House debates

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Matters of Public Importance

Workplace Relations

3:14 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for McMahon proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The unfairness being inflicted on Australians in just 10 days time on July 1.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Occasionally in Australian politics you get one day or one event which sums up everything that is wrong with a government and which makes the choice before the Australian people crystal clear. That day will come in 10 days time, on 1 July, when 700,000 Australian workers will get a pay cut. They will get a pay cut for committing the crime of leaving their families on a Sunday. They will get a pay cut for committing the crime of giving up a day which has been regarded as a special day for as long as there have been industrial awards and agreements in Australia. On that same day, it will be a good day for some people because, on that same day, Australians on a high income will get not a pay cut but a tax cut. That says it all about this government and its wrong priorities. Also on that day, because of this government's policy paralysis, wrong values and twisted competence, many of those families who will take a pay cut will also start paying more for their electricity—under this government, which said so much about energy prices in opposition and in government.

Let us go through these issues one by one. On 1 July, it will be unusual for Australian workers to have a pay cut. Australian workers, for years, have benefited from Australia's economic success. It has been agreed that that economic success should be shared. There have been times when the industrial commissions—which many members on this side of the House are known to have been involved in—have said: 'Look, we're going to negotiate. There's going to be some give and some take. We're going to get a more flexible arrangement, and some people might make a contribution and other people will be worse off.' This is not one of those times. This is just a straight cut to take-home wages. That does not require any imagination or any intelligence. This is just a cut. It is the first time in many, many decades that Australians will be facing a pay cut, at a time of record-low wages growth, when real wages are actually going backwards.

The Reserve Bank governor, not a man given to radical statements, just this week said that real wages growth in Australia was a crisis. The Treasurer says increasing real wages is the government's biggest economic challenge. Now, I always try to be reasonable and I always look for an opportunity to be bipartisan. I think: 'Yes, I agree with the Treasurer. This is one of the government's and the nation's greatest challenges.' But that is as far as I can go, because they have a different solution. The Treasurer's solution to real wages growth being too low is to cut wages further. I cannot agree with that. We on this side of the House cannot agree with that. The Treasurer and the government are letting this happen on their watch.

Let us have none of this nonsense that there is nothing that they can do and that it is all too hard because it has been agreed by an independent commission, and the government could not possibly intervene. Well, the parliament, in this term, are overturning a Federal Court decision on native title with which they do not agree. The government overturned a decision of the Remuneration Tribunal when it comes to truck drivers because they did not agree. But they sit by and watch this one be implemented. Why? Because it affects low-income earners, because it affects women and young people in particular, and because they agree with that. Just yesterday, every member of the government, with one exception, voted to cut wages for these workers. Every single one said, 'We will not intervene; we will do nothing.' The member for Gorton gave them the opportunity, moving amendments to say that we will not stand for this, and members opposite said, 'No; we will let it stand.' This is the approach taken by the government, and they know who is going to pay the price: Australian workers who can ill afford it.

We have a gender pay gap in Australia which has not moved for 20 years. For 20 years, we have made no improvement when it comes to female wages in Australia relative to male wages. Equal pay became the law of Australia in 1969 and yet, right across Australia, women are paid less than men. I tell you what, Mr Deputy Speaker, we as a parliament are about to let that situation get worse on our watch, thanks to this government, because the majority of workers in the hospitality sector and in retail are women, and women are more likely to work on a weekend as well. This government says, 'Yes, cut their wages.' We say no. We say they should not be cut. We say we should be improving female pay, not making it worse, and yet this government says it is okay. On the same day as this happens, workers across the country lose their pay.

Let me say in this debate as well: what this government is doing by delaying the legislation on worker exploitation in relation to 7-Eleven for 12 months is nothing short of a scandal. It is nothing short of a scandal that this government chooses to let this situation maintain for another 12 months. We have seen footage of workers being forced to go to ATMs to withdraw their wages and give them back to their employers, and this government is going to let that situation maintain for another 12 months? Shame on them—this is a scandal!

At the same time the government does have its priorities sorted, it is going to give a tax cut to high-income earners, on the very same day. Somebody earning $200,000 will get a $400 tax cut. Somebody earning half a million dollars will get $6,400, and somebody earning $1 million will get $16,400 a year in tax cuts. And the government says there is nothing they can do about that either. If only they had a responsible position where they could use to actually do something for the people of Australia—I don't know, like Prime Minister or Treasurer, maybe? They say there is nothing they can do because it is legislated that it be temporary. As we have said before, all those harsh cuts in the 2014 budget, which affected earners on low and middle incomes, were not temporary; they were permanent.

They did not say to Australia's low-income earners: 'Just help us out for a little while. You're just going to have to take a cut to the pension and wait longer for Newstart, just till we're back in surplus. Then we'll restore the situation.' The only measure in the 2014 budget which was temporary was the only one which impacted on high-income earners, yet this government lets that situation continue. We were told we would keep the deficit levy until we were in surplus. Last time I checked, the deficit is going to be 10 times bigger than what Joe Hockey told us in 2014 and yet this government says, 'No, we've got to get the tax cut through for millionaires and high-income earners.' And the government now says that we need a tax rise, but they are going to give that tax rise to every Australian who earns more than $21,000 a year, while giving a tax cut to those earning more than $180,000.

