I rise to contribute to the matter of public importance before the Senate—namely, the Abbott-Turnbull governments plan to impose a 15 per cent GST. The first point to acknowledge in this debate is that the Abbott-Turnbull government plans to increase the GST after the next election. So the next election will essentially be a referendum on whether the Australian people want to pay more for their food, health care, education, fuel and rent through an increase in the goods and services tax or whether they want the GST to remain at the promised 10 per cent. For the record, I would like the people of Tasmania and other states of Australia to know that the JLN will never support an increase in the rate of the GST—not ever. However, in saying that, I do not want members of the Liberal and National parties to put words in my mouth and suggest that I do not agree with tax reform. I believe in tax reform—indeed, I believe in spending reform—and I have presented to this Senate in the last almost year and a half many new ideas and reforms relating to spending and tax reform.
Why should the government even think about increasing the GST when we could have an FTT, a financial transactions tax, which will target the super-rich and powerful in our society, instead of the poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable, as any amendment to the GST must surely do? Any increase to Australia's GST will hurt Tasmania more on a proportional basis than other states, because every social indicator shows we have more poor and disadvantaged people in Tasmania.
Strangely, a tax reform debate in Australia is being carried out by many high-profile media and politicians, without the inclusion of a financial transactions tax, as part of a range of credible fiscal measures to solve our looming tax revenue and spending crisis. Why are a significant portion of Australia's media and political representatives deliberately avoiding even talking about or mentioning a financial transactions tax? Are vested interests using their commercial, political and media influence to limit a community debate about the introduction of a financial transactions tax in Australia?
Many advanced countries, including most of the European Union, from 2016, will raise revenue from a range of financial transactions taxes. The tax is very flexible and can be as little as 0.001 per cent to 0.1 per cent and, as the name suggests, is levied on a variety of financial transactions. Publicly available reports indicate that an official study by the European Commission suggests that a flat 0.01 per cent tax would raise between 16.4 billion euros and 43.4 billion euros per year, or 0.13 per cent to 0.35 per cent of GDP. If the tax rate is increased to 0.1 per cent, total estimated revenues are between 73.3 billion euros and 433.9 billion euros, or 0.60 per cent to 3.54 per cent of GDP.
JLN will not support an FTT designed to have an adverse impact on Australia's real economy. JLN, like most European Union countries, will oppose an FTT on day-to-day financial activities of average Australian citizens and businesses, such as loans, payments, insurance and deposits. However, it is important to note that a financial transactions tax could be designed to target large national and multinational companies which have been proven to minimise or avoid tax by shifting profits to overseas tax havens and create a fairer, simpler and more efficient Australian tax system.
One of the best indicators that a financial transactions tax would thoughtfully target those who can most afford to pay a fairer share of tax is the reaction of bankers when the subject of a financial transactions tax is brought up in policy conversation in my office. And I can assure you that bringing a banker and a financial transactions tax policy together is like dragging a vampire into sunlight: there is a lot of hissing and wailing. Most bankers look as if they are about to burst into flames and melt into a pile of dust the moment I say that Australia needs a financial transactions tax. There is a similar reaction from most Liberal members of the parliament, but that is to be expected, because they are very similar to bankers and share common blooding-sucking world views. I will always oppose an increase in the GST, because there are better ways of reforming tax and spending.
I recently received a briefing from one of Tasmania's most respected and senior businessmen, Wayne Bould, of the Tasmanian Minerals and Energy Council, who has warned me about a looming crisis in natural gas prices for our residential and business customers. Mr Bould indicated to me that, if the Liberal state government of Tasmania, assisted by this federal government, does not take steps to purchase or take control of the privately owned pipeline which delivers gas from mainland Australia to Tasmania, from the company Palisade, increases of up to 40 per cent, perhaps even more, could occur for all commercial users of gas.
This would mean that Tasmanian pensioners, families, small business, the unemployed, single parents, schools, hospitals, bakers, supermarkets, retirement villages, mineral value-adding operations and our heavy manufacturing all would be looking at significant rises in their gas bills, perhaps up to 40 per cent, toward the end of 2017.
Mr Bould explained to me the reason for the gas price increase:
At the moment there is a contract between Hydro Tasmania and Palisades — this is a private company which owns the gas pipeline — where around about 50 per cent of the pipeline transmission cost is paid by Hydro to Palisades, on the basis that it was going to feed the Bell Bay power station. Obviously this is a gas powered station.
Now because we have a surplus of electricity, to the extent we can actually sell it through Bass Link - Bell Bay power station is no longer a viable option. It isn't an income generator - and isn't required strategically because there is enough electricity generated in the system and there is enough water in the dams to the extent it's no longer required. So their contract as we understand it ends somewhere around 2017. At which time their subsidy (Bell Bay Power Station) effectively, of the transmission pipeline, ends at that time.
And that means, Palisades, in order get its recovery of the return it wants on the pipeline will need effectively to double its transmission costs that it charges to all the users of the pipeline. So that means everyone in the system is going to receive an increase in the cost of the transmission cost. The transmission cost isn't the ultimate cost, it could be 10 per cent or 20 per cent of the total cost of gas. And that is some of the numbers. I am asking people to provide me with — that — at the moment.
But let's say it's 20 per cent the cost of gas - then what we will see is Hydro dropping out with its subsidy and that will give a 10 per cent or better increase of cost to users. I think the transmission cost is much higher than the numbers I have used, because people are talking 30 to 40 per cent increases at a commercial level. That will flow through to the mum and dads. You have got to recover your costs.
It is clear from Mr Bould's warnings that a gas price crisis for Tasmania will occur if measures are not put in place by both the state and federal Liberal governments to prevent the private company Palisade, which owns Tasmanian's gas pipeline, from passing on the full costs of gas transmission once the gas fired power station at Bell Bay is decommissioned. I understand that one of the reasons that Palisade are forced to seek a very high return in their gas pipeline transmission charges is that they are looking for a return on a $200 million investment.
