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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 874


Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (13:13): I'm glad I got to hear Senator Cameron say the word 'rabble' one last time—I'm not sure if he'll be able to squeeze it into his valedictory speech this afternoon, but I suspect he might be able to.

This is the seventh budget that I've been involved with for the Greens. While budgets have a lot of information—there can be a lot of detail out there—they're actually quite simple at the end of the day. Budgets are a plan. They're a plan for a government seeking a mandate from the Australian people and they're a document that outlines the priorities of a government. That plan then supports the government's priorities. I would say: this government's budget has no plan, and they've got all their priorities wrong.

My predecessor in this place, Senator Bob Brown, used to say, 'A good policy is a policy that's good for your grandchildren.' I look at the budget and see the lack of vision, the lack of planning, the lack of strategic foresight and I really am concerned. While there might have been a fistful of dollars, a surplus on a one-off windfall gain from mining revenues for our exports, there was no surplus of good ideas in this budget. There was no surplus of big ideas. There was no surplus of reform in this budget. What mandate, exactly, are the government achieving?

Let's be completely honest. This was one of the most unique budgets, if not the most unique budget, in Australian political history, because it was announced just days before the calling of a federal election; that's never happened before. So make no bones about it; last night's budget by the Treasurer was the beginning of the government's election campaign. And what mandate, exactly, are they seeking from the Australian people? What is their plan? What is their vision? Is it more cash splashes? Is it spending money from an unsustainable one-off budget surplus, the first surplus in many, many years? Where's the reform?

Well, there's one reform that the media's talking about this morning and that's the government's reform of the Australian tax system. But what exactly is that? It's making a flat tax system less progressive in this country. It is making the rich richer at the expense of the poor. Whichever way you look at it, wealthy Australians will benefit the most from these changes. How is that tackling one of the great challenges of our time—inequality? How is that dealing with long-term planning? How is that helping a social safety net, investing in the country's down-and-out and most unfortunate? How is that planning for a future for our kids? This budget robs from the future of our children to give to potential voters for the Australian Liberal Party and the Nationals. That's what this is. These are election bribes designed purely to get the Liberal Party re-elected, to hang onto power at all costs. There's no vision in this budget. There's no plan for the Australian people. The only plan is to get the Liberals re-elected.

I've tallied the so-called surpluses, which, by the way, have been questioned by a lot of good economists as to whether there actually will be a surplus over forward estimates. And when I say 'forward estimates', I mean the next three years. I've tallied those surpluses based on last night's figures and they're about $45 billion. I look at the tax cuts and the potential savings for opposing those, and I say: If we had $65 billion, because that's what they add up to, what we would spend that money on that is reform, that is a plan for the Australian people and that shows some vision? We would give free higher education to all Australians, we would increase Newstart for the country's battlers who are doing it tough, we would put DentiCare under Medicare, we would build 500,000 new homes for Australians because we desperately need public housing in this country and lastly—and possibly most importantly—we would transition this country to 100 per cent renewable energy. And we would have money left over. We would be tackling inequality head-on through increasing public housing and making education more affordable for young Australians. We would be tackling inequality head-on by raising Newstart and we would be tackling arguably the greatest existential crisis we face as a country and a nation—our climate emergency.

We've got no time left to fiddle around the edges. I spoke in here yesterday about my experience being down at Cape Grim in the north-west of Tasmania. By coincidence, within 24 hours of Mr Turnbull calling the double dissolution in 2016, the weather station there, one of two on the planet, had measured carbon dioxide in our atmosphere at 400 parts per million. That was a very ominous beginning for that election campaign. I stood on the beach with a placard that said '400 parts per million' and I did a short video urging as many Tasmanians as possible, 'We have to make this a climate change election.' This was a line in the sand we didn't want to cross. But, even though I'm a Greens senator, I feel deeply about these issues and I've been fighting for decades for the environment and for climate—even though that is the case—I can tell you that, looking back now, standing on that beach I could never have imagined how bad things would get in our climate. I could never have imagined that, that very year, we would see the worst mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef. I could never have imagined—and nor could any of our climate scientists, some of the best in the world, whose models predicted that it wasn't possible until 2050 to have back-to-back bleachings on the coral reef—that the following year that would actually happen and we would lose nearly half the Great Barrier Reef. I could not have predicted that Tasmania's giant kelp forests, the last of the 10,000-year-old ecosystem that spanned the entire east coast of Tasmania, would disappear in 2016. I couldn't have predicted that we would break every weather record possible in this country in the next three years, that we would see fires burning in the middle of winter in New South Wales at unprecedented levels or that we would see our World Heritage areas, areas that haven't seen fire for thousands of years, burning in three out of five summers. This has all happened in the last three years.

And what did we get in this budget? What's in the appropriation bill that is before us for climate change? Senator Di Natale said today that this government is spending more money on setting up Christmas Island as a detention centre than it is for the entire 15 years of its plan for the environment and for climate. The Greens have announced a climate fund. We've announced an environmental fund to fund new laws and properly fund threatened species recovery plans in the agencies that are necessary. Our commitment is at least 10 times what the government has outlined, just in the forward estimates. That's the quantum of funding we need if we are going to have policies that are good for our grandchildren. A good policy is a policy that is good for your grandchildren, not a one-off cash splash on the back of an unsustainable budget surplus. That is not a good plan. This government has got its priorities totally wrong. There's no forward thinking here. This is a budget to get the Liberal Party re-elected. We desperately need to change government. We desperately need to get serious action on reducing emissions, investing in biodiversity and investing in the future of our grandchildren.

The Greens will be going to this election and we will do everything we can to make this election about climate. I look back on 2016 and, while I felt that I did everything I could, I failed in my state to make it a climate election. I'm not going to make the same mistake twice. Based on the current carbon dioxide parts per million measurement out of Cape Grim, we've got less than 10 years to go before we hit 450 parts per million, which every scientist recognises is runaway climate change—where it's too late. That's going to happen in the next decade based on our current emissions trajectory. It's not going to happen on my watch if I have any say in the matter, and I know I speak on behalf of my party, who first raised this issue in parliament in the 1990s. We will continue to fight to get climate action and we will continue to fight, whichever government is in power, to get a proper plan funded through a budget and funded through appropriations such as we have before us today, to actually take meaningful action—the strongest possible action. There's no point in talking about jobs and growth and whatever it is that is spouted by the ideology of this Liberal-National party if we don't get the climate settings right. It's all going to be undermined in the future. Inequality and threats to national security—it's all there if we don't act on climate. It is what this budget should have delivered and has failed miserably to deliver on climate change.