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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 2949

Senator BARTLETT (Queensland) (17:00): I do agree with the previous speaker, just a little bit, that our economy is very important. It is pivotal. It affects people's lives. The economy affects people's material concerns and it affects their day-to-day lives. It affects whether people can afford to keep a roof over their heads, to feed their children and to get health care—which are, of course, fundamental—and that is why this budget is such an abomination.

I'm somewhat moved to support this motion but I would like to say that I'm disappointed because it lists some of the things that are wrong with the budget. It's a bit short. I think it could be a good 10 times as long and it still wouldn't get through all of the things that are problematic about this budget.

Let me firstly go to the core issue of inequality. Inequality is something that, finally, most people—clearly not those in the government, unfortunately—in the wider community recognise is a serious social problem. It is a serious problem in terms of justice and fairness—that old Australian ethos of egalitarianism that sometimes still gets quoted. It's sounding very musty and dated these days because it certainly hasn't been followed. In fact, it's been deliberately destroyed by this government.

Also, equality is a crucial thing with regard to making our economy work properly. There's ample evidence around from economists demonstrating that once you get to the sort of stage of widespread and increasing inequality—income inequality and, most particularly, wealth inequality—it starts to become extremely harmful to the fundamentals of your economy and it also then starts to become extremely harmful to the foundations of your society.

Alongside the need to emphasise the significance of having an economy that delivers the basics for everybody, for all of us, is the need to ensure that we have a healthy environment because there is not much point having people with some jobs if they can't breathe the air and if their water is poisoned. Their jobs will disappear—as they will in my state of Queensland, and in northern Queensland, in particular—if something is not done to stop the rapid global warming that is happening and that is cooking the Reef.

I saw quite an interesting thing in these budget papers, in amongst everything. The government tried to make a big deal of it with $535.8 million over five years for the delivery of a Reef 2050 action plan. Out of that, $443 million is delivered this financial year, as in the next couple of months. That's front loading in a big way. If it were actually going to be delivered to help ensure the survival of the Reef then that would be great, because it is urgent. But if you look at the government's own wording in the budget papers, they're talking about using this money for a range of things, including to progress a research and development program for science innovation, for coral reef restoration and for adaptation to rising ocean temperatures.

Half the time we have people from the government saying that it's a myth that we've got rising temperatures. But they're now saying they need to spend very significant amounts of money to deal with adaptation for rising ocean temperatures. That on the surface would be a good thing, but a much, much better thing would be to stop doing the things that are creating the rising ocean temperatures and putting at threat tens of thousands of jobs and the long-term sustainability and cultural viability of communities along the Queensland coast.

Instead, what they're also using this money for is a reef communications plan. I had the pleasure—perhaps I shouldn't call it a 'pleasure'—of being in a committee hearing with Senator Macdonald the other day in Yeppoon. It was educational. It was just down the road from Senator Canavan's office. It was an inquiry into tourism. It was very useful. It was looking into the job opportunities for Central and Northern Queensland that come through tourism and that absolutely all of them—150 per cent—rely on the health of not just the reef but the marine park, the rivers, the wetlands and the coastal strip in general. All of those are being put at risk by the continual environmental vandalism of this government. It is reiterated in this budget, as there's pretty much nothing to address it. In fact, there are cuts to environment funding, cuts to the jobs of people who are trying to ensure our threatened species don't go extinct and cuts to the jobs of people who are trying to monitor water quality and the health of the water around Queensland and the country. I heard Senator Macdonald in that hearing openly saying, 'This money for the reef action plan is coming forth to have advertising overseas to combat the lies.' These are the so-called lies of people wanting to let people overseas know that the health of the Great Barrier Reef is at risk.

I hope I am proven wrong on this, but I think we're going to have this massive front-loaded spending of money to run a propaganda campaign overseas to say, 'The reef is all healthy and it's all good,' whilst at the same time this government is putting more money into digging up more thermal coal around Queensland and around the country and trying to get more people to put more money into building coal-fired power stations that will further destroy the reef, the marine park and the jobs that are all attached. That's the absurdity at the heart of this budget. That's just one example amongst many that shows just how much of a myth it is that these government members can call themselves good economic managers.

Poll after poll shows that Australians these days, if they're given that basic choice between tax cuts or investment in social infrastructure and social services, will say, 'We want the money invested in health care, education, housing, public transport, our environment and our communities.' That is what the Australian community want. We don't want greater inequality. But we actually had the previous speaker from the government—and I think I got this right—saying: 'It's a universally great thing that someone will never have to pay a higher tax rate again once they hit $41,000. Even if they get to $200,000, they still won't have to pay at a higher tax rate.'

I can remember the Joh Bjelke-Petersen days. I am old enough to remember when Joh Bjelke-Petersen—one of Senator Canavan's heroes, I think—made his great run for Canberra. He ran on his flat tax program. There were probably a couple of things that blew that whole campaign up, but that was probably the key thing—that he ran on something that was so clearly unjust and so clearly economically insane and stupid. Yet this government is really trying to push us down to not quite total, absolute ground-zero flat tax but pretty close. It is really trying to push us right down to as close to flat as it can get. It thinks it's a universally good thing for somebody earning $200,000 a year to be in exactly the same income tax bracket as somebody earning under the median wage. I accept the government is being honest about that. At least it does create a clear indication of the stark choice here. But it shows there is an ongoing, clear-cut commitment to not just maintaining but increasing the inequality that is threatening our society and our economy in the long term.

