House debates

Monday, 22 October 2018

Private Members' Business


6:03 pm

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Schools) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I'm particularly pleased that it was the member for Chisholm who put this debate on the Notice Paper. In considering my remarks, I'll go back to the very start of hers. She began her contribution by saying this:

As a very proud member of the Turnbull government I am delighted to move this motion this morning.

Well, quite a few things have changed since then, and I hope I'll be able to conclude my remarks by referring to the member for Chisholm's conclusion as well. Quite a few things have changed in this building, including over the weekend, since the member for Chisholm put this motion on the Notice Paper. But regardless of her recently acquired more independent attitude and lack of confidence in the direction of the Morrison government, I am deeply concerned by the views that she has set out here, views which are echoed by members of the government more broadly. It is telling, when I consider the contributions made in this debate so far from the government side of the House, that government members continually insinuate that there is only one choice open to Australians when it comes to managing our economy and that there is no alternative to their one-point plan for economic growth. But, in the discussion of this motion, it's also offensive that government members so often seek to tie their blinkered and ideological view about economic management to those services Australians cherish and so often rely on.

But, of course, there are choices, important choices, facing Australia and Australians as they consider an election that we so desperately need. We can reject neoliberalism and trickle-down economics. We can invest in those things which will secure economic growth that is inclusive. I am going to talk a bit about some of Labor's platform, but I want to be very clear in saying that the Australian Labor Party under the Leader of the Opposition is not an outlier in this regard. The sorts of things that we are talking about that will set us on the pathway to inclusive growth are things that are being recommended by bodies like the IMF and the OECD and by most significant international economists. These are not just choices that are open to Australia; they are choices that Australia must make. Fundamentally, the Australian government must change tack and show more confidence in the Australian people and their capacity, which is exactly what Australian Labor has been doing, particularly in the week since the member for Chisholm introduced the motion that is the subject of this debate.

I want to talk about two policy initiatives in particular. The first is the announcement by the member for Kingston and the Leader of the Opposition about providing certainty for four-year-old preschoolers, something this government should and must do, rather than relying on year-by-year rollover on its commitment, and extending preschool for three-year-olds. This is about the best investment we can make in Australia's future. By investing in young Australians at a time when their brain development is greatest, the return on the investment will be greatest. That's what the academics have been telling us for quite some time. There are few policy announcements which have excited me quite so much as this one, and I urge government members to reject the views of some that this can actually reduce the IQ of children participating in three-year-old kindergarten or similar programs, as was suggested absurdly. Instead, embrace what the evidence tells us; ensure that the benefits of three-year-old preschool are enjoyed not just by a select few but by all Australians. There could not be a more significant investment in growth and, indeed, in equity for the future.

The other issue around securing inclusive growth that I want to touch upon is getting our schools funding right. Now, the government does deserve a tick for eventually recognising that it was short-changing Catholic and independent schools, and we have welcomed the fact that the government has made good, admittedly too late, its cuts in the Hockey-Abbott budget. But there is more to be done. Eighty-five per cent of the cuts to schools came from our public schools—2.5 million Australian children deserve fair funding so that they can reach their potential and our country can realise its potential more broadly.

In conclusion, I just want to go back to what the member for Chisholm said near the end of her contribution:

Australians can rest assured that the Turnbull government has a plan …

Well, we know how that has ended up. I can only urge members of the now Morrison government to look at a plan B.

6:08 pm

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's always a pleasure to follow the member for Scullin. Whilst I don't agree with his proposition, it's very, very clear that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If you want to look at the economic strategy which is being delivered by the coalition, you need only look at the numbers. What we know is that the unemployment rate for those looking for a job in September was down 0.3 per cent to 5 per cent. We know that we have passed through parliament the reduction in the small business tax, so by 2021-22 those small businesses out there with under $50 million turnover will be paying a tax rate of only 25 per cent. We have Minister Angus Taylor. He is out there on the job, looking to drive down electricity prices. Now, I know that he is hamstrung by state governments—in particular, the hapless and incompetent ones like the Queensland Labor government led by Annastacia Palaszczuk—but he is looking to drive down the price of energy in this country.

All of those things put money back into people's pockets so they can decide what it is that they will do with their money. We know what the opposition side would do if they were in government. They would increase taxes by $200 billion. That is not a small number. That is $200,000 million in taxes which the Australian people would have to pay to those opposite. And what will they do with it? They will give it to someone else. I think it's far more important that we continue to drive our economy. We have been successful to date. We'll continue to be successful. More importantly, we are able to deliver the services that the Australian people need.

As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker Gee, I'm a passionate Queenslander.

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I do know.

