House debates

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Matters of Public Importance

Economic Leadership

3:24 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for McMahon proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The government's failure to provide the economic leadership it promised .

I call upon those 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—

3:25 pm

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

) ( ): Good economic management requires consistency and it requires competence. It was crystal clear in the question time which we just went through that this government and this Treasurer in particular are bereft of both. It has been crystal clear that we have a Treasurer who is just not good enough for the job. He is just not up to the job. It has taken six months for him to crash and burn. It has taken six months for him to be shown to be completely and utterly lacking in the skills required to be Treasurer of Australia. The Prime Minister must be wondering whether he can afford to hold onto a Treasurer so clearly not up to it, so clearly out of his depth.

There was hope that he would have been better than his predecessor. It was not a high bar. There was hope that we would see an improvement. We know that the now Treasurer white-anted his predecessor. He went around making sure that people knew he would be so much better at the job, making sure that people knew he was available to serve, reluctantly, as Treasurer in a new administration, but we have seen him, as the Leader of the Opposition said, 'Shrink into the job'. We know that being the Treasurer is a hard job. We know that it can be hard for a new Treasurer in the early days, but normally a Treasurer grows into it. This Treasurer has shrunk into the job and is disappearing before us. But he cannot blame his predecessor, Joe Hockey, and he cannot blame Labor, all his errors are his own making.

I am going to do something that some would regard as unfair, some may regard as unparliamentary, but I am going to do it. I am going to quote the Treasurer. I feel obliged to remind the House of some of the things that the Treasurer has said. I know it is a devastating, tricky tactic to quote the Treasurer, but I think it is fair enough. When asked about bracket creep, his said:

Well, I do,—


and I'm quite passionate about it, because I think that's one of the things that is holding the Australian economy back.

He said at another time, 'This is not something that gets people back to work, to save and invest.' The old 'work, save and invest' was trotted out as a reason to deal with bracket creep and to take decisive action. He was asked again about bracket creep and he said, 'It concerns me greatly.' It is known as bracket creep, but he called it 'inflation tax'. We now have the Treasurer consistently on the record saying that he would deal with bracket creep. He said that it was one of his key goals. When asked about bracket creep, he said, 'I've been making that point for five months.' His entire Treasury tenure has been devoted to dealing with bracket creep.

As we saw in question time, he did not even say that he would deliver small tax cuts. He said they would be delivering large tax cuts, then significant tax cuts and then big tax cuts and then very big tax cuts. Then we were told last week that they would be small tax cuts—a sandwich and a milkshake. Well, overnight the milkshake has evaporated and the sandwich has disappeared, because this Treasurer will deliver no tax cuts in his May budget. Not one tax cut will be delivered to Australian workers. He also said that if they did deliver tax cuts their priority would be to deliver them to workers, to people in the workforce, PAYE taxpayers. He said, 'That's where our focus will be. That's what we will deliver.' Now, apparently, we are moving to corporate tax cuts, not personal income tax cuts. This is a government and a Treasurer bereft of strategy and bereft of an idea.

In question time when the Treasurer was talking about big tax cuts he was going to fund them through an increase in the GST. We saw the Treasurer, reduced at question time, to complaining that the Labor Party had decided not to increase the GST before he got there. That was his big attack on the Labor Party. How dare we decide that we do not want an increase in GST before he had a chance to decide it. That was his big economic attack on the Labor Party because the Labor Party had actually thought this issue through and the Labor Party had said that increasing the GST will affect low- and middle-income earners the most and that an increased GST will not have a growth dividend. Then the Treasurer gave his great oration, his 46 minutes at the National Press Club, and he said, 'I've thought about this. An increase in the GST will affect low- and middle-income earners the worst and it won't have a growth dividend.' This was the Treasurer's great economic revelation to the Australian people! And at question time he complained that the Labor Party had reached that view first. This is what the Treasurer has been reduced to.

Let us look at this Treasurer's track record. He said the GST would increase. Now we are told—we are told—it will not happen. He said there would be personal income tax cuts. That is not going to happen. He said they would never increase tax on superannuation. Well, that will happen in the budget. He said they would not increase the tax on tobacco. That will happen in the budget. He said they would deal with negative gearing excesses. That will not happen in the budget. Everything this Treasurer says will not happen does happen. Everything this Treasurer says will happen does not happen. This Treasurer is completely bereft of a strategy and completely bereft of ideas.

The Prime Minister said, 'This government has made one announcement after another.' He is right about that; it is just that they have been entirely contradictory from one day to another. We need a Treasurer with a plan and the competence to deliver it. Instead, we have a government so much at sixes and sevens they do not know what day the budget will be delivered. We were told there would be a white paper and a green paper. Then we were told there would be a tax statement. Then, when asked today if there would be a tax statement, the Minister for Communications said, 'Yes, there will be a tax statement before the budget.' Now we are told there will not be a tax statement. As we say on Twitter, YCMIU—you couldn't make it up. The government's economic approach is so bereft of ideas that they cannot even agree on what day the budget will be delivered.

We have a Treasurer who says there are excesses in negative gearing, but he will not do anything about it—or he cannot do anything about it. He says that bracket creep is a big problem, but he cannot do anything about that. This Treasurer has not seen a problem he can fix. He has not created a problem that he can fix. He has not outlined a problem that he can fix.

