Senate debates

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Governor-General's Speech


12:24 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

As I was reflecting upon this government's agenda when I began this contribution the day after the Governor-General had given his speech—

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, Senator Rice. Senators, could you please keep the tone down as you are moving out of the chamber. I'm finding it difficult to hear Senator Rice.

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I was reflecting on four key elements of the Greens agenda, which are reflected to some extent in this government's agenda as well, and contrasting the ambition. In particular, I want to talk about First Nations justice, about climate, about nature and about inequality.

I will begin with First Nations justice, which has got to be at the heart of everything that we are doing in this place. It is good to see the increasing attention to First Nations justice that this parliament has, compared to the previous one, but it is still not good enough. We need to be centring rights, justice, truth-telling and treaty, as well as a voice to parliament, at the heart of everything we do and to be viewing, through a lens of First Nations justice, all of our considerations in this place. We need to remember at all times that we are working on stolen land. This is stolen land. Here in this place, we are on Ngunnawal, Ngambri and Wiradjuri country, and sovereignty has never been ceded. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

As I speak today, the debate on the government's climate bill is almost completed, I understand, in the House. There is about to be a vote on the bill, which will set a target of 43 per cent reduction in our carbon emissions by 2030. We, as Greens, know that this is so far from what is necessary, but we, as Greens, also know that it is a step forward. It is a massive step forward from the climate denialism of the previous government. Their target was clearly completely out of step with the rest of the world and completely out of step with what the science requires. But we also know that the 43 per cent target is basically going to be baking in the most extreme climate change and the most extreme heat, with global heating double what we've got now. It is just not enough.

As people know, the Greens announced yesterday that we would be supporting the government's climate bill because it is a step forward. But, as Adam Bandt, our leader, said, 'It's like bringing a bucket of water to a house fire.' It's a step forward, but it's nowhere near enough. We need to be doing so much more if we are going to have a safe climate for us, for the people of the future and for all the other species that we share this planet with. We know what the science says. It's not just the Greens saying this. Scientists, the International Energy Agency, certainly the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and countries all around the world know that we need to have at least a 75 per cent reduction in our carbon pollution by 2030. Even that is going to bake in 1½ degrees of warming.

We've seen what less than 1½ degrees of warming means in terms of the weather that is being experienced around the world now. We have seen it in our Black Summer bushfires—those extraordinary fires that killed billions and billions of animals, that caused deaths around the country from heat stress and caused massive impacts on our natural environment. We saw the huge fires and the burning of our native forests. In the East Gippsland region of Victoria, 80 per cent of the forest burned in those fires. We've seen the heatwaves in Europe. We've seen the temperature in England reach 40 degrees. We have seen the hundreds, if not thousands, of people dying there. We've seen the heatwaves across Pakistan and India. We've seen the floods here in Australia. This is what's going to continue. This is what we need to tackle.

We know what's causing this. We have known it for decades. Certainly I came into this place with a history of having worked on climate. I knew that the No. 1 existential issue that we needed to take serious action on was to reduce our carbon pollution to zero as quickly as possible and, in fact, to achieve negative emissions. That means getting out of coal, gas and oil, because it is the burning of those fossil fuels which is causing the climate crisis. So our position, of course, is that we are going to keep on talking about the need to lift our level of ambition and get out of the burning of coal, gas and oil as quickly as we possibly can here in Australia. We also need to stop contributing to the world's burning of coal and gas and oil by continuing to open up new mines and new coal and gas. We cannot afford to do so. We just can't.

One of the problems with decision-making in this place is that there is such a short-term approach, one that thinks about what's going to happen in terms of profits for a very small number of people over a very small period of time, when that's not the decision-making framework that we need to have. We need to be thinking about the reality of what the burning of those coal and gas reserves is going to mean for our future. And it's not a happy future. The science is really clear. Every tonne of coal and gas burnt increases the intensity and the speed of changes to our climate, which means more floods such as those experienced across New South Wales and Queensland this year, more intense droughts, more heatwaves and more frequent bushfires.

The positive thing about a government agenda and what we can be working on together is that Australia is so blessed with renewable resources, both for ourselves as a country and for export to the rest of the world. We are probably the best placed in the whole world to be leading this transition, and that's what we need to be doing. We need to be working towards that, rather than, hypocritically, using the drug dealer's defence about our coal and our gas—if we don't burn it, if we don't mine it, if we don't export it, then somebody else will. Not only is that immoral, completely unsubstantiated and completely unacceptable in relation to what the impact of it would be for our future, it's just not true. We are the world's second-largest exporter of thermal coal. Australia is the third-largest fossil fuel exporter behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia. In fact, if we had a planned transition out of coal and gas—we've got our coal and gas mines at the moment—if we had a planned transition out of those and we absolutely did not open up any of the 114 new coal and gas mines that are being planned, if we did that in a planned and measured way, it would have a massive impact on the world's supply and it would turbocharge the shift which is already happening around the world to renewable energy, including so much Australian renewable energy. Australian electricity, Australian hydrogen, created with Australian jobs in the future focused Australian economy—that's the direction that we need to be putting all of our efforts into. We need to be saying, 'This is the sustainable future for us all. This is what's going to be bringing wealth and wellbeing to Australia as well as to the rest of the world.'