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As I said, we have this incompetent Labor government in Queensland. In fact, independent figures, which were released just last week, have revealed that the Queensland government is cutting funding to local hospitals in the Wide Bay region. We hear a lot about cuts from those opposite. Here is the reality: these figures from the independent National Health Funding Body show that federal government funding has grown by 78 per cent from 2012-13 in comparison with federal Labor, and state Labor has cut nearly $4 million in the last year alone—2016-17 to 2017-18. During this time, our contribution increased by $25 million. These are the stated facts. We are putting up funding to hospitals. State Labor in Queensland is cutting those funds, and that affects our local people.

The member for Wide Bay is in the chamber. I know that he is a passionate defender of the rights of people in Wide Bay. We have offered a new five-year funding agreement that will deliver $130 billion in Commonwealth hospital funding, including $30 billion in additional funding across Australia. That is an increase. We are able to do that because of a strengthening Australian economy. We are putting the structures in place for our economy to grow. We are being successful. It is very, very clear from the numbers that it is working.

Locally, we continue to invest in regional areas, because for me, as a local member, a strong regional economy means more local jobs, and that is what we are all about. In fact, Bundaberg Brewed Drinks announced just last week that they will invest $156 million in a super brewery. That is the biggest manufacturing plant in our region, in our history, to the best of my knowledge, with the assistance of a $19 million grant from the federal government's Regional Growth Fund. So we are investing in regional Queensland, in regional Australia, and we are keeping those jobs local. An icon like Bundaberg Brewed Drinks will not be moving overseas. They'll be staying local, driving hundreds of jobs—in fact, over 213 jobs in construction and 147 jobs post construction. This is a 45,000 square metre facility on a greenfield site. It is an incredible investment. I'm very pleased that the family-owned company has actually invested in our local region again. We have Superior Pak, who are manufacturing rubbish trucks for councils all over the country. They've got about 200 staff and a very large apprentice intake, which I'm very pleased about. Consolidated Linen Service in Hervey Bay continue to grow—but back to the PMB.

There couldn't be a bigger contrast. We are driving the economy. Business is growing. We are producing more local jobs. More strength in our economy means more opportunities for our people. If the opposition get into government, there will be $200 billion in additional taxes and increases in electricity prices. If you are one of those people who have earned your hard-earned, you are a self-funded retiree and you happen to have a share portfolio, those opposite will take away your imputation credits, which could be used to pay your rates bill or your electricity bill—all of the bills that come along. There is a great risk with the opposition. As the coalition government, we are strengthening the economy and we'll continue to do so.

6:14 pm

Photo of Susan LambSusan Lamb (Longman, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to thank the member for Chisholm for this motion on the economy. Clearly, it's not because I agree with the motion in any way, shape or form—in fact, quite the opposite. But, nonetheless, I would like to thank her because it gives me an opportunity to recognise, despite her claims, that it is only Labor who has a plan for Australia. It's only Labor who is fighting for a fair go for regular Australians. While the government is cutting health care and education services, it is only Labor who is investing in the future of this country.

I see the member for Chisholm notes that under this government 'essential services are guaranteed'. Colour me a cynic, but this is glaringly blatant political speak that essentially means absolutely nothing. I'd like to question what exactly is part of this guarantee that she speaks of? Is it a guarantee of more cuts under the LNP, like the $2.9 million that has been ripped out of the Caboolture Hospital, or the billions of dollars that have been ripped out of schools all across Australia? I have spent a lot of time in my community over the last few months—I dare say, a lot more than most members in the House. I can say with absolute complete confidence that this is not a guarantee that any person in my electorate would want—a guarantee of a cut.

What they want is a guarantee of the plan that Labor has detailed in its Fair Go Action Plan. It's comprehensive. It's detailed. It's a plan that the member for Chisholm so very conveniently forgot to mention when she penned her motion. I'll give the member for the benefit of the doubt, though. It's conceivable that she was too busy with the internal leadership politics of her party to notice that the stable, united Labor Party are getting on with the job and doing what government won't, and that is leading this country. Under opposition leader Bill Shorten and deputy leader Tanya Plibersek, the Labor Party have been working harder than ever in opposition—working harder than in living memory. We have had to because government have been busy shutting down parliament and cancelling sitting weeks. Someone has had to develop a vision for Australia, so Labor has done just that.

Our comprehensive suite of positive policies can be summed up in just a few dot points. They are very clear points. They are succinct. They give people a vision. Let me go through them. With our Fair Go Action Plan, Labor will restore funding to our schools and hospitals so that everyone has access to the essential services they deserve. Now, that is what I call a guarantee. Labor will ease cost-of-living pressures so that families feel relief on their budgets. We will stand up for workers, with a strong industrial relations system; invest in cheaper, cleaner energy; and, of course, build a stronger economy that works for us all.

