Senate debates

Monday, 11 September 2023

Matters of Public Importance


4:59 pm

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

A letter has been received from Senator Roberts:

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

Australia has moved into a per-capita recession caused by net-zero policies, and is now resorting to an immigration and student 'Ponzi scheme' to cover the damage.

Is the proposal supported?

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

With the concurrence of the Senate, the clerks will set the clock in line with the informal arrangements made by the whips.

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

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia who listens to constituents, I know life is getting worse for you and that this government doesn't care. Australia has entered a per capita recession. The total GDP is still going up on paper. Technically, the government can say that we aren't in a recession, yet on average the gross domestic product per Australian went backwards. That's a per capita recession. You are not imagining it; life is getting far worse on average for the entire country. This is not news to anyone who has recently paid a grocery docket or a power bill or tuned in to hear Philip Lowe—whether or not the Reserve Bank is going to make their lives even harder this month. It is news to the Albanese government, though, because they are more interested in telling everyone to vote for the Voice than in doing something to fix the cost of living.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has confirmed what we already knew: on average, life is only getting tougher, far tougher for Australians. The major cause of Australia's per capita recession is the UN 2050 net-zero policies that are putting a chokehold on our country. This fact is one of many that exposes the lie that wind and solar are cheapest sources of electricity. With more wind, solar and batteries on the grid than ever in history, power prices have never been higher. This is mirrored around the world in countries adopting solar and wind.

The record expensive power bills bite more than once, not only when Australians hand over more money than ever to their electricity and gas companies. Power prices feed into nearly every level and part of our lives. Without cheap power, manufacturers can't produce the products we want and need at a reasonable price; farmers can't afford to pump the water that irrigates crops and keeps cattle alive; shops can't afford to keep the lights on and the doors open. So you don't just pay the price of the climate net-zero pipedream once when your power bill; you pay for it again and again and again in every other bill as well.

It's irrefutable; life is getting worse for Australians, who are all having to make tougher and tougher choices around the dinner table. There has never been more proof Australians can't afford the UN 2050 net-zero pipedream. This is leading to huge cracks in our economy. Everyday businesses are becoming insolvent. The trend for retail spending—usually good indicator of whether households are feeling the pinch—is negative. The average cost of housing as a proportion disposal income is at 20.1 per cent, up from almost 16.5 per cent only a few years ago. The lowest-fifth of earners who hold a mortgage are spending on average nearly two-thirds of their disposal income on their loan—two-thirds of their disposal income on a house loan. All this means in real terms that our economy is getting worse for Australians yet that isn't showing up on the total GDP, which records the amount of activity in the economy. This is where the government are using their favourite Ponzi scheme, mass immigration, to cover the cracks.

Listen carefully. When you let more immigrants into the country, they have to spend money on the same things we all have to like food, housing, transport, energy. All of this spending counts towards our total gross domestic product. If the total gross domestic product goes down, we enter a recession, which is an embarrassing look for the government. It's a pretty simple equation for the Albanese government: more immigrants equals more spending, which equals the total gross domestic product going up, and the government can say, 'We are not in an official recession.' That's why they're doing it, and bugger the cost to individuals. At the same time, life continues to get worse for Australians—smaller amounts of gross domestic product growth and our limited housing services have to be shared with hundreds of thousands of new immigrants. That's the per capita recession. With more people, demand increases and prices increase even more.

The Albanese Labor government expects to increase our net immigration to 715,000 people over two years. That is the size of the entire Gold Coast-Tweed Heads area or 1½ Canberras arriving in just two years. Every arrival will need a bed. Every arrival will need a roof over their head. Where does the Albanese Labor government expect them to live? To which one of our overfilled schools will children go? To which overflowing hospital will they go when they get sick? The Albanese government does not care about the answers to these questions, as long as they can say, 'We're not in technical recession.' Bugger the cost to people—their lives.

The solutions to the cost-of-living crisis are clear. They will just take some guts and some honesty. Abandon unaffordable climate UN 2050 net-zero pipedreams and cut immigration to zero until our essential services and housing catch up.

