Senate debates

Monday, 21 November 2022

Matters of Public Importance

Albanese Government

5:48 pm

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The President has received the following letter from Senator Dean Smith:

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

The Albanese Government's broken promise to deliver cost of living relief in the Budget, including by bringing down energy prices by $275.

Is the proposal supported?

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

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

5:49 pm

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

'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …' People will recall the famous novel by Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities. But if Charles Dickens were alive today, he would be compelled to write about a tale of two Labor parties. The first Labor Party is the Labor Party that acts in a certain way when it's desperate to get elected to government. The other tale of the Labor Party is how it chooses to act when it is elected to government. Earlier today we talked about the great deceit that Labor has inflicted upon Western Australian voters. Prior to the election, the Labor Party said that large-scale, wide-ranging, backward-looking industrial relations reforms were not part of its plan. And today, six months after their election, as we begin the last parliamentary fortnight, the big ticket item that this Senate chamber will debate will be Labor's big plans for industrial relations reform.

But nothing tells the story better about what Labor says and what Labor does on its way into government compared to what Labor says and does when it's in government than the issue of electricity prices. On 97 occasions—just think about that; it's three fewer than 100—the Labor Party thought it would seek to camouflage its poor record on electricity prices in an effort to come to government. Mr Jim Chalmers, then shadow Treasurer, said in Perth on 30 April this year:

    'We've got policies to get electricity prices down,' Mr Chalmers said.

    At the Powering Australia press conference on 3 December 2021, the Prime Minister himself, Mr Albanese, then the opposition leader, said of Labor's policy that it 'would see electricity prices fall from the current level by $275 for households' by 2025. In his National Press Club address on 18 May this year, the then opposition leader and now Labor Prime Minister, Mr Albanese, said:

    Making Australia a renewable energy superpower is the fastest way to cut pollution and the most effective way to act on climate change.

    And then he said:

    But it's also the best way to cut power bills for families and businesses—saving families $275 a year.

    They are just a few examples of the 97 occasions when Labor, in opposition, said it would commit to bringing power prices down for Australian families by $275. That's what they said in opposition.

    And what has happened in government? You can run but you can't hide from the budget process. In the government's own budget documents, at page 57 of Budget Paper No. 1, it says:

    Treasury has assumed retail electricity prices will increase by an average of 20 per cent nationally in late 2022, contributing to higher forecast CPI in 2022-23. Given forward wholesale contract prices for electricity remain elevated, retail electricity prices are expected to rise by a further 30 per cent in 2023-24.

    What Labor says in opposition, when trying to get to government, is very, very different to what it does in government.

    Who are the people that pay the price for that? It's ordinary Australian families and small and medium-sized businesses. Just this morning, Western Australians would have woken up to a news story about how Western Australian charities are now having to do more to support Western Australian families meet the rising cost-of-living challenges. (Time expired)

    5:54 pm

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

    Again, there's the question of the cost of living. Let's look at what the impact is for so many people right at the moment. At the inquiry into the most recent industrial relations bill, we heard from Peter Richards, a 42-year-old Simplot worker from Devonport, who is a casual forklift driver. To his credit, he served in East Timor with the Army back in 1999 to 2000. Peter said:

    The cost of living has gone through the roof. Everyday necessities—it's the difference between buying frozen vegetables or having fresh vegetables … I currently walk most places because the cost of fuel has gone through the roof, and I get a lift to and from work with my fellow workmates.

    Paul Jeffares also talked about the cost of living and the pressures of being a working person in Australia at the moment under the previous government's legislation:

    I work at CUB, Carlton & United Breweries, here in Melbourne, as a shift electrician. I've been there 30 years.

    He was told by a company by the name of Catalyst, who operate as the recruitment arm of Programmed, that with his wages and conditions he had one choice: firstly, to be sacked, or, secondly, to agree to a 65 per cent wage decrease if he wanted to work. He said:

    When your wages and conditions are reduced by 65 per cent, your whole life changes; your world crumbles; you just fall apart—just like that.

    He said, about the pressures on him and his workers, that after almost a year of fighting to get their wages and conditions back on keel they eventually got there, with no help from the legislation. He went on to say that this can absolutely still happen to thousands of workers right Australia.

