Senate debates

Thursday, 20 March 2014


Western Australia State Election

4:29 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

At the request of Senator Siewert, I move:

That the Senate notes the upcoming Western Australian by-election will have significant implications for the people and the environment of Australia in the face of the Abbott Government.

This is a critical issue for people to think about as we approach the election. The Abbott government has already made it very clear that it is going to make life harder for people. The Abbott government is certainly going to mount a massive attack on the environment. That is why people really need to think about it.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

I am glad that Senator Macdonald has raised the issue of jobs, because I intend to address this at length in relation to how the Abbott government just does not have a vision for jobs in Western Australia. Not only do they want to attack the environment, but they will actually undermine employment in the west and make life much harder for people. We know that the Commission of Audit report is not being released ahead of the election because the Abbott government wants to hide from the people of Western Australia the truth about which programs they intend to cut and how many jobs will go from all sectors including nongovernment sectors. People offering support to the homeless and people who are out there working at every level in the community now know that their jobs are likely to go and that their programs are likely to be slashed as a result of the Commission of Audit.

This election in Western Australia is critical because it gives the people of Western Australia a second chance. They have now seen the Abbott government in action, and they have an opportunity to address these issues and ask questions. My colleague Senator Ludlam has made a fantastic contribution to the Australian parliament on behalf of the people of Western Australia. He has challenged the candidates from the other parties in this election to a debate on jobs and the economy but, interestingly, the government will not debate anyone on the issue of jobs in Western Australia.

There was a rather contemptuous response when Senator Ludlam asked Western Australian Liberal Senator Mathias Cormann repeatedly about having a debate on the future of jobs and the economy and whether the Liberal Party has a long-term plan for Western Australia's economy. They clearly do not have a plan.

In the House of Representatives, when my colleague the Greens Deputy Leader Adam Bandt, the member for Melbourne, asked about the plan for Western Australia after the mining boom, the only answer was that they are waiting for the next boom. They are not talking about any other future for Western Australia other than one of digging and shipping away. There is no other plan from the Liberal Party or the Abbott government for Western Australia.

So I again issue the challenge that Senator Ludlam has put out there. It is time for the candidates at this Senate election to stand together and to debate what the plan is for Western Australian jobs after the boom. What is the plan to address homelessness in Western Australia? What is the plan to get renewable energy really pumping in Western Australia?

Already, the jobs boom from the construction of new resource projects is slowing down in Western Australia. China, as we know, is the biggest consumer of Western Australia's resources. That country is transitioning from an economy driven by government-led construction to one driven by domestic consumption, and that is leading to a lessening in demand.

Unemployment in Western Australia is rising but the Abbott government has absolutely no plan to address it. In fact, he is hurting Western Australian workers by seeking to deny Western Australian investment opportunities in renewable energy by cutting the federal Public Service, by cutting funding to many support services through the community and by opening loopholes for more 457 visas.

Western Australia can be much more than just a mining state. That is where my colleague Senator Ludlam and the Greens have a very strong plan—a vision of a clean, thriving economy beyond the mining boom. That plan recognises that the future economy will be driven by renewable energy and that there will be diverse, cutting-edge manufacturing. That plan will build a 21st century Australia with construction and service industries. We have to get beyond the quarry vision and get to a vision about knowledge, service, information, sophisticated manufacturing and renewable energy.

I want to go specifically to renewable energy, because we have seen some disgraceful behaviour in the last few days from some candidates in the election. In Western Australia we had the Palmer United Party candidate saying that he absolutely supported the 41,000 gigawatt-hour large-scale renewable energy target and that they would not fiddle with the small-scale target. But the truth came out today from the leader of the Palmer United Party, who said that he did not support a mandatory renewable energy target. He thinks it should be voluntary. Well, a voluntary renewable energy target is no target at all. It is a recipe to give the coal barons what they would like. Why wouldn't I be surprised by that when Clive Palmer himself—the leader of the Palmer United Party—is a coal baron? No wonder they do not support the renewable energy target! The Greens do. We want to see 100 per cent renewable energy as quickly as we can get there. Not only do we guarantee not to fiddle with the existing target or, in any way to weaken it; we want to make it a lot stronger. We are already seeing the jobs-rich opportunities from clean energy and we should be fast-tracking construction of Australia's first large-scale solar thermal plant in the Goldfields, Midwest and central Pilbara

I went with Senator Ludlam to Seville in Spain to look at a solar-thermal plant. As we stood there amongst these massive mirrors, looking up to the solar-thermal plant, we wondered why we couldn't be having this in Australia, where we have better resources. It would be fantastic for us. The Greens have a vision, and Senator Ludlam released 'Energy 2029: The Greens 100% renewable stationary energy plan for WA' earlier this year. There is absolutely no technical or engineering reason it could not happen; the only thing stopping it is the lack of political will.

When I was in Western Australia recently, I went to visit the company Solargain with Senator Ludlam. Established in 2005, it is the largest solar provider in WA; its commercial solar division employs the equivalent of around 110 full-time staff plus further indirect employees, including installers and specialist equipment providers. It will be installing solar systems to around 20 large businesses in Western Australia alone over the next few months and, to date, it has installed more than 30,000 systems nationwide, including a 99-kilowatt system at Worldwide Online Printing in Cannington. During the visit to their factory, Solargain's CEO, Mr Mercuri, expressed strong concerns about the uncertainty over the renewable energy target.

It is an uncertainty right across the country, and that is why the motion today refers specifically to the implications for the people and environment of Australia as a result of the by-election in Western Australia. If the people of Western Australia want to see the rollout of renewable energy across the country and if they want to see the renewable energy target retained, then we have to keep the Climate Change Authority, which has legislative power to review the renewable energy target. It is not like this shonky review that the government is now undertaking with four climate deniers. We already know what the outcome of that review is going to be. We need to keep the Climate Change Authority to do its work. Western Australia can do that for the nation.

Equally we need to keep the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which is rolling out billions of dollars worth of projects. It is leveraging private sector capital, and it is doing a fantastic job. We have a scenario where the government would want to dismantle it and they have reintroduced legislation to try to do so. That is why the Western Australian Senate election matters so much: the people of Western Australia can send that very strong message.

What we already know is that there are hundreds of jobs in Western Australia in the renewable energy industry. For example, we know that the rooftop solar industry has already delivered over 18,500 new jobs, created 4,500 solar businesses and has resulted in 3,000 megawatts of solar installation across Australia. If the RET is abolished, it is estimated that 81 per cent of solar firms will cut staff and up to 12½ thousand solar jobs could go, according to the Australian Solar Council. With no policy change, an additional 8,000 solar PV jobs would be created by 2018. Never let it be said that the Greens are not in there creating jobs—by driving the renewable energy target we are creating jobs.

