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Christine Milne Delivers Greens Response To Federal Budget; Pledges To Oppose Key Measures

The Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Christine Milne, has delivered her party’s response to this week’s federal Budget.

Speaking in the Senate, Milne committed the Greens to opposing key measures in the Budget, including changes to unemployment benefits for young people and university fees.

Milne said the Budget was written for “big-business, big miners, big polluters, big banks, who are all completely let off the hook”. She described the Budget’s spending cuts as “brutal”.

Milne said: “The Greens will stand with university students, school kids, families, pensioners, carers or the sick. We will stand with environmental campaigners, children not yet born, our precious threatened species, the places we love, and our magnificent rivers and groundwater storages. We will stand with you, against the Abbott Government. We will stand with you to kick this mob out.”

  • Listen to Milne’s speech (27m)
  • Watch Milne (27m)

Official transcript of Senator Christine Milne’s Budget Reply speech, delivered to the Senate.

In my 25 years in politics I have seen governments and budgets come and go. Governments like that of Tasmanian liberal premier Robin Gray who cooked the books and governments like that of John Howard who engaged in gross populism. Remember his rivers of gold, manna from heaven tax cuts as he squandered the benefits of the last mining boom and his previous decision to freeze the fuel excise to win an election.

I have seen governments ignore the challenges ahead, refuse to even mention climate change or the environment just as this Abbott government is doing and play instead to comfort zones promising that if they continue to do what they had always done everything will be ok, in spite of Einstein’s great observation that you can’t solve problems with the same mentality that created them and frankly that is our problem in this parliament.

But Mr President, the Abbott government’s first budget is in a category of its own. The nation is reeling as people come to terms with the extent to which the PM has shafted, and lied to people and led those who believed in him like lambs to the slaughter. Before the WA election I said at the press club that people were frightened by the Prime Minister because they didn’t know what he would do next or who he really is, what he really believes in, but now the real nature of the chameleon has been revealed.

Frankly I have never witnessed such a brazen attempt by any Prime Minister to ruthlessly and so quickly impose such a vindictive, hard, right, cruel and ideological agenda on the Australian people and our environment then to try justify it by deliberately concocting a fake national budget emergency. It’s breathtaking to watch the Prime Minister and his cigar smoking Treasurer together with their hand-picked commissioners of Audit, aided and abetted by the Murdoch press, try to con the community into believing that everyone has a moral obligation to share the burden of a confected crisis, arguing that the burden is being shared fairly, whilst making absolutely sure that the full weight is carried by those who have no power to fight back, the young, the sick, pensioners, students and those least able to shoulder it, not to mention the natural environment and future generations. If you are privileged, the Liberals will protect that privilege. If you are already struggling they will stamp you down and make your life harder. PM Abbott, your heroes Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan would have been proud of you.

But we live in a democracy, the people wisely did not give the Abbott Government absolute power, they didn’t give PM Abbott absolute control of both houses of Parliament, so I stand here tonight, to commit the Australian Greens to take you on.

The Greens will stand up to Prime Minister Abbott every step of the way, and we will block these cruel budget cuts. Prime Minister Abbott has threatened to go to a Double Dissolution election if the senate doesn’t give him what he wants. Well, the Greens say, bring it on! Bring it on, Mr Abbott, we couldn’t be more passionate or more committed to kicking your mob out and stopping the damage, you are trying to inflict on people, the environment and our country.

We will block the attacks on universal healthcare and vote against the $7 GP co-payment.

We will block the cruel changes to the living and studying allowances for young people and students.

We will block the unfair and regressive user-pays model proposed for our universities.

There is no budget emergency and there is no burden to share. What there is, is a need to recognise that the world has changed, that national priorities must reflect the global emergency of climate change with its myriad of consequences for societies and economies, AND to identify other major constraints and opportunities facing us as a nation. We need to offer leadership to genuinely take the action now that will protect people and make life better for everyone including our children and future generations.

