Senate debates

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Statements by Senators


1:05 pm

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

I rise today as budget talks get underway to pose the question: where are we going as a nation? What is the destination for Australia and what is the plan to get there? What are the competing visions for our future as a society and in the world? How is that being underpinned by the budget? The point is: budgets do not exist in a vacuum. They are meant to deliver outcomes. If you do not have a destination, how are you going to get there? If you do not have a plan for where you want to be in 2050 or 2100, how are you ever going to get there? The big problem in Australia, I would argue, in recent years is that there has been far too much of a focus in budgets on buying off the vested interests; keeping others quiet; delivering for certain sections of the community and not for others; and refusing to have a budget which underpins a vision and a practical plan to get there so that the Australian community can make judgements. Instead of that, this year we have a budget which is being judged for a political outcome. Will it be enough to keep the Prime Minister in power? Will it be enough to satisfy the backbench of the Liberal Party on the performance of Joe Hockey?

That is not the way we should be governing the nation. We should have a plan, and the Greens do have a vision and a long-term plan for Australia.

What we recognise here in 2015 is that the two overwhelming trends affecting the world and affecting Australia are global warming and increasing inequality—the gap in income and wealth. These trends have not been just identified by the Greens; they are what the World Economic Forum has identified in its list of top 10 trends for the planet that people need to be thinking about. When I use the term 'global warming' I do so in the broader sense. The World Economic Forum says we are talking about water scarcity, food insecurity. We are talking about loss of biodiversity and species. We are talking about extreme weather events and their impacts on everyone. Global warming is the overwhelming trend but so too is inequality, as it is increasingly apparent that the world's top 10 per cent of people own the overwhelming majority of wealth resources of the planet. That is entirely the wrong way to go.

I put to you today that if you accept, as the Greens do, that the overwhelming trends we have to be responding to are global warming and inequality then the vision is clear. We want a country which links its cities with high-speed rail. We want a country which has modern public transport in its cities. We want electric vehicles; we want cycleways. We want to make sure that the economy is powered by 100 per cent renewable energy as quickly as possible with households with solar PV, with businesses with solar PV, with large-scale utility—whether it is wind energy or wave energy. Our cities are currently becoming increasingly uncompetitive because no government has had a long-term plan to say, 'We want modern metros in Sydney and in Melbourne.' We want to make sure our large centres are linked with efficient rail.

You do not do these things overnight; you have to plan for them. Look at what Spain and China have done with high-speed rail, and Australia is still fiddling around right back at the start of this conversation. Why? Because there is no long-term plan that says that, by a certain date, Sydney and Melbourne will be linked. We will make sure that we have got freight back on the rail. We need to have dates and time frames and then you can invest, budget by budget. The community gets it and understands what it is necessary for.

We want to make sure that our farms are able to produce food and that water is being used in a way which sustains the natural environment and produces food in an age where what is grown in certain places will change because of climate outcomes. We know that south-west Western Australia has dried out in the last 25 years. We know that extreme weather events are moving further south as a result of the climate scenarios coming to pass. We know we are going to see more extreme weather events. There is so much work to be done in retrofitting our buildings, in changing our cities, in anticipating where we are going to see the extreme weather events and how we can adapt to that scenario. These are all job-creating projects.

We need to invest in our education system. We need to make sure that we recognise that the resource of this century is imagination; it is not iron ore or coal. And therefore every child from early childhood right through to university and TAFE and lifelong learning has the capacity to develop to the best of their potential, to get into research and development to deliver the technologies. Look at the way the digital economy is now contributing. If you saw that as a separate part of our economy, it would outdo most industry sectors given what it is contributing to the economic wellbeing in Australia. Yet we are not thinking about where the growth sectors are.

We should be exporting capacity building into Asia. Our intellectual property is something that is valuable here yet all we seem to have with free trade agreements is a lower and lower common denominator. Australia is losing out because there is no recognition that those free trade agreements do not take into account the fact that other countries do not have to meet the environmental standards and the labour standards that we have in this country.

There is so much work to do. We need to get involved in primary health care, being the fundamental of our health system. For a happy society in which people care for each other, you have to have inclusion, you have to have equality and you have to include women and minorities. You have to make sure that this wealth and income gap is reduced. That is why the Greens stand here and say, 'We have to raise the money from those who can afford it.' We need to go out and make sure that the big end of town pays its way, that tax evasion is leapt on, that there are not two laws in this country—one for the wealthy and one for everybody else—which is currently the case. You have people being offered an amnesty to bring their money home from overseas tax havens and the like yet others who are dependent on welfare, for example, might well end up in the criminal justice system, but are not given an amnesty. There is no justice in the way that this is being rolled out at the moment.

In terms of our place in the world, the Greens say Australia needs to be an independent republic. We need to stand on our own in the region. We do not need to follow the United States into every war they take us into, like the current absolute quagmire in Iraq that we are in. Instead we need to be investing in social inclusion in this country. That is why we have put forward in the budget that we want money for a social inclusion centre so that we can start bringing in people and making them feel like they are making a major contribution to the country.

This is the whole framework in which people should look at the budget. We want to say that budgets are not about buying boats, not about shutting up donors or making sure you are going to get donors by pitching something that they particularly want so they make another donation and then you get kept in power, and around and around it goes. I would argue that the current government is out of touch, is arrogant, is focused entirely on political survival and does not have a vision for the nation.

I would urge that, in the light of this year's budget, if you are serious about addressing global warming and inequality as the overwhelming threats of our time, the budget has to do much more than buy political popularity for a government. It has to do more than go from an emergency to dull and boring. Australia deserves better than dull and boring; Australia deserves a vision.

People need to know when we are going to see, in Australia, public transport systems rolled out in our cities and high-speed rail. When are we going to see climate adaptation occurring across our farmlands? When are we going to see coalmining and coal seam gas stopped? When are we going to see consistency in those programs? If it was up to the Greens there would be a clear plan and a time frame for getting there. That is why we consistently bring that to the budget process. (Time expired)