Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Matters of Public Importance
Chris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | Hansard source
) ( ): Good economic management requires consistency and it requires competence. It was crystal clear in the question time which we just went through that this government and this Treasurer in particular are bereft of both. It has been crystal clear that we have a Treasurer who is just not good enough for the job. He is just not up to the job. It has taken six months for him to crash and burn. It has taken six months for him to be shown to be completely and utterly lacking in the skills required to be Treasurer of Australia. The Prime Minister must be wondering whether he can afford to hold onto a Treasurer so clearly not up to it, so clearly out of his depth.
There was hope that he would have been better than his predecessor. It was not a high bar. There was hope that we would see an improvement. We know that the now Treasurer white-anted his predecessor. He went around making sure that people knew he would be so much better at the job, making sure that people knew he was available to serve, reluctantly, as Treasurer in a new administration, but we have seen him, as the Leader of the Opposition said, 'Shrink into the job'. We know that being the Treasurer is a hard job. We know that it can be hard for a new Treasurer in the early days, but normally a Treasurer grows into it. This Treasurer has shrunk into the job and is disappearing before us. But he cannot blame his predecessor, Joe Hockey, and he cannot blame Labor, all his errors are his own making.
I am going to do something that some would regard as unfair, some may regard as unparliamentary, but I am going to do it. I am going to quote the Treasurer. I feel obliged to remind the House of some of the things that the Treasurer has said. I know it is a devastating, tricky tactic to quote the Treasurer, but I think it is fair enough. When asked about bracket creep, his said:
Well, I do,—
and I'm quite passionate about it, because I think that's one of the things that is holding the Australian economy back.
He said at another time, 'This is not something that gets people back to work, to save and invest.' The old 'work, save and invest' was trotted out as a reason to deal with bracket creep and to take decisive action. He was asked again about bracket creep and he said, 'It concerns me greatly.' It is known as bracket creep, but he called it 'inflation tax'. We now have the Treasurer consistently on the record saying that he would deal with bracket creep. He said that it was one of his key goals. When asked about bracket creep, he said, 'I've been making that point for five months.' His entire Treasury tenure has been devoted to dealing with bracket creep.
As we saw in question time, he did not even say that he would deliver small tax cuts. He said they would be delivering large tax cuts, then significant tax cuts and then big tax cuts and then very big tax cuts. Then we were told last week that they would be small tax cuts—a sandwich and a milkshake. Well, overnight the milkshake has evaporated and the sandwich has disappeared, because this Treasurer will deliver no tax cuts in his May budget. Not one tax cut will be delivered to Australian workers. He also said that if they did deliver tax cuts their priority would be to deliver them to workers, to people in the workforce, PAYE taxpayers. He said, 'That's where our focus will be. That's what we will deliver.' Now, apparently, we are moving to corporate tax cuts, not personal income tax cuts. This is a government and a Treasurer bereft of strategy and bereft of an idea.
In question time when the Treasurer was talking about big tax cuts he was going to fund them through an increase in the GST. We saw the Treasurer, reduced at question time, to complaining that the Labor Party had decided not to increase the GST before he got there. That was his big attack on the Labor Party. How dare we decide that we do not want an increase in GST before he had a chance to decide it. That was his big economic attack on the Labor Party because the Labor Party had actually thought this issue through and the Labor Party had said that increasing the GST will affect low- and middle-income earners the most and that an increased GST will not have a growth dividend. Then the Treasurer gave his great oration, his 46 minutes at the National Press Club, and he said, 'I've thought about this. An increase in the GST will affect low- and middle-income earners the worst and it won't have a growth dividend.' This was the Treasurer's great economic revelation to the Australian people! And at question time he complained that the Labor Party had reached that view first. This is what the Treasurer has been reduced to.
Let us look at this Treasurer's track record. He said the GST would increase. Now we are told—we are told—it will not happen. He said there would be personal income tax cuts. That is not going to happen. He said they would never increase tax on superannuation. Well, that will happen in the budget. He said they would not increase the tax on tobacco. That will happen in the budget. He said they would deal with negative gearing excesses. That will not happen in the budget. Everything this Treasurer says will not happen does happen. Everything this Treasurer says will happen does not happen. This Treasurer is completely bereft of a strategy and completely bereft of ideas.
