Senate debates

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Budget: Inequality and Environment

5:04 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today 15 proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result I inform the Senate that the following letter was received from Senator Waters:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

Instead of investing in Australia's future, the Morrison government is choosing inequality and climate collapse in its federal budget.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the Senate speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

5:05 pm

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

We now know enough about this budget to offer some informed commentary on it. Because of the budget leaks and the budget drops that we've seen over the last few weeks, we know that this budget will choose inequality over equality and we know that this budget will choose climate collapse over climate sustainability. Budgets are about choices, and this budget chooses wealth inequality and climate collapse. It is important to know that the choices we make now will have massive and long-reaching consequences for the climate and for the people we represent in this place in particular.

This budget will contain tens of billions of dollars of direct corporate subsidies to the fossil fuel sector—big coal, big oil and big gas. And we know that the mining and burning of fossil fuels are the single biggest drivers of our climate breaking down around us. This budget will show that we are being led by a government that picks big corporations and their millionaire mates, many of whom are direct donors to the LNP, over the millions of Australians who are unemployed or underemployed. It's a budget for the millionaires, not for the millions. With the money the government is committing to tax cuts in this budget, we could have a green recovery, a green new deal, where we could create hundreds of thousands of good jobs that ensure that people have an income that they can live on and that would create a strong and environmentally sustainable economy.

If you want one window into where this government's priorities lie, look at what's happening to company profits, look at what's happened to company profits over the last seven years and look at what's been happening to wages over the last seven years. Over the last seven years, corporate profits are up massively and people's wages are down. Wage growth is at its lowest rate in Australia since records began. Conversely, corporate profits are at the highest level in Australia since records have been kept. Working people are getting less for their efforts, and the executives and the shareholders are getting more. All this was happening before the shock of the pandemic that we are living through.

Tax cuts on top of this trend are only going to make inequality worse. We know that these tax cuts are not going to adequately stimulate the economy, because we've heard this story before. I want to be clear: we should be looking after low-income people, we should be raising the rate of JobSeeker and we should be providing relief to people on low incomes, because it's the right thing to do and because we don't want people to live in poverty. But when you look at the first round of the tax cuts, which, according to the government, was all about stimulating the economy, instead it just got trousered. People saved it rather than spent it. We know that that is true, and we are now, unlike when the first tranche came in, in a recession. Why would Mr Frydenberg think this round of tax cuts is suddenly going to magically be spent rather than saved? Of course, he knows it's not, which reveals the real reason for these tax cuts—that is, that they are ideologically-driven largess to the millionaires and the big corporates in this country. That is why this government is bringing forward the tax cuts.

There is a better way we can invest in a jobs guarantee. We can invest in a Green New Deal. We can invest in government backed jobs and income guarantees to help to create a good life for far more of our people and to make sure that nobody is left behind. We need bold and strong government investment in green manufacturing, in sustainable infrastructure to create jobs and opportunities to build the foundations of a fairer and cleaner economy. And we need massive investment into public services for our community—health, education, public transport, child care, aged care—those public services that people expect governments to deliver locally and at a high quality. Economies need to work for people, not the other way around. And until we have an economy that works for people and until we see budgets that will prioritise people over the economy, and prioritise nature and climate over environmental destruction, we are in for yet more of the same.

5:11 pm

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McKim, you'll be pleased to know that tonight's budget is prioritising people. The income tax cuts are for low- to middle-income earners. They are for the battlers, the working class. That's because we know that if you want to get ahead in this country, if you want this country to succeed, it is all about wealth for toil. You're not going to get Australia out of the mess that COVID's got us into if we don't get people back to work. We can't stay under the doonas forever, and these income tax cuts are going to direct more money to the people who go to work every day. If the tax cuts put more money into their pockets, they will spend more and that will create more employment. We know it will work because we saw in the Howard-Costello years regular income tax cuts every year and the economy continued to grow. Wage rises went high, incomes lifted. Wages have only stopped growing since Labor introduced the Fair Work Act. Those opposite don't want to talk about that, do they? Employer improper payments, because of the Fair Work Act, are so complicated that even Labor aligned firms like Maurice Blackburn have been caught out paying the wrong salaries. Now, if an industrial relations firm can't work out what the right salary to pay is, what hope do the rest of us have? What hope do small businesses have if they can't afford to pay a high-priced lawyer?

