The Australian Greens Budget-in-Reply Speech
This budget, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison's first, is a massive let-down for the people of Australia. Just as they have been let down by Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, the people of Australia have been let down by this budget. It is a budget that does not properly address the fact that we have a revenue problem.
It is a problem that was brought to us by John Howard and Peter Costello when they wasted the rivers of gold from the resources boom through round, after round, after round of tax cuts.
It is a budget that hands out corporate tax cuts while locking in cuts to hospitals. It is a budget that hands over money to the highest income earners but cuts support to the most vulnerable families. It is a budget that spends billions harming people by locking them up on Nauru and Manus Island. It is a budget that continues to subsidise fossil fuels but rips funding away from clean energy. And it is the Treasurer who cannot even mouth the words 'global warming'—the biggest economic and environmental challenge of our generation. Australia needs and deserves better. It deserves some courage and vision.
The budget projections in the Treasurer's speech are heroic; some would say fanciful. While revising near-term growth figures down to 2.5 per cent, the government banks on them magically rebounding to three per cent in 2017-18. Consider the context: we have low commodity prices, we have a slowdown in housing construction, we have wages that are flat and we have low inflation. Worse still, the government banks on investment in the non-mining sector growing to 3.5 per cent in 2016-17 and a magical 4.5 per cent by 2017-18—all this on the same day that the Reserve Bank cut the interest rate in an effort to stimulate lending. I know whose projections I trust, whose advice I trust, and it is not this government's. The growth forecast is magical thinking. The fairies do not live at the bottom of the garden anymore; they live at the top end of town in Liberal Party headquarters.
Australians deserve an honest budget, a fairer budget, a better budget, and that is what the Greens would deliver. Malcolm Turnbull promised that he would lead a transition to a new economy. He likes talking about the new economy a lot, does Malcolm Turnbull. He says that this budget is a plan for jobs and for growth. Well, at the heart of a transition to a new economy is the need to move away from those polluting sources of power to clean, cheap renewable power. We need steelworkers and manufacturers to make the blades and turbines that will capture the energy from the wind. We need tradespeople to install those turbines and the solar panels that capture energy from the sun. We need scientists to continue to work and develop concentrated solar, thermal and wave technology. We need to be installing batteries to bring on the energy storage revolution. We need workers to manufacture the electric cars and the electric buses and trucks of the future. We need people to maintain this infrastructure to keep things humming along. And we need to ensure that workers, their families and communities are not left behind as coal goes into terminal decline. But this budget has no plan for that transition. It is completely silent.
The Greens have a plan. We have a detailed plan to renew Australia—a plan that would see 15,000 jobs across Australia in the design and construction of clean renewable energy projects right out to 2030. It is in line with global trends, which saw clean energy employ more than 7.7 million people across the world in 2014, according to the figures published by the International Renewable Energy Agency. The rest of the world knows that this future is coming and that this century belongs to those nations that embrace this challenge, that embrace the transition, but our Prime Minister and Treasurer are stuck in the last century. Scott Morrison's budget uses the language of transitioning but it leaves huge fossil fuel subsidies for dirty, polluting industries intact and it shovels more money into the exploration for more mining, more drilling and more fracking right across northern and southern Australia.
Following the signing of the Paris agreement, as we experience the shattering of records for global temperatures and witness the bleaching of our reefs and the burning of those ancient forests, a better budget would transition away from those old polluting industries to bright, new, clean renewable energy. And we have choices. We do not have to rely on an arbitrary two per cent of GDP defence spending target or $30 billion on armaments to support jobs in manufacturing. We can be building turbines rather than tanks. We can be building solar cities rather than strike fighters.
Given this government's track record, it is hardly surprising that they are not up to the task, but I have to say that Labor's position is disappointing. They express concern for global warming but their clean energy and emissions reduction targets take us to the brink of two degrees and possibly beyond, triggering catastrophic global warming. We had both the government and the Labor Party on a unity ticket slashing the renewable energy target and we have them on a unity ticket when it comes to expanding our coal export industry. I call on Bill Shorten, tomorrow night in his budget reply speech, to categorically rule out any support for Malcolm Turnbull's slashing of $1.3 billion from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency—funding that has helped create renewable energy technologies that are so vital for job creation, and investment that Australia so desperately needs. I commit the Greens to fighting tooth and nail so that we have a better budget that ensures that we have renewable energy to create a better, jobs-rich future.
The Australian Greens will stand up for a fairer Australia. This budget should have been about reducing income inequality and securing the government's revenue base to fund schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure. But instead, what did we get? We got growing inequality by providing huge corporate tax cuts and income tax cuts for people on high wages. We have our schools and hospitals desperately in need of investment. We have economic challenges ahead. Now is not the time for unaffordable and unfair tax cuts that are effectively election bribes. The government is ripping $4 billion out of schools and hospitals for a $6-a-week tax cut for people on above the average wages—offering them the old sandwich-and-a-milkshake tax cut without the milkshake. The budget flagged $3.3 billion for schools and hospitals, but that does not come close to bridging that huge hole, that $80 billion that was ripped out of health and education.