The Greens implore the government to listen to the science and to lift its ambition. We will keep on talking about the need to get out of coal and gas. The Climate Change Bill 2022, which is going through the House today and which will come back to us in the Senate in the coming months, is just the first step. There is so much more that needs to be done. We implore the government to listen to the voices of the community, rather than to the voices of the big coal and gas corporations, and to listen particularly to the voices of young people, who, unlike most of us—I don't know whether I'll still be around in 2050: certainly, in 2070 I'll be long gone. The young people, who are talking about their future, are going to be here in 2050. They're going to be here in 2070. They are the people who will have to live with the consequences of our decision today.

On our opening day, on Tuesday of last week, when the Governor-General gave his speech, we had young people here in this parliament. They came to parliament to have their voices heard on these urgent issues of climate and inequality. However, very sadly, in an attempt to silence them, these young, peaceful protesters were ejected by the parliament, by police, for singing—for singing, mind you!—in peaceful protest. I'm so glad that the following day I was able to get out and meet them and to sing with them on the lawns of Parliament House, to tell them that we heard their voices, that we listened to them and that we were going to keep on acting, being their representatives in this place and trying to get the government to listen.

I will use some of my time here today to elevate their voices and to give you the words that they were telling us—their message to us all on Tuesday last week. They are a strong and growing movement of young people from all over the country, and they want you to hear this. They told us that, with people across the country facing unprecedented climate disasters, rising costs of living and a housing crisis, we need climate jobs for all, and that solving the climate crisis is too important to be left in the hands of big business. We need sustained action, coordinated by the government, in the hands of the public. They said that a climate jobs guarantee will end unemployment and get our economy back on track. It will solve the climate crisis. It will prepare us for climate disasters. And they said that our politicians have a choice to make: they can either bend to the will of big business or choose a people-first recovery that makes society better than what it was before the pandemic. So I pledged to those young people from the Tomorrow Movement that we Greens are listening, and I implore everybody else in this place to listen to them as well.

One of the other things that was really notable in the Governor-General's speech was the absence of any commitment to protect our native forests. Protecting our forests is one of the most efficient, effective and immediate ways to take climate action, because our native forests are excellent carbon sinks. There was a recent study on Tasmania's forests by the Tree Projects, which revealed that protecting native forests could provide $2.6 billion worth of carbon sequestration by 2050. Alarmingly, the study also found that annual emissions from native forest logging in Tasmania are equivalent to the annual emissions of 1.1 million cars. Experts have also warned us that logging our precious native forests increases the frequency and severity of bushfires, driving threatened species further into extinction and placing Australians in danger.

Yet, we are not protecting our forests. We must protect our forests, or we risk a climate catastrophe, and yet native forest logging is being facilitated by state and federal governments, who are recklessly destroying our forests. Native forest logging will never be sustainable. It destroys First Nations' country and totem species. It destroys habitat and robs our future generations of the right to our environment.

And yet, again, as I'm speaking here today, this afternoon, in the Victorian parliament, there is legislation being passed that is going to mean that the people protesting about this and defending our forests could be imprisoned for up to a year or receive up to $21,000 in fines. Similar antiprotest laws have also been debated in the Tasmanian and New South Wales parliaments. So I'm calling upon this government to speak out about these state government laws. We need to scrap our logging laws. We need to protect our native forests. But, at the very least, what this Labor government could do is to speak up for people's rights and speak up for the environment. They should be making the strongest representations to Victoria to abandon these laws, which are an attack on people's rights as well as an attack on our forests.

12:38 pm

Photo of Marielle SmithMarielle Smith (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to make a contribution in response to the address by the Governor-General at the commencement of the 47th Parliament. To hear the bold nation-changing agenda of the Albanese Labor government reflected in his words was a really proud moment for me in this place.

We, as a government, have so much work to do. We took a plan to the election that will deliver considered and serious reform across Australia. Our plans for early education and care will ensure that 97 per cent of Australian families have better, cheaper access to care. We are committed to the development and implementation of an early-years strategy, to identify how best government can coordinate the various government services impacting the early years. This is about delivering real outcomes, better outcomes, for our youngest Australians—something I am deeply passionate about. We have promised to rebalance the industrial framework of Australia to provide more job security and stronger wage growth, and to close the gender pay gap.

As a proud and parochial South Australian, I have seen at close hand the impact of declining manufacturing in this country. It has affected my state perhaps more than any other. At times, during the previous government, we've seen that decline in manufacturing be aided and abetted by the decisions that they have made. The collapse of our car industry in South Australia has consequences that will be felt in South Australia for generations to come. But it's not just the car industry. It was the uncertainty given to the workers at Osborne in the submarine program, who were left uncertain, year after year, Christmas after Christmas, about the future of their jobs, about the opportunities for them in our state. Australia should be a country that makes things—great things—and our government will make it one again. Australians also deserve to have faith that, when they go to work, they get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. This is a pillar of fairness in Australia. It's part of who we are as Australians. It's something else that we will deliver.

Another pillar of fairness is Medicare, which, after a decade of coalition government, has been run down in the face of growing demand. This pandemic that we've all been living through in the past few years has been a stark reminder of the importance of a well-funded and robust public health system, which only Labor prioritises and only Labor delivers in government. I'm proud of our commitments, during this election, that will strengthen Medicare further. We built Medicare, we believe in it and we will protect it. We will make it easier to see a doctor and cut the costs of medications for millions of Australians. We have reforms to children's health care, including ending the newborn health screening lottery and providing better care for children with hearing loss.