    Heather Macardy, a primary school teacher, talked about the problems she has had over 18 months of negotiations in the existing multi-employer stream, not having the capacity to bring that dispute to a head, and the effects on her and her colleagues. She said:

    We need the negotiation process to hurry up. It's too slow—it's far too slow.

    …   …   …   

    We have no power … This legislation is a way to change things and make things better for employees.

    Then we go to the academics and the reports that have talked about multi-employer bargaining. It really is a question about whether we want a race to the bottom, which has happened for the last 10 years, or whether we want a race to the top, based on quality economic output. That's what happens when you start making the system work for working people—for fellow Australians in this country. A 2019 OECD report said that to improve employment and wage distribution multi-employer bargaining is critical; it leads to higher employment, lower unemployment, a better integration of vulnerable groups and less wage inequality. Addressing gender inequality, a 2020 OECD report found that multi-employer arrangements are 'necessary to negotiate targeted raises in female dominated and low-paid sectors'.

    Of course, in countries such as Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Japan multi-employer bargaining is an essential part of their macroeconomic policy. It gives the capacity for skills, training and investment. It's where people come together and work out how they can get results. And they come together across industries. What a great idea! They can turn around and say, 'We as a group can actually invest in skills, training and capacity across our industry.' They also get smaller employers and medium-sized employers, who may not have the resources to do it on their own, coming together. At a recent Senate inquiry, we heard numerous examples from small and medium-sized employers about how it would work for them.

    Then, of course, you've got the vanguard of people like Alan Joyce. In his material world he says: 'Twenty-one external companies and 17 owned subsidiaries are all okay. That's okay; wages go down.' That's not multi-employer bargaining, when you set up dodgy companies.

    Then you have the pearler—really, the home goal—when Senator Birmingham says:

    … those are the things that our government managed to achieve, with strong economic growth in our last year in office, with unemployment down to 50-year lows, creating the conditions for economic growth to help to drive productive wages growth.

    Well, that is a lie. (Time expired)

    5:59 pm

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

    I rise to speak on this matter of public importance on the government's broken promise to bring cost-of-living relief in the budget. Energy bills are rising, rents are rising, the cost of food is rising—we are in a cost-of-living crisis. It seems everything is rising except for income support payments. These are still way below the poverty line, with JobSeeker at just $48 a day. It is people on income support who are most impacted by the cost-of-living crisis, who need cost-of-living relief and who have been failed by this government in the budget. How does the government expect people to pay the bills, pay the rent and feed themselves on $48 a day? The reality is: people just can't, and they aren't.

    Last week I had the privilege of visiting St Mary's House of Welcome in Collingwood in Melbourne—a community hub where anyone is welcome to come for lunch, for a shower or to charge their phone. What I saw is that the face of homelessness is changing. St Mary's is seeing more people than ever before, including young people and families. Many come to grab a meal to take home to their families because they simply cannot afford fresh fruit and vegetables anymore. The work that St Mary's does is incredible, but they rely on donations and they run on the smell of an oily rag, and with the cost of living rising they are feeling the pressure from increased demand.

    We should not be relying on organisations like St Mary's to do the heavy lifting and to be supporting our community. Inadequate income support payments force people to live in poverty. But poverty is a political choice, and it's a choice that this government made in the budget. We can blame the cost-of-living crisis all we want, but the government has the power and it has made a choice. What its choice needs to be is to acknowledge that as the cost of living continues to rise, income support payments need to rise too. We need a guaranteed liveable income of at least $88 a day for all income support payments. We need to end mutual obligations—which do nothing to help people find work—and we need to remove unfair restrictions on who can access payments to ensure that everybody has got enough to cover their basic needs. Only with a guaranteed adequate income will we really tackle the cost-of-living crisis for those who are feeling it the most, and see income equality so that places like St Mary's aren't expected to keep on picking up the pieces.