The member for Chisholm speaks of a strong economy in her motion, but she fails to recognise what it is that makes a strong economy, and that, of course, is people. It's the people. You can't have a healthy economy unless you have a healthy society. Without schools, universities and TAFEs, people can't get the qualifications they need to get into the field of work they want. Without decent pay and conditions, people don't have the money to spend at small businesses to keep local economies turning.

Labor does have a plan. It's comprehensive. It's been crafted after many thousands of hours of consultation with stakeholders, businesses and organisations. Most importantly, this plan has been crafted because it's been consulted on. We have consulted with real people—with people who live in our communities. While the government are clearly shifting their rhetoric from the tired 'Blame Labor' routine, it's funny that they're trying to point the finger and say their opposition doesn't have a plan. It's quite humorous because, despite not holding government, the dedicated Labor team that is working along Bill Shorten has a plan and a vision for Australia. While the government are all busy looking behind themselves, watching their backs, we know Labor is looking forward. We're looking forward and we're bringing the fair go back for Australians because, as I said, that's what people have told us they want. They just want a fair go. They want to be able to have schools, hospitals and decent pay, and they want be able to raise their family within their family budget.

6:19 pm

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also thank the member for Longman. Our economy is getting stronger. There is absolutely no doubt about that. We see that day in and day out, every time new economic figures are released. Just last week, we saw unemployment fall to five per cent, while the participation rate in the labour market went up. When you look at what this government has managed to achieve since 2013, it is quite an extraordinary achievement. Government borrowings through the budget are down, employment is up, taxes are down, work participation is up and welfare dependency is down. Inflation, wages, all these things are at record highs or lows. Everything that should be up is up and everything that should be down is down. What we got under the opposition when they were in government was completely the opposite. It was reverso-world. The geniuses on the other side of the chamber managed to turn an $80 billion net negative government borrowing requirement into a $280 billion deficit in three short years. They took a $25 billion federal budget surplus that they inherited and turned that in one year into a $50 billion deficit. They had the gall to come into this House and say to the Australian people that they think they can manage the economy. Well, we have seen this show before. We have seen what those opposite do when given a chance to show that they're a mature government, a mature group of individuals. The louder they shout, the closer we know we're getting to the truth about what they're really up to.

Ms Claydon interjecting

The member for Newcastle can shout as much as she likes, but she knows I'm on to something. She knows it because she has been hiding it the whole time.

You cannot have a strong aged-care system, you cannot have a strong education system, you cannot have a strong health system without a strong economy. And the reason we know this is because the Australian people, in a moment of insanity, elected the Rudd government. In that particular moment, what we ended up with was a system that couldn't afford to put drugs on the PBS. We couldn't afford an education policy. They announced Gonski 1.0 when it should have been Gonski 0.0 because the fact of the matter was they couldn't fund it past four years because they knew, in their heart of hearts, they didn't have a term in them. I think they know now that Bill Shorten, if he was so lucky to trip and fall over the line, would be lucky to make it one term before they were begging us to come back into government to fix their problems. From the NDIS to education to the PBS, all of it just imploded under these blokes. Has anything changes? All the same characters are there. The actors are the same. Frankly, the script hasn't even changed. In fact, frankly, nothing has changed over there. All they have got is empty rhetoric, sloganeering and what have we got? We got a proven track record of delivering. If they weren't shouting so much, they might learn a thing or two. You can borrow any of our policies you want.

An honourable member interjecting

Maybe you should turn your microphone down. The long and short of it is that all of this is absolutely critical to ensuring that we have an aged-care system that can deliver for people who are at the end of their lives and this can only be done with a strong economy. The reason it can only be done with a strong economy is because it costs money.

I often find it interesting that both sides tend to want to make criticisms of each other about the aged-care system. But the fact is, as someone who worked in it for 15, 16 years, I think both sides have a lot to be proud of in this system. It was in 1987 that the Hawke government allowed this system to be opened up. All of the Howard reforms, the Butler reforms, the reforms under Kevin Andrews and Julie Bishop led to a massive improvement in the quality of care that older Australians, that our tribal elders, receive. But we must be under no delusion. This can only have been delivered through the record funding that this government has provided to aged care and that's why I recommend this House pass this motion.

6:24 pm

Photo of Emma McBrideEmma McBride (Dobell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm not sure who's under delusions here, but this motion contains three false premises: firstly, that this government's measures have led to a stronger economy; secondly, that under this government, essential services are guaranteed including education, child care, health and aged care; and lastly, I refute the member's claim. Labor does have a plan to build a stronger economy, one that works for all of us. Let's have a look at the first of these.

