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

7:04 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) Share this | Hansard source

The people of Barker pride themselves on a lot of things. But if I was being completely frank I'd say that mine is an honest electorate. It's a place where a person's word is their bond. The Prime Minister's decision to break his word and his bond on the stage 3 tax cuts, I'm sad to say, joins a long list of broken promises, including those around lower electricity prices, cheaper mortgages, and the commitment to keep his hands off superannuation and franking credits.

At a local level, constituents in my electorate were encouraged by the Prime Minister's commitment of a $275 reduction in electricity bills. But it will come as no surprise that they're still waiting for that $275 reduction. Families in Kingston in the south-east of South Australia, in my electorate, in the lead-up to the last federal election were promised $1.8 million to help fund the establishment of a purpose-built childcare facility. It was a commitment we had made and one that, happily, those opposite, during the election, matched. I say 'happily' because at the point that the commitment was made we were going to see a redeveloped childcare facility in Kingston irrespective of the election outcome. As someone who's outcomes focused, I thought that was a particularly good thing. But unfortunately that is also an unfulfilled commitment at this stage. Despite it being more than 14 months since the election and close to two years since the original commitment, that $1.8 million election promise is yet to materialise.

It's not only broken promises that make this government untrustworthy. It's also their lack of transparency. Prior to the 2022 election, people in the Riverland, in my electorate, didn't believe that those opposite would return to a policy of water buybacks. Why? Because those opposite weren't open and honest about that. When I warned the people of the Riverland that that was exactly what those opposite had in store for them, I was accused by those opposite—or at least the candidate on behalf of the Australian Labor Party—of 'resorting to fearmongering'. Yet even now that we know that buybacks are being implemented there's no transparency about how much those opposite are willing to pay for that water or indeed where the water is going to come from. In the south-east of my electorate, along the beautiful Limestone Coast, the local lobster fishermen weren't told that while they would be still hurting from the loss of key international markets Labor would swoop in and propose a job-destroying, industry-destroying proposal for a Southern Ocean offshore wind farm in their fertile fishing grounds. Yet that's exactly where we are—and not a mention of it before the last election.

Equally, farmers across my electorate weren't told that they'd be slugged with a $50 million a year biosecurity protection levy—a levy on Australian farmers to protect them from the actions of those they compete against who are importing product to this country. And Sturt Highway road users, rejoicing in the news that we would finally see the establishment of a Truro bypass around that township to increase the productivity and safety of the Sturt Highway—a major transport route between Adelaide and interstate and indeed up to Sydney—would not have thought it possible that the federal government would retract funding for such an important piece of infrastructure. Over $220 million was committed to this Truro freight route. Yet that's exactly what Labor has done—a project that has been talked about for probably close to the entirety of my adult life, a project that took 10 years to get to Infrastructure Australia's priority list and then, after 10 years on the priority list, was gone in a moment.

I'd have a lot more respect for those opposite if prior to the election they'd said to the road users of the Sturt Highway, 'If you vote for us, just understand that the Sturt Highway will not see a bypass around the community of Truro.' I'd have more respect for those opposite if they'd said to the cray fishermen on the Limestone Coast, 'Just understand a vote for us is a vote for a gargantuan offshore wind complex in your fertile fishing ground which will effectively prohibit you from fishing in a 5,000 square kilometre area.' I'd have more respect for those opposite if they'd been clear and upfront about the biosecurity levy that would be imposed on Australian farmers. I'd have more respect for those opposite—indeed, I think my electorate would—if they'd said to the people of Kingston, 'We acknowledge the commitment made by the coalition government for $1.8 million towards a childcare facility and we'll do our very best to match that,' but that's not what the commitment was. I think they'd have a lot more respect for the Prime Minister if he had said, 'We will do everything within our power to put downward pressure on electricity prices,' instead of saying that they could expect a $275 reduction.

The stark reality, friends, is that our Prime Minister has his priorities, unfortunately. They're not priorities about addressing the cost of living. It's not about road safety. It's not about business confidence or food security. Sadly, my observation of the first period of the Albanese prime ministership is that we have a Prime Minister whose only priority is maintaining the office of Prime Minister. This is a government that has quickly become arrogant, complacent, economically incompetent and untrustworthy.

