Browsing articles in "Shadow Ministerial Hansard"
Nov 8, 2016

Private Members’ Business – Northern Australian Tourism Industry and Small Businesses

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (16:52): I certainly will agree with the member for Capricornia that her electorate in Central Queensland, and indeed, all of northern Australia, has a lot to offer the tourism sector. That is why it is so disappointing that this government is ignoring the tourism sector.

Just two weeks ago, during the break, I was at the Australian Regional Tourism Network national conference in Roma in western Queensland. There you would expect the tourism minister to be, perhaps, but he did not bother to go; perhaps the parliamentary secretary to the tourism minister—did not bother to go. Indeed, no-one bothered to go from the coalition to that conference in the electorate of Maranoa. Can I say that the comment from regional tourism operators at that conference was to express dismay at the lack of support that they are receiving from this government.

The motion refers to support for northern Australia. Of course, the northern Australia infrastructure fund, which was announced some 18 months ago in the 2015 budget, has not had a single dollar allocated from it—some 18 months; not a single project. Labor announced during the election campaign our plan to allocate $1 billion specifically from that fund for a northern Australia tourism infrastructure fund—supported by people like the now member for Solomon—for projects targeting the expanding Asian tourism market; projects promoting Australia’s natural environment, such as the Great Barrier Reef; ecotourism; Indigenous tourism ventures; event-based facilities, including stadium and convention centres; and transport and access upgrades, including for ports and airports. Since the election, I have had three round tables in northern Australia on tourism—in Darwin, in Alice Springs and in Cairns. At each of those meetings—

A government member interjecting

Mr ALBANESE: I will be in Western Australia on Sunday and Monday. The fact is that this government has ignored northern Australia. They also have some hide coming in here at a time when, over in the other place, in the Senate they are considering an increase in the backpacker tax and an increase in the passenger movement charge on everyone who comes to and from Australia. It is extraordinary. Here they are, now, arguing with a new tax that will have an increased revenue from their proposition in 2015 that somehow it is going down. It is that sort of Orwellian nonsense that the tourism sector is slamming them over—just like the passenger movement charge, with no consultation with the tourism sector whatsoever.

The fact is that since they announced their backpacker tax changes numbers are down. That is why they have had to revise their position and do a semi-backflip. They may well have to do a fair bit more, because it has been rejected by the agriculture and tourism sectors as simply not doing enough. Tourism is a super-growth sector. It already employs one million Australians. It contributes $107 billion to the Australian economy, and every dollar spent in tourism generates another 92c in other parts of the economy.

We can talk about our tourism policy because during the election campaign we released one, a comprehensive plan for tourism. Those opposite did not release a tourism policy during the 2016 election. Having shown contempt for the sector, in their first term, by refusing to have a tourism minister, by not being able to say what department tourism would be located in, they rubbed it in by having no policy announced. Then, the tourism minister, in his first contribution, described the passenger movement charge as being a golden goose strangling the industry—just before they announced they would increase it. (Time expired)

Nov 8, 2016

Report on joint Standing Committee on Treaties

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:23): Labor support the ratification of the Paris Agreement and the Doha amendment to the Kyoto protocol. That is because we believe that it is imperative that we act to avoid dangerous climate change. But we do have a range of concerns: firstly, the target that Australia committed to under the agreement is quite inadequate. It lacks ambition that is required in order for us to advance and play our part. Secondly, the government has not outlined any mechanism to ensure that these modest targets can be achieved. Thirdly, we do want to ensure that communities that are impacted by the shift to a carbon-constrained economy—such as the community in the Latrobe Valley around the Hazelwood power station, that we have seen the closure of announced—are provided with appropriate support for economic restructuring. That has to happen in advance; we should not wait until announcements such as the one of a couple of weeks ago. Indeed, when we were in government we established economic transition plans, including for the Latrobe Valley. It is a pity that the current government cut $9.6 million from that plan when they came to office after the 2013 election.

Labor comes to this debate with a very strong record of commitment to international agreements aimed at addressing climate change. Australia, of course, signed the Kyoto protocol on 24 April 1998, but it took the election of a Labor government to actually get that agreement ratified. I am very proud of the fact that we did that, on 12 December 2007, as the very first act of the Rudd Labor government. On the afternoon of the day that we were sworn in to the ministry at Yarralumla, that agreement was ratified and signed by Prime Minister Rudd. Our predecessors had done nothing about the issue and, indeed, continued to be dominated by climate change sceptics and argue against the science of climate change, as well as against taking action to avoid dangerous climate change. As a result, as Labor’s environment spokesperson, I introduced the Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol Ratification) Bill to the parliament on 14 February 2005. At that time, I said:

This is not a debate about Right or Left. This is a debate about right and wrong. It is a debate about old ways or new paths. It is not a debate about blame; it is a debate about real solutions to problems that are real now, but potentially catastrophic if not addressed.

