Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 April 2019


Social Services Legislation Amendment (Energy Assistance Payment) Bill 2019; Second Reading

3:30 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm just trying to remember where I was up to when I last spoke. It was something about the government being an absolute rabble—I think that's where I got up to, and I think I was dead on when I gave that position. I was talking about the budget falling apart overnight. It didn't last from Lateline to lunch. This is a government that has just lost it completely. This government has got no focus. It is still trying to deal with the division and the dysfunction that has epitomised a government now with three Prime Ministers. It's just a terrible situation that we're in.

This budget won't be the silver bullet that makes people forget about how bad this government has been over a period of six years. Here we are after six years—we're probably six weeks out from an election—and I can tell you that a $75 tax cut won't undo the cuts and cruelty that this government has been dishing out over the last six years. As I said, we sought to move an amendment in the House to see the payment extended, because there's no good reason for people on these payments to be excluded. They face the same cost of living and, in many cases, are, in fact, on a lower payment. While Labor supports this payment, make no mistake that, after six years of chaos and cruel cuts, the Australian people will see right through this cynical and desperate attempt from this rabble of a government to save its own skin.

This government must take the Australian public for fools. They must think that pensioners have forgotten what the government tried to do to pensioners. What the government will do today with this one-off payment doesn't undo the fact that this budget is being propped up by vulnerable Australians. Shamefully, this government has built almost a quarter of their projected budget surplus on underspends in the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The Prime Minister has counted a $1.6 billion underspend towards the budget bottom line next year. This is a disgrace, not an achievement. It's $1.6 billion in services and support that people with disability will miss out on because the government has botched the NDIS and underspent at every turn.

It comes on top of a shocking $3.4 billion underspend in the 2018-19 financial year and over $6 billion to date. This is a direct result of delays in the NDIS rollout, with over 77,000 people missing out on the NDIS this year alone, and it's a consequence of people being unable to use their plans because services and support are simply not available. People are waiting months and, in some cases, years for basic equipment. People are going without the right therapy and personal support. The NDIS has fallen into crisis under this government. People are getting poor-quality plans, they are not being treated with respect, services are being pushed to the brink and waiting times are completely unacceptable. After six years of neglect, the government's kneejerk announcement on NDIS prices, six weeks out from an election, is too little too late. The bottom line is that Australians with disability are the ones paying so Scott Morrison can bolster his books.

For 834 days, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government tried to cut the pension for over 1½ million pensioners, as well as recipients of Newstart, youth allowance and other payments, by scrapping the energy supplement. The energy supplement was designed to help vulnerable Australians with the cost of power bills. Scott Morrison's plan would have cost a single pensioner $14.10 per fortnight, or around $365 per year, and cut $21.20 a fortnight, or around $550 a year, from couple pensioners. This wasn't a plan for a one-off cut; it was a cut every fortnight, every year for decades. Labor opposed this cut and committed to reversing it.

Pensioners will never forget that in every single budget the Abbot-Turnbull-Morrison government has tried time and again to cut the age pension. In 2013, Prime Minister Abbott promised that there would be no cuts to the pension. Yet in 2014 the Liberals tried to cut pension indexation—a cut that would have meant pensioners would have been forced to live on $80 a week less within 10 years. In that very same 2014 horror budget, the Liberals slashed $1 billion from pensioner concessions designed to help pensioners with the cost of living. In 2015, the Liberals did a deal with the Greens political party to cut the pension to 370,000 pensioners by as much as $12,000 a year by changing the pension assets test. In 2016, the Liberals tried to cut the pension to around 190,000 pensioners as part of a plan to limit overseas travel for pensioners to six weeks. For over three years, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has refused to review and adjust the deeming rates, while the Reserve Bank cash rate has fallen from 2.25 per cent in February 2015 to 1.5 per cent today. For two years, the Liberals planned to scrap the energy supplement, cutting the age pension to 1.5 million pensioners. For four years, the Liberals tried to raise the pension age to 70. Labor has fought each and every one of these cuts to the age pension. We have fought them tooth and nail.

