Wednesday, 24 February 2016
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable Deputy Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The failure of this Government to provide the leadership that Australia needs.
I call upon all those honourable 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—
When the member for Warringah lost the prime ministership, there was a sigh of relief across Australia, because they heard what the new Prime Minister said. They heard that there would be a new style of leadership, that there would be good government, that there would be sound policies, that there would be advocacy, not slogans, and that he would respect the intelligence of the Australian people. They heard him say that there needed to be new economic leadership in Australia. What we have seen is five and a half months of disappointment. Every time there has been a requirement for leadership, the new Prime Minister has gone limp and his government has gone limp.
If you think about the international expectations of the new Prime Minister, he came in at a time when Australia was preparing to go to the Paris climate change conference. All of those Australians who thought, 'Thank God; our climate change policies will change now. We have someone who said of this government's policies that they were a 'fig leaf' to cover up a determination to do nothing about climate change,' did we get the change of policy that they expected? We got nothing. We got no improvement. We were the only country to go to the Paris climate change talks going backwards—taking effective measures against climate change and reversing them.
Look at other areas. We had the Australia in the Asian century white paper when we were in government. Have we seen leadership from those opposite in replacing that white paper with a vision of their own? Nothing. We have seen the chaos of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, where one part of the frontbench was fighting the other part of the frontbench about the idea that we needed infrastructure investment in the Asia-Pacific region. So many people hoped that the new Prime Minister would be better than the old Prime Minister when it came to the aid budget. Not a single change.
But it is not just internationally that people's hopes have been dashed. Look at what has happened to Australia domestically. We had a Prime Minister who came in with such high hopes. People thought that he could not be much worse than the fellow that he replaced. He promised new economic leadership. He said, 'No slogans. We'll engage in the debate. Everything's on the table. We'll have intelligent conversations. We'll have debate, not slogans.' What have we had? We have had nothing but scare campaigns and slogans. Yesterday, we heard the Prime Minister say that our policies were going to send a wrecking ball through the Australian economy. What did that remind me of? I was actually expecting to hear today that Whyalla would be wiped off the face of the map. I was expecting to hear today that our negative-gearing policies were going to push up lamb prices to $100 for a leg of lamb.
We heard a few short months ago that everything was on the table. First of all, the GST was on the table because the government had to fix the debt and deficit disaster. This was the biggest priority for the Australian economy. The GST: squibbed it, fell over, puff of wind. Those opposite squibbed it at the first opposition from their own backbench. So then they said, 'Well, let's look at some of the other areas.' We heard from the former Treasurer as he was leaving that negative gearing, capital gains tax and the housing industry were some of the areas that the government should be looking at. The minute Labor made a positive and detailed policy proposal, those opposite went: no, it was on the table but not any more.
The government cannot even get their scare campaign right. We have got a Prime Minister who is saying that we cannot to do this because it will smash confidence and it will smash property prices. We have got an Assistant Treasurer who is saying that in fact property prices will go through the roof. People have to be frightened because their home values are going to go down and they are going to go up—they should be frightened of both.
What is so very disappointing about this is the reputations that these people came to the parliament with. The Prime Minister arrived with his reputation for supporting action on climate change, supporting real debate about the economic future of this nation, supporting issues like marriage equality. People thought that Malcolm Turnbull would change the Liberal Party but it is the Liberal Party that has changed Malcolm Turnbull. They have made him a carbon copy of the previous Prime Minister. But it is not just his reputation that has been dashed in the last few months.
The Treasurer came to the office of Treasurer after fighting and clawing and knifing his way into that job by betraying the former Prime Minister. When he finally got there, he looked around and said, 'I am here now. Oh oh, I have got no agenda. What am I going to do?' The man who was such a tough guy when it came to talking tough on refugees and not letting people attend funerals—you all remember the record there—then transferred that skill set to talking tough against disability pensioners and their carers. He came to the Treasurer's position with such a reputation for being a tough guy but today he is in witness protection. He did not even get Dorothy Dixers about the economy today; he got Dorothy Dixers about Senate voting reform because they do not want to let him talk about the economy. He had 46 minutes to talk about the economy at the Press Club last week. I do not know if anybody watched it but it was the most excruciating 46 minutes of nothing that we have ever seen.
The Assistant Treasurer also came with a little bit of a reputation, and people were delighted to see a bit of a restoration of gender balance on the front bench of the government. Oh my goodness, that press conference today. We all got the talking points. We get the talking points every day. The press gallery all get the talking points, don't they? They are widely distributed talking points. I am very surprised that the Assistant Treasurer does not get the talking points because she clearly did not. Instead of supporting her Prime Minister's scare campaign about housing prices, she completely undermined it.
We have got hopes dashed, reputations destroyed and the new leadership that was promised missing in action. You do not just see it in areas of economic leadership, where debt and deficit are up, unemployment is up and confidence is down. First everything was on the table and now nothing is on the table. First GST was going to happen and now it is not. Negative gearing and capital gains tax were on the table; now they are not. Tax reform in other areas was originally on the table and is now off the table.
