House debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2024


Treasury Laws Amendment (Cost of Living Tax Cuts) Bill 2024, Treasury Laws Amendment (Cost of Living — Medicare Levy) Bill 2024; Second Reading

5:38 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Minister for Regional Education) Share this | Hansard source

My good friend the member for Hawke, we had a little chat on TV yesterday together. We can revisit the whole conversation, but we will get to that as the evening proceeds. We are teetering, in this place, on the very edge of credibility when the Prime Minister and the Treasurer come to the dispatch box and say to the Australian people, 'You know what? We had no plans to change stage 3. It wasn't even our idea. It was Treasury, the department, that initiated the whole thing last December. Up until then we were going to go ahead with stage 1, stage 2 and stage 3. It wasn't even our idea.' What they're saying to us is that the secretary of the Treasury, on his own volition, went on a little multibillion-dollar frolic last December, pooled all the resources of his department and came up with a new idea for stage 3 tax cuts without telling the Treasurer and without telling the Prime Minister. We are teetering on the very edge of credibility.

As someone who has had the great fortune of being a minister on a couple of occasions I can assure you the secretary of the department does not go out on a multibillion-dollar frolic on their own without first checking the temperature of the minister for the portfolio. It is beyond credibility that the secretary of the Department of Treasury would cook up this whole change to the tax system without even once saying, 'Hey Treasurer, what you think about this? Prime Minister, what do you reckon?'—'No, I'll just go and do this all by myself. I'll tie up hundreds of staff in thousands of hours of work on a new policy area involving billions of dollars, but don't tell the Treasurer. Shh, it's a secret. It's a little Christmas present for Jimbo. Don't tell anyone. Don't pass it on.' If I were to describe my attitude to the Treasurer and the Prime Minister coming to the dispatch box and saying that the Treasury initiated the whole thing, I'd say I'm a little bit sceptical—just a little bit sceptical.

I'm going to commentate for a moment, which is a dangerous thing for a politician to do, and reflect on the decision of the Prime Minister over the Christmas break to decide that, while his word is his bond, it doesn't really mean anything in this case. I'd suggest that not all gamblers can be found at the casino. The Prime Minister has taken the biggest gamble I've seen any leader make in this place in the past 15 years. The gamble the Prime Minister has been prepared to take is that in trashing his own word, trashing his own integrity and trashing his own honesty he thinks the Australian people are going to forget about it because they're getting a little bit more in their pockets. They're going to be so kind to the Prime Minister that, even though they've been misled, deceived, told mistruths, for $15 a week—that $15 worth of pizza might be half a family sized pizza per week—for the price of half a family sized pizza per week, they're going to forgive him for breaking his word. That's a hell of a gamble for a Prime Minister to take when the next election will be very much about, 'Whom do you trust?'

I've heard those opposite speaking today, and I'll be interested to hear more of the debate tonight. If those opposite are so confident, are so passionate and are so determined that they are right, that their stage 3 tax cuts are better than the ones already legislated, why didn't they tell the Australian people? Why didn't they tell the Australian people at the last election? Why try and win the election based on a lie, based on deception? Why not tell the truth at the election and let the Australian people make their own choice? Funnily enough, that's how democracy works. You go to the Australian people, you go to your electorate and you go to the people in your community, you present your policies and present your ideas, you're upfront with them and then they get to cast their vote. If those opposite are suddenly so confident that their approach was the right approach all along, why didn't they take it to the Australian people and let them vote on it?

If we do accept the explanation of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer that this whole idea was the idea of the bureaucrats at Treasury, why should we believe the Prime Minister and the Treasurer when they stand at the dispatch box now and say: 'We're not going to touch negative gearing. Oh, no, we're not going to touch a tax on the family home.' If they didn't know about Treasury changing the entire stage 3 tax system, how would they know if the Treasury is out there doing it again? They could be out there cooking up more tax reform: negative gearing, tax on the family home, capital gains—who knows? If the Prime Minister's word is his bond and this was his policy until it wasn't and he didn't know about Treasury doing the last bit of work, how would he know? Who is actually running Treasury? Who is running the finances of this government? Is it the Treasurer, is it the Prime Minister, or is it the bureaucrats, who apparently go off on multibillion dollar frolics and only tell the Prime Minister and the Treasurer when it suits them and when it's convenient?