In recent days and weeks, the Prime Minister has revelled in regaling this place—particularly during question time—with the ABC docuseries Nemesis. It caused me to reflect on the Prime Minister lying in bed listening to or watching that program. He might have been lying on the couch in the Lodge, doing that—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER interjecting

I mean physically lying, of course. I'm not making any other assertion. The point I want to make to the Prime Minister—in his absence from the chamber—is that your time will come. The reality is that there'll be a similar documentary about the Albanese years, and I reasonably anticipate that there will be a number of frontbenchers interviewed around this critical decision to break his word and his promise on the stage 3 tax cuts.

We all know why this has happened. It's got nothing to do with cost-of-living pressures, because if cost-of-living pressures were the No. 1 priority of those opposite they wouldn't have spent close to half a billion dollars and 12 months of this nation's energy and enthusiasm on an ill-fated attempt to recast the Australian Constitution with a Voice to Parliament. Really this change has been about a Prime Minister who's desperately concerned about the Dunkley by-election. That's the truth. The Dunkley by-election is a real-time measure for the Prime Minister regarding his performance. I expect that, littered amongst the thinkers on the backbench, there are a whole bunch of people who are acutely aware of their margins. They'll be looking at whatever movement there is in the electoral pendulum in Dunkley. The Prime Minister knows that and he doesn't want a significant swing against him in that seat because that will cause consternation. The reality is that when we go to the Dunkley by-election and there's a swing against the government and the Prime Minister subsequently sees that his great policy white knight, these changes to stage 3 tax cuts, don't deliver him the Newspoll bump or improvement he's looking for, he will sadly be left holding the baby. He won't have any support from those who've suggested it's a good thing to do right now. They'll be lining up, one after another, to answer the questions of whoever is assigned this role within the ABC, or whatever other outlet, to say, 'You know, we always thought it was a bad strategy long term.' And of course it's a bad strategy long term, because everything's about trust.

I began my contribution by saying that my electorate is a place where your word is still your bond to the honest folk of Barker. Now, I don't think Barker is unique in that regard. There are 150 other electorates in this place for which each and every member of parliament could say exactly the same thing. Because, as Australians, deep down we say what we mean and we do what we say. Deep down Australians want leaders who say what they mean and do what they say. That's why trust is everything. And that's why, with respect, this decision to rip up the trust statement between the now Prime Minister of Australia and the voting public across this nation is crazy brave. They won't forget that he was so quick to commit to a me-too approach on the then coalition's tax policy—not just before the election, but after the election—and yet so quick to rip it up for the short-term sugar hit that he's hoping to achieve at the Dunkley by-election.

As I've made clear, this joins quite a legacy of broken promises. There are broken promises on the national scale—the commitment to lower electricity bills, lower mortgages, cheaper cost of living, higher real wages, no taxes on retirees, no taxes on transport operators and, as I mentioned, taxes on farmers. But there are also breaches of faith with the Australian people at very local levels across electorates. I've given some examples from my electorate. These are failures for which the people of my electorate will ultimately punish those opposite. But I expect that if I were to ask members around the chamber, particularly on the crossbench and on the opposition benches, if there are similar local breaches of faith, I'd find them.

The reality is, that's before we even talk about what's coming next. And we know what's coming next. Despite the Treasurer's consternation and his attempts to deny it, the plan for wholesale wealth redistribution in this country, via reforms to the Australian tax system, will continue unabated. And I've got some really bad news for the people who might be listening to this broadcast, and particularly those in Barker: it won't be long, whether their hand is forced by their coalition partners in the Greens or otherwise, and they'll be coming after negative gearing and they'll be coming after concessions to capital gains tax. They can't resist it. We often talk about political DNA in this place, but, ultimately, deep inside the political DNA of those opposite is always a big-taxing, big-spending government. The only way you can be a big-taxing, big-spending government is if you go after people who have the wealth in this nation.


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