5:04 pm

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

I also rise to speak on this matter of public importance. There is a lot of ground to cover, but I'll start with some economic context to the senator's remarks just made. It is not uncommon quarter-to-quarter for the per capita measure to move in this direction. In fact, it has gone backwards in one in every four quarters since records began some 50 years ago. For context, that is about 48 times out of the past 199 quarters, so we need to keep that in context. But of course there is no doubt that we are seeing the impact of high interest rates, high-but-moderating inflation and global uncertainty. These things are absolutely hitting households across Australia, including households in my state of South Australia, and our economy. At the same time, we have a rebound in population growth driven by the reopening of our economy, and the return of international students in particular. I believe that that is a good thing. It's showing up in stronger service exports, which is good for both the education and the tourism sectors in Australia. It's good in my state of South Australia. It's a good thing that the students are coming back, given the impact of the pandemic on student numbers and movements. But we also know that overseas migration won't catch up to the coalition's forecast levels until the end of the decade. Context is important in this debate. Facts in numbers are important in these debates.

In terms of the implied context of this matter of public importance put by Senator Roberts—that is, that net zero is causing the sky to fall in—that is simply not true. Despite what Senator Roberts has said, the net zero transformation is a defining economic opportunity for our country and a defining economic opportunity for my home state of South Australia. With our abundance of natural resources, we as a nation have the potential to be a renewable energy superpower, and there are opportunities for our children in that. The government is absolutely committed to ensuring that we do not miss out on that potential and that opportunity, and we are working towards ensuring we have the policy settings to enable us to benefit from the economic revolution that being a part of net zero and taking serious action on climate change offer our nation.

For a decade we had a government that was facing its own existential crisis about whether climate change actually existed, about whether the climate crisis on our doorstep was a real thing or not. They oversaw 22 energy policies and failed to land one of them. We saw their internal battles and leadership tensions get in the way of delivering sensible climate policy. Indeed, for more than a decade they defined themselves by being wreckers on climate action and wreckers on energy policy, ignoring the science and diving headfirst into the sand pretending that the climate crisis doesn't exist. Because of that we missed out on a decade of progress and work. Our government is onto fixing it because our government sees climate action as being necessary not just for the future of our planet, not just necessary for preserving a future for our children and grandchildren, but because there are economic opportunities in it. There is economic potential in my home state of South Australia.

In the May budget we included an additional $4 billion to help get our transition to renewable energy moving, taking our government's total investment to more than $40 billion. Investing in renewables is good not just for the future of the planet but for Australia's regions. It's good in South Australia. In towns like Whyalla, the potential of a world-leading hydrogen power plant will provide not only energy for future generations in our state but economic opportunity as well.

Australians want to see action on climate change. They didn't spend the past 10 years having an internal debate about whether it was real. They didn't spend the past 10 years torn up in knots about it. Every South Australian I speak to says, 'This is science. This is fact. This is coming down the line.' But for a decade we had a government which refused to engage, which couldn't land even one of 22 energy policies. There are economic opportunities here. The sky is not falling in. The economic potential is huge for South Australia and for our country.

5:09 pm

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

I know the Prime Minister hasn't been to a petrol station recently. He doesn't seem to know the price of petrol. But I have, and I know that in recent months many Australians have. They would have seen that diesel often now is at $2.30 a litre. How is it that everything seems to have gone up in price since we committed to this crazy idea of net zero? A fundamental fact is that if you commit to something like net zero you're not going to drill for oil, you're not going to increase the production of oil and gas, and so being able to fill up at the petrol pump is going to go up in price, just as it has.

There are some people that haven't been silly enough to sign up to this agenda, or at least not silly enough to do anything to get close to it. Countries in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, and Russia are not doing anything to get near it, so they are still drilling for oil and gas. Thanks to our stupid decisions here, in Western countries, we have given them a blank cheque to determine the price of oil, the price of energy, across the whole world. That is why we're seeing our petrol prices go up—because Saudi Arabia and Russia are restricting supply at the moment. Brent crude oil prices have gone back over $90 for the first time since the height of the Ukraine war. That is happening because we in the free world are not taking the decision to produce our own energy resources. We're therefore dependent for our basic energy needs on dictatorial and authoritarian regimes. That is what is happening. And the price of energy influences the price of almost everything, because energy is pretty much what makes everything.

