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Larissa Waters: Address In Reply

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Larissa Waters 2 Dec 2013

As we began the 44th Parliament and as I listened to the Governor-General's speech I reflected on the achievements of the last parliament that I was so proud to be part of. I remember with great clarity that wonderful day when we passed our first carbon price laws in this parliament. What a joy that day was. I felt so proud as a Queenslander to be doing what is necessary and taking that first step towards what is necessary to safeguard our reef, to safeguard our beautiful farmland and our wonderful rainforests and to safeguard our coastal way of life.

As a mother, I thought about the effect that those sorts of decisions would have on future generations. That was one very high point, but we had others. The passage of the mining tax, albeit, sadly, a watered-down version, was a really crucial step in this nation's history to try and share the wealth. The passage of our first universal dental care laws in Denticare allowed children finally to be able to get the dental care that they need. Just as they would go to a doctor they can now go to the dentist. Finally, we got some protection for our farmland and our aquifers from coal seam gas exploration and mining with the passage of a water trigger in our environmental laws.

I reflected on all those achievements and I felt very proud. But in listening to the Governor-General outline the agenda of this new government, frankly I was horrified. I was horrified at the lack of long-term vision and at the selfishness and narrow-minded approach to policy making that was expressed by our gracious Governor-General in advocating and speaking the Abbott government's agenda. The first thing that struck me as incredibly sad and short-sighted and confronting was this obsession with repealing our carbon price. And not just that, but proposing to replace it with this amorphous, undefined concept. We heard in estimates and in Senate inquiries last week that not even stakeholders know the details of this amorphous Direct Action Plan, which no economist—and certainly no ecologist or soil scientist—in the country has said will work. And it has a set amount of funding dedicated to it that our Prime Minister has now said he will not go above, even if this government is not on track to meet its five per cent cut of greenhouse gas emissions. We have a weak scheme, which is not even backed by its own proposers.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation, that wonderful renewable energy bank that the Greens are so proud of being part of establishing, was here last week and said it is actually making money for the taxpayer. It is investing money in renewable energy not at a cost to the taxpayer, but at a profit, and it is bringing down emissions. This marvellous carbon price legislation and mechanism, with all of its good features and all of its success, is now on the chopping block and dismissed with a three-word slogan: 'Axe the tax'. Such tragic short-sightedness.

The Governor-General continued on with the Abbott government's agenda of axing the mining tax. We all acknowledge that it has its flaws—it needs to be much stronger; it could and should be raising far more revenue—but rather than fixing those problems the government propose to get rid of it entirely. Of course they are not proposing to reverse the cuts that single parents have to face when they were dropped down off their parenting payments onto Newstart. What a shame that some cuts are open to exploration and others are not.

The other particularly painful aspect of the Governor-General's speech was the reference to securing our borders. I felt a real chill down my spine as those words were read out. Securing our borders from what? From desperate people who are fleeing situations of danger that most Australians do not experience and probably will never experience in their lives. Fleeing with their families—with their children, with their parents, with their siblings—and just wanting to have a safe life and to contribute to a new nation where they can feel like their lives are not at risk and their children can prosper and flourish. Securing our borders from those people? Is that really what it has come to? Are we that afraid of other human beings? I was horrified.

Of course we know the promise to retrench 12,000 public servants is going to hurt not only those families affected but also will cut the services on which we all rely. I thought it perfect irony that the new Commission of Audit that is being proposed by this government will be headed by none other than the head of the Business Council of Australia, Tony Shepherd. We know businesses reign supreme under this new world order, and now they are in charge of the razor gang of this new government. It is horrific, but somehow very fitting.

We heard in this past week that even promises that had been made pre-election, which we had assumed would be kept, are now going to be completely tossed out. The school funding promise, the Gonski funding promise that was made clearly by the then opposition leader, who is now Prime Minister, is now meaningless. We are told those words apparently do not mean what we thought they meant. The Prime Minister, when he was Leader of the Opposition, did not actually mean what he said. So many backflips and so much short-sightedness and self-interest. The overall take-out message from that speech that I sat here and heard with great sadness was a real lack of positive vision, a fear about the people we share this planet with, a disdain for the needs of the natural world and this obsessive belt tightening for no apparent good in disregard for the real needs of families and workers and the services on which we all rely.

Sadly, this is not an experience that is new to us in Queensland. We have now had a government with a similar very destructive agenda unleashed on our state for the past 18 months. We have already had almost 14,000 public servants sacked from their work. As I have said, it is not just the families that suffer from those sackings but also the services on which we all rely are now not there. They have been contracted; they have been dismissed.

