Leader of the Australian Greens: We acknowledge that we meet on Aboriginal land, that this land was never ceded, that we have unfinished business and that we, the Australian Greens, are committed to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to address this. On the eve of the 50th year anniversary of the 1967 referendum, a time when Australians came together to say that they would no longer tolerate Indigenous Australians being treated like second-class citizens in their own country, there is next to nothing in this budget to close the gap with the first peoples of our country.
The indifference to this great injustice in our national story is just one of the many failures of this budget. And there is no greater failure than this budget’s silence on the greatest challenge facing us not just as Australians but as a species on this beautiful, fragile, little blue planet of ours. It is simply remarkable that a budget delivered in 2017 does not even mention the words ‘climate change’, not once, at a time when the Great Barrier Reef is undergoing a second coral bleaching within 12 months and the summer Arctic ice could disappear within a generation. Indeed, how telling that while the budget references the cost of Cyclone Debbie, it fails to mention that we will see more cyclones and more extreme weather.
There are Torres Strait Islander peoples who are right now threatened by rising sea levels and storm surges, desperately trying to build walls to protect their beautiful island homes from seawater inundation. This week I met with the mayor of Torres Strait shire who told me about how his community needs funds to finance mitigation work, but of course this government is deaf to his pleas. The science is clear, the need for action is urgent and yet there is nothing in this budget to address the existential threat of a rapidly warming planet. And, unless we deal with that, unless we deal with that existential threat, everything else is background noise.
Inaction on climate is a stunning betrayal of all of us, but it is especially a betrayal to the generations that follow in our footsteps. It will be the next generation of young leaders who have to clean up the mess that our government is making. It will be the farmers of the future who suffer the consequences of damaged land and increasingly frequent extreme weather events. It will be the next generation of engineers who inherit a decrepit and polluting energy system. And it will be the next generation of medical and nursing students who will have to deal with the climate impacts on their health of the rapid spread of infectious diseases.
But climate is just one way that this budget screws over young people. It is now crystal clear that this government has no plan for their future. The politicians who benefited from higher education have decided that the single biggest cut in spending in this budget should be against university students at $3.7 billion. Many of the same politicians, who were lucky enough to buy properties when housing was affordable, have decided they would rather continue to enrich themselves and their mates with tax breaks for their property investments instead of abolishing negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount, which is critical if we are going to make inroads on making housing more affordable for young people.
The stinking reality is that change will not happen while this government—and, indeed, the Labor Party—remain hopelessly handcuffed to the mining lobbies, property developers and their rich mates, who funnel millions of dollars into their campaigns. Over the past five years, for example, mining companies have donated $1.3 million to the Labor Party and $5 million to the Liberal and National parties. I have said it before and I will say it again: this is state-sanctioned bribery. These entities are not donating out of the goodness of their hearts. It is a commercial decision to buy influence, and this budget proves that it is working. You have to wonder for a moment if it is a coincidence that just a few months ago the big four banks all agreed that they would no longer make political donations to either of the major parties, and it is the one area where the government finally chooses to act in the public interest and take them on.
Of course, the good news for the vast majority of Australians who believe in a more decent and more caring society is that the government has finally, reluctantly, been dragged, kicking and screaming, to accept that we do have a revenue problem. After persisting with the 2014 budget—flogging that dead horse and it is cruel and heartless cuts—they have seen the writing on the wall. The government has had no choice but to accept that its individualist, dog-eat-dog, neoliberal ideology is a dead end. Trickle-down economics has failed. The public has had a gutful. They understand that we are not just economic actors, selfish individuals always in violent competition. They know that we are members of a cooperative species who like to work together.
The community understands that taxes are the force that allows us to pool our resources and create a better society for everyone. Both here and around the world, people will no longer stand by and allow governments to continue flogging off public assets. They are sick of governments acting in the interests of corporations, and not those of the community. And so it was that the Treasurer walked through the looking glass and has begun to talk proudly about investing money in the public ownership of the Snowy Hydro and other infrastructure. It is a welcome change, but there is also a little bit of Stockholm syndrome in the response to this budget. The nation has been held hostage by this Liberal government’s brutal ideology for so long that, when the chains are finally off, we are lulled into thinking that they have our best interests at heart. No-one is fooled. The public know that this is a political decision: carefully calibrated, carefully calculated and borne out of political survival.
It has been described as a Labor-lite budget, but let me tell you that it could never be a Greens-lite budget. It is a budget that utterly fails our environment. There is more public money to open up gas fracking across our cherished farmlands than there is for anything that will help us make a rapid transition to take advantage of the rich resources that we have for renewable energy and a pollution-free future. There is bugger-all for the climate. Indeed, the only money for our natural world is what the Greens secured for Landcare, Indigenous Protected Areas and the Indigenous Rangers program.