I want to turn to the mining industry for a moment, because here is another nonsense from the Abbott government—that getting rid of the mining tax will create jobs. It will not create jobs; in fact, it will cost jobs. I refer particularly to a recent article by Ross Gittins, 'Ending mining tax will damage jobs'. Why is that? Mining is so capital intensive that, although it now accounts for an amazing 10 per cent of GDP, it still accounts for a mere 2.4 per cent of total employment. I would add to that that total employment is falling as you go from the construction stage to the actual production stage in those mines. What that means is that if you want the mining industry to generate jobs, the only way you are going to do it is to tax the profits of that industry. Otherwise, it is an 80 per cent foreign owned industry. They dig up the resource and they send it overseas, and the profits go overseas with it. If you want jobs in Australia from the mining industry, the only way you will get it is to have the mining industry pay its fair share of taxation, and that money is then recirculated through the economy and creates jobs. That is the critical thing. For our economy and for our workers to benefit adequately from the exploitation of our natural endowment by mainly foreign companies, our government has to ensure it gets a fair whack of the economic rents these foreigners generate. That is Ross Gittins' argument and it is absolutely true.

The only reason that the mining tax has not generated the profits that it should have is not that the mining companies are not making profits; it is just the big mistake that the Gillard government made in negotiating the tax with the big miners in order to get a political win and the big miners got the financial win. They are making mega profits. They are already making those profits, and we should be getting that money from the profits and putting it through the economy to create jobs. That is precisely what the Greens are seeking to do. We have a very clear plan for jobs in the future, but we are also aware of the very big downside of the mining industry in Western Australia and that is the impact it has had on rents and homelessness and housing availability.

One aspect of the plan that the Greens have for Western Australia is supporting ongoing construction, design and manufacturing jobs, through the building of 21,500 new homes in Western Australia over the next 10 years. What that will do is to use plantation timber to build the prefabricated housing and roll it out. Right now in Western Australia, on any given night, there are 9,575 people experiencing homelessness, and one quarter of those are under 18.

I am proud to be an ambassador for action on youth homelessness. That is going to be a big focus in the coming month. In Western Australia, this is a big issue. It is the case that 45,800 people are on the social housing waiting list. Waiting times for a home average 2½ years, but up to 10 years in Perth and up to seven years in Fremantle, Albury and Bunbury. In view of mining prosperity and homes that cost $2,100 to rent, Western Australians in Port Hedland are sleeping under corrugated iron and waiting four years for a home. We have an overall supply gap in Western Australia of at least 50,000 affordable rental homes, and that is why the Greens have a national housing road map with an ambitious plan to address it.

When I was in Western Australia, I went to Foyer Oxford. It was a fantastic experience to go there and see the 98 units in that facility that help young homeless people. We asked some of those young homeless people, 'How do you find this facility?' One young guy turned around and said, 'This facility is awesome,' because for the first time he had a safe, secure place to go home to. He was on a contract to educate himself to be able to get a job and he had two years of certainty about housing. That was an amazing experience. But we know that there are so few crisis accommodation places in Western Australia to meet the need. That is why we need a mining tax that works. That is why the Greens are saying that we should not be abolishing the mining tax; we should be fixing it so that we get a decent return from the resources that are being extracted by foreign owned companies. We should be putting that money into services like the one that I saw at Foyer Oxford and we should be using our plantation timber to build the prefabricated houses that can roll out and create jobs in Western Australia and address the homelessness gap.

Senator Ludlam has worked incredibly hard to present an integrated plan for Western Australia. Another feature of the plan that the Greens have for Western Australia is investing in our public transport system, including the light rail project that was axed by Premier Barnett and Tony Abbott. That is just a disaster because of traffic congestion. Everybody knows that if you want to have a competitive city of the future you need to have a good public transport system. The work that Senator Ludlam has done has included working on developing the public transport corridors and looking at housing along those corridors. Not only is it a great solution for quality of life in Western Australia; it is a great environmental outcome.

So we are putting to the Senate today that the upcoming Western Australian by-election will have significant implications for people and the environment in Australia. I have outlined how a vote for the Greens in Western Australia, a vote against the Abbott government in Western Australia, will be a vote to maintain and roll out more renewable energy. It will be a vote to look after the environment. It will be a vote to address global warming in a serious way and not to just see the absolute sham of Direct Action. There was a great article that Paul Burke, an economist, wrote recently, where he said: 'Direct Action is the hastily bought present you would get for your aunty's fourth wedding.' That is about where it is up to in terms of what Direct Action actually means. That is about the extent of it.

We have a plan for Western Australia: a recognition that we need to address global warming, roll out jobs and have the mining tax fixed so that it actually generates income for Australia that can be spent on addressing things like homelessness and developing a better quality of life in our cities. I also want to mention the other aspect of this in terms of the attack on the environment. We have seen the most concerted attack on the environment from the Abbott government. The decision to try to hand back to the states the ability to manage enforcement and compliance on projects has been shown to be a sham, with Colin Barnett. My colleague Senator Siewert will also add to this, speaking about the shark cull, which we totally oppose.

4:49 pm

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a great privilege to be able to participate in this debate today. My Western Australian colleague Senator Back will follow me and I understand that my other Western Australian Senate colleague Senator Eggleston will also follow me. Let's be clear: on 5 April, Western Australians should not reward Labor and they should not reward the Australian Greens for the handbrake they are putting on the Western Australian economy and the handbrake they are putting on the future livelihoods of Western Australians and their families.

I am pleased to participate in the debate on this motion brought before the Senate this afternoon by Senator Siewert. The Western Australian Senate election rerun on 5 April is a historic occasion in a number of important respects. The most historic element of this is that, as a result of the upcoming ballot, the Australian Labor Party has discovered that there is a place known as Western Australia. Not in my life so far have I heard so much talk from members of the Australian Labor Party about my home state, Western Australia, as I have in the parliament in the last week. Displaying all zealotry that is characteristic of recent converts, Labor senators seem to be engaged in an internal competition of sorts. There might be a prize being offered by the Labor whip for which Labor senators can get Western Australia recorded in the Hansard on the most occasions this particular week. I see Senator Sterle sitting across from me and he will make a mighty effort, I am sure. It is just unfortunate for them that enthusiasm and understanding are not the same thing, because if Labor and the Australian Greens senators think that coming in this place and only now talking about Western Australia, and talking about Western Australia in the next few weeks leading up to 5 April, is fooling voters in Western Australia they have another think coming.

Labor and the Australian Greens had six years—one, two, three, four, five, six—including three years—one, two, three—working in very close partnership to deliver for Western Australia. Let us look at the record of what was actually delivered. First there was the carbon tax—a tax that cost the Western Australian economy $626 million in 2012-13 and failed to deliver any tangible environmental benefits. It is a tax that is still supported in this place by senators from the Labor Party and the Australian Greens. They are still voting together to prevent the coalition's efforts to repeal the carbon tax. This is their idea of standing up for Western Australia. This is a strange way of standing up for Western Australia. What makes this attitude especially puzzling to me, especially in relation to the Australian Labor Party, is that they can hardly argue that the Abbott government do not have a mandate to repeal the carbon tax. We know that Labor MPs understand that their carbon tax was a key factor in their collapse and the collapse of the previous Labor government. Some of the them were even smart enough to try and do something about it.

