MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE – Poverty and Inequality
Mr PASIN (Barker) (16:05): Deputy Speaker, I hardly need to tell you that ours is a great egalitarian nation. This place should be a great parliament, but sometimes it can be a depressing place, and it becomes all the more depressing when I walk into this chamber, sit down and listen to the lazy politics of envy—when I hear those opposite simply pull the drawer open, pull out the class card and put it on the table. It’s not the parliament that those who’ve taken the time to listen to debate in this place want to hear. They want the battle of big ideas. Bring the big ideas forward; don’t simply find the lazy class card and lay it on the table. Ours is a great egalitarian nation.
For those people who come in here and use their favourite word—equality—and misappropriate it, let me say: this nation wasn’t built on equality of outcome; this national was built on equality of opportunity. We need to do everything we can every day to make sure that every Australian citizen has the same opportunities. My father came here in 1961 as an 18-year-old lad with nothing more than the clothes on his back and an education in a foreign place. He didn’t even have the language of English to his name, but this nation gave him opportunities. He took up those opportunities, and he’s lived a very fruitful life—and I hope he lives it for much longer. But there were similar people in my father’s cohort who came to Australia and who were presented with the same opportunities that he was but who didn’t take advantage of them. Those opposite would say that our nation has failed those people and that what we need to do is, in some way, create an equality between the outcomes my father has achieved and the outcomes of those who haven’t been so positive, because otherwise this nation has failed. Quite frankly, that’s rubbish, and those opposite know it. It’s about equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.
In the time I have left, I do want to address poverty. Quite obviously I’m a South Australian member of parliament, and I think one of the single largest drivers of people into poverty are cost-of-living pressures. As a South Australian, I will go immediately to energy costs because South Australia—I won’t say ‘enjoys’—is currently experiencing the highest electricity prices of anywhere in the world. It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to work out that that is going to drive people into poverty. It’s going to drive people into poverty quicker than anything those opposite raise.
In a week when this place—particularly those on this side—is trying to do something serious about meeting the energy security challenge this nation faces, in a week when those of us on this side are trying to do something to confront the failed experiment that is the South Australian energy market, I would have thought that those opposite wouldn’t want to be talking about poverty, particularly less than five hours after the Premier of South Australia was out there, loud and proud, saying: ‘I don’t want to be part of your solution. I’ve created the problem, but I’m having none of your solution.’
Those opposite need to come with me into the homes of those on fixed incomes in my electorate, those who have had their electricity switched off because they can’t meet the cost of it, and tell them they’re pontificating in this place about poverty. What those opposite should do is spend less time worrying about MPIs of this nature, where they are playing cheap politics, and get on the phone to Labor state premiers and first ministers and say, ‘Get on board. Get on board a plan that is all about affordability, that drives reliability into the marketplace and that will meet our international obligations.’ Do that, not for the Prime Minister’s sake, not for the member for Barker’s sake and not for their own sake but for the very people they propose this MPI to address: those who are either suffering or being driven below the poverty line. Please, pick up the phone and ring the premiers and tell them to get on board.