Instead we need to work out where as a nation we are going, how much it will cost to get there, how we are going to raise the money to do it whilst reducing our debt over time. Instead, Australia’s social contract, our commitment to recognition of indigenous people in the constitution, our commitment to equality of opportunity in everything from education to access to justice, universal health care system, our notion of a fair go for everyone, our federal system of checks and balances and environmental law, right down to our ABC and SBS are being torn up by this budget.

It’s a budget delivered by PM Abbott but written by big business, for big business, for the big miners big polluters and big banks; the vested interests of the old economy determined to stamp out anything or anyone that threatens their profit or power. This isn’t about the future of the country or making life better for our children, it’s about making life harder for people now and our children and condemns us all to a dog eat dog existence in a rust bucket economy pitching on the rough seas of a world struggling with climate change, environmental degradation and inequality.

This budget is so last century in its focus, one journalist described it as an “asphalt budget” it represents a massive opportunity cost to our nation. Where are the jobs for the people the prime minister orders to earn or learn? Where are the economic platforms from which we can take off in new directions with new technologies and innovation? Road building driving congestion, coal ports as stranded assets and shovels in motion hardly represent a platform for economic prosperity.

The Abbott government has ignored and failed to address the global trends likely to hit our nation hard in coming decades and constrain our ability to provide the jobs and services for our people. We are facing global warming and extreme weather events, divestment from fossil fuels, environmental degradation, water crises, volatile food markets, dislocation of millions of people in our region, as well as growing health care, education and training costs, an ageing population needing to be supported by pensions, a growing gap between rich and poor and a mining industry transitioning from construction to production.

Leading global economist Michael Molitor has recently commented:

“History tells us that a great approach to lifting growth comes from investing in infrastructure as this has the double effect of creating jobs and the future platform from which future growth can take off. Of all the large infrastructure projects one could imagine nothing comes close to the scale of opportunity represented by a rapid de carbonisation of the global energy system.”

He goes on to identify investment in new low carbon energy assets, energy efficiency, more capital into technologies that exist at scale like solar and wind, more capital in proven technologies that do not yet exist at full commercial scale like energy storage, smart grids, battery electric vehicles and I would add public transport and high speed rail. He argues for investment in game changes like graphene or quantum computers.

He asks where the capital will come from and identifies the same large institutional investors who financed all the existing low efficiency high carbon emitting activities. Why, because pension funds and insurance companies are moving to invest in infrastructure to secure higher financial returns and hence the fastest growing new asset class are green bonds and climate bonds.

What is required is the policy framework to make it happen and we have it with the clean energy package, the carbon price, ARENA, CEFC and the renewable energy target. But despite the success of this package in driving investment and jobs and reducing emissions, the Abbott government is determined to tear it down in favour of roads and coal. This is vindictive, constitutes environmental vandalism and can only be seen as spite. As for Direct Action and the emission reduction fund, forget it, treasury has by cutting its forecasts of take up and spreading it over 10 years. The fig leaf has disappeared, not even the Government expects to be able to deliver a 5% cut in emission by 2020. How irresponsible is it to abandon a multi-billion dollar polluter pays scheme in favour of paying Gina Rinehart fuel tax credits and charging people to go to the doctor to pay for it.

Worse still, this Government has become medieval in their attack on science and research and evidence based policy to the extent that CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology and its environmental science programs have lost $142 million, but compare this with funding but $250 million has been directed to the school chaplaincy programme with the added restriction of requiring it to be delivered by a religious provider with no option for secular welfare providers.

Our natural environment will suffer a vicious assault as environmental powers are to be transferred from the Commonwealth to the states, or even local government or anyone for that matter. Decades of environmental protection and the legal work of environmental defenders offices has been trashed.