I ask the Prime Minister and the Treasurer: how can you look Australians in the eye and rip $6 billion out of universities, out of social support, out of Medicare and out of public sector jobs when you are giving more than $12 billion in tax cuts and tax breaks to businesses, to high-income earners and to the super wealthy?
The Greens welcome the government's very small steps towards cracking down on multinational tax avoidance, including the Google tax, the beneficial owners register and the whistleblower protections. They have taken some of the ideas that the Greens released only two weeks ago in our comprehensive 18-point tax plan. That is a good thing.
I have to tell you that I am really proud to be leading this team; a team of people who are, in fact, at the forefront of the economic debate in this country. Whether it be on tax avoidance, whether it be on reform to superannuation or whether it be negative gearing, the Greens have been leading the economic debate in this country.
We welcome the one-off injection to the Australian Taxation Office for their crack team of specialists, but let us also look closely at the budget papers and realise that what we see is a continued reduction of the resources to the ATO. We know that the ATO has suffered from huge cuts over time, allowing those companies and individuals to avoid paying their fair share of tax. We think more needs to be done. There need to be more efforts in diplomacy to force tax havens to share information, greater penalties for companies that use secrecy jurisdictions and real, genuine support for whistleblowers.
The change to superannuation is welcome, but it is also a missed opportunity for much bolder and much fairer reform in the super system. Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison had the support and goodwill of business groups, civil society, the unions and indeed the whole parliament to clamp down on those unfair tax breaks in the super system and to raise the money we desperately need to fund schools and hospitals. They were not up for it.
Just think about this: someone on $250,000 continues to pay the same 15 per cent tax rate on their contributions as someone on $60,000. That is not fair, yet we have the two old parties in this place who continue to support it. Genuine reform of our super system would have brought in four times as much revenue, made the system fairer and ensured that super worked in the way that it was intended.
Schools, vocational education, higher education and research sectors should be the engine room for ideas, for innovation and for growth in the new economy that the Prime Minister just loves to spruik. But this budget starves all of these sectors, all for that tax cut worth a sandwich a week. High income earners, like those of us who are politicians in this place, get two tax cuts out of this budget—two of them! We get the removal of the deficit levy and we get the change in the marginal rate from $80,000 to $87,000. I can tell you, we do not need it. Our colleagues: we do not want it. We think that those people, the average Australians—three-quarters of them on less than that $80,000 figure—deserve something under this plan, and yet they get nothing. They get absolutely nothing. This government is the very epitome of an unfair budget.
Consider those people who receive income support. They will get less money because of the removal of the Clean Energy Supplement. How is it that it is morally right to be reducing the income of people already on very low incomes and raising the incomes of people like us—those of us on higher incomes—with a double tax cut? That is not right; it is not fair.
The Treasurer talked a lot in his budget about growth. The IMF actually tell us that if we are concerned about growth, then the most effective strategy is to reduce inequality and raise incomes at the bottom end of the income scale, yet this government has none of it. It is a budget that pays no heed to the advice of the IMF, or to other leading economists, to reduce that income inequality, because we have a Prime Minister and a Treasurer who just do not care.
As a result of this budget, large corporations will benefit from a lower company tax rate. It is a tax cut that is purported to target small business, but let us look a little closer. Over the next four years the government is proposing to increase the turnover threshold to $100 million. That is a weekly turnover of close to $2 million. Within eight years the threshold will increase to a billion dollars—a weekly turnover of $19 million a week. Tell me how many small businesses turnover $1.9 million every week, let alone $19 million every week? That is not a small business. The government's company tax cuts are simply Liberal corporate welfare for big business disguised as support for small business. What do they do? Of course, they disadvantage small businesses because they lose the tax advantage that they have compared to medium and large companies.
The Greens will not support these tax cuts at a time when so many Australians are doing it tough and we do not have the revenue to fund schools and hospitals.
We call on the Labor Party to change their position and reject this government's tax cuts.
Also, one of the centrepieces of the Treasurer's economic plan is a new initiative for youth employment. We welcome the government finally recognising that Work for the Dole has been an expensive experiment, one that has failed to provide meaningful employment for young people. It is overdue, but it is a welcome development.
But we have very, very serious concerns about the internships proposed by the government in an attempt to reduce youth unemployment. It is open to young people being exploited and it will deliver very dubious long-term employment outcomes.
Our proposition is very simple: surely if a job exists, a young person deserves to be paid a decent wage for it. It also raises some serious questions about people already in employment losing their jobs to make way for a young person who comes with a subsidy for an employer. This has the potential for some very serious unintended consequences.
