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Peter's Speech - Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016

Speeches in Parliament
Peter Whish-Wilson 16 Sep 2016

We are now coming to the end of the second week in the 45th Parliament. We are starting to get to the business end of town. This is the first piece of legislation we have got before us today that is substantial, and it is very telling that this piece of legislation is about the priority, both for the Labor Party and for the Liberal and National parties, in this nation for budget repair. This was the priority of our previous government under Prime Minister Tony Abbott. 'Budget repair' is code for 'cruel cuts to the less fortunate in this country and an attack on renewable energy and climate change action'.

Now, I put the proposition to the people of Australia and to senators in this chamber that the great moral challenges of our time have not changed in recent years. They remain inequality and global warming. The Greens are not in parliament and in the Senate just to soften the worst excesses of this Turnbull government; we are in parliament to have the courage and vision to bring about much needed economic reform that deals with the great moral challenges of our time, like inequality. I found it very hard to believe that in just three weeks ago the Prime Minister said the great moral challenge of our time is deficit and debt repair. Why can't we do all three at the same time? Why can't we walk and chew gum? Why can't we find revenue measures and cost savings that also make this country more fair and equal and tackle the absolute imperative of global warming? We can do all three. The Greens have put up sensible measures and, during this debate, we will be talking in much detail about what we need to do.

Let us think about deficit repair—$6.3 billion in savings. The omnibus bill is a conglomeration of different pieces of legislation, of different bills. In a way, it is a bit like a bus, with each seat on the bus being a separate piece of legislation. That legislation essentially delivers us cuts to spending, which we can then bank as savings. What you have not heard from the Labor Party today is that on that bus, in the front row, is an attack on renewable energy and climate action in this country. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency has been stripped back to its bare bones in recent years by both the Abbott and Turnbull governments. It is an agency that invests, Senator Williams—through you, Acting Deputy President Reynolds—nearly 70 per cent of its budget in rural Australia, in innovation, in creating jobs, in tackling rising emissions and in developing new technologies that deliver both clean energy and jobs. But it is being stripped back to its bare bones. Labor and the Liberals are the clean energy charlatans of this parliament, and shame on the Labor Party for voting for this. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency was part of a package that the Greens negotiated with Labor under the Gillard government, and it is not acceptable that we will now lose another $700 million from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. What next?

Let us talk about inequality. I am not going to go into a lot of detail on the schedule of bills within the omnibus bill, but my fellow Greens colleagues will. I am particularly interested that right now, as we are debating this omnibus bill, in the other house, the green house, we have another piece of legislation, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Income Tax Relief) Bill 2016, which gives a tax cut to the top 20 per cent, the most wealthy, of Australians. Anyone earning over $80,000—which is not 80 per cent of Australians, but which includes us here in the chamber—is going to get a tax cut. There might be some justification for a tax cut if you felt it was going to have a positive benefit for the economy or for the people who are going to get that tax cut, but, as we have worked out and as has been spoken about, it is barely a muffin and a coffee. I can accept that $5 or $6 a week is important to people on low incomes—it is incredibly important. Why are we giving a tax cut to the most wealthy Australians? By the way, it will cost $4.3 billion. Today we are debating a bill in the Senate to raise $6.3 billion, taking money off the less fortunate and off clean energy, and, across in the other chamber, we are giving it back to the most wealthy Australians. What else is coming our way when parliament resumes in a month or so? Tax cuts for business. Where is the equality? Where is the fairness? How are we dealing with the growing divide in this country—the gap between the rich and the poor, which we know is getting worse?

This bill before us here today has been rushed. The Labor Party and the Liberal-National government have denied us the chance to have a public inquiry. We have been denied the ability for the Senate to call witnesses and hear evidence. But the Greens went ahead and did our own inquiry, and we thank the crossbenchers for their help. We called witnesses who work in the social services sector—people who deal with these issues every day. They see the impacts on those on Newstart or on the pension. They know how hard it is for these people and how important it is that the government play an active role in their lives by providing a safety net and supporting them. It is outrageous that after the 2014 budget, which essentially killed then Prime Minister Tony Abbott's leadership and ultimately took away his job, the very first bill we get in the 45th Parliament is almost the same. It is like groundhog day, and winter is coming for the less fortunate in this country if someone in here does not stand up for them.

