• John McDonnell

The dogs are barking while the PM is away


The crossbench and Labor have been attempting to create havoc in parliament while the prime minister is away in Europe. Two issues emerged on Tuesday as vehicles for destabilisation of the government even though they have no prospect of actually improving policy.


The first proposal is being promoted by Senator Rex Patrick in relation to the superannuation bill, which is currently in the senate. This has nothing to do with the contentious provision that grants the treasurer the right to veto investments by superannuation trustees.


Senator Patrick has raised concerns about workers possibly becoming under-insured if the bill goes ahead as planned. The bill passed through the lower house of parliament at the last session and was expected to get through the senate at this session, with some amendments designed to withdraw the treasurer’s power to veto investments by superannuation funds.


The Patrick amendments have now derailed the passage of the bill. He is arguing that there is a risk that workers in dangerous jobs will be stapled to superannuation funds that provide inadequate insurance for their current employment.


As an example, a young worker may have their first job in the hospitality sector and their first super fund may be that for hospitality workers. Later on, they may work in the construction industry, which is dangerous, and their hospitality-based super may have inadequate insurance for the job.


Patrick has a point, but the problem has been exaggerated.


Most employers in dangerous areas will advise their employees to move into the industry super fund for their sector and to consolidate their superannuation in that fund.


The minister, Senator Jane Hume, has indicated she will look at Senator Patrick’s suggestions.


This is not a matter for political posturing. The superannuation bill contains significant reforms, which should not be held up because of a minor amendment by a crossbencher.


The other act of political posturing was initiated by Labor’s Chris Bowen and the Greens Adam Bandt, who each individually moved a disallowance motion for a proposed appropriation of $195 million for the two clean energy funds, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.


As Joel Fitzgibbon, the Labor member for Hunter commented, it was a work of genius for the opposition to oppose the funding of technology that would reduce emissions. Bowen and Bandt say that the funds were established by the Gillard, Labor-Green government to subsidise wind and solar and their mandate should not be extended to new areas. Mr Bowen said:

“ARENA and CEFC are two of Labor’s most important achievements when it comes to a renewable economy.
“I’ll give you a hint. The R in ARENA stands for renewable. That’s his job. And that’s the job Labor will defend Angus Taylor’s regulation against, which will give him the power to assert that new technologies are low emissions in the future.”

Mr Bowen said it was “utterly unacceptable” to give Mr Taylor the power to determine what is called a low emissions technology and called on crossbench senators to oppose the changes.


Energy Minister Angus Taylor has proposed a change to ARENA’s mandate to enable it to administer funding to support the government’s technology road map, which aims to work with the private sector to stimulate investment in lower emissions technologies that are selected for their commercial prospects.


The absence of the prime minister has created something of a publicity vacuum and grandstanders will always move in to fill such a vacuum.


In these cases, however, it is obvious that the situation is one where politics are prevailing over good policy and the voters are being short-changed.