Meanwhile, over the past three years, the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has cut and outsourced over 2,500 jobs from Centrelink. During this time, we have seen a blowout in call wait times to Centrelink and wait times to get onto the pension. This government has made it even more difficult for pensioners to contact Centrelink and to access the pension. Labor will boost Centrelink with 1,200 jobs. We will improve the services, reduce the wait times and make income support available and accessible as and when Australians need it.

Try as they may, the government can't gloss over their gaping lack of energy policy with their energy support payment—this miserly energy support payment. After six years, they continue to be at each other's throats over energy policy, with 13 energy policies over six years. They're more interested in tackling each other than tackling climate change or energy prices. Since the Liberals formed government in 2013, wholesale energy prices have doubled. In contrast, Labor have a comprehensive plan to boost renewable energy and put downward pressures on prices. We do have an energy policy.

I would love to know what happened to this bill. How did something that wasn't in the budget last night end up in the parliament this morning? Was there a crisis meeting? When was the crisis meeting? Who was there? Did they deliberately leave out Newstart and other payments or was it an accident? And in the House this morning, the Minister for Social Services, Paul Fletcher, said, 'You're either fair dinkum or you're not. The numbers are either in your budget or they're not.' Paul Fletcher doesn't set the world alight but, I have to tell you, this just shows you all you need to know about this government. The government aren't fair dinkum about people on Newstart or youth allowance or the double orphan pension, because they weren't in their budget last night.

Labor is of the view that it's well past time that the Australian public get a chance to pass their judgement on this rabble of a government, on this government who don't care about families, who don't care about young people, who don't care about the underprivileged, who don't care about the vulnerable in our society. This is a government that are simply about the big end of town, because they were prepared, rather than deal with the issues that are important to the vulnerable in our society, to hand over $80 billion of tax cuts to multinational corporations, to the banks and to the richest corporations in this country. Again, that tells you all you need to know about this disjointed, discredited rabble of a government.

We need a government who understand the pressures that are on ordinary working families. The reason they don't understand is that most of them come from privileged backgrounds, not all of them, but most of them. Those that haven't come from privileged backgrounds have abandoned the working class and formed an alliance with the powerful and the privileged. I've got even more contempt for them than I have for these privileged ponces who sit over there lecturing workers about having to lose their penalty rates. They don't understand what it's like to roll up to the checkout at Woolworths, Coles or Aldi and just pray that your MasterCard won't bounce so that you can pay for your groceries. I've been there. My family's been in that position. We understand how tough it is for people to be in that situation. Blue-collar workers earning 40 grand a year are doing it tough. The cost of living's going through the roof and all this lot want to do is hand $80 billion over to the big end of town. That's exactly what they would do if they could get away with it, because we heard Senator Cormann during question time again raising the lowering of tax and getting the economy moving—trickle-down economics. They are a pathetic mob. They are an absolute pathetic mob. Working-class people need better. Working-class people deserve better. When this government come in and spend the bulk of their time changing leader, attacking each other, how could they ever get it right to actually look after the people who deserve to be looked after in this country?

They talk about equality of opportunity. How can a poor family in, say, Mount Druitt in the western suburbs of Sydney, faced with institutional poverty, faced with intergenerational unemployment, have equality of opportunity? How can their kids get equality of opportunity when this mob want to cut funding to public schools, when they want to hand more money over to private schools, when they won't put proper money into the health system? How can any working-class family in suburbs like Mount Druitt around this country get a fair go? They can't do it under this terrible government. And this is the government that wants to cut penalty rates. Those opposite were in here, day in, day out, arguing that penalty rates were old-fashioned, that penalty rates were not appropriate anymore. Yet, when I worked, my penalty rates at least gave me the opportunity—maybe not every year, but once every couple of years—to save up to take my family on a holiday, if I was lucky. And they just think penalty rates are an old-fashioned institution. No, penalty rates actually put food on the table for working-class families. Penalty rates actually put shoes on children's feet and school uniforms on their back. But, given that those opposite are so remote, so privileged, on a $200,000-a-year base rate, how could they ever understand how hard it is for working-class families to battle?

