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Thursday, 26 November 2015
Page: 9066


Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (10:39): I rise with great pride to speak to the Mining Subsidies Legislation Amendment (Raising Revenue) Bill 2014, which was a bill introduced by former Senator Christine Milne in this place. It is a fantastic bill, because it goes right to the heart of the fossil fuel subsidies that this government continues to provide to the big mining companies. Even when we have a so-called budget emergency—I am not too sure what has happened to that one—still they were dishing out $10 billion of subsidies in cheap petrol to the big mining companies. It is not as if they need the help. Does Gina Rinehart, with $20 billion in wealth, really need an extra subsidy while the rest of us pay 39c tax on our petrol? I do not think so, but apparently the government still does. This bill would remove that fuel tax credit for big miners and it would say, 'No; you shouldn't get a free ride on your 39c when everybody else has to pay that fuel tax.'

This bill would also scrap the accelerated depreciation for vehicles used for fossil fuel extraction—of course not covering agricultural vehicles. The bill would say, 'No; you can't depreciate the acquisition of these assets faster than anybody else can, just to rip this stuff out of the ground.' Lastly, the bill would scrap the deductions available for mining exploration, which of course is effectively immediate depreciation and it promotes mining exploration. Again, nobody else gets special fast-track depreciation rules. I have looked in great detail at these depreciation rules. This is a free ride that this government gives to the big mining companies—who it is so cosy with—in order to get this stuff out of the ground even faster.

We are heading into a climate conference in just a couple of days, and the Prime Minister desperately needs some good news, He has already done a deal with the National Party, saying that he is going to take Tony Abbott's targets to Paris, in order to shore up his own leadership. We hope that he is searching around desperately for something positive to say to the world. He cannot just stand up there and just not be Tony Abbott. That is not enough. He is taking the targets that are the worst of the developed nations—targets which are between one-third and one-half not as good as the science requires. The Climate Change Authority has said, 'You've got to do at least twice or three times as good in order to even have a chance of keeping to two degrees of warming.' And we know that the science is now saying that even two degrees is too much for our coral reefs, for our biodiversity and for our way of life.

So Prime Minister Turnbull desperately needs some good news in the climate space, and we are very happy to give this idea to him. It is a revenue-raising measure. They are grasping around trying to find revenue-raising measures, and of course raising the GST is the latest measure that is on the table that they keep trying to distance themselves from. Rather than attacking the poor folks, why don't you look at the cheap petrol that you are giving to big mining companies? They do not need the support. In fact, it is the renewable energy industry that could do with a bit more support—instead of the attacks that this government has wreaked upon that industry. We have already seen that the renewable energy target has been completely slashed—sadly with the complicity of the opposition in this place—and now we have free tax breaks going to the big mining companies right when there is an abolition bill on foot for ARENA and for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. This government has it all back to front.

I think the Australian public had really hoped that there would be a change in policy when there was a change in leader. It is not enough that we have a new Prime Minister who can speak in sentences; we actually need a change of policy—and climate policy is the most pressing change that is needed. Instead, we have this continuation of tax breaks to big miners, which is simply promoting global warming—and it is missing out on revenue raising. We had the Parliamentary Budget Office cost this proposal, and it was found that it would raise $10 billion over three years. Of course, we have a whole range of other revenue-raising proposals as well—like fixing up superannuation, tax breaks, looking at negative gearing and looking at a tax for those who earn over a million dollars. There is a whole range of revenue-raising opportunities that the government could be turning their minds to, but instead they keep wanting to attack the poor. Of course, the GST is the latest in a long line of thought bubbles that will have a disproportionate impact on the vulnerable in this country.

So we are heading to Paris, and we have the worst target of comparable developed nations and we have a Prime Minister who needs to do more than just not be Tony Abbott. At the very least, he needs to remove the abolition bills on ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Those bodies are making money for the government whilst promoting clean energy and, hence, constraining global warming and generating economic prosperity and employment. That is the good news story that Australia is so desperate to hear. Instead we have this government that wants to abolish those bodies and keep tax subsidies for big mining companies to give them cheap petrol.

We put up a bill to say, 'Let's bring in some vehicle fuel efficiency standards', which many countries around the world have, of which Australia does not have any at all. We said, 'Let's bring those in because it will actually help consumers in the long run to save money on their petrol costs.' It was costed at saving about $850 a year. But, no, this government thinks that that is not a great idea at all because they have to review. They are going to look at that in two years time, and in five years time they might do something about it. Wow, what a pace of reform! In five years time we might do something to stop, say, VW dumping their dodgy vehicles on Australia. No, instead let us look at some revenue raising. Let us save consumers' costs and let us take away these unfair subsidies that the big mining companies get when the rest of us have to pay that tax on petrol. These folks, particularly in the coal and gas sector, are perpetuating global warming and stopping that transition to clean energy, which we so desperately need in this nation.

Of course, this comes off the back of a long line of other supports for the fossil fuel sector. The government repealed the mining tax, and we know, as history showed, that they repealed the carbon price. There has been a change at the helm, but there has been no change of policy. This government are still utterly wedded to the fossil fuel sector, and they are still in denial—despite all of their talk of innovation—about the possibility and the excitement of clean energy in this country. It breaks my heart, because the rest of the world is getting it and that transition is on, and we are missing out on economic opportunities. We get that they do not care about the environment, and many of them do not think that climate change is real or driven by humans, but I would have thought that they could see the economic opportunities in making that transition to clean energy.

This is a revenue-raising opportunity. This could save the budget $10 billion over three years. It could help support the clean energy sector, instead of all of the attacks that it has had rained down upon it by this government—the cuts to the RET and the abolition bills that are on the Notice Paper. Instead, we could actually see that positive vision, and that employment generating clean energy future, which Australians want. They get it. We have got the highest uptake of solar in the world. In Queensland we have the highest per capita solar uptake of the whole country. Of course, we have got fantastic sunshine, and people want to not only save money on their power bills but also do their bit towards global warming and towards protecting the Great Barrier Reef from what is the biggest threat to its existence. Things like this that can raise revenue as well as help clean energy and stop the unfair tax break that the big mining companies get is exactly what Australia needs. But instead we see the Prime Minister doing a deal with the Nationals to not change a thing, to keep Tony Abbott's climate policy and effectively to keep our economy in the dark ages.

The coal price has tanked, and many economists are saying that this is not just a temporary dip but is actually now structural decline. Our economy has been very dependent on coal in the past, but the transition is on and, if we do not see that and plan for that, then I am worried about the economic shocks that that will bring, and I am worried about the job losses. We have already seen, in the past three years, huge numbers of coal workers laid off. Where are they going to go? Where is the government's plan for those people?

I have been in Mackay recently. It is funny because I have been asking Senator Brandis about coal recently and he keeps inviting me to Central Queensland. I am happy to inform him that I have just been there. They are desperate for a transition plan. They can see that the Galilee Basin is uneconomic. They can see that there are now 15 banks that have ruled out funding that project. They know those jobs are not going to eventuate. They do not want to stuff-up the Great Barrier Reef or bring even more extreme weather events down upon themselves. They want a positive, long-term solution to employment, and clean energy is it with, of course, other industries like eco-tourism, services, innovation and technology. That is the economy of the future. Instead, we have this prescription from the government to keep propping up the fossil fuel sector—in denial that the rest of the world is making a change—and refusing to raise a good $10 billion over three years.

I invite the Prime Minister to take this proposal to Paris and announce it. We will applaud you for it. It is just one of the ways that we could not only raise revenue but also address global warming.