now is not the time. When will be the time? Will it be when deficits increase? Will it be closer to the election, when we know governments get even more frightened, less ambitious? How badly do people have to be suffering for Labor to make the structural decisions that will help them and their kids instead of helping the big end of town?

We have had a decade of brutal right-wing governments who shamelessly delivered for their billionaire mates. What we need now is a bloody lot more than a marginally progressive Labor Party that embarrassingly hands out crumbs. The fact is the right in politics acts with purpose. In this budget is anything to go by, Labor does haven't a separate agenda. Unless we change this pattern, our country will keep ratcheting more and more to the right.

Meanwhile, the political lock-stop on funding war and weapons is fully intact between the Labor and coalition. Remember when the coalition suggested we fund nuclear subs by cutting the NDIS? People were horrified. But that's literally what Labor has done in this budget. Next year, for the first time, defence spending will exceed $50 billion. This ongoing increase, largely for subs, is being funded by $74.5 billion in cuts to the NDIS over the next decade. Labor is literally delivering the coalition's plan to cut the NDIS to fund the nuclear submarine program.

Choices. This budget was about choices, and they're the choices Labor made.


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