Let us talk about clean energy. I remember sitting in here during the last parliament and having the Labor Party come in and tell the Greens—and I noticed Senator Conroy is on the speaking list, coming up very shortly—how we had caved in on a multinational tax avoidance negotiation with the government, where the Greens got a fantastic outcome to put in legislation to tackle the biggest end of town not paying their tax. The Greens negotiated a fantastic outcome for the Australian people. I remember Senator Cameron saying, 'You guys don't know how to negotiate; you don't know how to do deals.' Well, guess what: nor do you. You have caved in on renewable energy.

There is an old saying that perhaps maybe senator McGrath may be familiar with: in every government bill, there is always one sacrificial anode. I do not know if that is necessarily true because I have not been in government but, let me tell you, cuts to clean energy did not need ever happen under this bill. If the Labor Party and Liberal Party had negotiated harder, as we were doing, we would not have lost $800 million to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. But you made your priorities clear, Labor Party and Liberal Party. The priority of the Labor Party and of the Liberal Party for this 45th parliament is deficit repair, not tackling rising inequality or global warming.

So let me deal with this issue of deficit repair. There is a dishonest debate in this chamber that debt is bad, that somehow the moral challenge of our time is to reduce debt. By the way, let's legislate all our policy to keep the ratings agencies happy. That is essentially what you are saying, Senator Gallagher. This is about keeping the triple-A rating and keeping the ratings agencies happy. It comes straight from the big banks. I do not know how many Australians are aware that our triple-A credit rating means that the banks automatically have a double-A credit rating; they sit below the triple-A credit rating because governments are default risk free. So guess what? If the government loses its triple-A credit rating, that means the banks automatically lose their double-A credit rating, which of course they do not want to see happen because it is going to be bad for their business model.

Let's talk a bit more truthfully about debt. As you well know, Acting Deputy President Reynolds, not all debt is bad. I have argued in this place that we can borrow sensibly for productive and transformative infrastructure spending in this country. We should be borrowing at least $50 billion to $70 billion of extra money, off the balance sheet, and restructuring the way we finance infrastructure in this country to get money moving. Government should be playing an active role in Australia. If we do that, and if we pick the right projects with fully transparent cost-benefit analysis financed the right way then we will stimulate sustainable economic growth in this country.

All the metrics that the ratings agencies use that look at the potential loss of a triple-A rating rely on metrics around GDP—expenditure to GDP, debt to GDP et cetera. If we stimulate GDP then there is not a problem. If you sit down with any decent economist in this country and you ask: what is the issue about losing our triple-A rating? They will say actually it is inconsequential in the short term. The Senate select committee that I chaired said the same thing. Standard and Poor's said the same thing. But they will tell you the problem is the trend and it relies on uncertainty around economic growth at least 12 months down the track. So here is a good suggestion: let's actually stimulate infrastructure spending in this country, do what just about every expert not just in Australia but internationally with the IMF and others say, and actually have government play an active role in our life.

Senator McAllister

Like $800 million in climate investment.


I will take that interjection, Senator McAllister. Why is it that the Labor Party think cutting nearly $2 billion from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, a funding that they agreed to when they were in government in negotiation with the Greens, is a good thing for climate action? Eight hundred million dollars is not the same as $2 billion. And guess what? We called climate experts to our negotiations. We called climate experts to come before the crossbenchers and the senators who actually wanted to hear evidence on this bill and we heard very clearly that researchers, those who we rely on to drive innovation and entrepreneurial activity in this country, are going to lose their grants thanks to the Labor Party.

