Governor-General's Speech: Address-in-Reply

16 September 2019

Senator Patrick (South Australia): I rise to respond to the Governor-General's speech, which lays out the plans of the Morrison government. I have the greatest respect for His Excellency General the Hon. David Hurley, having served in the defence forces at the same time as he did. I know his career very well. So I'm going to be very careful in saying that we all know in this place that the speech of the Governor-General was, in actual fact, the government's speech. It's where the government laid out its plans for this parliament. I've looked at the speech. In fact, I sat in the chamber and listened to the speech and I looked for the gems, and I couldn't find them. So, I went back to my office, I printed the speech and I looked through it again and again. I was just trying to find the vision in there. Unfortunately, it's lacking. There is no vision in there. There's nothing in there that would inspire Australians into thinking that the Morrison government has got its hand on the tiller, its hand on the thrusters and that it's going to drive our country to the great place it needs to go to next. It's not in there.

There are bits in the speech about tax reform. I get that tax reform was important. I went to a number of briefings from Treasury, I talked to the ACCC and I talked to the Reserve Bank governor, and it was necessary for us to have personal tax cuts. I think Australians deserve to be able to spend more of their own money, to keep more of their own money, and, indeed, it does help to stimulate the economy, but it's not vision. It's not that excitement that we want. Australians want to wake up and say, 'I feel like the government's heading in the right direction.'

There are things in there like regulatory reform and industrial relations. I'm sorry, but that's housekeeping. It's important, but it's housekeeping. The topic of jobs came up, and my ears pricked up because I know how important jobs are to Australians and how important it is that every Australian has the opportunity to have a job. I was looking for some vision in the speech. I was looking for the way the Governor-General would describe how we are going to advance our country. All I got was a story about training and apprenticeships. Once again, they're important things, but they're housekeeping. They're the obvious things that we need to be doing.

Home ownership: I also get that home ownership is important, and some measures were announced about home ownership. Infrastructure: there are some good things in the speech about infrastructure—railways, airports and highways. But do you know what, Madam Deputy President Stoker? It doesn't matter which government is in power, those things are going to happen. Health, again is important, mental health is very important and the NDIS is even more important, in some respects. But they're all very much housekeeping.

Education is the very thing that one would think is key to a forward-thinking nation and a nation that wants to get on top. I looked in there, and education was talked about but there was nothing in the speech that talked about what we were going to do with those educated people. It was missing. There were also veterans' affairs, security and foreign policy. Now, foreign policy is not about housekeeping, it's about looking at our neighbours. Once again, it's important, but there wasn't anything in there that I could grab onto.

I could go on and repeat the Governor-General's speech, but I can assure the chamber that there is no vision in there. We can pick up this speech and shake it as much as we like, but no vision will fall out from between the pages. That's my difficulty with the speech that the government has presented in respect of the 46th Parliament.

There are a number of things that could have been in there which could have excited Australians about what it is we're going to do. There could have been talk about how we are going to be manufacturers and how we are going to give incentives to companies to grow, to expand and to invent. In the recent inquiry on intellectual property—and that legislation will come before this chamber perhaps in the next sitting week—we learned that something like 1.44 Australians in 10,000 have a patent to their names. In the United States it's in the order of 10 and in China it's in the order of 22. That says something about how we want to approach our future. It says that we are not doing enough to encourage invention or to encourage the generation of intellectual property that could ground Australia moving forward.

I've been having a look at just one aspect of economics that we need to consider that wasn't in the Governor-General's speech: the resource companies around Australia, particularly in oil and gas. I've looked at them as they come to our country and take our resources. They give very little back; they pay very little back in tax. People would be surprised at how much Equinor pays back to the Norwegian government. It's a national oil and gas company. Around the globe there are many national oil companies, such as Petronas in Malaysia. I could name a whole range of different countries and I've started to have a look at what these companies contribute to their countries, and it is billions upon billions. In the case of Equinor it's tens of billions that they contribute back to their own country. What we seem to do is invite multinationals to come here and set up shop—and, I give them credit, they create jobs, but Equinor does that in Norway and around the world as well—but they don't pay any tax; they don't contribute to our society. They do pay PRRT, but we know that's broken, and the order of magnitude of what they pay is nothing like what other overseas entities with national oil and gas companies pay back into their taxpayers' consolidated revenue. So that's just an example of where the government could be thinking and exploring those sorts of things.

Another place where the government could have offered vision relates to another aspect of resources. One of the problems we have here in Australia—and this is no reflection on the very hardworking people that work in the mines around this country—is that we export rocks. We export iron ore; we export lithium and uranium, for example. We export all sorts of things. I'm being agnostic as to the resource that we export, but we don't value-add to those resources. We have large lithium reserves. Basically we have 60 per cent of the world market in lithium in a world hungry for lithium ion batteries. Every one of us in this chamber has an iPhone or a Samsung or some sort of mobile phone device that uses a lithium ion battery. All of our future cars will use lithium ion batteries. Hopefully our future submarine will have lithium ion batteries as well, although I fear that we'll end up with lead acid cells. Our homes will have wall banks with lithium ion batteries. The world is jumping onto this technology, and what are we doing? We dig the lithium out of the ground in the Pilbara and ship it offshore. There are five stages of processing in the production of lithium ion batteries. The first stage is mining and concentration, which will have a world market total in 2025 of around $12 billion. So, if we had the entire world market, we'd have $12 billion worth of exports. The next stage is refining and processing, worth $41 billion. Then we move to electrochemical processing, worth $297 billion; cell production, $424 billion; and battery assembly, $1.3 trillion. But what are we going to shoot for? We're going to shoot for something less than $12 billion as we export these rocks. The Governor-General's speech I was looking for was the one that said, 'Let's value-add. Let's take those resources that we're digging out of the ground and do something with them. Let's add the value which creates jobs and employment, generates economic activity and would make Australia a very rich country.' But no, we're going to ship it offshore.

I have the same problem with our steel. We have lots of iron ore in this country. Unfortunately, we're struggling in terms of steel manufacturing in my home town of Whyalla, which is on the cusp of going in a couple of different directions. I hope it goes big. Wollongong has certainly improved its business outcomes over the last few years. But we could be doing a lot more, except we're not even looking at that. We've got to build up our manufacturing. We've got to build up these capabilities where we add value to the economy. Right now we take the rocks and send them offshore and other countries develop the technologies. They add the value and sell it back to us at a much, much higher price. Some of those countries we're a bit concerned about. We're a bit concerned about how they're expanding their reach into the region. We're concerned about how they're exercising soft power. We're concerned about how they're growing their armed forces, but in some sense we're funding it. We're funding it because we're just exporting the rocks for them to add the value to.

I went looking in the speech for something that's going to tell me how we're going to turn Australia around. Right now we're coasting along. I can't remember the exact phrase, but there's a quote from The Lucky Country that says, 'Australia is a lucky country whose luck is shared by the very ordinary politicians that run it.' Apologies for misquoting that, but that's the general theme. We need to do a lot more. I love Australia. I love this country that I live in. I was born in New Zealand. I came here. I love this country. I want to see it prosper, and I want to see it grow. Unfortunately, when I look into this Governor-General's speech, looking at the government's plans for the future ahead, there's nothing in there that excites me, and that concerns me.

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