This budget is yet another attack on the higher education sector, cutting 20 per cent of funding from the university sector in the 2017 forward estimates and beyond. The government keeps saying that deregulation is off the table, that deregulation is gone, that it is dead. We think it is simply hibernating until after the next election.
The budget confirms that the government has abandoned the Gonski needs-based funding formula as well. We know that it has only restored $1.2 billion of the $30 billion that Tony Abbott ripped out of schools over the next decade.
Sadly, students with disabilities have been treated under this budget with complete contempt. The paltry additional funding of $118 million is a shortfall of $2.3 billion over what we know is required for the next two years. It is a massive underfunding in the future potential of this nation and it lets down students and their families.
The Greens have a fully costed plan to assist young students who have disabilities. It is a plan that is costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office at $4.8 billion and, again, we call on the Labor Party to support it where the government has failed.
The government's stubborn refusal to act on evidence that negative gearing is forcing people out of the housing market shows just how out of touch they are. Negative gearing has created a housing market dominated by speculative investors, a housing market where first-time buyers are increasingly shut out. We are one of the few countries that make it easier for someone to buy their second, third, fourth and fifth property than to buy their first.
The current capital gains tax discount encourages negative gearing and speculation in the property market. It drives up housing prices, it locks out first home buyers as well as creating a rental market that is stacked in the favour of investors rather than tenants.
The Greens have long argued for the removal of negative gearing and capital gains tax to end that subsidy for property investors and help ease the way for renters and new buyers.
This budget also ignores the needs of social housing supply and, indeed, homelessness. We have annual funding for homelessness services worth $115 million ending next year, creating massive uncertainty for vulnerable people.
We have a budget that locks in Tony Abbott's harsh cuts of $600 million to the affordable rental and housing programs, and we have an extension of Tony Abbott's asset divestment program, selling off hundreds of government-owned buildings and land that could have been used for affordable housing. We believe that much more needs to be done in this space.
In addition to the Greens policies on negative gearing and capital gains tax, we agree with the majority of economists that stamp duty should be abolished and replaced by a much fairer and more efficient land tax. Land tax is economically efficient, it is progressive, it cannot be avoided by fancy accountants and, importantly, it is a potential mechanism to generate greater public investment in infrastructure. That is what real reform looks like. It just takes a bit of courage and a bit of vision.
On the question of infrastructure, let me turn to the Governor of the Reserve Bank, who recently said, 'We are reaching the limits of monetary policy.' The budget papers do show that investment in the mining sector and the non-mining sector went backwards last year, and they project a big slowdown in housing construction.
Against that backdrop, the Greens have a plan for the government to borrow and invest in productivity-enhancing infrastructure. It is a common-sense position. It is a position that is held by most economists and, indeed, by the International Monetary Fund.
The Prime Minister himself has said that infrastructure is absolutely critical to Australia's future. A lot like the Prime Minister's words, if only this budget was true to his word. The budget includes only $1.2 billion in new money for infrastructure.
The Greens would get the Australian Infrastructure Bank established to get money flowing where we need it—into clean energy projects, into public transport projects and into the import local government projects.
The Greens welcome the funding to progress the east coast inland freight rail link, but this is one bright spot on an otherwise very, very gloomy landscape. The government has stuck with its misguided toll road agenda, continuing to support traffic-inducing projects—projects like WestConnex in Sydney for goodness sake, what a lemon; and the Perth freight link in Western Australia, another dud.
They have included a nod to the East West Link in Melbourne, despite the fact that Victorian voters have said, 'We don't want it.' Building these mega roads to fix congestion is fixing obesity by loosening our bowels.
The budget extends the freeze on Medicare. This is a freeze that has been going so long it is now more of an ice age. We have a GP co-payment being introduced by stealth, by freezing the indexation on Medicare. What is does is that it forces GPs to charge higher out-of-pocket costs to stay afloat, passing those costs on to patients, making it harder for them to see the doctor.
We have got the government's dental plan, which rips over a billion dollars out of the system. It abolishes Medicare funded dental care, which should be built up rather than torn down.
This is a budget that locks in the $50 billion of cuts to health. We have seen $180 million cut from front-line health services through reductions in the flexible funds program, which provides money for drug and alcohol treatment and illness prevention—those cuts building on a billion already gone. There is now tripartisan support for an increase in the tobacco tax. That is a good thing. But let's now turn our attention to other areas, like alcohol taxation for the same reason.
The Treasurer used the word 'Indigenous' just once in his budget speech. When you consider that Aboriginal life expectancy and incarceration rates remain a source of national shame and for all the fine rhetoric on closing the gap, there is still no funding for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Implementation Plan. We have to do better. The budget also leaves women and children in danger, because it fails to reverse the harsh cuts to front-line domestic violence services and leaves other crucial Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services underfunded and facing an uncertain future. Crucial specialist homelessness services for women fleeing domestic violence have again been left in limbo.