The task of Labor governments is always urgent. Once again, we've entered government at a hugely challenging time for our nation. I am absolutely committed to meeting the moment in which we find ourselves, as a government and as a community, and I know every member of the Albanese Labor government is as well. We don't intend to waste a single day of government in facing and tackling the challenges facing the Australian people and our community.

I was elected in 2019. Since then, I've travelled all over our state, talking to families, talking to workers, talking to kids, about what they wanted out of their government and what our plan was for South Australians. From Ceduna to Murray Bridge, Gawler to Payneham, the message was clear: South Australians wanted better. They wanted more from their government and they wanted something fairer. And, particularly over the last couple of years, they've wanted change. They felt unheard, unlistened to, and they felt that the previous government didn't have their interests at heart.

Aged-care workers have told me about the desperate conditions they've faced every day at work, feeling underpaid and overworked and not being given the respect that they deserve. I will never forget the incredible privilege I had to join a group of aged-care workers in Adelaide as they bussed from their workplaces to the CBD, to protest against the government's failures on aged care. I was invited by my good friend Donna, a proud and fearless advocate for the hardworking and dedicated aged-care workers she works alongside every day, and, of course, the residents they adore, too.

As we bussed into the city and got closer to town, some of these workers started playing music on the bus. One of the songs they put on was by Sir Elton John—I'm not going to sing it, but the words are, 'I'm still standing after all this time.' It was a light moment on a serious day, but I couldn't get those words out of my mind. What apt words to describe a workforce that had been pushed to breaking point not just during the pandemic but also in the years before it, where aged care was treated with nothing short of neglect. For these workers, for the residents they care for, for the families who love those residents, we finally, under this government, have a chance to do better.

I heard from countless families and caregivers, disheartened by their inability to access affordable, quality early learning and care in the communities where they live—families weighing up the financial implications of another day of care, making huge decisions about their lives, their work and their children because costs of care are crushing. But it's not just families; it's our early-learning educators, left completely behind during the pandemic. They felt unseen and unvalued by the government, a government—in what I think was one of the lowest days we've had in this building—where we had reports of its members labelling child care as 'outsourced parenting'. It was one of the most vile attacks our early-learning educators had experienced and, of course, it was deeply offensive to the families who rely on them.

I've been really proud to stand up for our educators. We have a big agenda for early learning, but I am keenly aware that it's not everything. My ambition for early learning knows absolutely no bounds, and it's something I will continue to fight and advocate for in the years ahead, because it matters. It matters to children in care—to their opportunities and outcomes; it matters to productivity; it matters to the kind of nation that we want to build; it matters when we're looking at smashing intergenerational disadvantage; and it matters for the amazing workforce which delivers this profound service to our community in educating our littlest minds.

Before the pandemic caused such great devastation in South Australia we had another kind of devastation with the summer bushfires which struck Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills. Homes and businesses were destroyed and lives were lost. These sorts of disasters are devastating and they're only going to get worse; they're set to get even more severe and more frequent because of the effects of climate change. My community in South Australia knows that; South Australians want action on climate change. They're sick and tired of the climate wars. They voted for us because they want these wars to be over. I am so proud that in the other place we've seen that work start today. And we have more to do: we're going to end these climate wars, we're going to get the action that we need and we're going to do it in a way which brings business, which brings workers and which brings environmental groups together on a journey to meet our responsibilities and do what we know we need to do for our planet and our environment.

I've also heard from young South Australians, over the past few years and still now, about the difficulties they face with housing—either buying their first homes or dealing with ever-increasing rents. That's gotten much worse in South Australia since 2020, with prices skyrocketing and rental availability going down. On top of these challenges, they had a government forcing them to drain their superannuation accounts—to tap into that limited resource when they were doing it tough. I've heard from small and medium businesses who rely on the pathway of defence manufacturing in South Australia and who are fearful for their futures with the continual delays to decisions around the future of work at Osborne. These are businesses which now have a new assurance from our defence minister, who is committed to manufacturing the nuclear submarine fleet in Adelaide.

Each of these stories paints a picture of an Australia tired of nine long years of a government with no agenda, no plans and no desire to build a better future for Australia. These people represent just a fraction of the community I represent—a community I talk to and seek to represent, help and assist in my work as a senator. It's one of the best parts of what I get to do: getting into different communities in our state, talking to people, finding out what's going on on the ground and then bringing that back into this place and fighting for change.

There's one community in particular in South Australia which has absolutely captured my heart through my time as a senator, and that's the community of Ceduna and the surrounding areas. I was shocked to learn about this community's pleas for help in replacing their local health clinic, which was dangerously run down and had been ignored for years by governments who kept passing the buck. This clinic of course is Yadu health, a clinic I've spoken about many times in this chamber. It's a clinic riddled with mould, asbestos and water damage. It's where a staff member said they had been electrocuted at their desk when trying to plug something into the wall. Another staff member talked about the roof falling in during the rains. It's a clinic where too many people walk in, say, 'Oh, that's terrible!' and just keep on walking. This clinic will now be rebuilt by the Albanese Labor government. I am so proud of this commitment, and I'm deeply grateful to the Hon. Linda Burney MP and to Minister Kyam Maher in SA for their work here as well.