What we have seen is a government in chaos, lacking leadership and failing the test of leadership at every stage. We have got a scare campaign about house prices. It is incredible to listen to a government that cares more about people buying their seventh home or their 30th home than it does about people buying their first home. We have heard not a single word from those opposite about housing affordability or what first home buyers might do to get into the market. In the 1980s, we saw well over half of 25 to 34-year-olds buying their first home. Since the 1980s, that proportion has fallen by 25 per cent. These are ordinary people with an ordinary job who cannot buy an ordinary home any longer, and we have got a government that has not got a single thing to say about those people. They do not want to buy their 30th investment property; they want to buy a first home—a part of the great Australian dream. The Prime Minister is talking about how important homeownership is to people's economic security. We agree that it is and we agree that young Australians who took the former Treasurer's advice, who went out and got a good job, still cannot afford an ordinary home. This government has got no answers for them.
We have a Prime Minister who talks extensively about the need for innovation. You cannot have innovation without education. We heard people saying to him at the beginning: what are you going to do about the Gonski school education funding reforms? What was his answer? The Prime Minister's answer was, 'David Gonski and I are very good friends. David and Gonski and I have known each other for 50 years—he was at my last birthday party.' It has not changed the decision to cut $30 billion from school education and it has not cut the decision to go for $100,000 university degrees, it has not changed the decision to attack TAFE and it has not changed the decision to undermine preschool funding, particularly for the poorest kids in Australia. We know what early childhood education means. And it has not changed the decision to sack 350 staff from the CSIRO doing some of the most important and most innovative work in this country.
You cannot have innovation without education and you cannot have innovation without supporting our scientists at world renowned institutions like the CSIRO. It has been a disappointment, a shambles. All of those people were sitting in middle Australia thinking, 'Thank God Tony Abbott is gone.' What have they been left with? They have been left with Tony Abbott in a different suit—same tie; that is the only difference.
To have leadership in this country, to be a leading government you have to be fundamentally honest with the Australian people about what the challenges that confront us are and how you are going to meet those challenges. It is completely dishonest of a political party in Australia today to pretend that the government's balance sheet is in good order. It is completely dishonest for a government to say things are fully funded when they are not fully funded. It is completely dishonest for a political party to say, in office, 'We will deliver four years of surpluses in four budget estimate years,' and not deliver a single budget surplus.
The starting point for leadership in Australia and the starting point for leadership in government is honesty with the Australian people about the challenges that we have. One of the largest challenges that we have at the moment, of course, is the debt and deficit legacy of a government that was completely addicted to expenditure and to new tax and revenue measures to fund it. It is interesting that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition today did not talk about the positive negative gearing plan that she said she has. She said it: it is a positive plan. Her plan and Bill Shorten's plan—
and the Leader of the Opposition's plan and the shadow Treasurer's plan to lower the property prices of existing housing throughout our country is somehow a positive plan for people. Just saying it is positive, I would say to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, does not make it positive. In fact, if you have a plan to deliberately, by policy design, lower the price of everybody's house, their principal wealth creation asset—and we know that in Australia people rely on their housing as their principal vehicle for wealth creation—I do not call that a positive plan. I would say that the Australian people will not describe it as a positive plan when you have a deliberate policy intention to lower the price of everybody's property without any regard to the distortions that you are creating in the housing market.
That is why we see a Labor Party here in recent times who have come out saying: 'We want a gold star for going first. We have rushed something out in first draft form into the public domain, and we deserve a gold star.' I say that you do not deserve a gold star for leadership in going forward first if you have not planned or thought through the consequences of detailed and complex economic policy, like changes to the housing market and capital gains tax—two integral intersections of tax policy in Australia that affect the wealth creation of the entire middle and average class in Australia.
It might interest the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to know that there are as many people negatively geared in her electorate as there are in my electorate. We have very different electorates. Some people might say that the member's electorate is an inner-city type electorate and mine is an outer suburban electorate, but the reality is that I have the highest proportion of mortgages of any electorate in the country. So you would expect a higher level of negatively geared people. The reality for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is that the same number of people are negatively geared in my electorate as in hers.
In fact, when we go to the statistics we find that there are 850,000 negatively geared tax filers in Australia, with a taxable income of under $80,000 per annum—that is their average taxable income. That is the macrostatistic that the Labor Party does not want anyone to focus on. It is also interesting to note, for the House's benefit, that of all the negatively geared taxpayers only two per cent claim net rental losses of over $50,000. Only two per cent claim losses from negatively geared properties of over $50,000. That is a very small percentage in anyone's language. So this equity argument that the Labor Party is running, that all the benefits go to the wealthy or to people who are investors, is not an accurate argument. It does not bear scrutiny. It does not stand up when you consider that offsetting your interest losses against your taxable income across all kinds of asset classes has been part of our tax code for 100 years.