Despite the community—and, indeed, the Senate—rejecting cuts to family tax benefit B, it remains on the government's agenda. The budget also reveals plans to drop more people off the disability support pension to help pay for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Why is that we feel the need to hurt one vulnerable group in order to help another one?
After the gutting of Australia's foreign aid budget by over $11 billion since 2013, the government has savaged it by a further $224 million, plunging our aid investment to a shameful 0.22 per cent of GNI. This is the lowest level of Australian aid since records began over 50 years ago. It is an indictment of the coalition. One of those submarines—just one of them—at the cost of $4.17 billion, is more than our foreign aid will be in 2016-17. The government talks a lot about national security. The best investment in our national security is poverty alleviation in the region and around the world.
Billions of dollars continue to be spent on keeping people in offshore detention centres, despite the fact the Nauru and Manus Island camps are in crisis. Next year the government is planning to spend approximately $400,000 to detain each man, woman and child in Nauru. There is no increase next year to Australia's humanitarian intake, despite the biggest global flow of refugees since World War II. A better budget, a more decent budget, would close Manus and Nauru and invest in safer pathways for asylum seekers.
Last week the Greens Treasury spokesperson, Adam Bandt, and our finance spokesperson, Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, released the party's Budget Principles for the 2016 Budget and Federal Election. They are very simple and very straightforward. We will raise the revenue we need so that everyone can get world-class public health care, education and other services. We will increase GDP, by growing the new, clean economy. We will get money moving from unproductive areas—like those unfair tax breaks and the huge fossil fuel subsidies—and we will get that money working in the new economy. We will grow the new economy and restore revenue before returning to surplus. We will bring forward budgets that promote sustainability and wellbeing that reduce inequality.
The Greens' statement of economic principles represents a coherent, progressive and responsible approach to economic management. We are the ideas boom in Australian politics. We are the disruptors. We are the innovators. We have led the way for the other parties to follow, where we chip away at those sacred cows of public policy long before it is popular. We have already announced fully costed policies by the Parliamentary Budget Office: let's make the deficit levy permanent—worth $1.5 billion; the removal of fossil fuel subsidies—$21 billion; the Buffet Rule for a high-income tax guarantee so that people pay their fair share—$7 billion; the removal of negative gearing and the capital gains tax—another $7 billion; the most comprehensive tax avoidance plan this country has seen to raise a minimum of $5 billion; and an infrastructure bank to release up to $75 billion into nation-building projects over 10 years. Those policies are fully costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office.
If we had a government with courage and vision, we would be able to enact this plan. If we had a government with courage and vision, we would see some leadership and work to establish a financial transactions tax, sometimes called a Tobin tax or a Robin Hood tax, at an international level. Putting a tiny levy on financial transactions would discourage those high-frequency transactions that add no benefit to the economy—pure speculation for no-one's benefit—and help stabilise our financial system by pricing the risk that financial transactions pose to the broader economy. It would bring in billions.
I call on the government to reconsider its budget priorities and bring forward programs that fast-track vital renewable energy investment. Let's bring the clean energy generation online. Let's phase out coal-fired power. And let's also recognise that battery storage is where the future lies. Tomorrow the Greens will announce a plan to drive the uptake of batteries for households and businesses at a cost of approximately $2.8 billion. How will we pay for it? It will be completely offset by removing accelerated asset depreciation for aircraft in the oil and gas industry. Now is the time to jump-start the battery industry, to encourage the uptake of storage technologies and to help make Australia a leader.
I will finish by saying that the Turnbull budget fails the challenge to transition our economy to the jobs-rich, clean energy economy. It starves our schools and hospitals of funding. It chokes our cities with traffic. It prices young people out of the housing market. It wastes money on the brutal and harmful policy of offshore detention.
I call on the Labor Party: please join us in ruling out a tax cut arms race and oppose cutting corporate and income taxes in the upcoming budget and election. This is a budget that lets Australia down. It is not a credible or fair plan for our future. The Greens will stand up for a better budget, one that takes us into a fairer, more decent, clean energy and jobs-rich future.
I rise on behalf of Tasmanians to participate in the 2016-17 Senate budget debate. I would love to be able to say that it looks like there are exciting times ahead, but that is certainly not the case. If you are a banker or a politician, this budget will put a smile on your face, because you are going to receive a number of tax cuts and benefits. However, if you are an age pensioner, after the delivery of this budget, it is official: the Liberals and the Nationals just hate you. If you are an age pensioner who is sick and needs a doctor, the measures in this Liberal budget regarding health and Medicare show that they really, really hate you. If this tricky budget, with $13 billion of Tony Abbot's cuts to family welfare still embedded, is allowed to pass this parliament after a double dissolution election, 2.5 million Australian pensioners will be severely financially disadvantaged and out of pocket. What is that going to do to economic growth and job creation for Australia, with all those broke pensioners living below the poverty line?