In welfare support, the Morrison government doubled JobSeeker the moment we shut down the economy and the country with COVID. It went from about $540 a week to around $1,100 a week. We implemented JobKeeper straightaway. We've spent over $200 billion supporting the economy since the introduction of COVID. We've given two $750 payments to pensioners. There has been no shortage of support for those in need since COVID has struck.

And the government is investing in infrastructure. I don't know exactly what's in tonight's budget, but from what I read—I love it how the media know more than our own backbenchers, but that's another story for another day—we are led to believe there is going to be significant investment in infrastructure. That is going to be very welcome to the economy, because it's infrastructure that provides essential services.

I stood up here in my maiden speech and I said that government should never have sold infrastructure. Hawke and Keating should never have sold the CBA or CSL. How many billions is the government paying to CSL? We sold that back in 1992 for $200 million. A couple of years ago, we signed a $3.4 billion contract for nine years—almost $400 million a year—in order to get CSL to clean the blood that's donated to Red Cross. Why on earth did we ever sell that asset? That was just madness. I don't know what former Prime Minister Paul Keating was thinking, but that was just silly. Queensland Labor has just decimated that state by selling our forestry plantations, our ports, our railways, our roads and our Golden Casket. Never sell infrastructure that provides an essential service that people pay taxes for. They expect governments to provide essential services. They're not going to line up in front of Macquarie Bank when it all goes wrong. So this government supports infrastructure, and it's something I'm pleased to say I back wholeheartedly.

I want to talk about the inequality allegation, which is total rubbish—that somehow the LNP and the coalition aren't being fair. If you want to talk about inequality, let's look at Victoria and Queensland. If you want to see an example of brutal, misogynistic inequality, go and hop on the Facebook page of the member for Hughes, Craig Kelly, and look at his posting with the Helen Reddy song, about all the women who have been arrested in Victoria for trying to stand up for their rights. Of course, the name of the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, never gets mentioned on that side of the parliament, does it? They have complete amnesia when they look at Victoria. They don't want to acknowledge what a debacle that state is. If there was ever an example of inequality, it's in Victoria and in Queensland, my beloved home state.

How disgraceful and embarrassing was it to see Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk get up there and say, 'Queensland hospitals are for Queensland people and New South Wales hospitals are for New South Wales people'? That is terrible. My mother was born in Kempsey. My family on my mother's side are from the Northern Rivers, Kempsey and Orange. I love New South Wales. There might be three nights of the year when I don't, but the rest of the time I do. It's a beautiful state, and it is just embarrassing that the Premier has kept pregnant women from getting to hospitals, kept families from attending their family members' funerals, kept other people from getting necessary cancer treatment or recuperating from cancer treatment and separated children who attend boarding school in Queensland from their families—all to save her own skin. So I don't want to take any lectures from the Greens or Labor about inequality in the coalition, because if you want to look at inequality you've only got to look at the complete destruction of our individual freedoms under the Queensland and Victorian state governments—shocking!

Then we come to the climate doom and climate collapse stuff. It just goes on and on and on and on and on. If you want to talk about equality and looking after taxpayers, how about we get real here and look at the subsidies that renewable energy gets: $10 billion for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and $5 billion for the Snowy Hydro pumped hydro project. Three and a half billion dollars of taxpayer money has been pumped into the Climate Solutions Package, $2½ billion into the Emissions Reduction Fund, $1½ billion into the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, another $1 billion into the Grid Reliability Fund and half a billion dollars into the National Hydrogen Strategy. The renewables industry would have to be one of the most propped-up rent seekers this country has ever seen, and it doesn't end there. AEMO have come out and said that, if you want to get to 90 per cent renewables, you're going to have to spend $100 billion. That's not to get to 100 per cent renewables; it's to get to 90 per cent renewables. They won't go to 100 per cent, because they know that you're always going to need baseload power, whether it be coal or gas, in the background to back up renewable energy.

If we go and actually analyse what's happening with energy prices, we can see why they're rising. Despite the fact that everyone says that renewable energy is cheaper, it's not. Maybe renewable energy generation in the middle of the day is cheaper, but the cost of transmission, storage, security services and clean-up is not. Of course that's never factored into it, because there are no environmental bonds; and I'm glad we got that motion up today—I'll be sending that off to all the state premiers, demanding that environmental bonds are paid by these renewable companies. When they talk about costs, 48 per cent of energy costs now are in transmission costs. It's from building all those transmission lines which have to connect solar and wind.