Then, after tax policy, we come to competition policy. We had the Harper review—a big, landmark review, we were told. It was going to make big, sweeping recommendations. It was released 12 months ago. Today, 12 months later, after a cabinet brawl last night, the government gets around to responding, and we see a view that the Treasurer does not support, the finance minister does not support, the Attorney-General does not support and the Assistant Treasurer does not support becoming government policy, because the Deputy Prime Minister supports it, apparently, as do others.

We have a Treasurer who could hold the Guinness world record for kite flying! He flies a kite and then he brings it back down to earth again. His ideas come crashing down because he does not think them through beforehand. He does not think through the implications of his thought bubbles, and as a result they cannot be implemented. We have a Treasurer who said that he would fix the problems that his predecessor could not fix. He was so much better than the member for North Sydney, he told his party room. He was so much better, he told people, because he could do the big reforms. He could drive through an increase in the GST. He could deliver the big, sweeping personal income tax cuts. He could do it, he told the Australian people.

No doubt he told the Prime Minister that, too, when their deal was done at that Canberra restaurant: 'I'll run for Prime Minister, you run for Treasurer. We'll split it up between us. You don't have to vote for me; just get your people to vote for me. It'll all be okay. Nobody'll notice.' The deal was done, and it was all going to be great. Malcolm and Scott could fix everything! Well, Malcolm and Scott have been unable to deliver a pizza! They have been unable to deliver anything on economic policy. They are not even able to deliver a budget on the day it is scheduled to be delivered without having a major debate.

Can you imagine the cabinet meetings? In a cabinet there are discussions about what should be in the budget and about what the policies should be. There is a contest of ideas. There are views expressed. In this cabinet, they get the calendar out to start their debate about economic policy! 'Do you think we should have the budget on 3 May or 10 May,' the big economic debate goes. 'When should we go to an election?' 'Let's go to an election early, because the longer we stay here the worse it gets,' the cabinet tells the Prime Minister. 'For goodness sake, let's rush to the people, because they're onto us. They've worked us out. We've got to go to an early election because they've worked out we don't stand for anything, we can't deliver anything and we actually don't have a clue when it comes to our economy.' That is the debate that goes on in this cabinet—the Leader of the House saying to the Prime Minister, 'For goodness sake, call an early election, because the Australian people are working us out and the sooner we go to an election the better the chance we have of winning it. The longer we stay, the more our lack of policy will be exposed.'

We asked the Prime Minister today, 'What's your tax policy?' It was a tricky question, I know! He could not have seen it coming, I know! He flailed around. It took him a minute before he got onto Labor's tax policy. I say to the Prime Minister: you're welcome. We are happy to provide him with something to talk about, because if it were not for Labor leading the debate, he would have nothing to talk about. If it were not for Labor setting the economic agenda, he would have nothing to talk about. He would have no policy to talk about in this House or anywhere else. He would have no agenda to talk about. He is leading a government without an agenda. Australia has an opposition setting the agenda. That is the difference we see in the Australian political landscape: an opposition setting the agenda and an opposition happy to fight an election whenever the government get around to it.

3:35 pm

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I encourage the shadow Treasurer to take a breath occasionally, especially if he is going to criticise Barnaby Joyce so much, when he is working so hard to emulate him by turning a bright beetroot colour as he delivered that sermon about good government. If you are going to deliver a sermon about good government, I think you ought to come to the table with some experience in good government. I am happy to compare the credentials of this Treasurer with those of the shadow Treasurer. I am happy to go through it in detail.

Many people here today and many people listening will not remember all the depths that were plumbed by the previous Labor government, but we do. We remember everything. We remember every single policy failure of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government. Let us start with my favourites. At the top of the list—

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Ruddbank? No, that is not top of the list—not Ruddbank. There was a special policy that the shadow Treasurer was going to bring in as soon as the Rudd government were elected. Anyone remember? We were going to have a website where we would watch the price of groceries. The Australian public were going to log onto their computers and go to a website to watch the price of groceries—GroceryWatch. What a fantastic success! What an economic vision for this country! A website to watch groceries was the vision of the shadow Treasurer when he first came to office. But it did not stop there.

Photo of Fiona ScottFiona Scott (Lindsay, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What about Fuelwatch?

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

'What about Fuelwatch?' I hear from the backbench. The shadow Treasurer is pretending to ignore this. This is your record, Shadow Treasurer. What about Fuelwatch, a website you could log onto and watch fuel prices change? The private sector economy sorts out at these things much better than government. The private sector economy efficiently manages the prices of retail goods and the price of fuel every day. The problem with your government's policy of putting up websites to watch these prices was that nobody logged on and watched them. You wasted inordinate amounts of taxpayers' money creating websites that nobody logged onto and nobody used—it was a dumb idea from the beginning. It was a dumb idea that was never going to work. You were willing to waste millions of the dollars that you confiscated off hardworking Australians on a flight of fancy so that you could have a site where you could watch the price of groceries.

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Assistant Treasurer, you might desist from using the word 'you'. It is a common mistake in this chamber, and it is a reflection on the chair. I was reluctant to pull you up but I needed to draw it to your attention.

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I am always willing to be pulled up, Mr Deputy Speaker. It gets better, because your record continued in government, shadow Treasurer.