Why is it part of our tax code? Why has it evolved in the Australian psyche? This is about the capacity of ordinary people to generate wealth and to get ahead. That is what this policy debate is about. Labor would have you believe that they have done something to wealthy people in this country, that they have somehow put a limit on very significant investors. This is what is very interesting about this debate. When you read their actual policy, what they are doing is shutting the door on everyone of average means in accessing this policy. Because when you take a third of the investment market out of existing realty and you force it into one narrow section of the property market—that is, new dwellings—you are creating a massive distortion. All of those cashed-up investors, those people that you say are on their seventh or eighth or 30th property and it is an outrage, will now be competing with your mum-and-dad investors in that same narrow band of property.
It was interesting that, in question time today, the member for Isaacs, when a serious lesson was being given by the Prime Minister on the simple laws of supply and demand in economics, said that the Prime Minister was making it up. Your deliberate policy design is to take one-third of the investors—in fact, the most significant third—out of the current property market and put them into new dwellings only. That would be a massive market distortion of deliberate policy design. So your average mum-and-dad investors will be up against seriously cashed-up investors who already have the means, the money and the property to do this.
Of course, what you are doing there in your policy design is shutting the door on ordinary mum-and-dad investors; shutting the door on your union mates who have taken this up in record numbers; shutting the door on your average person, while doing nothing to hinder wealth creation for wealthy people or to claw back any money for the budget. Your own figures show that over the forward estimates this is only worth $600 million. That is what your own figures show.
This incentive is designed to create property investment in a certain way in Australia and in particular investment classes. It is designed to encourage the ability of people to take risks, to invest and to deduct the losses against their own tax. When you change the settings by deliberate design, what you are doing is deliberately cutting off an avenue of wealth creation in this country. But you are cutting it off for the average income earner. You are cutting it off for the mum-and-dad investors. You are cutting it off for your nurses, teachers and emergency services workers—all of your people who are on modest incomes in this country and who use this as one of their principal vehicles of wealth creation.
So it is not surprising that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not speak about this issue today. It is not surprising that she says that her singular contribution to this policy debate is that it is positive—Labor has a positive plan. But actually, when you examine the detail of this policy proposal, this plan has a lot of holes in it. It is in first draft format. It has not been thought through. Its implications for the housing market have the potential to create such distortion and uncertainty in the property market that it will be, as the Prime Minister says, a very unsettling and disturbing environment in property prices in Australia today, which will, of course, come down in the existing market.
So the Labor Party came here today to lecture us on leadership when their period in office showed that they are just addicted to expenditure and to revenue and tax increases. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition pointed, of course, to their record on climate change—on the carbon tax—saying that we ran a scare campaign on the carbon tax. Well, there is nothing that is a scare campaign about the world's highest price on carbon. The Labor Party has never understood markets and they have never understood policy design. They proposed a carbon tax with a starting price of the world's highest price on carbon and they wonder why it failed! They wonder why it did not work. Then they lament that we ran a scare campaign pointing out to people that this was the world's highest price on carbon!
Quite rightly, people judged you at an election. They quite rightly looked at your policy and said, 'This is the world's highest price on carbon; we do not support it.'
So when you say to us that we are wrong to point out the flaws in your policy, we are not going to apologise for pointing out the serious design flaws in your policy proposals. The proposition you are putting forward to the Australian people is that property prices in Australia will fall. Property prices are the principal wealth creation mechanism for ordinary Australians. You have not thought this through. You have not thought through the implications on stamp duties. You have not thought through the implications on revenue for states. You have not thought through any of the questions that need to be thought through before you announce a policy like this, and for the Labor Party with its record on debt and deficit—racking up the biggest debt and deficit in this country's history and avoiding any responsibility for it—to lecture us on leadership, and on economic leadership in particular, is a bit rich.
Australians will judge the Labor Party. They will judge us on our plan and they will judge you on your record.
As the assistant minister sits down I would just remind him and other members of the chamber that the use of the word 'you' is a reflection on the chair. It is not 'you'—it is not my policy. It is a common mistake by many in this chamber and I just think this is a timely opportunity to remind the chamber, once again, that the use of the word 'you' is a reflection on the chair. If you are addressing the other side of the House it is 'the other side of the House'.
I hope I am being of assistance to all of you. The assistant minister should not take it as a reflection on his ability. I am using this opportunity for everyone, because I was feeling a little sensitive that 'my' policy was not being accepted!
The speaker opposite just finished with the words, 'It's a bit rich.' Well, it is a bit rich for the member opposite to come in here to criticise Labor's plans when they have nothing—there is nothing to debate! We have question time every day where their members can ask questions and we can ask questions of their policies and they have nothing—zip, absolutely nothing!—it was apparently all on the table.
Then we had a situation where things started getting thrown off the table, apparently with other members of their cabinet not knowing. But it is a bit rich for the member for Mitchell to come in here to start lecturing and picking holes in Labor's policies—policies which I might say have been endorsed by everyone from Jeff Kennett and ACOSS to Saul Eslake.