Since the election, the most common sentiment I've heard from South Australians in talking about the result is relief, and it's a feeling that I felt on election night too—relief that something better, fairer and more just is on its way to Australia. It was relief that leadership and accountability is back; relief that our nation's diversity would finally be better reflected in the new parliament—indeed, it's better reflected in this chamber; and relief that progressive values that prioritise caring for one another, looking after one another and valuing people could once again be at the heart of federal government.

So many people contributed to the outcome: volunteers and, of course, all the candidates who ran. I want to acknowledge in the other place my good friends Matt Burnell and Louise Miller-Frost, who were elected at this election, and also the many candidates who put their hands up for Labor values, like Sonja in Sturt, Julie in Grey, Mark in Barker, Marisa in Mayo and Trimann, Jo and Belinda, who were all candidates for Labor's Senate ticket. All these candidates committed to our values and were committed to what we were trying to achieve, to get an agenda of fairness back at the heart of government.

I want to congratulate Tony Zappia MP and Steve Georganas MP in the other place on their re-election, and I note that I'm very proud to continue to serve alongside Senator Grogan, even though, like me, she was not up for re-election this time. I also want to acknowledge that in the ministry we have some great South Australians in Senator Wong, Senator Farrell, Amanda Rishworth and Mark Butler, all of whom I congratulate on their appointments.

In my first speech in this place in 2019, I outlined my belief that one of the greatest tasks for Labor is to make Australia better for the generations to come. We are custodians of the institutions and the levers of policy within government to make it better, to make it fairer—and we're on our way. I was proud to sit in this place during the Governor-General's address last week, where the values and goals and bold ideas of our new Labor government were read into the record. It is an incredibly humbling honour to be part of the Albanese Labor government, which I know will place fairness, boldness, urgency and unity at the centre of our plans to tackle the challenges before our nation.

Our party, the great Australian Labor Party, is the great reformer of Australian history. Whether it's the establishment of Medicare under Bob Hawke, native title or the NDIS, we do the big things, the hard things, that change our nation fundamentally for the better. I know the reforms of our government, led by Anthony Albanese, will lead to a fairer and better Australia for the next generation and those to come.

I am especially humbled by the task ahead, with the referendum on a voice and, indeed, the broader implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full, which Labor is committed to delivering—voice, treaty and truth. In Garma, we saw the Prime Minister set the road map for the path ahead. This is the start of the public discussion. This is the start of the process, which I hope will lead to a voice. If we get there, I know that that voice will make a practical difference. I believe South Australians are ready for voice, treaty and truth. They want to walk in unity towards that path. As a senator, I'll take my leadership responsibility to walk with Australians towards that goal and do that in a way that is collaborative and respectful. Ultimately, I hope that is something that this parliament, the 47th Parliament, can achieve and be proud of achieving together.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to take the opportunity before calling the next speaker to remind senators that it is courteous to listen to other senators in silence rather than interjecting. Senator Bragg, you have the call.

12:52 pm

Photo of Andrew BraggAndrew Bragg (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to make some remarks in response to the Governor-General's statement at the opening of the parliament last week and to deal with one of the primary issues in the speech where the government identified the Uluru Statement as a priority. It is an important issue, and it is going to take a lot of thought and care for us to be able to deliver on some of the components of those policies that have been sought under that statement. The first point is that there is no question that, over the past 250 years, we have failed to institute good policies in Indigenous affairs. We have not been able to provide the sort of country we want to be. All you need to do is look at the often-recited statistics in the Closing the gap reports, which are regularly provided, and the updates given by the Productivity Commission.

Reflecting upon what Senator Smith had to say, there is no question that the Labor Party have done some good things over their history in Indigenous affairs, and so has the Liberal Party. It will take a degree of bipartisanship and tripartisanship if we are going to have any success in this area. We are living in a country that has not had a successful referendum since 1977, which was quite a long time before I was born, and there have been a series of defeated referenda in my lifetime. In order to achieve broad based support for a change in the Constitution, it will be very important to take people along on the journey and to address issues, some of which have been raised in this chamber and in this building in the past couple of weeks.

I think it is a reasonable proposition that we would seek to achieve what John Howard set out in 2007, when he said that we should have a form of constitutional recognition, but that we also should seek to do a better job on listening to people in communities about government service delivery and do a better job of ensuring that the laws and policies we make for Indigenous people are working for those communities. It is true that everyone is an individual, and it is also true that, when you travel around parts of regional Australia and talk to community members, as I have in western New South Wales, they are not talking about the Constitution. They're not thinking about constitutional amendments, in many cases. The issues that are before them are much more immediate and are often about routine service delivery—getting kids to school and the like. My view is that these changes, if done properly, can address this wretched problem of: How does government provide services? How does government engage with and listen to citizens, particularly in the far-flung parts of the states that we represent? My hope is that that is what can happen in this process.

Now, with a set of words having been put on the table last weekend—and as our shadow minister, Mr Leeser, indicated is a reasonable question and reasonable starting point—the parliament and the community should be given an opportunity to look at the various models or forms of words that could not only be applicable and acceptable to Indigenous people more broadly but also have a chance of being adopted and have a chance of winning at a referendum. I think that is a reasonable position for us to work on. I will be happy to work with other people in this parliament on that process. I would make the point, though, that if we are going to focus on the voice, which I understand is the first priority that most people in this place have indicated we should pursue, that is going to take a lot of the effort. I think it's going to be hard to pursue other significant measures in this space. So I look forward to making some contributions there.