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Speaker—

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

You will not escape this by looking to him for salvation. You cannot escape responsibility for your actions while you were in government. You were made the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, you were made the minister for immigration, and the shadow Treasurer has the hide to come into this place and criticise the Treasurer, who was the minister who came to government with a competent plan to fix the border protection mess that you left behind. Your record is hundreds of boats arriving with thousands of people on them, thousands of people going into detention centres and dozens of new detention centres being opened, and of course that had a fiscal consequence. If the shadow Treasurer wants to talk records, let us talk records. When Labor left office there was a $1.2 billion shortfall in processing offshore asylum seekers. That is a lot of money. There were, of course, dozens of detention centres opened all around the country. There were detention centres in South Australia, there were detention centres in Tasmania—there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of children in detention.

Ms Chesters interjecting

The member for Bendigo might listen to this. There were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of children in detention because of your incompetence, because of your deliberate government policy. You come in here and you say the Labor Party is ready to govern again—they have learnt the lessons of the past. Yet when you examine what the Labor Party is proposing to the Australian people at the next election, you can see clearly that they have not learned the lessons of failure. In fact, the shadow Treasurer has turned up here today and wasted the time of this parliament, just like the Leader of the Opposition did in question time—he cut short time for questions to the executive, time for serious questions about serious policy, and turned the parliament into a form of vaudeville. That is what the shadow Treasurer just did. He did not have a genuine debate with us about any aspect of economic policy. He tried to compare his record with the record of an immigration minister who stopped the boats, fixed the budgetary impact of border protection and having thousands of people in detention, and went on to become Minister for Social Services. He delivered budget savings through a resistant Labor Party in the Senate—he delivered savings in the human services portfolio through a reckless opposition. We know the shadow Treasurer's approach to revenue.

As we approach this election we can look at what Labor has done in opposition; what has been their approach to economic policy. Have they looked responsibly at measures and helped the government deal with the mess they left behind—the debt they left behind, the deficit they left behind? No. From day one they have been committed to wrecking the parliament, they have been committed to damaging the budget and doing as much damage as possible. When you take those decisions, it has consequences. There have been real consequences for the management of our economy and real challenges for the management of our society. They do not understand that the worse they make this problem and the worse they make the budget deficit and debt by blocking responsible savings measures in this parliament, the worse it will be for every government in the future. Labor have blocked $59.5 billion in savings. They have created a budget hole with their own proposals—they have new taxes of $7 billion, they have proposals of $1.13 billion in savings. That is it—that is the heavy lifting they have done to save money. There is $7.05 billion in increased taxes and $1.13 billion in savings. That leaves a new budget black hole of $51.32 billion.

It is great to see the member for Lilley here—he would regard a budget black hole of $51.32 billion as a success—that is not too bad for a former Labor Treasurer sitting in the chamber listening to this. But it is a horrific result when you think about the drop in commodity prices and the terms of trade and the end of the mining investment phase. It underscores what the Prime Minister and the Treasurer talk about every day—the Australian economy has to make that transition out of the mining investment phase. We recognise that we are in a different world and that the global economy is continuing to recover. When you listen carefully to what the government is talking about, when you listen carefully to what the Prime Minister or the Treasurer speak about every single day, they are talking about the new economy, they are talking about innovation. They are not just talking about innovation—it is not just a catchphrase; it is not just something we say—but they have backed that up with changes and proposals in the economic space that the Labor Party cannot even begin to understand. The Prime Minister speaks passionately about crowd source equity funding and he understands we have to have laws to improve that situation. He understands that the venture capital market in Australia is too small and that we need more venture capital. He understands that you have to have the right incentives in the tax system to create a climate of investment where people are willing to invest—not just the big investors, not just the institutional funds but your everyday mums and dads, your everyday small family businesses, your everyday medium businesses, your everyday large businesses of great Aussie companies that have been small businesses and grown. If you do not have the settings right, if you are not talking to them about the things that matter to them, about how they can invest, how they can save, how they can work harder for our economy, you do not have a plan. That is why the Treasurer and the Prime Minister talk about these things every day. That is why our proposals are coming forward. That is why we have capital gains tax proposals coming into this place, to provide incentives for investment—never mind that we oppose strongly the Labor Party's plan.

We are opposed to Labor's plan for this very important reason: we understand that their plan in relation to negative gearing represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the tax code and the operation of gearing in this country—a fundamental misunderstanding of the incentive it provides for ordinary people to invest and take risk, ensuring that we have a climate where people are prepared to take risk and invest in new enterprises. That is why we are here arguing passionately every day for innovation, for the new economy, for the parliament modernising government service delivery so we can ensure we are providing the jobs of the 21st century. It is not enough to come to this place and turn it into vaudeville; it is not enough to come in here and pretend that you did not have a track record of six years of failure, which really delivered the worst period of governance in our country's history. Regardless of which side of politics you are on, that is an objective description, as anyone would find. It is this government which is looking forward to the new jobs for a new, innovative and agile economy. We have the plans and you will see those plans in the budget. We are going to back ourselves and back Australians' abilities every single day.

3:45 pm

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Seven hundred and sixty thousand Australians are unemployed across the country, but, sadly, the Treasurer is not among them. We are moving an MPI today on the lack of economic leadership, and you have just heard exactly why we need to move that MPI from the member for Mitchell, who spent 10 minutes at the dispatch box without giving us one positive economic idea.

