Thursday, 19 October 2017
Treasury Laws Amendment (Enterprise Tax Plan No. 2) Bill 2017; Second Reading
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for McMahon has moved as an amendment that all words after 'that' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the amendment be agreed to.
This amendment bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enterprise Tax Plan No. 2) Bill 2017, was first flagged in last year's budget. It was the political centrepiece of the Turnbull government's 2016-17 budget. The fact that we've only got to commence the parliamentary debate concerning these bills in mid-September of 2017 speaks to the chasm that exists between what the Turnbull government says are its political priorities and what its deeds reveal its priorities to actually be.
Labor has made plain that we will not support the Turnbull government's $65 billion tax cut for business. It is a tax cut that the Australian budget and the country cannot afford. It is in ever-deepening deficit under this conservative government, with a gross debt that has hit the $500 billion mark in June and is still growing. It is a record debt that has nearly doubled from the $280 billion that existed when the coalition took office in 2013. It is a matter of fact that, when the coalition took office, gross debt per person was $12,076. Today, after nearly five years of coalition economic stewardship, that number has grown to around $20,025 per person. This is a government Australia cannot afford, and this government is proposing a tax cut that Australia cannot afford.
The Turnbull government's plans for growth only meant growth of the debt. The government's budget papers expect gross debt to hit $725 billion in 2027-28, with no peak in sight. It is the coalition that turned out to be the debt and deficit disaster for our country. Labor has always opposed this tax cut because it represents a significant structural deterioration to the budget over the medium term and it represents a deterioration at precisely the wrong moment for the Australian public debt. This amendment bill represents a hit to the budget that shows the rank hypocrisy of a government which lectures the Australian people about the need for budget repair on the one hand and yet deliberately deepens the debt on the other.
Remember the glory days of 2013-14, when the then Prime Minister and the then Treasurer spoke of the nation's debt and deficit disaster? We don't hear that rhetoric these days. Why? Because the successive Abbott and Turnbull coalition governments have dramatically expanded Australia's national debt and have abandoned even the pretext of reining in public sector spending and gross debt. On this government's watch, the deficit has blown out and debt has crashed past the half a trillion dollar mark. The Turnbull government doesn't speak of debt and deficit anymore. Policy failure has rendered that catchphrase an embarrassment to the coalition. In 2016, the Prime Minister found a new catchphrase: jobs and growth. Like its predecessor, this phrase, too, is on its way to embarrassing oblivion in the annals of conservative marketing failures. Today, Australia's gross domestic product growth is less than two per cent. That is lower than the GDP growth of New Zealand, the United States and Canada. That is less than the OECD average. The very low growth rates experienced by Australia are a testament to the fact that, when this government focuses on a policy priority, one can be assured of failure.
We also get a sense of the scale of the budget hit earlier this year when the farcical scenes of question time are recalled. Just after the last budget, the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister, 'What was the full cost of the company tax rates proposed by this government?' The answer given to the Leader of the Opposition's question included three figures: $24 billion, then $26 billion and then $50 billion. Such was the abject confusion that the Leader of the Opposition, ever the gentleman, asked the question for a second time. When asked again to confirm the projected cost of the business tax cuts, the Prime Minister flicked to Scott Morrison—in a rather comedic display—and the Treasurer said, '$36.5 billion.' Later, in a new answer to the same question, the government finally coughed up the truth. The Treasurer revealed that this was a policy with a price tag of $65.4 billion. In a single parliamentary question time, the coalition's company tax cuts had become more expensive by over $15 billion. This is the kind of shoddy, ad hoc leadership and shoddy, ad hoc management of this country's budget that has seen our deficit and debt position so dramatically deteriorate.
Ever since the government revealed its plan for business tax cuts, Labor has been clear that this was a plan that included not only a very large price tag but extremely minimal economic benefits to the broader economy. Let's have a quick reminder of what it is that this $65 billion cost to the budget produces for the Australian economy. By the government's own boastful measure, this is a policy that will produce a mere one per cent of economic growth over 20 years, only $2 a day increase in wages in 20 years time and wages growth at record lows of 1.9 per cent. What a miserable harvest for more than $65 billion.
Australian families are facing a nasty cocktail of rising costs, rising electricity prices, stalling wages growth and record high unemployment and underemployment. This is a government that has nothing to offer them. Labor has long-held concerns about low wages growth. Without a doubt, the dwindling bargaining power of workers and their representatives has played a central role in the stagnant wages growth and rising inequality that now beset this country—also, at a time when the government has supported penalty rate cuts, operative from 1 July this year, and seeks to raise income taxes on all taxpayers with incomes above $21,000. We now live in an Australia where a worker on $55,000 a year will pay an additional $275 a year and someone on $80,000 only an extra $400 a year. It goes to this government's approach and their misguided priorities that their answer for flat wages growth is a cut to pay and higher income taxes. How entirely unpersuasive is it when we see this country's Treasurer bemoan low wages growth while, at the same time, he speedily creates the conditions for that very same low wages growth!
We hear those who support this proposed tax cut for business say it is needed to drive investment, but it was only a few years ago that we had the biggest investment boom Australia has ever seen, and that was accomplished with a headline corporate tax rate of 30 per cent. Budgets are all about priorities and this government, quite simply, has the wrong priorities. Under this government, big businesses get tax cuts, high-income earners get a tax cut, workers earning above $21,000 get increased taxes and penalty rates have been cut. Now, all of this, you thought, might have been enough to end support for this absurd policy, but it does not stop there. This government has failed on economic leadership and there's one person who is emblematic of this failure—that is, the Treasurer.
The Treasurer is incompetent and his incapacity to do his day job is the most blindingly obvious example of this government's failure in economic policy. This is not a sudden revelation; this is a pattern of incompetence and failure that underlines how badly this government is performing. Remember the heady days at the end of 2015 when Morrison was first appointed Treasurer. At that moment in time, he was believed to be formidable and he was accepted as being a significant political actor. How times have changed. He has literally shrunk in the job. Since early 2016, we have seen him with his GST reforms stillborn, we have seen him proposing and then abandoning tax powers being given back to the states, and we have watched him collapse and faint at various moments across this country's national political conversation. He has shrunk from becoming a person of substance, a politician that was regarded by Labor as formidable, to the shrinking violet and ineffective and inarticulate spokesperson that he has become today. On his watch, this nonsensical $65 billion tax cut has been proposed, and on his watch he has manifestly failed to make out the reasons for supporting it. Treasurer Morrison was supposed to be the chief spear carrier for this government but, as it turns out, he can barely wield a water pistol.
Unlike this government and unlike this government's Treasurer, Labor has it priorities—priorities that will ensure we deal with inequality in this country. That means Labor is committed to funding our schools. This means proper investment in Australian infrastructure and it means a fairer tax system. A Labor government would further deal with superannuation tax concessions, something that we announced late last year and something that this government has since tried to describe as a secret superannuation tax.
Labor have promised that we will level the playing field for first home buyers through reforms to negative gearing and capital gains tax—taking on the challenge of housing affordability. Labor have announced that we will cap the deductions that people can obtain for managing their tax affairs to $3,000 per person. Announced recently, our plan to impose a minimum 30 per cent tax on discretionary trusts and to deal with the issue of income splitting means dealing with some fundamental issues that have been in the too-hard basket for far too long.
We now live in a topsy-turvy world where, from opposition, Labor has more aggressively promoted reform and more effectively articulated the need to manage the economic affairs of this country, while we have a government that, while in office, has managed to triple the deficit, expand the debt from $280 billion to more than $500 billion, and, of course, couldn't argue its way out of a wet paper bag. This is a government that, frankly, is paralysed—paralysed by its incompetence and paralysed by its divisions. When it comes down to it, this is a government with simply the wrong priorities—a government that is determined to reduce the tax on businesses, and big businesses in particular, while at the same time increasing tax on working Australians.
We have made the point that, in technical terms, what is being proposed by this government is an unfunded corporate tax cut—because that is what it is. There is no funding to pay for this. This is a tax cut for business that is funded by future debt. This is what, for instance, former Treasurer and former Prime Minister Paul Keating has pointed out: that it is an unfunded corporate tax cut, quite different to what he did when he was Treasurer, which was to broaden the base, go after loopholes and deal with inequities within the tax system. Paul Keating was paying for his policies. This Treasurer had a thought and said, 'Well, the politics of this ramshackle show need rescuing; I will produce a $65 billion tax cut for business.' But he is unable to fund it, unable to justify it and unable to speak to the effects it will have in our economy.
But, in another sense, this government's $65 billion tax cut is funded: it is funded by the tax increases that this government has delivered for working Australians. We know that the tax burden on PAYG taxpayers will increase in coming years, and it will increase because this government is increasing the tax rate in part through increasing the Medicare levy. The Parliamentary Budget Office projects that the average tax rate on personal income will rise from 22.7 per cent in 2016-17 to 25.9 per cent in 2027-28. Under this government, the tax burden grows. From 2023-24 to 2027-28, when the company tax rate is meant to decrease to 25 per cent for all companies, personal income taxes rise by 0.2 percentage points of GDP while company taxes decrease by 0.3 percentage points.
