Senate debates

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Taxation, Energy

3:39 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Disability and Carers) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to questions without notice asked by Senators Singh and Chisholm today relating to the Turnbull Government.

The questions without notice addressed the chaos and dysfunction at the heart of this government. The coalition's focus on itself is having real impacts on everyday Australians. Nothing could be more self-indulgent than the junking action on climate change and energy to turn the focus onto who is the least unelectable member of the coalition. But, sadly, that's exactly what this government has decided to do.

How out of touch could you possibly get, but to decide to walk away from our obligations under the Paris agreement and instead to look to which alternatives to Prime Minister Turnbull the government could offer? I'm not sure what's worse: the fact that they're asking these questions at the moment or the fact that the only answer they can offer is Mr Dutton. At this time of the coalition's self-obsession, we have a state of rising energy prices, climbing carbon emissions and a range of industry groups in a state of flux—at the very time that businesses and consumers are calling for certainty. How completely self-indulgent can they be, but to turn inwards at such a time? Only yesterday, the leader of the Australian Industry Group, Innes Willox, told RN Breakfast:

And, now that it appears the government has decided not to follow through … with the NEG, we're back to a point where businesses are wondering what's next.

At the same time, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry head, James Pearson, described this government's focus on itself instead of the nation as:

… short-term political opportunism which runs the risk of scuppering vital, long-term policy.

Both of those people have hit the nail right on the head. This government is out of touch. This out-of-touch rabble are more interested in undermining the investment and energy planning of some of the nation's leading business groups than they are in working on a sensible, coherent policy, and it's really starting to hit home.

The government's lack of a coherent policy agenda has seen them trailing in the polls since just about election day in 2016. But we are seeing that it is not just in the polls that people are expressing their frustration. It's not just that these decisions are hurting the ability to progress public policy and climate policy in the best way possible; it's that we're running out of time. As the Property Council's Ken Morrison decried yesterday:

We simply cannot afford to leave the question of emissions reduction unresolved.

Australia is facing a drought-stricken winter, with forest fires raging in New South Wales, and this government has decided that it needs to put on hold any energy policy it may have been working on in order to deal with the internal division and dysfunction of the government. They're doing this despite their Liberal colleagues in my home state of Tasmania—and this is Minister Barnett, who is a former Australian senator—claiming:

The NEG is good for Tasmanian jobs and puts more downward pressure on power prices.

Of course, this government is far more interested in its own infighting than it is in placing downward pressure on power prices or helping to generate local jobs. Meanwhile, the member for Braddon, Ms Justine Keay, has continued her passionate advocacy for Tasmania, calling for the government to stay true to its commitments to the north-west coast of Tasmania. She's warned of the impact this government's haphazard policy changes could have and has warned that Prime Minister Turnbull's latest policy backflip threatens thousands of potential renewable energy jobs. Unlike those opposite, the member for Braddon has been a champion for Tasmania and for Tasmanian jobs, just like the rest of the Labor team. (Time expired)

3:44 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Regarding the take note motion moved by Senator Brown, as best as I can interpret it—and it was a bit all over the ship—the motion was about the government's national electricity guarantee. And what a good policy that is. It's all about reliability and affordability of electricity prices. Why did the federal government become involved in what is, effectively, and has been for the last 100 years, a state government responsibility? Clearly, state governments weren't able to manage the national electricity supply. We saw that one state, the state of South Australia, under a long-term Labor government, couldn't even keep the lights on. And it was those sorts of catastrophes at a state level that led the federal government to try and do something about it. So we've devised the national electricity guarantee, which will guarantee reliability, so that, when you turn on the lights, you'll actually be able to see something. South Australians would know better than many of us, that is something that should be accepted all the time, but, in South Australia, that didn't happen.

What's more, the guarantee will provide affordability. We will stop the electricity generators, like the Queensland Labor government business entity, Ergon, gouging the market and making huge profits at the expense of Queensland residents, simply so they can make money to shovel into the moribund Queensland Labor government and try and balance their bottom line. That's what it's about. There was an element in the national electricity guarantee related to emissions. Senator Brown said something about that and about the Paris targets. I ask Senator Brown or anyone else who might follow her in this debate to explain to me this proposition, which I keep asking someone to answer, and nobody here ever does, because they've been brainwashed and propagandised to believe that Australia's emissions are bad, but they've never thought them through. They have never exercised any independent thought.