Watching the Treasurer roll out his constant scare campaigns and ideas is a bit like watching Wile E Coyote constantly chasing around with his ACME bag of tricks. He decided he would go after Labor on our positive plan to boost housing affordability by reining in the excesses of negative gearing. He went after us using a consultant's report, which promptly blew up in his face, when the consultants said they had not actually modelled Labor's policy. When he took the job, he said that the GST would be one of his priorities—he said raising the GST to 15 per cent was important because the GST was an efficient tax. Then, after cabinet rolled him, we suddenly had the humiliating spectacle of the Treasurer at the Press Club admitting that the GST was not that efficient after all.

Who knew that, apart from just about every Australian? It is like that moment when Wile E Coyote dons the lycra wings and goes after the Road Runner over the cliff and keeps flapping down to the ground. When he says there are 'excesses' in negative gearing on Sunrise, he is unable to come into this House to say what those excesses are. According to the government, Labor's negative gearing plan is going to send house prices up or maybe send them down. It will make inequality worse or maybe it will make inequality better. It is like the moment when Wile E Coyote sets up a little seesaw on the edge of the cliff, thinking he will drop a rock on it and send it flying into the air, but instead it goes plummeting down to the ground.

When Labor introduced our positive plan to reduce smoking and to add to the budget bottom line through dealing with tobacco excise, the government made it crystal clear that they were against increasing the tobacco excise. Now, like Wile E Coyote with the fireworks inside the barrel, they have decided that they are going to adopt part or maybe all of Labor's tobacco excise plans. When it came to income tax cuts, the Treasurer told 2GB that:

If we make any changes in tax it will be to deliver lower taxes in other areas particularly for those who are working hard and out there earning a living.

But yesterday he had to retreat with a slightly confused answer at a conference and then he had to send his press secretaries around the gallery to say, 'He really did rule out income taxes.' Again like Wile E Coyote putting TNT on the bottom of the bridge, he was sending himself down onto the ground.

When he was on Sky News, the Treasurer said:

The government has made it crystal clear that we have no interest in increasing taxes on superannuation either now or in the future.

But another one bites the dust, when we see the government is considering in its ACME bag of tricks returning to make changes to superannuation.

On multinational tax it is like the ACME tornado seeds. The Prime Minister says that we voted against their multinational tax plan. The fact is that we voted against their dodgy deal with the Greens. We supported their tax plan, even though it had asterisks where the revenue estimates were meant to be, but we called on them to go further and put in place serious multinational tax plans, like the one prepared by the member for Lilley and his Assistant Treasurer, David Bradbury. Labor's $7.2 billion multinational tax plan would raise real revenue and take serious action on multinational profit shifting.

Today we have had the Leader of the National Party rolling the Attorney-General, the Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Finance on the issue of the effects test. We have had the Deputy Prime Minister out today saying that he believes the price of milk is too cheap and it should go up. We are not sure of the price it should go up to but he did nominate $11. So apparently $11 a litre is what the Deputy Prime Minister thinks Australians should be paying for their milk. That concern is reflected by people like Richard Goyder of Wesfarmers, who has talked about the risk of an effects test to capital investment. We have capex at a 25-year low and this mob opposite thinks that it is alright to jeopardise capital investment. They will be driving up prices and driving down capital investment. Economic leadership is as far away as it has ever been.

3:50 pm

Photo of Brett WhiteleyBrett Whiteley (Braddon, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is quite interesting to have an MPI where the first two speakers from the other side would probably fit into the category of best over-actors in the parliament. That would be the first characteristic I would describe them by; the second would be that they have the worst credibility and worst track record when it comes to economic leadership. What do we have?—one, two, three, four, five, six, seven members from the entire Labor Party in this place have turned up for what they have described as the most important and strategic debate in this parliament. Who do we have? We have the former Treasurer, who promised surpluses every day of the week but did not deliver one. The only thing he can deliver on is the best tan in the parliament. Then we have a tired front bench that is really just back in the same old corral, talking the same old talking points.

Those listening in the gallery and elsewhere would understand this—it is pretty straightforward—that the party over there, which wants to talk about economic leadership, left this country in financial ruin. Every day you wake up to find the government has to spend $100 million more than we earn because we are trying to clean up the mess that those opposite left. Every month we spend $1 billion to pay the interest on the bill they left after John Howard and Peter Costello left with money in the bank. How many times can a member of parliament stand here and tell the Australian people about the track record of those opposite?

They would have you believe that they have changed their spots. Let me tell you: they are still the tired, old, socialist, spending lot that we knew from the six years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government. Let no-one fool you: these are the people who have no control, no discipline when it comes to spending.

Economic leadership is the topic of the MPI today. Economic leadership is many things, but, fundamentally, it means two things: do not spend more than you earn; and create the environment and the conditions that deliver the confidence and policies that business—small business in particular—needs to not just survive but thrive. They would be my two descriptors of what good economic leadership is. This is what this government is about. It is about trying not to spend more than we earn, but that is an impossible task at the moment because of what we had been left with by those opposite.

Anybody in this country would know that these people opposite, the Labor Party of Australia, were nothing short of economic vandals. We have spent the last 2½ years trying to clean up the mess that they left, but they have refused to be part of the solution. They have just wanted to stand up and make everyone try and think that the six years between 2007 and 2013 never existed—they just disappeared. It was a dream—

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It was a nightmare.

