Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Statement and Documents
On the eve of this latest budget being handed down, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology confirmed that this has been the hottest quarter on record. We are all staring down the biggest threat humanity has ever faced, and this budget pretends it doesn't exist. No wonder people are angry and fed up with politics. They're crying out for leadership, for a clear plan to tackle the climate breakdown and to transition us to a renewable economy, one that exports clean energy to the world instead of climate-damaging coal. They want to know that we've got a plan to look after people—those people who work in the coal industry—because they understand this transition is inevitable. They want a plan for jobs right across the country that are at risk from the climate change caused by the mining, burning and exporting of coal. They want a plan for farmers, for tourism operators, for people working in construction, hospitality and emergency services. But this budget is not planning for their future. Instead, environment funding has hit rock bottom, as Australia's animal extinction crisis—the worst in the entire world—accelerates. The budget's electric vehicles offering is an embarrassment, and the handout to big polluters continues.
This budget was an opportunity to protect our climate, our jobs, our farmlands and all the precious places we love—to fight for the Murray-Darling and the Great Barrier Reef and all of those communities who rely upon them. But this budget does none of these things, because this is a government that is totally lacking in vision and leadership. Their only plan is for their re-election—a cynical attempt to buy a few votes with election bribes instead of planning for this nation's future. It is verging on the criminal that the Liberals have budgeted just $189 million over the next four years to deal with the climate crisis that the Bureau of Meteorology is telling us is already here.
Meanwhile, over the coming four years, the next Australian government, whether it be Liberal or Labor, will spend 174 times that amount to subsidise the burning of fossil fuels. A staggering $33 billion is set aside in the budget papers to underwrite the burning of our planet. Money is going from people's hard-earned wages into the offshore accounts of polluting corporations set up in elaborate tax havens. This is nothing short of a betrayal of future generations. It's a betrayal because there is no economic strength, there is no hope for economic resilience, without a safe climate. We should have no expectation of continued economic prosperity if we continue to destroy the life system that sustains us.
Both the Reserve Bank and Australia's prudential regulator are telling us, very frankly, very clearly, that Australia's economy is dangerously exposed. They have made it clear that we've two big problems ahead. First, our economy is skewed towards carbon-intensive investments. We're an emissions-intensive economy and global capital is already moving to lower-emissions countries because they have less carbon risk. Across our economy, investments are exposed to dramatic price re-evaluations and stranded assets as the world moves on without us. Secondly, our agricultural and tourism exports are on the front line of climate change impacts. These crucially important industries have the most to lose from the breakdown of our climate system, destroying the crops and livelihoods and ruining those beautiful places that bring millions of visitors to our shores each year. From our temperate rainforests in Tasmania to our world-famous wine regions in South Australia, to the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, every one of these crucial national assets is at risk if we remain on our current path. Senator Hanson-Young reminds me of the impact on the Great Australian Bight—indeed, another one of those magnificent wild places that is under threat. Our country and our economy is hopelessly exposed but our leaders are more stubborn than ever. The tragedy is that the longer we delay serious action, the worse these problems become and the harder it is to get these multiplying risks under control.
There are more jobs in new industries devoted to protecting our environment, improving agriculture and cleaning up our energy system, heavy industry and transport than there are jobs in yesterday's dying, dirty industries. Yes, it's true that around 45,000 people are employed in the mining, burning and exporting of coal. But the Greens' alternative plan, the independently costed Renew Australia plan, would create four times the number of jobs every year over the decade. That is hundreds of thousands of new jobs—jobs in engineering, construction, planning, IT, research and development; jobs for designers, farmers, public servants, land managers; jobs in entirely new retail industries; jobs for our regions; and jobs for our cities. The science is crystal clear. A clean, modern jobs-rich economy is ours to make if we can embrace progress and invest in the technological solutions that are already available to us—but, no; instead, the Liberal government is standing in the way of progress, standing in the way of this transition. The Labor government-to-be aren't campaigning for change at the scale or the speed that is required—hardly a surprise. Dirty donations from the polluting coal, oil and gas industries are making sure of that.