Now, some in the Tasmanian business community are suggesting that the price of $200 million was inflated and that it should have been between $100 million and $150 million. I have also been reliably informed that the Liberal Party, both state and federal, have known about this looming gas price crisis for a number of years, and it appears they are up to their old tricks of putting this in the too-hard basket when it comes to Tasmania. Regretfully, I am disappointed that, once again—just like the Bass Strait freight cost crisis and the RET crisis and the coastal shipping cost crisis,
which threaten to shut down some of our major businesses—it will take an Independent Tasmanian senator to force the major parties to fix problems which have strangled economic growth and job creation opportunities for decades in Tasmania.
Wayne Bould strongly suggests that the best way to avoid this gas price crisis is for the federal government to put some money, approximately $40 million, into a joint fund with the Tasmanian state government with a view to purchasing our gas pipeline. That way the government takes control of the situation and can guarantee the delivery of competitively priced gas to all Tasmanians for the foreseeable future. Unlike the majority of politicians in this parliament whose focus is on clean energy at any cost, Mr Bould and Tasmanian captains of industry understand that, in order for Tasmania—indeed, Australia—to thrive, prosper and protect workers when competing on unfair overseas markets, we must be able to deliver and guarantee cheap energy to our communities.
When compared to our overseas competitors in America, our industries are paying approximately three times the cost of energy. That means that, for a business to compete, they must cut wages and conditions of Australian workers or just go broke. We do not want either, so we must guarantee our businesses cheaper energy.
In describing his solution to the gas price crisis, Mr Bould said:
Federal government can subsidise the transmission costs, but the other thing I put to you guys the other day is that when you look at the large pledges of money ... that normally occurs when you move to election mode in this crazy three-year cycle ... people start to wave their arms around and say we will put $20 million for this and $30 million for that; it's going to generate some jobs. The first rule for dealing with politics is the jobs never arrive, the money gets spent and predominantly gets wasted.
So if you look at sensibly applying money to infrastructure in Tasmania, and one of the big issues Tasmania has right now is replacement of infrastructure, then you would be better off saying to the government:
'Put some money towards a loan for us to buy out Palisades so that the Tasmanian government could own the pipeline forever and a day.'
There are several ways to do it. One example would be the government stumps up $40 million and, between the state government's AAA borrowing rating and the federal government's AAA rating, we go to an investment bank or an investor of the toll road scenario and say to them: 'You fund the rest of it and you get a return on it for the next four or five years.' But at the end of the four or five years or ten years, the loan is repaid and the Tasmanian government then owns the pipeline. Or alternatively you have a toll on the pipeline for that period of time, but it resumes to the Tasmanian government and that way, ultimately, we get to own it.
The trick is not so much in looking after what comes down the pipeline now but in using it strategically. If we want to build on the north-west and north-east coast or in the midlands and Oatlands then we want to build downstream processing or value-adding processing for niche businesses that take our resources and add value to them, either from the forest or from minerals, or even from agriculture.
Just about every downstream processing plant requires energy and one of the best forms of energy, one of the most efficient forms of energy, the least polluting energy is gas. So if you want to take a hardwood woodchip that is currently being exported to Japan and make it into pellets that can be used for power generation or house frames, or technologically advanced things such as they are making in Scandinavia, you can do that. They are not big businesses but you can have a lot of small businesses. They are all energy dependent so the conversion process from woodchip to whatever your end result output is will always be dependent on energy.
The energy that comes from that gas pipeline can be redeployed to add benefit that will ultimately add downstream jobs and downstream processing. I call on the government, both state and federal, to listen and respect business people like Mr Bould and the Tasmanian economic council, and to act to protect us from this looming Tasmanian gas price crisis.
I rise to contribute to the debate on the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Debit Card Trial) Bill 2015—or the card I like to call the healthy welfare keycard. After being injured during my service in Australia's Army, I know what it is like to live from pay cheque to pay cheque on a disability support pension. I have experienced the anxiety and fear you feel when you are forced to pay for the grocery bill by credit card hoping that you are not about to max it out buying the essentials.
I know how hard it is to manage your money, make ends meet, break out of the cycle of poverty and raise a family while you are struggling to cope with physical and mental pain and the addictions that all too often come with those injuries. I know what it is like to be discriminated against by government agencies and treated like a second-class citizen I understand the fears of discrimination that people may have about the introduction of this new money management initiative. However, the time has come to face up to a few hard realities.
Our kids are needlessly suffering, because too much of our welfare money is being spent on illicit drugs and alcohol. Our mums and dads with diminished capacity through addictions and mental health disabilities are needlessly suffering, because too much of our welfare money is being spent on illicit drugs and alcohol. That is why I support the broad principle that a healthy welfare keycard is based on—namely, that it introduces a cashless method of managing welfare payments for communities which are suffering from a crisis with alcohol and drugs.
Once the teething problems with this new card and its technology are sorted out, I would like a healthy welfare keycard rolled out across the whole of Tasmania. It will save lives and needless personal harm and suffering. It will significantly reduce the rates of family violence and family break-ups. It will reduce the rates of admissions to our hospital accident and emergency departments.
The healthy welfare keycard is also a vital early intervention initiative. Not only will it save lives; it will save a lot of taxpayers' dollars in the long run. As one of the Jacqui Lambie Network senate candidates for Tasmania, Rob Waterman says, 'Every dollar spent on early intervention saves $7.' And that is exactly what the healthy welfare keycard is—an effective and compassionate early intervention initiative, which will save at least $7 for every dollar invested in it. The healthy welfare keycard contains a function whereby an automatic text is sent to a card recipient's phone, stating what the total of their account balance is after every transaction over $10.
This is an important tool, which will help people on welfare better manage their money. It will gently encourage better financial management skills. There are a number of groups of people who will either hate or be very disappointed by the introduction of the healthy welfare keycard. Drug dealers will hate this card, because over time it will mean fewer people will buy their products. Pub, hotel and bottle shop owners will experience reduced profits in the communities where the healthy welfare keycards will be in use. People who make a living from the gambling industry will also experience reduced profits in the communities where the healthy welfare keycard is in use.