And, of course, what's in all these transmission lines? It's switchgear. And what's in the switchgear? Sulphur hexafluoride, which is the most potent global greenhouse gas there is on the planet. It has a greenhouse-warming effect that is 23,000 times greater than carbon dioxide. Somehow, I don't think that's part of the clean, green dream. And what's in the solar panels? Nitrogen trifluoride, the second-most toxic global greenhouse gas in the environment, is used to make solar panels. That stuff hangs around in the environment for 700 years—700 years! And it goes on: what's used in the batteries? Lithium, which is a one-per-cent ore body; there is one per cent metal in the ore. That means we have to mine 100 tonnes of the ore just to get one tonne of metal. Then it has to go all the way to China or somewhere like that, get melted down through four energy-intensive electrolysis processes and then come back—and it lasts for about eight years. (Time expired)

5:21 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

As Senator Rennick's remarks demonstrate to the chamber, this government is indeed choosing inequality and climate collapse as its agenda. This government has a record of entrenching inequality in our communities, in our tax system, in our schools, in our health system, in our university sector and on it goes. And yet we have a government that does not even want to address structurally or even recognise the nature of inequality in our nation.

We see inequality in the disproportionate financial burdens that we now see on Australia's young people in the higher education bill that's before us today to what we've seen in our health system. Many Australians fork out money for their health insurance, which they then can't afford to use because they can't afford the gap payments which they need to make in order to access the care that they need—the health protection they thought they were buying. In our university system we now see the astronomical levels of debt which students will be subjected to. In our tax system we see tax deductions for people who are buying their fourth, fifth or sixth house, and yet those young Australians who are buying their first house will struggle to get ahead. These are all policy decisions. These are all decisions of government which embed inequality in our nation, a fact that this government chooses to deny or thinks somehow that it is in the economic interests of the nation to behave in this way.

When we look at inequality in this country and when we look at the astronomical levels of debt that are now being accumulated—and I'm not saying it's not justified to stimulate the economy to make sure that people have enough money in their pockets to live—this government is going to make the tax burden on future generations of Australians even harder because not only is there that future debt to pay off but those young people have stacked against them a whole range of other policy settings that will make their lives more difficult from the difficulty of buying a house and low wages to the inequality in our nation's schools and our higher education system. We have here a government that is so ideologically opposed to fair access to higher education opportunities and so blind to the aspirations of young Australians who want to study hard to get ahead that it has put forward a bill that does the exact opposite.

I don't think most senators understand how perverse this bill actually is. For example, a humanities degree or a business degree might currently cost a combined contribution from the student and the government of about $13½ thousand. If you want to do a commerce degree or an economics degree—wow, it looks pretty good on paper—there is going to be a $14½ thousand bill to the student. That looks like a $1,000 funding increase in the funding for that student for that place. On top of that, there is another $1,100 in subsidy from the government. That's a cut of more than $5,000 in the government subsidy to that student place. But it's going to settle that student with $14½ thousand of debt when universities are currently only spending, and allocated, $13½ thousand on that student. So unless universities are going to start funnelling money into the business and arts faculties, those students are going to be used as a cash cow in fees for a cross-subsidy to the very faculties this government says it wants to prioritise. You've said you want to prioritise engineering, you've said you want to privatise maths, you've said you want to prioritise science. Instead you've reduced student debt in some places but you've also reduced the government contribution, capping the amount of funding for those places and reducing the capacity of universities to enrol in those faculties, which I think will, in the future, result in the over-enrolment of students in faculties where a university can afford to charge a student more than that student costs them.

That is the heinous level of inequality that is embedded in the higher education legislation that is currently before this parliament. It is unthinkable to me that we can have a government so committed to Americanising our education system that it's prepared to fundamentally break it so that it's no longer fit for purpose, so that every part of the university sector and university system in the future can be deregulated from a fees point of view. There can be no other reason for the government to approach this issue in this way. You're conveniently saying you want to increase the commitment to science and make it easier for students to study science. But this legislation will make it harder for students to study science. Sure, they will have lower fees, but universities will have to cap the number of places in those faculties because they cannot afford to deliver them on the income this government will provide to them.

It is unthinkable to me that we have a government that seeks to use inequality in order to create a dog-eat-dog society in our nation because it reckons that's what's going to get the best out of people in terms of having a fair go. Well, I have to say to you it's not at the core of the fundamental values of our nation to behave in that way. It is the kind of thing this government has done in keeping wages down, in cutting penalty rates, in harming the economic standing of women in this country. The cuts to JobSeeker payments will disproportionately affect older women, who have disproportionately lost their jobs so far as part of the COVID crisis. In our country, women over 60 represent the largest cohort of people on JobSeeker. They face the greatest difficulty in re-entering the workforce, grappling with structural barriers and age and gender discrimination. When we look to the future and to JobSeeker returning to its old base rate, older women very much risk retiring in poverty. In today's budget I would really like to see the government provide older women who are out of work with some certainty by announcing a permanent increase to JobSeeker.