    6:02 pm

    Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I too rise to speak on this matter of public importance from Senator Dean Smith on the cost-of-living crisis facing so many Australians. This is a government that doesn't have a plan, and that's very clear. In fact, we saw it revealed here in question time today, and I'll go back to that later. We've seen a government with no plan. Incoming, this government knew that gas prices were on the rise. We had seen that long before the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. We had seen rising gas prices and we knew that in the end they would have a flow-on impact on businesses and households. What's this government's immediate response to that crisis in gas prices? I will just point out that it is an eastern states gas crisis, as the Western Australian situation is very different. What's the government's response? What does it put on the table as policy responses to the rising cost of gas impacting on the rising cost of living? There are price controls—a policy that has failed every time it has been tried for over 2,000 years. There's increased regulation—a policy that, again, has a very dubious chance of actually succeeding in pushing downward prices on gas. What's the other one they floated? A taxation increase—is that really going to help cost-of-living pressures on Australian families and Australian businesses? It almost beggars belief.

    This is a government that came into office without a plan, and we've seen that today. In answering a question on inflation and wages today, the finance minister said: 'No-one is pretending that wages should be growing at the pace of inflation.' Think about that for a second. 'No-one is pretending that wages should be growing at the pace of inflation'—she said that just today. Yet what did the Prime Minister say just a few short months ago about wages and inflation? He said: 'It's not bad luck; it's bad policy that wages aren't keeping up with inflation.' Don't you see the quite contrary positions in those two statements? The Prime Minister said, 'It's not bad luck; it's bad policy that wages aren't keeping up with inflation.' The finance minister said, 'No-one is pretending that wages should be growing at the pace of inflation.'

    This is a government that has no clue about how to handle the pressures of a modern economy. This is a government that has no clue how to satisfy the demands of the union movement on the one hand and still maintain downward pressure on prices and maintain the strong and growing economy that they inherited from the Liberal government. It is a government that promises much. They promised a $275 decrease in power prices to every Australian family. In their first budget, they delivered an increased outlook for energy prices going into the foreseeable future. We have seen massive rises in the cost of fuel, which impact on every Australian household. We've seen massive rises in the cost of rental accommodation. We've seen huge flow-on impacts to things like grocery prices. Every family knows that the headline rate of inflation is not reflective of the real cost-of-living pressures that are facing every Australian family. Part of the reason why these cost-of-living pressures will keep going is that this is a government that is contradictory internally. It doesn't know how to handle this situation and it doesn't even understand how wages and inflation work.

    6:07 pm

    Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I am very pleased to stand here today in the Senate and contribute to this matter of public importance debate on the cost of living. That's because, as we head into the final sitting week of this year, the Albanese Labor government isn't slowing down on delivering its election commitments. Over the next fortnight, we will be implementing our $7.5 billion five-point cost-of-living plan. We will be delivering cheaper child care, cheaper medicines, more generous paid parental leave and more affordable housing and we will get wages moving again. In just six short months, the Albanese Labor government has taken more action on the cost of living than the previous government did in almost a decade.

    Just in the chamber today we were talking about cheaper child care. This is just one of those steps that we are taking. These changes will have material impacts for around 96 per cent of families who use early childhood education. Labor's plan for cheaper child care will make it more affordable for around 1.26 million Australian families.

    But it's not just cheaper child care that we are delivering. Our cost-of-living plan won't just reduce those costs; it will also put Australians back on track for real pay rises. That is because our Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill goes right to the heart of the cost-of-living challenges Australians are facing right now. Australia's current workplace laws are not working to deliver meaningful wage increases. No-one has forgotten that under the previous government, under those opposite, it was a deliberate design feature to keep wages low. The hypocrisy for those opposite to come in here and talk about cost of living while at the same time having a design feature to keep wages low is not lost on everyday Australians.

    The hypocrisy continues when it comes to the discussion around electricity prices in this place because the former government had 22 energy policies. They had 22 over nine years, and those incoherent, inconsistent, uncertain policies led to three changes in the Liberal leadership, possibly two in the National Party, and to direct results of disunity on energy policy. They couldn't get their act together for 10 years, and now they want to come in here and lecture us. This is their record on electricity prices: complete disunity on net zero and vetoing renewable energy projects, which would have created jobs, although renewable energy is the most affordable energy source in the market. They promised to build a coal fired power station in North Queensland, but that was just a press release. They never actually did that. They hid key information about electricity prices from the Australian public, information about the rises in electricity.

