Tuesday, 23 February 2016
Prime Minister; Attempted Censure
There is only so much incompetence that we can accept from this Prime Minister. I seek leave to move a motion of censure against the Prime Minister.
Leave not granted
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Maribyrnong from moving the following motion forthwith—
That this House
(1) notes that:
(a) yesterday in question time the Prime Minister said: 'Increasing capital gains tax is no part of our thinking whatsoever';
(b) just hours later the Prime Minister's own office confirmed to media that not only had the government ruled out changes to capital gains tax, it was still actively considering changes;
(c) leaked coalition talking points from the Prime Minister's own office contradict the Prime Minister's statement in question time yesterday;
(d) therefore, by the admission of his own office, the Prime Minister has misled parliament and through it the Australian people;
(e) the Minister for Finance repeatedly refused to rule out changes to capital gains tax on ABC News 24 this morning as the Prime Minister had done in question time yesterday;
(f) the Prime Minister failed to act in accordance with clause 5.1 of his own statement of ministerial standards by refusing to attend the House to correct the record as soon as practicable.
(2) We censure the Prime Minister for:
(a) misleading the parliament and the Australian people about his changes to tax;
(b) saying one thing and then doing another; and
(c) leading a government that has no plan which can be trusted by Australians.
Either this Prime Minister is dishonest or he is incompetent—he cannot be both. The Prime Minister needs to rule out increasing capital gains tax on the superannuation accounts of millions of people. What is it about this Prime Minister that makes him so out of touch that he would defend to the last drop of Liberal blood reducing the 50 per cent capital gains discount to 25 per cent but when it comes to defending the capital gains tax discount of millions of Australians in their superannuation, he is out of town for that. We heard him today in parliament confirm that he thinks that superannuants who are getting a concessional payment of taxation do not deserve to have the 33 per cent capital gains tax discount.
Mr Turnbull interjecting—
The Prime Minister says he did not say it at all. This Prime Minister yesterday got up in parliament in regard to a question by the shadow Treasurer. The question was:
Does the Prime Minister rule out announcing any changes to capital gains tax?
It was referring to his previous answer—any change. What happens is the Prime Minister is so arrogant that he thinks that he can unsay words and make them miraculously disappear. But the problem for him is this: every journalist in the press gallery heard exactly what he said. Every newspaper in Australia showed that he was ruling out tackling capital gains tax. What did he do? He said: no, they are all wrong.
And then you have got the poor old hapless minister for resources. He is overseas but he never misses an opportunity to remind everyone he is there. He rings into Australia—that is fantastic—and says, 'It is Josh on the line; what is the question?' And the minister, when he was asked about when capital gains tax, said, 'Yes, the Prime Minister has ruled it out.' Then, of course, you have the poor old Minister for Finance. He drew the short straw. He gets to do a press conference with Mr Turnbull, and, when asked if the CGT was in or out or what is happening, the Minister for Finance looks around. Today he did another interview and was asked the question about CGT changes, and he does not back up his Prime Minister. It is not a good sign for this government when you have the Minister for Finance going one way, the Prime Minister going another way and the poor old Treasurer in witness protection. But it was a moment in parliamentary history of the Turnbull government.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister was up at the box, making tax policy in question time. His command of detail is so good that he does not need to check the detail. We saw the bewildered looks on the faces of the members behind him. To be fair to the Deputy Prime Minister, it is a standard look. But, in the case of the rest of his colleagues, they just heard the Prime Minister make a captain's call on taxation. I feel a little bit of pang of 'poor old member for Warringah.' He was undermined by Malcolm Turnbull for making captain's calls, but, as soon as Mr Turnbull is up there, there is a captain's call. We know what this leader of the government said. He said there would be no changes to capital gains tax whatsoever. So, today, we asked him to back up his words. There were really three options that the Prime Minister could have picked: tell the truth; tell us what is happening with capital gains tax; or he could have just said, 'Everyone else is wrong.' The standard Turnbullian response to anything is that everyone else is wrong. We are lucky to have an infallible Prime Minister in this country. We are very lucky to know that not only are we led by the smartest man in Australia, self-declared, but we are led by a man who, even when he gets it wrong, is still right. The rest of us mere mortals simply do not understand the extent of Wentworth genius.