The government's bungled decision on JobKeeper locked out short-term casuals, the most vulnerable in the workforce. There we go, Madam Acting Deputy President: no attention to inequality in our nation in their response to these issues. Instead of ensuring that casual workers, who are already the most disadvantaged in the system, also had access to JobKeeper, those opposite biased it towards those who were already in secure work. And what do we know? We know that those in our casual workforce are also more likely to be women.

With all of these women in the higher education sector and the childcare sector excluded from government assistance, it is extraordinary that those opposite have then left families and women to draw down on their superannuation. Do they know that there are now 600,000 working Australians—people who've been working—who have no superannuation of their own? It is utterly appalling that this government has such an explicit passion for entrenching inequality in our nation.

5:31 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I'll discuss the real climate collapse risk: the Greens' new green deal. The Greens complain about a system that's unfair, yet their alternative plan would cause the total destruction of our economy and our way of life. What's fair about that? The Greens new green deal is a plan to decolonise Australia, deindustrialise our economy and decommodify life and is an assault on our democratic society. The new green deal is wholly dependent on an overbearing and all-controlling big Greens government.

Firstly, the 'green' in the new green deal is nothing to do with protecting the environment or controlling the climate. Green is the colour of camouflage. It's really socialism 101. The Greens' new green deal would see us living in a real-life 1984an Orwellian socialist totalitarian state where the thought police would monitor our every word for signs of offence—or our somewhat free market replaced with a ruinous, state regulated, controlled economy. The new green deal is a radical restructure of our way of life, a political nightmare that would destroy everything Australians hold dear.

So what are the Greens proposing, firstly, economically? They propose free university, a sitting-on-your-backside living wage, free child care, a billion-dollar green army—hopefully, an environmental army and not one to control the likes of you and me—hundreds of billions to fund billion-dollar foreign corporations to build more short-lived junk wind and solar plants. The list goes on and on and on: free money, free money, free money. In short, when the Greens talk about investing in our future it means investing in unaffordable, unreliable power that will cause blackouts and economic destruction. If implemented over 10 years, the Green New Deal will cost taxpayers $2 trillion. Taxpayers will carry the cost, with profits going to corporate partners. The Greens are socialising the cost and privatising the profits. The Greens' method of financing worked so well in Venezuela that in 2018 inflation reached 1,700,000 per cent. As Baroness Thatcher once stated, the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.

And what about the new green deal's social policy? That's even scarier than the new green deal's economic policy: increased powers to monitor and police hate speech—which, I'm sure, under the new Greens regulations would outlaw this very speech. There'd be more rules to divide us along race, gender, sexuality, age and any other line the Greens can create to divide us, separate us and pit us against one another. It is a truly disgusting, anti-Australian, anticommunity and antihuman political strategy. Our borders would be open to everyone looking for the Greens' living wage and unelected, race based seats in parliament.

That's enough of socialism and control. The real solutions to both recovery from the COVID-19 recession and returning Australia to a prosperous and free society are these: One Nation will build new coal-fired power stations for affordable, reliable, stable, dispatchable power. One Nation will fight for restoration or compensation for farmers who have lost the right to use land due to UN agreements. One Nation will build more dams and create water security across Australia, including building the hybrid Bradfield scheme. One Nation will establish a fairer tax reform, including multinationals paying their fair share. We will make a drastic cut to permanent immigration numbers to net zero until infrastructure catches up and make a fair family law system for families. We'll exit so-called free trade agreements, treaties and deals not in Australia's best interest. We must exit the Greens' mothership, the United Nations, to restore our sovereignty and freedoms. These proven basics will restore Australians to having the highest per capita income.

5:35 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I note that in ancient Greece there was an oracle in a town called Delphi, who travellers used to come to and ask for her view on their fortunes—what was going to happen to them in the future. On one famous occasion, King Croesus from somewhere in modern-day Turkey approached and said, 'Dear Oracle, tell us what will happen if I declare war on any neighbour?' And the oracle said, 'Well, surely a great kingdom will fall.' The king, of course, misunderstood what the oracle was saying to him, and the great kingdom that fell was the king's own kingdom, hence the oracle of Delphi's somewhat Delphic fortune telling. Then, in the Middle Ages, we had Nostradamus, the great French astrologer, who is frequently quoted in the modern day. Every time something happens, someone says, 'Well, Nostradamus predicted this.' But, of course, if one reads the poetry of Nostradamus, one can read into it what one will.