If there's one thing we need to do, it's to get rid of this coalition government. The National Party, who supposedly represent rural and regional Australia—some of the poorest regions in the country—talk a big game when they're up in the bush, but when they come in here they back cuts to penalty rates; they back tax cuts for the millionaires, the billionaires and the multinational corporations. And then they wonder why they're being abandoned by traditional National Party voters. I'll tell you why they're being abandoned: the public have had enough of them kowtowing to the Liberals. They're the doormat of the Liberals when they're down here. They're not taking the right steps to protect rural and regional Australia on welfare, on wages, on climate change. It's time for a change. It's time for a new government. It's time for a Labor government that looks after working people in this country.

3:47 pm

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

I rise to make a contribution on the debate on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Energy Assistance Payment) Bill 2019. As we know, this is a one-off energy assistance payment, the grand total of which is $75, for people on a range of income support payments. Having said it is a one-off payment of $75, I note that any dollar that goes into pockets of people trying to survive on income support means a lot to each of those people. But, in the scheme of things, a $75 one-off payment will not address some of the most fundamental issues that people on income support face.

Let us remember that this government never intended for this payment to go to people on Newstart and youth allowance. They never intended it to. They have been shamed into also making this payment to people on Newstart. I bet it's been done through gritted teeth. We know they didn't want it to go to people on Newstart, because when this issue was first leaked to the media there was outrage about Newstart. They could have fixed this before last night's budget. But, no, it was done overnight, and all of a sudden there are different figures for this payment from what was in originally in the budget papers. It's very clear this is a last-minute thing; they were shamed into doing it. If they really cared about people on Newstart, we would have seen an increase to Newstart.

This is where I find some of the commentary from the Labor Party outrageous, when they know very well that people trying to survive on the measly Newstart payment—which has not been increased for 25 years—are living in poverty. They know that people are living in poverty. In the arguments that the government and, for that matter, some on the other side of the chamber make, they comment about this being a transition payment. This morning on the radio when the Treasurer finally acknowledged and let people know that Newstart recipients will get this $75, he still repeated the same old myth—that this is a transition payment—when 64 per cent of people on Newstart have been on it for over a year, 44 per cent for over two years and 15 per cent for over five years.

This is a payment that was designed when the labour market was different. It is a very different situation now, and we have both of the old parties unprepared to increase Newstart. People struggling to survive on Newstart need an increase now. Even some members of the government agree with that, and even their former Prime Minister John Howard, the architect of Welfare to Work, now admits that we need to increase Newstart. So, yes, let's review income support payments, but after we have seen an increase to Newstart immediately. That is what's needed in this country, and that's what the Greens are going to this election with: an increase in Newstart.

We've been campaigning for an increase to Newstart for years and years and years. Members in this chamber who have been here long enough know that I tried to live on it for a week in 2012. It hasn't seen a real increase since then. Then, it was difficult; seven years later, it's even more difficult for people to live on Newstart. It is outrageous that people are still condemned to this—and this government doesn't care. They were completely ignored in the budget. For the government to come out and say, 'This is a budget for people on low incomes,' is just not true, because those on low incomes are the very people that are struggling on Newstart or struggling on youth allowance. They deserve an increase. Instead, the government layers out largesse on the wealthy end of town. That's where the bulk of the tax cuts go—the wealthy end of town. It prefers to layer largesse on the wealthy and ignore the people that are struggling to survive on Newstart. That is what the community is hearing really clearly from the government. The government didn't even want people on Newstart to get the $75 energy assistance payment—the very people that would benefit the most from this payment to help them with struggling to survive.