Let us go back to the middle of 2012 to an article in the Sunday Herald Sun. Its headline reads: 'Carbon tax has Labor MPs rattled'. In that story written by Samantha Maiden, it says:

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard faces backbench unrest about the carbon tax, with sceptics quietly planning to push for changes to the tax - or the leadership.

The story goes on to quote an unnamed Labor MP saying:

I just hate the carbon tax. Never wanted it …

We might have a few like-minded sceptics coming out. If I had my way we wouldn't be having a carbon tax …

So there were people in the then government who were acutely aware that this policy was a flop and a failure and it was going down badly in the electorate. But then, in the very same article, the real power within the Labor Party is revealed. It goes on to say:

Australian Workers Union president Bill Ludwig said there was little prospect of change to the carbon tax.

"Nothing will happen. It's set in stone. It will all be alright, don't worry about it," he said.

So there we have the Australian Workers Union leading the cheer squad for a tax that destroys jobs. Is it any wonder that union membership in this country continues to fall? 'Why are the views of the Australian Workers Union relevant to this issue?' you might ask. It is worth thinking about this for a particular moment. Who else in this place might owe a favour or two, indeed owe their political career, to the Australian Workers Union? I can see Senator Mason mulling over the question now. Let me help you, Senator Mason. It might actually be the current Leader of the Opposition, the member for Maribyrnong, Mr Shorten. The Leader of the Opposition built his public profile as the secretary of the Australian Workers Union. He used that union support and its numbers to gain preselection in his seat when he was first elected in 2007. The current secretary of the Australian Workers Union is Paul Howes—it will not come as a surprise to those on the other side of the chamber—who is known to many Australians for his key role in the 2010 coup that cut down Kevin Rudd and delivered the prime ministership to Julia Gillard. Of course, we all know that Mr Shorten was also heavily involved in that operation. It was an AWU backed effort.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I ask that you advise the senator that he needs to refer to the topic at hand and bring him back to relevance.

Photo of Mark FurnerMark Furner (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Generally during these discussions a broad range of issues are raised. There is no point of order.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The performance of the former previous Labor government in regard to Western Australia is rich with issues; it is rich with content. I am looking forward to using my full 20 minutes to share with you the rich content that I have. I am just starting on the carbon tax. I will move to the minerals resource rent tax. I will move to the issue of border protection. I am hoping that I can get to your No. 1 Senate candidate, who is reported in this article here—

Photo of Mark FurnerMark Furner (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Smith, you know that props are not to be used in this chamber.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My apologies, Mr Acting Deputy President. I am reminded of that point. I will not use my prop. The Leader of the Opposition, as we know, built his public profile as the secretary of the Australian Workers Union. We know that the current secretary of the AWU is Paul Howes, who is now known to many Australians for his key role in the 2010 coup.

Senator Polley interjecting

This is a very important speech, Senator Polley. I have got lots to talk about. If you could let me speak uninterrupted, I would like to move through the critical issue of the union movement and the carbon tax and ridding Western Australians of jobs. There is a link between the trade union movement and jobs. I hope you are aware of that. The carbon tax is acting to limit job growth. So 3½ years on, several Labor leadership battles and a change of government leader, what did we find? We find the AWU is still in the vanguard of the pro-carbon tax movement, despite a devastating election defeat for the Labor Party based in large part on its introduction of a job destroying carbon tax.

A union that is supposed to represent the interests of working Australians continues to support a tax that destroys jobs for working people. It does not make sense. Who is leading the push for the retention of the carbon tax, which Australians so clearly rejected on Saturday, 7 September? The AWU's Paul Howes has urged Labor MPs to fight to save the tax, and now the Labor leader who owes it all to the AWU is falling right in step with his union's position. Mr Shorten may have changed his mind on the Labor leadership on several occasions over the last few years but his devotion to the carbon tax remains unstinting.

Just to summarise: in relation to the carbon tax, the Labor and the Greens senators in this place, including those who are supposed to represent Western Australia, saw their vote plummet last September. Let me remind you, Senator Sterle, just how much it plummeted. In Labor's case it had a record low for Western Australia. Labor's primary vote was—Senator Sterle, can you guess?—close to 30 per cent. The Labor Party's primary vote in Western Australia was 28.7 per cent. If that were not enough of a message, fewer than one in three Western Australians were prepared to support Labor on the election day last September.

The benefits for Western Australian households that flow from scrapping Labor's carbon tax will leave households right around the nation, including of course in Western Australia, on average $550 better off. Without a carbon tax, household electricity bills in the next financial year for West Australians could be on average $200 cheaper. Household gas could be $70 cheaper. Who is standing in the way of this cost-of-living saving for Western Australian families? The Australian Labor Party, aided and abetted by the Australian Greens.

One of the great furphies that the previous Labor government pushed when it was trying to introduce its carbon tax was that it would only be paid by what they called the 'big polluters'. As anyone with a modicum of common sense can tell you, this was utter nonsense. It stands to reason that, if businesses and manufacturers find their energy costs increasing as a result of a carbon tax, they are not simply going to shrug their shoulders and cop it. They will pass the increased costs along to consumers, and that is the basic concept that was taught to many of us in high school economics across our country.

Yet it is a basic concept that is apparently beyond the wit of the members of the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens in this place, who continue to deny that their carbon tax is responsible for placing upward pressure on the cost of living for Western Australian families. Far from impacting only on the 'big polluters', as Labor and the Greens have claimed, their carbon tax has washed right through our economy. Everyone across Western Australia has been hit—schools, aged-care homes, hospitals, small businesses and families. Everyone has struggled with the slug on electricity prices brought about by the introduction of Labor's carbon tax.

This is not a secret. This was the very theory behind the introduction of this tax—to force up energy prices and thereby reduce emissions. This is not some accidental by-product of the tax. Labor and the Greens think WA should pay more and they are proud of that. On 5 April they might just be reminded yet again of the result they enjoyed—or did not enjoy, as the case is—on Saturday, 7 September last year. The carbon tax was a cynical slug on Western Australian families, a deal done by a desperate Labor Party forced to bend to the will of the Australian Greens in order to maintain their desperate hold on government. This is Labor's idea of what it means to stand up for Western Australia, it would seem.

I would like to talk now about the mining tax. I know this is of significant interest to my colleague from Western Australia Senator Back, who spoke about this earlier in the week in this chamber. This tax and the minerals resources rent tax and their implication for jobs in Western Australia have been discussed at length this week. The mining tax is probably the most anti-Western Australian policy implemented by the most anti-Western Australian government our country has ever had to contend with. Again, the people of Western Australia spoke clearly and firmly on 7 September last year. They want this mining tax gone. They want the carbon tax gone with it.