Here we are some one hour and—what time is it? I've just come back from Queensland, so I'm still on Eastern Standard Time. We're about two hours from the bringing down of the budget, and the Greens already appear to know what's in the budget. They already appear to know what's in the budget, and here we are debating what the budget provides for two hours out from the actual delivery of the budget. Fair enough; I'm happy to debate on first principles in relation to this matter. I'm quite happy to debate the Greens on first principles with respect to their philosophy and their version of equality.

Their version of equality is equality of outcome. They're levelling down; they're pulling down the successful, the entrepreneurial, those who create wealth, generate jobs, help provide prosperity, support charities. They will drag them down in the hope they can lift other people. Does this levelling process help? Has it ever worked anywhere in the world? No, absolutely not. What works is providing equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes—providing opportunity to each and every Australian. Wherever they live, whether they live in the bush or the city; whatever their background, whether they're a new Australian or one of our Indigenous Australians; wherever they come from we want to provide them with the opportunity to access education and health, provide them with the opportunity to fulfil their potential. That's what I believe in.

That's what I believe in, and I've seen that in practice. I saw that in practice in my life before coming to this place. I saw that in a little country in South-East Asia called Laos, where the company I worked for—and the Greens would have you believe 'company' is a swear word. What is a company? A company is simply a collection of shareholders investing their capital in a common entity to progress some sort of commercial objective. That's what a company is. It comprises shareholders, employees and a range of stakeholders. It's not a swear word. The company I worked for lifted thousands of people out of poverty, provided them with training and skills, provided microfinance programs so women in the villages could bring their kids in from the fields and send them to school. That's the company I worked for. And what did that? It was the entrepreneurial spirit of investors here in Australia, investing capital, putting their faith in the management team which then went and invested that capital overseas and provided those opportunities to some of the poorest people in the world.

That's what I believe in: opportunity for all and support for those in need. That is a fundamental, core LNP value. It goes out on LNP emails with notices of meeting: 'opportunity for all and support for those in need'. It is support which is provided by wealth generated from entrepreneurial activity, which generates tax income and also provides people with the ability to contribute to charities of their choice and do their own lifting in their own communities.

Yet we have the Greens, in this modern-day, socialist articulation, seeking to drag our society down. We don't have to look further than Venezuela to see how these utopian policies work out. In Venezuela we have a modern day living hell for the people of that once-affluent country. I want to quote from a journalist I regard highly. His name is Anatoly Kurmanaev and he has written extensively on Venezuela. He spent five years in Venezuela and he has observed that what he saw in Venezuela was worse than anything he'd seen in the old Soviet Union as it was collapsing. I'll quote from an article he wrote:

By the end of 2018, it—

that is, Venezuela—

will have shrunk by an estimated 35% since 2013, the steepest contraction in the country's 200-year history and the deepest recession anywhere in the world in decades. From 2014 to 2017, the poverty rate rose from 48% to 87%, according to a survey by the country's top universities. Some nine out of 10 Venezuelans don't earn enough to meet basic needs. Children die from malnutrition and medicine shortages.

…   …   …

Caracas has long been a dangerous yet vibrant city, but the crisis has transformed it into a zombie movie set. When I moved into my neighborhood of Chacao, in the eastern part of the city, the streets were full of food stalls, cafes and shops run by Portuguese, Italian and Syrian immigrants. Groups of young and old stayed in the streets drinking beer or chatting into the small hours.

But Chacao's streets are now empty after dark. Most of the streetlights no longer work, and the only people outside after 8 p.m. are homeless kids rummaging through garbage bags.

There is your socialist utopia; there it is in action. There is the result of your politics of envy. There is the result of the ultimate equality: equality of misery doled out by government officials, who are the only exception to that rule.

I can predict the principles upon which the budget to be delivered tonight will be framed. I can do that because I can draw upon the track record of this government. I know it will be a responsible budget. I know that economically it will seek to target those who most need assistance at this point in time. I know that because of the way the government has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the principles which the Prime Minister put in place back in March have been adhered to. Any government policy has been targeted, temporary, proportionate and scalable. There haven't been any pink batt disasters under this government's watch, no overly expensive school halls and no cheques sent out to dead people. It's been targeted spending using existing delivery services. I know that the driving force behind the budget will be a desire to make sure that people currently in a job get to keep that job and those who don't currently have jobs have the opportunity to find a job as quickly as possible.