This bill, along with a whole range of other bills, is being forced through the chamber by five o'clock tonight. There were over 21 bills on the list, because some of the bills were done together. We're at bill No. 4. In just over an hour, we will stop and go into another process of first speeches and valedictories, which I'm sure will be very worthy, and I will be here listening intently. But then we'll go into a series of divisions to knock through those 17 bills, one of which is on the cashless debit card, which of course affects people on Newstart as well. It affects people on Newstart and people on a whole range of other payments. It is a cruel budget measure which the government told a blatant untruth about in the budget speech, saying that it's cut alcohol by half and it's reduced gambling. That's a blatant untruth, when they know that the ANAO report clearly said there is no evidence to support a claim of reduction in social harms. It's a blatant untruth, and yet they're ramming the bill through this place—with the complicity of the ALP, I might add. The ALP know very well we won't get to debate the CDC bill, because it will be one of the 17 that are rammed through this place with no debate, come five o'clock. That bill condemns people to at least another 12 months on CDC and, if the government have their way, they'll be transferring all the people on BasicsCard, the terrible flawed experiment of income management in the NT, to the cashless debit card as well.

So here are the ALP, who claim to be fair and who did not support rollout of the trial in the Goldfields. But now they are supporting the continuation of the cashless debit card in the Goldfields, in the East Kimberley and in Ceduna. They have some amendments that they have circulated, which, again, we won't get to debate; we will just get to vote on them. They're going to try to convince the community that they're trying to make it a little easier for people to get off the card. Last night, in this place, I articulated very clearly that to get off the cashless debit card is very hard. The amendments that I have seen circulated on the cashless debit card do not improve it that much. It leaves it up to the department quite a bit. It also leaves it up to the flawed community panel, where there is one. If they had bothered to ask anybody living in those communities, they would know that that process is flawed too. These, again, are people who this government demonises because they are unfortunate enough to have to try to survive on income support—specifically, Newstart, one of the lowest of those payments. Youth allowance, in fact, is even lower.

The ALP are assisting the government to get that done, and let no-one else tell you differently. That's what they're doing by agreeing to the motion on hours this morning and by agreeing to ram these 21 bills through this place, most of them without debate. What they are doing is being complicit in driving those flawed approaches through. I, for one, am not going to let the community forget what has happened in this place and how it affects people's daily lives. It is appalling that this government forgets the people on Newstart and is ably assisted by the opposition in punishing people on income support even more. People deserve to be living on more than $40 a day, which is what they are currently doing if they are trying to survive on Newstart.

Given the timing, I will pass the call. That's because we've got so many bills to continue on with. I could talk for a very long time about the injustices of this budget and about the injustices of the measures this government is trying to force through this place. However, I'm aware that other senators want to make contributions on the over 21 bills that are going to be forced through this place in a very short amount of time. I move the second reading amendment that has been circulated in my name, on behalf of the Australian Greens:

At the end of the motion, add:

", but the Senate calls upon the Government to re-regulate electricity prices and establish a public retailer to lower electricity prices."

This payment will help a tiny bit for people who are living on income support payments. It will help a small amount for those struggling to survive on Newstart and youth allowance, but it is not a solution to the problem. The problem is that people are living below the poverty line. They are struggling, they are vulnerable and they need an increase to Newstart. It needs to happen immediately. It cannot wait while some sort of review is done; it needs to happen immediately. If this government cared about the whole of the Australian community, it would have ensured that there was an increase to Newstart and youth allowance in this budget, instead of handing out largesse to the big end of town.

3:58 pm

Photo of Tim StorerTim Storer (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

If any more evidence were needed of this government's insensitivity to the need to enhance fairness our society, it came with the Treasurer's overnight backflip on the energy assistance payment. Like many others, I was appalled that it was denied to people on Newstart. As if it's not bad enough that the value of Newstart and associated payments has not increased in real terms in a quarter of a century, some of the poorest people in the community were to be denied help to keep themselves warm and to cook their food. Overnight, the government thought better of its stinginess. It was not because it genuinely cares about the most unfortunate in our society but because there is an election around the corner.