Malcolm Turnbull's Treasurer talked about a 10-year plan to help the people who donate large sums of money to the Liberal Party in order to justify the Liberal's tax cuts, which will advantage the companies and people who have a long track record of failing to pay their fair share of tax and donating millions of dollars to the Liberal Party. Malcolm Turnbull's Treasurer quoted statistics from the OECD. That was just the first of a number of serious mistakes he made in his underwhelming, tricky and fundamentally heartless budget presentation. Instead of quoting OECD statistics on company tax rates, he should have quoted the OECD report that found that more than one-third of Australian pensioners are living below the poverty line. The OECD report indicated that our government is, firstly, among the worst performers in the world for the financial security of older people and contributes less to old-age benefits than other OECD countries; secondly, ranked second lowest on social equity, with 36 per cent of pensioners living below the poverty line; and, thirdly, spends 3.5 per cent of our GDP on the pension, below the OECD average of 7.9 per cent.
The average single Tasmanian age pensioner receives $873.90 per fortnight while an age pensioner couple receives $1,317.40 per fortnight. The Australian government must find ways of boosting age pensioner incomes and cash flows and exempting or limiting price rises for the basics in life. At the very least, we must help our age pensioners live above the poverty line. This budget does the opposite.
Prime Minister Turnbull's Treasurer said that these are extraordinary times. So let's take extraordinary measures. My plan is simply to redirect half the $50 billion foreign aid budget—that being $25 billion—into age pensions. That would provide a boost to the age pension of approximately 5.8 per cent. It is a start, and it is $25 billion more than any other political party is advocating for the people who made our nation great. It will mean the average single Tasmanian age pensioner payment will increase by $50.69 and an age pensioner couple will receive an increase of approximately $76.41.
Tony Abbott's government tried to manipulate the political electoral cycle three years ago with a horror budget—which was about as subtle as an ice pick to the head. The fact that there is still $13 billion of Tony Abbott's cuts to families, pensioners and veterans' entitlements buried in this budget is proof that this Liberal government has not really changed, and the ice pick has not been removed; it is just covered up with some political window-dressing. The rich vested interests are still calling the shots in the Liberal Party; the puppets have simply changed.
The Liberals are still dishonest, arrogant, tricky and mean, and they are just waiting for an opportunity to increase the GST to 15 per cent. And I guarantee you that, should they control the lower and upper houses of the parliament after a double-D election, they will raise the GST by another five per cent—a $35 billion tax which will target the poor. Indeed, the dark secret of the Liberal's 10-year plan is that it relies on a 15 per cent GST rate to save Australia from a downgrade in our credit ratings. This budget, with its unrealistic growth predictions, its failure to properly tax the super-rich and its overreliance on trade with an aggressive, corrupt and faltering China, is built on shifting sands and has set up Australia for recession and fiscal failure.
The government have not abandoned university deregulation; they have just delayed it, while announcing $2.5 billion of cuts to universities just for the entree. The Liberals are just dying to change the laws to give their corporate mates and political donors access for the first time in Australian history to the billions of dollars of university funding. That way they can turn a blind eye—as they did with the state VET systems—and let their generous corporate friends rort and rip off billions from our students, our universities and our taxpayers. I also note that the Liberal government refused to deal with childcare and paid parental leave before the election –and I will leave you to draw your own conclusions as to what that will mean.
Extending the pause on the Medicare Benefits Schedule fees for all services provided by health practitioners, as proposed in the Turnbull-Morrison budget, will cut $1 billion over two years from Medicare. That is just another step towards privatising Medicare, which we know is on the conservative government's agenda. What does this cut mean, though? This measure will not change the way people qualify for treatment, but rather the amount of out-of-pocket costs they may experience for these services. When the government pauses indexation on the MBS fees and pulls $1 billion worth of income from the health professionals, these health professionals will, as we know, pass that cost onto the consumer. Patients can expect higher out-of-pocket costs for health services. And this is on top of the $650 million cuts to the bulk-billing incentive the government refuses to drop. The Liberals have essentially ripped $1.5 billion out of Medicare in their move to privatise it. If the Liberals are allowed to govern there will be no way to stop the complete privatisation of Medicare and cuts to bulk-billing.
What is also concerning is the fact that the government announced the $650 million in cuts to Medicare last December. At about the same time, their mid-year economic report set aside nearly $650 million to resettle Syrian refugees over the next four years. When I reminded the government of this in parliament during a question in the Senate in February, the minister responsible for rural health refused to answer directly whether the cuts to Medicare and women's cancer tests were agreed to so that Australian could afford to resettle Syrian refugees. Women do not know how they will be able to afford to participate in regular Pap smears, diabetics will not be able to properly monitor and keep on top of their disease and you can forget early intervention for cancers—she is 'all over red rover'.