Of course, the main reason we have this parliament is to ensure that we can put in place policies for the benefit of our people. My view has always been that the foundation of a fair or good society is a strong economy. The Labor Party had a few policies they took to the election that they won—not many; they had a few. They had a few policies for the economy—just a few. Let's see how they go with those. But, in the first few weeks of the government's time in office, the initial agenda appears to be very focused on paying off vested interests: the super funds, the unions and the class action lawyers. I just say that, if the job of a government is to work through the list of grievances from its vested interests, that would be a very regrettable start. I think we will ultimately end up in a position where the government is going to run out of things to do, because these laundry lists of rent-seekers are only so long.

I'll step through a few of these misguided agenda items. Everyone knows that the ABCC abolition is purely designed to pay off the CFMMEU, which is the major donor to the Labor Party. Why would anyone want to reduce the rule of law and transparency in that key construction sector? Then we've got Mr Jones over in the House of Representatives seeking to hide political donations that have been made by the super funds into the union movement. What's very curious is that Mr Jones is also seeking to hide payments from the super funds to the union movement. He is seeking to do that by ripping up regulations that were made only a few months ago which require super funds to disclose to members in their annual member statements the amount and the detail of the payments that are made to political parties and to unions. They're required to be disclosed in detail. Mr Jones wants to rip that up. He's wanting to do that before the disclosures have even been made for the financial year just gone, I assume because he doesn't want to be embarrassed by what disclosures are going to be made.

He currently has a consultation draft of his regulation with the Treasury department. I feel sorry for the Treasury officials. I feel sorry for them having to implement this absolute garbage, which is basically going to rip up the transparency and integrity provisions that have been put in place. After the Labor Party have lectured everyone else in this place about transparency and integrity, one of their first items is, of course, to reduce integrity and transparency. Anyway, Mr Jones is out there consulting on his regulations to hide these donations and these payments. 'The great super cover-up' is what I call it. If he decides to go ahead with this and he wants to make this regulation, of course this chamber could disallow that regulation within 15 days of it having been made.

Let's see. We will see whether the people who talk endlessly about integrity and transparency are going to eat their words or whether they are going to ensure that people who are forced to save into these vehicles are allowed to see where their money is going. That is the question: can people who are members of super funds see where their money is going? Is it going to the Labor Party? Is it going off to the unions? We know that in the last year 13 million bucks went from the super funds into the unions. That's going to balloon to $30 million by the end of this decade, so it's a lot of money. Anyone who's been involved in political campaigns in Australia can tell you that 13 million bucks a year is a lot of money. We will see if Mr Jones wants to pursue this regulation. I suspect that he may not want to, but if he does we will test the mettle of the Senate and see whether people are really committed to transparency and integrity.

The other thing that Mr Jones is pursuing over there in the House is a proposal to weaken the best financial interests duty that was put in place for the super funds, which is designed to stop the super funds giving the money out for non-commercial, non-member-focused activities. It is designed to stop these sorts of payments to unions and to political parties. It is designed to ensure that the funds can't get engaged in political advertising. It's designed to stop the funds sending money off to their boondoggle, the New Daily, which is an organisation that they've funded heavily and is basically just a propaganda outfit. The whole point of the best financial interests duty was to ensure that superannuation is there for the members.

Mr Jones has asked the Treasury—again, I feel sorry for the Treasury officials, who are very good officials. The Treasury officials in the Markets Group are some of the best public servants in the Commonwealth, and they're sitting there having to review the best financial interests duty. The only reason you would want to review the best financial interests duty is that you want to permit new payments that are banned today. That's the only reason you would do it. So we will see. Mr Jones, at some stage, will have to come clean on what other payments he wants to see. Does he want to open the floodgates to more payments for unions? Does he want to set up a new media empire funded by the unions? Maybe he wants to send more money through to the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party. We will find out. But until we are clearer about what payments he wants to admit, that agenda can only be seen as working through a laundry list of items for the super fund and union movement.

Of course, the Labor Party have put forward very few policies for small business, and I think that in this term of parliament we should be looking to make it easier for people to run a small business, make it easier to hire, make it easier to comply with government regulations and make it easier to pay tax. We want to make sure that small businesses in this country are very easy to get going. Equally, my own party should have a good hard look at what policies we're prepared to put on the table as a party of government and, directionally, my party should also take time to consider the verdict that was given at the last election. I believe we should be very focused on our core equities of putting forward policies that are predominantly around driving economic growth, looking after enterprise and ensuring that we are focused on fairness—looking after people.

I would say that in the last period there have been too many cases where we have been dragged into culture wars and things that didn't really matter to people, or people couldn't understand why we were pursuing them, and we have been perceived at times as not being focused on fairness. We need to be a party of government focused on fairness and enterprise and we need to consider carefully the feedback from the electorate that we received in May. There is always room for improvement. People shouldn't be defensive about these things. It is my strong view that we have to have much better policies on emissions reduction. We have to take seriously the issues that were raised by Australian women, and we have to be committed to working with the government and other parties to put in place a serious integrity commission in Canberra.