In spite of the fact that there was a global movement, including here in Australia, the government of the day was very unmoved. We took action not just to ratify the Kyoto protocol but to put in place a pathway to a carbon constrained economy. We put a price on carbon as a prelude to the creation of an emissions trading scheme. Indeed, we saw the coalition become not just climate change sceptics but market sceptics in opposing the emissions trading scheme. We put in place, as part of the climate change blueprint, announced by Kim Beazley with me as the shadow environment minister, the 20 per cent by 2020 renewable energy target. At the time of that announcement, the target was two per cent. We essentially would not have had an effective renewable energy industry without that increase of the target. We provided significant support for the development of alternative power sources. We provided compensation to help low-income earners cope with the effects of change. We invested more in public transport than all previous governments combined, thereby lowering emissions in the transport sector. We understood that it needed a whole-of-government approach.

That was followed, it must be said, by a period in which there was an attempt to have a consensus among sensible people across the parliament. Indeed, the member for Wentworth, in 2010, said this as the member for Wentworth:

It truly requires us to think as a species, not just to think as individuals.

…   …   …

… in order to do that … we must make a dramatic reduction in the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Now you can look at the targets, 50 per cent the common sort of rubric rule of thumb is to cut emissions by 2050 … I promise you, you cannot achieve that cut … without getting to a point by mid-century where all or almost all of our stationary energy, that is to say energy from power stations and big factories and so forth comes from zero emission sources.

Such a strong and a principled view, but that, of course, was Malcolm Turnbull as the member for Wentworth, not Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister. As Prime Minister, he has embraced the so-called Direct Action Plan that he ridiculed when it was proposed by Tony Abbott, the member for Warringah, as the opposition leader. So what we have is a change of Prime Minister but not a change of climate change strategy. And that is unfortunate indeed, because this Prime Minister does know better, but this Prime Minister is frozen in time while the world warms around him. We know that each and every year we are seeing it coming through in the figures—whether it be year-on-year, or the hottest month, or the hottest week, or the hottest season—around the globe and we need to take action.

The Paris Agreement came into force last Friday with enough of the large emitters already having signed up to ensure that it was put in place in record time. It is good that Labor will be part of the agreement but, as Labor members of the committee have noted, we are disappointed at its lack of ambition. Under the coalition, Australia’s commitment to the world in the Paris Agreement is to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. There is broad concern that that level of commitment is not consistent with keeping temperature rise below two degrees Celsius, and ideally, 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the agreement targets. For example, Bloomberg New Energy Finance has said:

Australia’s current emissions reduction target of 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 should thus be regarded as a low-case scenario. Australia’s final 2030 target is likely to be higher and somewhere between this and a high-case scenario of 45-63 per cent, which is Australia’s fair share of burden to limit warming to 2 degrees C.

It is very clear that we do need to be more ambitious.

Whatever the target is, we need an effective mechanism to get there. We need a target linked to total emissions. We need to have a renewable energy target after 2020. We need to ensure that we provide support to bodies like ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. We need to make sure that there is a whole-of-government response. As it is now, importantly, national emissions are projected to keep growing to 2020, and likely beyond, until Australia has a real climate change policy. This is an issue which we have a responsibility to deal with not just for us but for our children and our grandchildren. This is an intergenerational equity issue beyond all others, which is why this parliament must show leadership and it is critical that Australia play our role as good global citizens.

Oct 20, 2016

Bills – Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:54): I want to take the opportunity to raise the issue of cities. Of course, I am somewhat concerned that whilst the new Prime Minister has said that he is concerned about the urban agenda and cities, he has in fact downgraded the role to the role of a parliamentary secretary and has not reversed any of the significant changes that were made by the Abbott government. Tony Abbott, as Prime Minister, explicitly said there was no role for the Commonwealth in our cities. The Major Cities Unit remains disbanded, as does the Urban Policy Forum. Infrastructure Australia has been marginalised, and the State of Australian Cities reports have failed to be produced under this government.

Indeed, when you look at cities policy, urban congestion and support for public transport needs to be at the forefront. The budget papers show that in 2019-20—that is, the last year of the forward estimates—public transport funding and funding for rail transport will fall to a very round number that the assistant minister should be able to remember, because it is zero. Not a single dollar is allocated in 2019-20 for public transport by this government. That is because the public transport projects that were funded by the previous government—like the Redcliffe rail line, Gold Coast Light Rail, and the Regional Rail Link in Victoria—have of course all been opened, same as the Noarlunga to Seaford line in Adelaide and the Perth City Link. That is of considerable concern.

I am also concerned about the government’s support for what it calls City Deals, which really look to me as though they are just matching Labor government commitments. Certainly, in Townsville and in Launceston, that is all it did, including the former member for Herbert—it might explain why he is the former member for Herbert. It held out and opposed the funding of the Townsville stadium, which would be a part of revitalising Townsville as a city. The government belatedly matched that, missed out on the euphoria of the Cowboys’ win in last year’s grand final and could not even pick up on the importance of that for that city.