Anyway, I will go on. This MPI is about leadership and the failure of leadership by this Prime Minister. In my past life in the private sector I was given many opportunities to learn about leadership from others and to be taught by some of the best in the business. One thing that has always stayed with me is that leadership is about listening with empathy and responding with empathy.
I heard this Prime Minister pontificating in question time about housing prices—pontificating! I do not know what world this Prime Minister lives in, but I live in the world where you have people who have actually been married for some time still living with their parents or in-laws for years because they cannot get enough for a deposit for a new house. And at the same time I have one of the fastest-growing rates of housing in my electorate—I have one of the urban fringes. I have people who cannot afford to get into those new houses being built. We need more supply of new housing in order to ensure that these people have the best opportunities.
Now, what do I hear as I go around my electorate? What are the two biggest concerns that people raise? They are housing affordability and jobs and job security. We have proposed policies to address both, to incentivise new housing to be built and to facilitate the construction of that housing with multiplier affects not only in the construction sector but in the services sector as well. I have listened for 2½ years to those opposite talking about how they need more jobs for their 'chippies' and their tradies. Somehow they are the big friends of all small businesses! And yet when we have a policy which has one of the best of those multiplier affects—some 25,000 jobs in the construction sector—oh, no! They do not want to be anywhere near it.
This is about a failure of leadership, and I have quite an insightful headline here, 'Malcolm Turnbull fails to deliver on promise to offer economic leadership.' Now, was this written by a leftist hack? Maybe by a Labor Party stooge? Maybe a member of the Labor Party? Maybe it was some radical Marxist? No, it was written by that great Labor Party supporter, Andrew Bolt. Andrew Bolt! He said:
LIBERAL MPs are losing confidence in Malcolm Turnbull, and no wonder.
He has broken the big promise he made five months ago.
“Prime Minister (Tony Abbott)—
This is quoting the now Prime Minister—
has not been capable in providing the economic leadership our nation needs,” he thundered when he knifed Abbott last September.
“We need a style of leadership that explains those challenges ... and sets out the course of action we believe we should take and makes a case for it. We need advocacy, not slogans.”
What has happened in the meantime?
We have had not only one scare campaign but a simultaneous scare campaign about housing prices. You really have to hand it to these people. I thought they were good at scare campaigns—I did not know they could do two at once! I did not know they could do to at once in opposite directions! But I am very happy for those opposite to keep acting like an opposition, because that is exactly what the Australian public is crying out for, isn't it? Acting like an opposition.
And it is not only in economic leadership where this Prime Minister has failed. In terms of having a cohesive society, this Prime Minister consistently fails to bring into line members of the government who openly go out and bash multiculturalism and do some of the worst things not to encourage inclusiveness in our society. He says nothing. He will get up and talk about how Australia is the most successful multicultural nation in the world, but when it comes to bringing people like the member for Dawson into line he is nowhere to be seen, because he is an absolute hypocrite on that matter. (Time expired)
It should not be passed by today that there are a lot of Australians who could only dream today that they could be entering into a second house and negatively gear the house. There are thousands and thousands of those Australians. So, whilst these members of parliament are striking out furiously at one another, let's keep this all in context.
In this great nation of ours, this great southern land, where we have a reputation internationally of being the most egalitarian in the world—
That is true. It is actually part of our DNA—a fair go for all and fairness. Having said that, we are seeing in a lot of these changes a move away from that.
Dr Leigh interjecting—
You can laugh, but that is the reputation that we have. Compared to most countries in the world, we have a desire for fairness within our community. If our tax system and our system of welfare are out of whack because of consistent policies from different governments over a considerable period of time, we need to turn around and put that fairness line through our policies. We need to run that fairness line that is part of our DNA and that says we can do something about negative gearing when it is out of whack. We can do something about superannuation. We can make some alterations and changes to make our society fairer. Why wouldn't we go down that track as a community and talk about that in a reasonable conversation rather than this major attack that is coming against a Prime Minister who is actually governing on behalf of Australians at a time when 26 per cent of the Australian community are paying 67 per cent of the income tax? We have to consider the whole mix.
I do not think any of the Labor Party should be looking across to this side of the House and laughing at the moment. There are some great disappointments that were put about this government, but let me remind the Labor Party about some of the disappointments that you have put before the Australian people that you have not considered in this debate today. When you needed to cut costs, you went to single-parent families and you hit the most vulnerable in our community to make sure that your budget was to be in balance—which never occurred.
At the time the Howard government left office our expenditure was 21 per cent of GDP. At the end of the Labor government's term of office the spending was 25 per cent of GDP. Having said that, it is clear we cannot go on spending the way we are spending when we have the income that we have. The fact is that the Labor Party knows that. This side of the House knows that. We are going to have to make some alterations. Look at the Australian economy as a whole and where we are placed in the world. We have had 25 years of continuous growth, but there are some dark clouds on the horizon. We are in a tough global economic environment. There are significant geopolitical risks. The Senate has not allowed the reform that should have taken place in this country with regard to our spending and the outcomes of that spending. On top of that we are spending half our budget—$149 billion—on welfare.