Something is better than nothing, but a one-off payment of $75 is tantamount to an insult to the less well-off in our community, who have been struggling with rises of much, much more than that in their energy bills in recent years. Australians are paying a high price, literally, for the failure of this government to get its act together on energy and climate change. The $365 million for one-off energy assistance payments is not evidence based policy. If the government were really taking the problem of energy bills seriously, it would spend that money on energy efficiency. Improving energy efficiency tackles an underlying cause of high energy bills, whereas the benefits of the one-off energy assistance payment will be short lived.

My bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Improving the Energy Efficiency of Rental Properties) Bill 2018, would only cost $21 million to $29 million in total, in contrast to the $365 million. Importantly, my bill would offer not simply temporary stimulus but long-lasting benefits, despite its modest costs. It not only cuts power bills for some of the most needy but cuts consumption as well—win-win. The bill was designed to help those worse off in our society, those who have been left behind by successive energy policies. It is narrowly targeted at renters, who could benefit most from energy efficiency but have been forgotten.

The energy debate in Australia is stubbornly focused on the supply side, on prices, but the demand side, energy efficiency, lacks sufficient scrutiny despite overwhelming evidence of its benefits to reduce energy bills. Energy efficiency offers the single greatest, simplest mechanism to cut energy bills not just over one quarter but over decades.

According to a report released earlier this year by Green Energy Markets, energy efficiency investment could slash $7.7 billion per year from energy bills and create the equivalent of 120,000 new full-time jobs. Taking the problem of energy bills seriously requires careful policy development, not a desperate, last-minute cash splash. Taking the problem of energy bills seriously must involve a national energy efficiency strategy. The scale of the problem is too large and important for energy efficiency to be an afterthought.

Policies that promote sustainability and give relief and hope to those who need it most should be supported. While I support this bill, I do so reservedly, noting that there are better policy options available that would do far more in much better ways. Evidence based policies that would have lasting impacts on reducing energy bills have been put aside in favour of simplistic, insulting policies like this bill. How fair is that? Hardly fair.

4:02 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to indicate that Centre Alliance will support this bill, the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Energy Assistance Payment) Bill 2019, but I think it's important to lay out a perspective that has not yet been put to the chamber—that is, a little bit of history around one-off energy payments. I ask people to reflect back to 2017, when we were dealing with the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enterprise Tax Plan No. 2) Bill 2017 to reduce the amount of tax of companies who had a turnover of less than $50 million—to try to reduce their tax burden. It was during negotiations in respect of that bill that then Senator Xenophon—I was an adviser at the time to Senator Xenophon—and I had a discussion with the government. They were trying to reduce the burden on business, yet the largest burden on business, the thing that everyone was coming to us and saying in the constituent office in Adelaide, was that energy prices were too high. Businesses were suffering because of high energy costs and some of them were facing closure.

As part of our negotiation to get a better outcome, we supported the tax breaks for the smaller businesses, but we also insisted on some changes that needed to be made and some additional things that needed to happen in order to assist businesses to deal with high energy prices. We did ask for a study to be done on the EIS arrangements. We asked for gas retention leases to be viewed from a use-it-or-lose-it perspective. We asked the government, and of course they agreed to do these things to develop what is now known as the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism, which is now in regulation and, I point out, has not been used—in my view, in error. That's a mechanism that allows the government to forecast what's going to happen with gas supplies in the next year, and if they feel that there's going to be a deficit of supply they can invoke this mechanism. This has the effect of cancelling all export licences, which then have to be renegotiated and need to be renegotiated in a way that ensures we have supply to the domestic market. In my view, this should have been invoked already, because we're now facing a situation—just through this poor management by the government—in respect of gas prices, and gas prices are now back on the rise.