In Tasmania it simply matched the funding for the University of Tasmania that had been announced many months before by Labor. I would be interested in which councils will be involved in the proposed City Deal for Western Sydney. A City Deal is supposed to encourage economic growth across a region. What is the actual budget for City Deals beyond that which have been announced in the guise of City Deals by this government across the forward estimates? If it is going to be real—certainly, I think there is some prospect of some success here—it needs to be more than a political exercise, matching Labor’s funding commitments.

Finally, I would ask: why is it that the Australian government is not participating in Habitat III, which is taking place as we speak in Quito in Ecuador? This is a once-in-20-years conference that is as significant as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or other major conferences. The UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development is critical. The new urban agenda was proposed as part of the Paris conference that the Australian government participated in. This is a very significant conference indeed. There are 50,000 participants in this conference—governments from all around the world acknowledging that how cities function will be critical to sustainability and dealing with the challenge of climate change. The Australian government has chosen not to be represented at this conference. I just wonder if there is a reason?

Oct 20, 2016

Bills – Infrastructure and Regional Development Portfolio

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:31): We certainly will need to have some discussion, because the nature of the matter under consideration that is before the House is to approve an appropriation for infrastructure. The context for this is that the previous two years appropriations for infrastructure have certainly not been delivered. Last year there was a gap of some $1 billion between what was anticipated to be spent in the 2014 budget and what actually happened. But that looks pretty good compared with the performance in the last financial year, 2015-16, which shows that, in spite of the fact that the government committed, with all of its rhetoric, to spend some $8 billion on infrastructure, the actual figure—the final budget outcome for 2015-16—is just $5.5 billion. The $5.5 billion of course includes the one-off payment, in rounded figures, of $500 million to WA as compensation for the GST. What we are left with, essentially, is a $3 billion gap between what the government said it would spend and what the government has actually invested. That is because this is a government that simply has no idea when it comes to nation building.

When the government came into office, they cut funds from projects that were ready to go in order to fund projects that had no prospect, in some cases, of going anywhere. There is a gap between rhetoric and reality. To be fair to the cabinet minister, his junior minister this week—his errand boy, if you like—made a statement about the $50 billion of expenditure, once again, that was expected. Whereas, year on year, up to the end of the decade, the figure is $30 billion, not $50 billion. When the government uses these big figures, they are talking about the never-never. When we look at what is actually happening, we see three categories: the first is projects that were stopped but that were ready to go and that had been approved by Infrastructure Australia, that were in the budget—projects like the Cross River Rail and the Melbourne Metro Rail Project.

The second category are those that were delayed because of government incompetence—projects like the latest section of the M80, which began just this month. The funding was actually in the budget in 2013 but was cut in 2014. Another project is the South Road in Adelaide, where the government said, ‘No, we’re not going to do Torrens to Torrens; we’ll do Darlington first’—except Darlington was not ready and Torrens to Torrens was underway. So they stopped work on that South Road. Then there is the Perth Airport road link. There was $500 million in the budget in 2013 for public transport projects in Perth. That was cut in 2014 and then put in. More remarkably, projects have simply been slowed. Estimates show the Pacific Highway cut by $129 million; the Bruce Highway cut by $94 million; Gateway North cut by $54 million; Perth Freight Link cut by $88 million; Adelaide South Road cut by $92 million; Goodwood and Torrens Junction rail project cut by $232 million—cut from an IA approved project that was underway and stopped by this government; Black Spots cut by $34 million; bridge renewal cut by $24 million; and heavy vehicle cut by $26 million.

This is a government that does not actually have a plan for jobs and growth. If it did, infrastructure would be at the centre of it—but that is not what we see.

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:56): I wish to raise three issues with this contribution. One is: how is it that, during the election campaign that we have just had, the coalition committed to 78 road projects—76 of which were in coalition electorates? How does that fit with a fair analysis and distribution of funds for projects? They added up to about $800 million. Most of them were very small projects which would have been suited to local or state government, but they were clearly political commitments that were made.

Secondly, I refer to the 2016-17 budget and Budget Paper No. 1, page 538 and table 15, which goes to the projected expenditures. I note that, when it comes to rail transport, the projected expenditure for 2019-20 is a very round figure. Indeed, it is the most round figure the minister would be aware of—zero. How does the complete withdrawal of the Commonwealth from public transport projects fit with the government being so very good at turning up to those projects after their completion? Just weeks ago I was with the minister for major projects at the Redcliffe rail opening, which was funded by the federal Labor government when we were in office and the Queensland Labor government, and which received a funding cut for a portion of it back in 2014. I was there for the Regional Rail Link opening of the new stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale, in the electorate of Lalor, and the government was quite happy to go to that opening as well. The government, who opposed the Gold Coast Light Rail project, was happy to go to the opening of that, of course. How is it that the government, despite its change in rhetoric—and I acknowledge the difference in rhetoric between Prime Minister Turnbull and former Prime Minister Abbott—has made no change to funding of projects like the Cross River Rail, Adelaide light rail, Perth Metronet and other significant urban infrastructure projects which require Commonwealth support?