It is clear that low- and middle-income Australians are paying for the government's $65 billion handout to big business, and they are paying it for it in the form of rising personal income taxes. This was confirmed by the PBO earlier this month, with the PBO saying that, in addition to the effect of nominal income growth, average tax rates are expected to decrease due to policy changes—most notably, the policy decision to increase the Medicare levy from 2019-20.
We have also seen reports in the last weeks and months that there is confusion about which companies are eligible for this government's excessive tax cuts and the contrast between active trading businesses versus companies holding passive investments—a contrast that simply led this government into further confusion. You would have thought that, this being the centrepiece economic policy of this government, its major political survival line, the government may have had these details thought through and able to be explained. But, no, as has been shown time and time again, this is not a government that should be overestimated. This is another example of its incompetence, and its poor politics married to lousy policy.
I am happy to follow the eloquent member for Batman and his compelling and persuasive argument as to why the economic prescription of this government is completely discredited. It's not credible, because the prescription outlined by the government will not improve our economy and will not trickle down to the millions of workers who demand a wage increase. Indeed, this government has presided over the lowest wage growth in a generation. Wage growth in this country hasn't been this low since at least 1998, yet the government's answer to the question, 'What do we do about the wage crisis?' is to give an unfunded, subsidised $65 billion to big business—to banks and multinational companies. Much of that will leave this country and will not provide any benefits whatsoever. When you look at the Treasury forecast as to what benefits might flow, we are well and truly underwhelmed. Even if you can support the forecast by the Treasury that a $65 billion tax giveaway to big business has any benefit whatsoever, the Treasury forecast suggests that, at best, there will be one per cent of economic growth in 20 years. In 20 years, we will see one per cent of economic growth, which effectively would mean an increase of $2 a day in wages in 20 years. This is at a time when wage growth has flatlined at record lows of 1.9 per cent. This is not in any way an answer to the question: what do we do about the wage crisis in this country?
This is about the Prime Minister, a former merchant banker, and his tax giveaways to his mates at the big end of town. This is about the Prime Minister—who, as always, is more comfortable in boardrooms than in depots and offices around this nation—providing a gift to his mates in big business. That is what this Prime Minister is all about. This man has a mansion in Point Piper. He has accumulated an enormous amount of money. Good luck to him; he's done that. But, because of that to some extent, he has no regard for and no understanding of the struggle of working people in this country.
The Prime Minister is completely at odds with the aspirations of working people in this country. The Prime Minister does not empathise with the challenges that households and families have in trying to make ends meet. He doesn't understand that the flatlining wages and a fall in real wages in many respects is making it harder for people to deal with cost-of-living pressures. The Prime Minister, who's always happier when he's hanging out with his mates at the big end of town, couldn't give a toss about working people in this country. You see it with the amount of legislation that's introduced into the parliament, week after week, attacking organised labour and making sure that he can undermine the ability of unions to represent workers in order to ensure that wages are depressed.
It is not a coincidence that the Prime Minister wants to see retail workers' wages fall in real terms. It's not a coincidence that the Prime Minister wants to see hospitality workers' wages fall in real terms. They are low-paid workers in this country, and the Prime Minister is supporting a Fair Work decision that will see a fall in real wages for 750,000 workers in this country. Because of the Prime Minister's insensitivity to their aspirations and needs, he wants to see pay cuts to those people in real terms at a time when wage growth is at its lowest in a generation. That's what the Prime Minister thinks of working people in this country. He has no regard, no empathy and no concern for those people whatsoever. That is why the economic prescription of this government is so out of touch. It's not economically sound, it's socially unfair, it marginalises hardworking Australians and there is no answer to the question: what will the government do about the wage crisis in this country? The reason there is no answer is that the Prime Minister could not care one bit about the aspirations and needs of working people in this country. The budget reflects the values of the Prime Minister and the Liberals, and that's why Labor opposes this approach.
Labor believes that there is a need to attend to the wage crisis in this country. Labor believes we need to invest in education and we need to invest in skills to uplift our people. We're in a knowledge based, globalised economy. Our best resource is our people. We need to invest in them to make sure that productivity rises and economic growth happens and, indeed, people share in the bounty of that growth. Yet what we have from this Prime Minister is the repudiated economic policy of Ronald Reagan—trickle-down economics, which was introduced to the world in the 1980s by Milton Friedman, a now discredited economist who believed you give the big end of town as much money as possible, by way of tax cuts, and the money will somehow trickle down, by osmosis, to the people. Well, it didn't happen in America. What happened in the United States was that the middle class were hollowed out. There are people there now living below the poverty line, even though they are working a full week. They have the lowest wage growth. Inequality has widened to such a point that that country is beset with economic and political problems. Part of the reason for that is that they accepted the notion of trickle-down economics. Trickle-down economics is not the answer. It has been repudiated by the IMF, the OECD and the World Bank. No-one now supports this proposition except this out-of-touch Prime Minister and this out-of-touch government.
This government have a callous disregard for working people in this country. The only legislation they ever introduce in the area of employment is to undermine unions. In fact, the only thing that unites this government is what they think about unions and what they think about penalty rates. We know what they think about penalty rates. If they could rip off every worker and take every penalty rate away from every worker in this country tomorrow, they would do it. Work Choices was their dream. It's their nightmare now. They're still living with the consequences of their obscene actions when Howard was Prime Minister. But, if they could realise that again, they would do it, because they support a low-wage economy. They're happy to see an easy-to-hire, easy-to-fire economy and society. That is their dream for this country.
Labor has a totally different view. We invest in our people. We want to be a high-wage, high-skilled economy. We believe the way for this country to compete in this world is to ensure that we invest in our most important resource, and our most important resource just happens to be our people. That's why there's a big divide between the two major parties on investing in needs based education. We've seen this government take a decision to cut more than $20 billion from education. Our kids will be worse off as a result of the decisions taken by this government. We see an underfunding of universities in this country as a result of decisions taken by this government. We have seen 122,000 apprenticeship places disappear since the election of the Abbott-Turnbull government. They have no regard for skilling Australia. They are underfunding universities and schools and giving $65,000 million to big business. That is their answer to the problems that beset this nation—to rip off workers and give tax giveaways to big business. No wonder this government is struggling.
It is quite remarkable that the government have had time to address this and yet, whilst their rhetoric has changed somewhat—some focus group must have told Scott Morrison to start saying 'fair', and they have started to shift, in some way, their rhetoric—their policies remain the same. They are policies that have never worked in any economy. They are totally at odds with the international bodies that have said that you need to redress inequality. Inequality is at a 75-year high. Inequality in this country is widening. The policies of the government are compounding inequality. Just take, for example, the government's decision not only to support penalty rate cuts but to impose more taxes on workers. Every worker earning over $21,000 a year will have to pay tax, and those on $55,000 a year will pay $250 extra tax, which may not sound a lot to Malcolm Turnbull, but it's a lot to a person on $55,000 a year. People on $80,000 will pay $400 extra tax. That may not seem much to the Prime Minister, but it is a lot of money for a family who might have one breadwinner making $80,000 a year. Yet, at the same time, the government is proposing a $16,400 tax cut for someone who earns $1 million a year. If you're earning $1 million a year, you will get a $16,400 tax cut. If you are earning $55,000 a year, you will get a $250 tax increase. That's at the same time that wages are falling in real terms.
If you happen to be a retail worker, that's at the same time that you may have just had Malcolm Turnbull put his hand in your pocket and take out some of your wages because he supports penalty rate cuts. By the way, the penalty rate cuts for retail workers haven't ended. They started on 1 July this year, but there'll be cuts next year and in 2019 and 2020. For the next four years, retail and hospitality workers who may be receiving penalty rates are going to get wage cuts. At the same time they're getting these wage cuts, they're getting tax increases. And, yet, big business and millionaires are getting a tax cut.
This is the topsy-turvy world we live in because of the Prime Minister—no understanding. He's a very clever guy—just ask him! But the fact is he doesn't seem to understand what's happening in the real economy or the real world. Just go down the street, Prime Minister, and ask people, 'Do you want to get a tax increase?' They'll say, 'No.' Or even if you said this: 'You're going to get a tax increase, but someone on $1 million a year is going to get a tax cut. What do you think of that?' What do you think they're going to say to the Prime Minister? They're going to say: 'You must be kidding! You've presided over the slowest wage growth in a generation and you're giving me a tax increase?' This is why this government is in so much trouble. What's funny is the internal divisions of the government are not about these issues because they all agree. The things they all agree on are: how do we give people tax increases? How do we give penalty rate cuts to workers? That's what they all agree on. And how do we drive the union movement? That is their constant obsession.
The Minister for Employment is obsessed. She constantly quotes allegations about people swearing on building sites. If the minister had a swear jar for every time she swore in the Senate and she gave that money to Scott Morrison, we'd deal with our deficit! That's how often she is swearing in making allegations about swearing. What she doesn't do is say, 'We're dealing with a changing labour market.' What she doesn't redress is that people are feeling insecure at work. What the minister doesn't concern herself with is that people feel insecure because they're getting less security, and the government doesn't seem to care or doesn't seem to want to attend to it. What the government doesn't seem to understand—the Minister for Employment and certainly the Treasurer and Prime Minister do not understand—is that people are struggling to make ends meet. For example, there are some people who are paying off their home loans on a monthly or fortnightly basis, and they're on fine margins. We know that. It is a big thing to pay the mortgage. If interest rates go up a couple of points and wages are falling, do you think that people will be able to pay their mortgage? There'll be people who will not be able to pay their mortgage if we see a few bumps in the interest rates of this country.