For those who are thinking about this seriously on behalf of Australia and Australians, we are going to have to address that issue. I am not saying that we have so much debt now that this nation is incapable of paying off its debt. I am saying the projections of growing debt are in the wrong direction. Whoever governs this nation after the next election will not have a smile on their face. They will be working through the processes themselves as to where this nation is to go in the near future and in the long term. You can have a big laugh about some policy issue today, but eventually this nation has to face up to the fact that we have a spending issue over and above our revenue. If you do not address that, the egalitarian nation that we aspire to we lose. (Time expired)
I rise to speak on this matter of public importance about the failure of those opposite to show any leadership. It is interesting to look from this side of the chamber at those opposite in the broad church of the Liberal Party, interesting church as it is. But even in a broad church the walls do have to start somewhere.
Mr Champion interjecting—
It is good to see the member for Wakefield here. Senator Cory Bernardi has been keen to show where one wall of the Liberal Party should start: the extreme right wall. He has obviously got the other South Australian senator, Simon Birmingham, showing the left-hand side. We saw that when we looked at the Safer Schools program.
He tried to say the walls should be here. And then we have the member for Menzies, Kevin Andrews, saying, 'We can move this wall a little bit further out.' We have got Senator Eric Abetz and the MP for Canning saying: 'Get rid of those buttresses; we can go further out to the right. The roof will hold. The building won't collapse.' We have the member for Leichhardt up there being sensible, saying, 'You still have to move it a bit to the left. Look after the left. You've got to have a solid left' with Senator Dean Smith and a few other more sensible people.
The reality is that, while all that is going on, you have the member for Warringah with his jackhammer out there on the buttresses, hammering away, saying, 'No, no, the whole wall can come down.' He is being helped by the member for Fadden. The member for Groom every now and then provides a bit of help.
Not the member for Groom—I will take that. The member for Groom—we are not quite sure: he is inside the church when he is in Brisbane; but, when he is down here, he is not allowed inside the church.
An opposition member: He's in the barnyard!
He has to go out to the barnyard—that is right. Which brings me to the National Party, because where are the Nats in this broad church of those opposite? Sometimes when the drought is on, they put their head in the left-hand side of the church and say, 'We're here. We're with you. The drought's on. Give us a hand.' Of course when the rain comes and the good times come, they are round the other side of the church, saying, 'Stay away from us. Stay away from our profits.' It is a little bit like how they sit in this place: some on the left-hand side; some on the right-hand side—they are not quite sure where they are. It is amazing.
Obviously, in any broach church, you have to work out what you are going to put on the altar—what is it all about? Why do you have a church in the first place? Why do you have a leader? You have the preacher out front—the 'Preacher from Point Piper'—saying, 'This is why you should stay inside my church.'
Why do you need to be there? Because, we are in Canberra, it is all about economics—that is really what it is about: being safe at night and looking after the books. You have to make sure you get the economic foundations right. You need to make sure your foundations are solid because, every now and then, you have to dig a crypt to bury a few bodies. We have seen that—we have seen that up in the corner up there: we have got the member for Mayo in the chamber. He is sort of wedged down in the crypt for a while but he will come back—we know that. It is a just a flesh wound; I know he will come back.
We have got the member for Mackellar—I think they have got the member for Mackellar; they are trying to push her down there and put a big slab of marble on top. The member for Paterson, the member for Wright—some of them will come back; I know that.
Today, I think, you had the leader, the 'Preacher from Point Piper', saying, 'Let's put the member for Higgins in there as well.'
An opposition member interjecting—
I think he would like to put the member for Tangney in there too after some of his comments on Indigenous Australians, but you cannot do that.
Let's remember in terms of economic leadership what happened. I remember the member for Mitchell—I listened to his speech when he talked about surpluses from the Labor Party. I remember the paraphernalia at the election and his shadow Treasurer saying he would have a surplus in the first year.
An opposition member: How old is Wyatt Roy?
Now we are tipping that Wyatt Roy will be in his late 80s by the time we actually get a surplus.
Mr Hawke interjecting—
Let's have a look at that: you borrowed $248.4 billion—the member for Mitchell would remember, because of his portfolio that you have borrowed $248.4— (Time expired)
Mr Deputy Speaker Broadbent, now that you have moved into the chair, can I actually thank you for the measured response that you gave in this particular MPI. Some of the hysteria from the other side—could I just remind the member for Moreton—
Opposition members interjecting—
What do you think a lot of National Party members are? They are farmers, and it is a reflection on all of us, which just unfortunately shows the disrespect that you have for rural and regional Australians and the farmers that produce some of the best food and fibre in the world. That is just dreadful in this type of debate. It really is dreadful, and I take personal exception to it as a farmer. Some of the most intelligent and capable people I know in this country are farmers.
Opposition members interjecting—
And what a dreadful slight that is as well reflecting on those members in such a way. How low can you go? You reflect on the farmers of this nation. You are reflecting on the farmers in this country.