The third issue I go to is that of planning. The member for Shortland has outlined the audit office finding with regard to the East West Link. As to the Perth Freight Link, I am wondering where the minister is up to with funding of that project because in the past he has said that the whole project has to proceed, otherwise it will not be eligible for Commonwealth funding, and yet the Liberal state government has wound that back to essentially the Roe 8 project. That is a project that has previously been rejected because it goes through a wetland and does not really lead anywhere. What we need is funding of the outer harbour.

The third project is WestConnex. The minister would be aware that the scope and nature of that project has changed almost on a weekly basis. Lucy Turnbull, the person in charge of planning in Sydney and who gave an oration last night about planning in Sydney, was unaware that acquisitions were occurring in Haberfield, where whole blocks of heritage listed homes have been demolished. We have a tunnel there, but it is unclear where it is going to come out. A tunnel has begun. It is always a good idea to know where it is going to end before you start digging, but that is not the case here. How will the government ensure that planning is done right? Blackmore Oval in Leichhardt is under threat. There is a range of uncertainty when it comes to this project that is leading to legitimate community concern about this issue. How will the government ensure that in future it gets the planning done before the funding comes to make sure that we get the right outcomes?

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:12): I wish to raise issues of aviation and also of the Australian Rail Track Corporation. As the minister would be aware, Airservices Australia is largely funded by revenue from industry by charging airlines and aircraft operators for use of its en route terminal navigation and for its aviation rescue and firefighting services. The level of charges is based upon five-year forecasts prepared by Airservices on what it believes the activity levels will be. Airservices Australia does have its own board, of course, but the minister oversees and indeed recommends the appointment of that board.

Airservices Australia has announced a restructure program called Accelerate. Under that program, it is proposing to eliminate 900 jobs across the organisation. One in five people are being essentially eliminated from the workforce. More than 500 positions have been already gone and other staff are being moved to individual contracts.

From time to time, organisations should look to make efficiencies, but I seek an assurance from the minister that he is satisfied that the number of redundancies, which are particularly large at Airservices, will not have an impact on the fundamental job of Airservices, which is to look after aviation safety. Is the minister confident that Airservices have undertaken a proper risk management analysis of the impact of these significant cuts? Included in this, particularly, is an issue that the minister knows I raised with him personally after he took over the portfolio. The issue of the closure of firefighting services at some regional airports is certainly of concern to me because of the role that those firefighting services play not just at the airport but as an important part of the emergency services response in some of those regional communities. I ask the minister to rule out, essentially, the closure of these firefighting services.

Something else that concerns me when I see an organisation making such drastic cuts is whether it is being set up for privatisation. I ask the minister to rule out any proposal to privatise Airservices Australia—a proposal which is being supported by some in the commentariat who I think are not aware of the important role of Airservices Australia. If you move to a for-profit system with something like Airservices then you change the nature of the organisation, by its very definition, because it would be looking at different criteria. Essentially, it would be looking at producing a return, which I would find quite reprehensible and which we on this side of the chamber would not consider.

While he is at it, the minister might like also to rule out privatisation of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, which was considered in the last term of government. The ARTC, of course, provides the track, and then you have competition and private sector input on top of that. Where privatisation of rail services has occurred in places like the UK, there have been disastrous consequences for ongoing maintenance and provision. The ARTC is something that has enjoyed bipartisan support as a public entity, and I ask the minister to confirm that that is his — (Time expired)

Oct 19, 2016

Questions without notice – Infrastructure

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (14:43): My question is also to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. I refer to the gap between the government’s infrastructure rhetoric and its action. In the 2014 budget the government promised to invest over $8 billion on transport infrastructure in the 2015-16 financial year. Is the final outcome for this investment not $8 billion, but $5.5 billion? Was this cut of more than 30 per cent achieved by cutting the Pacific Highway, the Bruce Highway, Gateway North, South Road, black spots, heavy vehicles— (Time expired)

Oct 17, 2016

Income Tax Rates Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016, Treasury Laws Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016, Superannuation (Departing Australia Superannuation Payments Tax) Amendment Bill 2016, Passenger Movement Charge Amendment Bill 2016 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:10): I rise to support the amendment that has been moved by the shadow Treasurer in debate on the Income Tax Rates Amendment (Working Holiday Maker Reform) Bill 2016, which is the next step in the farce that has been the government’s handling of this issue. I give the member opposite, the member for Hinkler, a bit of credit for chutzpah—standing in here in October 2016 with legislation arising from the May 2015 budget and saying, ‘Why don’t we get on with it?’

There has been 18 months of uncertainty under this government’s policy, because on budget night 2015 they made the announcement of the new backpacker tax without any consultation, without any economic modelling, without any idea of what the impact would be. Then in the so-called solution, raised just a couple of weeks ago, we had a repeat of the same flawed process, with an increase in the passenger movement charge without any consultation with the tourism sector, without any modelling whatsoever, and they expect us to just wave it through. Well, we will not be doing that. We will be providing proper scrutiny of this legislation through a Senate inquiry and we will be making sure that the government are held to account for their extraordinary incompetence and for the consequences of their own legislation.