My colleague Adam Bandt, the member for Melbourne in the other place, spent an hour last night talking to the Treasurer and the Assistant Treasurer, trying to work out where they are going to take the money from to cover the $800 million that has been taken out of ARENA. He did not get any answer so we will certainly be asking those questions of Senator Cormann tonight. Why has the Labor Party not got an answer for this? I certainly hope it does. What else are you going to cut or have you agreed to in a dirty deal behind closed doors with the government? May I say: dirty deals done dirt-cheap for the Renewable Energy Agency and for climate action in this country.

We have the proposition from the Greens that we tackle inequality, that we put up other measures to raise revenue. On that note, on behalf of the Australian Greens I move a second reading amendment:

Leave out all words after "That", insert:

"this bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for budget savings to be made in the areas of fuel tax credits, mandatory data retention, compulsory income management, and abolishing the Wind Farm Commissioner and reinvesting private health insurance rebates into the public health system; rather than those proposed which have a disproportionate impact on lower to middle income households, students, researchers, innovative companies and building clean energy infrastructure."

Fuel tax credits give subsidies to polluters. My colleague Senator Ludlam would be happy to talk about mandatory data retention today. We have always opposed compulsory income management. And let's not forget the wind farm commissioner that we got up in the last parliament in another dirty deal done to have the crossbenchers support. My colleague Senator Hanson-Young is going to be talking about the nearly $500 million to $600 million that the Labor Party have agreed to support the Liberal-National government on cutting from higher education. It is interesting how we have not heard anything from these two parties about the cuts to higher education in this country. Research grants are now being taken away from the nearly 100 scientists who are working on research projects through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency's innovative companies and taken away from building clean energy infrastructure, which we absolutely need in this country.

We can bring economic reform into this country by tackling negative gearing, by tackling capital gains concessions, by abolishing the diesel fuel rebate—there is nearly $40 billion in cuts. We can have a real crack at progressive super reform. It is fascinating that, again, today, this government has released the details of its super package. Is it a coincidence that, on the day that we have the omnibus bill in the Senate, we have the income tax amendment bill going through the lower house and we have the government releasing its super details. Have Labor done a deal with the government on all three pieces of legislation? It is going to be very fascinating to see.

We give nearly $30 billion a year in concessions in superannuation in this country, and this government is proposing a package to save $3 billion out of $30 billion—that is 10 per cent. We know that a number of wealthy Australians have been using their superannuation system to not pay tax—to use it as a wealth management tool and avoid paying tax. We need superannuation; it is very important. And we need some incentives for people with compulsory saving. I absolutely grant that. But we know that the wealthiest in this country have, for too long, been rorting the system to avoid paying tax. So the Greens want to see a progressive superannuation system in this country.

But why are we fiddling around the edges? It is a missed opportunity not to have real crack at this right now. As it is today, this is a missed opportunity. We are going down the road of targeting fiscal repair by savaging clean energy action in this country, ripping money out of higher education, ripping money out of welfare and social services—as Senator Siewert is going to go through; and she is certainly going to be putting the proposition to the Labor Party that they have not put the interests of low-income Australians first. We could do all three. We could actually reduce debt, raise revenue and stimulate sustainable economic growth in this country, we could bring in reform that tackles inequality and, at the same time, we could take action on the climate.

Lastly, while we walked out of here yesterday during Senator Hanson's speech, the one thing I did agree with her on was that she said this parliament should be doing more on infrastructure spending. I am very pleased to hear that even Senator Hanson is talking about the need for this government to get off its hands and invest a decent amount of money in infrastructure spending.

Senator Williams

Fifty billion?


Fifty billion dollars; we need at least another $70 billion, Senator Williams, through you, Acting Deputy President Reynolds. We need at least another $70 billion to get money moving in this country to create jobs, to make our cities more sustainable and to invest in future generations. One of the biggest moral challenges of our time is underinvesting in future generations of Australians. If the Greens are the only party that actually have the courage and vision to stand up in this place, speak sense on this issue and clearly say what our priorities are—

Senator Williams

You want to lock the place up.