We can see—even by the responses that you have made today in this MPI—that you have simply reinforced Labor's determination to force down the value of people's homes. We have heard this repeatedly today. Of course we know that, for Australians, homes are their greatest assets, but there is a reason that those who are being hysterical opposite and denigrating Australians—can I just say to them—sit on that side of the House at this moment. In the 2013 election, the people were faced with a really stark choice. We outlined a plan for the future of this nation, a plan that was based on economic restraint—something that the members opposite are not acquainted with. We were taking responsibility—
Opposition members interjecting—
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Broadbent. As we know, the coalition is committed to ending what is Labor's addiction to unremitting budget deficits and spiralling national debt.
The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government never achieved a surplus. Let's hear: when was the last time a Labor government achieved a budget surplus? I do not think anybody can remember. That is a trick question, and of course we know that Labor's spend, spend, spendathon is being continued even when they are in opposition. They only have one plan, and that is to continue to spend.
I wonder whether the Labor members opposite care to think about the small businesses that have so benefited through the last budget and all of the decisions by this government. Some of them are actually the farmers that we heard being put down in the 'barnyard' comment just a few minutes ago—an appalling reflection. To think that those same businesses are out there working constantly for the benefit of not only their own businesses and families but their local communities and the broader economy.
We have committed significantly to small business. As everybody knows: small business is a major driver of the Australian economy, and we have directly and actively encouraged, through the budget process, small businesses in Australia. There have been a lot of decisions: developing northern Australia; boosting productivity and reducing regulation—even science and innovation. Some people and businesses are very excited about our innovation policy.
People can see a lot of opportunity in this space. They can see that not only do we have a vision and a plan but we also have restraint and we are very focused on economic management. That is what we saw reflected recently. In fact, I think the coalition government is giving a lot more confidence to people right around Australia—certainly in relation to their housing values and the value they place in those same houses.
What we have seen this government do is fail at leadership not once, but twice. We had Tony Abbott, the member for Warringah, as the Prime Minister. This lot over here do not want to remember that; they want to erase that from their collective memories. I do not know whether we have any of the plotters here today—maybe the Assistant Treasurer. I do not know if he was at that famous meeting at Queanbeyan.
We all know why Tony Abbott failed as a leader: he was relentlessly negative; there were cuts of $60 billion; there was a horror budget; there were attacks on pensioners and workers; they kissed goodbye to the automotive industry and they threatened to send our submarine manufacturing to foreign countries. He dug himself into such a hole, such a failure of leadership, that we then had the contortionists opposite—who had promised us 'adult government'—elect Malcolm Turnbull to the prime ministership. The country breathed a sigh of relief, as a new style of leadership was promised: good government, sound policies, advocacy not slogans and respecting the intelligence of the Australian people. People expected progressive policies from a united government. They expected evidence based government. They expected cabinet style government. They expected policies on climate change that made sense. They expected advances in equality. They expected some progress.
But what did they get from Mr Turnbull? They got divided government. They got two prime ministers, two treasurers, three defence ministers and 14 ministerial changes—including three resignations. It is extraordinary. It is an absolutely extraordinary turnover of people. Think about that. Think about that in the context of people learning their portfolios and of advisors trying to get across things. Think about that in terms of the stakeholders—they would not know who they are dealing with. We have had this extraordinary turmoil and failure of leadership at the heart of this government.
Fundamentally, when we got the new Prime Minister, we were all hanging out for this new progress. What did we get? First of all, on taxation policy, we had the Treasurer running around the country softening people up for a rise in the GST, trying to do a deal with the state governments and trying to put them in a corner where they would back a rise in the GST—and, sadly, some of them did, so desperate were they to fund their schools and hospitals.
The Prime Minister, like the grand old Duke of York, marched all of the troops opposite up the hill. Up they went, all of them, including the member for Corangamite and the member for Mayo. The member for Mayo was sort of out there in front, as he is a keen believer in the GST. Up the hill they went, and it all got too hard and an arrow flew past the Prime Minister and they came back down again. He completely cut the ground out from underneath his Treasurer on taxation policy; so much so that, if you read Paul Kelly—this is a headline in The Australian: 'Caught without a tax policy, Turnbull performs a pivot'. That is what we are getting out of this government.
It is like the mythical animal in Dr Dolittle, pushmi-pullyu, trying to go one way and then trying to go the other. We saw the same thing this week on the capital gains tax. We saw the same thing on, of all things, the Safe Schools policy. This is a headline yesterday—and in the Barossa Herald, mind you; hardly an organ of socialism: 'Support essential in a changing landscape'. This was the first line of that story:
Who knew that creating a safe school community could cause so much controversy?
This is what conservative country newspapers are saying about you lot.
Why? We know why—because Cory Bernardi and others got up in the Liberal Party party room and pushed the Prime Minister into a policy change. That is what has happened. We have seen the same thing on housing. So desperate are those opposite to run a fear campaign and a scare campaign—they are now pining for the member for Warringah—that they force the Prime Minister into running this disingenuous bunch of lies about Labor's policy.