It does appear that they have the solution wrong, because the so-called solution, which includes the $5 increase in the passenger movement charge, comes in direct contravention of the commitment that they gave that there would not be any increase in the passenger movement charge. This has been a shambolic mess from a mob who had a plan to get into government but no plan to actually govern. It began with the 2015 budget from Joe Hockey, the then Treasurer. There he announced the government’s decision to treat working holiday-makers as non-residents for tax purposes, taxing them at 32.5 per cent from their very first dollar of income.

It does not take a genius to work out the serious flaws in this decision. This impacted particularly on the tourism and agriculture sectors. Backpackers, of course, come to Australia and in the short term assist farmers with the seasonal work, including the picking of fruit and harvesting of crops, that farmers cannot get a regular workforce located in their local communities to do. They also particularly help in the tourism sector, which is very seasonal. Places like Broome, Darwin and Cairns in northern Australia have particular on-seasons. At the same time, when it is their off season, of course, it is the on season in places like Tasmania in southern Australia. These sectors rely upon backpackers to do the work.

Previously, backpackers were able to work tax-free. That was part of the conditions attracting them here compared with other potential destinations like Canada and New Zealand.

As to the impact to the government’s bottom line, we know from analysis that backpackers spend far more than they earn. That is, they come here with a portion of money; they supplement the money that they have. But there is something in common between the money they earn and the money they bring here: they spend it in the local communities, particularly in regional Australia, providing a boost to job creation in those local communities—something that those opposite, when they came up with this appalling plan, did not seem to get. It is something that the government, through this legislation, is admitting they got wrong in the 2015 budget, because less income for backpackers means less income for local economies.

Despite those facts, the coalition pushed on. First, they delayed any commencement of the tax for six months. Then they announced they had launched a review, creating even more uncertainty—particularly across the agriculture sector, with some farmers saying they would not plant crops because they were not sure that they would be able to have them picked at the end of the process. The review spanned the recent election campaign, during which the coalition did not provide the electorate with any idea of its position, creating even more uncertainty.

Finally, today, this messy process culminates in legislation which includes, amongst a number of measures, a lower rate of 19 per cent from the first dollar of income up to $37,000. Above this level, marginal tax rates will apply.

But they did something more with this semi-backflip. The Treasurer devised a new plan to raise the passenger movement charge by five dollars—proposed without any consultation whatsoever. When we met with the officials from Treasury and from the Treasurer’s office, we asked, ‘Have you done any modelling of what the impact of this would be?’ And we had declared at the beginning of the meeting that we would disclose the outcomes, so I am not breaching confidences here. The modelling that they did was zero—nothing whatsoever. Indeed, in the backpacker tax changes, they assumed that it would stay the same in terms of the impact on backpackers.

So we are supporting an amendment to the legislation. And we are acknowledging that the Senate inquiry will be an opportunity for the sector to actually get some scrutiny—an opportunity to get some rigour into the policy process that the coalition government seemed to think should be thought about when problems are raised.

The most recent International Visitor Survey showed that Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory have experienced a decline in the number of backpacker visitors. All three of these, in addition to New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT, have also shown a serious decline in the number of backpacker visitor nights. This should not come as news to the coalition. The World Economic Forum’s travel and tourism competitiveness index in 2015 ranked Australia 127th on taxes and charges and 49th for visa requirements.

We know that, over 2014 and 2015, the number of working holiday-maker visa applications had already started to fall. The government need to pay for the compromise that they have put up—this deal behind closed doors with the courageous people from the National Farmers Federation, who said this was all bad and then completely rolled over. And we will bear that roll-over in mind the next time the National Farmers Federation say, ‘We want to have a strong campaign.’ You would not want to be in a trench with the NFF, I tell you! They folded their tent, having said that it should go back to the original proposition. But that is a matter for them to justify to their members, frankly, because their members are still complaining about the proposition that was put forward in this legislation.

The government is also increasing the tax on the departing Australia superannuation payment to 95 per cent. They think no-one will notice that this little measure has slipped in.

When you put it all together, the government is actually gaining more revenue than they would have originally. This is just another grab—the so-called washing your face nonsense, that the Treasurer said does not stack up at all. Indeed, the Tourism and Transport Forum CEO Margy Osmond had this to say on 27 September, as to the increase in the passenger movement charge:

At no point was it flagged in any discussions in which we took part …

Indeed, the new minister for tourism—they have finally got one—said, in his first Dorothy Dixer in this House in this parliament, just weeks ago, that previous increases in the passenger movement charge were:

… choking the golden goose that is Australia’s tourism industry.

Well, I say that poor old Minister Ciobo made a goose of himself in making that statement. But of course not even he was consulted. He was on a plane to the Middle East. He was in Doha when this went through the cabinet process. He was not even consulted about the increase—he was treated with contempt. And he expects us to take him seriously!

