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Christine Milne: The Greens stand against Abbott's cruel budget

Speeches in Parliament
Christine Milne 25 Jun 2014

The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, addresses the senate as the appropriations bills for the 2014 budget are introduced. Senator Milne argues that this is a budget from the past that will serve to widen the gap in Australia between the haves and the have nots.


Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens) (10:07): I rise today to address the issue of the appropriation bills. A budget reflects the vision for the nation that the government of the day has, and it puts into clear view the values that underpin that vision for the nation. Frankly, where you put your money tells you where your priorities are. It is the same for a household; it is the same for a government. You put the money there and it shows people what you think is important.

The Abbott government has made it very clear that it is steering Australia on a cold-hearted path where the gap between those who have and those who have not grows ever larger. The Abbott government's budget reflects that our Prime Minister's vision for this country is a vision of the past. It is a vision that says, 'Let's leg-rope Australia to the 19th and 20th centuries. Let's keep this country as a dig it up, cut it down, ship it away economy. Let's keep on hollowing out manufacturing and losing manufacturing jobs. Let's ignore the major, overwhelming issue of our time-global warming-and we don't care about what it is doing, particularly in rural and regional Australia, to agriculture, let alone the environment. Ignore all that, because essentially we want to protect the vested interests of the people who donate and vote for the Liberal Party.' That is essentially what this budget has done. It is about protecting the vested interests of the old order. It is not new. Machiavelli identified it in the 15th century.

There is nothing harder to bring about than change, because the vested interests of the old order fight like partisans to keep their vested interests. Those who believe in a new way are lukewarm in their support, because people do not believe in things until they have actual experience of them. That is what is going on with this budget. The vested interests of the old order have been itching for a coalition government to get back in so that they can absolutely nail down their wealth and interests. That is why this budget is driving Australia towards being a plutocracy, a country in which the wealth, the wealthy and big business own and run the government for their own interest. That is what is happening here.

In order to for that to happen, we are seeing a massive, permanent hit on low-income earners, on the unemployed, on the sick, on students-on the future. That is because the future of the country depends on transitioning out of the things that make the vested interests of the old order rich-that is, transitioning away from a resource based economy and investing in a country that says, 'In this century we are going to do everything to protect our ability to survive on this planet, and that means looking after the environment in the face of global warming, doing what we can to slow it down and to adapt to what is already in place' but at the same time saying, 'Well, what sort of society do we want?' In addressing global warming you actually get to rethink what sort of society you want. Do you want a society that is more equal? Do you want a society where everyone gets a good education, regardless of who their parents are, where they live or where they were brought up, where everyone has an equal opportunity, where there is no discrimination on the basis of race, sexuality or gender? Any discrimination should go. We have an opportunity to rethink everything. Of course, that includes the design of our cities and our transportation systems. We have so many opportunities.

This budget is essentially the Abbott government locking in the vested interests of the past, their wealth and their wealth sources against those who want to transition to a better future that addresses global warming and inequality. These are two of the things the World Economic Forum has identified as being the overwhelming threats to the stability of the planet in this next decade. The Abbott government is moving to dismantle universal health care, defund access to quality public education, strip away money from Indigenous programs, push young people into poverty and saddle students with ever-increasing higher-education debt. It is forgoing the billions of dollars in revenue from carbon pricing-the big polluters paying for their pollution, which is driving global warming. Instead of that, the Abbott government is ripping up the safety net and the social contract that has been central to safeguarding egalitarianism in this country. We are going backwards on the idea that people in Australia have equal opportunity. In a budget, you should be trying to fix that, not actually lock it in and drive it harder.

Contrary to the stack of budget papers that were released last month, we Greens do not want this country run for corporations. We do not want a country in which you have BHP turning up in the Treasurer's office saying: 'Don't you dare touch our fuel tax credits, because we're capable of running exactly the same campaign against you that we ran against Kevin Rudd when and destroyed his ability to bring in the superprofits tax on the big miners. Don't do it. Don't touch us.' And so that is exactly what happened. BHP is not going to be touched; none of the big resource based industries are touched. In fact, they are going to get their fuel tax rebate just as they wanted.