Australia emits less than 1.3 per cent of the carbon emissions of the world. I don't argue anymore whether carbon emissions are causing climate change; let's accept they are. Australia emits less than 1.3 per cent. The big emitters—America, China and India—have no targets, or they have targets they talk about but never achieve. In fact, they've pulled out of these international agreements, if they were ever in them. I asked the chief scientist of Australia, 'If Australia reduces its emissions by 100 per cent and we reduce the world's output of carbon by 1.3 per cent, what impact will that have on the changing climate of the world?' And here's his answer: 'Virtually nothing.' That's not from me. The Greens always accuse me of being a climate change denier, which I'm not. It's a simple proposition. The chief scientist of Australia says that if Australia shut everything down, shut off all the lights, stopped every car, stopped every heater or air conditioner or factory, stopped everything, then the difference that would make to the changing climate of the world would be virtually nothing. Yet the Labor Party carry on about decreasing our emissions by 50 per cent because that's going to save the world. Fifty per cent of 1.3 per cent is somehow going to save the world. How ridiculous! How stupid and brainless to carry on with those sorts of allegations. But they think it gets them votes in the inner cities where people don't really follow these things through. I challenge anyone who is going to speak after me to tell me how reducing Australia's emissions by 100 per cent—not just 50 but 100 percent—is going to make any difference to the changing climate of the world. If you can disprove the chief scientist, who said, 'Virtually nothing,' I'll listen intently. (Time expired)

3:49 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader (Tasmania)) Share this | | Hansard source

That was a pretty pathetic deflection by the government, in terms of the chaos that has besieged this government, particularly over the last few days. In fact, we know that there have been deep divisions for some time. I think it's time to remind those opposite that senators and members of the House of Representatives are actually elected to govern for all Australians. The fact is that we see the Liberals are out making phone calls, trying to gather votes to topple the current Prime Minister. They're feeding the media and leaking to journalists. What they're not doing is the job that they were elected to do. What's happening in the Treasury? What's happening in health? We know this government cut funding to hospitals around the country. When it comes to education, we know they have not been able to deliver for schools. In my home state of Tasmania, we can see the effects of the cuts to education. That's not even to talk about the way they have messed up when it comes to Catholic education. They've put them right offside.

This is a Prime Minister who, when he was elected, said he would be Prime Minister of a stable government. We've seen nothing but dysfunction and chaos from those opposite. Internationally, we are considered a laughing stock at the moment. But what we have to highlight here is how this government, and this Prime Minister in particular, has backflipped time and time again. What we saw at the beginning of the week was an embarrassing backflip on energy. We've also seen that, at last, they've decided to walk away from the out-of-touch rationale they've been using to scrap the energy supplement. It's good that they've finally seen sense there and that Australian pensioners will get the support they need. Now they're pretending that they're going to walk away from the corporate tax cuts and not take them to the next election. How silly do they think the Australian people are? We know that those opposite wanted to give $80 billion to the top end of town. They wanted to give the big banks $17 billion. That's what this government is all about. What they want the Australian people to take away from today is: 'No, we're not going to do that; we won't take it to the next election.' Well, the real threat is that if a Turnbull government—or a Dutton government—is elected at the next federal election, it will reintroduce that, because that's part of its DNA.

As a government, they aren't doing anything about the rising cost of electricity prices for households in this country. They stood by and allowed penalty rates to be taken away from those who needed them most. They've also failed and neglected pensioners in this country. When we talk about aged care, what have they done there? Since they've been in government, in the last four years, they've gutted the aged-care budget by some $3 billion. We have an ageing population, and the government have walked away from their responsibilities. Just last Friday, finally—three months late—they released the data on the home care waiting lists. We're now due for the June figures. How long are we going to have to wait for those figures? There are 108,000 Australians—older people, some of the most vulnerable Australians—who need packages. We know there are some 50,000-odd Australians who aren't getting any support at all.

That's this government. Those are their priorities. I'm seeking to have the government come to terms with getting a decision about who is going to be the future Prime Minister. If it's going to be Peter Dutton, get on with it; if it's going to be Malcolm Turnbull, get on with it—because they have a serious responsibility to govern for all Australians. At the moment, Australians feel like they can't have any faith in politicians. It's incredible that the government want to go down the track of removing a sitting Prime Minister when, in fact, in the last decade, not one Prime Minister who was elected has seen out his entire term. That's a reflection on all of us. So those opposite ought to stop thinking about themselves, and talking about themselves, and do what's right and what's in the best interests of the country—that is, to get along and get their policies out there, as Labor has done. We got our economic policies out there. We're working on policies, because we're listening to the community. I say: bring on the next federal election. (Time expired)

3:54 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I've got to say that I've been deeply saddened and distressed by actions over the last couple of days on my side of politics. And it equally saddens me to hear the childishness, delight and hubris from those opposite on the current leadership issues that my side of politics, my party, is facing. As those opposite well know, leadership challenges are no laughing matter for any of us here, and they are certainly not an issue in this day and age for one side of politics or the other—as Senator Polley well knows. These coups, divisions and dissensions not only do damage internally within our own party but do damage to us all. Every time we have these disputes focusing on ourselves, they serve only to damage all of us in this place and all of us in the other place. We can see that year after year in the public opinion polls and surveys on attitudes to politicians and politics. People in our democracy are getting increasingly cynical and disillusioned with us all. These leadership challenges and internal dissensions, which have affected all parties—certainly the major parties in this place—damage us all. They always arise, I think, from a combination of personal interests, egos, grudges and scores to settle. Rarely are they about the national interest. I firmly believe that divided teams never result in better outcomes for Australia.