You know where our heart is; you know what our priorities are. It is as clear as daylight. We want to see real reform that tackles the real moral challenges of our time—inequality and the lack of action on global warming, which is slowly killing this planet and making life much harder and more expensive for all of us.

Senator PRATT

We have before us today a bill that is not perfect, but it does go a lot further towards budget repair that is fair than otherwise would have been. We in the Labor Party have worked to protect those who are disadvantaged, while investing in the future. The amendments that the Labor Party has secured in the Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016 deliver $6.3 billion in savings, which is more than the government put forward in their original legislation, and provide important investments in our future, including in clean energy.

Labor is really proud of its record on driving renewable energy growth in Australia, and this continues today. We created the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Under Labor, the investment in the renewable energy industry tripled, and we were ranked among the top four most attractive destinations for energy investment in the world. Under the coalition, Australia's ranking has dropped substantially. We have fought very hard for the renewable energy industry in this legislation, against attempts by the Liberal government to destroy it. We will continue to have this fight.

Our policy, which we took to the last election, is to ensure that 50 per cent of the nation's electricity is sourced from renewable energy by 2030. So it was particularly important to us to fight to save ARENA within this bill. We have secured $800 million for the next five years. This funding, we believe, is crucial. ARENA itself says it is funding that will ensure that it can continue investment in renewable energy in Australia into the future. It is a haircut and a compromise, but it is, indeed, viable.

Renewable projects are of critical importance in many states and in a number of particular regions, including in my home state of Western Australia. If you look at a micro-economy in a place like Collie, we have industries that need to transition out of the mining boom and, indeed, out of coal, and to provide jobs and opportunities for the future. A good example of this is the WestGen biomass project, which was in the final stages of securing funding with ARENA and of negotiating with Synergy for a price for its power.

This particular biomass project near Manjimup in the south-west of WA is, critically, located not far from communities like Collie which are in desperate need of a future while jobs have been under attack. In the community of Collie, wages and conditions at the local coalmining plant have halved. This is putting a huge amount of pressure on local shops and all of the local companies throughout the Collie community. Therefore it is industries like this biomass plant that we need to look to help those communities in the future.

The power plant will deliver renewable baseload energy to the south-west using waste plantation timber. It has been developed by WA Biomass Pty Ltd—a joint venture between renewable company WestGen and US company National Power. It will supply approximately 50,000 homes and provide around 300 jobs in the construction phase with 100 jobs in the long term. When you look at the jobs created by the renewable energy industry, they are fundamentally more productive than fossil fuels in their job creation. It is a crucial project for the south-west region of Western Australia at a time when we are seeing job losses and cuts in pay and conditions. These projects are good for the environment and good for jobs, and I really wish the company all the best in going back to the negotiating table with ARENA and Synergy.

Under the Liberal agenda, as originally put forward, there would be no capacity for ARENA to fund vital projects such as this one where they are most needed. I want to thank in particular the work of unions who have lobbied to save ARENA, particularly the CPSU, the CFMEU and the AMWU. I have received lots of correspondence from residents who have been concerned about ARENA's future. We have listened to these concerns and we have committed to a renewable, clean energy for the future. We will continue to fight the Turnbull government and invest in a renewable energy future.

It is particularly worth noting that we had in the election campaign agreed to a much bigger funding cut for ARENA, but that cut was in the absence of the overall architecture that we put forward in our platform for the election for a renewable target—a much stronger target—and a cap on pollution. We have in this bill recognised that ARENA did need a significant funding platform over and above what we would have given it, should we have formed government, because it was in the absence of effective—

Senator Di Natale interjecting—

Senator PRATT

Are you even listening to what I am saying, Senator Di Natale?


Senator Di Natale, you do not have the call.

Government senators interjecting—


Senators on my right, you are not helping the situation at all. Please continue, Senator Pratt.