Even the new medical research fund is a smoke and mirrors investment. We need medical research but to blackmail the parliament by saying it will not be delivered unless the co-payments to visit the doctor or fill a prescription or get a blood test or X-ray are passed is wrong. It is a Sophie’s choice and plain wrong. We will not be supporting the co-payments proposition. Research must be funded but it does not need to be funded from the pockets of the sick.

Which brings me to the question of who will pay, where will the money come from?

Well Mr Abbott, instead of looking after your mates let’s admit that revenue is there to be had, you just choose the backs of the young, the sick and the vulnerable rather than Gina Rinehart and her ilk. We, the people own the iron ore; it’s time they paid a fair return for it. That is what a mining tax is supposed to do, rather than have the profit from our resources go offshore to foreign shareholders. Why should Australians miss out so that our kids sit for six months at a time with nothing – not a cent, how do you expect young adults to live?

People must be really be feeling conned that they went along with “axing the tax” without realising that if the big miners didn’t pay, then they would do so instead. The Greens remain committed to restoring the mining tax to its full potential and keeping the price on pollution, and contributing $48 billion to budget.

The G20, IMF, OECD and World Bank are all urging governments to stop providing subsidies for fossil fuel use. These are the institutions that define what the economic orthodoxy is. It seems that the Prime Minister and Treasurer only heed their advice when it matches within their ideology.

For a 150 year old industry to still require subsidies paid for by taxpayers is a blatant rort. While they are cutting from the most vulnerable in our society, this budget has seen another $720 million over the forward estimates directed to the big miners, courtesy of the taxpayer, bumping their subsides up from $13 billion, to close to $14 billion. If you want real money from the miners ending the fuel tax credit is the way to go.

There is no industry development justification, it is purely about bloating the profits of old, outdated and harmful industries while at the same time stalling economic progress and holding back a new technological frontier that is already available to us.

So the lie of budget emergency is pretty plain to see. The revenue is there the political will to collect it is not. As Treasurer Hockey said himself “as a result of decisions made since coming to office, the Government is collecting less taxation than otherwise would be the case” so, don’t believe for a single minute that there is a burden to share. What there is, is a need for structural adjustment so that revenue streams match expenditures into the future.

PM Abbott has shielded the rich from any lasting burden in this budget. He has lacked the courage to take on corporate Australia, and instead acted like a bully, targeting the weak, rather than those most able to afford it.

Don’t believe the nonsense of the temporary and phony repair levy. It is a trick. You would only have a repair levy if there was a crisis to repair, and if the levy was real and not token. But there is not. If you accept the need for a temporary repair levy, you are accepting there is a budget emergency when there isn’t. It’s an attempt to justify vicious, permanent cuts to the poor with a foregone coffee for the rich, and we reject that embedded deceit absolutely.

There is no need for the poor and vulnerable to sacrifice anything, in fact Newstart needs to be increased. But, there is every need for permanent structural changes that ensure the rich pay a permanent new marginal tax rate, and that is what the Greens will pursue.

We are not going to let them off the hook with a temporary levy that they then abolish ahead of the 2016 election, and replace with a tax cut to restore any lost cash whilst everyone else suffers permanent ongoing cuts.

We won’t have a bar of the nonsense, around the whole budget repair story.

But what the Greens will do, is stand up for a fundamental principle in Australia.

No matter where you are born or who you are, if you have a disability we will take care of you, and your carer.

No matter what your parents financial position or where you live you should have equal access to high quality education and support.

If you need medical care our universal health care system will look after you.

We will not stand for the US system where the rich have everything they need and the poor go without. This is where Tony Abbott is taking us with his system of co-payments and deregulation of university fees, increasing costs and debt levels.

The architect of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme, Economist Bruce Chapman, has labelled the changes as unfair and would “unduly impact on poorer students.”

To put it in perspective, it is estimated that the fee increases from deregulation would increase a nursing degree from $18,000 to $89,000 or an engineering degree from $26,000 to $106,800.

Under this deregulation proposal, a teacher will graduate with a HECS debt estimated at $90,000.