One thing this budget does make clear is that our government doesn't lack the financial resources to solve the problems we face as a nation. What they lack is the political vision. Our collective wealth is being squandered with the $302 billion tax splash—a giveaway paid for by cutting public services over decades. Let me tell you what the Greens would do. The Greens would use this money to make TAFE and university free again. We would get dental care into Medicare. We would increase Newstart. We would build half a million new affordable homes, we would invest in a clean energy system and guess what? We would have billions to spare. But all the Liberals have are tax cuts. This is the full breadth and depth of what they think this country needs. Albert Einstein characterised this as insanity—trying to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
These tax cuts will expand economic inequality. These tax cuts will hamstring future parliaments from investing in quality schools and hospitals. These tax cuts will prevent us from creating the jobs that society needs but that a private market will never create. Of course, we know that the wealthiest Australians, those who rely least on the public services that have been cut, are the ones who will benefit most from these tax cuts. Middle- and low-income earners will pay for these tax cuts in crowded GP rooms and in hospital waiting rooms. They'll pay for them in overcrowded classrooms and with burnt-out teachers. Meanwhile, two-thirds of the infrastructure funding in this budget will go into military hardware—in other words, we are spending twice as much on machines of war as we are on public services.
We didn't get to this place out of nowhere. It's been through the long, slow and meticulous cultivation of political influence. This budget, like all budgets before it, is the product of a political system that can be bought and sold. Our political donation system is legal corruption. It is state-sanctioned bribery. Nowhere has the sale of our democracy been more damaging than in its impact on this government's pathetic climate and energy policies, as we saw in yesterday's budget. The coal, oil and gas industries have given $8 million to both parties. They have created a giant merry-go-round of money and favours in which cash goes in as private donations and comes back out in many multiples of public funding.
Let me give you an example. The gas industry is the fastest growing source of pollution in Australia but neither party will make it pay for its damage by reinstating the carbon price. Why? Because it makes big donations to both sides of politics year in, year out. Australia's now the world's biggest exporter of gas, and the Commonwealth isn't collecting a cent in royalties or superprofit taxes. It is hard to conceive of a public policy that is more broken than that. If this budget makes one thing clear, it is how much a strong Greens voice in the Senate is needed to push back against the tide of political donations and hold the next government to account on a whole range of issues, but climate change chief among them.
Now the Liberal Party is a lost cause. The National Party are a lost cause. We hope their days are numbered. But Labor's climate policy isn't based on the science of what needs to be done to keep our oceans from rising and our land from burning. It's based on neutralising a tricky political issue and keeping vested interests onside. Labor are more afraid of political damage than of the damage facing our forests and farms. They have proposed a 50 per cent Renewable Energy Target by 2030, when experts tell us that we'll exceed 80 per cent by doing nothing. Labor's climate policy actually reduces the amount of renewables rolling out rather than increases it. On coal, the situation is even more dire. Coal is the single biggest contributor to climate change and, given that 80 per cent of the coal that's mined in Australia is shipped off overseas, if you don't have a plan to phase out coal exports, you don't have a climate plan. It's as simple as that.
Of course, we know the Liberals are addicted to coal; they bring it into parliament and they cuddle it. They kiss it. They share it amongst themselves like a precious stone. But what is the Labor Party's plan on coal? Well, they don't have one. For them, it's just business as usual. Only a strong Greens voice in the Senate will push Labor hard to take real action. You know what? The good news is that we've done it before. Because of the Greens working constructively in a balance-of-power parliament with Labor in 2010, we got the world's best climate package and we drove the sharpest reduction in Australia's emissions on record. We've done it before, and we can do it again. Just consider what the alternative is: without the Greens in the Senate, the next government will be beholden to climate deniers like Pauline Hanson's One Nation. It's only the Greens who will help create a new, clean and resilient economy by getting the lobbyists and the donations out of politics and bringing the people in. Only then will we create a future for all of us.
People have had a gutful of politics as usual. We've had a gutful of it too. It doesn't have to be that way. Politics should give people something to believe in. At this election, the Greens are putting up big, bold evidence-based ideas that set Australia up for the future. We can tackle the big challenges we face as a nation. We can do it in a way that creates hundreds of thousands of new jobs, protects our environment and helps those people who have been left behind.
Of course, the Liberals don't want you to believe that an alternative is possible. They want you to think that the pressures and the problems that you're experiencing are all the fault of the people who have chosen to make Australia their home. But we know where the blame lies: it lies squarely at the feet of the Liberal and National parties, who have let big corporations rort the system for their own interests. Sadly, the Labor Party aren't much better. They want you to believe that the bare minimum is enough. We won't accept that. We will continue to use our influence in the Senate to ensure that we do more than the bare minimum.