Photo of Brett WhiteleyBrett Whiteley (Braddon, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It was actually a nightmare—I take the point.

What we have in front of us today is quite stark really. We have a party of there that wants to be in executive government once again. God forbid that from ever happening. They already have a black hole of $51 billion over the forward estimates. If you add to that them playing around with the old NBN and trying to scare people all over Australia—the cost to bring out fibre to the premise would been another $75-85 billion—what we are talking about here is the potential to add another $1 billion of interest a year to the bill that we have to pay. These people opposite know no bounds when it comes to making promises—false promises—about what they would deliver as a government.

I want to remind those listening today: do not forget for one millisecond the financial ruin that the Australian Labor Party, at the behest of the Australian union movement, left this country in. That is the fact. They took a very solid foundation of financial management from the Howard-Costello years, where the last surplus was over $20 billion—money in the bank—and what did they do? They trashed it. They absolutely trashed it. They could not control their spending. They still cannot. They are the same tired frontbench from the previous government days. Until such time as the personnel opposite are taken from the seats that they have found so comfortable and are replaced with some people with a degree of intelligence and commonsense, they have no story to tell.

3:55 pm

Photo of Ed HusicEd Husic (Chifley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

If there is one thing that is clear it is this: the member for Lilley got us through the GFC. You could not even get a Treasurer through one term of parliament. That man over there saved the jobs of Australians, and you got rid of the job of the member for Warringah. If we are going to compare our time in government to what you guys have done, when you look at economic leadership it is not that ScoMo is on a go slow, ScoMo is on a no show. He is nowhere near being able to make one decision that sticks—one decision in his time. He made out that he was the great white hope of that side there, and the only thing he has been good at has been retreat. If you need to put up a surrender flag, then Scott Morrison, the Treasurer, is your man.

The Treasurer was asked a question today about micro-economic reform. Every reform that he does is micro. He has not got a single thing through that he has been able to put up. Let us go through it. He argued for GST reform. Where has that gone? Nowhere. They argued about multinational tax reform. Where has that gone? Nowhere. They argued, potentially, about changing negative gearing. That has gone. They said they would not touch superannuation. Well, that promise has gone as well. And what has happened today? On the thing that he spoke so passionately about, the need for us to address income tax and bracket creep, here are the quotes from the Treasurer:

I'm quite passionate about it, because I think that's one of the things that is holding the Australian economy back.

He said that on 24 January. One month ago, the Treasurer said:

If we are going to do anything in that area it has to be to give people who are going out there and working and earning for a living a better deal on their income tax.

These were the things that he felt strongly about. Where are we at? Nowhere; gone; stopped. In their own cabinet, when it came to a showdown with the Treasurer, who is supposed to be one of the most influential policymakers in a cabinet, what happened? In the showdown in terms of brawn v brains, brawn won, with the Deputy Prime Minister—The Nationals—dictating economic policy in this country, wagging the tail on the way that things are to be run. It is an absolute meltdown.

The other thing worth noting is this: whenever the Prime Minister is in trouble, there is that tell. Whenever you are asking him to step forward and say what his the agenda is, there is only one thing he can do. It is just like with the member for Warringah. Every time the member for Warringah was in trouble, there was a national security announceable—every single time. The similar thing for the Prime Minister is this: every time you ask what he has done, it is only about innovation policy. That is it. That is the only string in the bow. 'I'm pro innovation; I'm pro seeing this happen.' But you cannot say that is the only lever you have in running an economy as big as this and having a policy agenda for this government. That is all he has. Every time he is in trouble, watch it: he goes straight to innovation policy.

When asked today what else he could do, the Prime Minister on the test of economic leadership said, 'We've made commitments.' Well, that is nice to know! He has made commitments. These commitments are backed up by a person who, when asked to make a commitment on the republic, goes to water. When he is asked to make a commitment on climate change, he goes to water. When he is asked to make a commitment on marriage equality, he goes to water. All of his promises, all of his commitments are written in sand. That is all they are worth. This is economic leadership under the team of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer who said that that was what they were bringing to the job. And here are the things that we have to deal with: the deficit that they said they control is out of control; growth is nowhere near where it should be; wages are the flattest they have been in a long time. These are the things that should be going much better and are not. What does it mean, member for Mitchell? This is the person who has been sent in on economic leadership. They do not send in the Assistant Treasurer. They certainly do not send the Treasurer; he cannot argue about economic leadership. All they have is the member for Mitchell. There is no other member of the frontbench who is able to argue about economic leadership. This tells you everything. When it comes to being able to provide what is needed for the economy, the only people that have the ideas are on this side of the chamber. All they can do on that side is attack the ideas, because their cupboard is bare. This is embarrassing. But, importantly, it is holding back the nation—and this should not continue. (Time expired)

4:00 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a sobering moment when you hear the member for Chifley speaking about ideas. We have had enough of your ideas, mate. You led Australia down a path from great economic success to the point where we are still struggling to deal with the deficit that your team left us. It should not be forgotten. You come into this chamber and talk about lack of economic leadership when it was your party's faulty leadership that put us in such a perilous state. This government has to deal with it, and we are doing it in a methodical way.