Wages are falling and we have a government who are complicit. Their economic policies are placing downward pressure on wages. They have no answer to the wage crisis in this country. Their only answer is to give $65 billion to Malcolm Turnbull's best mates—big business. Even the Treasury has said, 'Even if the best happens with this policy, we'll see one per cent of economic growth in 20 years time.' The Prime Minister will be well gone from this place by then, of course—indeed, most of us will be. This economic prescription of trickle-down economics, which was repudiated 30 years ago and confirmed so by all of the major organisations—the World Bank, the IMF, the OECD—is not working. This is just a gift to the government's mates at the big end of town, as always. There is no regard whatsoever for working people.
I join with my Labor colleagues, who have spoken extensively in this debate—unlike the government—to oppose this piece of legislation, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enterprise Tax Plan No. 2) Bill 2017. There have been many Labor speakers in this debate, and hopefully the government will see fit to stand up at some point and defend what is a hypocritical and unfair piece of legislation. It just seems remarkable to me that the government puts forward this legislation but is not prepared to put forward speakers to defend this legislation. Perhaps there is something very much in that.
This bill seeks to implement the remainder of the government's company tax cut plans. It will provide a tax cut of 25 per cent to companies with a turnover of over $50 million. This will create a $65 billion tax cut for business, and that is the fundamental point that every single Labor speaker has made. It's providing an enormous tax cut to the tune of $65 billion to businesses with a turnover of more than $50 million. The previous speaker—and I'm sure other speakers have made this point—mentioned that the diminishing amount that you earn in fact attracts more tax, and it just makes a mockery of the government's so-called commitment to fairness. It is ridiculous that the Treasurer would stand up and use the word 'fairness' when putting forward this piece of legislation. It is anything but fair and is full of hypocrisy. That is perfectly obvious.
It's not just perfectly obvious to people within this side of politics; it's perfectly obvious to the public, particularly those that are struggling with underemployment and those that are unemployed and finding it very difficult to find for work. I was listening to the radio this morning and the point was being made there is only one job for every young unemployed person. There was a young man speaking on the radio who wanted work, who was desperately looking for work but was unable to find it in the community in which he lived. In that context, when we are seeing rising unemployment and youth unemployment rates in some parts of this country that are well into double-digit figures, this government sees fit to provide an enormous tax cut to big business. It is also at the same time we're seeing drastic cuts to budgets for essential services, including the cuts to the education budget at the primary, secondary and tertiary level. It just doesn't make sense, but it does reflect to me the chaos that this government is experiencing. It reflects the lack of capacity for this government to work as a government, and that is obvious in so many ways. That's including the fact the government is so arrogant and out of touch that it doesn't feel it necessary to provide speakers to prosecute this argument of major tax cuts to big business.
I have never seen such hypocrisy from government, and I've been around government for a very long time in one form or another. The hypocrisies are there in terms of cutting funds to things like education, drug rehabilitation and health, yet providing an enormous amount of tax breaks to people and businesses that can most afford it. The government, which lectures the Australian people about the need for budget repair, is in fact pursuing such an unfair piece of legislation. This is a government which was hysterical about the debt and deficit disaster—we all remember that—and hysterical about the budget emergency. Yet it proceeds with what they know to be an unfair tax cut, a tax cut that is perceived to be unfair by so many people. The government has overseen a deficit blowout and debt surging past half a trillion dollars, which is not often spoken about but that is the truth. You could almost say we have a Treasurer who has lost control of his brief. Perhaps that's why every time he gets to his feet he thinks it's necessary to yell at people. Now the government wants to deliver a $65 billion unfunded tax cut for big, multinational companies. As shadow minister for human services, I think about the disgraceful robo-debt debacle and the fact that this government saw fit to accuse at least 20,000 Australians, many of whom are vulnerable Australians, of owing the government money, and yet it proceeds with this $65 billion unfunded tax cut for big multinational companies.
Ultimately, it's ordinary Australians who will bear the burden of the government's lavish multibillion-dollar tax cut—people who are struggling, people who can't find employment and people who are underemployed. The Parliamentary Budget Office projects that personal income taxes will rise by 1.6 per cent of the gross domestic product over the medium term, from 11.1 per cent in 2016-17 to 12.6 per cent in 2027-28. At the same time, company tax receipts will decline from 2023-24 as a result of this bill. That just does not make sense. In 2023-24, personal income tax will represent 12.4 per cent of GDP, while company tax will make up 4.5 per cent of GDP. By 2027-28, personal income tax will represent 12.6 per cent of GDP, while company tax will represent just 4.2 per cent of GDP. It is clear that low- and middle-income Australians are paying for the government's $65 billion handout to big business through rising personal income taxes.
On all counts, this government is out of touch. It is a government that doesn't have a clue about what ordinary Australians are going through, and 21 opinion polls should tell it that. While Australian families are facing rising costs of living, rising electricity prices, falling wage growth and anaemic economic growth, the government is more concerned about giving big multinationals this tax cut. We see the enormous casualisation of the workforce, including using labour hire companies and private providers for Centrelink call centres.
Ordinary Australians are doing it tough. As has been articulated, 1.1 million Australians are underemployed. University graduates are less likely to find full-time graduate entry work today than they were a decade ago. The government is more interested in driving down the bargaining power of workers, with stagnating wage growth. The government is more interested in slashing penalty rates, while seeking to raise income taxes on all taxpayers with incomes above $21,000. As the previous speaker articulated well, a worker on $55,000 will pay an extra $275 a year and someone on $80,000 will pay an extra $400. The government is more interested in attacking ordinary Australians in need of income support, slashing pension eligibility and making it more difficult to access income support when they need it. The government's multibillion-dollar tax cut for multinational companies simply adds insult to injury for ordinary Australians.
The government's cut of almost 12,000 jobs in the Department of Human Services speaks loudly. It has overseen 42 million missed calls to Centrelink, which is completely unacceptable. There is a 10-month wait period for people wanting to access age pensions, and, as I said earlier, we all know about the robo-debt crisis. The government and the minister are completely unapologetic about the fear, stress and anxiety they've put thousands of Australians through, sending letters with the police logo, threatening prosecution and imprisonment.
Over the past year I've heard countless heartbreaking stories about older Australians and those with a disability being forced to wait almost a year to receive the pension that they are rightfully owed, and yet we see this multibillion-dollar tax cut going forward. The truth is that the government's track record on supporting ordinary Australians is awful. It is completely atrocious. The government is interested in attacking and victimising Australians in need of income support. It is placing the burden of its own financial mismanagement on the backs of vulnerable Australians. It is more interested in defending negative gearing or capital gains tax concessions for the wealthy. It is only interested in making it difficult, painful and fearful to claim income support, to the point where people just give up.
I want to finish up in the last five minutes by saying this: Labor believes in ordinary Australians—they should be a priority—and so should any government. Labor knows there is inequality that needs to be dealt with. Fighting inequality and fighting for ordinary Australians means proper funding of schools, investing in infrastructure, a fairer tax system and dealing properly with superannuation tax concessions. Labor will level the playing field for first home buyers through reforming negative gearing and capital gains tax, and Labor will ensure a strong, comprehensive social safety net. It can and should be accessible and accountable to all Australians when they need it. People should not be made to feel frightened, anxious or intimidated. We should provide departmental staff with the necessary support they need to ensure they deliver a quality product.
Labor is committed to embracing policies which ensure that all Australians benefit from economic growth. This piece of legislation does none of those things. This piece of legislation says clearly to the Australian community, broadly: the government has walked away from you. Despite the fact that there have been so many cuts to essential services by this government, they are pursuing this incredibly huge tax break for big multinational companies, which just does not make sense to me—it does not make sense to me electorally, it does not make sense to me politically and certainly it does not make sense to the many, many, many, many thousands of Australians who will look at this and feel left behind. What do you think happened in Murray, Cootamundra and Blacktown at the recent by-elections in New South Wales? Seats like Cootamundra and Murray were firmly National Party seats, jewels in the crown of the New South Wales government. People voted in their thousands against the ruling parties because of issues like this. They feel they've been forgotten. They feel that the government no longer understands what their concerns are.
Labor is committed to ensuring that our industrial relations settings ensure a living wage and safe, productive workplaces. Australians are Labor's priority. Fairness is Labor's priority, not unfunded multibillion-dollar tax cuts for multinationals. I will finish by picking up on the point that the shadow minister raised, which was the obsession of this government to attack the union movement. I'd ask this government and members of this government to think about what the union movement has delivered for this country. It has delivered safe workplaces. It has delivered decent wages. It has delivered humane workplaces, and it just seems inconceivable to me that these cuts are not about demonising the union movement. The government should understand that, by demonising the union movement, they are demonising many Australians.