Through our big, forward-looking ideas, the Greens have worked with the community already to set much of the agenda in our parliament: marriage equality, the banking royal commission, a bank levy, a royal commission into people with disabilities, a national anticorruption watchdog and a boost in funding for Landcare—I could go on and on. They are all the Greens' ideas, were all opposed by both major parties and are all now government policy. Our team will continue to set much of the agenda in the next parliament too, built on our clear, achievable, fully costed plan for our country.
Let me tell you a bit about that plan. It includes ending the billions of dollars in handouts to the mining industry and ending the $11 billion a year tax avoidance industry. We are doing that so that we can give every child a place in child care, so we can bring back free TAFE and university, and so we can lift Newstart and other government payments by $75 a week and return some dignity to the lives of those 838,000 Australians who depend on those payments, but are now committed to living a life of poverty. Our plan includes taxing capital gains like regular income and ending the tax breaks on investment properties so that we can build half a million sustainable and affordable community homes over the next decade. No-one in this country should be homeless. Everyone should be able to put a roof over their head. We would end the massive handouts to the private health insurance industry so that we can put those billions of dollars back into public hospitals, wipe out waiting lists and give everyone dental coverage under Medicare.
It is the Greens who have a concrete plan to create a publicly owned bank and energy retailer so that we can drive competition, lower the cost of essential services and bring an end to the toxic profit-at-all-costs mentality. It's the Greens' plan to ensure that the biggest polluters actually pay for the damage they are doing to our oceans and atmosphere. It's so we can fund the infrastructure we need to modernise our cities and regions and to get to 100 per cent clean energy by 2030 and so we can ensure a managed transition for coal-dependent communities.
With our evidence-based transition plan, we will phase out thermal coal exports over the next decade and build a clean energy export industry. It's an industry that will replace the dirty coal we currently ship overseas to our two biggest export markets—Japan and South Korea—with clean, hydrogen-based power. This is the vision that we Greens will bring to the next parliament. It's one that is based on science. It is one that is based on what is good for people. These are the values that we'll ensure are in future budget papers.
Getting rid of this rotten mob might feel good—I think it's going to feel bloody good, actually!—but it won't be good enough if the next Prime Minister is only marginally better, with a different coloured tie and an uninspiring and mediocre vision for the future. Our job is to make sure we do better than that. Our job is for us to be our best selves. The Greens are the only party that you can rely on to think about the future, to care for people and to fight for the environment. This is our commitment to all of you. We can't wait to get started when the 46th parliament returns!
Reports that I have delivered my final speech are an exaggeration! I'll take this opportunity to speak on the budget. Senator Leyonhjelm made it very easy to understand what happens in the budget, because, in his negotiations, he arranged for the government to provide, on the last page of the budget paper, data in real terms—that is, adjusted for inflation—in per capita terms. So I don't really need to read the budget; I can just look at the last page.
Here's the headline: this year, right now, tax, per capita, is the highest it has ever been in Australia. Did you hear that from Treasurer Frydenberg last night? I can't remember. Did he say, 'Tax per capita is the highest it has ever been in Australia'? I don't remember him saying that. I wonder why. It seems to me to be the highlight of the budget. Let's look at payments per capita. Maybe that's a better story for the government. Sorry! Again, payments per capita are the highest ever in the history of our Federation. What a shame! Two for two! This coalition government—a 'Liberal' government, I think it calls itself—has delivered the biggest government in Australia ever. In both tax and government spending, it's the biggest ever. It's not me. The government published it. It's on the last page. The numbers are right here. Just to make it clear: on average, this financial year, an Australian is taxed $15,465. No other number in the past has ever been as high. Isn't that something to be proud of, Liberal Party?
Let's look at payments, government spending per person. The government are spending $16,634 on your behalf. That's an even bigger number. Even though they're taxing you more than they ever have in the past—it doesn't matter what government you look at, be it Whitlam's, Rudd's or Gillard's—they're still spending more than that on your behalf. That means more debt. They cannot live within their means. We heard last night: 'We're not taxing you. We're living within our means.' It's just not true. The government said last night that they're doing things without increasing taxes, but it is clearly the case that they are increasing taxes. It is in their very own budget.