The fact is that our economy is growing despite the current policy settings, not because of them. This government is lucky enough to benefit from the best global economic conditions in more than a decade, and yet net debt has doubled since September 2013. Gross debt has crashed through half a trillion dollars for the first time in the nation's history and is projected to remain above the threshold over the next decade, and both net and gross debt have been growing faster under this government than under the former Labor government, which had the global financial crisis to contend with.

Our economy would be stronger if we didn't have an unstable, divided government—a government that gives the biggest tax breaks to those who need them least, ripping money out of education and aged care and destroying the NBN.

Now let's have a look at just how well this government guarantees essential services and supports education, child care, health and aged care. In fact, this government's record is just a long list of cuts and failures. I have often spoken about the government's cuts to education: cuts to school funding, cuts to university funding and cuts to vocational education. I've spoken about the large number of Australians who have had to put off visits to the doctor or filling a prescription, because they simply cannot afford it. I have spoken many times about the increasingly long waiting lists for home care packages for older Australians who want to keep living in their own homes. Currently, there are 774 people waiting for home care packages on the Central Coast, with two-thirds waiting for high-level packages. That's not good enough. Many of them are living with dementia. So how can this government claim that it guarantees these essential services?

Finally, let's turn to the false claim about Labor's economic plans. No-one understands better than Labor the importance of economic growth and its role in improving the lives of everyday Australians. Economic growth was at the heart of the Hawke-Keating reforms of the 1980s and 1990s, and it was Labor that kept Australia out of recession and maintained economic growth in the face of the GFC, the worst economic crisis in 70 years. These reforms and Labor policy initiatives have underpinned nearly three decades of recession-free growth, and this focus on economic growth will continue under a future Labor government.

Labor will deliver the same tax relief for small businesses as the coalition but will do it without cutting schools or hospitals or increasing national debt. Supporting this measure provides certainty to small businesses ahead of the next election. A Labor government will deliver tax cuts for small and medium businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million a year, delivering certainty to the sector in a fiscally responsible way.

Labor has worked hard in opposition to develop a policy program that will boost investment. Whilst delaying the introduction of the Australian investment guarantee by one year in order to responsibly fund the tax cuts for small and medium business, Labor remains committed to the AIG. This important initiative will allow all businesses—small, medium and large—to immediately deduct 20 per cent of any new tangible and, increasingly importantly, intangible assets, with the balance depreciated in line with normal depreciation schedules for the first year.

Our future Asia framework aims to deepen and broaden our economic engagement with our region.

Most importantly, Labor will invest in human capital, the most important driver of economic growth in the modern economy. Labor has recently announced a $1.75 billion investment in early childhood education. A new national preschool and kindy program will guarantee that every three- and four-year-old has access to quality early childhood education they need for the best start in life and in school. This investment adds to our $14 billion investment that will transform public schools across Australia, giving all children the opportunity to reach their full potential no matter where they live or how much their parents earn. Our policies to boost skills include our commitment to reinvigorate our TAFE system, our comprehensive inquiry into post-secondary education and our commitment to uncapped places at universities.

Labor has taken difficult decisions to be able to fund its policy commitments such as making multinationals pay their fair share, reforming negative gearing, the capital gains tax discount and the tax treatment of trusts, managing tax affairs, and dividend imputation. Labor will build a strong economy that works for all of us.

6:29 pm

Photo of Damian DrumDamian Drum (Murray, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to be able to believe the opposition when it comes to talking about a plan for our financial future, but the problem is that I can't believe them, because time and time again we are left with the reality that Labor cannot manage money. They just cannot manage money. They can spend money brilliantly—they are rolled gold medallists when it comes to spending money—but they cannot manage money. Like all of us that have a credit card that's getting out of control, at some stage we have to stop the spending, put a little bit back on it and somehow or other pay it back. It's a little concept that the Labor Party haven't quite picked up in the 80-plus years they have been operating. Time and time again, whether it be the Victorian government or the federal government, the Labor Party are brilliant at spending and getting into debt, and when they lose elections and hand over, the coalition tries to fix it all up. That's what we have here.

We had profits and surpluses under Prime Minister Howard and Treasurer Costello. Within a very short time Prime Minister Rudd started the spending, and it didn't abate. The situation financially when we came to government under Tony Abbott was that the nation each and every day was spending $100 million more than it was making: $100 million yesterday, $100 million today, $100 million tomorrow; $100 million too much in spending. They maintained that for the six years of their own government. Whether it was Rudd, Gillard or Rudd, they kept spending $100 million a day more than they were making. Then they ladled the nation with some fantastic programs. The NDIS was fantastic program, but they didn't fund it. The Labor Party announced this great reform, one of the greatest reforms this nation has ever had, but they didn't fund it. They announced billions of dollars for Gonski, a fantastic program to spend more on better education, but they refused to fund it.