This is a government which will not act on negative gearing and will not act on capital gains and will continue to allow high-income earners to use, as a tax deduction, as much as they want for managing their tax affairs. They actually say, 'We'll let you use as much as you want to pay your fancy lawyers and your accountants, and you can get your income of over $1 million down to zero, and we think that's just fine.' Well, we do not think that. We think that should be fixed and reformed. We think that Australia's high-income earners can pay as much as they want to their lawyers and their accountants, but only $3,000 will be subsidised by every other taxpayer in Australia. That is our policy and one that they should implement as well.

On 1 July, Australian families will be paying more for their energy, and I just want to deal briefly with this, because it goes to the paralysis and hypocrisy of this government. The Prime Minister has been waxing lyrical about how he is taking tough action on gas exports and how it is going to put downward pressure on energy prices. Thank goodness for Malcolm Turnbull! Nobody else would have thought of a policy to deal with gas exports. Nobody else would have thought of one, apart from the Labor Party. I recall a press conference with myself and the member for Isaacs at Dandenong, at a factory, announcing a policy on gas exports during the last election. The member for Port Adelaide and I announced that policy, and the member for Isaacs joined me for the announcement. I also recall the reactions from members opposite, including our old friend, the now Minister for Energy and Environment, who said it was a 'sovereign risk for Australia', that it was unacceptable protectionism. It was an attack on the Australian economy. It would be an investment killer. Now he boasts, late to the party, that he has decided to deal with exports of gas.

This is just another example of how this side of House leads the policy debate in Australia; how this side of House, on every single issue, has identified the needs of Australia and has identified, more importantly, the right policy response. Every time members opposite have engaged in a scare campaign, in rhetoric and in slogans and every time they have gone the low road they have been caught out. And on 1 July this year, they will be caught out more than ever before, as the Australian people see, in a way which is crystal clear, that when it comes to the values for Australia, this government gets it wrong.

3:24 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Minister for Small Business) Share this | | Hansard source

The shadow Treasurer talked about the Fair Work Commission established on 1 July 2009 under Labor, the commissioners appointed by Labor and the process that has led to the penalty rates decision that he now complains about, which was initiated by Labor. He talked about energy costs and yet he belongs to a party that wants to reintroduce a carbon tax, which will only drive power prices up. The shadow Treasurer is from the same party that demonises coal and yet is owned and absolutely beholden to the Greens.

Fairness is what today's matter of public importance debate is about. Do you know what is fair? That any Australian who needs it can now have access to the fully funded National Disability Insurance Scheme. Do you know what is fair? That country schoolkids in classrooms in my electorate and right across Australia, and certainly in regional Australia, get the needs based funding that they deserve. Do you know what is fair? Opening farmers and consumers throughout rural and regional Australia to jobs and opportunities through what Parkes Shire Council Mayor Ken Keith calls the iconic Inland Rail. There is $8.4 billion allocated in the budget going through your fine electorate of Parkes, Mr Deputy Speaker Coulton. Do you know what is fair? Helping small business have a go to create jobs and opportunities for Australians and help grow our economy.

At the heart of the budget delivered by this government on 9 May was a very central theme—fairness. It is the fairness in delivering a budget that puts Australia back on track to balance so that our children and our children's children do not shoulder an unaffordable burden in the future. Yet Labor, in their unfair and short-sighted politicking, simply do not get it. They do not want to get it. They do not understand. This MPI debate brought on by the member for McMahon simply proves it.

This MPI talks about unfairness in 10 days time, but let me tell you about those who will actually pay more tax in 10 days time. Multinationals will pay more tax in 10 days time. They are the companies about which those opposite dithered and did nothing. If multinationals earn tax in Australia, thanks to the Liberals and the Nationals they will pay tax in Australia. As we moved to crack down on multinational tax avoidance, those opposite did the only thing that they know how to do—they stood in the way. There was such negativity and obstruction. They issued press releases. They pointed the finger. They shirked the blame. It is so typical of Labor. They voted against our laws that will make multinationals pay tax.

Another group will pay their fair share come 1 July too—major banks. It is another sorry story about the soapbox and the shadow cabinet. Whilst those opposite stand on their soapbox and lecture about the banks, we are asking them to pay their fair share. We are asking that they help restore our budget and make the banks accountable. The Treasurer announced a new banking executive accountability regime that will ensure that banks and their executives are held accountable when they fail to meet expectations.

The government will legislate for a one-stop shop to deal with all financial disputes, including superannuation disputes, substantially improving outcomes for individuals and businesses who have disputes with their banks or other financial institutions. That is only fair. In 10 days time Australia's small businesses will get the fairness and support that they deserve too. We will see on 1 July a simpler business activity statement for businesses with a turnover of less than $10 million, meaning small business owners can spend less time on paperwork and more time with family and friends. What could be better than that? From 1 July small businesses can opt into single-touch payroll, making it simpler to pay and report salary or wages, pay-as-you-go withholding and superannuation information.

July 1 is going to be a very good day. The $100 million Advanced Manufacturing Fund will start, which backs innovation, research, cooperatives and excellence in our universities and will help industry adjust to the wind-down of car manufacturing. From 1 July small businesses can keep using the $20,000 instant asset write-off program to purchase the new equipment they need. Do you know why? Because we extended it in the budget. When we back small businesses, jobs and wages grow. When we cut small business tax, small business can reinvest in itself and put on another casual. This is often someone's first job or an opportunity, indeed, for an older Australian. When we extended the instant asset write-off to more small businesses than ever before, we helped small business grow, pursue new ideas and create jobs. And what could be more important than that, Deputy Speaker? We back small business because it is fair to level the playing field. We back small business because it is fair that our best and our brightest should have a go. They are the risk-takers—small businesses are the risk-takers. They are in all our electorates—I know the member for Whitlam has his back turned and he is talking away as though he does not care, but they are in his electorate too.