I recently spoke to Richard Hanlon, Manager of Sonic Health Care—one of Tasmania's largest pathology companies—and a medical scientist. He says that after the Liberal government's cuts, women's cancer tests and Pap smears could cost $30 up-front, because of the removal of the bulk-billing incentive payment for all pathology. What about the extra load that will be placed on our hospitals, our doctors and nurses and public health systems in the future, because the government, for short-term financial gain, took the focus away from our primary and preventive health care?
Gold cards for our veterans: an unprecedented veterans' suicide and homelessness crisis grips Australia today. The crisis was created because of poor management of Australia's military resources and Defence personnel. Governments compounded their error by attempting to cover up the true nature and scale of our veterans' suicide and of our homelessness crisis. Yet the Turnbull-Morrison 2016-17 budget does not offer any measures that come close to being as effective as my automatic gold card would. My automatic gold card would ensure all veterans, including peacemakers, peacekeepers or former members of Australia's Defence Force and the Australian Federal Police who have served in war or war-like operations and for related purposes are provided medical and psychological treatment free of charge as a right of their service; the best medical treatment Australia has to offer—that is, through gold card health benefits.
A major cause of Australia's obscene veterans' suicide rate, apart from systematic underresourcing and an overcommitment to international operations, is that they do not receive medical care in a timely manner and by the unnecessary psychological damage caused during our veterans' bureaucratic fight for gold card-guaranteed medical treatment. When the issue of cost is raised, the saying that comes immediately to mind is that if we cannot afford to properly care for our wounded veterans when they come back from war or war-like service, then we should not send them there in the first place.
China's growing influence: over the course of my time as a senator, I have warned the government of the dangers of putting all our eggs in China's basket. Media investigations have backed up my calls for greater scrutiny of Chinese political donations and investment in Australia. When accused of discriminating against China, my response is, 'Yes, I am guilty of discrimination.' I proudly discriminate on the basis of whether you support democratic values and our rule of law or not. I will discriminate against any company who comes from a country that is not democratic. It is wrong for this Liberal government and the Foreign Investment Review Board to treat companies from New Zealand, Japan or South Korea in the same way as companies from China. Higher standards and more questions have to be asked by our government of Chinese companies, and the release of the Panama Papers is quite clearly proof of that.
The Foreign Investment Review Board needs to be given greater powers to scrutinise such investment from China. Yet I did not see any evidence of this in the budget papers last night. China's corrupt money is artificially inflating the Australian property market and buying up prime agricultural land. Yet the Foreign Investment Review Board has come out and said the dirty money is beyond their scope. The dirty money is beyond their scope! Well, who is responsible for the dirty money that is beyond the FIRB's scope? Unfortunately for Australia's future generations our food, water and energy and national and workers' security has been undermined by the lack of political will. The Liberal and National parties have to fix this problem of corrupt Chinese government funds purchasing Australian property or Australian political party favours.
Jobs and youth training: the Liberal government has proposed a $450 million spend on defence, but, yet again, there is no mention of Tasmania. Tasmania's businesses have been ignored for two decades when it comes to the fair awarding of Defence contracts, and this budget is no different. Tasmania has the skills, equipment and experience necessary to take on more Defence procurement. Tasmania also has the economic need for major projects like Defence procurement. With Tasmanian manufacturing companies promising to boost apprentices and trainees, Defence procurement could and would turn Tasmania's economic future around. When the US is choosing to buy Tasmanian-made equipment and vehicles it causes me to wonder why Australia will not.
Tasmanian businessman Michael Grainger of Liferaft Systems Australia said recently:
It is ironic that we are dealing with the major defence forces around the world but not our own country.
When it comes to the fair awarding of Defence contracts, Tasmanian Liberals have been weak in their representation for 20 years. As a result, Tasmania has been taken for granted, guaranteeing that Tasmanian businesses, including those associated with the LAND 400, will continue to be ignored for another 20 years.
The Liberal government's preference for all things overseas is also clear in the 457 visa scam, where Australian workers' jobs are being taken by cheaper foreign labour that is not held to the same standard as Australian labour. After talking to maritime workers who are about to lose their jobs to foreign workers—more of them—it is time that all Australians stood up and said no. It is time to say no to the conservative government's 457 visa scam and start looking after Australian workers first. The 457 visas are only supposed to be used when there are no skilled Australians to do the job. It is quite clear that there are plenty of skilled Australian professionals who can service and run refuelling vessels.
The Liberal government also needs to look after our youth. Already the Liberals' Youth Jobs PaTH program has been targeted as slave labour. It is not that much different to Work for the Dole, a program that clearly does not work—I do not know how many times this has been tried over the last decade. The youth program supposedly prepares youth and allows them to trial a workplace with the final step being 'to hire', where the government provides employers with a sum of money for employing the youth in the program. The JLN, however, proposes that youth earn, learn or serve before they become eligible for welfare payments.