This is one of the things the government can do; big corporations can avoid tax, and they do. But they cannot get out of it if the government determined not to give them back their fossil fuel subsidies and their fuel tax rebate. But, no, that has not happened.

And while I am on the subject of the fuel indexation: if you are going to put in a price signal it has to drive transformation. Saying to people, 'We are going to take money from people who have no options with public transport, who drive old, inefficient cars. We are going to take money from you, and we are going to put it into more roads so we can have more congestion, more urban sprawl and less sustainable cities,' makes no sense. It is quite extraordinary that the Greens have pushed for years for mandatory vehicle fuel efficiency standards-and we still do-and yet in the last period of government the Labor Party would not move on mandatory vehicle fuel efficiency standards and neither what the coalition. Why? Because the cars we were building in Australia would not have met standards like that.

We were allowing the transport fleet in Australia to go backwards, whereas in other countries they are moving on fuel efficiency standards. When President Obama talks about fuel efficiency on the G20 agenda he is talking about mandatory vehicle fuel efficiency standards, and good on him! We intend to push that here, because the best way of transforming things is, of course, getting a more efficient vehicle fleet and getting more public transport so that people have the option of driving less and, when they do drive, of driving more efficiently.

But we have a scenario where the Abbott government tried to confect a budget emergency. Explain to me, someone, how you can say that there is a budget emergency when at the same time you say, 'We are not going to fix the mining tax. We want the big miners not to pay any of this extra profit that they are making,' and at the same time say, 'We don't want the polluters to pay. In fact, we're going to raise a couple of billion dollars out of your pocket to give to the big polluters.' That is what the supposed Direct Action actually does.

We have people ringing our offices constantly, telling us about the hardship that they are experiencing because of this budget. We have people ring us and tell us every day that they cannot afford it. We have had students write to us, saying that they simply will not be able to go to university because it is already a challenge if you live rurally to get to uni and be able to meet the accommodation and extra costs and this will make it nearly impossible now.

So we will send these budget measures back. We will vote against what the Abbott government wants to do. We will send back all of their harsh cuts in every shape or form that we can. But there are some who have suggested-such as Andrew Wilkie and the Palmer United Party-that the Senate should block supply and should stop the ordinary annual services of government being delivered, which would mean that they would grind to a halt in a progressive weight from 1 July. That includes hundred and 150,000 federal public servants not being paid. These are the public servants who not only would suffer personally but are also the ones who make sure that government services like Medicare payments, or social security pensions or welfare payments are paid to people who need them. If you decide that you are going to stop the ordinary annual services of government you are going to shut down those offices and people are not going to be able to access those services.

The rejecting or delaying of appropriation bills means that, without those annual appropriations, there is no source of funding for delivering the wide range of services that government agencies deliver and, whilst the funds might be there to pay the pension or to pay tax refunds and a whole range of other government payments, there are no funds lawfully available to pay for the administration of those payments, whether they are through direct salary, systems administration costs or contractors. So, effectively, if Andrew Wilkie and Clive Palmer have their way, a range of vital services that government delivers-everything from air services and other transport safety services, quarantine protections, customs and border operations, law enforcement and regulatory services, the administration of the federal courts and tribunals, a multiplicity of research activities and the conduct of international relations-could all be compromised by the unavailability of funds to be able to have people deliver them.

While it is expected that essential services would be maintained and employees would continue to work for deferred salary, the impact on the economy and the financial system through the failure of the government to pay its bills and honour its contracts cannot be underestimated. That impact would be acerbated by the inability of individual Commonwealth employees to pay their bills or buy goods and services. If you are realistic about this, people live from pay to pay. They have to pay a mortgage. What is a Commonwealth Public Servant going to do if they do not get paid? Are they going to default on their mortgage? How are they going to pay their rates? How are they going to pay their energy bills? How are they going to buy food? These are the realities.