But fairness goes further than just that. Fairness is returning the budget to balance. Fairness understands that when those opposite came to government—following the fine and responsible economic leadership of John Howard and the Liberals and Nationals—they squibbed it. They did. They squibbed the opportunity to reduce the pressure for today's children. It is unfair that, having inherited surpluses, Labor went about accumulating deficit upon deficit upon deficit—and I could say it six times, Deputy Speaker; it is sad but it is true—with total deficits of just under $240 billion in six years—that is, 16.9 per cent of gross domestic product. After inheriting Labor's baked-in spending and a structural deficit, the Liberals and Nationals government deficits have been $70 billion, or around 30 per cent, less. It was unfair that Labor threw away our surpluses on school halls and roofing insulation without the proper precautions and without the business case—so unfair. It was unfair that cheques were sent overseas, and to people who had actually passed away, causing even more grief to Australian families—all when Labor should have been building our economy. They had the perfect opportunity to do so. They squibbed it, and they wasted it. But we understand the fairness of getting the budget back to balance—because that is what Liberals and Nationals do. That is what we do. There is a side which does not squib it—it is this side, it is the Liberals and it is the Nationals. And we have a sensible and fair plan to get there, just like colleagues in the New South Wales Liberals and Nationals; like Gladys Berejiklian, the Premier, and her deputy, John Barilaro, whose budget yesterday delivered the services and the infrastructure that communities deserve, particularly country communities, whilst making responsible and fair decisions for the future.

Fairness is at the heart of the federal plan, too, while those opposite obstruct the very fairness of budget balance. They do it each and every day. As we approach savings measures which are fair and which mean those Australians who need support actually get it, those opposite stand in the way. They stand opposed. They oppose asking Australians to help us fully fund the NDIS through a modest increase in the Medicare levy—despite the shadow cabinet knowing in their hearts that it is a good idea. They play politics. In the modern Labor Party, politics trumps people at every hurdle. Even former Labor luminaries call out Labor's short-sightedness. They do. On the question of the fairness our budget delivers for Australians, former Labor minister Craig Emerson was clear when he said about Labor:

It should support the full increase in the Medicare levy, unconditionally back the bank levy and pass the school funding legislation …

Yet unfortunately, populism and politics stand in the way. Those opposite do not like what their former Labor frontbenchers say. Those opposite just stand in the way, for a political pointscoring exercise. Labor opposes removing payments to people which compensate them for a carbon tax which no longer exists. Let me tell you, Deputy Speaker, if they ever get hold of the Treasury benches again, that tax will be implemented. It will be reintroduced. It will push power prices up.

We know what happens when you get ideology standing the way of policy. We have seen how the Labor Premier, Jay Weatherill, is going in South Australia—small businesses, farmers and families have no guarantee that, when they flick the switch, the power is going to come on. Labor opposes getting the best deal possible for our students, delivering David Gonski's dream and funding schools according to their needs—just like Labor opposes the fairness of fully funding the NDIS. This comes as former leaders from the Australian Education Union want Labor to support it. In a letter to the PM and the opposition leader, a former president of the Australian Education Union, Dianne Foggo, said: 'It is on the principle of needs-based funding into the future that the Turnbull government's bills must be supported.' And Labor stands opposed. I cannot understand it. She continued: 'One of my proudest and most humbling honours has been to be made a life member of the AEU and to be a former federal president.' Labor should listen to her. They should support our sensible policies. They should get on track with the rest of the nation.

3:34 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

July the 1st is shaping up as Australia's D-Day. It is shaping up as Australia's D-Day because for the first time in a very, very long time we will see wages go backwards for low-income earners who depend on those penalty rates and who depend on those extra shifts that they get on Saturdays and Sundays to increase their wages to supplement the family income to ensure that they pay their bills, get food on the table and do all the other things that we do naturally as families. This is the first time ever that someone's wage has been rolled backwards without a negotiation, without a discussion, without two people sitting at the negotiating table to negotiate, perhaps, different conditions of work in return for penalty rates or lower penalty rates.

It is quite natural for this government not to support the stopping of this taking place on 1 July, and I say so because these are the same people that were the architects of WorkChoices back in 2007. We remember those plans that they had in place to implement them—in fact, they did implement them—and how hurtful they were to the public. The cutting of penalty rates is part of that plan. It is just chipping away at bits and pieces of many, many workers' rights and workers' conditions that have been fought for over generations. Those conditions have been fought for by my parents, my grandparents, your parents, your grandparents and people in the history of Australia who have worked to better workers' rights continuously. This government is standing by on 1 July and allowing this to take place.

It is a national disgrace. It is a disgrace that we are attacking the lowest-paid workers, the lowest-paid people, in this country when, at the same time, we are looking at giving a $65 billion tax cut to the high end of town. As I said, it is a disgrace. The Prime Minister is willing to increase income tax as well for all pay earners earning over $21,000. Have a think. Who earns between $21,000 and $80,000 a year? It is, again, our cleaners, people who work part-time, people who work on assembly lines, people who have those lowest paid jobs and are struggling in our community to pay their bills, to put food on the table and to send their kids to school. They are the people that this government is attacking. They are the people that this government has forgotten about. They are the people that they do not care about, but they do care about the high end of town and giving a $65 billion tax cut to those people. That is their priority.