But, of course, it is not just the Minister for Resources, the Minister for Finance and the collective media of Australia who got it wrong yesterday and misunderstood Mr Turnbull. There are the talking points. Some super tax reform patriot from the government had provided the talking points, and it is very clear in the talking points that the capital gains tax changes are on the table. This is what we have learned to expect from this Prime Minister. He says one thing and he does another. This is not the only issue where he has said one thing and done the other. Dare I mention the rest of his long litany of sell-outs when he became Prime Minister: marriage equality, the republic, climate change, captain's calls. He also says to us, as he says about everything, that he has been thinking carefully about capital gains tax today. We asked the Prime Minister a question in question time today. We asked, 'Which is the correct answer? Yesterday, when you said there was no thinking about capital gains tax whatsoever or, indeed, are you looking at going after the superannuation accounts of millions of Australians?' We were told that question is simply out of order. Well, it is not out of order. This fellow here has been giving us a lecture about protecting vested interests. When looking to reform capital gains tax and negative gearing, he thinks the Australian dream is the ability to negatively gear your seventh house.
Let me just say to the Prime Minister of this out-of-touch government: the great Australian dream is to be able to get your first house. Why is it that these bastions of privilege are so willing to fight to defend the capital gains tax 50 per cent discount and the ability to use taxpayer subsidies to subsidise your negatively geared seventh house, yet they do nothing about housing affordability? We listen to the lectures of this government about housing affordability, but the truth of the matter is that they do nothing. But, of course, when we go back to look at what has been happening with this mislead by the Prime Minister of Australia, we see it was not just the talking points, the Minister for Resources, the Minister for Finance and what the media heard. What we heard is that the Prime Minister's own office has been explaining to Australian journalists: 'They didn't hear it right' or 'We didn't quite mean that.' I have loved the Prime Minister's office over the last 2½ years. They were willing to brief against a lot of people in the last 2½ years, and many of you know that, but I have never seen them roll a grenade against their own boss before.
The Prime Minister has no plan. We know that. As for the Treasurer, we hear he has been demoted from attending the meetings. 'Thank goodness,' they say. Martin Parkinson and Senator Sinodinos are there to sort out Malcolm's tax promises, because they would not let the Treasurer of Australia anywhere near taxation. That will lead to a run on the dollar, I am sure. We heard 5½ months ago, during the debate about taxation, that there was going to be new economic leadership. I tell you what: there has not been much leadership, but there has been a lot of talk. Australia loves the waffle. We love hearing the talk and the spin, but we do not hear much substance. When will this government announce their tax plans? If you cannot trust them on the CGT, how can we trust them not to go back to the well on GST and the 15 per cent?
Today, you have just said that you are open to considering halving the capital gains tax discount on millions of superannuation accounts. I see the Prime Minister shaking his head, probably in some rueful frustration that we do not accept the inevitability of his logic. The truth of the matter is that the Prime Minister needs to have a tax plan which will last longer than five minutes. We need to have a plan for housing affordability and getting the budget repaired, but he says no to negative gearing changes. We will make sure our changes are not retrospective. They have not ruled out making them retrospective. We will make sure that negative gearing is still available for new housing so that people who want to negatively gear can. But what we will also do is take up the fight about tax reform, which will make sure that Australians find it easier to afford a house, it will be easier to help the budget repair and it will be easier to be able to fund health and education.
We also say on taxation and tax reform and why this Prime Minister has misled the House that he talks about multinationals, but he will not articulate how much they are going to raise from multinationals. We see poor old buggerlugs, the Treasurer of Australia, getting up and sounding like the worker's friend on multinational taxation. We hear no plan on taxation from them. This is a Prime Minister who says one thing and does another. (Time expired)
I do not think anything better demonstrates why standing and sessional orders should not be suspended than the 10 excruciating minutes we just endured from the Leader of the Opposition. So urgent, so pressing, was his concern about the subject matter of his motion that by the time he got to the six-minute mark—after only four minutes, and of course much of that was taken up with reading the motion—he engaged in personal abuse, and then of course, by the fourth minute, he had moved on to marriage equality. He had completely left capital gains tax. Then, as he no doubt sensed or observed, out of a sideways glance, the increasingly astonished look of his own backbench, at the three-minute mark he moved back—
Ms Butler interjecting—
to saying that the coalition's position, and presumably the object of his policy, was all about people negatively gearing their seventh house. Apparently, that is what he wants to stop.