It will take them 43 years to pay off their debt, and their interest bill – compared to an average rate of 10 years currently.

On top of this, new interest rates for loan repayments are on their way. What message about the value of education is this sending to our younger generation?

Now, let’s move to schools. It is appalling that the fifth and sixth years of the Gonski reforms have been abandoned. How Treasurer Hockey can talk of leaving a better future for our kids whilst abandoning help for the most disadvantaged kids in our schools is contemptible.

But the real bullying and the true revelation of character for the Prime Minister and his cabinet is his treatment of young people and people who can’t fight back.

All young people under 30 will either need to work at least part-time or study to receive a government payment. If you find yourself unemployed there will be a waiting period of up to six months, six months with nothing, and once the waiting period for benefits is over, you will be eligible for Work for the Dole for six months where you will need to work 25 hours a week. After six months the income support ceases and on the cycle goes until you find a job, begin studying or turn 30.

Tony Abbott is completely out of touch with people trying to live on payments like Newstart or Youth Allowance.

What does the Prime Minister think people will eat? Where does he think they will live? Where does he think they will get a job – youth unemployment is already high in North West Tasmania for example, and there are very few jobs to have.

My office, and many of my colleagues have been inundated with desperate messages from young people around the country, petrified of what these changes will mean to them.

I’ll read a couple of examples for the benefit of government senators in here now:

“I’m on a 12month traineeship and I’m terrified of not having a job to go to once my contract is up. I go to the doctors often for check-ups on my anti-depressants, so not only will I have to pay that but for my prescription, which will be going up too…I’m 22 and I feel helpless.”

Here’s another one:

“I live rurally and already I was planning to take a gap year in 2015, not out of want but out of necessity to save up for university and earn enough to be considered ‘independent’ in the government’s eyes. Now I’m not so sure that uni will ever be a possibility. The fee deregulation scares me, how high will they rise? Already many can’t afford them and now? Living rurally is a challenge when it comes to uni, as rarely can rural kids stay at home whilst attending uni. Instead they face an expensive move to the city or campus they are studying at. This puts them (us) at a significant disadvantage already compared to city-living uni students. Getting a job now in order to begin saving for university is out of the question. Well, I’m out of ideas as to how I’m supposed to go about things now. How do you move to the city for university when you have no money?”

These are just two examples, of what these cuts will mean for young Australian’s.

It is devastating for them.

But it is not just the young that this budget will hit. It will hit families and it will hit the sick. It will, at some point, hit every Australian.

Abbott’s budget raises the spectre of sick Australians having to choose between a doctor’s visit and the necessities of life. Universal accessible health care is to be done away with. This budget puts us on the path to a US style, two-tier, under-funded health system where your credit card is more important than your Medicare care card.

The announcement that bulk billing is to be abolished and replaced with a raft of co-payments – co-payments for seeing a doctor, co-payments for blood tests, co-payments for imaging, and higher co-payments for medicines – signals the end of Medicare. It means an explosion in out of pocket costs for Australian health consumers. Elderly Australians will be simply unable to afford to go to the doctor. Parents will have to say no to medicines for their kids. Combined with billions ripped out of hospitals, it signals a drastic drop in the quality of healthcare we can expect from this government.

This budget is a vicious attack on the fabric of our society. It abandons the environment and jeopardises our future. It will leave a legacy of environmental and social damage and the lost opportunity of moving to de-carbonise our economy.
This budget will widen gap between rich and poor.

This budget is written for big-business, big miners, big polluters, big banks, who are all completely let off the hook.

Australia deserves better than this budget and Tony Abbott’s brutal cuts.

The Greens will stand with university students, school kids, families, pensioners, carers or the sick. We will stand with environmental campaigners, children not yet born, our precious threatened species, the places we love, and our magnificent rivers and groundwater storages.

We will stand with you, against the Abbott Government. We will stand with you to kick this mob out.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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