Senator PRATT

Senator Di Natale has refused to recognise the architecture of what Labor originally put forward in its election commitments, which the coalition has left us a complete absence of.

Moving on from renewable energy, there is a great deal more at stake in this bill. We have secured amendments that support those in our community who are vulnerable. It was of great concern to us, and continues to be, that the coalition has attacked those on low incomes. So we have in this bill secured amendments to protect pensioners, single parents, carers, people with disability and people who have lost jobs—even those due to government cuts. These amendments secured by Labor protect the vulnerable in our community. Those who are disadvantaged should not bear the brunt of the fiscal cuts being made by the government. Our nation is only as good as how we protect those most in need.

It has been critically important that we have secured amendments that maintain energy supplement payments for Newstart recipients and pensioners. We made clear throughout the election campaign that the government had not given us the opportunity to properly scrutinise what they had put forward during the campaign. Once we saw the detail, it was clear what impact these changes would have on the most vulnerable in our community. Our amendments protect these low-income households and secure that small amount of money for the future.

If the removal of the supplement had gone ahead, it would have pushed those people on the very lowest incomes in our community even further below the poverty line, affecting more than 2.2 million people. If the government's full abolition of the energy supplement had passed parliament, those already on low incomes would be hundreds of dollars worse off a year: a single mum on Newstart, $220; a pensioner couple, $550 a year; and a person with a disability, $350 a year and carers as well. We are very proud and pleased to have secured the continuation of these payments, ensuring that people do not have a reduction in their income and we will continue to fight for low-income earners.

We have advocated for children, families and dental care in this package. We have opposed the government's removal of the Child Dental Benefits Schedule.    When in government, we introduced the Child Dental Benefits Schedule in response to overwhelming evidence about the poor state of children's oral health in Australia The program provides eligible children with $1,000 of dental services every two years and has been proven successful in improving the oral health of children around the country.

Our National Partnership Agreement on Adult Public Dental Services has funded dental treatment for 400,000 people. The government's plan to axe these programs and introduce its own child and adult public dental scheme is simply not as good as Labor's scheme. Families and children will be worse off. I understand that the government may want to continue to proceed with its changes to this package, but they are off the table and we will continue to fight those changes. Such a package would see millions of children forced onto long-term public waiting lists and prevent families from choosing their own dentist. The government's scheme would only allow eligible patients to be seen once every 17 years and even longer for people in rural and remote areas. It is simply not good enough. The scheme will also allow states and territories to charge a co-payment. Again, when you look at the expense of dental care, again, it is simply not good enough. It would have a disproportionate impact on those already at risk and on those who are already likely to have poor oral health: people on low incomes, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the elderly, people with disability, young adults and students, and sole parents and their children. The impact of poor dental health on these groups is immense. Twenty per cent of adults on low incomes experience severe impacts on quality of life due to oral health conditions, compared with 7.5 per cent of adults on higher incomes. I can tell you that from the time when I left the Senate, when my income was reduced—and I was still on a moderate income—the frequency of my visits to the dentist declined. I am now in a position to afford to have visits again. So for families who are on very, very low incomes and who are living off Newstart, this scheme is critical to them.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population has 2.3 times more untreated tooth decay than non-Indigenous people. Public health dental patients are more likely than other people to have dental decay. These figures are incredibly concerning. We must do everything we can to address the oral health of people in need. It is expensive, and it is an expense that many families simply cannot afford. We must ensure that these families have access to dental services regardless of their financial situation.

So we have yet another example of the Liberal government expecting everyday Australians to reach into their pockets and into their bank accounts for health care. We saw it with their attacks on Medicare with the rebate freeze and with the GP co-payment and now we see it again. So we will continue to stand up to the Turnbull government's plans on dental care which, indeed, will put more financial pressure on vulnerable Australian families. We are very pleased to have negotiated those things out but we will continue to fight the government on this agenda.