This is because, as the explanatory notes reveals:
The trial will test whether significantly reducing access to discretionary cash, by placing a significant proportion of a person's welfare payments into a restricted bank account, can reduce the habitual abuse and associated harm resulting from alcohol, gambling and illegal drugs.
Despite the obvious social and personal benefits which this trial has the great potential to produce, I had and still have reservations about the manner in which this trial is to be conducted. One of the proposed trial sites is the South Australian community of Ceduna. I accompanied Senator Xenophon on a tour of the community on Friday, 2 October and spoke with many people about this trial. While I listened to all the community's concerns, from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, it became apparent that a significant section of the community, mainly non-Indigenous stakeholders, had not been properly consulted with and their interests were not being properly represented.
Based on that meeting I had in Ceduna, I was prepared to vote against this legislation should the government fail to delay presentation of the bill before the Senate. However, after a further meeting I had in my Senate office this Monday with the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Alan Tudge, and more Ceduna community representatives—Greg Franks, Michael Haynes and Wayne Miller—I have decided to support this Turnbull government initiative and trial immediately. I changed my mind after listening to the Ceduna community representatives and also after Assistant Minister Tudge gave a personal undertaking to travel with Senator Xenophon and me back to Ceduna in South Australia over the next month so that we can hear all of the community's concerns and answer their questions honestly and openly.
After my visit to Ceduna, I became very worried that the government was swooping in to 'save the day', without knowing all the facts—but that is not the case. I acknowledge the long, hard detailed work which has been put into this project. After reflecting on his commitment, advocacy and willingness to consult, I have to congratulate Assistant Minister Tudge for his leadership, passion and drive with regard to the healthy welfare keycard. It is also important to acknowledge the courage and bravery that local leaders, both in local government and within the Indigenous community, have displayed. They have borne the brunt of a lot of community heat and criticism. They could have easily folded under the pressure and opposed this initiative, but they knew in their hearts that what they were doing was a good thing for their community and for the generations to come.
So they pressed on and fought the good fight and had the courage to act on the knowledge in their minds and the feelings of love in their hearts for their community. This can teach us all an important lesson. It is one thing to have knowledge and feelings of love; it is another thing to have the courage to act on that knowledge and love and turn thought and feeling into deeds. And that is what we have with this legislation. It is a means for this federal government to resource and fund good deeds through a program which will make the world safer and happier for the communities which are fortunate enough to be selected for the healthy welfare keycard trial.
I am reluctant to make too many comments about Australian billionaires, given my recent, unfortunate and painful experience with one of them. However, if there is one lesson I have learnt from this legislation it is that there are billionaires and there are billionaires. It would be ungracious of me not to acknowledge the hard work of Mr Andrew Forrest, who really is the father of this healthy welfare keycard. Twiggy Forrest is a well-known Australian businessman and entrepreneur. This legislation would not be before this Senate if Twiggy Forrest had not decided to act.
Australian communities suffering from all the harms and illnesses that come with alcohol and drug addictions would not have the hope that comes with the presentation of this legislation. Twiggy is not just responsible for a new card; he is responsible for a new approach to solving the terrible problem of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian disadvantage. The JLN supports Twiggy's 27 recommendations of creating parity and ending disadvantage. I do not care what colour your skins is or what religion you are. If your community is suffering from alcohol or drug addiction then Twiggy's solution for early intervention—particularly through the establishment and integration of early childhood services in the most vulnerable communities and intervention before birth—will be vital for the safety of our children who are placed at risk because of the alcohol and drug addictions of adults.
If this legislation passes this Senate, then, according to the explanatory memorandum, it will: … enable a trial phase of new cashless welfare arrangements in response to a key recommendation from Mr Andrew Forrest’s Review of Indigenous Jobs and Training.
The purpose of the trial is to test the concept of cashless welfare arrangements by disbursing particular welfare payments to a restricted bank account, accessed by a debit card which does not allow cash withdrawals. The trial will test whether significantly reducing access to discretionary cash, by placing a significant proportion of a person’s welfare payments into a restricted bank account, can reduce the habitual abuse and associated harm resulting from alcohol, gambling and illegal drugs. It will also test whether cashless welfare arrangements are more effective when community bodies are involved.
Throughout this debate, the word 'disadvantaged' has been used by me and many other speakers. Many people watching these Senate proceedings or reading Hansard may ask the question, 'What is disadvantage?' Probably the best report I have read that clarifies, describes and quantifies the word 'disadvantage' is a report published by Catholic Social Services and Jesuit Social Services, written by Tony Vinson and Margot Rawsthorne, with Adrian Beavis and Matthew Ericson. Dropping o ff the edge 2015, or DOTE 2015, examines persistent communal social disadvantage in Australia. 'Social disadvantage' was defined as a range of difficulties that reduce a person's opportunities in life and prevent people from participating fully in Australian society. Social disadvantage is calculated by combining statistics and research on criminal convictions, juvenile offending, long- and short term unemployment, youth unemployment, disabilities, lack of formal qualifications, family violence, family incomes, rental assistance—to name just a few social indicators.
In Tasmania, the five most disadvantaged of the 29 local government areas, or 17 per cent, accounted for 64 per cent of our state's top-ranked consistently entrenched place-based disadvantaged people. We have some of the worst rates of unemployment and youth unemployment in Australia. This report shows that the local government authorities which are really doing it hard are Brighton, Central Highlands, Derwent Valley, George Town and Glenorchy.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons why I want to support this trial is that I think it will be a success, and then I will fight hard to have the trial of the healthy welfare card transferred to cover the whole of Tasmania. If it is a success, I have no problem going into bat for it to make sure that the state of Tasmania is first in the receiving line. As Mission Australia's executive summary says in its 2014 youth survey, there is no doubt that in Tasmania:
Inequality and disadvantage remain entrenched in areas of our society with intergenerational poverty becoming well-known. It is becoming increasingly common to understand that this disadvantage is concentrated in some locations. Tasmania is one of those locations. This card will be one of the steps we take to address this crippling social disadvantage.