I think this week has been an important week on that journey and I very much welcome the opposition leader's commitment that the Liberal Party and the coalition will develop a stronger policy on emissions reduction. We have had the 26 to 28 per cent reduction by 2030 for too long, and it has not been good enough. I am very keen that we go to the next election—well before the next election—with a vastly stronger policy on emissions reduction. It's important that the parties of government are presenting to the community but also to investors, who we want to fund this transition—we don't want taxpayers to be funding the transition; we want the market to fund it—that the parties of government are committed to emissions reduction, are committed to doing it in a competitive way, are going to keep pace with our competitors and are going to do our fair share of the heavy lifting. Thank you for the opportunity to speak; goodbye.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Bragg. We look forward to hearing from you again at a future point!

1:07 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On 21 May this year Australians voted for change. They voted for change because they were tired. They were tired of an almost decade-old government that failed to address the major issues our country was facing. They were tired of a Prime Minister who refused to take responsibility, who would respond to questions about his failure to act with, 'That's not my job' or 'I don't hold a hose, mate'. They were tired of the Prime Minister's failures during the COVID pandemic: the failure to roll out vaccinations quickly enough, the failure to secure rapid antigen tests when they were needed and the failure to get stranded Australians home. They were tired of government ministers trying to undermine state and territory border controls by calling on premiers and chief ministers to open up before it was safe to do so. They were shocked that the previous government would join forces with the billionaire mining magnate to challenge state border restrictions in the High Court, support they only withdrew when they realised how unpopular it was.

Australians were tired of the government treating taxpayers' money like it was Liberal Party money. They were tired of the rorts and the government's refusal to establish a national anticorruption commission with real teeth. They were tired of seeing scandal after scandal when it came to issues of transparency and accountability: the sports rorts, the car park rorts, the overpriced land sales and overpriced water buybacks, the forging of documents to make a political point, the million-dollar blind trust used to fund court action against the ABC—and the list just goes on and on. The previous government took corruption and malfeasance to a level not seen since Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Australians were tired of the government refusing to take real action on climate change and continuing to make excuses for their lack of action. They were tired of seeing their wages stagnate while the cost of everything else was going up, yet the previous government had no plans to do anything about low wage growth or the cost of living. Haven't they changed their tune! Australians were tired of the neglect of older Australians in residential aged care. They were tired of the Prime Minister showing up for photo ops doing inane things, like building a chicken coop, cooking a curry or playing a banjo—not that well, I might add—yet going missing whenever there was a crisis or need for real leadership.

Australians voted for a majority Labor government because we offered them a positive alternative. We offered a vision and a plan for a better future. In my reply to the Governor-General's address, I will outline three areas that are of particular interest to me in which the Albanese Labor government offers a positive alternative to the abysmal record of the previous government. Those areas are early childhood education and care, skills and training, and housing and homelessness.

I turn first to early childhood education and care. I have chosen to focus on this area because of my more than a decade of past experience as an early childhood educator. We know that child care is important for families, because it helps them to juggle their work and family responsibilities. This is particularly important for women, who tend to take on the bulk of caring responsibilities. We know from evidence both in Australia and overseas that subsidised child care helps boost women's participation in the workforce and is an important contributor to closing the gender pay gap. Given the importance of subsidised early childhood education and care, I found it particularly galling to hear this measure described by those on the other side as 'communism', a 'money pit' and 'the hand of government reaching in and taking away our children's youth'.

If that was the attitude of the previous government then it explains a lot about their childcare policies. Out-of-pocket costs for child care went up more than 40 per cent under the previous government. We even had the farcical situation where parents—mostly women—were sometimes only receiving a marginal financial benefit from taking on additional work. In some cases, it was even costing them more than they stood to earn. The policy Labor brought to the last election will make child care cheaper for 96 per cent of Australian families. That's 1.26 million families. It will lift the maximum subsidy to 90 per cent for families with their first child in child care and keep the higher and additional rates for the second and additional children. On top of this, we will get the Productivity Commission to conduct a comprehensive review into the sector, with the aim of implementing a universal 90 per cent subsidy for all families. The ACCC is to design a price-regulation mechanism to drive out-of-pocket costs down for good.

Subsidising early childhood education and care is about a lot more than just driving workforce participation. As a former early childhood educator who understands the industry and the work that the educators do, I know that the benefits flow not just to the parents but also, importantly, to the children. This is why workers in the sector are called educators now instead of carers. Yes, they provide all the important care needs for children such as feeding, changing nappies and wiping runny noses, but educators also provide an age-appropriate program of play based learning aimed at specific learning outcomes. They train for years learning how to plan and implement this learning. They also undertake continuous professional development to maintain their skills and keep up to date with the latest knowledge and research on early childhood learning and development.

This is a highly skilled, professional occupation that provides the foundation skills necessary to set children up for their school education. We know from research that children who engage in early learning get better learning outcomes for life. The early years before the age of five are considered to be a key time for learning development. Early childhood education contributes to so many aspects of learning: motor skills, social and emotional development, language skills and comprehension—and the list goes on. When we on this side of the chamber talk about cheaper child care and when we talked about it in the lead-up to the election, we are not just talking about reducing the cost of living for struggling Australian families. We're not just talking about driving workforce participation, getting more women into work and closing the gender pay gap, as important as they are. We are also talking about improving the learning outcomes of preschool aged children with skills that will potentially set them up for life. As a former educator I know the power of early childhood education because I've seen how it has transformed the lives of the children who were under my care and who I taught.