Why is it their priority? Because the leader, the Prime Minister, is of that ilk. He has come to this place as a former banker, someone that has represented the boardrooms of those banks for many, many years. They are the people that urged him on and put him here in this place. But he was a bit of a progressive, I suppose, before he became Prime Minister. We know that he was running the Republican movement. We know that he supported same-sex marriage. There was a whole range of things. He was considered a bit of a progressive.

There is an interesting legend which has very many similarities to the Prime Minister, and that is the legend of Dr Faust. I do not know if anyone has heard of him, but Dr Faust is the protagonist of a classic German legend. He was a very learned man and a scholar who was highly successful. Yet, he was very dissatisfied with his life. This led him to make a pact with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. That is what we have here with the Prime Minister. Someone who had it all but decided to sell his soul to the right-wing conservative arm of his party and throw everything out the window for the godly pleasures of being Prime Minister.

He was willing to sell out hardworking Australians to pander to his rich mates. Even if there was ever any doubt on the government's values and priorities, and on this Prime Minister, then the changes that come into effect on 1 July should dispel that once and for all. The government is penalising low-income workers—vulnerable Australians—on so many fronts. And, as I said, at the same time it is giving a $65 billion tax cut to the top end. That is a tax cut for the top two to three per cent of income earners in Australia, while at the same time— (Time expired)

3:39 pm

Photo of David ColemanDavid Coleman (Banks, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Here we are about lower tax; over there they are about higher tax. Nowhere is it more obvious than in relation to these small and medium sized business tax cuts that have recently gone through the parliament. Small and medium sized businesses with revenues of between $2 million and $50 million will receive substantial tax reductions under the legislation that has gone through the parliament that those opposite voted against. But they opposed those tax reductions so, presumably, if they get into government, they will unwind them. What does that actually mean? It means a $25.4 billion tax increase: those opposite propose for small and medium sized businesses in Australia a $25.4 billion tax increase.

They like to talk about multinationals and the big end of town, mustering as much menace as they can in that statement, but these are businesses of $2 million to $50 million—small businesses, medium sized businesses. There are about 130,000 of them that benefit through the government's policy and, if you take that $25 billion tax reduction over the decade, how much does that work out at on average for each of those small and medium sized businesses? On average, it is about $224,000. If those opposite are saying that they do not support the legislated changes for small and medium sized businesses with $2 million or more turnover, which have already passed through the parliament, it adds up to $25 billion in tax savings for those businesses. There are 113,000 of those businesses, so an average is $224,000 more tax for small and medium sized Australian businesses relative to the legislation that is actually law now because it is through the parliament. That is a massive contrast.

The other thing that those opposite want to do is increase the tax on investment in Australia by 50 per cent for everything. They want to increase capital gains tax by 50 per cent for everything, and this is because of their so-called housing affordability policy designed, supposedly, to address the housing affordability issue in Sydney and Melbourne.

Tim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Cash-grab policy!

Photo of David ColemanDavid Coleman (Banks, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

But, as the member for Goldstein rightly interjects, it is a cash-grab policy, because how does increasing the tax by 50 per cent on someone who invests in a farm outside Mudgee address housing affordability in the major capital cities? How does increasing capital gains tax by 50 per cent on someone who invests in a cafe have anything to do with housing affordability or indeed somebody who invests in a factory? What about all those situations in Australia at the moment where factory workers get together and buy the business to keep it going? If they do that in the future under Labor, they will pay 50 per cent more tax. That is a policy that kills investment and kills jobs. It is an extremely bad idea.

They also want to have an extremely high marginal rate of tax for people who earn over $87,000 because they say, in relation to funding the NDIS, that people who are earning over $87,000 are rich, that they can afford to contribute to the funding of the NDIS and so they pay a hugely disproportionate burden.

At the $87,000 rate, your marginal rate of tax, including the Medicare levy, should be about 39 per cent. Under the policy of those opposite, as soon as you hit $87,000, you pay the Medicare levy of $400 plus. So what that means is: if you are earning $90,000, your effective rate of tax over $87,000 is actually 54 per cent. If you are earning $92,000, your effective rate of tax above $87,000 is 48 per cent; $95,000, 45 per cent; and $100,000, 43 per cent. That is creating a very substantial disincentive for those people who are not wealthy, certainly, in my electorate, where the median house price is well over a million dollars. Someone who is earning $87,000 is far from wealthy, but those opposite say: 'Let's tax them at an effectively higher marginal rate of tax than they would otherwise pay.'

They talk about the big end of town and millionaires and billionaires, but their definition of that is a small business that turns over $2 million—it probably makes a five per cent profit, so really it is making $100,000 a year—or somebody who earns over $87,000 a year, which in metropolitan Australia is by no means a large amount of money. They oppose sensible measures to crack down on multinational tax avoidance and have been very successful and have already raised over $2 million. Those opposite: they are about higher taxes. They do not understand what it takes to run an economy; this side does, and we have much stronger policies on tax.