The TTF said this about it:

Prime Minister Turnbull has said during the election campaign ‘If you want less of something, tax it more’, and that is exactly what the Government’s current policy of viewing tourism as a ‘cash cow’ is going to deliver.

We know that, from August to August, the latest figures showed that there were eight million international visitors, a 10.9 per cent increase year on year. And yet what the government is doing here is trying to chuck more tax on, without any justification. What is the link with the backpacker tax fiasco that the government has presided over? There is none whatsoever. And Scott Morrison has form on this as well. This is what he had to say about increases in the Passenger Movement Charge in this parliament in 2008:

This tax is a pernicious impost on our aviation and tourism sectors, which are already under pressure. Tax increases are designed to discourage consumption, so placing a tax on travel is, I therefore assume, designed to discourage business activity in the travel sector.

That is what he had to say.

We have, with the exception of the UK on business travel, the highest charges in the world. When we talk about $60 on a ticket, it is not just $60 on a first-class ticket to Europe; it is $60 on a ticket to New Zealand, which you can get online for about $120, or a ticket to Bali. This tax can be to 50 per cent of the actual price of a ticket—and they are saying they will increase it. That is why in the election campaign Labor—as well as, it must be said, the coalition—said we would not increase the Passenger Movement Charge. We released a tourism policy in the election campaign. That is more than the government did; it did not get through; they did not have a tourism policy. But what they did very clearly do was say they would oppose an increase in the Passenger Movement Charge. That is why there is such anger in the tourism sector when it comes to these changes.

Labor set out a comprehensive plan for tourism in the election campaign: protecting our natural assets; building skills and career pathways; using government to attract more major events and exhibitions; and re-engaging the federal government with the tourism sector both domestically and internationally. The tourism sector delivers some $94.5 billion in economic activity every year. It employs, directly and indirectly, one million Australians. Those one million Australians rely on tourism, particularly in rural Australia. That is why Labor will not rush to failure like the coalition seems eager to do. The government needs to satisfy the sector that it has done any modelling whatsoever—or else Minister Ciobo’s comments about the golden goose certainly apply to this government.

(Time expired)

Oct 13, 2016

Adjournment – Shipping

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:18): I take this opportunity to talk about shipping and the potential impact on our environment of shipping in two areas: firstly, the Great Barrier Reef, and secondly, in my electorate of Grayndler. On 20 September, when asked about calls from the environmental movement for more protection of the Great Barrier Reef from coal freighters, the Deputy Prime Minister said that shipping accidents on the reef were inevitable. He said:

…but that’s life. If you have ships at sea you’re going to have them run into things and sink from time to time.

As the person who was the transport minister in the previous government, responsible for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, I say thank goodness that is not the approach of AMSA or the regulatory authorities. The comment was reckless in the extreme. The Deputy Prime Minister was speaking after the government reached a $39.3 million out-of-court damages settlement with the operators of Shen Neng 1, a coal freighter that ran aground at Douglas Shoal about 100 kilometres east of Rockhampton in 2010. When the Shen Neng 1 hit the reef it was 10 kilometres outside the shipping lanes. The mariner in charge was operating on little sleep because the vessel did not observe Australian workplace health and safety requirements—that is why he was jailed for 18 months for negligence. While accidents certainly have happened, they are more likely to happen if ships passing through the reef are being steered by sleepy overseas operators who have no idea where they are. It is up to governments to maintain high safety standards and that is why an Australian shipping industry is vital—not optional but vital. Governments through appropriate regulation can certainly have an impact. What the Deputy Prime Minister has said is ignorant in the extreme and puts under threat the overwhelming support that there is for safe passage of ships to Australia’s north and around our coastline.

I want to talk about another issue which is of concern, particularly in my electorate. In June I contacted the transport minister, Darren Chester, to offer bipartisan support for action to ensure that cruise ships on Sydney Harbour use low-sulphur fuel. There has been concern because the New South Wales government carried legislation at the same time as the federal government was considering anti-pollution legislation, which had the unintended consequence of rendering inoperable the state government’s new requirements on the use of low-sulphur fuel, 0.1 per cent or less, on Sydney Harbour.

Residents of Balmain have expressed legitimate concern about fuel fumes from cruise ships in White Bay. It is important that the Commonwealth act and address this problem. Since the election I have repeatedly asked Minister Chester to fulfil his commitment to resolve this issue either through legislation or other means but it needs to be required in a way which is better than just voluntary compliance. Cruise ships do provide significant economic activity for Australia but it is important that they operate within environmental best practice. I am pleased that the cruise ship industry has agreed to voluntarily implement this New South Wales government policy of using low-sulphur fuel but Commonwealth action is required. If the Commonwealth makes legislation that has unintended consequences then it is its responsibility to fix it. Minister Chester understands that there is a problem but he needs to fix it. This government seems incapable of being able to legislate in the national interest. This is an issue which is not ideological, which has bipartisan support. I say to the minister: get on board; introduce the legislation. We on this side will ensure its quick passage through both houses of parliament and fix this problem.

