Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 May 2023

Statements by Senators


12:39 pm

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

I rise to give the Australian Greens' budget reply speech in the Senate. Last night's budget was a budget without ambition. It utterly failed to respond to the gravity of our times., to the twin crises of growing economic inequality and the breakdown of the earth's climate and its ecosystems. But this absence of ambition from Treasurer Jim Chalmers should not be confused with a lack of effort. In fact, it's quite the opposite. The lack of ambition from the Treasurer took an awful lot of effort. He meticulously calibrated this budget to maintain the status quo—and any budget that maintains the status quo in this country in the face of the great challenges of our time is not a responsible budget. On the radio this morning, the Prime Minister said that this government needed a responsible budget. It might be that he misspoke, but what he did say was the quiet thing out loud. In doing so, he portrayed the real intent of this budget. This budget was never about what the country needed, and it was never about what the planet needed. This budget was all about what the Labor Party needed.

We have the LNP in a death spiral, so Labor is making a play for a decade in government. That's what's going on. In making that play, they don't want to upset the status quo, no matter how unjust or how ecocidal the status quo actually is. So when Labor hands down a budget carefully calibrated to keep big business happy, to keep the wealthy relaxed and comfortable, it makes the task of doing something meaningful to respond to the crises we are in all the more difficult in the future—because every time you don't fight for ground, you lose ground. With the cost-of-living crisis forcing people to live out of their cars, with parts of regional Australia becoming uninsurable thanks to climate change and with a leader of the opposition who doesn't know his Yeppen from his Yeppoon, if the Labor Party won't make progress now, when will they ever make progress? Well, here's the news: they won't.

Last night's budget is what the Labor Party of today is. This is as good as it's ever going to get from the Labor Party. Those hoping that a second-term Albanese government will suddenly start to act on the great injustices of our time are clinging to a fool's hope. Labor has a clear strategy. They're cementing themselves as a centre-right party—a party that defends the market power of the monopolists and the rent seekers and a party that defends the wealth of the property class in this country. That means handing down a budget that makes a deliberate choice to fail to lift people out of poverty and continue to provide public subsidies to the corporate psychopaths who are destroying the capacity of this planet to sustain life as we know it in order to line their pockets with obscene profits. Those people and their psychopathic facilitators in this place are chewing up the planet and excreting misery and poison. That is what's going on, and that is what Labor is facilitating.

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McKim, I need to interrupt you. Can you withdraw the statement, 'psychopath'? It's not appropriate parliamentary language.

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

On a point of order, I have not accused any individual senator of being a psychopath, and I do not believe that I have been out of order, so, no, I won't.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDEN T: Senator McKim, I'm simply asking you to withdraw that unparliamentary language. I will let you know that it was also an issue drawn to my attention by the clerks. I would note that I also consider it unparliamentary language.

I won't withdraw it.

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Scarr?

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

On the point of order, it does concern me. I understand that Senator McKim is quite passionate about these subjects, but it really does concern me when that sort of language is used in the context of a parliamentary debate. There are people all over this country who have chronic mental health issues, and I think we should be very careful when we use that sort of language. I'm sure Senator McKim is extraordinarily intelligent, and he could potentially come up with some other adjectives to make his point and assist the chamber.

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

I genuinely do not believe that I'm out of order and in contravention of the standing orders. Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, could I ask you, please, to perhaps take the matter on notice and come back to me. If it is the view of the President, on advice from the clerks, that in fact I'm out of order I certainly will withdraw that. But my understanding very clearly from the standing orders and numerous previous rulings given by the President is that, if you do not identify somebody specifically, then you are not in contravention of the standing orders.

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McKim, if you say the word 'psychopaths' in this place you are indeed very close to the line. When we look to good order and conduct in this place, it is not always exactly where the line is drawn that we should draw it. It is something we need to be aware of more broadly, in terms of pejorative terms about people in this place or, indeed, terms that affect other people in the broader community. Notwithstanding that point, I note that you have at this point said that you will not withdraw, and on that basis it will be referred to the President, unless you would choose to withdraw now.

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

I know we're chewing up time that other senators have allocated to them, so, in order to facilitate the order of the Senate, I will withdraw—and I do withdraw. But I will be raising this matter directly with the President because I think the Senate needs some guidance to be formally made by the President in relation to these matters.

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator McKim.

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

As I was saying, these people who are deliberately destroying the capacity of our planet to sustain life as we know it in order to line their pockets with the most obscene levels of profit are chewing up the planet and excreting misery and poison. In Australia, we are in a situation where millions of Australians are struggling to make ends meet and cannot pay their school fees, pay their rent and put food on the table. Many of them are actually living out of their cars or their tents at the moment, and they'll continue to be living in those circumstances notwithstanding the measures in this budget. For people who are renting or on income support, it is particularly tough.

But let's not kid ourselves that this is by accident; it's not. This is a deliberate choice made by those who are in power. Poverty is a political choice, and the failure of last night's budget to change the status quo in any meaningful way is Labor endorsing a choice to leave people in poverty in this country. Instead of investing in essential services and providing meaningful support to those who are most vulnerable, Labor have chosen to retain $254 billion—a quarter of a trillion dollars—in stage 3 tax cuts that overwhelmingly favour the billionaires and the already super wealthy in this country. That's who the big winners are from this budget. The big winners are not the people who most needed help from the government—the people who are living in poverty, the people on income support, the people whose real wages have been going backwards for the last decade, the people who are trying to pay mortgages after 10 consecutive interest rate rises. They're not the winners. The winners of this budget are the super wealthy, and we should all be very clear about that.

The government is choosing to hand over $360 billion for nuclear subs—no austerity for the military industrial complex, I might add. That's half a trillion dollars that the government could have chosen to use to lift people out of poverty, address the housing crisis or wipe student debt. But, instead, it is the wealthy and the military industrial complex that are the big winners, while, every single day, people are skipping meals and struggling to pay their power bills or to keep a roof over their heads. It's a fundamental job of government to make sure people have the basics they need to live a life with dignity. But this budget, for many Australians, is going to make things actually worse with $74 billion cut out of the NDIS—$74 billion was removed from the NDIS. There was more spent on subsidising the burning of fossil fuels than in the totality of the government's climate change programs. There is nothing for nature repair, nothing for our oceans and four times as much in tax cuts for the rich than on cost-of-living support for Australians who desperately need it. This budget is a betrayal of the people who Labor promised would not be left behind. 'Nobody left behind,' says Labor. There must be an awful lot of nobodies in this country, because there were plenty of people left behind by this Labor government. Treasurer Chalmers has made a choice to put a surplus ahead of supporting people living in poverty.

I want to quickly address the issue of budget repair. This is a mantra of those in power, the neoliberals and the deficit hawks. Let's be clear: budget repair is a garbage excuse to ensure that help is denied to people who need it. Australia does not have a government debt problem. By international standards, our debt is very low, and, by historic standards, our interest rate repayments on debt are very low. We didn't need to pay down the debt; we needed to help people. And a surplus is not an end in itself; you cannot eat a surplus. The government should not be crowing about having banked 82 per cent of the windfall revenues while people are living in cars and tents.

So, here's the question: why should we accept a government that is content to leave so many people behind while showering the benefits on the wealthy? The answer is simple: we shouldn't accept it. We deserve better. The Greens are absolutely committed to achieving better. We want to see bold action that looks after our ecosystems and creates a fairer, more just Australia, and we are absolutely willing to take up the fight to deliver those things.