Yesterday morning I attended a forum for Catholic Social Services which talked about this issue—that this government, in search of a narrative, is demonising poor people. In fact, a government's responsibility, whether they be Labor, Liberal or anything else, is to lift up people, provide people with hope, provide people with choice and provide people with a decent—although frugal sometimes—living wage. It does not and should not include these enormous tax cuts which have been pursued ideologically and despite the fact there have been such massive cuts in other areas that affect the lives and wellbeing of people. I would also add that it affects the economic future of this country when you're attacking schools, when you're attacking tertiary institutions. I join with my colleagues in opposing this bill.
We are debating a proposition in the bill being put forward by the government that would see billions of dollars in tax cuts for massive businesses that operate here and abroad, at the time we're being told that there's not enough money for the other things we want to do. For people watching this, the bill is Treasury Laws Amendment (Enterprise Tax Plan No. 2) Bill 2017. In fact the words in the brackets should be replaced and it should be the Treasury Laws Amendment (Reverse Midas Touch) Bill, because everything this Prime Minister touches turns to dust not to gold—every single thing. The Prime Minister was the person who decided he would change the way broadband was being rolled out in this country. What happened? We have seen the highest level of complaints about the broadband network. People are upset with the fact they expected a broadband system to deliver but it has failed to deliver—thank you, courtesy the Prime Minister; the reverse Midas touch. He had something that should have made everyone happy with the government. He couldn't do it, because he stuffed up the broadband network.
We have watched the other side of politics for the best part of 12 months try to come up with a game plan on energy. We've seen them twist and turn, bicker and fight and go around expert shopping—trying to find one expert after another to back in what they want to do. They have had the best part of 12 months and what have we got to? We have a 50c a week saving. That's all we have on energy: 50c a week. That is not worth the pain that the country has been forced to endure because of this government and the way they have been unable to get their act together. Now we have this: they claim that the economy will be saved if we just handover billions to companies from a budget that we're told doesn't have enough money in it. This is not a plan for economic salvation; this is a plan for political salvation. It is wrong and it's why Labor is opposing the handover of billions of dollars in this way.
Reports have emerged over the last 24 hours that the people who are more likely to be unemployed are those who have low skills. This should not be a surprise. Everyone has known this for a long period of time. When you look at the people who are unemployed, more often than not it is their low-skill attainment that has held them back. This government know it because in two years time they will bring in the Career Transition Assistance Program for older workers that will particularly target people in their 50s. What was one of the things that they found? They found that most people in that age bracket have a job—there's less unemployment amongst older workers; in fact, it's probably half the national unemployment rate and that is a great thing—but the minute those people lose their job, they are unable to get work for an average of 73 weeks; 73 weeks without work. What's one of the biggest reasons why they've lost work and can't find it again? It is low-skill attainment and low-education attainment.
The reason I mention this is that we wanted to see more investment in schools. What did we see? The reverse Midas touch in action again when the Gonski 2.0 plan, as it was erroneously labelled, was put forward. It cut out billions from what was required in school funding. So there's the first cut: to schools. TAFE has seen billions cut out of it, and more cuts are proposed—and a failure to bring in a new agreement to support it. So we have TAFE cuts. And what is happening with universities? We have billions to be cut from universities being continuously debated by a government that does not value education; it values demonising the people that don't have jobs, and for many of those people it's not because of low-skill attainment. But when we try to ensure that the next generation are as skilled as possible to get work, they are not given the chance. Why? Because the government says the money is not there, yet they can do this: they can actually saw underneath the bottom of the budget. It's like in those cartoons where you see someone sawing the floor to make someone fall through it. In this case it's the average Australian who is being undermined by a government that is cutting the support out from underneath them in a way that prevents them from being able to get ahead. That's what we're seeing with this bill. It cuts out billions from the budget and hands it over to big business, at a time when I argue those businesses are doing quite well. They have billions sitting there, but the government wants to make this massive transfer—and the bulk of it will go offshore anyway.
But that's what their plan for political salvation is—to say that they had a win. By the way, aren't all these wins translating in a great way! They had their first tranche of company tax cuts that got through. They had their changes to the backpacker tax. They had their changes to Gonski. They had changes to media reform. They are banking on all these wins, but look at where things have gone. The Prime Minister, in getting rid of the former Prime Minister, said that the government had lost its way, trailing in 30 Newspolls. But, after all these wins, how has this government under this Prime Minister—the man with the reverse Midas touch—been going? It's been trailing in 21—getting so close to losing out.
The government's plan is to hand billions over to big business. Look at the scale of dividend growth in this country from roughly 2014 to 2017: $40 billion handed out to investors and $70 billion this year—from $40 billion to $70 billion. With this tax cut, $65 billion is what's being proposed. The money is there. Big business is handing it out, in many cases to investors. But big business is not doing the lion's share of work in terms of investing or where capex is—capex is collapsing and hardly has any life to it—and it's certainly not providing average wage earners with wage increases. So what do we do as a result? We hand over billions that won't go into the pockets of average wage earners, that won't be put into productive investment to make the economy grow and provide more secure work, better wages for people and better economic outcomes. We won't see that. What will happen is it will funnel into investors here and overseas and we won't see any benefit from that whatsoever—when those businesses are already sitting on the equivalent amount when you see what's being paid out in dividends.
So this is the economic narrative—as the word is often described—of this government saying that this will provide a massive benefit to the economy. Really? Look at the stats. Since this plan was first introduced we've been able to scope out the economic benefit. What we're seeing is, potentially, one per cent economic growth in 20 years time and an increase in wages of $2 a day in 20 years time. This is in a climate where wages growth is flatlining. I think 1.9 per cent, roughly, is what's recorded. These are record lows. We see that living standards, which had been climbing, have gone backwards in the last quarter. We also see rising costs, largely driven by, as I mentioned earlier, the failure of this government to get a national energy plan in place. This has meant that the cost of electricity has gone up because there's not enough supply and demand is growing. Everyone knows what happens in that formula. The people who are bearing the price of that formula going the wrong way are average Australian households. When they are experiencing that sort of impact on their household budgets, particularly at a time when wages aren't growing, you can understand why people are anxious about their economic health. But, again, there is no answer from those opposite about how to improve wages growth and how to improve or tackle the issue of underemployment and how to get people into work.
My colleague the member for Longman and I attended a jobseekers forum that she convened last week in Caboolture, where people were saying that they found it so hard to find work and that the job programs that the Turnbull government are putting forward just aren't cutting it. This has been of great concern to the member for Longman, as it has been for other members of electorates that I've visited where jobseekers say the same thing. We spend billions on these job programs. We spend $9 billion on job programs for the 730,000 unemployed and we have 40,000 employment consultants in the country. But do you know what the most important performance stat of all is in terms of getting people into work—the success rate? It's 20 per cent. For $9 billion, we have a success rate, in terms of getting people back into work through government programs, of only 20 per cent. Eight out of ten people do not find work as a result of the Turnbull government's job programs.
Look at some of the other job programs that they're running—like Work for the Dole, which has been estimated by some to only improve the employability of the people forced to go through that program by a mere two per cent. Ninety per cent of the young people that go through Work for the Dole are not in work three months after. The other disgusting thing about this program is that, 18 months ago today, one poor bloke lost his life under it, and this government has not had the decency to release the internal review that they did on that accident or outline how they've made that program safer. This is a program, I add, members, that forces young people to go through it—and it doesn't deliver them a job—but it does so in a climate where there are legitimate concerns about the safety performance of that program. They don't get a job, and they're forced into a program that has massive safety concerns around it. This is wrong.
Again, these programs need attention. They need a government that has answers. They need a government that can get people back into work. They need an investment in skills. And what do we have in response? We have a government that proposes handing over, in the biggest glory gift, $65 billion straight out of the budget, instead of investing in people's skills, instead of investing in people's employability and instead of making these programs work. This is a massive indictment of this government, when you look at what has been happening under their watch. They can find money to hand to big businesses that are already sitting on massive piles of cash that they're handing out in dividends to investors—$70 billion this year, which they'll hold on top of that $65 million. And what's their other answer? At a time when people are worried about their jobs, their pay and wages growth, the other answer from this government is to cut the take-home pay of average Australians. There are 700,000 Australians who are looking at a pay cut as a result of a cut to penalty rates of $77 a week being championed by those opposite. You can't get a wage increase; the best you get out of this government is a wage cut.
What they're doing makes no economic sense whatsoever. But this is not, as I said, a plan for economic salvation; this is a plan for political salvation by this government. No matter what it does, it cannot find a way to get clear air. No matter what it does, whatever it puts its hand to—whatever it touches—turns to dust, not gold. The reverse Midas touch of this government is extraordinary. It is something to behold.
Mr Hill interjecting—
I am being very generous, as the member for Bruce indicates, in using the term 'dust'.
An opposition member interjecting—
I am a very generous man.
It is Turnbull dust. Everything that he touches turns to dust. The problem is that the people who are forced to wear the cost of this are not those opposite. It is the people that we care about and that we represent in this place—average Australians who just want to get ahead and are constantly being weighed down by the poor decisions of this government. They constantly get told that the money's not there for the things they need in terms of better health care, better education for their kids, better child care, better infrastructure and better broadband—every single thing they want to see an investment in. But then the government finds money whenever it needs it to spend on things like this, handing $65 billion to the big end of town, when you know that they have the money already and you know how this will vandalise the budget. What we are seeing from those opposite is disgraceful. Every decision they make is tortured. Every decision they make is contentious. With every single decision they make, we have to wait for the outcome of the brawl in their party room to see how the country is going to be impacted by their flawed decisions. This is another flawed decision by this government. This is why we won't support it. We support better investment in this country rather than the politicking that we have to endure from those opposite.