It was totally exposed by the member for Higgins, who was arguing that house prices are going to go up while the Prime Minister was arguing that they are going to go down. You cannot have both sides of an argument. It is the classic sign of a government that is divided and confused and that does not know what it is doing—a government that is failing to provide leadership to the Australian people. I can tell you what will make house prices go down: bad government, divided government, government that does not know what it is doing, a government that is going to wreck the economy.
It is really good to get a chance to talk about economic leadership on the part of the government and the extraordinary lack thereof from those opposite. I think nowhere is this more clear than in the area of taxation and tax policy, because tax is one of the biggest levers, if not the biggest lever, that government possesses. If you look at this government's record, you see a very consistent approach on taxation, which is about lower and fairer taxation. Just very recently—just before Christmas—back at the innovation statement on 2 December, the government said that if you invest in a start-up business, if you back a start-up business and you help it get off the ground, if that business is successful and you make a profit, you will not pay capital gains tax in the future.
That is a great policy, because what that means is that these businesses will be able to raise funds with greater confidence and investors will know that, if the investment works out, their return will be greater. What does that mean? That means more money into start-up businesses. That is a very good example of sensible tax policy. We did something very similar in relation to a tax rebate of 20 per cent on people's income tax returns, effectively, for those investments in start-up businesses. This is new government policy just before Christmas and it demonstrates the clear philosophy of this government when it comes to tax—as indeed does our earlier abolition of those very bad and little lamented carbon and mining taxes.
What about those opposite? We have heard a little bit more from them in recent weeks. They describe it as—capital R, inverted commas—'Reform', but what we have seen from those opposite in the last couple of weeks is two additional tax increases. These ones are going to have a very, very severe effect on the wealth of Australian households and on the broader Australian economy. Let us talk about the negative gearing proposal from those opposite. The key point here is that they say that investors will only be able to claim interest as a tax deduction if they invest in new homes, not in existing homes. Every single home in Australia today, by definition, is an existing home. It cannot be new if it exists, right? So every single one of the homes in Australia, which is about nine million, give or take, is an existing home. Under Labor's policy—in the unfortunate event that they are elected—once it comes in, from the middle of next year, investors will not be able to claim an interest deduction on any new investment in any existing home anywhere in Australia. And we know from ABS data that about one-third of owners of Australian residential property are investors as opposed to owner-occupiers.
The proposition from those opposite is that you can take this fundamental principle of tax law, which is that you can claim interest as a tax deduction, and take it out of the system completely—with the obvious consequence that investors will leave that sector—and it will have no impact on prices. That is just an absurd proposition. Just think about that. The notion that you can just take a third of the potential buyers for an asset out of the market and say that everything will just go on fine and the prices will stay the same and continue to rise as they would have—that is just absurd. Imagine if that were asserted in any other sector of the economy. Imagine if someone said to car dealers, 'We're going to take a third of the people out of the car yards, but it won't have any impact on your ability to sell cars.' It would be an extraordinary proposition. This is just an extraordinarily badly thought-through policy. This is something that came out of a Labor aligned think tank. This is one of those things that might be fun to kick around in a think tank, but that is where it should have stayed, because this is a very, very bad policy for ordinary Australian families.
The other thing they do is they say, 'Let's put capital gains tax up, effectively by 50 per cent.' They reduce the reduction from 50 per cent to 25 per cent. Let us say your marginal tax rate is 48 per cent. You would have paid 24c before. Now you will pay circa 36c, give or take, with the Medicare levy. That means your capital gains tax goes up by half. That is going to hurt investment in business, in agriculture, in housing, in all sorts of sectors. It is entirely counterproductive. It shows a distinct lack of understanding of how real-world economics works. It is to the eternal discredit of those opposite and it is a reminder of why they must never be elected. (Time expired)
It is very much a glass jaw on the backbench over there—definitely.
When the now Prime Minister rolled Tony Abbott, he said, 'We're going to have a new style of leadership—good government, sound policy, advocacy not slogans. We will respect the intelligence of the Australian people.' Fine words, you might say, but you have to have a look at what they have done. The thing that we have learned over the last six months is that they have no control over what they are doing. You have the Prime Minister say one thing in the morning and one thing in the afternoon. His office clarifies and then the next day his Assistant Treasurer is out there and she obviously has not read the talking points that are available to everyone, because she gets it wrong as well.
Let us have a look at what we have had under the government. We have gross debt now over $400 billion. The first thing they did when they came into government was to remove the debt ceiling. They did not want to have to come into this place and stand up and say why they were increasing this nation's debt. What they have done is doubled it. Gross debt is now up 47.2 per cent since this lot were elected—the so-called economic wizards, the people that claim that they are the great looker-afters of the Australian economy. We have seen net debt up 57 per cent. It has gone up $274 billion since they got elected.