Still, those of us on the progressive side of politics should take heart from the fact that we are winning the battle of ideas. It dawned on me just yesterday when I was listening to a government minister, one of a long line of alumni of the Institute of Public Affairs. There he was, going head-to-head with me, spruiking the benefits of the bank levy. I have to say, it must have really stuck in his craw. I could see that he was doing it really tough. The Greens have been banging on about the bank levy since well before the global financial crisis. The behaviour of the big four banks and the response from government represents some of the most egregious failure of free-market, neoliberal, crony capitalism that we have ever seen. You see, the big banks make huge profits. They gouge their customers and worse, yet they have got their hand out, relying on a taxpayer guarantee if they ever get into financial trouble.
The ‘too big to fail’ response after the global financial crisis represents everything that is wrong with our broken system. When times are good, the big end of town creams it; when times are bad it is up to taxpayers to foot the bill. That is why we support the move for a bank levy. It is something we have long pushed for and was knocked back by Labor and Liberal governments for years. People around this place told us we were dreaming, yet here we are.
The government talked a lot about fairness in its budget, but simply saying ‘fairness’ does not make it so, just like talking about protecting Medicare does not keep it safe. Look at what the Prime Minister was doing only a week ago, standing on a warship with President Trump, congratulating him on dismantling public health in the US. People are not going to be fooled by the Medicare guarantee fund. It is a glorified bank account. It does nothing to improve our health system or to protect Medicare.
Of course, rather than taking responsibility for their failures, they have chosen the well-worn path of the Right. They blame easy targets. They look at foreigners and people doing it tough and blame them. This is a budget that uses racist dog whistles to encourage resentment and scapegoating—look no further than the changes to 457 visas, the foreign investment tax and the new citizenship test. Meanwhile, the Australian government continues to torture innocent refugees and people seeking asylum in offshore detention camps, at a cost of $573,000 per person each year.
We saw the predictable attacks on people who receive income support. Treasury has forecast unemployment to remain at above five per cent over the next four years. What that means really simply is that there are more people than jobs. But rather than acknowledge that, we have this disgraceful, shameful, discriminatory proposal for mandatory drug testing. As somebody who has worked as a drug and alcohol clinician, let me give the government a few tips. By the time someone is addicted to an illicit drug they have often lost their job. Their marriage has often broken-down. They have got no contact with their family and they might even have contracted a disease like hepatitis C. They might be living out of their car or on the streets. If all of that is not enough to stop someone from using drugs, what fool thinks that taking away income support is going to succeed? All they are going to do is be driven further into despair and find other ways to get their money to buy drugs.
It is not just about people being addicted to drugs. If we open this gateway to government applying a morality test for government support, what is next? We are setting a very dangerous precedent. Imagine failing a drug test because you take a pill at a festival or smoke a joint and losing your HECS funding as a result? Imagine losing access to Medicare or the pension? It is a dangerous move by the government, and there is no way it will pass the Senate on our watch.
Sadly, health reform is back in the waiting room for another two years. We are not going to see any action on chronic disease, and there is nothing to tackle three of the looming health challenges facing Australians: obesity, heart disease and diabetes. While we push people on income support further to the margins by ostracising and demonising them, we are being asked to celebrate the end of the freeze to doctor’s payments under Medicare. The Medicare freeze might be over, but the Newstart allowance has been frozen at levels below the poverty line since 1991.
Tonight, the opposition mouthed platitudes and made a big fuss about corporate tax avoidance, yet it is hard to believe that they are serious about corporate tax avoidance and about taking on the multinationals when they are taking their massive donations. Tonight, Bill Shorten called on the government to make the deficit levy permanent. Yet when the Greens sought to amend the act back in 2014 to make it permanent, guess what Labor did? They voted it down. When the Liberals sought to give top-end earners a $315 tax cut last year, it was Labor who joined with the government and One Nation to back it to the hilt.
Meanwhile, we Greens in the Senate are the genuine alternative. We are working with the community to knock off many of the worst aspects of the last three budgets. In this budget there is: mandatory drug testing; higher education cuts; ineffective approaches to housing affordability; ripping $300 million from the aid budget to give to ASIO—I look forward to ASIO building wells and engaging in polio eradication right across the world; and spending more on war and weapons. Those things have not been done yet, and we will be working hard in the Senate to stop them. You can look to my colleagues across the chamber and know that we will do everything we can to make sure that these proposals do not see the light of day.
There are different choices that this government could be making. If we built one less submarine, we could fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. If we built three less submarines, then we could have a world-class public education system. Our job is not just to deal with the dangers of the present; it is to champion new ideas.