The JLN supports voluntary national service trainee and apprenticeship schemes which allow our youth to build vital workplace skills and experience, providing the necessary foundation to participate in the workforce long term and contribute back to society.
The ice response. The Turnbull-Morrison budget is missing a response to the growing use of ice in Australia. Despite the government's line that there is no ice epidemic, the drug is cheap, easily accessible and highly, highly addictive. The government is underestimating its impact. Ice is a completely different beast to other illicit drugs and needs to be dealt with accordingly. There is no room for experimentation with this drug: one hit can hook; one pill can kill. We need zero tolerance, early intervention and involuntary detox of our children. Australian parents need to be educated about their lack of rights under Australian law to protect their children from themselves. All governments must work closely together and provide properly resourced and staffed detox facilities if we are to save generations from this misery. Emergency departments, paramedics and police need to be trained on how to deal with the violence that often comes with an ice high, because our frontline staff are being violently abused and injured with no recourse.
This is a national crisis that has been ignored in the budget. There is no funding for extra resources for rehabilitation centres, police or emergency departments. There is no funding for early intervention and prevention strategies, and I am damned if I know what is happening with the $300 million that was promised months ago—I still have 10- and 11-year-olds running around with ice pipes in their mouth! When is that money going to be delivered?
Six months later—great!
While the Liberal government is being tricky with its higher education policy, the budget papers clearly state that $100,000 degrees are not being abolished but merely delayed. This is just another attack on a fundamental Australian social right—namely, an attack on access to free public education. It goes hand-in-hand with the ideological and political attack the Liberals have carried out on universal access to public health care and access that young people have to higher education. If the JLN holds the balance of power after the 2 July election, I will fight for every Australian to have a free first degree and I would push to uncap the number of two-year associate degrees in this country. I would also guarantee one per cent of GDP expenditure on education. If the coalition is re-elected, I guarantee they will bring back those $100,000 degrees—dragging Australia back into the past and undoing decades of hard work by those fighting for equality.
National security. It is clear that many Islamic people can peacefully practice their religion without supporting and advocating for sharia or terrorist law. I support and praise those peaceful Islamic people, and I call on all Australian Islamic leaders and leaders of other religions to condemn those who do support sharia law, because it shows: firstly, a clear sign of extreme radicalisation; secondly, a split or divided loyalty to Australia and proof of allegiance to hostile foreign powers; thirdly, an attack on democratic principles found in Australia's Constitution; and, fourthly, discrimination against women and gay people. I am strongly opposed to sharia law being imposed in Australia either formally or informally. If the JLN have the balance of power, we will promote a policy of undivided loyalty to the Australian Constitution and its people. Support for sharia law—given that its law, culture and way of life are supported by Islamic State terrorists—is therefore also a clear sign of seditious or treasonous behaviour worthy of investigation and possible charges.
It is an indisputable fact, backed up by many daily gruesome and brutal examples, that states, countries and communities that support and enforce sharia law allow: the death penalty by beheading or stoning to be imposed from a religious court on those found guilty of being homosexual, adulterous or who choose to become atheists; governments to torture, mutilate and remove the limbs of those, including children, found guilty by a religious court of property offences, including theft; governments to strip women of basic rights; discrimination against women by making it illegal for them to attend sporting fixtures, drive, drink alcohol, smoke, have sex before marriage, appear in public without a male chaperone and be educated; governments to encourage, tolerate or turn a blind eye to female genital mutilation and forced marriages; and allow governments to encourage, sanction, tolerate or turn a blind eye to the re-introduction of human trafficking and slavery.
Both sides of politics are too soft on Australian terrorist supporters. The chief of ASIO told me during Senate estimates questioning that they are officially watching 190 Australian citizens who are actively recruiting and providing support for Islamic State enemies. This stunned me because if our government authorities have proof of Australian citizens supporting our enemies, why haven't those 190 traitors been arrested and charged with serious crimes? Why has the government let these known Islamic State supporters remain in our communities where they can—and have—caused harm to innocents? The last time that happened, we ended up with the Sydney cafe siege and the unnecessary deaths of innocent Australians.
Local government federal assistance grants. A freeze placed on federal assistance grants has caused Tasmanian local governments to suffer at the hands of the Liberal government since its placement in the 2014-15 budget. This freeze has cut $925.2 million out of local government budgets for four years. Tasmanian local governments alone will lose $18 million in that time as a result of this pause to the indexation of the local government financial assistance program. Our ratepayers have already lost $1.9 million; they will lose $3.9 million worth of local government services this year and $5.9 million in the next financial year. Finally, they will lose $6.1 million in 2017-18. These figures are a disgrace for the Liberal members of this parliament from Tasmania; indeed, they are a disgrace for all the Liberal and National members of this parliament from every Australian state and territory. The fallout can only mean a higher cost of living and a greater number of Tasmanians leaving the state.