We can have a look at the NBN. Of course, it is now not the NBN; it is the MTM, the Malcolm Turnbull mess. It is failing everywhere. People cannot get access to it. It is not working. It was going to be cheaper and it was going to be better, but what have we seen? A slowed-down rollout. 'We've taken away fibre-optic, because now we're going to use copper, because that's what we used at the turn of the last century.' That is why we see that it has now gone out to a $56 billion cost. We have had them come in here and say that everyone was going to have access to the National Broadband Network by 2016. Lo and behold, they cannot do it. As usual they overreach, overpromise and underdeliver. That is the worst thing you can do when you are in sales.
I respect that. I certainly think that you personally could deliver a pizza. I have no doubt about that, Mr Deputy Speaker. You are more capable perhaps than your colleague over there.
The Mobile Black Spot Program was going to be the great solver of communications in the bush. What we saw was nothing more than an exercise in pork-barrelling. The government came out with three criteria: rural and regional areas, mobile phone black spots and areas prone to natural disaster. When we look at areas that meet those criteria, what do we see? In McEwen, where we have three national highways, and 60 per cent of the electorate has been burnt out by fires in the last six years, we got one tower and one upgrade. But what about other areas? The now Deputy Prime Minister's area was pork-barrelled to the tune of 28. Go back and have a look at the stats on natural disasters in this area. They are very small. But here we have an electorate such as mine, which suffers every single year from bushfires, and floods chucked in there as well, and the government sits there and says, 'It doesn't qualify for the mobile phone black spot towers.'
We have seen 17,000 families now losing their family tax benefit A in McEwen, because this government—fair dinkum—could not hold a chook raffle in a pub. It is unbelievable that each and every day we come in here and we know that because of the incompetence of the government $43 million a day is being paid, in interest, on government debt that they doubled and they created in 2½ years. You can change the salesman, as they have done, but the policies are still as bad. (Time expired)
It was fairly unfortunate to have to sit through the member for McEwen's contribution, because the level of debate is such that all he can do is denigrate people. I want to make this comment because good leadership is not personal denigration. During question time he denigrated the Deputy Prime Minister, in relation to the colour of his skin, and it was absolutely appalling. I took him on. He made a comment about how he goes red in his face and that level of personal denigration is disgraceful.
During question time the Australian people also saw that two members, the member for Charlton and the member for Gellibrand, were sitting there with stuffed toys having a joke, like it was a kindergarten. We have to get a better calibre of debate from those opposite in this House. That was an absolutely pathetic attempt at humour.
Good leadership is addressing the nation's issues. It is telling the truth about the importance of fiscal management. It is initiating policies that grow the economy and that grow jobs. It is about looking to the future challenges and about investing in future jobs.
I want to reflect for a moment on the member for McEwen's contribution. He talked about our investment in mobile phone black spots. It is an absolute joke that in six years those opposite, the Labor Party, did not invest one cent in fixing mobile phone black spots. It is an absolute joke that you stood up there and did not have the honesty—the member for McEwen does not have the honesty—to say, 'We did not put any money into mobile phone black spots.'
We have invested $100 million to fix mobile black spots—almost 500 around the country and another $60 million. It is an absolute shame because my electorate Corangamite has also suffered a terrible bushfire in Wye River and Separation Creek. I have been campaigning for many months for those base stations to be rolled out, first, in areas of high bushfire risk, and you have the member for McEwen standing there when he knows that Labor never did a thing. Good leadership is about being honest. Good leadership is about delivering the NBN not just going through the pathetic denigration we heard from the previous member's contribution.
In September 2013, after six years of Labor government and $6.5 billion of investment, some two per cent of Australian premises could access the NBN. They are the facts. In my electorate more than 70,000 premises are either under construction or will be connected to the NBN by 2017.
We talk about tax reform. Good leadership is tackling multinational tax avoidance. We have passed legislation to combat the transfer of profits out of this country into other jurisdictions, which denies Australians jobs and costs Australians dearly. When this legislation came before the Senate, what did the Labor Party do? It voted against it. Fundamental reform, tackling multinational tax avoidance—and what does Labor do? It votes against it. The Greens showed more economic responsibility in joining with us to vote for this legislation than the Labor party, which makes Australian Labor look more and more irrelevant.
Good leadership is tackling excessive credit fees, for which we have just passed the legislation. It is doing the hard work on tax reform. What we saw in today's Geelong Advertiser was, 'Labor risks votes with housing plan.' They are the facts: heightened 'negative gearing hot spot'. In the Geelong region we have seen a number of areas on the hit list because of Labor's tax grab and its attack on negative gearing.
The member for Corio has, unfortunately, left the chamber, but as a proportion of investor owned homes compared with owner-occupied homes the hit list names Geelong at 80 per cent of residential properties owned by investors—Herne Hill at 80.2 per cent, Geelong West at 69.7 per cent, East Geelong at 65 per cent, New Town, Torquey and the list goes on and on. These are all areas with a high proportion of investors who own residential property and who will be wiped out by Labor's reckless economic policy. Good leadership is taking the hard decisions in leading the country, growing jobs and growing our economy.