I would like to make a few comments in response to Senator Pratt's remarks. I'd say to her that what she said does not reflect my experience on the ground in my home state of Queensland. I can draw on some experiences in just the last week which draw out the truth of the matter. A week ago I visited a building site where the land developer said their new sales of land had fallen off a cliff in March. When the government introduced its HomeBuilder subsidy, they went from a pre-COVID rate of sales of 20 per month to 100 sales in six weeks. It was absolutely transformative. As soon as a vacant lot of land in the greater Brisbane region is released, it is snapped up by, in many cases, first home buyers. So that policy is working. That targeted policy providing support to one of our most fundamental industries is working.

When I visit charities and assistance organisations throughout the region on which I focus, I also see the impacts of the Australian government's support in terms of emergency food relief and other aid which is being provided to the most vulnerable in our society. I expect that principle of opportunity for all and support for those in need to be reflected in the budget which will be delivered by the Treasurer this evening.

5:45 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this matter of public importance. Instead of investing in Australia's future, the Morrison government is choosing inequality and climate collapse in its federal budget. Some of my colleagues spoke about the climate collapse, so I will focus my remarks on the Morrison government's choice to perpetuate inequality.

The Morrison government hopes that COVID-19 has given us all amnesia. They want us all to forget how unequal and how weak our economy was before the pandemic hit. Trust me: millions of Australians who for years faced stagnating wages and work insecurity have not forgotten. Let's take a look at where we were in December 2019. At that point we had notched up six years of this government. The economy was slowing and had continued to slow after Scott Morrison had stabbed Malcolm Turnbull, the ex PM, in the back. The economy was already not working for ordinary working families. Growth was anaemic, consumer confidence was down, unemployment was up and household spending was growing at the slowest pace since the global financial crisis. Retail trade was at its worst since the 1990s recession, and many retailers were shutting up or on the brink of collapse. Household debt had surged to record levels and was almost 200 per cent of disposable income. Household living standards were actually on the decline, with real household median income lower than when this mob came to office in 2013. Business investment was tanking and was at its lowest level since the 1990s recession. Net government debt had already doubled since the Liberals and Nationals came to office and was at record highs. All of this was pre-COVID.

There were many older Australians who were struggling—mostly those who do not own their own homes or those who have little superannuation to access. Of course, ordinary families—men and women—struggled to pay their bills, especially the young people being forced to juggle multiple jobs and finding it near impossible to get enough work to earn a decent wage and get basic protections such as sick leave and workers compensation. So Prime Minister Morrison and Treasurer Frydenberg don't get to hide behind the pandemic and pretend inequality was not already rampant.

The other thing this government does not like to get out—they like to pull the COVID curtain over it—is that we saw a steep increase in intergenerational inequality on their watch. This is worsening inequality which they have done little or nothing to mitigate. If you compare across generations, you can see just how much harder it is for younger people today to reach the milestones my generation took for granted: a secure job, marriage, family and a home of their own. The average household aged between 55 and 64 is $300,000 richer than the same household back in 2003. If you go to the 65-74 age group, you see the difference is more than $500,000. Meanwhile, the picture for the 25-to-34 age bracket is starkly different. Even before COVID hit, this generation was going backwards. Over that time frame, their wealth was already stagnating.

There is a myth out there that younger Australians somehow are to blame for their own failure to accumulate wealth or buy a home because they spend their money on travel and eating out—the famous smashed avocado on toast example. The problem with the smashed avocado story is it's not true. Figures compiled by the Grattan Institute show that 25- to 34-year-olds save as big a proportion of their disposable income as did their elders. The difference is that today their savings can't keep up with surging asset prices and they cannot get housing and other assets of their own until much later, if at all, because they cannot get secure work. Insecure work is the biggest driver of inequality in this country. Insecure work existed in the Australian labour market long before the COVID pandemic. The pandemic has shone a light on the consequences of insecure work for our entire society.

This government has a historic choice. They can bake in the inequality laid bare by the pandemic or they can begin to address it by tackling what has become a two-tiered labour market. The world of increasingly insecure work and the inequality it creates is what we'll leave our children if we don't take steps now. The Morrison government needs to start valuing work again from the point of view of working people—the role it plays in their dignity and power and the opportunity it gives to them and their families to gain real economic freedom.