Other solutions that I have put forward to also address and solve the unemployment crisis and the lack of confidence include supporting an involuntary ice detox and rehabilitation act that gives parents the right to use non-consensual medical treatment on their drug-addicted children; supporting voluntary national service for our young people which will allow them to join the military for a year and learn some skills or participate in trade training and apprenticeships; making areas in Australia where high unemployment is endemic, including most of Tasmania, special economic zones that are payroll tax free; creating a national policy which guarantees the protection of Australia's prime ag land or best farming lands, noting that Australia only has 3.4 per cent prime ag land; guaranteeing the supply of health gold cards to members of the ADF and police who have served overseas in war zones and under warlike conditions, with that to be automatic; supporting the introduction of national legislation which targets members of organised crime groups and their associates, similar to America's RICO laws—the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act; and guaranteeing that Australia's fuel, gas and power are cheaper than our major trading partners' so that our manufacturers, small businesses and farmers can profitably compete in unfair world markets while maintaining wages and standards of living for Australian workers and providing a lot more jobs, especially for our youth.
That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to questions without notice asked by Senator Lambie today, relating to Chinese government donations to Australian political parties and Australia's free trade deal with China.
The report from Australia's leading current affairs program, Four Corners, last night vindicated the warnings I have made about the dangers of money from China which is not properly scrutinised. The answers today and other comments from Liberal government representatives in response to my questions showed that there is no political will from the Turnbull Liberal government to fix the problem of corrupt Chinese government funds purchasing Australian property or Australian political party favours.
There is only a will to cover up the truth, with predictable personal abuse and racist smears. I call for all Australian political parties to ban donations from money linked to China's communist government. Only an independent senator would have asked questions demanding answers about corrupt political payments coming from China because the majority of Australia's main political parties—the Liberals, the Nationals and Labor—are receiving millions of dollars linked to the Chinese state or their associates.
Our leading radio current affairs program, AM , on Radio National recently reported that:
The flood of Chinese money into Australia's hot real estate market has prompted calls for new rules that would force solicitors and real estate agents to report suspicious financial transactions.
A Four Corners investigation has found no Australian agency is charged with identifying the true source of foreign funds streaming in from China.
Insiders say unless Australia asks more questions, or enforces better standards, it could inadvertently become a safe haven for corrupt funds. It is stunning that one of our most important national watchdogs, the Foreign Investment Review Board, deems the issue of dirty money to be outside its scope of responsibility! I will quote again from the Radio National report:
Two former board members have confirmed concerns about offshore corruption are rarely discussed, even though $US1.25 trillion worth of corrupt and criminal proceeds from China is estimated to have been spent around the world in the decade to 2012. No federal authority checks the source of Chinese investment unless there are obvious concerns about drug trafficking or other serious crimes.
But Raymond Baker from Washington DC's Global Financial Integrity says ignorance could cost Australia. Mr Baker is being kind when he describes as ignorance the fact that no Australian agency is charged with identifying the true source of foreign funds streaming in from China. It is not ignorance. It is deliberate, it is seditious, it is criminal because no-one could be so stupid to stand by and allow the sell-off of Australia and the undermining of our national security and sovereignty to Chinese communist crooks.
Unfortunately for Australia's future generations our food, water, energy, national security and workers' security are being compromised by the dirty deals the Liberal, National and Labor party members of this parliament are prepared to do with those who owe their wealth to the small group of elite people that rule the Chinese people.
The answers given by the minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis, only confirmed the very serious threat that the China free trade agreement poses to Australia—threats to national sovereignty, workers' job security and proper scrutiny of investment from a country which everyone knows is an international bully, thief and liar.
Right now China is, firstly, flexing its military muscles in the international waters of the South China Sea and bullying international shipping. As I speak, the Americans are even risking an armed confrontation with China by sailing through contested international waters. Secondly, China is stealing every piece of data and intellectual property not nailed down in cyberspace. And I am yet to find one economic expert who is willing to say they trust any financial or economic figures to come out of mainland China.
Clearly the Chinese government is an international bully, thief and liar and is a serious security threat to Australia and its allies. These latest media reports, combined with the evasive, predictable condescending replies to my questions, show that the Chinese government and its ruling communist elite have been caught out using their unlimited financial might to infiltrate Australians by stealth and attack our national security and sovereignty so that they can further their national interests and gradually impose their corrupt, totalitarian culture on us.
As one veteran of the Korean War said:
What the Chinese failed to do by the bullet and bomb in the 1950's, they're now doing with their cheque book's and political donations in 2015.
Senator Lambie: My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Brandis. I refer the minister to a recent ABC Four Corners report which said:
But there are hidden dangers in doing business with China: endemic corruption; a lack of transparency in both business and the legal system, and questions about where the money is coming from and whether ill-gotten gains are being laundered.
"China (is) by far the biggest exporter of illicit capital."
With billions of dollars flowing out of China, international money laundering experts are warning that some of it is making its way into Australia:
I also refer the minister to the Australian Electoral Commission figures which show that since 2007 the Liberal Party have accepted almost $2 million in political donations from two businessmen closely linked to the Chinese communist government. Can the minister give this Senate a guarantee that the Chinese money funding his party's election campaigns was not laundered ill-gotten gains? I want a guarantee. Senator BRANDIS : I did not see the program to which you refer. I am generally aware of it. I saw a promotional advertisement for it, so I am generally aware of the kind of allegations that were made in that program. I have no basis on which to judge the veracity or the accuracy of any allegations that were made during the course of that program. I acquaint you with what the Commonwealth does do to protect the Australian national interest in relation to corrupt foreign payments. Under section 70.2 of the Criminal Code we have the offence of 'foreign bribery', whereby a person is guilty of an offence if the person provides, causes or offers a benefit to another person, the benefit is not legitimately due and the person does so with the intention of influencing a foreign public official in the exercise of the official's duties in order to obtain business or obtain a business advantage that is not legitimately due. As well, Australia is a party to the OECD antibribery convention and has been since 1999. Australia is in fact a member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery. In 2012 the working group on bribery evaluated Australia's implementation of the antibribery convention. The evaluation report made 33 recommendations to enhance our antibribery regime. In December 2014, the OECD published the response, and the OECD ... I have a very high level of confidence that all donations to the Liberal Party are compliant with all relevant Commonwealth and state laws. Senator LAMBIE: Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to the Australian Electoral Commission's figures, which show that, since 2007, the National, Liberal and Labor parties have accepted at least $4.8 million in political donations from three businessmen—Dr Chau, Mr Chun and Mr Huang—who are closely linked to the Chinese communist government.