We even had the ACCC doing a mea culpa in respect of some of the things that they'd suggested about gas. We were then facing a real issue with gas prices and electricity prices. A mechanism was introduced by the government, but unfortunately they haven't exercised it. They appear to be a little reluctant to do so on the basis that some of these big energy companies will no longer offer support to the Liberal-Nationals.

It was also during that negotiation that Centre Alliance, then the Nick Xenophon Team, negotiated a one-off energy assistance payment. It's interesting, because when I look through this bill it talks about a one-off payment. It's not actually a one-off payment; this is a repeat. It's a repeat because, over the last 24 months, the government was supposed to sort out the energy problem—the electricity problems that we have here in Australia—and we wanted to have a one-off payment that got people through those hard times while the government got on and fixed our energy issues.

Since that time, we've had an EIS proposed, and then we went to a clean energy target with Dr Finkel. We also had a NEG that was proposed—the National Energy Guarantee. Then we had NEG-plus and then, most recently, the big stick was proposed. But in every single one of these instances the government failed. One of the biggest policy failures of the Liberal-National government is that they simply have not dealt with rising energy costs. That is crippling Australian businesses and it's seeing some people making decisions to move offshore. Of course, it then results in the need for a bill like this which—once again—we will support, but we support it knowing that it's in fact probably the starkest evidence we've got that there is failed policy on the energy front and on energy prices here in Australia. I don't think there's any excuse that government can offer up—we walked through EIS, CET, NEG and NEG-plus to a big stick, none of which were implemented, and not because there would not have been support in this chamber; simply because there was significant infighting. I don't really want to play politics, but it has been a failure for the Australian people. Energy costs are too high in this country. That's why we need this bill: it should have been fixed and it hasn't been.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Spender, your first speech?

4:08 pm

Photo of Duncan SpenderDuncan Spender (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No. This, again, is not my first speech. I rise to be the only parliamentarian, I suspect, who will oppose this bill, the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Energy Assistance Payment) Bill 2019. This bill provides a one-off payment to various welfare recipients, ostensibly for the purposes of electricity costs but, of course, they can use the payment for whatever they want.

This bill robs Peter to pay Paul. Now, Peter has had a terrible deal over the past 11 years because Peter represents future generations. Over the past 11 years, we have had deficits, year in, year out. That means more debt. That means more of a debt burden on Peter, our representative of future generations. Now this policy is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Paul represents our current welfare recipients. We should not be providing money to current welfare recipients if that involves hurting future welfare recipients by putting Australians in more debt, by being less able to have a sustainable welfare system in the future and by being more likely to have a crippling tax burden in the future.

Last night in the federal budget, Josh Frydenberg, our Treasurer, said that we've got to avoid the crippling interest debt that we have and the interest bill that we're paying year in, year out. I think he referred to $18 billion. This payment is adding to the interest burden. It is absolutely ridiculous for the Treasurer to say in the one speech, 'We've got to avoid adding to the interest burden on future generations,' and then within sentences add to the interest burden on future generations. It is sheer hypocrisy.

The only reason this payment exists is that they want to get it out the door now because they're going to have a deficit this year anyway and they don't want to hurt their chances of getting a surplus in future years. It is dodgy accounting and it is robbing Peter to pay Paul.

4:10 pm

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

I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Energy Assistance Payment) Bill 2019. I note that a second reading amendment has already been moved by Senator Siewert on behalf of the Australian Greens that adds at the end of the motion:

", but the Senate calls upon the Government to re-regulate electricity prices and establish a public retailer to lower electricity prices."

The reason we're having this debate is that many people in Australia are struggling with their power bills. That's a result of a few different policy settings. There's no doubt that the poles and wires, which have been invested in, in recent years—in fact, decades—up to a gold-plated standard, have contributed significantly to power bills, which is one of the reasons the Greens have been advocating, for many years, that we need to do more to empower people to generate and store their own electricity on their premises, whether that be people's homes or people's small businesses. We certainly need to do more to encourage, and provide financial assistance to help, people to invest in things like rooftop solar and batteries, which are now available and which, if they follow the price curve of most technologies, will start to significantly reduce in price in the very near future.

