Budget in Reply 2021-22

The Australian Greens MPs

Senator Nick McKim

I rise to give the budget in-reply speech on behalf of the Australian Greens, and I acknowledge firstly that I do so on Ngunawal and Ngambri land-stolen land that was never ceded.

Madam Deputy President, don’t believe the government’s budget spin. This is not a transformative budget. Forget the phony rejection of austerity, forget the about-face on debt and deficit, forget the superficial concern with women’s economic security, because, once you scratch the surface of this budget, you will see that, like the last seven budgets this government has delivered, it is built on the con that is trickle-down economics. This budget proposes no change to the fundamentals of our economy or to the tax and transfer system. The neoliberal train is rolling ever onward, barrelling through everything in its path, ruining lives, destroying nature and cooking the planet. And upfront in the locomotives are the LNP, shovelling coal into the firebox to keep the neoliberal train rolling on.

This budget was handed down while the planet’s climate is breaking down around us, threatening the very existence of life, and while the destruction of ecosystems is already causing a rate of species extinction that is epoch-defining. This budget has been handed down while economic inequality is spiralling out of control. The billionaires are accumulating feudal-era levels of wealth while real wages are going backwards and millions of Australians are forced to subsist below the poverty line. House prices are spiralling out of control, pricing an entire generation out of the great Australian dream of owning their own home-an entire generation forced to either make a Faustian pact with their bank and live a life of debt or be at the mercy of their landlord, who can increase their rent or terminate their tenancy on a whim. And, more than a century after being given the right to vote and decades after countless reforms meant to create equal opportunity for women, women are still being disadvantaged. There is an epidemic of family violence, and the toxic attitudes of far too many men towards women are still persistent and pervasive.

So what do we get in this budget? What does this budget do to respond to the big social, economic and environmental issues of our time? We get business as usual. Sure, some of the rhetoric has shifted, and, sure, there are some good things in this budget, as there are in any budget, but, underneath it, the same superstructure that created the climate crisis, that is enriching the already superwealthy, that is empowering the big corporations and that is perpetuating patriarchal attitudes and behaviours remains. In some cases, such as the spending of even more public money to help big corporations make even more profit from burning coal and gas, this budget is quite literally adding more fuel to the fire.

But, in many cases, it’s what’s not in this budget that matters, such as all the inequalities and rorts in the tax system that have gone untouched and that will continue to disadvantage young people and women and anyone else who is not in favour with the LNP. The budget provides no solution to the climate crisis, no response to escalating wealth inequality and no credible plan to increase wages or to lift people out of poverty. True to type, what this budget has done is deliver for the government’s mates. This is a budget that should have been and was welcomed by the big corporates and the billionaires. This government was never going to do anything other than look after the big corporates and the billionaires, because this government exists to serve its political masters and donors. That is exactly what this budget does. That is exactly why the LNP are in this place. That is in their DNA.

Nowhere is this government’s enslavement to its corporate donors and corporate masters more evident than in its archaic attachment to fossil fuels. Governments and markets around the world are changing tack and decarbonising at a rapid pace. The world is transitioning to a clean energy future as the urgency of the climate crisis becomes impossible to avoid. The US is on board. China is on board. The EU is on board. Left or right, democratic or totalitarian, government led or market led, it doesn’t matter; the switch is on. The only question left is whether the switch will be fast enough to stop a catastrophic collapse in the ecosystems that sustain life on earth.

But is Australia on board with the switch? No. Is the government on board with the switch? Oh no, it’s not. Their determination is not only to resist change but to actually fight against it. It is as astonishing as it is insane. In this budget, the Morrison government is giving yet another billion dollars in new public subsidies to the oil, gas and coal sectors, on top of the over $50 billion in public subsidies that were already headed their way. Their showcase derangement is the so-called gas-led recovery, a shameful exercise in corporate welfare for the rent seekers using yesterday’s technology. It’s all about giving public money to LNP donors to build polluting power plants that will push up power bills and will further fuel the climate crisis. Gas use by Australians is going down each and every year, and government money for new gas that is contained in this budget is nothing but a white elephant.