Another of my favourite pages in the budget, because I am a bit of an ex-Treasury wonk, is table 7 in the fiscal strategy. This is the one where the government of either persuasion, Labor or Liberal, try to pretend that they're not increasing spending. They often have tricky ways of saying, 'We're reducing overall spending,' or 'We've made decisions to reduce overall spending.' Most budgets have them. This is the first budget I remember reading—and I've been reading budgets for about 20 years—where they don't even pretend to be making policy decisions that reduce overall levels of government spending. Normally you have these promises that will offset all new spending. It doesn't exist. This might be the first budget ever where there's no promise to offset new spending. The coalition must have just realised: 'Hey, we've got no particular benefit in restraining government spending. There's no other party in this place that cares. The Labor Party don't care if we're increasing spending, so let's just do it.'
This financial year, the very prudent government that we have says, 'We are going to make policy decisions to increase government spending by a mere $3 billion.' Isn't that nice of them? We could have nearly had a budget surplus this year if the government had just decided not to spend. And, over the coming four years, the government has decided to make policy decisions to spend an additional $8 billion. This is unheralded in budgeting, particularly from a coalition government, which normally at least tries to pretend that they're reducing government spending. They use smoke and mirrors. They move money into out years. They didn't even bother doing it this year. It's an absolute disgrace. No-one's watching. In an election year, they've made an assessment that no-one cares about the rising size of government. They've given up any semblance of being a Liberal government. Anyone who thinks that government should be restrained and who continues to vote for the coalition is absolutely crazy. Your only option is to vote for the Liberal Democrats.
Fairness is not a proposition that comes readily to the mind of ministers in this government, as this budget once again reminds us. The Treasurer's overnight backflip on the energy assistance payment is yet more evidence of this government's insensitivity to the need to enhance fairness and reverse inequality. That insensitivity comes at a time when many Australians on low and middle incomes are confronted with sluggish wages as they struggle with their food and power bills. I did, of course, vote for the energy assistance payment today. But I was appalled that, when the payment was unveiled in the lead-up to the budget yesterday, people on Newstart were explicitly excluded and—if that'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 cook their food. Overnight, the government thought better of its stinginess, 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 little more than a slap in the face to the less well-off in our community, who have been struggling with rises of much, much more in their energy bills in recent years. It is also a tacit acknowledgement that the price of energy is too high for comfort for most consumers. Despite that, this budget contains no measures to seriously address the issue.
Australians are paying a high price, literally, for the failure of this government to get its act together on energy and climate change. It shows how little the government cares for the future health of the environment or for the wellbeing and prosperity of the generation of Australians now voting for the first time. How else do you explain the fact that the government still won't rule out wasting taxpayers' money underwriting new coal-fired power generation? This is despite the fact that renewables are the cheapest form of new power generation in Australia. With our old, inefficient, increasingly unreliable and expensive coal-powered fleet set to retire in coming years, the government should be doing more to encourage new clean energy generation. On that score, the government should be using competitive market-based approaches and not picking winners, as it has shown a tendency to do.
My home state of South Australia has an incredible contribution to make in this field. But what we have in the wake of the budget is a one-off payment of $75, rather than long-term policies to encourage the development of cleaner and cheaper power into the future. Young voters in particular are understandably fed up with this appalling lack of leadership on climate and energy policy from this government—so don't be surprised if, when they come to vote in a few weeks time, younger voters take it out on the final remnants of the boomer generation who are still in charge of policy in Canberra.
But the story of the energy assistance payment is not the only indication that fairness has been far from top of mind for the government in the budget or elsewhere. In fact, last night's budget is a tacit admission from the government that last year's personal tax cut package offered too much to the well-off and did not do enough to assist low- and middle-income wage earners. The decision to give priority to the less well-off in the community in last night's tax program vindicates my decision to oppose stages 2 and 3 of the original package last June. On that score, I'm pleased the Prime Minister and Treasurer are seeing their way to double the maximum relief provided by the low- and middle-income tax offset which was part of stage 1 of the original tax package. It was a course I argued for last year, and I am pleased that in some measure the government accepted my conclusions. However, I am disappointed that the revamping of stages 2 and 3 now will see even more benefit for people on higher incomes but little for the less well off. We can get a sense of the government's long-term priorities by looking at their numbers: $19 billion through the forward estimates is the cost of tax relief for low- and middle-income earners. But to get an idea of just how much the overall tax package favours the well off we need only go to the 10-year figure: fully $300 million.
