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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 1972


Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (16:22): Everything you need to know about what is wrong with this government can be found in one picture that is doing the rounds on social media today: a picture of Senator Bernardi, over in New York on secondment to the United Nations thanks to the taxpayers of Australia, wearing a hat that says, 'Make Australia great again.' It is a slogan—'Make the US great again'—that has been used by Mr Donald Trump in the US to enact change, because Donald Trump clearly believes that the US needs to change. What does Senator Bernardi do? He gets the same cap made for Australia. Senator Bernardi clearly did not believe the Prime Minister when the Prime Minister said at his first press conference out here in the courtyard that there is no better time than now to be an Australian.

The problem with this government is that it is divided. It is a divided government, and that is reflected in just about every piece of legislation that has come to this chamber. The government is without a compass. It is totally directionless and it has not dealt with any of the moral challenges and key issues that the Australian people expect it to. If you surveyed the citizens around this country and asked them what they believe the great moral challenges of our time are, they would talk to you about things like climate change, job security and economic inequality—the gap between the rich and the poor, which gets worse every year. They would talk to you about housing affordability, which is a major crisis for young and low-income Australians. Yet what is the government doing about these issues that really matter to this nation? If you want to make Australia great into the future then tackle the issues that matter.

What do we get instead, Senator Smith—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President? A plebiscite bill that you disagree with. It is divisive, a waste of money and a waste of our time. It makes us cop out on our responsibilities. We get a backpacker tax. We are going to tax some of the poorest people in Australia, who are here on a working holiday. They earn bugger-all, Mr Acting Deputy President, but we are going to go after them for 19 per cent of their earnings when they are here. They are absolutely critical, Senator Williams—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—as a pool of labour that primary producers in country and rural Australia rely on. What a thought bubble that one has turned out to be!

What about the two pieces of legislation we have dealt with in this 45th Parliament? One has been an omnibus bill to find $5 billion in savings. Guess who the government took the money off? Those who could least afford it: single parents, students, Newstart recipients and those in clean energy action. To make it an even bigger slap in the face to this nation, two weeks later the government turned around and introduced into this place a bill to spend $4 billion of the money they had just saved on a tax cut for the wealthiest Australians—to give a tax cut to millionaires. Senator Polley—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—you supported this. Your party has given Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull two clear victories in this parliament, victories that I believe go against the grain of what we need to do. The government are in chaos. Had you not supported them on those bills, they would have had no legislation through the Senate. And that legislation should not go through the Senate, because it is not good for Australia. It is a thought bubble. There is no vision, no courage and absolutely none of the reform that is needed in this country. We in the Greens are open to a conversation about raising revenue, spending money where it is needed and helping to retire debt if that is an issue, but where is the real reform? Why aren't we getting rid of perverse incentives like negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions, which have helped lead to the property price bubble and a housing affordability crisis in this country? We can actually raise money and fix equality issues at the same time. There is so much we could do if we only had the courage to tackle the issues that matter.

And then there is climate change. In July the recording station at Cape Grim in Tasmania measured carbon dioxide at 400 parts per million. Four hundred and fifty parts per million is irreversible climate change. Only four months later it is at 404 parts per million. Within five years we are going to pass 450 parts per million. What are we doing about it? Absolutely nothing.