We have negotiated amendments to the bill that ensure people in psychiatric confinement who are institutionalised for serious offences continue to receive social security payments. This is critical because our vulnerable need to be protected in times of need. The changes would have had a disproportionate impact on Indigenous Australians. As the Aboriginal Disability Justice Campaign reminded us with their advocacy on this issue, there are nine people detained under mental impairment legislation in the Northern Territory and all of them are Indigenous. More than half of those detained in New South Wales and one-third of those detained in Western Australia are Indigenous. When the Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 was referred to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee, these changes which were originally put forward were overwhelmingly opposed, in all but one submission, from organisations such as the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, Mental Health Australia, the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Association of Social Workers.

The changes in this bill before amendment were completely inequitable. They punished those who require social security, on the basis of their conditions, their impairments—many of them are not even criminally responsible for their actions. They would also have had long-term impacts. They would have created a cycle of dependency and institutionalisation causing long-term financial hardship to people in institutions and, in many cases, to their dependents. For example, just because you are in an institution does not mean that you do not need to pay rent elsewhere and it does not mean that you do not have a need to go out into the community and pay for things such as food and clothing. It was ridiculous to take these payments away from people.

We are pleased that, in putting forward this package, we have been able to put forward other measures, some of which have been difficult but which protect the bottom line. They involve changing family tax benefit part A for those who earn over $80,000. This is a saving of $1.96 billion at the same time as drawing a line under harsher cuts to family payments. We have done that to secure the energy supplements for the most vulnerable in our community. Thanks to Labor, single parents and teenagers will now no longer be worse off under this bill. Thanks to Labor, a family with two young children and with an income of $50,000 will no longer be worse off under this bill. Labor will continue to oppose the government's cuts to family payments, pensions and allowances. We have delivered more in savings over four years than the $5.997 billion first proposed by the government, while working to protect the most vulnerable.

The bill before us today, with amendments negotiated by us, puts us on the path to fairer budget repair. There is a long way to go, and this package is only a part of the solution. I call on the government today to support the rest of Labor's savings package, which would deliver more than $8 billion in budget improvements over the forward estimates and more than $80 billion in budget improvements over the medium term.

We have negotiated with the government to develop fairer measures that will improve the budget bottom line. We are committed to continuing to do so, but Labor will not compromise on our values. We will continue to stand up for vulnerable Australians. We do not believe that pensioners, people with disability, carers or vulnerable jobseekers should be forced to do the heavy lifting of budget repair, particularly while the Turnbull government is spending $50 billion on a tax cut for big business and the banks. We have the right priorities when it comes to repairing the budget. There is a better and fairer set of measures because of Labor's constructive approach.


I rise to speak against the Budget Savings (Omnibus) Bill 2016. Let me begin, for the benefit of those people who may be listening to this debate, with a little bit about the history of this bill. People will be listening in, hear about a bill called an omnibus bill and think: 'What the hell is that about? What is an omnibus bill?' The use of omnibus bills is a political tactic. You lump together a group of legislative changes—often petty or nasty, sometimes hugely regressive measures. You put them together—in this case, 24 separate pieces of legislation—you wrap them up into one bill and you do it in a way that allows you to introduce that legislation to the parliament such that, rather than each of those individual measures getting the scrutiny they deserve, what often happens is that one or two pieces of that legislation might get a little bit of attention. It is basically a tactic to ensure that a number of substantial changes can be lumped together without the scrutiny of the parliament.

The normal process would be that a piece of legislation would be sent to an inquiry. In this case, this bill would go to the Economics Legislation Committee to try and at least provide some level of scrutiny to some of the 24 pieces of legislation that make up this bill. You would expect that, for a bill with over $6 billion in savings that affects areas from clean technology investment to the level of debt that students face to R&D incentives to punishing people with mental illness right through to an attack of some of the most vulnerable people in our community, at the bare minimum this Senate would need to do its job and spend some time in the Senate committee process asking questions of those people who might be affected by these changes, listening to the experts, getting some in-depth analysis and trying to get a clearer understanding of what these changes mean for people. While often that process may not result in us being able to substantively overturn legislation, sometimes we can get a few small wins and improve a bad bit of legislation somewhat by making minor amendments through the committee process.

