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Christine Milne: Greens have a plan for Western Australia

The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, speaks about the Greens' plan for Western Australia in the lead up to the state's half-senate by-election.

Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens) (16:29): At the request of Senator Siewert, I move:

That the Senate notes the upcoming Western Australian by-election will have significant implications for the people and the environment of Australia in the face of the Abbott Government.

This is a critical issue for people to think about as we approach the election. The Abbott government has already made it very clear that it is going to make life harder for people. The Abbott government is certainly going to mount a massive attack on the environment. That is why people really need to think about it.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting-

Senator MILNE: I am glad that Senator Macdonald has raised the issue of jobs, because I intend to address this at length in relation to how the Abbott government just does not have a vision for jobs in Western Australia. Not only do they want to attack the environment, but they will actually undermine employment in the west and make life much harder for people. We know that the Commission of Audit report is not being released ahead of the election because the Abbott government wants to hide from the people of Western Australia the truth about which programs they intend to cut and how many jobs will go from all sectors including nongovernment sectors. People offering support to the homeless and people who are out there working at every level in the community now know that their jobs are likely to go and that their programs are likely to be slashed as a result of the Commission of Audit.

This election in Western Australia is critical because it gives the people of Western Australia a second chance. They have now seen the Abbott government in action, and they have an opportunity to address these issues and ask questions. My colleague Senator Ludlam has made a fantastic contribution to the Australian parliament on behalf of the people of Western Australia. He has challenged the candidates from the other parties in this election to a debate on jobs and the economy but, interestingly, the government will not debate anyone on the issue of jobs in Western Australia.

There was a rather contemptuous response when Senator Ludlam asked Western Australian Liberal Senator Mathias Cormann repeatedly about having a debate on the future of jobs and the economy and whether the Liberal Party has a long-term plan for Western Australia's economy. They clearly do not have a plan.

In the House of Representatives, when my colleague the Greens Deputy Leader Adam Bandt, the member for Melbourne, asked about the plan for Western Australia after the mining boom, the only answer was that they are waiting for the next boom. They are not talking about any other future for Western Australia other than one of digging and shipping away. There is no other plan from the Liberal Party or the Abbott government for Western Australia.

So I again issue the challenge that Senator Ludlam has put out there. It is time for the candidates at this Senate election to stand together and to debate what the plan is for Western Australian jobs after the boom. What is the plan to address homelessness in Western Australia? What is the plan to get renewable energy really pumping in Western Australia?

Already, the jobs boom from the construction of new resource projects is slowing down in Western Australia. China, as we know, is the biggest consumer of Western Australia's resources. That country is transitioning from an economy driven by government-led construction to one driven by domestic consumption, and that is leading to a lessening in demand.

Unemployment in Western Australia is rising but the Abbott government has absolutely no plan to address it. In fact, he is hurting Western Australian workers by seeking to deny Western Australian investment opportunities in renewable energy by cutting the federal Public Service, by cutting funding to many support services through the community and by opening loopholes for more 457 visas.

Western Australia can be much more than just a mining state. That is where my colleague Senator Ludlam and the Greens have a very strong plan-a vision of a clean, thriving economy beyond the mining boom. That plan recognises that the future economy will be driven by renewable energy and that there will be diverse, cutting-edge manufacturing. That plan will build a 21st century Australia with construction and service industries. We have to get beyond the quarry vision and get to a vision about knowledge, service, information, sophisticated manufacturing and renewable energy.