One of the things I believe we should always consider—and it is an underlying tenet—is that government should do no harm. We should carefully consider all of the options that come before us in this place. One of the things we should always understand, and the first commitment we should make to the Australian people, is that we will do no harm. The performance by the Labor Party when they were in government—and since, with some of the proposals or ideas they are putting up around their plans for economic reforms—did exactly that. They caused Australia absolute harm in the past with some of those decisions around the live sheep ban and around things like the mining tax. We remember very well the member for Lilley and the mining tax. These were economically foolhardy policies which led us to a bad place in Australia—and we are still dealing with the issues that were created under their watch.

At the moment we do have a government that is looking at and considering all the options. Only today the Treasurer announced that we are getting rid of section 46 of the Trade Practices Act. This is something that has been hanging around our economy for about 15 years now, and both sides of parliament have known that this needed reform. The man they like to disown now, Mark Latham, raised the issue of section 46 in his book.

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Never heard of him!

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Now they say they have never heard of him. You wanted the Australian public to have him for Prime Minister. That was another one of your good ideas. You want to put aside Mark Latham now, but Kim Beazley—and he is a man that you should be proud of you—also said that this is something that should be reformed. So after this has been hanging around in a kitbag for 15 years this government has had the gumption to stand up and do something about it. We should be proud of that. That is economic leadership.

The last budget was based around assisting small enterprises and businesses to get ahead in Australia. We know on this side of the House that if we want Australia to succeed what we need to do is stimulate small business, because they are the backbone of this economy. So we moved to assist them by giving them the $20,000 write-off for capital expenditure.

Today we are dealing with a creation of the now Leader of the Opposition from Fair Work Australia, which is the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. Its intent seems to be to wipe out owner-operator truck drivers in Australia—and we need to get our heads around this—by setting rates for owner-operators such that it is more expensive for them to drive their own trucks than it is to put a driver in their truck. What possible reasoning can we have for this except that they do not like small business? They want big business to employ lots of drivers so that they can unionise the workforce and so that those big businesses can deduct those union fees and send them to their mates in the TWU.

Mr Swan interjecting

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Lilley!

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is what they call economic leadership. It is a disgrace for them to come into this chamber and talk about this side of government lacking leadership. If it is leadership like that, Australia does not need it. (Time expired)

4:05 pm

Photo of Wayne SwanWayne Swan (Lilley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This Liberal government is 921 days old, and they have replaced someone who would say anything and do anything to be PM with someone who will say anything and do anything to be PM. We are now seeing the latest manifestation of that: the Turnbull-Di Natale government. This is the latest innovation. It is no wonder that people are confused. Do you know why people are confused about what they are doing on the budget and economic policy? They just keep telling us why they are confused. It happens on a daily basis. We know it is a budget, because they told us so. Watching the Treasurer in the House today was extraordinary. He did not know whether he was driving a car; he did not know whether he was driving a house, or whether he was driving a budget. It was truly pathetic to watch. But there is one question I have, as I sit here, that keeps coming back to me time and time again.

Mr Pasin interjecting

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Barker!

Photo of Wayne SwanWayne Swan (Lilley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I cannot help thinking that the Liberal caucus must surely be sitting over there saying, 'We better get Joe back.' This bloke is going so badly that they are talking about getting Joe back. How do I know they are talking about getting Joe back? I have been watching his social media activity from Washington, and he certainly thinks he might be a shot again at some time in the future. But you really know it when you have a government that is out of control. They would certainly be announcing and contradicting themselves every couple of days, generally. But with this government, you have seen that refined. You get a change of policy at morning tea and you get a change of policy at afternoon tea. You really have to give it to them, because they are absolutely consistent. To the extent to which they are running around crashing into each other, it is like continuous replays of The Three Stooges. That is actually what this government is beginning to look like.

Of course, there is also their behaviour in the Senate. They planned to have a double-dissolution election, except they did not plan how to do it. Now we have to go through the excruciating process of trying to understand what the hell they are doing. We have a Prime Minister who has bitten off more than he can chew, and we have a Treasurer who is still trying to get his teeth into it. That is exactly what we have. No wonder people are confused about what this government is up to.

There is something that you should not do. When you are the Treasurer of Australia, doing a budget is a really serious task; it is really big and complex. There is a reason it takes five or six months. The 2013-14 budget was a serious piece of work. Whatever you say about it politically, technically it was really difficult. If you look at the 2013-14 budget and compare it with the 2014-15 budget, the first budget of this government, the 2014-15 budget is half the size. Do you want to know why it blew up? Do you want to know why the politics turned bad? Do you want to know why the policy turned bad? It was because it was rushed. It did not work, it is still not finished and it is a time bomb sitting under this Liberal government.

They are now talking about changing the timing again. Do that at your risk, politically and economically. The fact is the Treasury cannot verify the integrity of numbers when you start chopping and changing. The Liberals have started chopping and changing the parameters and making decisions late, which is what happened last time. In the 2014-15 budget, they wheeled decisions into cabinet on the Friday and every single one of them blew up. They were not properly costed and they were not properly accounted for in those budget papers. That is what those opposite are doing now. Australians have no faith in the way in which this process is being handled. It is no wonder, therefore, that the government want an early election. They simply have not got anything to say or do, and they ought to get to the polls as quickly as possible.