3:44 pm

Photo of Emma McBrideEmma McBride (Dobell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak about this matter of public importance—the unfairness being inflicted on Australians in just 10 days time on 1 July. Is it fair that, in pockets of my community, around a third of households have a combined income of less than $600 per week? Is it fair that 16.6 per cent of young people in my community are looking for work? Is it fair that one in two students in my community have the opportunity to complete high school? Is it fair that, on 1 July, 15,000 workers on the Central Coast will get a pay cut of up to $77 per week?

Budgets are about priorities, and this government's budget is just not fair. At the heart of every government should be a sense of fairness, making sure that people and families most in need are helped and never left behind. This government abandoned any sense of fairness a long time ago. In 10 days time, on 1 July, it is going to get a lot worse for many Australians. Fairness should be at the heart of all government decisions. The Turnbull government is ideologically driven—determined to return favours to its supporters in the big end of town at the expense of those who can least afford it in regional Australia, like my community. On 1 July, the Turnbull government will deliver a $16,400 tax cut to millionaires and, the very next day, cut the penalty rates for 700,000 of Australia's lowest paid workers, resulting in a pay cut of $6,000 every year for half a million Australians working in the retail and hospitality industries. On top of this, the government intends to increase income tax for all PAYE taxpayers who earn over $21,000 per year. Is that fair?

The cut in penalty rates is a cruel blow to hardworking Australians. It comes at the same time as the Reserve Bank sounds the alarm bells on slow wages growth and the very real impact this will have on Australians' standard of living.

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What about those Coles workers? Where was Labor then?

Photo of Emma McBrideEmma McBride (Dobell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will take your interjection about Coles workers. Retail workers in my community are worse off. They are worse off—up to $77 per week worse off. The cut in penalty rates is a cruel blow to hardworking Australians, and it comes at the same time as the Reserve Bank sounds the alarm bells on slow wages growth and the very real impact this will have on Australian standards of living. The government can no longer claim that this is the work of an independent judicial body. They had a chance to support Labor's legislation overriding this decision, and they did not. The Turnbull government made its position very clear by voting to support this massive cut to the wages of low paid Australians. To make matters worse, Australian families will be confronted by massive hikes in their electricity bills from 1 July, thanks to this government's flip-flop on energy policy.

But Mr Turnbull's attacks on fairness do not end there. While he constantly asks Australians to tighten their belts, he and Treasurer Scott Morrison have completely lost control of the country's finances. Gross debt will shortly reach three-quarters of a trillion dollars—that is three-quarters of a trillion dollars! And the projected budget deficit has risen on 10 occasions since the confected 'budget emergency' was first mooted. He will not address the exceedingly generous tax concessions which heavily favour wealthy Australians and is committed to a $65 billion tax cut for big business.

We may now have a real budget emergency, thanks to this government, but, rather than saving money by not giving tax cuts to millionaires and big business and not subsidising the private investment which is driving up house prices, the government continues along the road of unfairness by cruel cuts to school funding. The government is trying desperately to push through $22 billion in cuts to the nation's schools. I quote from the minister representing the Minister for Education:

The member for Dobell has 44 schools in her electorate, which miss out on an average of $7.1 million each under the coalition's program, so she must go to the people of Dobell and explain why they are better off.

They are shameless! This is not even sham fairness from this government.

3:49 pm

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We have heard a lot about fairness. That is the key plank of the shadow Treasurer's MPI today—fairness. But what is fairness? Perhaps it is in the eye of the beholder. According to me, fairness is saying something and sticking to it; fairness is fully funding the programs we implement; and fairness is allowing people the freedom and security to live in relative peace and prosperity, to grow their wages, to build a home, to invest in the future and to send their kids to school, to a school that is properly funded. That is exactly what this government has done for Western Australia with respect to school funding.

We all know that the mining and construction boom has ended, and our state has certainly run aground and has had a few problems. We all understand that and we accept that. But it is not all doom and gloom. The drop in house prices means that young people now have a fighting chance to enter the housing market in regional Western Australia. But fairness means giving our Western Australian schools a proper level of federal government fund—a proper need-based model. Fairness means that, instead of those members opposite standing up like we have heard today, parroting and repeating the line of 'tax cuts for millionaires', they should do their job and do some research.

Tim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That's a good impersonation. Do it again.

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I said 'tax cuts for millionaires'. They should do their job and they would find out that the levy that they are talking about actually kicks in at $180,000. I do not know about you, Mr Deputy Speaker Coulton, but when I say 'millionaire' that is not someone who earns $180,000. So let's get the facts straight before we start talking about such issues.

Fairness is not having a marginal tax rate of 49 per cent, which is what those opposite—and let's remember this—would like for us here in Australia. I am sorry, but I do not believe that a dollar for you is also a dollar for the nation. I do not believe in that. What incentive is there to work hard, to build a business, to take on extra responsibility at work or to take on risks in the marketplace for a business, if you are rewarded by theft of the highest order from your government? It is just not fair.

But let us go back to the school funding, because it is my favourite topic at the moment—just like those opposite, except my conversation is more grounded in fact rather than fairy-tale land. Of all the special deals that we have heard about that were cut under Labor, not one was going to benefit or currently benefits schools in my electorate of regional Western Australia. As it happens, Western Australia is right at the bottom of the league ladder in terms of public school funding in this country. This is despite clearly having some of the greatest need in the country. Mr Deputy Speaker Coulton, like in your electorate of Parkes, I have some of the most disadvantaged Australian—students in particular—and I do not think Labor actually cares whether their needs are met, because Labor cares more about meeting the needs of inner city schools in Sydney and Melbourne rather than regional Western Australia.