The time is long overdue for Australians to be rewarded with a government and parliament that put fairness right at the top of the agenda. In developing policy, fairness ought to be the first thought, not an afterthought. The government's initial apathy on energy assistance was bad enough, but I am even more disappointed that neither the government nor Labor is prepared to commit to an increase in the criminally low level of Newstart, which has not increased in real terms for fully a quarter of a century under any government, both sides included. In a nation as prosperous as Australia, this is simply a disgrace.
At its current level of just $40 a day, Newstart and associated payments condemn many jobseekers to a life of poverty without the means to seek work in a realistic fashion, which is, after all, their primary purpose. From my earliest days in the Senate last year, I have used every opportunity and avenue to advocate for an increase in Newstart and associated payments to a more humane, realistic level—not generous but realistic. More than once I have supported the push from ACOSS and others for an increase of $75 a week—just over $10 a day. That would hardly buy a sandwich and a milkshake, to use the Amanda Vanstone index. It's not just ACOSS leading the charge; to her credit, Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia has been advocating an increase for some years now. As she has repeatedly pointed out, at just $40 a day Newstart has itself become a barrier to effective jobseeking. What a bizarre and perverse contradiction: a payment supposed to get people back into work is actually making it harder because the level is so low that jobseekers cannot afford clothes to make themselves presentable or bus tickets to get to job interviews.
Then there's John Howard, who says that the Newstart freeze has gone on too long. I am not forgetting his former chief of staff, now Senator Arthur Sinodinos, who, in various capacities, has been at the centre of more fiscal reform and budget preparation than anyone else here. On Monday he told Q&A on the ABC that over time it should be higher—cautious, for sure, but we get the message and so should his coalition colleagues.
Modelling by respected economist Chris Richardson of Deloitte Access Economics last year estimated that an increase of $75 a week would cost the budget $3.3 billion but produce a prosperity dividend mainly through increased spending of $4 billion and also provide a significant fairness dividend—targeted at low-income earners, of course, and especially in regional areas. It sounds like a pretty sensible transaction, especially when the budget papers indicate consumption is sluggish. So it's appalling that neither major party is prepared to commit to a Newstart increase that would stop many people living in poverty as they try to get a job. Maybe there aren't enough votes among the jobseekers. If that is the calculation of the major parties, they ought to stand condemned.
The government is very pleased with itself that, if current economic trends continue, all debt will be paid off by 2030. Perhaps the Prime Minister and the Treasurer might take a moment to thank those crossbenchers in the Senate who braved their scorn last June for opposing the full suite of the government's proposed company tax cuts. Not only did we save the budget $35 billion in revenue forgone but the money saved is also making a massive contribution to the task of reducing debt. Calculations by the Australia Institute today estimate that fully $90 billion of the projected reduction from the current net debt level of $374 billion over the next 10 years comes from the fact that the tax cuts to the big end of town were defeated in the Senate last year. It's another reminder of the value of the crossbench to the Senate. The government seem to be slow learners, because this budget now bakes in tax cuts worth $300 billion for a decade, regardless of economic circumstances and their lack of fairness. The symbolism is stark, as is the absence of any real action in the budget to make Australia a cleaner and healthier place for the generations who will follow us, who will have to clean up the mess we have made of the environment. The generations who follow us will pay a heavy price for the government's years of inaction, opposition and internal conflict over real action on climate change, just as they may for rash commitments to tax cuts to the well-off two and three elections into the future.
I rise tonight to speak on the budget, and I'm only going to have a brief session on this. There are lots of good things in this budget, and I'm not surprised—it's an election budget. I guess what we need to do now is look at what Mr Shorten announces in the other place. Voters will get to have their choice in respect of who they wish to lead and who might better manage the economy and provide leadership in the building of this nation. Whilst there are many good things in the budget—and once again I have to concede that there are—there are some issues, including some issues for South Australia, that I just want to put on the record.
South Australia has a declining population when compared to other states, and that's indeed why we currently have 11 members in the other place but, after this election, we'll only have 10. That is because of the declining relative population of South Australia. In some sense that's because we've been constrained in terms of growth, and some of that has been because of poor immigration policies. I concede there's some light at the end of the tunnel. We are now looking at bringing skilled migrants into regional areas, which is a good thing.