This week, the Abbott government brought legislation to this chamber to do just that, to rid Australia's mining and resources sector of a tax that is costing them a fortune in compliance costs but barely raising any revenue. What did we find from senators opposite? Did we hear a rational acceptance of the fact that the mining tax plainly does not work, that it has failed to generate the revenue Labor said it would create? Did we hear an admission from a chastened Labor Party that it had got it wrong and that the only decent thing to do is to scrap this tax, which is acting as another handbrake on investment and job creation in a sector of our economy which, as we all know, is currently moving though some challenging phases? No, we did not. Instead, we heard senators from both Labor and the Greens arguing for the retention of this flawed, hopelessly inefficient tax that has done so much damage to the mining and resources sector that is so critical to the success of Western Australia.

Worse still, if the words of some Australian Greens senators are to be believed, they have further plans for Western Australia in relation to this mining tax. I was in this chamber on Tuesday awaiting my own turn to speak on the legislation repealing the mining tax when Senator Wright spoke of 'strengthening' the mining tax. When senators from the Greens talk about strengthening a tax, that is a byword for 'increasing' the tax. As I noted the other day, I was half expecting Senator Ludlam to run into the chamber at full pelt and wrestle Senator Wright to the ground before any details of the Greens' plan to 'strengthen' the mining tax could escape her lips.

I suppose I should at least applaud Senator Wright for the honesty she displayed in her contribution. It was far braver than Senator Ludlam's 'viral' contribution to the adjournment debate a couple of weeks ago when he wandered into this place and, under the cover of parliamentary privilege, mendaciously chose to pepper the Prime Minister with a series of vile epithets. Senator Wright's decision to alert Western Australians to the Greens' plans to increase the mining tax was also far braver than the current position of the Australian Labor Party.

I have referred already this week to the Leader of the Opposition's now infamous Sky News appearance with David Speers during his recent visit to Perth when, despite being asked five times in a row whether Labor still supports the mining tax, he was unable to state a coherent position. If you watch the video of that interview, you will notice there are two ambulances in the background. Perhaps they were there to administer treatment to the Leader of the Opposition's media team, who were no doubt in shock following his calamitous performance on Sky News.

The Leader of the Opposition's Labor colleague the member for Perth, however, did not find herself quite so tongue-tied recently. Senators will be aware that, less than 24 hours after being appointed as Labor's shadow parliamentary secretary for Western Australia, the member for Perth, Ms MacTiernan, said that the mining tax was 'sound'. Labor's parliamentary secretary for Western Australia is telling us that a tax that is holding back the Western Australian economy is sound.

Senator Back interjecting

In a doorstop interview yesterday outside this very building, Senator Back, the member for Perth said this: 'Look, it's complete nonsense to say that the carbon tax or indeed the mining tax has in fact had a negative impact on the Western Australian economy.' This is the person that the Leader of the Opposition has appointed to his team, to use his own words, to 'make WA's voice inside Labor even stronger'. I will not pass comment on the member for Perth's vocal abilities, but I will suggest that she may want to have her eyes tested, because, if the member for Perth honestly believes that the carbon tax and the mining tax have not significantly damaged the Western Australian economy, she is incredibly short-sighted. It is worrying that she and her Labor colleagues cannot see the thousands of Western Australian families and small businesses struggling with increases in their electricity costs as a result of the carbon tax. It is troubling that Labor and the Greens cannot see, or perhaps just do not care, that businesses have been forced to scale back their operations, or in some cases close, as they struggle with the higher production costs that these taxes have foisted upon them. It is sad that parties who come into this place and claim to represent the interest of workers cannot see that it is their pursuit of higher taxes and increased regulation that is in fact limiting opportunities for employment growth in my home state of Western Australia.

As if the attitudes of Labor and the Australian Greens on the important issues of the carbon tax and the mining tax were not enough, there is also the issue, important to Western Australians, of border security, something that was comprehensively botched by the last government, largely as a result of pursuing the policy approach adopted by the Australian Greens. For Western Australians, border protection is not just a discussion that occurs in the abstract. When Senator Ludlam came into this chamber a couple of weeks ago and urged the Prime Minister to 'understand that you are now closer to Denpasar than Western Sydney', he was absolutely right. Indeed, the Prime Minister does understand that. He understands it a whole lot better than Senator Ludlam does in regard to this particular issue.

It was made perfectly plain to all Western Australians last year, when the Labor government was still in office and a boat carrying people arriving in Australia illegally sailed calmly into Geraldton harbour, just 400 kilometres north of Perth. Western Australians have seen for themselves exactly what happens when an Australian government pursues policies in the name of 'compassion': people smugglers are emboldened. That is why we saw tragedies like the one that unfolded on the rocks of Christmas Island in late 2011: because people smugglers were emboldened. That is why, over the years that Labor was in office and contracted its policy approach on illegal immigration out to the Greens, we had more than 1,100 people lose their lives at sea: because people smugglers were emboldened. And it is why one afternoon last year a boat full of illegal arrivals was able to sail brazenly into Geraldton harbour, in full view of local residents. If the challenge of dealing with illegal boats did not seem relevant to Western Australia before these things happened, it certainly does now, and that is why Western Australians respect the job that this new government—including its Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, our very own Western Australian Senator Cash—is doing through Operation Sovereign Borders. (Time expired)

5:10 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would just like to introduce myself to Senator Smith as a west Aussie. I have probably lived there longer than you, mate. I am not proud that I am older than you, but I just had to get that out there.

I am looking forward to making my contribution to this debate. I know it is Thursday arvo; I understand. But I just want to clarify a few things before I start. I should have had a bet with myself about what would be the content of Senator Smith's contribution to the debate, and I would be interested to see if Senators Back and Eggleston follow, but here we go again. We all know that six or seven months ago was the last election. We all know what happened then, but we west Aussies also know what was the basis of the Liberal campaign in September of 2013. This is going to come as a great shock to any poor bugger who is sitting here listening to this debate going on here today, but on the carbon tax Senator Smith was on the money. On the mining tax, here we go again. As soon as he said, 'I've got one more,' I should have had that bet—asylum seekers. I honestly believe Senator Smith and Senator Back do have a great appreciation of our state, but unfortunately their hands are tied when the elections are on and they have to toe the party line, even if it is as ridiculous as some of the comments they put forward.

One would think that nowadays, as we are having a re-run of a Senate election, the Liberal Party under Mr Abbott as the Prime Minister would have a vision not only for our great state of WA but also for this great country. You would think that they would enter into a Senate election in the largest state in Australia with a grand plan for what they are going to do as the government for our kids and our grandkids. But no: they have no plan for the future or for Australian jobs—and I will get to that in a minute. They come out and rehash the same nonsense, all about what they will not do if they are elected. Here we go again. The dog whistle is out. Quite frankly, I am happy to say that this time around Western Australians are over that nonsense. They are well and truly aware of the three-word slogans that the Liberals used to great effect in Western Australia. I will be out there backing WA tonight, and I will be using every opportunity I can to challenge Western Australians to ask the government what they are going to do, because the government have no plan.