I rise today in opposition, standing against the party of economic mismanagement. It's the very party that cried foul when Labor sensibly utilised the budget to keep Australia out of a recession. You will remember the cry: it was an economic disaster and a budget emergency, despite countless international economists praising Labor's very, very fine treatment of a global crisis. Many economists agreed that the quite small debt that was accrued was nothing to be scared of. It was totally justifiable under the circumstances that were presented, and here we are, just a few years later, and the debt has done nothing but balloon under this government. You won't hear anything about that. They are very, very silent on the ballooning debt. Where is the budget emergency now? Where is the budget emergency that we heard so much about?
I'm starting to think that the reason that colour printers are so hard to come by in Parliament House is to hide how much red there would be on the government's balance sheet. I don't know about you, but I don't have a colour printer in my office and I think that's probably why. So here we are today with the government's legacy: an exorbitant national debt. It's set to get bigger with the government's unfunded big-business tax cut—$65 billion bigger. That is not chump change, Deputy Speaker Howarth. I know you know that. You know that the people in your electorate and my electorate could do a lot with $65 billion.
A lot of that money could go to health care, a lot of it could go to education and a lot of it could go to supporting, training and helping people into work. Instead, that $65 billion of taxpayers' money is going straight into the pockets of big business. This is at a time when company profits are soaring and wage growth has flatlined. Under this government we've seen record lows in wage growth, reaching just 1.9 per cent. With the cost of living increasing year after year after year, this is having an incredibly devastating effect. Economic data has shown that living standards, which had previously been climbing, fell backwards in the last quarter.
It won't be the rich who will be hit by this move by Prime Minister Turnbull, because he's giving them a $16,400 tax cut. It won't be the rich; it will be ordinary, hardworking Australians who just deserve a fair go. But, under this out-of-touch government, they're not going to get one, because the government does not understand what it's like for people who are struggling to get by. The Prime Minister doesn't understand. His electorate of Wentworth is absolutely nothing like my electorate of Longman. While his constituents may have a median personal income of around $1,100 a week, many people in Longman struggle to feed their family on an income of around $580 a week. It is nothing like Wentworth. I'd forgive the Prime Minister's ignorance if he actually did try to understand—if he listened to ordinary Australians and heard their stories, but he won't. He's stubborn. He's made up his mind without listening to all of the facts. It's no wonder he thinks that a cut to big business and banks is a good idea when we know that he only listens to his colleagues and the powerful lobby groups that wander up and down the halls of parliament and he shuts everyone else out. He hears those lobbyists claim that this hit to our economy is worth it and he hears the promises that it will drive investment, but he shuts out the fact that the biggest investment boom Australia has ever seen was when Australia had a headline corporate tax rate of 30 per cent. That was the time of the biggest investment boom, at 30 per cent. The Prime Minister, his backbenchers and his government ministers shut out the assistant governor of the Reserve Bank, who quashed the argument that this tax cut will drive investment. They shut out anyone whose position differs from their own, and that can be very, very dangerous. It's not easy to have a proper thought in your head when you're stuck in this echo chamber. The hypocritical priorities of this government are glaringly obvious.
Just yesterday during the matter of public importance discussion—and I stayed for all speakers, including government speakers—I was subjected to government speakers attacking the use of welfare to help vulnerable people get back on their feet. Yet here they are today advocating for corporate welfare—unbelievable! They are throwing money at big businesses who turn over tens of millions of dollars each year. They're fighting to increase taxation on working Australians but slash taxes for millionaires and businesses.
The government just do not care about workers. I honestly think they have got it in for then. At every chance, they give a worker in this country another hurdle to jump over, another cut to endure, another attack to appeal—every single day. It's why the government trash the trade union movement at every single chance they get. The trade union movement is the organisations standing up for workers in this country. It is through the increased bargaining power of a unionised workforce that everyday Australians can actually get a voice loud enough to be heard, to stand up and face this government. That's their voice. But the government don't like it. They don't like that voice one bit. The Prime Minister doesn't like it when the united voice of Australian workers collectively matches the reaffirming 'yeses' that he likes to surround himself with. He does not like that one bit.
But the voices of those opposed to the Turnbull government—I have to let you know, Deputy Speaker—are growing louder. They are growing louder in cities and suburbs. They are growing louder in states and territories. They are growing louder in regional towns and communities. They are growing louder even in his own party room, of course. The government have never had a real plan for Australia. They are still stuck in opposition mode. Every time any government member gets up to speak, it's never about policy, because they know how rubbish their policies are. Instead, all we ever seem to hear the government talk about is Labor. That's all we ever hear. If we listen to question time or a debate in the chamber, we hear you talking about Labor and not about your policies. People in the political sphere often say it's the role of government to create policy and the role of opposition to pick out the flaws, but the government seem to have got it the wrong way around, because the government have no actual costed policies. Labor have had to craft our policies early to fill that void. Because the government have run out of spin to try and sell their misuse of taxpayers' money, they're attempting to pre-emptively fall into the role of opposition. It's quite interesting. I understand the government want to get some practice in before the impending electoral defeat, but now is the time to lead. Now is the time to have a plan. That's what people expect of government. Lead. Have a plan. Give us a vision. Tell us how you're going to get there.
We've listened to businesses and unions, we've listened to groups and stakeholders, we've heard the economic debate and we've developed a very strong plan to move Australia forward, to tackle the rise of inequality that the government's policies exacerbate time after time, to help repair the economic mess that the Treasurer's reckless misuse of taxpayers' funds has created and to ease the cost-of-living pressures for all Australians—from the seniors, who have already given so much to this country, to the youngest people, who are just starting out. While the government showers its corporate mates with unjust tax cuts, let me tell you what Labor will do. While that's happening, let's not be blind-sided. Let's look at what Labor will do. We will invest in quality education for all Australians, whether you live in Perth, Brisbane, Darwin or Hobart. We will invest in education for all Australians. This means not sneaking through cuts and mislabelling them as new funding. It means reversing the government's short-sighted cuts to TAFE and vocational education. I really wonder how this government can claim that they're all about Australian jobs when they're making it harder for people to get the skills they need to make them ready for the workforce. Instead, we're seeing them let jobs go overseas, bring overseas workers in and cut local people out of local jobs. That's what we're seeing. That is why Labor will introduce true labour market testing for 457 visas. Businesses should not be able to game the system, cutting costs at the expense of Australian workers looking for jobs.
Labor is also committed to making strong investments in reliable infrastructure projects around Australia. We understand that, to help Australia grow, we need to build the foundations that we can then expand upon. They are foundations like unlocking the Northern Australia infrastructure fund. That's still locked away. We are trying to get it unlocked and make some really wise investment decisions in our country—decisions that will create jobs and get people into work. You don't need to go much further than my electorate. When you start moving up the coast—whether you go to Rockhampton, Mackay, Cairns or Townsville—there are people there who are ready to work, willing to train and willing to get skilled; they just need a job. Unlocking the NAIF would help do that. Stop using the money to pay the NAIF board. Unlocking it to create some jobs is what we need. The people in my electorate would absolutely welcome that.
A real centrepiece of our platform is Labor's reshaping of a tax system to be fairer to Australians and not just a select few—not just the rich. A fairer tax system means a level playing field for first home buyers, for example, through reforms to negative gearing and capital gains tax. It is not about dipping into your retirement savings. That is not what we do to help people get into housing. Dipping into your retirement savings is obviously a bandaid measure that we know will cause problems down the line, going back to what I mentioned before about a government that needs some vision and a plan. A fairer tax system also would mean capping at $3,000 the deductions that people can obtain by managing their tax affairs—not being able to write-off thousands or tens of thousands of dollars by having some crafty accounting done.
Let's be very clear: a fairer tax system would impose a 30 per cent minimum tax on discretionary trusts, closing another loophole for people who've been able to forego paying their fair share of tax. We want to make sure that that gets tightened up, again, making sure that people pay their fair share of tax. A fairer tax system doesn't mean upping the taxation rate of ordinary Australians so the budget doesn't collapse entirely under the weight of a $65 billion handout to companies that don't need it. For around 85 per cent of people in my electorate who are going to be hit with a taxation rate increase, this is going to have a devastating impact on their families and their family budgets. While the government is handing $65 billion to big business and banks, they're sitting down at the kitchen table trying to work out what they're going to do with less money coming into their family budget. They are looking at that handout and trying to find some way where that looks even remotely fair or is remotely going to help them and their families.
We need to have policies in this country that help people get ahead, not just a select few—not just for people who are wealthy, people who are fortunate. We need policies in this country. We need a government that has vision and a plan to get there. I can't understand how anybody can stand in this place and say that a $65 billion handout will somehow trickle down to people in our communities—how that is fair and how that is going to help those families sitting around the table, working out their family budget. I would implore that this government takes a view of creating a vision and a plan.
Thank you to the member for La Trobe. It's always good to be here in the Federation Chamber, the place where good speeches go to die! I'm sure I have 15 minutes of remarks in me. I feel confident about that.