Sadly, the Newman government has cut or repealed or watered down more than 15 of the environment protections that Queenslanders had become used to and had felt were necessary—protections for our free-flowing wild rivers, many of which occur on Indigenous land. Just last week I met with traditional owner in the Wenlock region David Claudie. He said he does not want mines and dams on his land; he wants to keep those protections for his land that were on our law books but which Campbell Newman is going to repeal. It is going to be open slather on the cape once again. Our coastal protection laws are also gone—so much for the protection of our reef from the huge number of new and expanded coal and gas ports. Our national parks—not so sacred after all, despite the fact there is only four per cent of them in the country and about that number in Queensland. Logging is fine; grazing, yes, that is fine: all of that sacred land is now open. It is also open, of course, for massive tourism developments; however, hotels, cows, logging do not belong in national parks.

There have been other sneaky systematic reforms, like changing the court costs rules so that people in the community who want to challenge a decision on a development and who want to have their say about the future of their regions and their locales now cannot afford to go to court because now you have to pay in the Planning and Environment Court. These are systemic changes to lock people out of our democracy. Sadly, we have seen even more of that in recent months from our state government with the changes to the rules about bikies. Now it seems that people are not allowed to gather anymore and ride their motorbikes. The extent of those laws is what is truly scary, the fact that they could actually apply to any organisation of three or more people. That is horrific. We are back in the Joh days. 'Here we Joh again!' as the phrase goes. There are things like the sentencing mandate that has been brought down: judges are not allowed to decide things like sentences anymore, even though they have for eons and that is actually part of the doctrine of separation of powers. Never mind, Campbell Newman and his Attorney-General will dictate how long alleges criminals will go to jail for.

It seems a political appointment has now been made to the Crime and Misconduct Commission—set up in Queensland after that wonderful inquiry by Tony Fitzgerald—who is dictated to by the state government in what they can and cannot say, and when that is investigated that parliamentary committee gets sacked. There is absolutely no scrutiny or transparency. These people have a glass jaw and they are intent, it seems, on removing all environmental protections and locking down and removing our civil liberties. Being from Queensland, I find that very concerning.

The attacks do not stop there. They are now going to change the electoral system to lock in their own power. They are going to lift the public funding threshold to 10 per cent to make sure that only the big parties can have a say in parliament and retain their seats. Most importantly, they are going to lift the cap on political donations so if you are rich enough you can buy yourself a seat in parliament in Queensland now. Sadly, we all know what the influence of wealth does to politics. We have seen that very recently in this very parliament where Mr Clive Palmer, who is due to give his first speech today, spent between $12 million and $20 million—we do not quite know because he has not told anybody yet—and has effectively bought himself representation in the parliament. He had a bit of an argument with Campbell Newman about a mine and a railway, did not like the result, spent a whole lot of dough, and now he gets a voice in federal parliament.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Bernardi ): Senator Waters, the Clerk has reminded me that you should refer to Mr Newman as the Premier of Queensland, by his appropriate title.

Senator WATERS: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I will do that in future. So Mr Clive Palmer is here ostensibly to represent the people of Fairfax but it remains to be seen whether it will be his interests or theirs that get the most currency in this place.

It is such a disappointment to see this complete lack of a positive agenda from the new government. This is going to be a really challenging parliament not just for those in here who actually want a better future, fairer society and protection for our planet but for people in the community who feel the same way. I was particularly disappointed with the Abbott government's plan for a so-called 'one-stop shop' for environmental protection. The shop is selling out the environment and letting the state premiers do that. We have had 30 years in this country of the federal government gradually playing more of a role in protecting places and species that are so significant that the world wants us to conserve them—nationally and internationally significant places and species. They have become the responsibility of this parliament, but Mr Greg Hunt, who is meant to represent the environment, look after it and caretake those places, has decided that he does not really want that responsibility anymore. He would rather leave that up to state governments—state governments which have an atrocious track record on environmental issues. The Franklin dam is the best example; the Mary River dam in Queensland is another example where the state was willing to sell out our environmental assets. It took the federal government to step in and say: 'Sorry, that is too precious to lose. That is of national significance. We won't let you destroy it for private profits.' That is the system now under threat from this government. They are sneaking through changes and entering into memoranda of understanding with all the states. There is a huge build-up to the COAG meeting next week, with states being heavied to take on these new responsibilities because Mr Greg Hunt does not want to do his job anymore as the Minister for the Environment. He does not want to have responsibility for protecting those precious places and species. He does not want the climate laws either, so I do not know what he wants to do in his role as environment minister—I think he is probably going to have a bit of free time on his hands, if that is his approach.