Can the minister detail the steps his government has taken to guarantee that those funds are not from corrupt activities?
Senator BRANDIS: I am not familiar with any of the three men whose names you have mentioned, and I have no idea whether they have an association with the Chinese Communist Party or not. I am also not familiar with the particular report to which you refer, so I cannot comment on whether or not that is an accurate representation of what the Australian Electoral Commission has reported. I cannot speak, of course, for the Australian Labor Party, but I can tell you, Senator Lambie, that the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Liberal National Party in Queensland and Senator Scullion from the Country Liberal Party in the Northern Territory—the family of political parties which I represent in this chamber—all take their legal and compliance obligations in relation to political donations very seriously.
Senator LAMBIE: Mr President, I ask a final supplementary question. Can the minister give a guarantee that millions of dollars of suspect political donations linked to the Chinese government have not influenced the creation of a dodgy free trade deal which undermines Australian sovereignty, threatens Australian workers' job security and dramatically decreases scrutiny on investment from a country which is a bully, a thief, a liar and a serious security threat to this nation? Senator BRANDIS: I think it is a great pity that you refer to the government of China, which is a country with which Australia has and has had for very many years a very friendly relationship, in those terms. I think that is very injudicious of you, Senator Lambie. You will not find me expressing anything other than pride in the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement because, for the reasons that some of my colleagues have expanded upon during question time today, the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement represents a unique opportunity for Australia to prosper, to grow our markets, to grow jobs for small, medium and large businesses, and to have unparalleled entry into the market of our greatest trading partner. So we are unabashedly proud of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.
I rise to oppose the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014 and to make a brief contribution to the debate. As this government legislation stands now, I cannot support it, because, as it reads, it creates the potential for undermining and lessening Australian workers' rights and the safety of workplaces. Specifically, the areas of the bill with that potential are part 4, 'Individual flexibility arrangements', or IFAs, where the legislation creates the possibility of overtime rates, penalty rates, allowances and leave loadings being taken away from vulnerable workers; part 8, where it limits the right of entry of union representatives into workplaces; and part 9, about employee termination, where the Fair Work Commission, or FWC, is not required to hold a hearing or conduct a conference when determining whether to dismiss an unfair dismissal application under section 399A or section 587.
I will be honest: I am doubtful that this legislation will live up to its title of 'fair work'. So today, on behalf of Tasmanian workers, I oppose the passage of this legislation. However, once the leadership of this Senate and of this ministerial portfolio is settled, I would be happy to sit down with our new Prime Minister and his new minister, whoever that may be, and negotiate in good faith for the passage of this legislation after certain changes and guarantees from Prime Minister Turnbull that have been outlined by other crossbench senators, including Senator Xenophon.
I hear the Labor Party's arguments and warnings about this legislation. I think their concerns are legitimate, and this legislation needs to be drastically improved to protect workers' pay and conditions. However, I know that, under the leadership of Mr Abbott and Mr Truss, this conservative government had an aggressive, hostile attitude to Australian workers and their representatives. That makes me less likely to trust this Liberal-National government and its industrial relations legislation.
In recent times, there have been a few key examples of Australians being sacked and replaced by cheap overseas workers. The network of people I will lead to the next election is founded on four key policy principles. The first is food and water security, the second is energy security, the third is national security and the fourth, as always, is Australian job security. This legislation and the Liberal-National attitude towards sacking Australian workers and replacing them with overseas labour could be a lethal combination for our working families, and it attacks the principle of Australian job security. Senator Nash in her contribution talked about giving dignity and respect to Australian workers. But where was dignity and respect for our workers when 36 Australian maritime workers were sacked and replaced by cheap foreign workers on Caltex's oil tanker Alexander Spirit? There was no dignity and there was no respect for those good people, those hardworking Australians.
Instead of fighting for those workers' jobs, members of the Liberal government became cheerleaders for foreign workers. They were foreign maritime workers who were not required to undergo rigorous security, criminal history and health checks by ASIO, the Federal Police and other government agencies. All Australian maritime workers are required to undergo rigorous security, criminal history and health checks by ASIO, the Federal Police and other government agencies before they are allowed to work on board our ships. That is a reasonable risk management strategy to have in place, given that crews are in charge of vessels like oil and gas tankers, which could easily explode or be made to malfunction, with devastating consequences to the Australian public and our environment.
So why would the Liberal government make it easier for overseas crews, with no Australian security or health checks, to operate oil and gas tankers in our coastal waters and ports? There was no dignity and respect for the 32 Australian workers employed on North Star Cruises in Western Australia who stood to lose their jobs if their boss, Bill Milby, followed the advice coming out of the Deputy Prime Minister's office. I was shocked when I heard that respected maritime businessman, Mr Bill Milby, from North Star Cruises, had been told by an Abbott government official that 'If he wanted to make more money and compete with the foreign competition—after proposed Liberal changes to the Coastal Shipping Act were passed by this Senate—Bill should sack his Australian crew on board his Australian built cruise liner and replace them with cheap foreign workers.' I invited Bill to my Senate office for a chat.