Can I just remind the honourable member that negative gearing is no more than the standard income tax treatment of claiming interest as an expense of an investment—
Mr Watts interjecting—
incurred to buy an income-producing asset. It is no different with real estate or with shares or with businesses or with farms, so there is no special concession for people who negatively gear real estate.
Mr Watts interjecting—
It is absolutely standard income tax procedure. That is No. 1.
No. 2 is that there are 10 times more people claiming net interest losses on property, real estate, who are nurses, teachers and emergency service workers than those who are surgeons, anaesthetists and finance managers. For example—
Ms O'Neil interjecting—
the greatest total losses from negative gearing—this is over $1.2 billion of net rental losses—are claimed by teachers, nurses, emergency workers and clerks, compared with just $155 million claimed by surgeons, anaesthetists and finance managers.
Mr Conroy interjecting—
And of course that is why there are so many people in the electorates of honourable members opposite and indeed in our electorates who are filing claims claiming net interest losses on investments in real estate. For example, in terms of the negatively geared tax filers, there are 58,000 teachers. There are 39,000 nurses and midwives. There are 38,000 retail employees. There are 35,000 general clerks. Every single one of those Australians, after 1 July 2017, if the honourable member becomes Prime Minister—
Ms Plibersek interjecting—
will not be able to claim a net interest loss on an investment made in existing property.
Their cunning plan is to say that they can only invest in new property. We all know that the reason housing is less affordable that it ought to be, particularly—again, I have to say—in my own city of Sydney, is a lack of supply.
Ms Plibersek interjecting—
That is not a function of a lack of money. It is because there is insufficient zoning or permitting. It takes too long to get approvals. Most people in the residential development sector will tell you that it takes about three times as long to get a DA in Sydney as it does in Brisbane, which is why property is more affordable in Brisbane. So that is the problem. In fact, my friend the honourable member for Fraser will recognise Professor Edward Glaeser's work, from Harvard. It set all this out many years ago. This is very, very well understood. If you want to increase housing affordability, you need to increase supply, and that involves changing zoning and permitting—that is, it is a planning issue; it is not a money issue.
What Labor propose to do is to pour all of that investment money into one small part of the property market. So they smash the vast bulk of the residential property market—
Dr Leigh interjecting—
is already either growing at anaemic levels or, in the case of some cities, declining. They are going to smash that. That is the biggest asset of most Australians. They are going to cut the value of your home. That is Labor's policy. They want to make housing more affordable by making your house worth less. They want to cut the value of your house.
When the member for Fraser was asked for modelling, he said, 'I don't know what you mean by economic modelling.' Well, we do. It is screamingly obvious. Everybody understands that if you take more than a third of the buyers out of the ring it is going to have an effect on prices. Will it make prices go up? No. Will it make them stay the same? I do not think so. I think it will make them go down because that is what happens when the buyers leave, when the buyers go away. When the buyers are barred by an act of parliament, which is what Labor would do, then the price will go down.
This is yet another example of the recklessness and the danger of a Labor government. Remember, this is the party that brought us the live cattle export ban which smashed cattle prices. Honourable members opposite—
Opposition members interjecting—
And I hope every Australian in every regional centre and every farmer notes—
Opposition members interjecting—
Their microphones are not on, Mr Speaker, but when we talk about cattle prices the Labor Party sneer and scoff. That is what Labor think about farmers. That is what they think about the people whose livelihoods they destroyed with their recklessness. They think it is a joke. And I say to every farmer in Australia, to every single farmer in Australia—
Mr Mitchell interjecting—
the Labor Party think your livelihood is a joke. They despise the work you do. They despise the fact that you are struggling to make a living, and they sneer at the losses that you incurred because of Labor's incompetence.