In setting the scene for the remarks I have on this bill, I would pick up, actually, on something the member for Barton said. I was here a little while ago and heard her sterling remarks. She said that this does not make sense politically, and I believe that to be true. As I will try to outline, these big company tax cuts fail the fiscal test. They fail the economic test. They fail the fairness test. But also they fail the political test. You only have to go to any everyday community in Australia and you can get a pretty quick response from people as to what they think about the idea of firing up the nation's ATM and handing away $65.4 billion of taxpayer money to big, multinational companies and big companies. If you ask most people in the street, 'What do you think you'd spend $65.4 billion on?' you would get all sorts of responses. It might be to fix the hospital system. It might be to not cut school funding by $17 billion. It might be to not threaten our world-class universities with yet another $4 billion cut. It might be all sorts of things. From my experience, I encourage those opposite to try that test. Go out into your main streets. Have a little stall in the main street up in La Trobe, or wherever you are this Saturday, member for La Trobe, and say, 'I've got $65.4 billion, people. What do you reckon we should spend it on?' I think it fails the political test. But if those opposite want to stand over there and yet again bash themselves over the head bringing this bill back again—if that's what they want to do and if that's their political strategy—then who are we to argue against it? I know who it will advantage at the next election.
Of course, this is part of the government's jobs and growth agenda. 'Jobs and growth'—remember that? People listening at home—if anyone listens to the Federation Chamber at home—may remember 'jobs and growth'. You couldn't turn on the telly in the never-ending campaign through winter without hearing: 'Jobs and growth, jobs and growth, jobs and growth!' You might have been fooled. I get the political strategy—if you say it enough, maybe someone will believe it. You might have been fooled into thinking there was actually a plan because they said, 'We had a plan for jobs and growth.' If you say you have a plan, then maybe someone will think you actually have a plan.
As it turned out, and as has been revealed, month after month, week after week, day after day, it is not a plan. It was a logo. It was blue and yellow. There was a website and a slogan, but there was no actual plan. That started to become clear to me, because I remember that it was the priority. The centrepiece of the government's economic strategy in the jobs and growth agenda were these big company tax cuts. And they introduced the legislation last year. Nothing happened. I was thinking, 'Nothing happened'—for this critical part of the economic plan. It wasn't even brought on for debate until March this year. Then they struck this bizarre and desperate deal with some of the senators in that moment where the Prime Minister needed some kind of legislative victory—a political win, so to speak; anything really. They put through the lower end of it, and now we're back here with the bit that really stinks. It's the bit that brings home Gina's bacon—the tax cuts for the top end of town.
You might also remember—it was hilarious from our side, I suppose, but it probably wasn't the best day to be a government backbencher. Member for La Trobe, we sit opposite up there every day—
Mr Wood interjecting—
It probably wasn't the best day to be a government backbencher when the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister, 'How much is this going to cost?' And we had an answer of, 'Well, it's going to cost $24 billion'—waffle, waffle, waffle, glasses come off. 'Oh, I mean $26 billion'—waffle, waffle, waffle. But of course that would be $50 billion. We had one answer with three different costs. We thought that was a bit weird. So we thought we'd try asking the Treasurer, 'How much is this package going to cost?' The Treasurer said, 'Well, of course, it's going to cost $36.5 billion.' We thought, 'That's a fourth number. Maybe we'll go back to the Prime Minister.' So we asked, 'Prime Minister, how much is this package going to cost?' The answer was $65.4 billion. In just three minutes of question time, the government spent an extra $15 billion, and so there it sits. The true figure over 10 years in the long-term estimate is $65.4 billion of taxpayer funding for this tax cut for big companies and multinationals.
Of course, this is in an environment where there was a 'debt and deficit disaster'. But somehow, magically, just by electing the Tories of course that was going to be fixed—just because they're Tories! Of course, the budget was just going to whirr back into surplus in some mystical fashion.
The true record under the drunken-sailor spending of the previous Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, was to add $100 billion to Australia's debt—it's not really in the right direction or trajectory. One of the things which really disturbs me about this is the unfunded nature of it. Sure, if you want to put forward a plan that says, 'We believe this. Here's the economic theory and here's how we're going to pay for it,' do that. That is not what this government has had the courage or policy conviction to do. There is absolutely no clarity, no explanation—not even a peep about how this is going to be paid for. And we know this trick: it's what conservative governments around the world do to justify cuts to essential public services. We've seen it in America. We've seen it in other countries. You say, 'This is the critical thing: we have to cut these taxes for the top end of town, whether it's income tax cuts'—because the only people who got an income tax cut from this government, of course, were people who earn over $180—'so we'll pop that in because that's somehow the priority.' The other priority is: cut taxes for the top end of town. Then, when you get that you through, you say, 'Goodness gracious me, the deficit's got bigger. We've got a fiscal crisis. The only way to fix a fiscal crisis is to cut Medicare, cut education, cut social spending. Goodness me, the age pension—that's a bit high. We'd better go and have another hack at pensioners.' And of course the Notice Paper is littered with bills that have another hack at pensioners.
We're not going to be fooled by this trick. If you are fair dinkum, if you actually believe this, if you actually had any idea how to manage the budget, you would have come into the parliament and said, 'We think this is an important economic reform'—make the case—'and here's how we're going to pay for it. Here are the things that we're going to stop doing, Australian people. Let's be honest: here are the things that are going to be cut to pay for this enormous company tax cut.'
We're told that this is essential—actually, I'll just go back to the member for Hughes; probably my least favourite member for his complete lack of rationality in any of his speeches. I had the misfortune of being on chamber duty for a few months in a row and, every single time I was on chamber duty, we had the foghorn of the member for Hughes blaring across. But I discovered 'Kellynomics' from listening to his speech in March on the company tax cuts, and it goes something like this: 'Because we're going to cut government revenue by cutting company tax, actually revenue is going to increase and we'll create a surplus.' Somehow by cutting revenue, you're going get more revenue when you're the member for Hughes.
Then he misrepresents the wonderful legacy of Paul Keating when he was Treasurer—the government is obsessed with Paul Keating; they're jealous of his enormous legacy. I understand why because he transformed the Australian economy, and John Howard's government kind of coasted through living off the proceeds of that reform—I still haven't heard of a single structural economic reform that those opposite can name that the Howard government implemented after the GST; they just reacted to events. But what the member for Hughes and those opposite love to claim is: 'Well, Paul Keating cut the company tax rate from 49c to 39c, and somehow Labor portrays that proud legacy because we oppose this unfunded tax cut.' There are a couple of critical points though that you conveniently miss in putting forward this misrepresentation of what occurred in the eighties and nineties—that is, because the Treasury summary notes then that the company tax reductions have largely corresponded with base-broadening measures, such as the removal of accelerated depreciation. That's right: in plain English, the cut in the company tax rate that Paul Keating put forward was fully funded. It was clear where the money was coming from because the base of the tax was broadened at the expense of budget and important services and investments; whereas this government is putting forward a company tax cut which is unfunded. It shows the rank hypocrisy of the government.
The reductions in the headline rate in previous years, such as Paul Keating's, were funded through making the tax more efficient and broadening the base. It is a special kind of love that you have discovered of late for Paul Keating—and actually we hear a lot about John Curtin and Ben Chifley as well; we don't hear much about your own legacy. I will read again into the Hansard an extract of what Keating said in 1998. It goes:
The government is to cut the corporate tax rate in one step, from 49 cents to 39 cents, to give Australian companies a tax structure more than competitive with the rest of the world.
… the government has decided to lower the tax rates by removing some tax concessions—
that is, lower the company tax rate by broadening the base; not just take $65 billion out of the forward estimates, give it away to big business for little to no economic benefit and call that reform. That's Kellynomics. Apparently we should all be in a race to the bottom on company tax—and we have to do it because some other countries have a bit of a lower headline company tax rate, therefore we should. Presumably, if you take that logic, if President Trump cut the company tax rate to 15 per cent, then we'd have to match that, and then someone would cut it to 10, and we'd cut it to 10—and zero would be nirvana. So we would have no tax revenue and somehow that would be a perfectly competitive world! Of course, you'd have to cut all government spending, but we don't actually get to that part of the conversation of how we are going to fund this ridiculous tax cut. That's Kellynomics.
Why are you doing this? What's the government's stated policy reason for doing this? There's the global competitiveness bit, even though any sensible economist will tell you that the headline rate is not the correct comparator. You just take the headline rate and say, 'We'll compare that to another headline rate.' The US Congressional Budget Office is the most respected and well-developed budget office in the world, providing independent budget analysis for the Congress there. Our PBO, relatively young in its life, is learning from it, but that's a different story. But the Congressional Budget Office in America has said: 'You don't look at the headline rate. That's for dummies. That doesn't mean anything. You look at the effective tax rate that companies actually pay.' When you look at the effective tax rate, that is not 30 per cent in Australia. I think that on the last figures—I haven't got them in front of me—it was in the order of 24 per cent, which is a very different proposition.
What you also find, if you've worked in investment facilitation and think broadly, is that the company tax rate, headline or effective, is but one of the many inputs that companies take into consideration in making investment decisions. I used to work in the Victorian government, in the economic development department, in the trade and investment facilitation area, and it's a very sophisticated methodology. You look at all sorts of things. We should not be ashamed in Australia that we have high-quality public services. This is something to aspire to, and you need money to provide them—not that that has dawned on those opposite, because apparently you can just take money out of the budget and not worry about where it's coming from.