But the most stunning thing about this Treasurer is that, when he went to the Press Club a few weeks ago, he admitted that savings of $80 billion had been matched with spending of $70-odd billion. This is a tragedy for the country. We hear about the parameters. Those on that side of the House have quadrupled our budget deficit. It is four times bigger than it was in PEFO. We are proud of our record: our job-creating record, our AAA credit rating, the fact we avoided a recession and the fact that we came through a mining boom in good shape. All of that has been put at risk by the instability, chaos and dysfunction on that side of the House. Consumer confidence is down 10 per cent since the election. That is the result of the chaos and dysfunction in the Liberal government. (Time expired)

4:10 pm

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a pleasure to rise to talk on this MPI. I see the other side of the House waving at me, which is great! It is always good to follow the member for Lilley, my namesake; he does occasionally get called the member for Swan.

Without using any cartoon analogies, I might use some sporting analogies to talk about one of the things we have learned over the years. It just happens that a quote from the member for Fraser is:

The big challenge for the ALP will be convincing the electorate that it can run the economy almost as well as the Coalition. “Almost”, because the belief that right-wing parties are better economic managers is so pervasive in developed democracies that few can hope to topple it from opposition.

That might be a perception that the member for Fraser has, but there is a reason that he has picked that up, and the reason is that it is true. It is a fact that the conservative governments in Australia have proven, time and time again, to be better operators of the economy.

One of the things I also learned from sport is that, when you go into a grand final, you try to pick a weakness in someone's team—their team strategy, their team plan or a weak player on their side—and you do not play to their strengths. If we are going to have an economic leadership debate or an economic credibility debate in this chamber, we would welcome it every time. This side will welcome it because the Labor Party has no economic credibility. They spent six years proving to the Australian people why they have no economic credibility.

I remember seeing the Treasurer before the previous Treasurer, the member for Lilley, sitting where the member for Bendigo is now sitting. He stood up proudly with his budget papers—he has just held up ours, but he held up his—and said: 'Tonight, we deliver four surpluses. This is the start of four surpluses.' Well, I have not seen any of them. Maybe the member for Fraser, who puts himself very high on the economic ratings, can tell us where those four surpluses are, where they disappeared to, where they have gone, where they were delivered or if they are ever going to be delivered. I think 1989 was the last time Labor delivered a surplus. So, when they talk about economic credibility, we will have that conversation every time. The Assistant Minister to the Treasurer raised some points about the previous Treasurer, who said at the time that he did not want to raise some things in this parliament because he thought they might be perceived as unparliamentary. But I will raise some of the things that the previous Treasurer said. One of the things he said to Fran Kelly back on 13 May 2010 was:

… the Government has returned the Budget to surplus three years ahead of schedule and ahead of any other major advanced economy …

Can anyone in this place remember those statements being made? Can we remember them? We are still waiting, member for Fraser. We are still waiting for those deliveries from the opposition, who now claim to be economic geniuses and giants, after leaving the Australian economy an absolute wreck and disaster. The previous Treasurer, the member for McMahon, Mr Chris Bowen, in his address to the Investment and Financial Services Association at the postbudget breakfast on 12 May 2010, said:

The Budget is now projected to return to surplus in 2012-13—three years ahead of schedule. This will make us the first advanced economy in the world to return to surplus.

He also said:

By the middle of 2013, our budget will be back in surplus—three years ahead of schedule. We also have the lowest debt and deficit of any major advanced economy.

Well, they have to remember that when they came into power they did not have any debt. And they took us into that position on the excuse of a GFC. First we heard about the Rudd bank, then we heard about GroceryWatch and then we heard about Fuelwatch. How successful were all of those for him? Giants! Geniuses! Fantastic economic programs!

What about when the mining tax was negotiated between Xstrata, Rio Tinto and BHP? They would have had some economic geniuses in their room. And guess who we sent in to negotiate with them on a mining tax? The Treasurer! The Treasurer went in to negotiate with Xstrata and BHP. And what did he deliver? He delivered a 10-year write-off for a re-evaluation of their assets and a 10-year write-off to get them to sign to an agreement for the mining tax—an anti-WA policy and an anti-Australia policy. And what did that mining tax actually deliver? Nothing! It delivered nothing to the budget. It delivered nothing to the Treasury. And this is what will happen if this opposition gets voted in again: they will deliver nothing. And they have got no economic credibility.

4:15 pm

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have to say that today feels like Groundhog Day. Maybe those on the government benches have been asleep for 900 days, but it has been a very long time since Labor has been in government. You are now in government. And what have you failed to do? You are still stuck in the past, talking about what Labor did in government. How inept are you that you have got nothing to talk about?

The whole point of being in government is to reform. The whole point of being in government is to put forward an economic plan. And you have failed. We are 900 days on and we are in Groundhog Day again. You are repeating the same arguments over and over again. And it is pathetic. When are you going to grow up and be an actual government and put forward a plan that can be debated?

What we have seen in this debate is a bit of a joke. We have had people talking about asylum seeker policy. The debate is on economic policy; we have heard people talking about asylum seeker policy. I will tell you what the problem is with this government's asylum seeker policy: it is the price tag! When are you going to talk to the Australian people about the billions of dollars that you are spending on asylum seeker policy? We have also had brought up in this debate the good old-fashioned live cattle export—again. You forget that Labor fixed that issue when we were in government. And then we heard about the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, which is all about ensuring that we have safe roads, and ensuring that truck drivers, including truck owner-drivers, get fair rates of pay.