    This is not only a problem of the former government; it's followed them through to opposition because we know that the opposition still has climate deniers in their ranks, politicians that come into this place with their graphs downloaded from some pokey part of the internet. Now their answer, after having no solutions for a decade, seems to be to offer nuclear power as a solution. Only a couple of weeks ago in estimates the CSIRO said that nuclear wasn't a competitive option and that it would take until the next decade to get it up and running. This is the solution from those opposite, the most expensive form of power that will take us into the next decade to establish.

    We know that renewable energy is the cheapest form of power. That is why we are delivering our Powering Australia plan. We know that this country needs certainty when it comes to energy policies, which is why we are delivering our plan for Australians. What you will see from those opposite is hypocrisy when it comes to energy prices and the cost of living. I appreciate I'm about to be followed in this place by the Venn diagram of conspiracy theorists about climate change and throwing in anti-vax as well, but I just want to make this clear: when it comes to the facts on energy policy—

    Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

    Senator Scarr, on a point of order?

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

    My point of order is personal reflection. There were two personal reflections there on my good colleagues. It could be either Senator Rennick or Senator Roberts in relation to assertions of conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers, and I think those comments should be withdrawn.

    Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    You can't call it personal if you don't know who it is, can you?

    Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

    Senator Green, perhaps you can clarify that you aren't intending on making a reflection in your contribution. I will draw you to point of order from Senator Scarr and ask that you take note of the point that he made.

    Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I'm happy to paint the entire bench over there with the same brush, when it comes to—

    Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

    Senator Scarr, another point of order?

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

    I think the advice from previous rulings is that a personal reflection which is done in group form, on a collective basis, can perhaps be more egregious than if it's just directed at a particular senator. I can certainly remember the clerk providing advice with respect to that sort of collective reference.

    Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

    Senator Green, you have 36 seconds of your contribution left, and I just ask that you exercise a degree of caution in how widely or narrowly you choose to make reflections on senators opposite. I do note that you were choosing your words quite carefully, I thought, but just be very cautious of not too broadly using the brush that you were utilising at that point.

    Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    I do think it is important that the Senate understands that I am talking directly about the former government, the Liberal and National parties, and their failure over a decade to develop any energy policy. We know the reason that occurred was their disunity and their beliefs in their own party about climate change and about delivering cheaper energy policy. We will not stand here, as many points of order as you want to call, and we won't be lectured by those opposite about bringing down energy prices because they never did it in over a decade. (Time expired)

    6:14 pm

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

    The Albanese government's behaviour goes well beyond a broken election promise to give cost-of-living relief; the government is actively making inflation worse. The inflation rate is eight per cent and will remain at eight per cent into the future on the back of increases to energy prices. Electricity, gas, diesel and petrol are all inputs of every corner of our economy. Forcing energy price increases to appease the sky god of warming will force up input costs right across our economy and lead to more inflation. Weather dependent solar and wind power will never provide base-load power. Doubling down on more solar and wind power before the added cost of changing out every wind turbine and solar panel with new ones before we even get to 2050 will lead to more inflation. Taxpayers pay for these things twice: once in taxpayer subsidies for wind and solar and then through higher inflation. Not only do we have a lack of wage rises; we have a lack of wages. Businesses are closing all over Australia as inflation wreaks havoc in the productive economy and energy costs drive manufacturing overseas.

    This government has no answers. We have just seen a childcare bill that gives handouts to millionaires but fails to create a single job. Failing to use government policy to create jobs while allowing 220,000 new migrants into Australia every year will create a pool of unemployed, resulting in reduced market power for labour. That can only mean lower wages, even before losing eight per cent a year off pay packets through inflation.

    One Nation believe the way to break the inflation cycle is a comprehensive root-and-branch review of the taxation system, to return bracket creep to wage earners, while forcing big businesses, especially foreign multinationals, to pay their fair share.

    The Queensland Labor government's health department still mandates COVID injections for health professionals. Injection mandates must be abolished now. Let anyone work who wants to. We are one community, we are one nation and Labor is a threat to breadwinner jobs.