Tax the rich. Again the Liberal government has bowed down to their rich mates and political donors and delivered a budget that takes from the poor and gives to the rich. At least you are consistent in one area! This budget also busts the myth that the Liberal Party are good managers of public funds, which I would like to question by stating some facts. The Howard Liberal government made a grand total of $59.8 billion from public asset sales: $4.4 billion from airports, $48.6 billion from Telstra and $6.8 billion from the Commonwealth Bank. The Liberals under Mr Howard and Mr Abbott sold $59.8 billion of public assets and paid back $57 billion of Labor debt, leaving us with $108 billion of outstanding bonds and unfunded public service super.
How much revenue would have been raised to date had we not sold those public assets? In the last six months, the Turnbull Liberal government has failed to present a viable tax plan to the Australian people. Turnbull's suggestions to increase the GST to 15 per cent and to double tax Australians by giving the states the power to impose income tax were quickly retracted, and that failure has added to the chaos and confusion that the Abbott Liberal government first created for this parliament.
I am not in the pocket of Australia's rich so I am not afraid to stand up for the everyday Australian who is struggling to make ends meet. I have identified an extra $94 billion over 10 years for our budget, if only the government had the courage to tax their super-rich mates. Australia could have a super-rich death tax, remove the capital gains tax exemptions for properties worth more than $2 million and have a financial transactions tax. Just those three new taxes would raise an extra $94 billion over the next decade, and those figures have been independently costed and proven. We could collect $94 billion without putting an additional tax burden on the majority of Australia's population.
In regard to buying local, Australia must look after its own backyard and implement a 'buy Australian' policy to protect our manufacturing industries, such as steel and paper. New South Wales South Coast Labor Council Secretary Arthur Rorris spoke to me after he gave evidence to a Senate committee in Wollongong about a scam that was being carried out in the steel industry. Mr Rorris indicated that overseas countries come to Australia, take our iron ore and coal, effectively sell the product to themselves overseas at a loss and avoid paying their fair share of tax in Australia. Those countries then use our iron ore and coal to make steel overseas and then dump that steel at unfair, subsidised, below-cost prices back in Australia. Those actions alone have caused the closure of Australian steel manufacturing and threatened the loss of more Australian jobs and manufacturing know-how. Australian federal governments have made the situation worse because a previous Senate committee hearing informed me that we do not have in place a national policy to buy local steel or any other manufactured products. When it comes to our $50 billion infrastructure budget, why won't this government buy local?
What about the fast cat? I do not want to talk down Tasmania. We live in paradise. However, if you want a future where our children and grandchildren are able to easily find a career and employment at home, then it is time for some strait talk—and when I say 'strait talk' of course I am talking about the Bass Strait. This unique body of water and our government's management of transport across it are the reasons why Tasmania has become economically disadvantaged and why our children, when compared with those from mainland states, do not have the same job and career opportunities. The problem with Bass Strait is that it costs so much to travel or ship goods across it. Those extra costs of quickly connecting to other Australian states have acted like a handbrake on our economy and have held back job creation and business growth in Tasmania for decades.
There are simple solutions to this freight problem which will better connect Tasmania to the economy, wealth and jobs of Victoria and other states. Lindsay Fox is one of Australia's most respected and successful businesspeople. He established one of Australia's biggest transport companies and he, like me, wants to establish a fast cat ferry service to connect north Tasmania with the international freight airport at Avalon. This Victorian city is about a 50-minute drive west of Melbourne—or a 10-minute chopper flight if you are a Liberal politician. Lindsay Fox's proposed Bass Strait fast cat freight and passenger service would be far superior and more efficient than any existing Tasmanian monohull service that we currently have. Sleek, new, 21st century, multihull vessels powered by jet turbines, using LNG as fuel and travelling at over 50 knots per hour would slash the current 12-hour Bass Strait trip by nearly a third—that is two to five hours turnover time.
One of the most respected and admired builders of these 21st century jet-powered ships is Incat, a Tasmanian business. Why aren't we supporting our own shipbuilders while investing in a Bass Strait sea transport system designed to enhance our children's future? If the 21st century multihull vessels built in Tasmania are good enough for the US military, Denmark, London, Japan, Sydney and Argentina, then why aren't they good enough for the Tasmanian Liberal government? Bill Shorten, to his credit, has said that if he wins the next election he will have no problem investing money in a feasibility study for the fast cat, and I thank him dearly for that. Tasmanians deserve better—more than any other Australians—because we live in an island state of an island nation. We know how important it is to have a modern, efficient, affordable and reliable shipping industry.