There are many other things: the stability of our financial system, the reliability of our regulatory environment, the rule of law, the quality of life, the human capital, the kinds of skilled workers you can get in Australia if you choose to invest, the infrastructure—putting aside the NBN, 'fraudband'; that actually is a problem, as we move down the competitiveness rankings. But all of these things are factors which are properly taken into account in the real world, the grown-up world, in making investment decisions. It's not just some race to the bottom on company tax as the only thing that matters.
The purported gain is one per cent. This is the best estimate. The Treasury figures, the ones that the government is relying on, show a one per cent gain in 10 to 20 years. In 10 years something might start happening, and after 20 years it might get to one per cent. What does that mean? It means $2 a day in wages in 20 years time—for spending $65 billion over the next 10 years. That sounds like a pretty dumb return to me, but perhaps the political strategy of the Prime Minister, 'Mr 50c', is shining through. He's now adding 50c off your electricity bill in 10 or 20 years time, so you might get $2.50! Maybe that's it. Maybe that sort of spread-copper, burn-coal, spin-crap election strategy that we're starting to see emerging—
Order! I just ask the member for Bruce to watch his language and not to reflect on members personally like you did earlier. 'Waffle, waffle, waffle, taking glasses off' is reflecting on members personally. I would just ask the member to keep that in mind, thanks.
That's fine. I'm happy to seek clarification. I wasn't imitating the Prime Minister, which is against practice. I was observing what the Prime Minister does, which I think is entirely in accordance with the standing orders. So what's your point?
I'm sure the member for Bruce will reflect on the standing orders. I wasn't going to speak on this particular matter, but the member for Bruce inspired me with his rhetoric and passion for the subject. I, too, want to speak about the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enterprise Tax Plan No. 2) Bill 2017. Deputy Speaker Howarth, you've obviously heard that, on this side, there have been a lot of concerns raised about the net benefit for our economy if the $65 billion tax cut goes through. I've heard a lot of observations from our perspective that it will not be terribly much. That's in the spirit of bipartisanship. That was really driven home to me. I would categorise myself as someone in the Labor Party who is pro-business. I have worked with businesses in a whole range of areas in my previous life. If I thought this was a good idea and I thought this would actually generate the prosperity that this government says it is going to generate, then not just I but also others on our side would support this proposed tax cut, but that's not what I see at all.
I deal with businesspeople a lot. For the parliamentary record, when I was parliamentary secretary to Kevin Rudd, particularly during the global financial crisis—the one that is often denigrated on the other side; the one that we say wasn't as bad as people were saying—we worked very closely with business. It's important to lay the groundwork for why I say that the $65 billion could be better spent and could be backed up with appropriate savings. If I go back in history—and it does tie into the enterprise tax plan—we started detecting a substantial softening in the US economy, particularly when we saw the collapse of Lehmann Brothers. I'm glad I'm able to talk about this, because it's one of the great failings of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era that they were never able to get a proper description of what we were facing during the global financial crisis, due to the internal dynamics.
I hoped that your side of politics, Mr Deputy Speaker Howarth, had learnt from us, but I think you took the wrong lessons from us. I think you're now reaping the dividend of that cancer in the way you deal with unpopular leaders or have difficulties with leaders. That's not an attack on you; it's just an observation. When you are consumed by the discussion about internal dynamics, your government doesn't get the message out about what it wants to achieve and what it has achieved for the economy. During that particular period of time, particularly with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, businesses generally were facing diabolically bad conditions, and they weren't talking about tax cuts then, I can tell you.
We faced two difficulties. I can recall being party to a number of very serious conversations about the economic difficulties that we faced. The first one was stabilising the world financial order. When I spoke to Lindsay Tanner, who was then our finance minister, he said that the world had a financial heart attack on three occasions and, in effect, the entire world financial system was close to collapse. Australians don't realise that. Australians don't realise that a lot of businesses were going to basically hit the wall. We were facing the most grave consequences in terms of what might happen since the Great Depression. That's how bad it was. It's interesting, when we have this discussion now about this particular bill and the $65 billion tax cut, to reflect on what actually occurred then. That informs Labor's view a lot on how to best support business productively so that it can grow in a market that is still affected by the vestiges of the global financial crisis. When a lot of the economic commentators spoke about the global financial crisis and how Australia came out of it, I always detected an underlying fragility. I think it's still there. I think it affects big business and small business.
But my point is that we basically faced a situation where the global financial order was going to collapse. What stopped it collapsing here in Australia was the bank guarantee. I meet with businesses. I deal with businesses across the area—and I'll touch on that in a second and tie it to this particular bill. The Prime Minister formed a special committee—I think it was the SBPC, the strategic budget priorities committee—and I recall having a discussion on the weekend that the SBPC was meeting. There was a lot of criticism about the SBPC, but we were facing a situation at the end of that particular week in October where, if the Australian government had not taken action, there would be a run on the banks the following week.
Why do I talk about business? The reason that I talk about business is that, on the weekend that the SBPC was meeting, I sat down with a gentleman who had developed a lot of property around Dandenong and the surrounding area—someone who was not necessarily pro-Labor but someone I would speak to from time to time—and, while we were sitting there having breakfast, he said, 'If you don't provide a bank guarantee for my business, I'm taking $16 million out of the bank next week.' I thought that that was bluster and I said, 'You can't be serious.' He said, 'My savings aren't safe; I'm taking the money out of the bank'—he was a liquid businessperson, a successful businessperson, not a spendthrift—and I thought, 'This is getting very serious.' If you remember what Ken Henry said when we talked about this period of time, you'd recall that he talked about his mother basically wanting to take money out of the bank.
People underestimate what it was like for businesses during that time. At that time, I dealt with Gerry Ryan, who's the head of Jayco, and we would convene meetings with large businesses in the Dandenong area. These were not publicised. They were important meetings that were put together with major retail chains and major manufacturers that formed the bulk of employment in the Dandenong region. This was slightly out of my area, and I would ask, 'What can we do to protect your businesses? This was around the same period—late 2008-09. Gerry started to convene these meetings so that I could talk with big businesses and small businesses directly, who said, 'We've got to have stimulus in the economy; otherwise, we're going to start laying off thousands of workers.'
I think the thing for critics of the then government's stimulus package—and again it relates to this particular bill—is the question around what business needs to create jobs and opportunity. When I hark back to that period of time, what business needed was spend on infrastructure and the creation of confidence in the community. I won't go into the details of the meetings, because these meetings were held with up to 14 or 15 members of the business community—and my staff member was there at that time. We were literally facing this yawning chasm of: 'My God; employment is going to collapse in the south eastern region of Melbourne.' It was that close.
The worrisome thing, when I look at this bill and the $65 billion we're talking about, is that everyone has forgotten what Australian businesses were facing and what the Australian government needed to do to keep those businesses afloat. The first component was to stop the run on the banks—and that's what happened with the bank guarantee. I noticed that former Treasurer Wayne Swan was speaking here yesterday about BHP and its role. The former Treasurer was obviously right at the coalface in terms of what happened there, and he was talking about businesses that don't pay tax—and I'll talk about that briefly later on. But people forget that we needed to create confidence.
The second measure—regardless of what side of politics—is to inject liquidity into the system, which we did with the first stimulus in November-December that year. That lifted retail. Retail is the canary in the coalmine. If retail is doing well, it's a good canary. When it was not doing well, major retailers were telling me, 'We're sacking.' They were getting ready to sack thousands of workers for the Christmas period in 2008. That didn't happen. That was, I think, a government working constructively with small business and big business.
Then, of course, we established the infrastructure projects. Again, we would have differences about how that money was spent. When I looked at the number of tradespeople in my constituency whose jobs were saved by those stimulus packages that built those buildings that the opposition, the now government, were criticising, I was seeing a person, a livelihood, a lifestyle, potentially taken away. My point is: when I look at what the government's putting forward, I see a measure that is not going to deliver the economic benefits that the government wants and that will be at a substantial cost to the economy and to its own reputation really. There are better ways of doing this.
Again, when I talk to businesses now, they're not saying, 'Don't give us a tax cut.' They're saying, 'Build more infrastructure.' There are Liberal supporters and coalition supporters. I wouldn't go so far as to say they were talking like socialists, but when you're talking about people that I would regard as being in the far right of the Liberal party and they are saying to me, 'I want you guys in the state government to concentrate on infrastructure,' not one person has mentioned a tax cut. We're proposing $65 billion worth of tax cuts, and these are big businesses—they don't talk about this—like Jayco, for example. Gerry Ryan hasn't come up to me and said, 'I would like a tax cut'—and they employ 800 people. They are a world-leading manufacturer of a great product. Gerry has another wing, his dinosaur creatures company, which features in Hollywood. I think that's about a $130 million enterprise. This is a man that does business overseas. This are one of the people that your government is targeting with this tax cut, but he's not saying we need this.