This is the problem with this government and the government backbenchers: they will talk about anything but economic policy. It is extraordinary. This is economics, which is supposed to be the Liberal Party's nirvana. This is supposed to be your Holy Grail and what you are good at talking about. We cannot trust you on workers' rights. You would not know a worker if you fell over one. We cannot trust you on environment policy. You would not know what to do about the environment—you are all climate change deniers. We cannot trust you on any social policy or housing policy. Their Holy Grail is supposed to be economic management, but what we have seen from this government and its members is a failure—a failure to put forward an economic policy plan.

They changed their leader in the hope that that might bring about a policy change. Another failure! It does not matter who your Prime Minister is, who your Treasurer is or who your frontbenchers are, you have still failed to put forward a plan—a plan for the economy and a plan for the Australian people.

As a result of that failure, as a result of the flip-flopping, and as a result of the hokey-pokey—one foot in, one foot out; one policy in, one policy out; you have backed down to backflip—we have seen a collapse in confidence in the Australian economy. We have seen negative wage growth. We have seen workers and their families go backwards because of this government and their failure to have a plan. In fact, ever since this government got elected, 760 people are now unemployed across Australia as a result of this government's failure. We on this side know that if you want good jobs and good job security, you need strong industry, and to have strong industry you need a government with an economic plan. And this government has failed.

They are too busy talking about the past. It is Groundhog Day, over and over and over again. And Australians do not have time for it, and, quite frankly, they are sick of it and bored with it. And they thought that if they dumped their entire team and brought the reserve team in, they might have a better shot at a decent plan. But you have failed. The government and the Liberals and the Nationals have failed again. They have failed to put forward a plan in an area which people think should just be their heartland—economic policy—and again the government has failed.

They are not willing to stand up and do the hard reforms that are needed in our economy when it comes to tax reform. They will not debate tax reform in a fair way. Instead, all they do is to try to run another scare campaign. It appears the only thing that the modern Liberals can do is to run scare campaigns. They will not actually confront issues and debate them head-on. We live in a pretty topsy-turvy world when it is the opposition that is leading the policy debate and not the government. Perhaps you need to sit back on this side because then you will feel a bit more comfortable about the scare campaign that you are running. This country needs a government that will lead on the hard issues of economic and policy reform, and this government has failed. (Time expired)

4:20 pm

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What a fantastic pleasure it is to follow the member for Bendigo and also the member for Lilley! The member for Lilley said, 'It keeps coming back to me.' It certainly does! I remember, several years ago in this very same chamber, that we had the member for Lilley standing at that dispatch box and telling us about the four years of surpluses he announced that night.

Dr Leigh interjecting

That was your work, was it also, the member for Fraser, down there at the dispatch box squawking like a duck? He said, 'This budget delivers for the coming year, on time, on promised surpluses year-on-year, strengthening.' That is what keeps coming back to the public of Australia.

The member for Lilley and also the member for Bendigo went on about Labor's great job-creation record. So let us just have a look at that quickly for a minute. In the 2013-14 year, in that entire 12 months, only 7,200 new jobs were created in the economy. And you know what? There was a loss of 90,000 full-time jobs. Full-time jobs went backwards. We were only able to get that small 7,200 job increase because we had a transfer of jobs from full-time people going into part-time employment.

Let's have a look at the coalition's record over the last 12 months. There were 298,300 new jobs created in this economy.

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

What about the effects test?

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am sure the member for Fraser, sitting at the table, does not want to hear that this coalition government has created 300,000 new jobs in the economy in the last 12 months. As we know, economic growth in the last 12 months has been three per cent. It exceeds any G7 nation. We are leading the world. The economy is heading in the right direction.

The dangers are what we hear from this Labor government. We also need to remember how ham strung the coalition has been in creating those 300,000 new jobs and getting that level of growth above the G7 nations. You know what? This government has to find $13 billion, every year, just to pay the interest on the debt that you guys ran up. Every month, we have to pay a bill of $1 billion in interest—because of your waste and reckless spending. That money could have gone to schools, to education, to kids with disabilities, to roads and to hospitals. We cannot use that.

It all has to go to paying interest on the debt from Labor's reckless spending. Yet we have this good record so far. What should really concern every single Australian is that if this Labor government were ever in power they would simply give more power to their union masters. We saw the story today about their mates in the ACT Labor government doing a secret deal.

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fraser, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Let's hear about the effects test.

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am sure you will speak against this, member for Fraser. I will be very interested in your opinion about this secret deal that was done to give unions the right to veto tenders. What a disgrace! We have seen exactly the same thing with the decision by Labor to create a road safety tribunal. It has nothing to do with road safety—nothing whatsoever.

They have put a burden on independent owner-truck drivers, people who are the salt of this earth, who simply want the economic freedom to be independent and work for themselves. When this Labor government was in government it put these people at a competitive disadvantage that would force them out of business or force them into unionised employment. That is a disgrace! To use the excuse of road safety is offensive. This coalition government has a good record. We have things on track. The real danger to this country, should these people ever get back into government— (Time expired)

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It being 4.25 pm the discussion has concluded.