I also note that this year we got quite a good percentage of the infrastructure spend. Last year we got less than our population share. This year we've got about 13 per cent of new funds being injected into South Australia. But there's a problem. This money seems to have been injected, in some sense, in a pork-barrelling, targeted fashion rather than in accordance with a plan.
Let me talk about a road trip I did last week around the northern part of South Australia and in the Eyre Peninsula. There are a number of projects around South Australia that could bring great wealth to South Australia and, indeed, to the nation. We have the Braemar province to the north-east of Adelaide, where there are quite significant deposits of iron ore. I was up in Roxby Downs at Olympic Dam last week, where BHP, with a predominantly copper mine, are trying to expand. They're exploring expanding their operations there. I went to Leigh Creek. Last week Leigh Creek Energy announced to the stock exchange that they have discovered gas with a quantity equivalent to that of the Cooper Basin, so it's a significant find and a significant opportunity for South Australia.
It's an ex-coalmine—I'll take that interjection. It was a coalmine and now we can get some gas from that mine. The GFG steelworks in Whyalla is also due for a significant upgrade, which is a fantastic thing. Also, at Wudinna we've got the Iron Road project, which is another substantial iron ore deposit where we could open up that region to a significant iron ore mining opportunity. People are working towards these things, but, when I look at the infrastructure that we have in those areas, there's very little in the way of rail to get these commodities to any ports and, indeed, no deep-sea ports in South Australia on the Eyre Peninsula, where we probably could be shipping these resources at relatively low cost. CU-River Mining have an iron ore mine that is very close to Coober Pedy. They're going to have to take their product down to Port Augusta and then load it onto barges to take it out to a ship, a Cape class vessel, that can export that iron ore. It's a rather inefficient way of doing things.
But there's a lack of a plan. There's no plan to look at rail. In fact, I probably mislead the chamber in some respects because one of the priority projects in our Infrastructure Priority List is the Iron Road project, which includes the iron ore mine at Wudinna and a rail line running down to Cape Hardy, where we could have a seaport. But instead of backing that, spending some money and actually seeding that project—a priority project, no less—the government has sat on its hands and done nothing at all to support that project moving ahead. There's a great opportunity for Cape Hardy to become a multi-user seaport where it services the iron ore mine, were it to go ahead at Wudinna. Indeed, grain growers all across the Eyre Peninsula and a number of other companies have indicated that they'd be most pleased to use that port. But, instead of backing that port, somehow we've now got a situation where additional port options have been thrown up. Now we've got options at Port Spencer; we've got options at Stony Point near Whyalla; we've got an option for a seaport at Lucky Bay; we've got an option for a seaport at Whyalla. Of course, all that does is just create confusion. Business doesn't know what to do. We're in this sort of vacuum of leadership, and this will cause a delay and perhaps even prevent some of these projects going ahead—and there's $10 billion worth of economic activity that could flow from these projects. But there is no plan from the government and no funding in the budget to assist in that economic activity.
When it comes to growing South Australia, one of the good things is that we may well get more migrants, but more migrants are no good unless they're well trained. We need skilled migrants. We also need skilled Australians. Leigh Creek will likely employ something like 3½ thousand people; the Whyalla steelworks, 2,500 people; Olympic Dam, probably around 3,000 people; the Iron Road project, somewhere around 3,000 people. This is getting close to 15,000 people when I include the people that will be required in Adelaide for the naval shipbuilding program. It's all good stuff, except that, with the skills package that's been announced in the budget, which I support to a certain extent—there are some problems there; I'll talk about them in a moment—there's no indication of where this training will be located.
I do have a problem. The budget talks about 80,000 apprentices, and most people think that's great. We're creating an opportunity for 80,000 young Australians to get a trade—except that the government has cancelled or hasn't funded the mentoring program that we've seen in South Australia to move completion rates from 50 per cent to 95 per cent. So it's no good creating 80,000 places; I mean, there is some good in that, but it's much, much better to have 80,000 apprentices finishing their trade. The mentoring program that was so successful in boosting the completion rates for apprentices is missing from this budget. That's a little bit disappointing, once again, because of the number of jobs that could be formed in these projects running all across regional South Australia.