The Prime Minister said, 'This government has made one announcement after another.' He is right about that; it is just that they have been entirely contradictory from one day to another. We need a Treasurer with a plan and the competence to deliver it. Instead, we have a government so much at sixes and sevens they do not know what day the budget will be delivered. We were told there would be a white paper and a green paper. Then we were told there would be a tax statement. Then, when asked today if there would be a tax statement, the Minister for Communications said, 'Yes, there will be a tax statement before the budget.' Now we are told there will not be a tax statement. As we say on Twitter, YCMIU—you couldn't make it up. The government's economic approach is so bereft of ideas that they cannot even agree on what day the budget will be delivered.
We have a Treasurer who says there are excesses in negative gearing, but he will not do anything about it—or he cannot do anything about it. He says that bracket creep is a big problem, but he cannot do anything about that. This Treasurer has not seen a problem he can fix. He has not created a problem that he can fix. He has not outlined a problem that he can fix.
Then, after tax policy, we come to competition policy. We had the Harper review—a big, landmark review, we were told. It was going to make big, sweeping recommendations. It was released 12 months ago. Today, 12 months later, after a cabinet brawl last night, the government gets around to responding, and we see a view that the Treasurer does not support, the finance minister does not support, the Attorney-General does not support and the Assistant Treasurer does not support becoming government policy, because the Deputy Prime Minister supports it, apparently, as do others.
We have a Treasurer who could hold the Guinness world record for kite flying! He flies a kite and then he brings it back down to earth again. His ideas come crashing down because he does not think them through beforehand. He does not think through the implications of his thought bubbles, and as a result they cannot be implemented. We have a Treasurer who said that he would fix the problems that his predecessor could not fix. He was so much better than the member for North Sydney, he told his party room. He was so much better, he told people, because he could do the big reforms. He could drive through an increase in the GST. He could deliver the big, sweeping personal income tax cuts. He could do it, he told the Australian people.
No doubt he told the Prime Minister that, too, when their deal was done at that Canberra restaurant: 'I'll run for Prime Minister, you run for Treasurer. We'll split it up between us. You don't have to vote for me; just get your people to vote for me. It'll all be okay. Nobody'll notice.' The deal was done, and it was all going to be great. Malcolm and Scott could fix everything! Well, Malcolm and Scott have been unable to deliver a pizza! They have been unable to deliver anything on economic policy. They are not even able to deliver a budget on the day it is scheduled to be delivered without having a major debate.
Can you imagine the cabinet meetings? In a cabinet there are discussions about what should be in the budget and about what the policies should be. There is a contest of ideas. There are views expressed. In this cabinet, they get the calendar out to start their debate about economic policy! 'Do you think we should have the budget on 3 May or 10 May,' the big economic debate goes. 'When should we go to an election?' 'Let's go to an election early, because the longer we stay here the worse it gets,' the cabinet tells the Prime Minister. 'For goodness sake, let's rush to the people, because they're onto us. They've worked us out. We've got to go to an early election because they've worked out we don't stand for anything, we can't deliver anything and we actually don't have a clue when it comes to our economy.' That is the debate that goes on in this cabinet—the Leader of the House saying to the Prime Minister, 'For goodness sake, call an early election, because the Australian people are working us out and the sooner we go to an election the better the chance we have of winning it. The longer we stay, the more our lack of policy will be exposed.'
We asked the Prime Minister today, 'What's your tax policy?' It was a tricky question, I know! He could not have seen it coming, I know! He flailed around. It took him a minute before he got onto Labor's tax policy. I say to the Prime Minister: you're welcome. We are happy to provide him with something to talk about, because if it were not for Labor leading the debate, he would have nothing to talk about. If it were not for Labor setting the economic agenda, he would have nothing to talk about. He would have no policy to talk about in this House or anywhere else. He would have no agenda to talk about. He is leading a government without an agenda. Australia has an opposition setting the agenda. That is the difference we see in the Australian political landscape: an opposition setting the agenda and an opposition happy to fight an election whenever the government get around to it.