In Queensland, the reef is a massive employer for our economy. We have 63,000 people who rely on the reef for their livelihood. That is an awful lot of people—far more than the mining industry has ever had—and yet we have plans for a doubling and trebling of coal exports, which will drive climate change and the direct destruction of the reef through the six new or expanded coal and gas ports that are on the books. The World Heritage Committee has said, 'Guys, you have got to stop this industrialisation or we're going to list the reef as World Heritage in danger.' You would hope and think that that would have some kind of effect and that the government of the day would take that warning seriously and do what is necessary to arrest the decline of our reef—but no. We have had no moratorium on these coal ports. We are full steam ahead. We have a strategic assessment that was released last week that does not actually stop any of those destructive developments that the World Heritage Committee are so concerned about. We have the Abbot Point decision due to be made by the Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, next week; it would become the world's largest coal port, in Queensland, right when the climate scientists are saying we are seriously at the eleventh hour. I do not want to see the reef I enjoyed so much as a child devastated by the dredging and the dumping and the shipping highway that it would become if that Abbot Point coal port expansion goes ahead. I do not want to be party to the climate effects of opening up the Galilee Basin for the profits of Mr Clive Palmer, Ms Gina Rinehart and a few Indian multinationals. That is not in our nation's interests. It is not in our grandchildren's interests. It is in the interests of making a few rich people even richer, to the detriment of all of us. I hope that the Minister for the Environment reconsiders what I suspect will be his approach on Abbot Point and thinks long and hard about his own children's future and the future of all of our children.

Many of those ports are proposed for gas export as well as coal. We know that coal seam gas is dangerous to our aquifers. We know that the National Water Commission and the CSIRO have warned us about the potential long-term effects. We do not even know if we can mitigate those long-term effects. We could be contaminating or depleting aquifers that can never be repaired; that is what the science is saying. Yet we have seen an open slather and approvals given left, right and centre by both the state and federal governments with no regard to the precautionary principle which says if you are going to really bugger something up, maybe you should think twice about it before you give the approval. Never mind that—just give the big tick to big business and the big miners. When you are in the bush, make a nice little promise to a landholder and then do absolutely nothing about it when you are back in parliament.

I was temporarily pleased with Prime Minister Abbott's reported remarks to Debbie Orr, one of the landholders of Tara on the Darling Downs. Apparently he said he did think landholders should have the right to say no to coal seam gas. I agree—I think they should. It is a huge risk that is being taken with their land and water and with the climate; they should be able to say no. Sadly, when I moved a motion in this place recognising and applauding the Prime Minister for that statement, members of his party—the government here in this chamber—chose to vote against that motion. Sadly, members of the Labor Party did as well. We see one thing being said in the bush to communities and the absolute opposite being done in this chamber. I hope people realise that they are being sold a pup.

I want to finish by mentioning women. As one of the youngest women in this parliament, I recognise the huge issues that women are still facing in this day and age: the lack of equal pay, and not just for work of equal value but for the same job. There are some horrifying statistics of how female dentists are earning less than their male counterparts when they have had exactly the same training experience. The fact that that is still happening in this day and age just blows me away, and we have to fix it. Then there are women's reproductive rights, which I imagine the next Senate will probably have to confront, given the proclivities of some of our colleagues in this place. There is the discrepancy in superannuation that women find at the end of their working life, and the fact that so many Australian women still face violence in their daily life—these are crucial issues that we must make some headway on.

Yet we have one woman in cabinet—just one. Out of 20 people, all they could find was one woman. There are some good strong women on the Liberal side. Naturally, I disagree with their policy stance but they are good, strong advocates. They were overlooked and now we have a dearth of women and their perspective in cabinet. I am worried that it will really show. I am proud to now be the Australian Greens' spokesperson for women, and I will be building on the record of my colleague Senator Rhiannon. I hope and expect to get support from women in all parties to try to further this crucial equity issue.

This 44th Parliament is going to be a bit of a tough time for us here who want a better world, who want fairness and equity and a safe environment for our kids. It is going to be challenging for people in the community who feel the same. As a mother, that is a perspective that I bring. I think about the sort of world that I want my little girl to live in and I think about when she is my age, when she herself is a parent. It is going to be a very different world. The decisions that we take in this place today will shape that future. We have such a great responsibility.

To have the carbon price repeal bills come to us later today in the Senate is a matter of great shame for me. The Greens will fight that repeal with everything we have. We must act on climate change. It is not just for ourselves; it is for all of the other creatures that we share this planet with, and it is for all generations to come. So we will fight for fairness, we will fight for climate action and we will fight for equity. We will fight for a better world and I hope that we do not see this parliament take us too far backwards in the next few years. It is a challenge that the Greens are willing to face. We pledge to all Australians that we will fight for their future.

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