Let us talk about the lack of a plan on jobs. The shemozzle and shambles that is the Qantas scenario at the moment is something that resonates in Western Australia. Unfortunately, Western Australia is not a manufacturing state. When Holden were goaded to leave the country and Toyota and the workers at SPC Ardmona were told they were going to get no help, it is a long way to the other side of the country and west Aussies do not make cars, so it possibly did not resonate as much as it would have in the eastern states. But job losses resonate everywhere in this country. We had the Treasurer, Mr Hockey—after being courted by Mr Alan Joyce and the board of Qantas, and anyone else who was down here representing Qantas—publicly coming out and making statements in the paper alluding to the opportunity or availability of guaranteeing the debt, only to get a political smack-down when the Prime Minister came out and reinforced that there is no plan for any Australian jobs.

There are still a few other things that I need to clear up. Senator Smith could not wait to go on about the carbon tax. Senator Smith is right in a lot of his commentary, but he is not completely telling the truth. He talked about the rising cost of electricity bills in WA for Western Australians. Yes, there was a significant increase, as you would know, Acting Deputy President Bishop. Every three months when the bill was checked, I know my eyebrows were raised. It was not the carbon tax, although those on that side, and Mr Abbott and his partner in fibs, Mr Barnett, the Premier of WA, would have you believe it was. What a load of nonsense. We know what happened: the Barnett government put up electricity prices in their first term by about 67 per cent—someone can correct me if I am wrong—or maybe it was a bit more. That is where the price increases came from, not through the carbon tax. We were actually compensating people.

I remember a stunt in that other place. Mr Abbott was the Leader of the Opposition at the time. I do not know if it was him or one of his shadow ministers, but they tabled a power bill from WA—from a pensioner I think. But at the bottom of it, which they did not read properly, it actually showed that the carbon tax increase was less than the compensation that they were getting. So you see we have to clear up the truth there.

It is a well-known fact that Labor agree that the carbon tax should be replaced. We have made it very, very clear that we believe climate change is real. We are not blind to the science. We engage with the scientists; we engage with the experts. We know we are being continually fronted with adverse weather conditions—bushfires and cyclones. And that side over there can yell out, 'We've always had bushfires and we've always had cyclones'. Yes, we have, but the severity and the numbers are definitely increasing. So it is an absolute load of bull and the science deniers hide behind the fact that they agree with science as long as the scientists are telling them what they want to hear.

We have also said very clearly on this side of the chamber, and in the other house too, that we are very, very, very amenable to getting rid of the carbon tax and replacing it with an emissions trading scheme. Mr Acting Deputy President, you and I were here in 2009—and I know Senator Farrell and Senator Mason and Senator Back were here as well. I remember the vote. I remember very well going into that first week in December when we were arguing about the emissions trading scheme. I also remember that at the same time Mr Turnbull was their leader. And Mr Turnbull had entrusted Mr Macfarlane, as the shadow minister, to go and negotiate the emissions trading scheme. And then all the nut jobs came out. They attacked via social media and through emails, and didn't those opposite capitulate! They capitulated to the point where they unseated their leader! They have a go at us, but they unseated their leader, Mr Turnbull, and replaced him with the greatest climate denier as well as a populist in the now Prime Minister, Mr Abbott. So I just need to clear up some of those untruths.

I also have to clarify, and Western Australians know this, that it suits—actually, it is not suiting; no, I will take that back. I think the Liberal Party machine in Western Australia are worried. I really think that they now know that Western Australians say: 'Well, hang on. You're the government. We gave you the opportunity to govern. You've been in government seven months; what is your plan and what is your future for workers?' There is none; there is no jobs plan. There is no future training plan. But those opposite go on and they rehash the other favourite dog whistle topic—the mining tax. Let us get this really, really clear: we proposed the mining tax as a profit-based tax, and I am going to have a lot to say about the mining tax on Monday when I get my opportunity to talk about it. Profit based. If you believed what came out of senators from Western Australia on that side, you would think that the mining industry will crumble. Western Australia will break off and float towards South Africa because they would be broke. They have successfully pulled out the biggest sham and the biggest con that I have ever seen in the time that I have been following politics—that is, WA and Australia would come to a grinding halt. What a load of bull!

I will tell you why I say that, because I am a friend of the mining industry. I appreciate what mining does for our GDP. I also understand, as a Western Australian, how important it is for employment. I get all that. But what I do not and will not accept are the lies that come out from that side running this nonsense line that mining would stop. What we have seen in Western Australia is a significant shift in the mining industry, going from construction to production. And we know darn well that when you go out there and you build a gas plant or you build mines, you are going to employ 4,000 or 5,000 people. We also know, once it is built, there is no need for the construction workers.

I do have to make comments on Senator Milne's contribution. In Senator Milne's contribution—I made a couple of notes—she said that it is the Greens who are the ones who have 'a very clear plan for the jobs'. Senator Milne said it more than once about creating jobs. I also just want to remind those in Western Australia that—and I know this very well because I am very active in the Kimberley and have been active in the Kimberley since 1979—I remember when Woodside and its proponents proposed the Browse gas plant. And I remember the Greens running around the Kimberley with their mates in the environmental movement—and I have seen the piece of paper they all signed: Environs WA, the 'protect the Kimberley' group, Wilderness Australia, the whole lot—saying that they were going to save the poor blackfella. They were going to go up there and they would be the conscience for our Aboriginal people in the Kimberley. And when our Aboriginal people in the Kimberley took a democratic vote, through the KLC, to tick off on the Browse project pursuant to the Indigenous land use agreement, which would have delivered roughly $1.5 billion to Aboriginal advantage through the Kimberley, then they cracked the sads. Then they did not want to know about the Aboriginal people. They are quiet and I know they are not going to challenge me on this.

What we have seen is a commercial decision made by Woodside and its proponents. Unfortunately, the gas plant is not going to come on shore. I was in Broome when the announcement was made, and you could feel the earth rumble for the cheers from the Greens and the environmentalists, who thought it was so fantastic to deny opportunity for Aboriginal people in the Kimberley. Not only did it do that; it killed off the prospect of employment in the 5,000 jobs that would have come with it. But I know there are other issues there that led to the decision being made. So I find it very hard—I find it galling, actually—to hear that the Greens are the party of employment, particularly in WA.

Now I want to get to the basis of the discussion. I want to quote a comment that came from Mr Abbott. Senator Back, you could have been there. You can correct me if I am wrong. There was a WA Liberal Party campaign rally on 17 February 2013. I am quoting the Prime Minister now. He said to the party faithful at this campaign rally that he had 'hoped to model his government on Colin Barnett's' and described the Barnett government as a model government he hopes to repeat in Canberra.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was indeed, and proud of it. That is correct. Wonderful model.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have that absolutely correct, because Senator Back is confirming that.