That is what normally happens. Normally you would have a single piece of legislation getting a thorough inquiry and some scrutiny through that inquiry process. In this case we have got 24 separate pieces of legislation across a whole range of areas. They have been denied the appropriate scrutiny through the inquiry process. And how so? The Liberal Party with the support of the Labor Party denied us the opportunity to have public hearings into this bill. Just think about that. There are 24 separate pieces of legislation, returning savings of over $6 billion, and the parliament has been denied the opportunity to ask questions about what those changes mean for people.

You would think that was bad enough, but it gets worse. Under the cover of darkness, again the Labor Party and Liberal Party joined together to decide to overturn some of the pieces of legislation in this bill and replace them with an alternative set of savings that we really do not understand yet, because they, like the 24 pieces of legislation in the original bill, were denied the scrutiny that they deserve through an inquiry process. So we now have a bill which has been substantially changed that we found out about two days ago that is going to be rammed through the parliament tonight. And how does that happen? How is it that a handshake deal—a dirty deal between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party—to cut funding for Australian renewable energy investment, to cut funding for family support, to impose more debt on students and to slash R&D incentives can be agreed on between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party two days ago and now be about to be rammed through the parliament? That happened because of another dirty deal:

Government senators interjecting—


the Liberal Party and the Labor Party joining together to ram through an hours motion today that says, 'Well, we're going to slip it in after six o'clock, when—'

Senator Whish-Wilson

Point of order: Senator Williams sound like he's swallowed a tuba. We can't hear Senator Di Natale and we're sitting right behind him.


I would actually ask senators on my right—I was actually having trouble hearing Senator Di Natale as well—if you could just wait another three minutes for question time.


So, again, just to summarise how we have got to this point: we have got an omnibus bill, a political tactic to aggregate a whole range of unrelated pieces of legislation so that we cannot give to each of those pieces of legislation the due attention that they deserve. This has bypassed the normal Senate committee process. We were denied a public hearing into this bill. Then we saw a handshake deal between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party to introduce a whole new set of measures worth over $1 billion. Now today we have voted on an hours motion that means we have to deal with it right through the evening, while no-one is watching. How on earth is that fair, democratic process when you consider the scale of changes that are included in this bill?

There is $1.6 billion by ending family tax benefit A for families over $80,000. We hear from the Labor Party that they have saved ARENA by cutting half a billion dollars. It reminds me of the surgeon: the operation was a great success; unfortunately, the patient died. That is where we are at right now. The saviours of renewable energy, the champions of clean tech investment, the Labor Party saving renewable energy investment by taking half a billion dollars out of it. We had Bill Shorten during the election campaign trumpeting his credentials, talking about a 50 per cent renewable energy target. His prescription for ramping up our ambition for renewable energy investment is to cut half a billion dollars from one of the agencies that is delivering on that change.

In the preceding week we had ARENA announce a round of 12 large-scale solar projects worth $100 million—and let's remember that that grant funding brings in huge money. Last week the ARENA announcement of $100 million for that round of solar farms secured $1 billion of investment. Let me repeat that: $1 billion of new investment because of the $100 million leveraged through ARENA. And here we are with the Labor Party trumpeting their credentials. 'How good are we? We've managed to save it by cutting it.' Just think of the logic there. 'We've saved ARENA by cutting it to the tune of half a billion dollars.' And it gets worse.

Then we hear that the money is somehow linked to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation through the Clean Energy Innovation Fund. Malcolm Turnbull is jumping up and trumpeting this as 'Mr Innovation' through this new fund, which we now learn is being cut completely, and we have the minister contradicting the energy minister, neither of them knowing how on earth this cut to clean energy funding is going to occur. This has been a farce and the Senate should be ashamed of itself.


Senator Di Natale, you will be in continuation when the debate is resumed.

Debate adjourned.

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