Again, when I look at the rationale for why we need this, it's just not evident. I accept that the government has put forward its reason, but we've heard speaker after speaker on our side debunk that. We're not opposing this because we just like opposing it; we're opposing it because we think the $65 billion, if it needed to be spent, could be spent in much more effective ways. For example, I have two headspaces in my regional area. They happened as a consequence of lobbying that my office did with a group of incredible young students in 2012 because we had a suicide cluster. If anyone has lived in a region where you see young people killing themselves in the numbers that they did in my constituency, you don't want your worst enemy to live through that; I can assure you of that. What we did was lobby the then government—and there was resistance from our side, so I'm not saying this was an easy thing. We did a program with Four Corners called 'There is no 3G in heaven'. What the then Gillard government did was direct, I think, up to $6 million—$3 million for the headspace in Dandenong and $3 million for the headspace in Narre Warren. At least we did something with that.
Last week I went back to that headspace again as part of national Mental Health Week and headspace day. I met with the young people and I heard about the lives that are being saved. As I was saying, when you've been through an area that's been as scarred as that region, particularly with the young people that had been killing themselves, you ask: 'What do they need?' If you talk with them afterwards, they say, 'We need funding certainty because, beyond 2019, we're not quite sure if we can still function.' We have massive population growth down our way and, as someone who's lived through that experience of young people hurting themselves in this way, the fact that there's not a guarantee of the funding for an essential service that protects and saves young people blows my mind. If I saw something in this bill that basically said, 'We're going to put $120 million to national headspace,' I would say congratulations to your side of politics, Mr Deputy Speaker Howarth. I would like that, but there's nothing there.
There are tax cuts to businesses that sometimes, in effect, pay no tax. I have here, in my hand, an article from ABC News titled: 'Who pays what? ATO names large companies that paid zero tax in 2014-15'. It says there are 670 large companies that paid no corporate tax in the 2014-15 financial year, and 1,900 public, private and foreign-owned entities for the 2014-15 income year paid no tax. I could spend a couple of hours reading through these figures. For example, you have a company with an income of $216 million and there's no tax payable—that's quite extraordinary. My view is that we can't support this particular tax cut. There are better ways of doing this. I respectfully put to you and to the government that this bill be reconsidered.
I rise in this place today to ask the Turnbull government one very simple question. Is this government kidding, giving a $65 billion tax cut to big business? Is the Turnbull government so out of touch with the Australian people that it honestly believes that giving a big tax cut to big business is what this country needs to move forward? This government needs a reality check, and I am more than happy to provide it. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison, listen carefully to these facts. Growing inequality in this country is one of our fastest growing concerns, and the government should be addressing it. Inequality is at a 70-year high. More than 105,000 people are homeless. One-third of Australian aged pensioners are living in poverty. Thirty-two per cent of unemployed people live in poverty, and the HILDA report showed that child poverty is growing. Wage growth hasn't been this low since the retention of records began.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has collected data since 1975 on earnings inequality. Profits have gone up by 40 per cent, but wages have gone up by less than two per cent. Real wages have grown by 72 per cent for the top 10 per cent of earners—in 1975 they earned twice as much as the bottom 10 per cent, but by 2014 it was nearly three times as much. If low-wage earners had enjoyed the same percentage gains as the highest paid, they would be $16,000 a year better off. The richest one per cent of Australians own more wealth than the bottom 70 per cent of Australians combined. For every dollar a male earns, a woman earns 82c. A total of 678 corporations and 48 millionaires paid no tax. How completely messed up are the Turnbull government's priorities! It wants to give a $65 billion tax cut to big business and not address homelessness and stagnant wage growth or assist Australians living in poverty. What kind of government does that? It is an out of touch, out of its mind, incompetent, right-wing government.
And then there are the facts about my community of Herbert. We are a strong and resilient community, and we have experienced our fair share of knocks. But the Turnbull government is insistent on kicking us while we are down. Unemployment in Townsville is at 8.9 per cent. Youth unemployment is just under 25 per cent. To add to those very high unemployment figures, we also have a very high underemployment situation. Personal insolvency is amongst some of the highest rates in the country. We are drought declared and on level 3 water restrictions. Our electricity prices have skyrocketed, with some local businesses even choosing not to run their air conditioners in 33-degree heat. Yes, there are projects coming, and yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Even so, there is still serious concern over the potential lack of skills to deliver those projects, and that includes apprentices and trainees, a fact that is definitely not helped by the Turnbull government's more than $2 billion cut to TAFE.
Because of our community's get-back-up-and-get-going, never-say-die attitude, we will come through these challenges. But our success and survival will not come from the Turnbull government. It will come because we work hard and we are resilient. It will come from federal Labor backing and supporting our community with $100 million towards vital water infrastructure. The vision for our community will come from a federal Labor government, which has committed $200 million towards hydropower on the Burdekin Falls Dam. It will come from strong investment by the Queensland Labor government, which has also invested in water, infrastructure, roads and the CBD revitalisation. It will come from the local council and local community leaders, like Brad Webb, who have stepped up, united and worked collaboratively to assist in addressing these issues. Most importantly, our survival will be the result of the united Townsville community, who continue to support each other and local businesses through tough times. But assistance to Townsville, our workers, families and pensioners will not come from the Turnbull government's $65 billion tax cut. Interestingly, the assistance that is coming from the Turnbull government will aim to have Australians believe that giving big businesses a tax cut will eventually trickle down to workers' pay packets and create more jobs. The theory of trickle-down economics has been around for over 40 years. I, along with many other workers and families, am still waiting to see exactly what does trickle down, because, at this stage, the only thing that is trickling down is inequality.
The Turnbull government's $65 billion tax cut will have minimal economic impact. It's barely even measurable: one per cent of economic growth in 20 years time, and a $2 a day increase in wages in 20 years time. This is at a time when wages growth has flatlined at a record low of 1.9 per cent. Recently released economic data show that living standards that had been climbing have gone backwards in the last quarter. Australian families are facing a nasty cocktail of rising costs and electricity prices, stalling wages growth and resulting in record-high underemployment, and the Turnbull government has nothing to offer. Labor has long-held concerns about low wages growth. Without a doubt, the dwindling bargaining power of workers and their representatives has played a central role in the stagnation of wages growth and in rising inequality.
At a time when the government have also supported penalty rate cuts from 1 July this year, they also seek to raise income taxes on all taxpayers with an income above $21,000. A worker on $55,000 will pay $275 a year in tax, and for someone on $80,000 it's an extra $400 in tax. How is it fair that a worker on $55,000 a year will pay $275 more when big businesses are paying less. It's clear that, in the form of rising personal income taxes, low- and middle-income Australians are paying for the government's $65 billion handout to big business. This was confirmed by the Parliamentary Budget Office earlier this month, with the PBO saying that:
In addition to the effect of nominal income growth, average tax rates are projected to increase due to policy changes, most notably the policy decision to increase the Medicare Levy from 2019-20.
The PBO projects that the average tax rate on personal income will rise from 22.7 per cent in 2016-17 to 25.9 per cent in 2027-28. This is a government that has totally confused the Robin Hood message, because they take from the poor and give to the rich in the form of taxation.
If the Turnbull government is looking for ideas on how to spend $65 billion that would improve the situation in this country, particularly in my electorate, I have a very long list of ideas. Provide water security for Townsville and match Labor's commitment for $100 million. Provide hydropower generation on the Burdekin Falls Dam and match Labor's commitment of $200 million. Complete the rollout of Labor's NBN, as the NBN will be the greatest new infrastructure for regional, rural and remote Queensland—but only if we have fibre to the curb or premises. Reverse the $401.8 million in cuts to Queensland universities, in particular the $37.1 million cut to James Cook University in North Queensland. Reinstate the cuts to the Townsville Health and Hospital Service. Stop the $300 million in cuts to public dental services, where, across Queensland, waiting lists have blown out to 117,000 people. End the GP freeze on everything—an issue that is holding our doctors and medical practices to ransom. Stop the cuts to pathology. Re-establish Labor's Health Workforce Australia, which was working on retaining doctors in regional, rural and remote areas, because right now in Townsville we are facing a GP registrar crisis. Commit to ongoing funding for the Townsville Salvation Army for the youth drug and alcohol detox facility. End the more than $2 billion in cuts to TAFE. Stop the more than $2 billion in cuts to aged care. Don't raise the working age to 70. Don't cut the energy supplement. Spend more on infrastructure. Commit and sign off on even one project from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. There are a number of ways that $65 billion could be better spent than on a $65 billion big business tax break that will contribute to the growing inequality divide.
Labor have the priorities right. We will ensure we deal with inequality in this country by properly funding needs based funding for schools; investing in job-creating infrastructure; establishing a fairer tax system; dealing with superannuation tax concessions, which is something that we announced late last year and yet somehow the government has now decided that it is a secret superannuation tax; levelling the playing field for first home buyers through reforms to negative gearing and capital gains tax; capping the deductions people can obtain for managing their tax affairs to $3,000; and imposing a minimum 30 per cent tax on discretionary trusts to deal with income splitting—dealing with something that has been in the too-hard basket for far too long.
In contrast we have a government that has its priorities all wrong. It is a government determined to reduce the tax on businesses—big business in particular—while at the same time increasing the tax on everyday working Australians who are just trying to get ahead. Only Labor will stand and fight to eliminate inequality, only Labor will stand up for workers, families and pensioners, and only Labor will deliver a fairer tax system for every citizen in this country.