That is the same contempt that Labor have for homeowners. Every single home in Australia will be worth less under a Labor government and it will be worth less for one very clear reason—what Labor are proposing is a massive shock to the residential property market. They are proposing to ban in one fell swoop investors from existing residential property. It will mean that over one-third of the buyers in the market at the moment will no longer be there. That will, as every Australian knows, reduce the value of your home. It will cut the value of your home. It will mean that you cannot afford to borrow some money to give to your kids so that they can buy a place. It will mean you cannot afford to go on a holiday. When you want to start a business and you go to the bank to borrow some money the bank will say, 'You better get a valuation,' and you will discover that your home has been reduced in value, and it will be entirely the consequence of a deliberate, calculated act by a Labor government. That is the threat.
Sixty-five per cent of Australians' net worth is in their home. It is fundamental to their sense of worth, to their ability to consume, to their ability to invest and to their ability to enjoy their family and take holidays. It is the foundation, and Labor will strike at that because the more honest among them say that they want the price of your home to go down. That is Labor's objective. If they win the election, they will succeed in smashing home values.
I thought they had changed Prime Minister. I thought we were told that there was going to be new respect for the intelligence of the Australian people. I thought people had a sense that the new Prime Minister would change the culture of the Liberal Party. We were told that he would change the Liberal Party, but no, the Liberal Party has changed him from the moment he got that job. There is no doubt at all.
Do we remember earlier in this term someone standing up when his own words were quoted to him and saying, 'I never said that'? Do we remember? We were told: 'I never made that promise. I never gave that guarantee.' At least then the promises were months old that the person was denying. This bloke, this new Prime Minister, within a day is saying that he never said it. Within a day, within 24 hours, he is wanting to deny it.
It is unusual for a Prime Minister to speak to a suspension of the standing orders motion. It is more unusual for the Prime Minister to not defend himself during that speech. There was not a moment during that speech when the Prime Minister disagreed with a word of the motion. There was not a single moment when the Prime Minister said that the statement that he made yesterday was in any way anything other than an inaccurate statement. You do not often get the situation where you are dealing with a Prime Minister having misled the parliament. You certainly very rarely get the situation where you realise he has misled the parliament because his office has told you, because his office has provided the information directly to the media up there, in policy desperation, saying: 'Don't worry what our boss said. It is actually not the case at all.'
On the way into question time today one of my colleagues said to me, 'What if the Prime Minister stands up at the beginning and just acknowledges that the wrong words came out and it was an incorrect statement'? How could we have thought for a moment that that man would have anything other than the arrogance that we saw on display today, the arrogance which says that he can never claim that he has made an error, can never claim that he has made a mistake? The words yesterday were unequivocal. The words yesterday were:
… increasing capital gains tax is no part of our thinking whatsoever.
That is what he said and yet within minutes his own office is out there saying: 'Well, it is still on the table. We are still considering it.' The talking points were distributed by his office. How can it be 'no part of your thinking whatsoever' when you are telling your backbench and your frontbench to run the line?
Who would have thought that the minister for resources would let down the team by saying, 'I think that is a very clear statement from the Prime Minister'? Who would have thought that a member of your own cabinet is giving the most damaging comment possible when they are backing you in? That is exactly what happened when the minister for resources gave that interview. And from The AFR as well:
A spokesman for the Prime Minister, who has seven investment properties, claimed afterwards Mr Turnbull was still open to tightening the tax deduction for losses on negatively geared investment, and reducing the capital gains tax discount for investors …
There is absolutely no way of reconciling those words with the claim that 'increasing capital gains tax is no part of our thinking whatsoever'.
When you have made a mistake like that there is a moment when most people would have some sort of humility somewhere inside them that they would be able to stand up and say, 'No, there was an error.' But the smartest person in the universe cannot do that. The smartest person in the universe has to get back and say, 'You just don't understand me.'
An opposition member interjecting—
There is a point; that is true. Realise you are not just saying that to the Labor Party; you are saying that to the minister for resources, who thought you were clear, you are saying it to your own backbench and you are saying it to your own office. You are spreading that arrogance to the Australian people, who simply want to be able to have what they were told this Prime Minister would deliver—that there would be a debate which could respect the intelligence of the Australian people. The Australian people have a right to say that yesterday the parliament was misled. They also have a right to say that there should not be a case where people get more help from the government for their second or 10th home than they get for their first home. It is a fundamental issue of fairness to be able to deal with it. It is a fundamental issue to be able to deal with that. Then this morning the Minister for Finance was running a mile—absolutely running a mile.
Mr Pasin interjecting—