Oct 13, 2016

Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 – Second Reading

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:29): I oppose the plebiscite because it is costly. I oppose the plebiscite because it is divisive. Most importantly, I oppose the plebiscite because it is ineffective. A plebiscite will, just as the previous speaker indicated, lead to a parliamentary bill and parliamentary motion. The previous speaker also indicated what we all know: a majority of the Australian people support marriage equality. We know that is the case. It is acknowledged that that is the case. It is overwhelming. And it is now the case that a majority of House of Representatives members and senators, including the current Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, support marriage equality. We should get on with it and do our job.

The previous speaker also spoke about the conscience votes that we have had in parliament on this side of the House, even though no conscience vote was allowed by those opposite. A few years ago a majority of the parliament did not support marriage equality. When I was elected in 1996, the priority of same-sex couples was certainly not having the right to marry; there were a range of other reforms that had a practical impact on their lives that were much higher up the agenda. Those issues were dealt with by the former Labor government when we amended some 84 pieces of legislation—on superannuation, on health, on migration, on social security. All of those pieces of legislation passed this parliament without rancour, without opposition and without creating division in the community.

When they were first raised, they were controversial. When I first raised the Superannuation (Entitlements of Same Sex Couples) Bill in my first term of parliament, that was a controversial issue. There was not even unanimous support within my own party. When you spoke about sexuality in this place, people shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Now there is far greater total tolerance, and far greater respect for the fact that we are a diverse community. This campaign for marriage equality is about unfinished business. ‘Equality’ is a really important term here. That is why the plebiscite is so wrong. We decide in this House social security, taxation arrangements, infrastructure policy, health policy, education policy and defence policy. We determine that.

Why is this one issue being singled out? We know that it is all an attempt by the opponents of marriage equality, including former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, to stop marriage equality. That is why this was put up within the coalition party room. When it was put up, it was opposed within their party room by the current Prime Minister and many of those opposite. Are we on this side of the House supposed to be bound somehow by the fact that Malcolm Turnbull rolled over on his own principles in order to secure the prime ministership by guaranteeing that he would adopt the same policy as his predecessor, Tony Abbott? I actually thought Malcolm Turnbull was better than that. He has a proud record of marching in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in his electorate, and of standing up genuinely on these issues. I know that he is an opponent of discrimination on the basis of sexuality. It makes it even sadder that he is prepared to take the position that he has, knowing the consequences that it will have for division in the community, for same-sex couples and for their families. They know the consequences, which is why they are so strident in their opposition to this.

I believe very strongly that we should have a vote and a determination in this parliament, and we should do it sooner rather than later. Some of the best debates I have been involved with in parliament have been conscience votes on controversial issues like voluntary euthanasia and stem cell research. They have been respectful debates. They have been the parliament at its finest, where people have thought about each and every word that they were going to contribute to the debate. I have been in a minority—it must be said—in those debates, but they have been respectful. I actually think those debates taking place have raised the standing of this parliament as a result.

That is the way forward. In the 20 years I have had the honour of sitting as a member of the House of Representatives, extraordinary advances have been made towards removing discrimination on the basis of sexuality. Marriage equality will be not the final step, but a significant step. The debate about removing discrimination is not just about laws; it is about the way that people conduct themselves in our community. If you engage with young people now—certainly, the ones that I speak to—then they wonder what the big deal is here. What is the issue? Marriage equality will not affect anyone’s existing right; it simply extends an existing right to some people who have previously been denied that right.

It will not affect anyone’s marriage; indeed, it will strengthen the institution of marriage by allowing more people to participate in it. It will not require churches to do anything against their will. It will simply provide equality for everyone before the law. And, when it is all over, just like as happened in most of the industrialised world now—in the United Kingdom under the conservatives, in New Zealand under the conservatives, in many of the states of United States, in Canada and in many of the countries of Europe—people will wonder what all the fuss was about and people will just get on with their lives. That is why the Prime Minister really should show leadership on this.

Marriage equality does come down to issues of tolerance and respect. I believe that tolerance and respect needs to be held by all people who participate in this debate, both the supporters and the opponents of marriage equality. I have been very much on the record for a very long time as a supporter of marriage equality but also as a supporter of the conscience vote. I understand that some people of faith who regard marriage not as a civil institution that is governed by laws and legislation but as something that is a sacred institution handed down from God have a different view, and I respect their right to hold their view. That is why any of the legislation that has been drawn up by people such as my colleague, the now member for Whitlam and then member for Throsby, Stephen Jones, included religious exemptions, and that is something that is supported by the gay and lesbian community. A conscience vote of this parliament would allow people who have religious convictions and do not want to choose between that position and the position of civil lawmaking to vote accordingly. It would ensure that the parliament is able to be respectful.