Again, while I've been very distressed by what's happened in my own party, I'm equally distressed to hear the comments of those opposite in question time and just now during motions to take note of answers, and that's particularly so when you have a look at what else has happened in this chamber. We've just heard Senator Polley speak out-and-out untruths about government policy. We hear this all the time. Again Senator Polley was talking about the government's record in health—talking about health cuts. She and all of those opposite know that that is not true, yet time and time again they and their 'super PACs', like GetUp! and other organisations out in the community, keep repeating the same lies over and over and over again. They do this for political purposes, for elections, and they're doing it by scaring the most vulnerable in the community, as we saw with 'Mediscare'. To rebut what Senator Polley said, the government will in fact invest $130.2 billion in public hospitals, an increase of over $30.2 billion, with record funding for every state and territory over the forward estimates. Anybody opening up the budget papers will see that what those opposite are asserting over and over and over again is not true.

It was also very saddening to see what happened to the Enterprise Tax Plan in this place today, especially as Julia Gillard, Bill Shorten and many other leading Labor politicians have said for many years that we need corporate tax cuts to remain competitive with our competitors overseas and that we need them in order to keep growing jobs and the economy. Those on that side of the chamber know that full well, but, again, they have exploited things they know and believe for very crass political purposes, which is clearly not in the national interest.

Today we saw that hypocrisy in full flight. Today Labor and the Greens and several crossbench senators voted for higher company tax rates for businesses. They voted to keep company tax stuck at internationally uncompetitive rates. Our Australian businesses and millions of Australian workers will now be stuck with the second-highest company tax rate in the developed world by 2020. Shame on you all. Those who you purport to represent, the workers of Australia, will be the only ones who suffer. And on that point, I've got to say that I am very proud of this government, particularly of Senator Cormann, who diligently and faithfully sought to implement the enterprise tax policy.

We did secure passage of the first stage of company tax cuts in May last year. That, at least, provides competitive tax rates to companies with turnovers of up to $50 million. But what those opposite don't understand is that we want those companies to actually reach the $50 million turnover and to keep growing. That is the tragedy of the position of those opposite and also the hypocrisy. (Time expired)

3:59 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Environment and Water (Senate)) Share this | | Hansard source

Every day we turn up in parliament this week, we get more of a display of the Liberal Party's internal civil war. In rising today to take note of answers given by questions asked by Senator Singh and Senator Chisholm, I can see the answers display more and more of the civil war that's taking place within the coalition. At the heart of this is not just a leadership dispute; we can see a complete incapacity to govern and to make decisions in the best interests of our nation.

While we have, within the National Electricity Market, energy bills skyrocketing, we've been left with an absolute policy vacuum. While energy bills skyrocket, we've seen a failure to plan for our nation's electricity markets, a failure to price carbon, and a failure to look at prices—all of which could have been addressed, had the coalition had the guts all along to address climate change, and to address the need to invest in renewable energy infrastructure in our nation, to give the market the certainty that it has needed now for a good decade. We've been at this debate for more than a decade. We have forgone billions of dollars worth of investment in our electricity market, because of the policy vacuum that you have created. These are the kinds of debates that are at the very centre of your ideological divide and of the leadership splits that we see taking place today. While you remain trapped in an internal civil war about your own future, what this country really needs is a government focused on the future of Australians.

We in the Labor Party are working hard on our plans to deliver a fair go for all Australians: protecting Medicare, stopping your cuts to hospitals, fully funding our schools and universities, and restoring penalty rates. You are forewarned that, when all we see in your answers to our questions about your internal division is more and more excuses, and more and more division, we will stand ready to deliver for our nation. We have seen in answers to questions a complete unaccountability about what is really going on in government. We asked which members of the coalition front bench had tendered their resignation to the Prime Minister and we were denied answers on that. We don't know which resignations the Prime Minister has accepted. And all we're told now is that it's going to shuffle through in due course with your new announcements. That is no way to govern the country. We have seen that almost half the party room voted against Prime Minister Turnbull. Reports we've seen—and not that the coalition was prepared to discuss this in parliament today when we asked them questions—say that eight members of the ministry offered their resignations.

When it comes to the core policy development taking place in this country, on things like energy, we have been left with a complete policy vacuum. On things like tax cuts to corporations—you've been dogged about this but the simple fact is that you've refused to listen to the Australian people on these questions and you've been left in a position that puts you completely out of touch with the nation's people. It is no wonder that you now find yourself completely riven with internal division, with no place to go. I tell you, Peter Dutton is no alternative and the Australian people know it.

Question agreed to.