Let's have a little look at what could happen and has started to happen if Mr Abbott has the same plans as Mr Barnett. Unfortunately, I only have seven minutes for the litany of broken promises I have here, but let's go to one. We will set the scene This was the modus operandi of the newly elected Barnett government last March 2013, when they had an overwhelming victory—there is absolutely no doubt they did. A week after the election, according to Channel 7—and bear in mind Mr Abbott, our Prime Minister, wants to reflect everything Mr Barnett does and be the same government here in Canberra—their headline was 'Barnett splashes cash to staff'.

To cut a long story short, public sector workers were really being squeezed. They were trying to get pay rises, and I think the government was trying to say: 'We're broke. We can't afford it. We've got to be careful. We've got to be responsible. You can only have three per cent.' The government never hid that going to the election. They did not want to get caught paying pay rises that they said at the time they could not afford. But this is what our Premier did a week later: he gave pay rises of no less than $15,000 and up to $84,000 per annum—despite government urging the public service to cut programs—to media staff. Now, I would not know Ms Dixie Marshall from a bar of soap. I am sure she is competent. I have seen her on TV reading the news, and this is not a personal attack. But her wage a week after the election went up by $84,534 to $245,000 per annum. Good gig if you can get it, and I am not one to deny anyone a good pay. Then we have another senior advisory person in the government's media section, a Ms Kant, whom I do not know. Her salary jumped $52,963 to $213,000 per annum. And there is a litany of others. They are all there. They are all listed. But this is the same mob that do everything they can to ignore and have absolutely no plan—or even a tiny bit of a plan—for the future of Australian jobs and workers. We have Mr Barnett in WA telling everyone, 'Take a deep breath, tighten your belt, but I'm going to award my media people a massive pay rise a week after the election and I never said anything about it.'

Mr Barnett's mate Mr Abbott, our Prime Minister, refuses to stand up for Australian jobs. He will not lift a finger to support manufacturing jobs in the car industry, and let us not forget the thousands and thousands of jobs that have not been announced that are going to be lost through the car components. That is before we even start on Qantas, where we are told there will be 5,000 workers losing their jobs and no-one from Mr Joyce down could tell us where the 5,000 workers were going to come from or anything. Western Australians are a heck of a lot smarter than that.

But here is another story in WA that absolutely must be told: the cuts to education. We are now very clear. Mr Abbott broke his promise. He would not implement the Gonski Better Schools package, and it gave Mr Colin Barnett, the Premier of WA, an opportunity to swing his axe—and didn't he swing his axe in cutting education funding. I am going to talk about a couple of schools here, and I really want people to understand what the Liberal government in WA, the one that Mr Abbott wants to model himself on, has done. They are two peas in a pretty crook pod at the moment.

There is a school in the federal electorate of Hasluck. Mr Acting Deputy President Bishop, I know you know where Hasluck is. The school is the Darling Range Sports College. There is no secret in this building that I am the patron of the Darling Range Sports College. It may sound elite, but it is the old Forrestfield Senior High School, a real good, fair dinkum school doing it in very tough conditions. They have done extremely well because they have some of the best teachers, and I take my hat off to the principal, Mr Peter Noack. But, with Mr Barnett's slashes to education—and we know Mr Abbott's belief on education—I want to give you some figures. At Darling Range Sports College in Forrestfield there are currently 829 students enrolled. Their funding cut for next year thanks to our Premier, Mr Colin Barnett, will be no less than $379,268. When I think to myself whether any public school in Western Australia would be able to absorb that, it frightens me.

I can go on and on and on—and I will. In fact, I will touch on a few more. But let's go to the best part of the world, in my humble opinion: the Kimberley.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Beautiful. You should have started there.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am saving the better bit till last.

We know of the disadvantage in the Kimberley. We know the reasons why we have great disadvantage in the Kimberley and our Aboriginal population struggles, but we have funding cuts in some of the high schools. Let's look at Kununurra District High School: $389,790. Let's have a look at Halls Creek, one of the most disadvantaged centres in our country—they slashed their funding by $145,000. Derby District High School—and all of us in WA know that that is not a rich area; it is not an area where the parents could afford to put their hands in their pockets to pay more for their kids' education than they do now—was cut $205,424.

Unfortunately, 20 minutes goes fast, but I will have the next few weeks in Western Australia to reiterate my views. This is an opportunity for Western Australians to make the decision: do they want these education-slashing projects to continue in WA? If they vote for the Liberals and they vote for Mr Abbott this is what they are faced with. These are the words of Mr Abbott. He is the one modelling himself on Mr Barnett's government. I fear for Western Australia. Western Australians are awake up to you. Senator Smith is not in the chamber now. He couldn't wait to tell us how low the Labor vote was. I will have a bet with Senator Smith. What is the bet, mate? Come upstairs and let's lay a bet, because I tell you now, our vote will be greater than it was last time; your vote will come down. If you want a bet, let's make it a $2 scratchy. Come on, two bucks will do. On behalf of all Western Australians, thank you very much. (Time expired)

5:30 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

As the general motion articulated, the upcoming Western Australian by-election will have significant implications for both the people and the environment of Australia in the face of an Abbott government. The people of WA are just 16 days away from a Senate by-election and a vote that will affect the future of our great state of Western Australia and the nation. Of course, this is just six months after the federal election—a very unusual event. The people of Western Australia get to have another go at voting and will be electing six senators. From our perspective it is a choice for a positive future, one that is based on compassion and the generation of jobs in a clever, innovative, sustainable country or one that is based on cruelty, secrecy and a lack of compassion. It is a choice that will have ramifications for the country.

We have a government that is determined to heedlessly push on with an agenda that places little emphasis on an evidence base, lacks compassion and does not have regard to the wellbeing of people, the community or our environment. They are committed to the interests of big business at the expense of the most vulnerable in our community. Mr Abbott and his government wilfully ignore the complexity of problems we face, favouring simplicity and reckless three-word slogans. Of course, there is no better example of that than their support for the shark cull in Western Australia, where they just signed off on Mr Barnett's knee-jerk publicity-stunt approach to sharks in Western Australia.

The WA by-election is our state's chance to stand up to Mr Abbott's agenda on behalf of the nation. Let us look at a couple of things that I urge voters and Western Australians to bear in mind when they go to the polls in 16 days time. Let us look at the environment. One of the first acts of the Abbott government was to essentially do away with our world-leading national system of marine parks. They got rid of the management plans. Essentially they are lines on maps and it is business as usual in those marine parks. They cannot wait to hand environmental powers back to the states. You need no better example—the example, in fact, that Senator Sterle was just making —than James Price Point, where the environmental assessment process in Western Australia was so bad that the court has told them to go back and do it again. They could only find one person from the EPA who did not have a conflict of interest in the great mining state to actually make that decision.