There is one thing I'd love people who advocate for net zero to say in this debate. I'd like someone just to map out some basic things about how we're going to do things in a net zero world. Take, for example, the manufacture of something called urea. Urea is a fertiliser that comes from natural gas. It is responsible for feeding half the world's population. Half the world's food comes from the fertilisers made from urea. It is made from natural gas. How are we going to make urea—how are we going to grow food for half the world's population—if we have net zero and we don't have gas? It's very easy to say 'net zero'. It's very easy to say, 'Let's have net zero emissions.' It's easy, isn't it? Well, it's not, because almost everything we grow, make and do in our society relies on the use of fossil fuels. Without them, people will starve. Without fossil fuels, we won't be able to go anywhere. Without fossil fuels, a lot of people will not have jobs. So an answer to those basic questions would be really helpful.

There's something you might notice, Mr Acting Deputy President, when you go down to the shops now. Obviously, everything's gone up in price, but, if you look closely, you'll see that those food items that require a lot of energy have gone up further in price. Things like milk, cheese, some forms of processed meat—they've all gone up further in price. How expensive is cheese these days? It's unbelievable. Again, the Prime Minister probably hasn't realised, but I certainly see it when I'm making some hamburgers for the kids and buying the cheese slices. It's ridiculously expensive. Why? Because those products require a lot of energy. It's a large manufacturing process and there's a lot of refrigeration needed to produce dairy products, so they're going up in price. This is the craziest policy that governments have ever adopted. We want to fundamentally change how we make, grow and travel within a generation. The year 2050, the year by which they want to have net zero emissions, is just 27 years away.

We're trying to restrict our emissions, pushing up our costs, but what we do here only really matters if other countries do the same, if the rest of the world acts as well. What's happened since the world signed up to net zero emissions at Glasgow in late 2021? Global carbon emissions have gone up, not down. Ours haven't; we're trying to do the right thing, so called. But China, India—Russia, as I've already mentioned—are laughing all the way to the bank. That's why, fundamentally, net zero emissions is a fraud and a scam. It is a total fraud and a scam which allows countries like China, India and Russia, who don't play by the rules in the world game, to get off scot-free and then take the jobs from Western countries. This is a massive transfer of wealth and prosperity from our nation—our country, our people—to those countries that never have and will not play by the rules. We are absolute mugs to fall for this scam but we're doing it time and time again. Eventually it will end in tears, because nations won't be able to reach net zero emissions. What will happen then? People will be very, very angry.

5:14 pm

Photo of Ralph BabetRalph Babet (Victoria, United Australia Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to support Senator Roberts's matter of public importance. The Labor Party government came to power promising Australians they had a plan. They had plans alright! They had a plan to address the cost of living. They had a plan to lower the cost of power. They had a plan to boost productivity. But after almost 18 months of them being in office it is now clearly evident to every single Australian out there that the government did not have a credible plan at all, unfortunately. I wish they did.

Growth is up slightly, but inflation is higher. Our dollar just doesn't go as far as it should. They have managed to create a one-step-forward, two-steps-backwards economy where people are becoming poorer despite the rhetoric of economic growth. The growth itself is not keeping pace with the huge increase in immigration which has been authorised by this government. We had 1.5 million new migrants in five years. Do know what that sounds like? It's a Ponzi scheme. It's a pyramid scheme. That's what it is. We are in a per capita recession. There are some watching this broadcast right now that might not understand or even care to understand what a per capita recession is, but they understand what an unaffordable power bill is. They understand what $300 a week or worse on a grocery bill is. They understand what $1,100 or more extra per month on a mortgage is. They understand what paying more than half of their income on rent is and what it feels like.