I draw attention to the analysis. There is an interesting case study after every budget, and probably this one in particular, of how people can use numbers and statistics in all sorts of ways to create very different pictures. But the simple fact is, when you're looking at the basic issue of equality and whether you're increasing it or decreasing it, you're looking at who's getting more money out of it. We already know the big corporations, the big banks, and the Liberal, National and One Nation alliance are still committed to giving big tax cuts to the banks. We've seen the analysis—and there's been plenty of it; I'll pick the one from the Australia Institute—somebody earning $40,000 a year will get a tax cut of $455 a year; and someone earning $200,000 will get $7,225 a year. That is five times more—they earn five times more, but their tax cut is 16 times bigger. The inequality from the tax cut grows by a factor of three, if these tax cuts ever do come into law. I urge, as part of this debate, all of those in the Senate on the crossbench to do what they can to make sure that this rampant inequality does not get locked into law.

I want to draw attention to the comments from organisations working in the area of housing. St Vincent de Paul, for example, have stated that this budget locks in future spending cuts and leaves people on the lowest incomes worse off. People are already struggling, and it leaves them worse off. There is still no increase to Newstart. Even John Howard is finally agreeing with the Greens. We heard people from the Liberal side of the chamber saying, 'If you want to see what Labor's position will be in five years, look at what the Greens are saying now.' On some issues, there's truth in that. I wish they'd speed things up a bit sometimes. But we're even seeing John Howard getting to where the Greens are, and there are others.

The Business Council of Australia says that we need an increase in Newstart. We needed it many years ago, and this budget has not delivered it. Inevitably, the inequality will get worse as will the social harm that comes from not being able to afford to survive or to keep paying the rent and being forced into homelessness. Where is there anything in the budget to try and address homelessness? Last year there were quite inadequate measures, but at least there was the pretence of acting on the issue of housing affordability, the crisis of housing affordability. This year there's nothing, nothing at all—nothing to reverse the massive tax breaks that go to the richest when it comes to housing deductibility, negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts. Instead, there is a cut to remote housing—a $1.5 billion cut—and I'm pleased this cut is mentioned in this motion.

We should be investing in public housing across the board, not trying to tweak the broken housing system the free market fundamentalists have delivered. We've gone past that. We should be saving the revenue and, instead of giving massive multibillion-dollar tax cuts to the banks who make their profits by gouging people through the housing market, building the housing directly. We can afford to build significant amounts of public housing, and the government's own report showed the funding program for remote housing for Aboriginal communities has delivered great results, particularly in my state of Queensland, where on every measure it went off the charts. And this government stops the funding. What on earth?

You've got a program that works, that's reducing overcrowding with all of the positive flow-on social benefits—improved school attendance, reduced child safety problems and reduced health problems from overcrowding—and they stopped funding it. There are the jobs that go with it. To pull the funding away from jobs in remote Aboriginal communities—real ongoing, skill-developing jobs; what on earth is going on?

I was on Palm Island a couple of weeks ago just after their wonderful 100-year commemorations—a community that is trying to build their own viable future from a very, very dark history. Not surprisingly, there is significant unemployment on that island and in that community. Forty jobs—40 skilled jobs, 40 jobs in building and housing construction—will go in July, in a month or so, because of the refusal to keep funding this. It's the same in Western Australia and in the Torres Strait and elsewhere.

We've seen money taken away from genuine action on climate change, something which is also an economic issue, a social justice issue and an issue for the future of young people today. We're seeing the cuts to universities, we're seeing the cuts to TAFE, we're seeing the ideological cuts to the ABC and we're seeing the cuts to schools. And we have a government that somehow thinks that giving tax cuts and giving a flat tax rate to people who are earning six figures is a great achievement. That's the great achievement, while everything else is being laid waste to? It's quite extraordinary. Just today, we have seen cuts to ASIC—right in the middle of a banking royal commission that has shown just how rampantly this government's mates have been able to flout the law at horrible human and economic cost—and we're seeing the continuing weakening there.

The core message that I'd like to put forward on behalf of the Greens with regard to this motion is that this is a budget which is economically irresponsible. It does not address the significant issue of inequality. It does not address the issues of wage stagnation, job insecurity and housing affordability. It does not address the massive problem faced by the significant, and growing, number of people who have to rent their homes, often in insecure circumstances. It does not address the issue of total inaction on homelessness and housing security. Instead, we've got massive handouts that predominantly go to the wealthiest. That seems to be the ground that this government wants to pick a fight on leading into the general election next year, or in these by-elections coming up in the near future. Certainly from the Green's point of view, we think this is important ground to battle over because the future of young people in particular in Australia is at stake. Alongside that, of course, the future of the environment is also at stake.

I cannot repeat often enough what a disgrace the complete inaction with regard to climate change in this budget is. It particularly threatens the future of young people, their future job opportunities and their basic right to a healthy environment and planet to live in. We need to fight back against that as strongly as possible, because otherwise that is what this institution will continue to try and inflict on the Australian community.