This government keeps talking about Landcare funding and the fact that they will put more funding into Landcare. I have got natural resource management groups that are extremely concerned about the future of that funding and are extremely concerned that in fact it is a bit of a pea and thimble trick and that there will not be proper new funding for our natural resource management and for protection of our biodiversity. Then, of course, you have got Mr Abbott's comments that we have too many national parks this country. He cannot wait to get the loggers back into our magnificent forests, including winding back some of the protections. We need to consider the potential for the winding back of the protections for old-growth forests in Western Australia.

Let us look at social policies, another set of issues that are very close to my heart. We have the government fiddling around with people on disability support and potentially moving to a two-tiered approach where we treat some people differently from others. The cuts that they are making as part of repealing the mining tax hit the most vulnerable in our community.

Then, of course, there is the mean, cruel, compassionless approach to asylum seekers, where they use scare tactics to justify their mean, vindictive approach. Asylum seekers are fleeing persecution, fleeing for their lives—and what do we do? We lock them up on Manus Island or Nauru or Christmas Island indefinitely. On the one hand they talk about the horrors of conflict—and they are horrors—but those very people who are fleeing those horrors are then locked up indefinitely. They use border security to justify that approach. It is cruel and it is mean.

In Australia we have inequities and our society is growing more unequal. That is also the case in Western Australia. A recent Curtin University report, Sharing the boom: the distribution of income and wealth in WA, shows that the gap between the rich and the poor is growing. The wealthiest 10 per cent of households earn up to four times as much as the poorest. The report says that Western Australians have seen some clear benefits from the mining boom but not all have benefitted equally, with the state's lowest income households falling behind the rest of the WA population. It said that the gap between the richest and the poorest households in WA rose consistently between the acceleration of the WA boom in 2003-04 to its peak in 2009-10, at a greater rate than the rest of Australia. Professor Duncan, one of those involved in the report, said: 'Low income families in WA have failed to share the benefits of the boom at the same rate as higher income households, which emphasises the need to support those people on low incomes who may not benefit from the standard of living increases experienced by the rest of the population.'

There is no plan beyond 'dig it up and ship it out' and trying to find the next place to dig a hole in Western Australia. We need a better vision for how we support the most vulnerable in our community, for how we support those on low incomes who are not benefiting from the boom, for how we can have a more just and compassionate society that does share the benefits better. We need to look at how we can better support single parents, those living with a disability and older Australians who are struggling to survive on Newstart while they are being discriminated against in the workplace. We need a real focus on housing and homelessness. As Senator Milne very articulately pointed out, we need a clever, innovative approach to focus on generating jobs that build on a sustainable, clean, green future—not the past based on dinosaur fossil fuels. We need better transport and infrastructure and we, the Australian Greens, have plans around all those things.

If we look at the Commission of Audit this government is currently carrying out, everybody knows it plans to make massive cuts across the board; and they are not going to tell Western Australians what is in that report until after the election. What have they got to hide? You have got to you ask yourself: why won't they tell Western Australians before 5 April what those cuts entail? In fact, what are they going to fund? I have been contacted by group upon group by phone, by email and through my door expressing their concerns about funding for programs. These are programs that provide support and services to the most vulnerable in our community. For example, we have funding supports for family relationship services—again for some of the most vulnerable in our community. We already know the government has cut funding to Aboriginal legal services. But they say, 'It's okay, we've only cut the advocacy and policy generation components.' But during estimates when I asked Mick Gooda, who is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, he said that cutting advocacy and policy directly impacts on incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It directly impacts. And yet this government has cut that funding. They have cut funding to Aboriginal domestic violence services—absolutely critical, essential services to support some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

We know that Newstart is so low that people are living in poverty. We know it needs an increase of at least $50. There has been no commitment by this government to help those people who are still struggling on Newstart. The government's response has been to go back to the bad old days of demonising people with disability on disability support pensions. I have had lots of people emailing and ringing my office expressing deep concern. They are on disability support pensions and they are deeply concerned about the impact that it will have on them if the government does cut funding. It is also the uncertainty. They are worried, because government talks about cutting funds and says that there are too many people on disability support pensions. Of course, these people have been assessed to qualify for the disability support pension—even the new tougher eligibility criteria that the previous government brought in. When people are on DSP they have qualified for DSP.

One of the key areas in Western Australia that is of deep concern to people is affordable housing. The situation in Western Australia continues to get worse in terms of affordability, and a number of homelessness services are, in the very near future, facing the possibility of having to close their operations, because this government has not committed to re-funding the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. What Prime Minister Abbott said when he was in Perth was, 'You'll be right.

That does not deal with the issue at all. These fundamental services provided to the people of Western Australia are absolutely critical, and the government say, 'Trust us; we'll deliver.' Well, no, I am sorry; I do not trust you. Services are going to be closing their doors—these vital services, as I said.

Senator Milne outlined the work of the magnificent, I have to say, Foyer Oxford, which is innovative and supports vital services to homeless young people in Perth. Part of their funding is dependent on that agreement. Just saying 'she'll be right' does not do it. How much funding is available and when? It is the same for all the other programs that this government has not committed to funding, such as the Link-Up services for the stolen generations and, as I said, family relationship services. There are literally dozens of programs, and community service providers are hanging on to find out whether they will get re-funded.

Looking at the people in Western Australia who depend on renewed funding, there are 9,592 people who find themselves homeless every night and 15.6 per cent of them are under the age of 12—and, of course, homelessness disproportionately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. For a government that say they are committed to helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, they have a strange way of showing it: they will not let community organisations know if they are going to receive funding and they have cut their funding.

For example, there is an early learning centre in the north of Western Australia, at Wyndham. I think it was $1.2 million that was spent on building this magnificent centre that provides a fantastic resource. Last year, they did not know if they were going to get funded; fortunately, they were. But it is now nearly the end of March and they do not know if they are going to get re-funded, come July. They provide an absolutely critical service for parents and their young ones in Wyndham, and they do not know if they are going to get funded. So we can build this infrastructure but then we have this stop-start approach to funding, and this government will not tell this vital community organisation whether they are going to be funded again.

On top of all this uncertainty for community organisations, which are an absolutely essential part of support services for civil society and which in Western Australia play an absolutely vital role, the government announced with a repeal bill yesterday that they were going to be cutting the ACNC, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, throwing more uncertainty over the not-for-profit and community sector in Western Australia and around the country.

Another area that is absolutely vital and that we need the government to pay attention to—and this government is not paying attention to it; it is in denial; it is burying its head in the sand—is of course climate change and the impact it is already having on agriculture in Western Australia. There is the threat of a drying climate, particularly in the south-west of Western Australia, which has just had another 17 per cent drop in rainfall. As I articulated around lunchtime, in the debate on the drought package, this government is ignoring the fact that global warming is transforming our agricultural regions, and the south-west of Western Australia is a classic example. But the government are merrily going along as if nothing was happening. If we are to have a sustainable agricultural system in Western Australia and around the country, we need policies that acknowledge the impact of global warming and the government have to start realising that they need to act.