    6:16 pm

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

    I'm very pleased to rise on this motion today about the Albanese government's inability to control the price of energy. It's not really surprising that that has happened. The earlier speech we heard from them was basically made up more of invective and personal insults than any detail. We saw that type of behaviour as well in estimates, where I got to question Senator McAllister about how many transmission lines we were going to need in order to meet the 43 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide by 2030. Of course, she had no idea. The numbers given were somewhere between 5,000 kilometres and 28,000 kilometres. There was an article a year or two ago in the Australian Financial Review that said that building 900 kilometres of transmission lines would cost $2.4 billion. That was back in 2020. So, if you wanted to build 28,000 kilometres of transmission lines, that would cost a cool little $75 billion in 2020 prices. I would suspect that would probably be closer to $100 billion now, just to build the transmission lines. So, if you think energy prices have gone up a lot already, get set for them to go even higher. That's what will happen under the Albanese government, who have absolutely no idea on the price of basically turning the energy grid into being backed by 82 per cent of renewable energy.

    I am glad Senator Green referred to the CSIRO because I have spoken to the CSIRO many times and they have actually said that there are 40 different models to get to net zero. Can you believe that? Forty different models! These people want you to believe that the science is settled, but there are apparently 40 different models to work out how to get to net zero. Let me tell you something: if you've got to rely on a model to get to net zero, that is not science; that's indoctrination, intimidation and shoddy mathematical modelling. The only time the science is settled is when you have an algorithm demonstrating cause and effect and quantifying that cause and effect. Einstein wasn't famous because he was a scientist; he was famous because of the algorithm he invented—E equals MC squared. It's called mathematics. That's what matters.

    Let's go back to the economy, however. Another question I put to the CSIRO—actually I didn't ask this; Larry Marshall, the head of the CSIRO, volunteered this—is that the cost of recycling a battery is three times more than the cost of building it. Of course, the thing that the unicorn farmers don't want to talk about is that it's not just the generation that you've got to build; it's the cost of building it, it's the generation, it's the transmission, it's the storage and it's all the extra security services. So that's more batteries on top of storage. You need more batteries for frequency control. And then you want to recycle it!

    I'll tell you a simple solution if you want to recycle it. It's called photosynthesis. You were taught about it in grade 8 science. It's very, very simple. We know that carbon dioxide is recycled through the atmosphere every four years. Those are simple numbers. The weight of the atmosphere is 5.15 times 10 to the power of 15. Carbon dioxide makes up 0.04 per cent of that atmosphere, which means the weight of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is two by 10 to the power of 12. Carbon dioxide has the specific density of 1.53. So the weight of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is three times 10 to the power of 12. We know, as per the IPCC report of 2007, that 800 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide is consumed via photosynthesis every year naturally in the environment. That's eight by 10 to the power of 11. So you take three by 10 to the power of 12 divided by eight by 10 to the power of 11, and it's four. That means that carbon dioxide—

    No, that's photosynthesis, champ! You're taught about it in grade 8 science. Let me tell you: we can cut the cost by basically going back and building more coal-fired power stations near my home town in Kogan Creek. There are 400 million tonnes—

    Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

    Order, Senator Rennick! Senator Scarr is on his feet. Senator Scarr?

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

    There is just a continuous barrage of interjections from Senator Shoebridge. I'm having trouble hearing my friend Senator Rennick even though I'm this far away from Senator Shoebridge.

    Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

    I was likewise struggling to hear above all of the cries across the chamber. But I would also remind all senators to direct their comment through the chair. That might enable us to be somewhat more orderly. Senator Shoebridge, are you wishing to debate the point of order?

    David Shoebridge (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

    I'm sorry. It was his attack on Einstein that really set me off. I apologise if that troubled anyone here.

    Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

    Thank you for that clarification, Senator Shoebridge. Senator Rennick, you can continue your contribution.

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

    The cheapest and best way to lower power prices will only be under a coalition government. We will do that by adding some more turbines in Kogan Creek in my home town of Chinchilla, which has 400 million tonnes of free coal owned by the state government. You've only got to mine it, put it straight into the coalmine and go straight into the connector and you'll get free energy.

    Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

    The time for the debate on the MPI has expired.