If you don't think insecure work is a problem at the heart of the system of inequality in our economy, I urge you to consider these statistics. The Australian Bureau of Statistics' jobs figures announced last month showed that 111,000 net new jobs were created in August. The ABS was at pains to point out that nearly every single one of the 111,000 net new jobs was of self-employed staff, not normal employees. Two-thirds of these new jobs were part time. The conclusion that most economists, including Phil O'Donoghue from Deutsche Bank and Danielle Wood from the Grattan Institute, are drawing from this is that most of the jobs were created in the gig economy.

There's nothing inherently wrong with short-term contract and gig work if you have rights. In many industries—including trucking, which I know very much about—small business contractors are the norm. At the Transport Workers Union I often used to say that our owner-driver members made us the largest small business organisation in the country, and it still stands. The problem with the gig economy is it is used as a cover for those who would pay people less than the minimum wage and strip basic protection from those hardworking Australians. This leads directly to a two-tiered workforce: one group without rights and one group that has rights to demand better conditions—a two-tiered system. Gig workers are often deliberately misclassified as the second group, as contractors who miss out on superannuation, sick leave and compensation for injuries while at work. The platforms, in many cases, have tried to create a legal vacuum where they can underpay workers below the minimum wage. Food delivery workers are earning $10 an hour less, with no paid leave. Rideshare workers can be fired from Uber with no recourse, even after working part time or full time with them for years.

Depending on how you measure it, the gig and contracting economy is about eight or nine per cent of the workforce and rising. The rapid emergence of digital platform employers like Amazon, Uber, Deliveroo, Airtasker et cetera has presented us with a new kind of challenge. A recent survey this month of delivery drivers found that 71 per cent of these workers were struggling to pay bills and buy groceries, and that 36 per cent had been hurt or injured on the job and 81 per cent of those workers didn't receive any support from their company—so 36 per cent hurt or injured and 81 per cent of those receiving no support from their company. Sixty-three per cent said they had been unfairly treated by the platforms, like having their account deleted without a chance to defend themselves. That's the Prime Minister's brave new world. It should not be the rest of the country's. The lack of even the most basic protections makes these workers incredibly vulnerable.

There could be some steps to address many of the issues that I've described and give us a path out of insecure work and, therefore, out of inequality. We need to fix our temporary migration system to stop employers using visa status as a means of exploiting migrant workers. We need to rethink the regulatory regime for labour hire. We need to invest in TAFE and universities to futureproof workplace skills. We need to be creative on the Commonwealth Procurement Rules and corporate procurement. These are the sorts of things that will make sure we have an equal economy—one that serves everybody.

5:56 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Instead of investing in Australia's future, the Morrison government is choosing inequality and climate collapse in its federal budget. We know this because the billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies that have long plagued this government's budgets will still be there tonight. They've got this gas-led recovery that they're full steam ahead on, despite the massive impacts on farmland, groundwater, our climate and First Nations' land rights. It is full steam ahead for the government's corporate donors: their big mining mates, their millionaire mates, their lobbyist friends, their future employers.

Inequality will be turbocharged, because we know that about $5 a week of the tax cuts that are being brought forward—at the cost of, as the PBO says, roughly $28 billion—will end up in the pockets of people who earn less than $37,000. People who earn over $120,000 will get $50 a week. Are people on less than $37,000 meant to be happy with $5 a week? If this government has got $28 billion to splurge on tax cuts, why did it just cut JobSeeker and JobKeeper? They've just ripped 300 bucks a fortnight out of people's pockets and they're giving back $5 a week to low-income earners—and they're supposed to be happy with that?

This budget will turbocharge inequality, and it will also turbocharge gender inequality. We know that the COVID crisis has exposed and exacerbated existing structural gender inequalities and that women are fighting to maintain the progress that they've made in the past two decades, let alone move forward. According to the women's finance index, the pandemic has reversed two years of growth in women's full-time employment. For every month of COVID it has added another year to the time line for reaching gender wage parity. We're at 36 years now before we'll see gender pay parity. Women drawing down their superannuation accounts to make it through the pandemic, when this government let them down so badly with the proscriptions on JobSeeker and JobKeeper eligibility, will really struggle to rebuild their retirement savings. Some analysts have said that the early withdrawal of $20,000 now could mean $100,000 less in your retirement balance when you retire—with compound interest, of course.