Australia should be moving to become a world leader in batteries, renewables and green hydrogen. We have a chance to supply the world not only with clean energy but with clean resources-steel, aluminium, other metals refined by using our abundant supply of renewable resources. But such is the political-industrial nexus between the Liberal Party and the fossil fuel industry, the government is willing to squander that opportunity in its determination to prop up a dying industry. That’s why they’ve served up yet another budget that sells out our children’s future for the sake of the big corporates and the superwealthy.

Speaking of political donations, during the pandemic when every economic indicator went backwards in this country and when hundreds of thousands of Australians were put out of work, Australia’s billionaires increased their wealth by 34 per cent-that is, by $90 billion in one year, in the middle of a global pandemic, when millions of Australians were unemployed or underemployed. This is nothing short of obscene and it’s an obscenity aided and abetted by this government. It’s not a bug; it’s a feature of this government’s policy settings. Sixty-five of Australia’s largest companies were given $1.2 billion in JobKeeper payments even though they recorded a profit during the pandemic. This included $21 million to Harvey Norman, who paid dividends which helped Gerry Harvey grow his personal wealth by $600 million last year.

An opposition senator interjecting-

Senator McKIM: It is disgusting. How has this budget responded to the JobKeeper rort and the obscene accumulation of wealth? Well, I can’t say it any better than Gerry Harvey, who said yesterday, ‘They’ve thrown a heap of money at us.’ Well, they sure have thrown a heap of money at Gerry Harvey and Australia’s other billionaires. Straight out of Gerry Harvey’s mouth: this is a budget for the billionaires.

Now, this can’t be allowed to go unchecked. The Greens would introduce a billionaire’s tax, a permanent six per cent tax on the net wealth of the richest 200 Australians that would increase revenue by $5 billion every year-money we could use to fund essential public services in this country and accelerate a transition to renewable energy and reforestation to draw down carbon and reduce our carbon emissions. We would also introduce a pandemic profiteering levy, a one-off 50 per cent tax on the increase on net wealth of billionaires last year; that would raise $29 billion. The Greens would also require those companies that received JobKeeper but that remained profitable to pay the JobKeeper payments back. This would return over $1 billion to the public purse that never should have left it in the first place.

An honourable senator interjecting-

Senator McKIM: Absolutely. Together, these measures would help stop the outrageous accumulation of wealth by the superwealthy and go some way towards restoring the notion of a fair go in Australia. The Greens would also introduce a mining superprofits tax. Not surprisingly, the billionaires who did the best of all in the pandemic are those in the resources sector. Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Twiggy Forrest all more than doubled their wealth during the pandemic. These are the very same people who fought tooth and nail against a mining superprofits tax that would have ensured that some of the benefit of the commodity booms that they line their pockets with is returned to the people of Australia. Instead of their booming price just lining the pockets of Gina and Twiggy and Clive, it should enrich the country.

But there is no mining superprofits tax in this budget. There’s no billionaires tax in this budget and neither is there any walking away from the stage 3 tax cuts that will further turn up the dial on economic inequality. These stage 3 tax cuts will deliver a $9,000 per annum tax cut to everyone who earns over $200,000 per annum at a cost-and have a go at this-of $150 billion over the next decade. These are more tax cuts for the billionaires. They’ve got to be repealed, they were grossly irresponsible at the time that they were introduced and they are even more grossly irresponsible now. What’s more, the stage 3 tax cuts will immediately neutralise any of the progress that this budget makes towards putting women on a more equal economic footing.

The government has clearly finally and belatedly been chastened by the backlash to its appalling handling of allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment in Parliament House and its repeated cuts to women’s support services in previous budgets. But this so-called women’s budget has barely moved the needle on economic security or personal safety for women. It comes after the government has cut funding for women’s support services for most of the last seven years. As my colleague Senator Waters said, there’s a lot of sizzle but not much substance. The women’s budget statement details $3.4 billion in new spending over the forward estimates, which is welcomed by the Greens, including $1.9 billion to help support women’s economic security. But in the first year of the stage 3 tax cuts men will receive in their pockets $5.5 billion more than women. They are gendered tax cuts. What’s more, some of the measures in this so-called women’s budget are actually likely to decrease economic security for a lot of women.