I want to go specifically to renewable energy, because we have seen some disgraceful behaviour in the last few days from some candidates in the election. In Western Australia we had the Palmer United Party candidate saying that he absolutely supported the 41,000 gigawatt-hour large-scale renewable energy target and that they would not fiddle with the small-scale target. But the truth came out today from the leader of the Palmer United Party, who said that he did not support a mandatory renewable energy target. He thinks it should be voluntary. Well, a voluntary renewable energy target is no target at all. It is a recipe to give the coal barons what they would like. Why wouldn't I be surprised by that when Clive Palmer himself-the leader of the Palmer United Party-is a coal baron? No wonder they do not support the renewable energy target! The Greens do. We want to see 100 per cent renewable energy as quickly as we can get there. Not only do we guarantee not to fiddle with the existing target or, in any way to weaken it; we want to make it a lot stronger. We are already seeing the jobs-rich opportunities from clean energy and we should be fast-tracking construction of Australia's first large-scale solar thermal plant in the Goldfields, Midwest and central Pilbara

I went with Senator Ludlam to Seville in Spain to look at a solar-thermal plant. As we stood there amongst these massive mirrors, looking up to the solar-thermal plant, we wondered why we couldn't be having this in Australia, where we have better resources. It would be fantastic for us. The Greens have a vision, and Senator Ludlam released 'Energy 2029: The Greens 100% renewable stationary energy plan for WA' earlier this year. There is absolutely no technical or engineering reason it could not happen; the only thing stopping it is the lack of political will.

When I was in Western Australia recently, I went to visit the company Solargain with Senator Ludlam. Established in 2005, it is the largest solar provider in WA; its commercial solar division employs the equivalent of around 110 full-time staff plus further indirect employees, including installers and specialist equipment providers. It will be installing solar systems to around 20 large businesses in Western Australia alone over the next few months and, to date, it has installed more than 30,000 systems nationwide, including a 99-kilowatt system at Worldwide Online Printing in Cannington. During the visit to their factory, Solargain's CEO, Mr Mercuri, expressed strong concerns about the uncertainty over the renewable energy target.

It is an uncertainty right across the country, and that is why the motion today refers specifically to the implications for the people and environment of Australia as a result of the by-election in Western Australia. If the people of Western Australia want to see the rollout of renewable energy across the country and if they want to see the renewable energy target retained, then we have to keep the Climate Change Authority, which has legislative power to review the renewable energy target. It is not like this shonky review that the government is now undertaking with four climate deniers. We already know what the outcome of that review is going to be. We need to keep the Climate Change Authority to do its work. Western Australia can do that for the nation.

Equally we need to keep the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which is rolling out billions of dollars worth of projects. It is leveraging private sector capital, and it is doing a fantastic job. We have a scenario where the government would want to dismantle it and they have reintroduced legislation to try to do so. That is why the Western Australian Senate election matters so much: the people of Western Australia can send that very strong message.

What we already know is that there are hundreds of jobs in Western Australia in the renewable energy industry. For example, we know that the rooftop solar industry has already delivered over 18,500 new jobs, created 4,500 solar businesses and has resulted in 3,000 megawatts of solar installation across Australia. If the RET is abolished, it is estimated that 81 per cent of solar firms will cut staff and up to 12½ thousand solar jobs could go, according to the Australian Solar Council. With no policy change, an additional 8,000 solar PV jobs would be created by 2018. Never let it be said that the Greens are not in there creating jobs-by driving the renewable energy target we are creating jobs.

I want to turn to the mining industry for a moment, because here is another nonsense from the Abbott government-that getting rid of the mining tax will create jobs. It will not create jobs; in fact, it will cost jobs. I refer particularly to a recent article by Ross Gittins, 'Ending mining tax will damage jobs'. Why is that? Mining is so capital intensive that, although it now accounts for an amazing 10 per cent of GDP, it still accounts for a mere 2.4 per cent of total employment. I would add to that that total employment is falling as you go from the construction stage to the actual production stage in those mines. What that means is that if you want the mining industry to generate jobs, the only way you are going to do it is to tax the profits of that industry. Otherwise, it is an 80 per cent foreign owned industry. They dig up the resource and they send it overseas, and the profits go overseas with it. If you want jobs in Australia from the mining industry, the only way you will get it is to have the mining industry pay its fair share of taxation, and that money is then recirculated through the economy and creates jobs. That is the critical thing. For our economy and for our workers to benefit adequately from the exploitation of our natural endowment by mainly foreign companies, our government has to ensure it gets a fair whack of the economic rents these foreigners generate. That is Ross Gittins' argument and it is absolutely true.