I welcome the government's $100 million injection into regional airports. That's really good. We can have some upgrades to our airports—upgrades that would have otherwise ended up being funded by councils—by ratepayers. Air transport is the lifeblood of regional communities. People in regional communities want to connect to the cities. They want to be able to get access to medical services. They want to be able to get access to educational services. Businesses need to be able to get access to their headquarters in the capital cities. We need to be able to get locums to travel to these places. But right now we're facing a problem where we've got very expensive regional airfares. And what have the government done? In last year's budget, they announced that they were going to spend $51 billion on upgrading security at some of the regional airports. That's fine. That pays for the screening equipment, the X-ray equipment, that might be needed to upgrade security. But they failed to pay the somewhere between $530,000 and $760,000 per annum required to operate that security equipment. Councils are somehow going to have to find more than half a million dollars to run those security services at the airports. They can't just make that money. What they're going to have to do is pass that charge on to the airlines, who are going to pass it on to their customers, who are going to raise their prices.
The Senate committee that's looking into rural airfares heard evidence from Qantas, specifically in relation to Port Lincoln, Whyalla and Kangaroo Island—they were the examples given by Qantas—that those services may become unviable when those additional costs are passed on to the airlines. At a hearing we held in Old Parliament House on Monday, the department conceded they had never done any analysis on the effect of these security changes—on these costs to regional communities. That's a total lack of due diligence. They had only looked at things from a security perspective. So we needed something in the budget. If you're going to impose a security regime on regional airports—and, note, it's to deal with national security—then national security should be paid across the nation, not lumped onto local councils. It's a hugely problematic situation that we've got. I foreshadowed in the committee and I'll do so now here in the chamber that I will move to disallow the regulation which requires that additional security, until such time as we make sure that regional communities don't have to bear the cost and perhaps lose air services. That's certainly on my radar for when we come back.
I will go to energy prices: I know that we have the energy assistance package, which Senator Storer mentioned just before. As I mentioned in a speech earlier today, that idea came from Centre Alliance back in 2017, when we were negotiating the tax enterprise bill that gave tax cuts to businesses with a turnover of less than $50 million. So I find it interesting that the bill mentions one-off payments, because it's not a one-off payment; this is an ongoing payment, and it's an ongoing payment because of a failure of government policy. When we negotiated that particular payment with the government, we did so on the basis that people needed help with their electricity bills, their energy bills, whilst the government sorted out our energy problems.
Since that time, we've seen an EIS proposed, we've seen a clean energy target proposed by Professor Finkel, we've seen a NEG, we've seen a NEG plus and we've even seen a big stick waved around, but there have been no changes, which means we now have to make this payment. So I think that payment, that bill, is the most stark evidence that the Senate can possibly have that there has been a total failure in energy policy, in electricity policy, from this government.
And it's not that the Senate wouldn't have supported a NEG. I think we could have got there. There was some debate about whether or not the emissions would use the Paris targets or 35 per cent or 60 per cent—whatever the Greens were proposing. That could have been dealt with. The problem was the coalition couldn't get it past their own party room. In fact, I recall Prime Minister Turnbull did get it past the party room and then a week later, for some reason, just backflipped. Then a week later he was no longer the Prime Minister. So that's a signal in the budget that there's a real problem.
Finally, I'll just wrap up with concerns about GST. It appears that South Australia will lose out on $517 million of GST. We've got a hole in the South Australian budget—a punishment to the South Australians. I remember being in this chamber when we were talking about GST and trying to make it absolutely fair. Of course, we needed to appease the Western Australians. We needed to give them more GST.
Well, I guess it worked out well for Western Australians. But it didn't work out well for South Australians, Senator Gallacher—I take your interjection. That's another big problem, and that's something that I undertake to address when we do come back, perhaps in the next parliament.
So, summing up, I think the budget has some goodies in there. I am keen to see what Mr Shorten will offer and what his plan is as well, as the electorate will be watching. I'm grateful for the infrastructure spend, but I don't think it's well targeted. We have to do better; we have to plan our infrastructure better around the projects that will get this country moving along and get South Australia moving in the right direction. We've got to make sure we promote our regions in South Australia—the Mount Gambiers, the Riverlands, the Whyallas, the Port Piries, the Cedunas, the Port Lincolns. In order to do that, we need to invest properly. We need to have a plan. So it's a reasonable job by the government for most of Australia, but I think South Australia has actually missed out here, and that's of major concern to me.