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Monday, 19 March 2018
Page: 1432

Senator BARTLETT (Queensland) (16:25): Senator Chisholm, from the Labor Party, spoke earlier in this matter of public importance debate. I agree that it is important—the need for policies that address cost-of-living pressures, climate change, the undermining of wages and conditions, and the importance of ensuring children from any postcode in Australia, city or country, can get a quality education.

Being from Queensland, Senator Chisholm would know, and he should know, the good news: he's in luck that those policies already exist, and it's the Greens that have those policies. Being from Queensland, he would have seen up close how strongly the Greens promoted policies targeting exactly these issues in his own state, getting results from the electorate as a consequence of that. This from the Labor Party, who have presided over massive increases in electricity costs in Queensland because of their adherence to the neoliberal ideology that has meant that they pursued that approach of privatisation and corporatisation of public entities that were previously there to deliver for the interests of community rather than for corporations and for profit.

Senator Chisholm was talking about climate change and the need for policies on climate change on the very day that the Labor Party voted once again to adopt a new subsidy to explore for thermal coal. Perhaps Senator Chisholm and the Labor Party could look in the direction of the Greens and see the policies that already exist if they wanted to ensure that there is action on cost-of-living pressures, on climate change and on the undermining of wages and conditions.

It is the Greens that have led the way unequivocally in being the first out to oppose cuts with regard to penalty rates, to promote the importance of increasing the minimum wage substantially and to push up substantially an increase in Newstart and pensions—one way to address cost-of-living pressures and ensure that those people that are being paid the least, that have the lowest incomes, have their income increased. The Greens policies are to address housing affordability by investing in building more houses that are affordable for people, by ensuring that electricity is affordable, by ensuring all energy networks and generation corporations are changed back to being efficient public authorities and by ensuring that public transport is significantly cheaper and reliable. We are getting the opposite with the state Labor government in Queensland—and I'm sure in many other states around Australia—which is putting up public transport fares, and, certainly in the south-east, the rail system is becoming an embarrassment.

We have this problem with cost-of-living pressures because, under the ideology of neoliberalism, of free market fundamentalism, we have seen the steady march of privatisation of our essential services like energy, housing, hospitals and education. Neoliberalism, this free market fundamentalism, is an ideology that ruins communities and lives and it's an ideology that both the old parties of the political establishment are still wedded to. They both sold off essential services that provided for basic human rights and basic human needs so that they could be run for profit. They both continue to support an approach where corporate profits are put ahead of community needs.

With climate change, it is important and pleasing to see the ALP are acknowledging the need for more action, but what we need is not just an acknowledgment of better action; we need an adoption of effective policies. Let me remind the Senate about the fact that it was the Greens in this parliament who pushed and—no-one can deny—were pivotal in delivering what many independent observations say is the world's best practice in regard to a carbon reduction mechanism that also ensured that people weren't hurt by increased cost-of-living impacts. It was shown to be effective in the very short period of time before it was disgracefully dismantled—vandalised by the coalition. It delivered a reduction in emissions—emissions that are now going back up again under this government at a time when energy prices are also going up further under this government.

This isn't just a matter of protecting our environment and protecting the future of our planet—fundamental as those things are. It is about the impact on people's lives right now. The failure to act on climate change is putting people's lives at risk and is also contributing to those cost-of-living pressures. In my own state of Queensland, in Far North Queensland, which I've already spoken about in this chamber, people, individuals and businesses have faced over the last five to ten years massive increases in their insurance premiums specifically linked to increased severity of weather events. It's having a direct cost impact on the community in Far North Queensland right now. The people of the Torres Strait Islands are having their homes and islands made uninhabitable by rising sea levels, increased severe weather events and higher storm surges. Hopefully, all of us here will be aware of the major damage wreaked in the Torres Strait Islands just a couple of months ago for this reason. Entire island communities and cultures are at risk of being wiped out due to climate change right here in the Australian community, in the Queensland community, within decades. Yet we get nothing, in terms of any meaningful action, from this government. In fact, we're getting action that makes things worse.

People's lives are being put at risk. The future of their communities is being put at risk. They are facing cost-of-living impacts right now because our politicians, in league with massive fossil fuel corporations, are putting profits and corporate donations ahead of human lives. Just as does tobacco, we know fossil fuels put lives at risk. But here in Australia the two parties of the political establishment are in the pockets of the big fossil fuel corporations, so they continue to not act or to not act adequately to address what needs to be done.

When we're talking about wages and conditions, let's not forget that wages are not just flatlining but, for many people, particularly those on lower incomes, going backwards. They're not keeping up with the cost of living, yet corporate profits are at record highs. And let's not forget that this is under Labor's so-called Fair Work Act. The Your Rights at Work campaign in 2007—and I was in this parliament at the time—showed just how much ordinary Australians care about their working conditions and how they will get behind an imaginative and progressive union campaign and a community movement that is focused on people's direct needs and direct experiences. But it's also a lesson in how grassroots movements can be betrayed by politicians, given that when Labor got into government they introduced this unfair work act, which has failed to deliver on the promise of the campaign, so much so that the union movement is now launching another major campaign to get our industrial relations laws to work to fix Labor's Fair Work Act.

In regard to education—and it's pleasing to see this particularly specified—the importance of ensuring children and, frankly, people of all ages are able to access a quality education from anywhere in the country is something where we've been going backwards for a long period of time now. This is another area where the neoliberal agenda has caused so much damage to our communities, to human opportunities and to what is a crucial sector not just for economic and employment opportunities in the future; let's not forget that the education area itself is a major employer, particularly in regional areas. For all of the talk about mines in Central Queensland, the biggest employer in Rockhampton is the Central Queensland University. In Cairns, when I was meeting with the chamber of commerce just last week, they reminded me that, after tourism—which is, not surprisingly, the top employer, the top job generator, for that region—the second biggest is education. So, when we have our education sector being harmed and cuts to university funding under this government, it's the regional universities and it's the jobs in those regions that are being put at risk right now, as well as the future opportunities for the young people of those regions being put at risk.

We have a world-class system of vocational and further education that has been deliberately destroyed purely on ideological grounds. One of the great reforms of the Whitlam era was the abolition of university fees, yet they were reintroduced in 1988 by another Labor government, which reflected just how much they and the political class as a whole had been captured by neoliberalism. People can only get a quality education, as is emphasised in this debate, if it's affordable and if it's available at all. Under the policies of both the parties of the political establishment, things have been going backwards there. The Greens will continue to turn things around with the policy suite they've been promoting proudly and strongly.