The proposal to provide a government guarantee for single parents to buy a home with a two per cent deposit is directly encouraging single parents, many of whom are women, to take on a bigger loan than they would otherwise be able to do. It’s nothing more than a government sanctioned debt trap. In the most overpriced housing market in the world, just how is encouraging people to borrow more money than they can afford and more money than everyone else going to help secure their future? Well, it’s not. But that’s how this budget approaches one of the fundamental causes of growing inequality. It continues to avoid the issue that is central to the housing affordability crisis, the homelessness crisis and the rent stress that many people are experiencing in this country. Australia’s real estate is amongst the most expensive in the world, and what is the government’s solution? To encourage people to take on even more debt, to raid their super, so they can spend even more money on housing and push housing prices up to even more ridiculous highs.

Who benefits from this? Existing investors, who only pay half the tax they should on the sale of their investment property, at a cost of $8.5 billion a year to the budget bottom line. Who else benefits from it? Yes, of course, the banks that are more than happy to write a loan of any size, regardless of whether people can afford it or not, and whose profits are heading right back up to where they were before the royal commission. They’re rubbing their hands together at the thought of responsible lending laws being repealed. This madness has to stop. The Greens would get rid of the rorts in the tax system that has rigged the housing market in favour of investors and done over Australian people who simply want a home. We would invest massively in social and affordable housing, and build a million new affordable homes. We could end homelessness and provide people with an alternative to debt enslavement or a life in private rentals.

The government’s obsession with pumping the housing market ever higher is just one of the ways in which this budget once again does over young people. Having reaped the benefits of cheap housing, free university education, job security and a liveable climate, all members of this government can say to young people is: ‘F you; we’ve got ours.’ It’s nothing less than a complete betrayal of an entire generation and of future generations. It will lock in inequality and actively make the climate breakdown quicker, because people in this parliament, with the possible exception of my colleague Senator Steele-John, won’t be the ones who will bear the main brunt of the climate catastrophe. Those in the major parties of course, as they always do, will get their sinecures-their jobs on the boards of fossil fuel companies-and settle down to an extremely well superannuated retirement. And, in the meantime, the country and the society that young people will inherent is being run down by the day. To young people today, I can only and most sincerely apologise on behalf of my generation and those who came immediately before us.

Young people, of course, will also bear the brunt of yet another round of cuts to higher education. The devastation caused by the pandemic and the loss of international students of itself is not enough for this government. The budget will reduce funding for universities by 10 per cent and reduce funding for TAFE by 24 per cent. My colleague Senator Faruqi said it well: ‘How can we expect to rebuild when the government is hell-bent on decimating teaching and research?’ And what’s the government doing with the money it’s cutting from universities and TAFE? It is putting more money into vocational education, most of which, of course, will go into the pockets of the for-profit providers-more cuts to public education, more money for privatisation, more outsourcing, more profits for the big corporates.

Stoking house prices and making cuts to tertiary education are just some of the ways this budget makes sure nothing is done to address entrenched poverty. This government’s favourite way, of course, of entrenching poverty is to punish, threaten, bully and blame people who haven’t got a job. Of course, why can’t a lot of people get a job in this country? Because there aren’t enough jobs to go around. Blaming an individual for the situation they’re in is central to the great neoliberal con. It’s also the go-to ‘look over there’ tactic to distract from the fact that the billionaires are making out like bandits. So, there again, in this budget is another $213 million to strengthen mutual obligations-more money spent forcing unemployed people to look for jobs that aren’t there while income support payments stay bogged below the poverty line.

This is not how things should be in a wealthy country like Australia, because we have a choice. Instead of giving the handouts to the big corporates and the billionaires, the Greens would increase JobSeeker to $80 a day and lift people who haven’t got a job out of poverty. Together with investment in public services and public infrastructure, the Greens will provide a national jobs and income guarantee. We can afford to do this. We are a wealthy country. If we weren’t continually giving the handouts to the big polluting corporations, to the already obscenely wealthy, we could achieve that goal. Ours is a commitment to real full employment and a universal liveable income to help increase wages and boost the economic recovery. It’s the right and fair and humane thing to do.