Let there be no doubt that we are absolutely going to take it up to the Abbott government on this budget. We have already given a clear indication that we are going to do everything in our power to keep the clean energy package and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. In supporting the retention of that, we have set up a double dissolution trigger-and, if the government wants to go to an election, it can. Blocking appropriation bills means that the government has the choice of just going to a House of Representatives election. A double dissolution trigger means that you can secure a re-election for the whole parliament. We have already set up one trigger, and it is now up to the Abbott government. Of course, as soon as we set up the trigger, we heard the government say 'Just because we've got a trigger, we wouldn't pull it.' That is because the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, knows that the community finds this budget totally abhorrent.

It is interesting that it is always the far right wingers who are the ones who create instability and uncertainty in the community. If you look at what the Tea Party did in the United States, bringing that country almost to the brink in terms of the financial relationship there, you can see what happens if you start threatening ordinary annual services of government. Of course, in Australia it was the Liberal Party who forced the constitutional crisis in 1975. They only threatened to block the budget; they did not actually do it-and that brought on that major constitutional crisis. The Greens are here as very strong and reliable people in this parliament. We have demonstrated through balance of power in state governments around the country and in this parliament that we will absolutely take it up to the government. We are going to vote down every one of their cruel budget measures that come through this place, but we are not going to cause a constitutional crisis.

We will, however, set up a double dissolution trigger and have that potential to go to an election. If the government are prepared to go to an election, good, because the people will show them very well that they do not support the unfair and regressive measures that the government are proposing. Just to reiterate: the Greens will block and vote against the attacks on universal health care and vote down the $7 GP co-payment; we will block the cruel changes to the living and studying allowance for young people and students; we will vote against and block the unfair and regressive user-pays model proposed for our universities; and we will do everything we can to stop the destruction of the clean energy package-which again goes to the question of whether you want the past or whether you want the future. We are very much focused on the future of our nation, of looking after people, of creating jobs, of attracting investment in renewable energy and new jobs, in spending money on research and universities, in developing the knowledge based economy in supporting the creative industries-that is where we want to go-and we absolutely condemn the government's attack on science, research and evidence based policy.

We do not support in any shape or form the crippling cuts to CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and rolling together the National Environmental Research Program and the Australian Climate Change Science Program. We cannot continue to produce world-class research if the government keeps threatening the research budget every year. It is the wrong way to be going in Australia and, in terms of Tasmania, we now have a world world-class hub of marine, climate and Antarctic researchers and we should be strengthening that. Instead of that, the government is smashing it with cuts to CSIRO, and we are going to see a further 18 jobs go making a total of 16 in the last year. We are strong supporters of CSIRO and we are not going to support those savage attacks.

Nor do we support the attacks on the ABC and SBS and the next round: we are told that the $45 million is just the start and there will be another $45 million out of the ABC and SBS. Australians love the ABC and SBS and do not want to support these cuts but it shows the values. This shows the Rupert Murdoch agenda coming out of the government. It shows what the Institute of Public Affairs wants to do to shut down and cut down the public broadcaster and SBS, and we all know why that is the case, and of course the Australia Network is something that Rupert Murdoch has long wanted to shut down.

The Greens want the big miners, bankers and polluters to pay their fair share first and we could raise $79.2 billion in revenue and avoid all these cruel measures in the budget if we actually did get those super profits tax on the miners fixed; if we got tax avoidance from these discretionary trusts dealt with, if we retained the carbon price; if we actually dealt with this issue of past and future; if we actually put a levy on the big four banks; and if we imposed a levy on thermal coal. We need to actually make decisions that set us up for the future not leg-rope us to the past. I reiterate: the Greens in this budget will stand absolutely up to the Abbott government's attempt to lock us into the wealth and the resource based economy dictating unfairness. 


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