On Equal Pay Day this year the Workplace Gender Equality Agency CEO, Libby Lyons, said that the gender pay gap rose two percentage points during the global financial crisis and took a decade to recover. We can't let that happen again. We can't afford another decade. The government's budget must invest to address inequality, and it must close the gender pay gap and the superannuation gap by permanently increasing JobSeeker and increasing wages in the lowest-paid industries—which, we know, are feminised. It must invest in the care economy rather than private construction, brown infrastructure and tax cuts for the rich. The Australia Institute has estimated that by investing in education and care you will create nine times as many jobs as you would in construction and manufacturing—not just more jobs for women but more jobs for blokes, too. So there are actually no downsides to doing that, but this government is just on its ideological war path.

We also want this government to invest in free child care to support parents and, in particular, women to return to the workforce. We had a taste of that; it was great—bring it back! And we want the government to give women a chance to rebuild their retirement savings by scrapping that $450 superannuation contribution threshold which means that low-income earners—predominantly women—don't actually get super contributions from their employers. And, of course, we want super to be paid on parental leave, as it should have been from the word go.

As predicted by women's services across the country, family and domestic violence has risen to epidemic levels during COVID and is expected to spike with ongoing economic insecurity during the recovery. As many as one in 10 women in relationships reported experiencing abuse during COVID, with half reporting that abuse had worsened and a third experiencing that violence for the first time. It is absolutely heartbreaking, and yet the meagre funding that's been provided by this mob has been too little and too slow. Just last week, they had the audacity to re-announce funding from February last year, which was already pitifully small, and tried to make out that this was some pre-budget drop. This was in the same week that Women's Legal Services told a Senate committee that they have to turn away 50 per cent of callers because their funding is not adequate. Women and children are trapped not only by violent partners but by an underfunded system that fails to offer support when they escape. Services are stretched: the supply of crisis and long-term housing falls well short of demand; child care remains unaffordable; and work is increasingly insecure.

We welcome the reinstatement of the time-use survey and the expanded reporting tools provided to WGEA, but data collection means little if it's not reflected in policy. The announcement of the Women's Economic Security Statement is welcome, but it's no replacement for a gender lens on the budget. We don't want funds for kitchen renovations, we want gender equality.

6:02 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Instead of investing in Australia's future, the Morrison government is choosing inequality and climate collapse in its federal budget. The federal budget to be handed down tonight is many things. I'll start by saying that it's a real contradiction. After last year's big proclamation that we were back in the black, after years of highly misleading and incorrect assertions that surpluses are all the evidence we need of good economic management, we are staring down the barrel of an enormous deficit. The economic response to COVID-19 has involved a level of government spending completely unseen in modern Australian political history. The Liberal rule book was thrown out the window as the conservatives realised that they would actually have to spend money on people and support their incomes in order to get us through this pandemic.

Some of the response has been welcome. The Greens certainly welcome the coronavirus supplement and secured its extension to those on payments, including youth allowance. We fought to retain JobSeeker at the increased rate and also backed the continuation of the JobKeeper wage subsidy at the $1,500 level. But the Liberals could not wait to cut these payments back, and now we have JobSeeker cut by hundreds of dollars a fortnight and JobKeeper slashed and tiered. The projected deficit in this budget will be big, but it's not because the Liberals are spending what they should be on supporting ordinary people in what has been for many people one of the toughest times in their lives.

The centrepiece of this budget, handed down only seven months after our country was turned upside down by the pandemic, is going to be tax cuts. Tax cuts! These people really just can't help themselves. When they introduced their big tax cut package last year, this government said that the economy was doing so well that it was the perfect time to shrink the tax base and deliver these massive tax cuts that would overwhelmingly benefit higher-income earners. Now that we're in the midst of the biggest economic crisis in living memory, apparently it's an even more perfect time and so they want to bring them forward. If the economy is doing fine, we need the tax cuts; if the economy is in the toilet, we need the tax cuts. This budget is all ideology. It is a classic Liberal slash-and-burn number while maintaining an appearance of investment in public and social services.

This will also be a climate-denialist budget. It will be an utter failure when it comes to a green recovery. 'Coal and gas, coal and gas' is the mantra of this government. The government are pushing us down the cliff of climate collapse and inequality and are robbing young people and future generations of a hopeful future. Any budget that does not prioritise urgent cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and prioritise strong investment in renewables is a climate-denialist budget. While we have been locked down, completely changing up how we live and work in order to get through this pandemic safely, the climate crisis has carried on, and the Liberals and Nationals have their heads firmly in the sand, still. I will be reading the budget papers with great interest tonight, but I do not expect much from this cruel, climate-denying government.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

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