To help meet this commitment to full employment, the Greens would establish a $6 billion nature fund. This colonial state has done a disgraceful job of looking after this beautiful country. Our rivers are drying, our forests are being strip-mined and burned, and thousands of species are facing extinction. First Nations people are losing totems, and cultural heritage is being wantonly destroyed for profit and for convenience. But we can turn around and create thousands of jobs in the restoration of nature, in reforestation and in the protection of our lands and our oceans. All it would take is a budget for nature. But that’s not this budget. In this budget, nature loses again. Not content with having cut funding for environmental restoration since coming to power, this government has brought down a budget that includes more money to tear up environmental protections and destroy habitats. The government’s own review into the EPBC Act found that a continuation of the existing regime would be an acceptance of habitat destruction and species extinction. If you take this budget as a measure of the government’s mind, that’s quite alright by them.

Much has been made of how well Australia has responded to the pandemic and how much that has helped economic conditions to recover. But let’s remember this: the government outsourced quarantine to the states, they left aged care to rot, and now they’ve completely stuffed up the vaccine rollout. At every step, this government has hesitated and deflected. Scott Morrison is, in one regard, a lucky Prime Minister-that is, lucky to be the leader of an island nation. Sitting proudly in his office is a ghoulish trophy of a boat that celebrates his cruelty to people who sought asylum in Australia. Perhaps he might now commission a trophy of a plane to celebrate how he’s prevented Australian citizens, permanent residents and temporary visa holders from coming home during this pandemic. His cruelty to refugees, people seeking asylum and migrants, which was his defining trait before becoming Prime Minister, has not stopped. In this budget, he is stripping back $671 million from migrants who need social support-an utterly unconscionable thing to do during a global pandemic.

As always, there’s plenty of money to lock people up in offshore and onshore immigration detention. The government are going to spend nearly half a billion dollars of new money to warehouse yet more human beings indefinitely in immigration detention because the pandemic has resulted in a situation where they simply can’t deport as many migrants as they would like to. And they’re going to spend-get this figure!-$9,300 per person, per day on offshore detention. That is nearly $10,000 per person, per day on offshore detention to continue to brutalise people who have already suffered so greatly at this government’s hands and at the hands of previous governments of both political stripes. It is nothing less than a stain on our national conscience, a foul and bloody chapter in our country’s story.

This is a budget built on marginalising people, destroying nature, turbocharging climate change and pandering to the billionaires and the big corporations. Just one example of that is its treatment of disabled people. This budget has cut staff to the NDIS while spending $127 million to pay for so-called independent assessments. What that will mean is strangers going into the homes of disabled people, forcing them to perform and prove that they actually have a disability. It is disgraceful and humiliating, and Senator Steele-John and the other Greens will fight that all the way.

I want to conclude where I began: by acknowledging that we are on First Nations land. This land is stolen land, and what that means is that the wealth that this nation has accumulated and this budget allocates out is stolen wealth, wealth taken from this stolen land. Colonial Australia was founded on dispossessing First Nations peoples of their land. Whatever the dollar value of our wealth, we will remain poor as a nation until we are honest about that fact. We need truth-telling about the historical and ongoing injustices faced by First Nations people, truth-telling about the rapes, the kidnappings and the attempted genocide. We need justice for First Nations people. We need truth and we need a treaty between the sovereign First Peoples of this land and the colonising state. Until we have those things, every budget we see in this place will be parcelling out stolen wealth. In this budget we get a budget that damages country and further enriches the superwealthy with the profits of this stolen land.

Budgets are about choices, and this budget chooses the billionaires over the millions of Australians who are struggling to get by. The government has made its choices in this budget and the Greens have made our choice, and we choose to take on and stand up to the billionaires. We choose to take on and stand up to the big corporates and their puppets in this place and in this parliament. We have a clear plan that would create a fairer and more equal society. We have a plan for justice for First Nations people, a plan for a government led program of action to set us up for the future and address the great challenges of our time, a plan to establish a national jobs and income guarantee and a 700 per cent renewable energy society by exporting clean energy to the world, a plan to build a million affordable, accessible and high-quality homes, a plan to revitalise Australia’s manufacturing sector, including through locally made vaccines, a plan for universal free child care and free tertiary education, a plan to care for nature and restore degraded places. We have a plan for the billionaires and the big corporations to pay their fair share of tax so we can afford to deliver the public services and the supports that Australians want and need from their governments. Our commitment to the Australian people is to fight for them every day, instead of fighting for the vested interests that hold this country back, like the government is doing.

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