Bill repeated what he was told by the staff of the Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister. I believe Mr Milby told the truth. But I cannot understand why this Liberal-National government is so keen to kill off Australian workers' jobs and replace them with overseas workers? Is it just an insane hatred of unions and their workers? Does their hatred go that deep that they are prepared to trade off Australian jobs for foreign workers? I think this question has to be asked. One of the worst examples I have seen of this government's eagerness to sack Australian workers and replace them with foreign labour is in the manufacturing of defence clothing. The situation is described in an email I received from Michele O'Neil, the Secretary of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia.
Further to my email of 7 July 2015, l am writing to update you on the latest developments in our campaign to secure our members' jobs at the Workwear Group's factory in Footscray. We have been informed that Minister Kevin Andrews and the DM0 have made the wrong decision. They have decided not to place further orders with The Workwear Group, resulting in the company announcing that our members will lose their jobs in September. There is still time to change Minister Andrews' mind. Your support and efforts over the last few months resulted in our members still working today. Applying further pressure on the Defence Minister, urging him to change his decision, could save these 45 workers' jobs. I have attached a letter addressed to the Minister calling on him to make the right decision this time. I have to add that it is 'funny' that Kevin Andrews cannot work out the right way to spend $100 million, yet he is in charge of a portfolio that is worth billions of dollars—and he is justifying why he should keep his job! Maybe it is time he went.
Today, I once again call on the new Prime Minister, as an expression of good faith, to show that his government's hostile attitude towards Australian workers has changed and to personally intervene, along with his new defence minister—because the old one should be sacked for the way he has betrayed these workers—and ensure that the factory stays open, that Australian defence clothing manufacturing jobs are secure and that we keep a viable, local and competitive industry for government uniform supply. I will not even go into security.
In his second reading address to parliament, Minister Pyne said:
The measures in the bill will help encourage investment in new projects that are important to the Australian economy by preventing unions from vetoing greenfields agreements. I am willing to talk about that point with the Prime Minister and his new defence minister.
However, I close by making this point. If we want to encourage investment in Australia and maintain Australian workers' wages and conditions, we must:
(1) guarantee that Australia's fuel, gas and power are cheaper than our major trading partners so that our manufactures, small businesses and farmers can profitably compete on unfair world markets whilst maintaining the wages and standard of living of Australian workers;
(2) legislate to make sure that state and federal governments buy local first in their procurement policy and support local manufacturing, even if it means paying a few more dollars than they do to overseas competitors—and I am talking about our steel making industry and workers;
(3) support voluntary national service for our young people, which would allow them to join the military for a year and learn some skills or participate in trade training and apprenticeships. I oppose the legislation before the House.
Today's matter of public importance is an exciting opportunity for Prime Minister Turnbull to show the Australian people that he is different from the old PM and that he truly cares for the men and women of our defence forces. As most people will recall, the former Prime Minister liked getting his photo regularly taken with members of the Australian Defence Force. But, despite his apparent affection, the former PM betrayed and used our diggers when he failed to deliver a fair pay rise to them.
This injustice was partly remedied after an extra pay rise was reluctantly offered to our defence community, but only after a big public backlash and my threat to block all legislation until the Australian Defence Force received a fair pay rise. As well as our Australian Defence Force still being left out of pocket, this shameful incident proved that we needed to find a better way to guarantee that our diggers receive a fair pay rise.
I offered the Senate a solution to the Australian Defence Force pay crisis, in the form of a private member's bill which automatically linked Army, RAAF and Navy pay rises to the pay rises of politicians or the CPI, whichever was the higher amount. After debate this Senate voted on and passed the Defence Amendment (Fair Pay for Members of the ADF) Bill 2014.
This bill now sits in the other place—the House of Representatives—awaiting a final debate, vote and passage to the Governor-General for the signature of assent. Through this discussion on today's matter of public importance this Senate is again able to remind the Liberal and National parties about unfinished business they have with regard to our diggers' pay. If the Liberals and Nationals follow their old path of never giving an inch to the crossbench senators and not listening to reason and common sense then there is no point in changing Prime Ministers.
I know that this new PM has genuine respect for and close links with our Australian Defence Force. I ask him to seriously consider the message that this Senate has sent—not only once but, including, today twice—to this parliament and the Australian government.
In closing I want to counter the misleading comments and arguments that the National and Liberal party members made in this Senate when they opposed my private members bill. The Australian people will not stand for Liberal and National members hiding behind nitpicking, sly and false arguments when it comes to fair pay rises for members of our Australian Defence Force.
Linking Defence Force wage rises to the wage rises of politicians — or the CPI, whichever is higher — will not mean that our Australian Defence Force members receive less pay. That is rubbish. Parliamentary Library research reveals that the average yearly rise in defence pay over the last 10 years is only three per cent. This stands in stark contrast with the average yearly rise in politicians' pay, which since 2004 is almost seven per cent. The calculations include the politicians' pay rise in 2012 of 34.3 per cent and the last two years when politicians' pay has been frozen. The weighted median figure for the CPI is 2.4 per cent.
On Wednesday 4 March former PM Abbott asked the Chief of the Defence Force to take a proposed pay increase of only 0.5 per cent to the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal, making for a total Australian Defence Force pay rise of two per cent. In 2000 the Chief of the Defence Force received $305,000 per annum. The latest figures show that the Chief of the Defence Force in 2014 took home $764,000 that year. That means the person asked by Mr Abbott to increase ordinary diggers' pay, by a mingy 0.5 per cent, in the last 14 years had his own pay increased by almost $460,000, or 250 per cent. It is clear that if the private members bill regarding Australian Defence Force pay is passed by the House of Representatives our diggers would be guaranteed a fair pay rise over the next 10 years without having to be subjected to the current flawed and biased Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal, which has betrayed them while tribunal members have enjoyed pay rises of 250 per cent over the last 10 years.
This unjust system must be changed for the better—and the Prime Minister has the power today to deliver justice and fair pay finally and once and for all to our Australian Defence Force families.