Having stumbled into office with 32.6 per cent of the vote, our Prime Minister and Treasurer are now hiding their ineptitude behind a surge of new arrivals, hoping that these new immigrants will disguise our persistent and underlying economic problems. Talk about adding fuel to a fire—that's what that is. Not only does the surge in immigration fail to fix our economy; the surge creates brand-new economic problems in the form of increased pressures on health, housing, education, transportation et cetera. We have Minister Bowen spending billions rewiring the electricity grid to fit his obsession with net zero. We have Minister Burke rewriting industry agreements in his obsession with industrial relations. We have Treasurer Chalmers, whose main contribution to the Australian economy is a 6,000-word essay on reimagining capitalism, even as he reimagines our nation into a per capita recession, unfortunately for us. What's our Prime Minister doing? He is obsessively distracted with the divisive constitutional change that half the country or more doesn't even want. That's what he's doing.

For the sake of all Australians, I urge the government to stop fiddling while this nation burns. Stop propping up the economy with international arrivals. Manage the economy with a coherent, economically responsible plan. If you want to encourage economic growth, we need the government to be truthful with the Australian people. We all know that our electricity grid is a house of cards and that net zero is a pipedream. The wind and solar racket has ensured that Australia is more dependent on China, because that is where most of the solar panels come from. They also control most of the world's mines of cobalt—a key mineral used in solar, wind, batteries et cetera. We send our coal and other minerals to China, they use our cheap coal to process these minerals and then they send us back some solar panels and everything else with a hefty profit margin. These panels obviously have to be thrown out every two decades or so, roughly. That's another Ponzi scheme or pyramid scheme for you. The government must consider nuclear as an option. It is safe, it is economically viable and it has been very effective in comparable nations like Canada and the United States. Without cheap, reliable energy, our nation will continue to go backwards.

The government needs to focus on one thing only, and that's getting out of the way. Get out of the way. It is time to reform our nation, repeal some legislation, reduce tax, reduce red and green tape and put our trust in the Australian people and the free market to get to work. The way to correct our economic course is very simple. It's just this: less government, more freedom.

5:19 pm

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

I rise to also speak this afternoon on this MPI. It was noted by one Labor senator that there's an economic revolution taking place in Australia, and I couldn't agree with her more. That economic revolution is turning the lives of Australian families upside-down. Like any revolution, it is causing chaos and heartache. People can't see in front of them. Of course, that economic revolution is a cost-of-living crisis that is sparing no-one in the Australian economy.

Just last week we saw the national accounts provided. As other senators have said, they identified a per capita recession. A per capita recession is occurring across this country, meaning that Australians are getting poorer. I think for the first time ever Australian parents and Australian grandparents cannot say to their grandchildren that the future will be better for them than it was for themselves, because on the current trajectory the only outcome that people can be confident of is one of falling living standards.

At the moment my home state of Western Australia has the largest number of mortgage borrowers in arrears of any Australian state. We also know that 21 per cent of Western Australian respondents to a recent Salvation Army report said that they can no longer meet their mortgage and rental payments. That was 21 per cent of Western Australians who responded to the Salvation Army survey. Guess what that statistic is nationally? Just seven per cent. And 41,000 low-income mortgage holders in Western Australia are facing very severe mortgage stress, with more than 30 per cent of the household budgets of those 41,000 families now being spent on mortgages. That is harm and hurt that is striking the hearts of many Western Australian households.

We have a situation where the government couldn't care enough. It's not interested enough in the priorities of Western Australian working families. It's all the more remarkable that the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, came to Western Australia in May last year and launched his federal campaign to become the Prime Minister of this country with a commitment and with a promise that he would make life cheaper for WA and Australian families. Nothing could seriously be further from the truth.