But let us take a closer look at what those opposite have been up to lately. I really do not think we can believe one word that they say. Even today we saw the Manager of Opposition Business caught out by his own former employer—clearly no loyalty there—The Daily Telegraph, quoting the Manager of Opposition Business's strong support for 'stricter English speaking requirements'. He considered it so important that he actually wrote of his support for this in the very first column that he ever wrote for that publication. He also said that he supports every person entering Australia signing a declaration to respect our laws and way of life. But yesterday he decided that he did not like that position. He decided that that was a 'bizarre act of snobbery'. If you look up the word 'snobbery' you see that it means that you think that you are better than someone else.

Ms Butler interjecting

I think everyone would agree that people who want to be citizens should be able to speak our language.

Ms Butler interjecting

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Griffith is warned!

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am sure those words will haunt the Manager of Opposition Business, because the only bizarre act of snobbery I can see is a man who believes that he can make public comment to the Australian people and then take the exact opposite position and believe he can get away with it.

There are a lot of things that are unfair, and we have seen a sort of collective amnesia fall over members opposite regarding what has gone on with Coles workers and the SDA. The union is in such a shambles that it has traded away penalty rates for those 15-year-olds. But we don't hear those opposite crying about that, saying how unfair it is. That is what we would really like to hear on this side. We would really like for Labor to care more about those young 15-year-olds—and to care less about backing their union mates who rip us off. (Time expired)

3:55 pm

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Earlier this week we saw something extraordinary—a recognition, at the highest levels of economic policymaking, of a truth that is currently being felt in households across Australia. Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe told the Crawford Australian Leadership summit that the lack of real wage growth in the Australian economy was 'a crisis'. And he is right. Australia has now experienced four years of declining wages growth under the Abbott-Turnbull government. Wages growth is flatlining at just 1.9 per cent per annum—the lowest on record. In real terms, wages have actually contracted—indeed, they have contracted the most since the recession of the 1990s. Living standards have stagnated and inequality is at a 75-year high.

Things have gotten so bad that even Senator Abetz has stopped warning about an imminent wages breakout. The Reserve Bank governor is not interested in this as a question of industrial fairness though. Things have gotten so bad that the absence of wage growth is now a serious economic challenge for the Australian economy. Indeed, he noted:

Households are gradually coming to grips with slower growth in their real incomes. Growth in wages is unusually low, average hours worked have declined and the nature of employment is changing ... Many households are also coming to grips with higher debt levels and, in our largest cities, high housing prices. We need to watch these issues carefully.

Wages growth is so weak that it is now acting as a choke on household spending—limiting the growth prospects of the Australian economy.

The RBA governor came to the conclusion that workers should ask for a raise. The RBA governor gets it, but the Prime Minister and the Treasurer remain completely out of touch. The Treasurer, this week—overturning decades of economic orthodoxy linking wages to productivity growth—suggested in response to questions about this economic crisis that the best way to respond to this crisis was to cut company tax because this would increase corporate profits and 'wage increases should follow the profits that companies are making'.

Let us pause just for a moment to reflect on a Treasurer who has become such a lost cause and a joke that nobody is even surprised at his latest fumbling of basic economic policy. It is barely noted. The Treasurer's transformation in his short period in office is he has evolved from a bullyboy Biff Tannen type, when he was on top, to a shouty but unpersuasive Brick Tamland type, to today's sad spectacle: the vaguely pathetic Ralph Wiggum, who we have seen in action this week. He is a joke. Even if you were to subscribe to the Treasurer's unique, corporate profit-driven view of the world, company profits were up 40 per cent last year while wages were only up by 0.9 per cent. Does that sound fair?

A government that cared about fairness would be trying to tackle this crisis. What is the Turnbull government's response? What do they say when they are asked what their plan is to deal with this crisis and give Australian households an income boost? More of the same! More of the same $65 billion tax cuts. It is not quite as good as that. If they were doing nothing, it would be fairer than what they were actually doing. Instead, they are actively making things worse, greasing the rails for the well off, who are already doing well, and adding yet more lead to the saddlebags of working Australians.

In 10 days time, on 1 July, we will see an increase in income tax for all PAYE earners earning over $21,000. Not all of them, actually. On the same day, we will see a $16,400 tax cut for millionaires and a tax cut for the top two to three per cent of income earners earning more than $180,000 a year. On the same day, quarterly power bills will go out, pricing in the policy uncertainty, the policy failure of the Turnbull government's ideological divisions on energy and climate policy, pricing in a refusal to act on the recommendations of the Finkel review to introduce a clean energy target—to bring down emissions, to bring down electricity prices to provide certainty of supply for Australian households.

We will see a continuing refusal to address tax concessions, skewed to the top end of town, like negative gearing and capital gains tax, prioritising those who are already doing well and prioritising the best off. Most shamefully of all, we will see a government continuing to refuse to intervene to stop a cut to the wages of Australia's lowest paid. This week the Reserve Bank governor said Australian workers should ask for a raise. And this week the Turnbull government will refuse to stand in the way of a cut to the wages of 700,000 of the most vulnerable workers in our economy. These are the people who need a wage rise the most. These are the people who are living from pay cheque to pay cheque. These are the people for whom every dollar that comes in goes back out to the Australian economy, driving the jobs and growth that those opposite so often claim.