I rise to oppose the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Bill 2015. The main purpose of this bill is to facilitate Australia becoming a founding and substantial financial member of the Australian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
The title of his bank and legislation is fundamentally misleading. It is not Asia that has established his bank; it is China. China announced its intention to establish the bank in October 2013 and is driving this project. If China had chosen not to project its economic power into Asia and the South Pacific through the establishment of this bank, this debate would not be happening today in our parliament. Upfront, if we are to be honest, it should be called the 'China and Other Countries Infrastructure Investment bank', not the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
There are many reasons not to agree to this legislation, but before I detail the most common found in our media I would like to make this point: this financial organisation will be controlled and heavily influenced by the communist government of China.
The Parliamentary Library report states: To illustrate the disparity in voting power, China, the largest AIIB shareholder will have 297,804 Share Votes while the Maldives will have just 72 Share Votes. A weighted voting system ensures decision-making reflects the relative size of a country’s capital contribution. However, it potentially creates a longer-term challenge because of the need to ensure the distribution of power within the organisation keeps pace with shifts in relative economic power. In multilateral organisations, representation and voice can be strongly linked to perceptions of legitimacy and effectiveness. As China will have over a quarter of the votes, under the AIIB’s Articles of Agreement it will have an effective veto over issues requiring a ‘super majority’, defined as 75 per cent of votes and two-thirds of all member countries. The types of issues requiring a super majority include selecting the President, increasing the capital stock of the AIIB and changing the size and composition of the Board of Directors. However, this is not without precedent. The United States is the only country to have a veto over major governance decisions at the IMF and World Bank.
No serious financial expert or commentator will ever say you can trust any financial figures that emerge from the government of China. Because of a lack of transparency and basic integrity, all financial figures and reports that are created by the Chinese government are viewed by every free-world Western economy and every Australian peak body representing Australian business as suspect and to be taken with a grain of salt.
Just like the Chinese free trade agreement, we are making the mistake of entering into a deal with an organisation that is not like any private sector entity in the Western world—because it is not a private sector entity with the same rigorous, trustworthy reporting mechanisms. This bank will be an arm of the Chinese communist government just like its military, whose purpose will be to protect, expand and spread the influence of communist, not democratic, culture.
The influence of the Chinese government is being felt in this parliament today through at least $5.5 million in political donations from people linked to the Chinese government, so it is little wonder that there will be little or no resistance to this legislation which the Australian bankers are all supporting. The Australian banking industry is another group of people who have considerable influence in this parliament due to the amount of political donations they give to political parties and the people who have come from the banking industry and now occupy high positions of authority in our political system. It is not just me who has expressed grave concerns about the establishment of the 'China and Other Countries Bank' and participation in it.
Some very respected people and sources have raised serious concerns, which the Australian government is now ignoring by entering into this deal. From Huey Fern Tay, the ABC journalist based in Beijing: China is the biggest shareholder at 30%, Australia is 6th largest with 4.9% voting power—putting us at a great disadvantage. And: Japan and US refuse to join—why? Well the AIIB doubles up on the World Bank and Asia Development Bank. There are still doubts surrounding the AIIB's transparency and governance standards, even though Australia waited for those to be improved before joining.
ABC business reporter Stephen Letts writes that the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is: … self-serving as China hopes the AIIB will be a better way to deploy its massive foreign exchange reserves, which are earning almost nothing in the US Treasury bonds.
From The Economist we read: … China will use the new bank to expand its influence at the expense of America and Japan, Asia's established powers. China's decision to fund a new multilateral bank rather than give more to existing ones reflects its exasperation with the glacial pace of global economic governance reform.
Yun Sun, writing in The Diplomat, has said that China has capital share of 30 per cent and voting rights of 26.06 per cent and: … will have veto power on issues that require a supermajority vote, such as the board, the president, the capital, as well as the major operational and financial policies. Retention of a veto reflects China's determination to retain control on key aspects of the bank.
Most Australians will remember the surprise visit of a flotilla of three Chinese warships which sailed past our territorial waters and Christmas Island in February 2014 on a military exercise that included combat simulations. The media report of the incident said: Never before has a Chinese naval drill come so close to Australia. … … … This month's exercise took the theory a good step closer to reality, bringing China's bold ambitions virtually to Australia's doorstep. In doing so, it has crystallised the challenge facing our military planners in preparing for a very different world.
On the subject of China's military might, I think of its recent parade. While our military planners are preparing for a very different world because of the rapid increase in Chinese military might and the willingness of the Chinese government to use that might, it appears that the Liberal and National Party leaders and members of this parliament, with their calls to rush into a free trade agreement with China and this legislation, have not prepared for a very different world. Australia's purchase of hundreds of billions of dollars of sophisticated military hardware—F35 fighter jets and submarines—is because of the very real military threat the Chinese communist government poses to our nation and our allies. This is a simple statement of fact not, as some would have you believe, a xenophobic rant.
Most Australians would be shocked to learn of the size of the donations to our major political parties by people who have links—most likely strong links—to the Chinese communist government. Especially in the light of the approval of the Chinese government state owned Shenhua mine, the question must be asked and answered: what political influence does this money—$5.5 million—buy?
This government wants the Australian people to rush into both a banking deal and trade deal with a country which recently put on a parade which The Economist magazine described as: 'a show of military muscle in Beijing to upset Asian neighbours'. Indeed, so aggressive was the display of Chinese military might this year that every western government chose not to send their leaders to a ceremony whose primary purpose was to celebrate victory over the imperialist Japanese forces and fascism. This was a conflict on mainland China in World War II which killed 35 million Chinese and tied up 600,000 Japanese troops, a feat of resistance by the Chinese people which most likely prevented the invasion of Australia. Tuesday, 15 September 2015 THE SENATE 14 CHAMBER
This government has had a very mixed approached to China. Our previous Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, boycotted China's most important cultural event in six years because of fears about China's military aggression and expansionism, while his party urges this Senate to support legislation like the China free trade agreement which undermines our nation's sovereignty—and I refer to the investor state dispute settlement provisions which allow the Chinese government to sue our government if we pass legislation thought this house which the Chinese believe harms their commercial interests. The government's own figures reveal that Chinese investment in Australia in the last 10 years has increased —without a China infrastructure bank or a free trade deal—by a factor of 10. It has risen from $3 billion to $32 billion.