The Greens do realise that we need to act. We have been articulating, very clearly, a positive vision for the future—a future that is sustainable. We have a plan for long-term prosperity as the mining boom slows. We have a vision that is based on science, equality and sustainability, not waste and exploitation. We understand that we need to make the right investments, ones that will create construction, manufacturing and renewable energy jobs across Western Australia. The plan that has been articulated by my colleague Senator Ludlam, the Greens' Energy 2029 plan, outlines the creation of 26,000 construction jobs in renewable energy. Investment in modular housing will not only create sustainable jobs but also address the issues around affordable housing. That is the sort of vision we need—not one that is based on 'dig it up and ship it out', one that is cruel and shows no compassion for the most vulnerable in our community. (Time expired)

5:50 pm

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am absolutely delighted to join the debate on the forthcoming Western Australian election and to remind everybody that we do live in a democracy. After all, it was in September 2013 that the people of Australia generally but the people of Western Australia particularly sent an emphatic message, and that was the message that they wanted a coalition government here in Canberra. Indeed, we saw that repeated in the Tasmanian election on the ides of March, the 15th just past, when the coalition won the biggest majority it has for 60 years because Australia does not want hung parliaments.

Mr Acting Deputy President, let me tell you the scale of that vote back in September. On the primaries, the coalition won 47 per cent of the primary vote and, on the two-party preferred, Senator Mason, 58 per cent.

Photo of Brett MasonBrett Mason (Queensland, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

My God!

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A resounding 58 per cent of people in my home state of Western Australia said they wanted a strong coalition government here in Canberra. What has happened over the last seven months, needless to say, is that the Australian Labor Party and the Greens have stood in the way of what the Australian people wanted—and that was for the coalition government, led by Mr Abbott, to enact the resounding mandate it was given at the last election. The strongest result in the nation, the most resounding mandate, came from the state of Western Australia.

From 2010 to 2013, we saw dysfunctionality from the minority Labor-Greens government. What the Labor Party and the Greens are doing now is continuing to demonstrate that same dysfunctionality. We have seen it richly demonstrated in this place this year. Regrettably, we saw it again today in this very chamber when once again the Greens and the Labor Party voted down the repeal of the carbon tax. Mr Abbott went to the election saying, 'That will be the mandate; that will be the way we will govern.' If anybody in this country doubts that mandate, they need only look at the results. In contrast, in order to win the 2010 federal election, then Prime Minister Gillard said there would be no carbon tax under a government she led. Nobody voting in the election in 16 days time need have any doubt about the position of our Prime Minister, Mr Abbott.

It is interesting to see the confusion that now exists within Labor ranks. I refer of course to the vacillations of the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, a person who is struggling to assert his leadership. When in Western Australia last week, he told us: 'I don't quite know what I am going to do about the mining tax. I will have to go and consult with industry.' As I pointed out in my contribution the other day, he need not have worried too much about that—six leading bodies around Australia have already said that he should get rid of the mining tax. Only today, Ms MacTiernan, the member for Perth, said:

I think it would be fair to say that the mining tax hasn't done the job that it was designed to do … I do think it's time for us to really go back to the drawing board.

The people of Western Australia think so too. Unfortunately, we have to go back to the drawing board to reaffirm the election outcome from September—and that means at least three Liberal senators, if not four. Senators Johnston and Cash are doing a wonderful job here in this place and in the ministry, while Ms Linda Reynolds richly deserves to be Senator Linda Reynolds on 1 July. It would also be justice if Mr Slade Brockman were in there as well.

Why is it that Labor luminaries have to leave parliament before they come to their senses? I wonder whether, in six to nine months time, we will be looking at statements by Senator Farrell—who will then be Mr Don Farrell. Back in the real world, having reflected on his time in parliament, will he come to his senses? We have seen that in statements like that of Mr Kevin Rudd. He said:

No government should ever take a backward step in pursuit of the national interest.

And neither should they in opposition, I say to senators across the chamber. The Australian ambassador in Washington, Kim Beazley, said that there are a lot of challenges with labour regulations, costs, materials and planning. He said that Australia really has to work on these issues now so that we can win the next wave of projects, so that we can remain competitive.

If time had permitted, I would have gone through all the comments made recently by Mr Martin Ferguson, someone highly regarded in the energy and resources sector. He has been saying that if we do not become competitive, if we do not improve our productivity, we are going to lose opportunities. He noted that there were $180 billion worth of new LNG investments. For those who were asking about where the jobs are in the Western Australian economy, those investments have the potential to create 150,000 jobs. Mr Ferguson has been making the point that these investments could well go out the window to our competitors from Africa, Canada, the Gulf of Mexico and other places.

The point I would have made had time permitted is that they all turned on him. The MUA, the CFMEU and the other unions turned on Mr Ferguson, himself a proud member of the union movement—indeed a former ACTU president. 'Ferguson's a traitor to the working class' is what we heard, when all he has been doing is trying to point out where we need to be going.

Senator Sterle asked where the opportunities and the new jobs are. Only in the last couple of days I have spoken about oil and gas, manufacturing in the shipping industry in the south of Western Australia, and the fact that floating LNG is coming, an area we can lead the world in. Senator Mark Bishop this morning made a wonderful contribution, explaining that jobs in the mining industry are not just digging holes and shipping the ore out. There is a complex, sophisticated infrastructure associated with mining and exploration. But mining exploration has left Western Australia for Canada and Africa as a result of the decisions of the last Labor government, as a result of the sovereign risk created by the last Labor government through its mining and carbon taxes.

I ask Senator Siewert where she thinks the money is going to come from given that we are paying over a billion dollars a month in interest on the debt. It is not a billion dollars a month in repayment of the debt; it is a billion dollars a month just in interest on the debt. The new Fiona Stanley Hospital cost $1.6 billion. That represents six or seven weeks of interest. The new children's hospital represents about five weeks of interest. A school recently built near my office could have been built with one day's interest on the debt. I ask Senator Siewert, in her condemnation of Mr Barnett, to comment on his decision to create the Camden Sound whale sanctuary 400 kilometres north of Broome—the largest calving area for humpback whales in the southern hemisphere.

We can all sit up here and be critical, but I want to see some facts. I acknowledge Senator Siewert has a keen interest in the disability area, but I want to hear her acknowledge the work of the Hon. Helen Morton and the funds that have been contributed by the Western Australian government. I will not sit here and listen to condemnation. Senator Sterle was talking about education. Did he mention that Western Australian teachers are the highest paid in the nation, with the majority now earning more than $99,000 a year? Did he mention the contribution being made by the independent and Catholic school sectors? When he mentioned cutbacks in funding to schools, did he talk about the number of students in those schools?

I wish that time permitted me to outline where the new jobs are in education, agriculture, tourism and right across the board—including in mining exploration activity and in oil and gas, as mentioned by Mr Ferguson. We have a rich state. We are fine contributors to the national economy. The only way we can guarantee that that continues is to have a Senate that allows the coalition government to follow through on its mandate and to have a Senate that allows us to govern.