What is the Turnbull government doing to attack this macro policy problem, the problem of a lack of consumer spending in our economy? What is the Turnbull government doing to address the moral problem that we confront with inequality at a 75-year high? Those who have— (Time expired)

4:00 pm

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Here we go again, trying to work with the nonsense being proposed by those opposite. They are a real puzzle. They know that what they say is on the permanent record, but they contradict themselves every day of the week. It seems every day they come in here with a different position to what they said maybe just a few years ago or even a few months ago. It absolutely beggars belief. We are doing our best to work with them—we are; they have, after all, been elected to their posts—but it is so very hard when they cannot make up their minds.

The member for Lilley, who has been off this week, so badly wanted company tax cuts. He said he would fight tooth and nail to get it through when he was Treasurer, but now he does not. He says it is trickle-down economics and he is like the godfather amongst his base. His mate the member for McMahon said:

It's a Labor thing to have the ambition of reducing company tax …

Well, not anymore. He is so out of touch, or he contradicts himself so often, that he just cannot bear to say that anymore. On the Fair Work Commission, the Leader of the Opposition was clear. He said to support the decision of the independent umpire. That is what he said—isn't that right, the member for Banks?

Photo of David ColemanDavid Coleman (Banks, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Absolutely.

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, that was until the independent umpire actually made a decision. When they made a decision, you did not like it. That is the Leader of the Opposition. The previous Labor government said they were committed to educational outcomes. 'We are committed to educational outcomes.' What happened to that stance? It is a Gonski. The NDIS—they were committed to funding it. That is gone as well. Every single member opposite says it is a tax increase—that we are applying a tax increase by wanting to properly fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. They came in here, the member for Griffith—and she has gone now—and those opposite, saying, 'Multinational tax avoidance is a big issue.' I cannot blame the member for Lindsay, she was not here, but, before the last election, they voted against it. Every single one of them over on that side of the House voted against it. That is what they did. I could stand here all day and bang on. They have done enough backflips to earn a spot on the Australian gymnastics team—heaven forbid.

Now they are going to have a crack at us for the way we are managing our way out of their deficits, which are the result of poor economic management and a decade of reckless spending. That is the legacy of recent Labor governments. It is shameful. How do they want us to tidy up their mess? The public, the people in our seats, want us to work together. We are not even at 12 months since the last election. They want us to work together, but those opposite are too busy playing politics. They cannot conceive a way to progress the nation other than putting their hand in the pocket of hardworking Australians. You have to hand it to the member for McMahon. 'Millionaires are getting a tax cut,' he says in here. But what the member for McMahon fails to mention is that someone earning $1 million in this country, even with no deficit levy—which is currently in place and comes off in a couple of days—will pay $443,000 in tax. That is what they pay. Wake up, you guys opposite.

Ms Claydon interjecting

'Fancy accountants,' says the member for Newcastle. Okay, let us give them a $50,000 tax deduction because they are negatively geared. On $950,000 they pay $419,500 in tax, and these guys want to up it. They want to keep it up permanently. They want to destroy any hope that Australians have to make a better life for themselves. They want to keep them down. They want to feed them. They want to hand over the cash and keep them down. If you are an Australian and you want to be a school principal, you have no hope with this mob; they want to keep you down. If you are a young woman and you want to be a psychologist and earn $235,000 a year, they want to take your money. That is what they want to do. And the members for Hindmarsh and Dobell and Gellibrand, every single one of them, do not want to properly fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I will tell you what: if people earned $25,000 a year, they would be happy, in most cases, to pay $125 to properly fund it. Wake up! You are out of touch.

4:05 pm

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

'Without discussion or negotiation': they were the words of the member for Hindmarsh when discussing the government's cuts to penalty rates. A great unfairness will be inflicted on my electorate of Melbourne Ports in 10 days time, on 1 July, as it will be on the people of Australia. According to the Bureau of Statistics, there are more than 13,000 workers in my electorate who are going to be hurt by the Turnbull government's attack on penalty rates. The 2011 census data shows that Melbourne Ports is amongst the 10 electorates nationally that are most affected by these cuts to penalty rates. According to the 2011 census, there were 7,128 people in Melbourne Ports working in the retail sector and 5,606 working in the hospitality industry. Over half of the workers in those sectors are aged 35 years or younger. They are the people struggling to save for their first home, a goal that is becoming beyond the reach for many as these unfair measures are placed like hurdles before them. Only Labor, with its aim of eliminating negative gearing, gives them any hope of getting into the housing market.

Across the country, approximately 700,000 of the lowest paid workers will have their pay cut, while the government gives a $65 billion tax cut to major business. Talk of phasing in the cuts to penalty rates over four years suggests that low-paid workers will not feel the pinch if they become poorer more slowly, when in fact it will only give them time to consider how to make the cuts to their own health care, the education of their children or their spending at local businesses. As Bill Shorten, the member for Maribyrnong and Leader of the Opposition, said, 'This is an appalling decision, and it comes at a time when wages are falling in real terms.'

The Treasurer, Scott Morrison, tells us that wages will go up when companies grow after their tax cut. He is hoping for the trickle-down effect. As Sally McManus, the Secretary of the ACTU, pointed out last night, the trouble with that is that last year company profits went up by 40 per cent. In the real world, real workers are facing unfair cuts to their take-home pay, and growth has flatlined at 1.9 per cent. When Labor was last in office, it was over three per cent. So we are being promised 'pie in the sky when you die'. These big company tax cuts will allegedly lead to people getting salary increases but, while profits have increased over the last few years of the Liberal government, that has not happened.