The average Australian would like to know where the Chinese money has been spent. How many Australian jobs have been created and where are they? Before we enter into this deal and others there needs to be more comprehensive community discussion that engages ordinary Australians, not just the elite, from both sides of the political divide. Media reports indicate that the American President has stopped using a famous hotel chain because of espionage fears after the hotel chain was bought by people linked to the Chinese government.
Are we going to call the American President xenophobic because his administration is taking precautions and is vigilant about Chinese espionage and other forms of cultural and industrial attacks on western values of democracy and liberty? In the national interests of Australia I oppose this legislation and course of action. There are better ways of conducting business with China which respect our democratic values and our rule of law and guard our children's liberty and freedoms.
Today I referred journalist Stephen Drill to the Press Council of Australia for investigation after he interviewed and posted a video of my son for the Herald Sun and other Murdoch media websites.
Unlike Mr Drill, my purpose in publicly disclosing controversial personal information about my son was to protect and persuade him to voluntarily accept ice detox and drug rehabilitation, because we do not have involuntary detox in this country.
It was a risk; however, I felt I had no other option open to me because he was in grave danger.
It worked. Early last week, my son contacted me and agreed to treatment, which I immediately organised with the help of a barrister and the staff of Teen Challenge, a national organisation that specialises in drug rehabilitation.
Everything was going smoothly until Mr Drill contacted my son and interviewed him last Friday.
When Mr Drill conducted his interview, my son was vulnerable, drug affected, with diminished capacity and part of an official drug rehab program, having signed a Teen Challenge document two days earlier.
As part of this Press Council investigation, I would like Mr Drill to explain why, after the interview, my son chose to leave home again and stop his rehabilitation process.
There may be other journalists who are tempted to copy Mr Drill and use the public interest excuse to chase my son for an interview.
My message is simple: interview him by all means, but only after he is rehabilitated and back in control of his actions and thoughts.
I will deal with the criticism that I am bad parent and a worse politician then. Because, if you chase him or any other ice addict at this stage of their rehabilitation, you are endangering their recovery and acting as a mouthpiece for a dangerous drug addiction that will do anything and say anything in order to be fed and nourished.
The bottom line is that my son would have been in rehab today if Mr Drill had not contacted him.
That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Employment (Senator Abetz) to a question without notice asked by Senator Lambie today relating to policies concerning methamphetamines. One of the criticisms levelled by supporters of this Abbott government at independent crossbench senators is that we fail to put forward positive suggestions. This, of course, is not true. Those accusations are just part of a clever political campaign to deflect attention from the obvious dysfunction and incompetence of the Abbott- Truss Liberal and National party government.
Today my questions to Senator Abetz were again positive suggestions regarding practical legislative solutions for the problem of ice addiction in our children. My offer to work cooperatively with the government to introduce these new and historic national laws to help and empower parents with ice-addicted children was genuine— because, as most of you in this chamber will know by my disclosures in here and in public, I am personally affected.
Before I turn to the detail of Senator Abetz's reply to my questions, it is important to note that during the 14 months I have been sitting in this Senate, I have put forward and spoken about many positive policy initiatives. And this hung parliament has produced genuine consultation not chaos—as the Murdoch-Liberal cheer squad would have Australia believe. The critics saying that a hung Senate creates chaos are just following the script Mr Murdoch wrote for the conservative party in England.
But, as they are about to find out, when it comes to national leadership the Prime Minister is no David Cameron. Like other crossbench senators, in 14 months I have voted for many pieces of government legislation, amounting to billions of dollars which will benefit the best interests of Australia and my state of Tasmania. On the question of whether this parliament should support legislation which allows non-consensual treatment for ice addicts or not, my community advisers have provided me with one statement which should end any argument against the merits of involuntary medical treatment: between 37 per cent and 61 per cent of amphetamine users end up in our jail system in Australia.
Or, in other words, between 37 per cent and 61 per cent of ice users end up in a situation where they are forced into non-consensual detention without a guarantee of proper medical treatment. So my simple point to those who oppose my legislation—and I acknowledge the possibility of government support—is this. If your loved one who is hooked on ice doesn't die or is not seriously injured or does not seriously harm some innocent on their journey to hell, it is more than likely that the state will take their liberty away from them when they are sentenced to jail. So would it not be better to take our children's liberty away from them at an early part of their self-destructive journey and save all the heartache, harm and expense and guarantee they will receive proper medical treatment?
When the cost of providing proper medical services for our ice-addicted is raised, the predictable question of 'where are you going to get the money for that?' is naturally going to be asked. Despite what Senator Abetz says, it is reasonable to question all government spending, including the cost of the military action in the Middle East. The Tasmania government recently announced $4.8 million over four years will provide us with 12 rehabilitation beds for Tasmania's north-west ice addicts. I have been informed that the true cost of delivering one bomb in a Middle East airstrike could be up to $5 million.
So, in other words, for each bomb dropped in Syria and Iraq by our RAAF our governments could deliver 12 new ice rehab beds. The Parliamentary Library has confirmed that the total number of Australian airstrikes for the latest Middle East war over a 12-month period to August this year is 119, with up to 447 individual bombs being dropped. At a minimum, the true cost of this military action will be $595 million, and it could be as high as more than $2 billion when you consider the cost of support aircraft, including refuelling tankers, air command aircraft, other support aircraft and aircrew rescue resources.
The bottom line is that $595 million would fund 1,428 rehab beds. The cost of fighting terrorists in the Middle East should be met by the rich countries in the Middle East—Saudi Arabia, for example—who make hundreds of billions of dollars in profits each year through oil, and not by Australian taxpayers, who have better and more urgent things to spend our public money on. Here is a positive suggestion: let's spend our money on rehab beds for Australia's ice addicted children, not on bombs in the Middle East.
Question agreed to.