I mentioned earlier the importance of Australians engaging in the workforce. For them to do that we need to give them the opportunity to get secure, high-paying jobs. The most secure and best-paying jobs are skilled jobs. The COVID pandemic has laid bare the extraordinary depth of the skills crisis Australia is facing. While Australia will always have a need to fill skills gaps with skilled migration, most Australians would agree we should prioritise getting Australians into skilled Australian jobs. Employers are crying out for skilled workers, yet there are still over a million Australians either looking for work or looking for more work.

The previous government didn't just fall asleep at the wheel when it came to tackling the Australian skills crisis; they crashed through the safety barrier and drove the car right over the cliff. Since coming to government those opposite reduced Australia's apprentice and training numbers by 70,000. They cut billions of dollars from TAFE and university, and their decision to abolish industry skills councils meant Australia was flying blind when it came to identifying and filling skills gaps.

In one of my previous jobs I was a training coordinator for the Australian Services Union and I was the Tasmanian branch representative on two industry skills councils, with representatives of employers, employees and relevant unions, training providers and government. These councils all collaborated to try and improve the skills of Tasmanian people. The councils undertook such tasks as skills audits, curriculum development and writing, and advising on the implementation of training policies, as well as overseeing the process for approval of accredited training. This role helped me appreciate the importance of assessing skills needs, predicting future skills needs and working with stakeholders in the process. This capability is vital if you want to know where to invest to develop the skills you need.

If filling skills shortages is like driving a car, investing in training and education is like putting petrol in the car, while having an authority to identify the skills needs is like having a map to navigate. There's no point driving around burning petrol if you don't know where you're going. Sadly, the previous government spent nine years draining the fuel tank, dismantling the engine and throwing the map right out the window. So it's now left to Labor to fix the skills crisis, and we will.

The Albanese government will establish Jobs and Skills Australia as a national partnership to strengthen workforce planning by working together with employers, unions and the training and education sector. We will provide 465,000 fee-free TAFE places for students studying industries with skills shortage, including 45,000 new places. And we will deliver up to 20,000 extra university places over 2022 and 2023 with a particular focus on national priority areas like clean energy, advanced manufacturing, health and education and where there are skills shortages.

But, even when Australians can get a secure, well-paying job, the dream of homeownership is becoming increasingly out of reach—particularly for young Australians. With soaring house prices, people who are renting are facing the double whammy of having to save for a deposit while spending more of their money on rent in a tighter, more competitive rental market. For the first time in Australia's history, median house prices have passed $1 million.

It's very appropriate that my colleague Julie Collins, the member for Franklin—in whose electorate my local office just happens to be based—has been appointed the Minister for Housing and the Minister for Homelessness. Minister Collins's electorate of Franklin covers most of the outer suburbs of Hobart, which now has the distinction of being the least affordable capital city for rental accommodation. We can see the disastrous consequences of this, with over 4,000 Tasmanians on the housing waiting list and the average waiting time being more than a year for priority applicants. Priority applicants have to wait more than a year. This means a lot of pain for people who are couch surfing, sleeping in emergency shelters or living in cars, tents or caravans. I can't begin to imagine how difficult it has been for Tasmania's homeless through the harsh winter we've just had. Only last week Hobart had snow down to 200 metres.

Shelter is a basic human need and, as such, it's a human right, but it's something that previous governments did almost nothing to provide during almost a decade in office. We now have a prime minister who truly understands the importance of social and affordable housing; after all, he grew up in public housing. Not only do we have a prime minister who grew up in public housing; our housing minister also spent the early years of her life in public housing. Building social and affordable housing works, and that's what Labor intends to do to address the housing crisis. That's why we will establish a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, the income from which will fund social and affordable housing in perpetuity. That includes 30,000 social and affordable homes across Australia in the first five years. Of course, providing secure affordable accommodation also means helping more people and their families to realise the great Australian dream of owning their own home. Forty years ago, almost 60 per cent of Australians on low and modest incomes owned their own home; now it's only 28 per cent. Labor's Help to Buy scheme will help 10,000 Australians a year reduce the cost of buying their own home by up to 40 per cent. This will mean a smaller deposit, a smaller mortgage and smaller repayments.

I've outlined our plans in three important areas, but Labor's agenda for the future is so much bigger than that. We've got a lot of challenges to address, including rising inflation, an uncertain global trade and security environment, and a trillion-dollar debt. Many of these challenges are the legacy of the mess left to us through nine years of Liberal-National neglect. Cleaning up that mess is a big job. It will take a lot longer than the two months that we've been in government for, no matter what those on the other side say. You had nine years; we've had two months. But we have one of the most experienced and capable ministries in Australian history, and we also have a wealth of new talent on our backbench.

We were elected on the promise of delivering a better future for all Australians. With hard work and discipline, we're capable of delivering on that promise and we are getting on with the job of doing just that.

1:22 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I've had a surreal feeling here in Canberra during the last two weeks. We face, as a country, perhaps the biggest challenges since the 1930s, yet we have wasted our time in this parliament on issues that are not going to deliver real results for Australians and are not going to make our country stronger and more prepared for what might be to come. After two years of a pandemic, in 2022, we now face a year when war has erupted in Europe for the first time since the 1940s. This week, the Chinese Communist Party is, effectively, putting into place a blockade against Taiwan. We do not know, over the next year or two, what Australians might be called upon to do, particularly young Australians. This war in Europe now is metastasising, potentially to become a world war, and we will not be able to be completely immune from its impacts and effects. We should be preparing for that. We should be making our country more resilient and stronger and we should be getting back to being self-sufficient in basic things that we need to supply any type of economy during wartime. Instead, all this new government is focused on is symbolism and tokenism.