It is of absolutely no comfort to those facing pay cuts in my electorate that others will be gifted a $16,400 tax cut on the same day as retail workers are being punished with a cut of $6,000 per year via cuts to their penalty rates. It is not only victims of penalty rate cuts that this government is treating unfairly. Small businesses will have major concerns about the knock-on effects of the 11,800 locals in my electorate who have less money to spend. As the member for Gellibrand pointed out, as of 1 July every taxpayer earning from $21,000 to $180,000 will have their PAYE tax increased. My constituents are angry that no other major political party made a submission to the Fair Work Commission arguing for penalty rates—including the Greens political party, despite their rhetoric. Labor remains the only party committed to protecting penalty rates and low-income workers.

The Turnbull government have failed to explain why retail or hospitality work on Sunday is somehow less valuable than their own or anyone else's work. As the member for Dobell said, low-paid workers, in 10 days time, will suffer a $77 per week cut to their pay. That is completely unjustified for people at the lowest end of the income scale in Australia, who we should be looking after. The McKell Institute has released a report highlighting that 55 per cent of those affected by these penalty rate cuts are female. This is yet another way in which the cruel and unnecessary cuts are unfair. The McKell Institute also reports that changes will impact on future EBA negotiations because they signal an economy-wide devaluation of Sunday penalty rates and may serve to undermine future collective bargaining. So we have a $22 billion cut to education; Australia has an all-time high rate of under-employment and casualisation; we have a situation where it is harder for young people to get into the housing market; and on top of that we have got this unfair and unnecessary cut to penalty rates. For the average Australian, this government is bad news.

4:10 pm

Tim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The point of this motion today, according to the opposition, is to talk about unfairness in the future. Let us take on good faith what they are actually trying to make the argument for, but I think we should also take the opportunity to talk about unfairness today. I want to use the opportunity, firstly, to condemn the remarks of Pauline Hanson in the Senate, and her suggestion that it is in some way appropriate to go out there and argue that children with a disability should be separated out from the rest of the community and from other students in schools. I think that is absolutely unfair. I think it is an absolutely outrageous proposition. I am sure all members, regardless of differences of opinion on the motion, will agree with that.

Deputy Speaker, I have two pugs. One of the great things about the electorate of Goldstein is that it is full of lots of families who have dogs. Ella and Louis are my pugs and often, when I have the opportunity to be at home, we go over to the dog park across the road. But invariably, as you know Deputy Speaker, dogs do one thing—that is, they go around, they sniff around, and they often find things that they probably should not be sniffing—

Mr Zimmerman interjecting

I will not repeat what the member for North Sydney just said. But dogs sniff around, and they often find things that are a bit foul. And what is foul today—and even Louis or Ella could sniff it today—is the motion being put forward by the opposition. The opposition is putting forward a motion to grandstand—for their cheap political points—at the expense of Australians. My electorate is full of hardworking Australians, industrious people, good people, who look for a sense of justice in this world. But they know that justice comes with responsibility, with people standing up and taking care of their affairs, and with making sure we do everything we can to encourage people to rise and succeed. To go to some of the points that have been raised already by other members: it is quite clear that we in this government are squarely focused on justice and on fairness by making sure that we cut taxes for hardworking Australians. These are hardworking Australians who have actually gone out, earned a quid, and put their labour and their energy on the line at any time to support themselves and their families. And we should be encouraging them to do that. But it is not just people who are salary-earners, although they are very important; it is also the people in business. The people in business who have taken risks, who have had a tough time. They had a tough time for many years—firstly they had to survive the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era where, increasingly, they were taxed by the government. That government did not actually support them at the time to build their opportunities with their businesses. That government actually used it as an opportunity to tax them, and to tax them more, and to target those people in business who wanted to do better for the rest of the community. This government is focused on—and quite rightly so—making sure that everybody in this country meets their responsibilities. I think where the government should be applauded particularly is focusing on the challenges around multinational taxation. The efforts that this government has gone to to tackle multinational tax avoidance are very real. We have seen numbers in the billions being put forward—about how much multinationals have not been contributing, and now are—because we are making sure that there is a diverted profits tax, to make sure that multinationals cannot get away with tax avoidance. Similarly, we are implementing the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law and increasing the resources necessary for the Australian Taxation Office to make sure that they crack down on multinationals who do not do the right thing. That is the thing: we are a country where everybody has to have freedom, justice and responsibility, and everybody has to shoulder that responsibility together. It is only when we do that that we can fund the social dividend that we all believe in, which actually delivers a sense of justice in society. To sit here each question time while those opposite talk about the National Disability Insurance Scheme even though they did not fund it—and we now are—is just extraordinary.

When it comes down to it, there are millions of Australians who need support and assistance from the government for legitimate reasons. The least that the opposition could do is be honest with the public in explaining to them the consequences of their bad policy. They go out there and shed their crocodile tears when it suits them, but will not even honour the commitment that they have made in previous elections. One of the members before raised a narrative, which I thought was a very good opportunity and it inspired me. When it comes down to it, Labor is never going to give you up, they are going to let you down, they are going to run around and desert you, they will make you cry, their taxes will never say goodbye, they will just lie and hurt you.

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has concluded.