The only reason that the mining tax has not generated the profits that it should have is not that the mining companies are not making profits; it is just the big mistake that the Gillard government made in negotiating the tax with the big miners in order to get a political win and the big miners got the financial win. They are making mega profits. They are already making those profits, and we should be getting that money from the profits and putting it through the economy to create jobs. That is precisely what the Greens are seeking to do. We have a very clear plan for jobs in the future, but we are also aware of the very big downside of the mining industry in Western Australia and that is the impact it has had on rents and homelessness and housing availability.

One aspect of the plan that the Greens have for Western Australia is supporting ongoing construction, design and manufacturing jobs, through the building of 21,500 new homes in Western Australia over the next 10 years. What that will do is to use plantation timber to build the prefabricated housing and roll it out. Right now in Western Australia, on any given night, there are 9,575 people experiencing homelessness, and one quarter of those are under 18.

I am proud to be an ambassador for action on youth homelessness. That is going to be a big focus in the coming month. In Western Australia, this is a big issue. It is the case that 45,800 people are on the social housing waiting list. Waiting times for a home average 2½ years, but up to 10 years in Perth and up to seven years in Fremantle, Albury and Bunbury. In view of mining prosperity and homes that cost $2,100 to rent, Western Australians in Port Hedland are sleeping under corrugated iron and waiting four years for a home. We have an overall supply gap in Western Australia of at least 50,000 affordable rental homes, and that is why the Greens have a national housing road map with an ambitious plan to address it.

When I was in Western Australia, I went to Foyer Oxford. It was a fantastic experience to go there and see the 98 units in that facility that help young homeless people. We asked some of those young homeless people, 'How do you find this facility?' One young guy turned around and said, 'This facility is awesome,' because for the first time he had a safe, secure place to go home to. He was on a contract to educate himself to be able to get a job and he had two years of certainty about housing. That was an amazing experience. But we know that there are so few crisis accommodation places in Western Australia to meet the need. That is why we need a mining tax that works. That is why the Greens are saying that we should not be abolishing the mining tax; we should be fixing it so that we get a decent return from the resources that are being extracted by foreign owned companies. We should be putting that money into services like the one that I saw at Foyer Oxford and we should be using our plantation timber to build the prefabricated houses that can roll out and create jobs in Western Australia and address the homelessness gap.

Senator Ludlam has worked incredibly hard to present an integrated plan for Western Australia. Another feature of the plan that the Greens have for Western Australia is investing in our public transport system, including the light rail project that was axed by Premier Barnett and Tony Abbott. That is just a disaster because of traffic congestion. Everybody knows that if you want to have a competitive city of the future you need to have a good public transport system. The work that Senator Ludlam has done has included working on developing the public transport corridors and looking at housing along those corridors. Not only is it a great solution for quality of life in Western Australia; it is a great environmental outcome.

So we are putting to the Senate today that the upcoming Western Australian by-election will have significant implications for people and the environment in Australia. I have outlined how a vote for the Greens in Western Australia, a vote against the Abbott government in Western Australia, will be a vote to maintain and roll out more renewable energy. It will be a vote to look after the environment. It will be a vote to address global warming in a serious way and not to just see the absolute sham of Direct Action. There was a great article that Paul Burke, an economist, wrote recently, where he said: 'Direct Action is the hastily bought present you would get for your aunty's fourth wedding.' That is about where it is up to in terms of what Direct Action actually means. That is about the extent of it.

We have a plan for Western Australia: a recognition that we need to address global warming, roll out jobs and have the mining tax fixed so that it actually generates income for Australia that can be spent on addressing things like homelessness and developing a better quality of life in our cities. I also want to mention the other aspect of this in terms of the attack on the environment. We have seen the most concerted attack on the environment from the Abbott government. The decision to try to hand back to the states the ability to manage enforcement and compliance on projects has been shown to be a sham, with Colin Barnett. My colleague Senator Siewert will also add to this, speaking about the shark cull, which we totally oppose.


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