So, when it's convenient, maybe the Treasury will tell us whether they are working on negative gearing or on capital gains tax on the family home. Those opposite wouldn't know. They weren't even told last time, so how would they know what Treasury's cooking up next. As I said, it is on the very edge of credibility to suggest for even a moment that the Treasurer and the Prime Minister didn't know about these changes.

I will make one other point in terms of the failings of this government when it comes to regional Australia. It has been in government for almost two years. In that time, the taxes gathered by this government have not led to a single major infrastructure project being planned, funded or delivered in my seat of Gippsland. If you see a bulldozer, a grader, a crane or an excavator on a major project anywhere in Gippsland today, I can assure you of one thing: this government had absolutely nothing to do with it. Gippslanders need a fairer share of their taxes being returned to our community and our region for the services and infrastructure we need.

I want to raise one project tonight which I am anxious for the minister for infrastructure and transport to take some interest in. I presented the case to her in the past. It is the Traralgon bypass on the Princes Highway. The Traralgon bypass is a project that's been talked about for the best part of 30 years. I accept it's primarily a state government responsibility to get the project moving, but it will be the federal government that has to provide up to 80 per cent of the funding for that project. It will deliver major social, economic and environmental benefits to my community, reduce congestion in Traralgon and also improve road safety. The Traralgon bypass is the highest priority transport infrastructure project east of Melbourne today. Under the previous government, we were successful in securing 80 per cent of the funding for the Traralgon to Sale duplication project, with 20 per cent of the funding coming from the state government. What concerns me when we talk about the application of our taxes for the benefit of the Australian people is that the minister for transport has indicated that, under the infrastructure review she has undertaken, she is abandoning the 80-20 funding split for regional projects. If you abandon the 80-20 funding split for regional projects, there is not a hope the Victorian government will come on board and fund these projects fifty-fifty. There's just not a hope, so we need to see major projects in regional areas still being able to access 80 per cent of their funding from the Commonwealth and 20 per cent from the states.

The previous government allocated a billion dollars of Australian taxpayers' money for the Princes Highway corridor works from Sydney to Adelaide. I have repeatedly sought advice from the minister as to whether taxes which are gathered from Gippslanders will ever make it back onto the roads of Gippsland. I've repeatedly sought the advice of the minister as to what's left of Victoria's share of that $300 million. What's left and how can we prioritise action in my community?

As the government forms its budget, we need to see a commitment to fully design and develop the business case to give us some certainty on the route regarding the Traralgon bypass. We need to stop talking about it and we need to actually get on with the job of building projects like that with Australian taxpayers' money. Australians deserve better, and they certainly expect more, than a Prime Minister who says one thing before the election and does the complete opposite after the election. The Prime Minister repeatedly said, up to 100 times, that he had no plans to change the stage 3 tax cuts.

As I said earlier, the coalition is committed to lower, simpler and fairer taxes, which is why will not oppose the reduction in the 19c tax rate to 16c. But the Prime Minister's broken promise means that delivering the stage 3 tax reforms, which had been legislated and supported by those opposite, is now simply impossible. We are committed to go to the next election with a tax reform package that is in keeping with the stage 3 tax reforms. Unlike those opposite, we remain committed to fighting bracket creep—that thief in the night that takes more Australian taxpayer dollars than any other form of government legislation and sneaks up on Australians, takes more money out of their pockets and no-one knows about it—and we are committed to enshrining aspiration.

We on this side of the House believe—and those opposite used to believe—that strong leaders actually keep their promises even when it is hard to do so. We will take a policy to the next election which delivers lower, simpler and fairer taxes. We will fight bracket creep and we will reward hardworking Australians. What we won't do is what we have seen here in this place over the last couple of weeks. We won't go to the Australian people as a small target and hide the truth simply to win an election, as the Prime Minister did when, all along, he intended to break a promise. That is not how our democracy is meant to function. That is not how the Australian people expect their leaders to behave.

I say to those opposite: if you are such strong believers in honesty and transparency, why didn't you have the decency to go to your electorates and argue your case for this tax package before the election? Why did you commit this extraordinary deceit upon the Australian people? When will those opposite tell the truth about their plans to attack negative gearing and to attack the family home with increased taxes? If we couldn't believe you on stage 3 legislated tax cuts, why would be believe you when it comes negative gearing and the family home?


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