But it does go both ways. The truth is that the families that I have met with through organisations such as Rainbow Families are genuinely and legitimately concerned about the implications of a divisive debate. The member previously quoted the member for Barton in her contribution last night. Due to boundary changes by the Electoral Commission, I now live in the electorate of Barton. During the election campaign, in a marginal seat, I got material in my letterbox which can only be described as targeting Linda Burney because of her Aboriginality and her religion in a way that was offensive and divisive—and it backfired on those people who distributed that material. The concerns that those families have are absolutely legitimate concerns.

I am yet to have a same-sex family in my electorate—not one—ask me to vote for this legislation that is before the parliament. I have my own views that happen to accord with that view. My gut instinct was always to oppose the plebiscite, because we as parliamentarians have a job to do and we should do it. But we do have to be very cognisant of the fact that, as The Smiths said in that great song What Difference Does it Make?, ‘Heavy words are so lightly thrown.’ One of my concerns reflects the view of that great songwriter Morrissey when he said those words. Words are thrown around in a debate which we know, from some of the comments that have been made already in this debate, will be very hurtful and will create needless division. The fact that the government intends to publicly fund this debate is, I think, even more reason to oppose this legislation.

The fact is that we could knock this over this afternoon by having a vote of this parliament. It could go to the Senate tonight and they could deal with it. Then, next week, we could just get on with business. This is an enormous roadblock to the government getting on with other business. Its insistence on this divisive plebiscite is standing in the way of the promotion of harmony and unity, which this parliament has an obligation to pursue. We can see that there is a great deal of distrust of elected representatives playing out in areas such as the US presidential election. We need to lift standards of public discourse and lead the community in promoting respect and inclusion. Have marriage equality and have it through this parliament.

Oct 12, 2016

Questions without notice – Tourism

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (14:29): My question is addressed to the Minister for Tourism. I refer to the minister’s comments of 31 August 2016 when he told the House that the increases in the passenger movement charge were … choking the golden goose that is Australia’s tourism industry.

Given that just 28 days later the government increased the charge by $5, does the minister stand by his comments? And if he does, doesn’t that make him look like a golden goose?

Oct 11, 2016

Private Members’ Business – Bruce Highway

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:34): It is indeed always gratifying when a political opponent is happy to acknowledge your work, and that happened on 5 March 2011, when the former Liberal member for Herbert, Ewen Jones, told the Townsville Bulletin: ‘I’ll give Labor a pat on the back and say that they have spent more in their four to five years on the Bruce Highway than we did before.’ And, of course, that is the case. The Howard government, in office for almost 12 long years of infrastructure neglect, invested $1.3 billion on the Bruce Highway. We were in office for six years and we invested $5.7 billion so four times the amount in half the time. It is not hard to work out why Ewen Jones and other people who have actually examined the Bruce Highway acknowledge the fact that, before the election of the Labor government, there simply was not delivery.

I note that this motion asks us to accept that the government is investing $6.7 billion on upgrading the Bruce Highway. The budget figures show that more than $3 billion of that is not being spent this decade. So why say $6.7 billion? Why not say $50 billion, $100 billion, in 2030? You know, it is just quite farcical. Indeed in this year’s budget, the government cut the Bruce Highway spending by $118 million for this financial year over what it said in last year’s budget papers it would spend. If you look at the coalition government’s last year’s papers and then you look at the budget papers for this year, there is $118 million less. Of course that is not surprising given that infrastructure investment tumbled by 20 per cent under this government in its first two years. But of course that has not stopped the government pretending somehow that they have been responsible for a lot of the work that is being done including of course the Cooroy to Curra upgrade that was in the electorate of the minister for transport and Deputy Prime Minister at the time. It took us to fix it up.

The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport issued a media release in April this year where he listed 24 projects that he claimed to have been delivered or commenced by the coalition government. Unfortunately for him, 23 of them were begun under the former Labor government—23 or 24, I will give some credit. The Arnot Creek Bridge near Ingham announced in February—$10 million—was a part of the pot of funds that we put into the budget that was not allocated. It had not specifically had its funding cut.

The member for Fairfax is new and has got the new wheels on, on the new roads that Labor built. But I say to him what he should do is examine the facts on this matter and should truly advocate for additional funding because that has not happened under this government. Under this government, what we have had is essentially a magical infrastructure announcement tour in places like Rockhampton, the member for Capricornia’s electorate. For projects that were well underway, the member for Capricornia has pretended that somehow there is something new to them.

This is a vital road not only for the interests of productivity for the nation but also for the interests of road safety. I have driven on parts of the Bruce Highway that have been quite clearly unsafe and that is why, for a number of the projects that are being done, road safety is absolutely critical.

I wish the member for Fairfax and other members well in getting additional money. But getting money off into the never never is not a win. The fact is, of the $5.7 billion we had in six years, $4.1 billion was additional investment that we promised moving forward under nation building 2 and the total there for this decade is the commitment that we had. I am very proud of our record on both the Bruce Highway and the Pacific Highway and it is a pity that it has gone back to go-slow since the change of office in 2013.


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