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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 10710

Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (16:10): I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Energy Assistance Payment) Bill 2019. I note that a second reading amendment has already been moved by Senator Siewert on behalf of the Australian Greens that adds at the end of the motion:

", but the Senate calls upon the Government to re-regulate electricity prices and establish a public retailer to lower electricity prices."

The reason we're having this debate is that many people in Australia are struggling with their power bills. That's a result of a few different policy settings. There's no doubt that the poles and wires, which have been invested in, in recent years—in fact, decades—up to a gold-plated standard, have contributed significantly to power bills, which is one of the reasons the Greens have been advocating, for many years, that we need to do more to empower people to generate and store their own electricity on their premises, whether that be people's homes or people's small businesses. We certainly need to do more to encourage, and provide financial assistance to help, people to invest in things like rooftop solar and batteries, which are now available and which, if they follow the price curve of most technologies, will start to significantly reduce in price in the very near future.

Of course, in last night's budget, the government didn't provide any meaningful support for those things. In fact, the budget was grossly negligent in its response to the greatest public policy challenge facing humanity at the moment—that is, the breakdown of our climate and the climate emergency in which we find ourselves. It was another budget and another year of the coalition selling out our future. It contained billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsidies. It contained money to help unlock new gas resources in places like the Northern Territory. There is a bill being rammed through later tonight, with Labor's assistance, to enable Australian taxpayers' money to push more fossil fuel projects overseas. In fact, this budget contains more money to reopen the Christmas Island detention centre, so Prime Minister Morrison could conduct the most expensive press conference in our country's history, than it does new money to address climate change. This is the wrong way, and the government needs to go back.

Our temperature records have been broken. At the moment we are 2.2 degrees above the long-term trend. Colleagues, our climate is crumbling around us as we debate this budget. In recent times apocalyptic scenes have dominated the news. In my home state of Tasmania, communities have been threatened and our precious, unique Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area has been devastated by fires—made more likely and more dangerous by the breakdown of our climate. We've seen vast areas of Northern Queensland and mid-northern Queensland flooded. We've seen a million dead fish floating in the parched Murray-Darling Basin. These are the graphic results of a disaster caused by humanity, and it is caused by humanity burning fossil fuels.

This is only the beginning, unless we get serious about climate action. We can't get serious about climate action until we get serious about getting out of coal, which the Labor and Liberal parties in this place are refusing to do. Why do they refuse to act? It's a very simple answer. It's because together they accept millions of dollars in dirty donations from the coal corporations in this country. Unlike the major parties, the Greens do not take donations from the big polluters. We will not let the corrupting influence of those donations rob us, our children and our grandchildren of a future. We don't take those donations, which means we can develop a clear plan to phase out of coal and embrace the jobs-rich renewable energy revolution.

We want to make this election a referendum on climate change and a referendum on coal. We are asking people to vote Green in the Senate, to send a message to the major parties that they need to end their love affair with coal. We're asking people to vote Green in the Senate for a strong voice to demand climate action now, because we think about the future not just in budget cycles, not just in electoral cycles, but in the long-term. We care about people. We care about the natural world. And we are here in the Senate to hold the major parties to account.

We do have a plan to transform our energy future in this country, to create jobs and to deliver better and higher-quality public services and a better quality of life for us and the generations of the future. When thousands of children walked out of their classrooms last month to strike and demand strong action on climate change, we didn't lecture them, like the Prime Minister and government ministers did. We paid them respect by listening to them. I went to the action in Hobart. It was one of the most uplifting, empowering events I have ever been to. It was a cacophony of noise, of passion, of intelligence, of determination and, yes, of anger, because these kids see so clearly what so many in this place cannot or will not see—that their future is being stolen from them by the dirty emitters, the big polluters, and their lackeys in here in the major parties to whom they donate their dirty political donations.

So, when people go to the ballot box next month, they have a choice. They can vote for the major parties who take the corrupting donations from the big polluters, from the coal industry and from the gas industry in this country, or they can vote for a party that refuses to take that dirty money and, as a result, has the courage to stand up and demand strong action on climate change and demand an end to the mining, burning and exporting of coal from this country.