Of course, in last night's budget, the government didn't provide any meaningful support for those things. In fact, the budget was grossly negligent in its response to the greatest public policy challenge facing humanity at the moment—that is, the breakdown of our climate and the climate emergency in which we find ourselves. It was another budget and another year of the coalition selling out our future. It contained billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies. It contained money to help unlock new gas resources in places like the Northern Territory. There is a bill being rammed through later tonight, with Labor's assistance, to enable Australian taxpayers' money to push more fossil fuel projects overseas. In fact, this budget contains more money to reopen the Christmas Island detention centre, so Prime Minister Morrison could conduct the most expensive press conference in our country's history, than it does new money to address climate change. This is the wrong way, and the government needs to go back.

Our temperature records have been broken. At the moment we are 2.2 degrees above the long-term trend. Colleagues, our climate is crumbling around us as we debate this budget. In recent times apocalyptic scenes have dominated the news. In my home state of Tasmania, communities have been threatened and our precious, unique Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area has been devastated by fires—made more likely and more dangerous by the breakdown of our climate. We've seen vast areas of Northern Queensland and mid-northern Queensland flooded. We've seen a million dead fish floating in the parched Murray-Darling Basin. These are the graphic results of a disaster caused by humanity, and it is caused by humanity burning fossil fuels.

This is only the beginning, unless we get serious about climate action. We can't get serious about climate action until we get serious about getting out of coal, which the Labor and Liberal parties in this place are refusing to do. Why do they refuse to act? It's a very simple answer. It's because together they accept millions of dollars in dirty donations from the coal corporations in this country. Unlike the major parties, the Greens do not take donations from the big polluters. We will not let the corrupting influence of those donations rob us, our children and our grandchildren of a future. We don't take those donations, which means we can develop a clear plan to phase out of coal and embrace the jobs-rich renewable energy revolution.

We want to make this election a referendum on climate change and a referendum on coal. We are asking people to vote Green in the Senate, to send a message to the major parties that they need to end their love affair with coal. We're asking people to vote Green in the Senate for a strong voice to demand climate action now, because we think about the future not just in budget cycles, not just in electoral cycles, but in the long-term. We care about people. We care about the natural world. And we are here in the Senate to hold the major parties to account.

We do have a plan to transform our energy future in this country, to create jobs and to deliver better and higher-quality public services and a better quality of life for us and the generations of the future. When thousands of children walked out of their classrooms last month to strike and demand strong action on climate change, we didn't lecture them, like the Prime Minister and government ministers did. We paid them respect by listening to them. I went to the action in Hobart. It was one of the most uplifting, empowering events I have ever been to. It was a cacophony of noise, of passion, of intelligence, of determination and, yes, of anger, because these kids see so clearly what so many in this place cannot or will not see—that their future is being stolen from them by the dirty emitters, the big polluters, and their lackeys in here in the major parties to whom they donate their dirty political donations.

So, when people go to the ballot box next month, they have a choice. They can vote for the major parties who take the corrupting donations from the big polluters, from the coal industry and from the gas industry in this country, or they can vote for a party that refuses to take that dirty money and, as a result, has the courage to stand up and demand strong action on climate change and demand an end to the mining, burning and exporting of coal from this country.

4:18 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications and the Arts) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank colleagues for their contribution. This bill will enable a one-off energy assistance payment to be made to all pension allowance and veterans' payments to those residing in Australia on 2 April 2019, to assist them with their energy costs. The payment will be $75 for singles and $62.50 for each eligible member of a couple. The payment will not be taxed and will not reduce their rate of income support. The payment will help around five million Australians at a total cost of $365 million. I commend the bill to colleagues.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Siewert be agreed to.

4:25 pm

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that the bill be read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.