This morning in the other place, a bill was passed to establish an emissions target for 2030—eight years time. Who knows what's going to happen in the next eight years? We do not know, yet we're setting a target. On the government's own admission, they don't really need the legislation. They've said that. They've said: 'We don't need the legislation. We're just doing it, effectively, to fill time.' I think there are other things we could be doing in this place, rather than just engaging in symbolism. Another thing we've been told we're going to have is an Indigenous voice, but, again, we're told: 'It won't have any real power. It's not going to be able to do anything. It won't be able to solve any issues for Indigenous people.' It will just be more politicians here in Canberra. More talk! What this country needs now is action, not talk. Yes, I agree with Senator Bilyk that this government is only a few months old, and they are still riding off the excuse that it's their first day on the job. Fair enough, but there is a lot of talk and not a lot of action here. And we as a country desperately need action, given the circumstances we find ourselves in.

This is a reply to the Governor-General's speech. I was making notes during the Governor-General's speech to us. In fairness to the Governor-General, it's not written by him; he just says it. When you look at the political speech the government put together here, it's often more what is not said than what is actually said that is key. In the speech of more than 20 minutes provided by the Governor-General to this chamber, there was not one single mention of Australia's mining industry, perhaps the greatest contributor to our nation's economy, particularly over the last couple of years. I'll come to some of our weaknesses, which we need to be honest about. But perhaps one of the shining lights in our economy, where we've become stronger, better and more self-sufficient in the last couple of decades, is our mining industry. We're the world's largest exporter of iron ore, the largest exporter of uranium, the largest exporter of coal and now, in just the last couple of years, the largest exporter of liquid natural gas. We are an important country because of that.

Just today, we read the news that the shipment of coal that we donated to the Ukraine has arrived in Poland and will soon be providing power to Ukrainians. President Zelenskyy, just in the last few days, has thanked Australia for that contribution. We can contribute a lot to world security through what we mine and the energy we provide, particularly given the situation we see where the autocratic Russian regime is using its energy exports as leverage to gain control over and influence a wartime situation. We can help prevent those countries having that ability to dictate to weaker and smaller countries, that leverage over them, but only if we support our mining sector: our coal, oil, gas, iron ore and other industries.

Yet that speech did not have a single mention of it. There wasn't even a mention of lithium, nickel or cobalt, which are the flavours of the month. But the biggest exports currently that we can help contribute are in those fossil fuel industries. Instead, we've heard over the past couple of weeks—I know the Greens are always going to want to shut down the coal, oil and gas industries—from the government, from the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, that he agrees with the Greens, and he will find other ways to shut down these industries. He's not going to do it through this legislation I described, but he's going to use this thing called the safeguard mechanism. Isn't that an Orwellian term! Be very, very scared of something the government calls a safeguard mechanism. He's going to use this safeguard mechanism to shut down these industries. He's been telling the Greens sweet nothings about this. We don't know what they're saying behind closed doors. And that gives exactly the wrong impression to the thousands of Australians that work in our mining industry—and, as I said, how that industry can contribute to keeping and maintaining global peace and stability. The government just does not seem focused on that.

They should be. They should be, because, while we have had a generation of success in our mining industry, it's a different story in our manufacturing sector. That has been in decline. We need to be honest about that, assess that and change that. It's been happening through various governments—I'm not blaming or being partisan to any side of politics. But, for decades now, our manufacturing sector has been in decline. In the year 2000 we were self-sufficient in raw petroleum. We could produce enough petroleum for our domestic needs. We exported a lot of it, but we still could be self-sufficient, push come to shove. We had 96 per cent of our raw petroleum needs produced here in Australia. Today that figure is below 50 per cent. We've lost two-thirds of our oil-refining capacity over that period. They're gone. So what happens if the sea lanes around us close and we can no longer import oil? We cannot—

Yes. I'll take that interjection from Senator Antic. The response seems to be this: 'We've got lots of solar panels'—also made in China, by the way—'we've got lots of wind turbines, we're going to have these batteries, and it will all be all right.' We are not going to be able to defend this nation unless we can be self-sufficient in oil. That is going to be a key factor in any coming conflict in the region, and there is too little focus in this country right now on our deficiencies in oil, despite the fact there would be a lot more oil in this country if we had the guts to look for it and develop it, and despite the fact that there seem to be attempts to shut down the one shining hope in this country to produce more oil and become self-sufficient again, the Beetaloo basin in the Northern Territory. There are people here who want to shut that down. They're not talking about making Australians drive less or use less oil. We'll just import more of it from overseas and become more dependent, instead of becoming more independent as a nation and being able to use our God-given and abundant natural resources for the benefit of this country and the defence of our great nation.

I'm going to run out of time, but I'll pick it up later. I also passionately want to defend our steel industry and what it is going through. We're now a net importer of steel, despite being the biggest coal and iron ore exporter. That should change. I'll be able to pick that up next time we're back—at the same bat channel in the same bat place.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury) Share this | | Hansard source

We will now move to two-minute statements.