There is something else that is happening in our country at the moment, and it's happening quite subtly. That is the government is seeking to undermine one of the most important consensus arrangements we have in our country. That consensus is the high level of community support for our immigration program. Australia is a great multicultural country, and multiculturalism brings a lot of additional benefits. The decision to bring 715,000 people to Australia in just two years at a time when we have a housing affordability crisis, when rents are skyrocketing and when inflation is persistent in the rental market—that decision alone—will go a long way to undermine public confidence in our very important immigration program. The RBA has made that point. The RBA said in its recent statement of monetary policy released earlier this year:

A shortfall in housing supply, relative to strong demand from a rising population, is expected to result in continued upward pressure on rents, adding to the inflation forecast.

An immigration program must be planned and it must be prepared for. And this government has not planned and has not prepared for a 715,000 increase over two years. We know that that population burden falls disproportionately across our country. It falls in Sydney and Melbourne and less so in Perth and Brisbane. Maintaining high levels of public confidence in our migration program is so critical, and the government is on the verge of trashing that.

5:24 pm

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

I'm very pleased to speak on this matter of public importance. I think it really gets to the heart and the crux of everything that's wrong with the Labor Party—Australia has moved into a per capita recession caused by net zero policies, and is now resorting to an immigration and student 'Ponzi scheme' to try to cover the damage. It isn't working. But the damage it causes to the little guy, the battlers—and the people who benefit from this are at the big and of town, particularly the corporations in Australia, who have more customers and therefore more revenue, and our universities, which are a breeding ground for the Marxists who end up joining the Labor Party and the Greens. That is why the Labor Party continues on this reckless policy of having high immigration, mostly by students.

I'm not against immigration. Indeed, it was former prime minister Ben Chifley, who after the war used immigration to build the Snowy Mountains hydro scheme. That provided lots of energy and water for irrigation down in some of the very fertile food basins of northern Victoria and southern New South Wales. That's good immigration because it increases the supply of goods and services. But the problem with student immigrants is that they don't go out and work in productive industries where they are building dams, building infrastructure, increasing the supply of water or increasing the supply of electricity. No, they're sitting around, as all students do—and I was a student once and, yes, I wasted a lot of time drinking beer and all that, even though I did go and get a job while I was a student—but this is not productive labour. Therefore, all the students do is increase demand and they do not increase supply.

What we see here in this increase in demand is increasing interest rates and increasing price of rent—and that's if you can get a place to rent, because we also have a housing shortage. And it's not just housing that you're putting demand on here—you're also putting it on all our essential services. We need more roads, we need more infrastructure, we need more hospitals, we need more schools and so on and so on. But Labor sold out the little end of town because they know that they are really in bed with big business. We saw that last week with Qantas, with how the Prime Minister is good mates with Alan Joyce—Mr 'Give me $10 million even though I've driven Qantas into the ground' Joyce. And they're in bed with the universities. As we know, under section 51 of the 1997 income tax act, universities don't have to pay tax on foreign students. The reason the Labor Party doesn't want to bring in a tax on universities is that universities are in their back pocket. In the same way they use superannuation funds to steal hard-earned wages from the workers, they use universities to brainwash our children. So by the time our children have started work, they are not only broke from the HECS debt brought in by Paul Keating in the late 1980s but they're also brainwashed.

The real tragedy in all this rapid immigration is our environment. Yet again, here is another act of hypocrisy from the Labor Party, who pretend to care about the environment. At the same time they're bringing in renewables, which are driving up energy prices, there are horrendous housing developments on the edge of the cities, putting housing lots on top of each other and destroying some of our most productive agricultural land. In the inner city areas we are getting these ugly high-rises. It's destroying the Australian way of life, and this is a real problem.

The Labor government have been in power now for almost 18 months, and they have not got any answers. All they have done is pour fuel on the fire of the issues that were raised many times before. We need much more productive immigration if we're going to have immigration. I'm not against immigration but it's got to be productive. What the Labor Party is doing is running a rate of immigration that is way too high. They think it's a short-term solution to say, 'We're growing GDP,' but the reality is the GDP per capita is actually decreasing. All I can say is that the Prime Minister is a one-trick pony who for the last 18 months has pushed the Voice. He is going to find out very soon that the people are going to realise that is all he can do.

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

Order! The time for the discussion has expired.