In this budget, we finally see the notion of good debt being introduced, separating out recurrent and capital spending to utilise low interest rates to build productivity-enhancing infrastructure, such as national rail projects. These are Greens ideas. It is just a shame the government did not fund them properly. The list goes on: the levy on the banks, as I mentioned; aggregating bonds from public housing to be managed by community housing providers; overhauling financial dispute resolution schemes; portability of bank accounts; and measures to stop multinational tax avoidance. These were all first pushed by the Greens, and now we are seeing those ideas being adopted. Indeed, we see Labor adopt negative gearing and capital gains tax discount reforms, despite initially opposing them. We see their support for a royal commission into banks and financial services, despite voting down our proposal when we introduced it.
It is the Greens who are generating new ideas and who are at the vanguard in this parliament. The fact that our ideas are moving into the very centre of public debate has a much longer history than this budget. The Greens were ridiculed when Bob Brown first talked of marriage equality and when we laid out our vision for a clean, green, 100 per cent renewable energy future. It was Christine Milne who began the charge against multinational tax avoidance, well before it was fashionable with the Senate inquiry that has led to some of this budget’s new measures. We were the party that proposed reform of superannuation as a priority for budget savings, put forward as a way to end its operation as a tax haven. No-one was prepared to touch it. Now we know—again, big change. Of course, my colleague and co-deputy Senator Ludlam has been advocating for veterans exposed to nuclear radiation to be covered by the gold pass since well before I was even in this place. Well done, Scott—this budget finally ushers in this change.
An incident having occurred in the gallery—
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Reynolds ): Order in the gallery. The senator has the right to be heard in silence.
Senator DI NATALE: So what is next? We need a Buffett rule so that very wealthy individuals have to pay tax on their income instead of employing fancy accountants and lawyers to work it so they pay nothing. We are sick and tired of hearing about millionaires who pay not a cent in tax. There is nothing fair about that. A Buffett tax will address the growing inequality in Australia, and I urge Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten to join the Greens in adopting it. I understand the opposition leader today mouthed the words, ‘Let’s back it up with action.’ We are prepared to work with you to introduce meaningful reform. Let us introduce a Buffett tax.
It is time to get rid of inefficient stamp duty and replace it with a broad based land tax that drops the price of a house by $50,000 in Sydney or Melbourne, and encourages and enables people who want to downsize. The Greens have outlined a pathway forward where the Commonwealth can help the states switch from the worst tax in the country to the most efficient one. I would just say to the Treasurer: it is on our website—right next to the bank levy! Have a look at it!
We need to end the tax-free fuel for mining companies. It is among the biggest expenditure items of government. It will grow 16 per cent from $6 billion this year to $7.4 billion annually. Surely, given that the rest of the world has recognised that fossil fuels have got no future, this has to be the last budget where we see this needless subsidy. I suppose it depends on whether the mining lobby continues to give generously to both sides of politics. But you know what? I have got a sneaking suspicion that it will not be long before we win this one, too.
Let us redirect the private health insurance rebate and put more money back into our public hospitals—into public health care. It is worth over $20 billion every four years.
People want to see their representatives thinking about the future and about our country’s place in the world, but what this government has done with this budget does nothing to assure people that these massive issues—issues perched on the horizon, ready to arrive—are being thought about, let alone prepared for. The government has been dragged kicking and screaming to the present, mugged by political reality. But while they are looking over their shoulder, the world around them is changing.
Australians do not want a government that is nostalgic for the past. They want a government that has plans for the future. They want a future-focused budget, which is why we are making a commitment to give young people the opportunities in life they deserve no less than did the generations before them. It is why we will fight those university cuts and ensure that underfunded public schools get the help they need. It is why we will bring in a renewable energy transition authority to tackle climate change and support Australia’s rapid transition to a 100 per cent clean, modern, renewable energy system.
The future of work is precarious. Whether we like it or not, a massive reorganisation of work is underway. That is why we will protect penalty rates and continue the conversation about a shorter working week. And we will ensure that wealth is shared around our community.
We will fund preventive health and bring dental into Medicare. A Green budget would mean that going to the dentist is just like going to the doctor. A Green budget would properly fund drug and alcohol treatment services, rather than stigmatising people who are on income support. And, rather than giving lip-service to domestic violence, we would properly fund legal support and homeless services.
And we would close down those bloody offshore detention camps. The time has come. Shut them down!
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order in the gallery! Senator Di Natale has the right to be heard in silence.
Senator DI NATALE: I am quite comfortable with the applause, thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President!
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Di Natale, you know as well as I do that that is very disorderly conduct, and it is the third time that it has happened.
Senator DI NATALE: At a time when income inequality is spiralling out of control, we are a party that is not afraid of taxing wealth. I look forward to the day when the other parties join us on that one.
This Treasurer said he wanted a budget that was for future generations. Instead, he has delivered a budget that has well and truly screwed over young people. But rest assured: it is we Greens in the Senate who stopped them before, and we will stop them again.
Source Parliament of Australia Chamber Senate on 11/05/2017 Item BUDGET – Statement and Documents Speaker :Di Natale, Sen Richard