It has taken five years of a coalition government to gradually control spending and bring it back in line so that, if we go to an election in May next year, $100 million of losses each and every day will now be a very small surplus. For that the coalition government should be very proud. At the same time as bringing the books of this nation back in to surplus, we also have the lowest unemployment rate since 2011. We have created more than one million jobs: 1,150,000 jobs, 80 per cent of them full-time. The Labor Party would have you believe that we woke up one day and all of a sudden these amazing feats of running the economy happened upon us by chance. They don't understand the discipline it takes to invest in small family businesses to give them the confidence with the tax cuts they need and the instant asset write-off, one of the most practical measures to enable all those small and medium-sized businesses to invest up to $20,000 in their business and write that asset off over the first 12 months.

All of our policies are based on enabling Australians to keep more of the money they earn. If they're going to be good enough to drive this country forward by getting out of bed and running their own business or working in someone else's, we as a coalition want you to keep as much of that money that you earn for yourself. We understand that the Labor Party want to inflict another $200 billion to $250 billion in additional taxes on the Australian people. They're very clear about that and are not trying to hide it. They think that will all come out of big business and that big business will still keep employing people. You cannot go after certain sections. You cannot go after the retirees with their retiree tax, otherwise they will be in the same position they were in last time, where they didn't have enough money to put more and more drugs on the PBS, making more Australians go without the essential medicines they need for their health.

6:34 pm

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

It's disappointing we don't have another Labor speaker on this motion. However, we will push on. This motion and the contributions by the Labor members during this debate show us the fundamental flaw in the Labor strategy, their policy and their ideology. The one thing that they seem not to understand is that the size of the economic pie that we have in this nation is not fixed. It can rise, it can shrink and it can grow, depending on the policies that the government of the day has. Where we have policies that encourage and provide incentives for firms to go out there and invest their capital and take risks and experiment—experiment with new ideas, new products and new methods of production and distribution—some of those ideas will work. When we do that, they are grabbed and expanded, and that's what grows the economy.

If it wasn't like that and the economy was a fixed size, it would be very easy. You could just cut it up, redistribute it into equal pieces and have their so-called fair go for everyone. But that's not how an economy works. The very minute that you go in and start redistributing the pie, you actually destroy the incentives that created the wealth and created the size of that pie in the first place. This is why we see Labor governments having all these grand ideas and these grandiose spending promises. But, when they come to deliver them, the only way they can do so is to borrow more money and put this nation further in debt.

A great example is the anticoal rhetoric that we hear around the place. It seems to be no coincidence that those who run around and make the loudest noise, saying, 'I wants more spending for schools,' and, 'I want more spending for hospitals,' and, 'I want more spending for aged-care centres,' are the very same people who go around demonising coal. Fine, close down our coalmines. But this year thermal coal will generate $22½ billion worth of exports and metallurgical coal, which often gets forgotten, will generate another $35 billion worth of exports. The royalties alone, flowing into the state government coffers, are $6 billion. That's enough to employ something like 80,000 nurses. So, if you want to go around and run anticoal rhetoric and say you want to close down all these mines, what you are doing is saying, 'We're going to pull $6 billion out of state royalties,' and that gives them $6 billion less to pay for schools and hospitals.

We see the same with the company tax cuts. We've had to argue and fight to get Labor, fighting and screaming, to agree to reduce the corporate rate of tax, and we've only been able to do it for companies with a turnover of up to $50 million. It should have been unambiguous to do it for all companies. They talk about what Paul Keating did. They were the reforms of the Hawke and Keating governments. They reduced company tax for everyone because they knew that it was important to make our nation internationally competitive, to attract capital and to grow the economy. If you look at the evidence—whether it was Paul Keating or Peter Costello—every single government in this nation that has reduced the rate of company tax hasn't ended up with less taxation revenue; they grew the economy and, at the end of the day, the governments had more taxation revenue. So, even though it seems counterintuitive, with a lower rate of corporate tax the government gets more gross tax revenue, which gives us more money to pay for all those things that we so desperately need.

We've heard Labor speaking today, talking about Labor's policy on negative gearing. It is a dangerous policy that will drive house prices down and will drive rents up. It has been tried before; it has failed before. It will fail again, and I call on Labor members to get rid of that policy.

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers on this motion, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.