House debates

Wednesday, 16 October 2019


Treasury Laws Amendment (2019 Measures No. 2) Bill 2019; Second Reading

11:13 am

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) notes:

  (a) that this Government has no plan to support the Australian economy; and

  (b) that, in the absence of any Government plan for the economy, the IMF has today slashed Australia's growth rate forecast to just 1.7 per cent—the lowest level in a decade—and predicts unemployment to stay stubbornly high; and

(2) calls on the Government to immediately undertake sensible economic action by:

  (a) bringing forward infrastructure investments, particularly in regional areas;

  (b) bringing forward part of its stage 2 income tax package to 2019-20 to provide relief for middle income earners, as this would have provided up to $1,350 a year to those earning above $90,000 three years earlier than currently planned;

  (c) reviewing and responsibly increasing the rate of Newstart, as this would help to alleviate poverty, help people get into work, and would provide an effective and much needed boost to consumption;

  (d) implementing a version of the Opposition's Australian Investment Guarantee to incentivise and boost business investment; and

  (e) developing a comprehensive plan to boost wages, starting with restoring penalty rates for workers who are most likely to spend in the economy".

Australians woke up this morning to learn that the International Monetary Fund had downgraded Australia's economic growth forecast to 1.7 per cent this year and to 2.3 per cent in 2020. This is the second time this year that the IMF has downgraded Australia's growth forecast, and it comes after a string of economic commentators, supervisors and regulators have sent a very clear message to the government that business as usual is not going to see an end to the sluggish economic growth. It's not going to turn the economy around. It is time for the government to get out of the grandstand, get on the playing field and put in place an economic strategy which will turn this country around.

We have wages growth at record lows. We have interest rates at levels lower than during the global financial crisis, when this mob over on that side of the House decried that those interest rates were at emergency levels. So if they were at emergency levels during the global financial crisis, what are they today? If the second downgrade in Australia's economic growth forecast by the IMF in a single year will not jolt this government out of its arrogant slumber, then what will?

Australians need a plan. Australian businesses need a plan. They do not need a Prime Minister who struts his way around the country in an arrogant victory lap after an unexpected election win with nary a plan to turn the economy around. Australians need real wages growth. Businesses need certainty, so that they can invest in productivity-enhancing infrastructure and capital and ensure that the next generation of economic growth is going to be sustainable. Without a plan, we can expect the situation to continue.

Through this amendment, we are calling on the parliament and the government to do what is necessary to put in place a fiscal strategy, which should start with bringing forward infrastructure spending. We are told that the government has set aside $100 billion to boost infrastructure spending in this country. The problem with that is that the majority—over 70 per cent—of that $100 billion won't be spent this year; it won't be spent next year; and it won't be spent the year after. In fact, over 70 per cent of that $100 billion won't be spent until after the next election. Well, Australia is crying out for these projects to be invested in today.

Throughout regional Australia, there are literally thousands of community and economic infrastructure projects which, if invested in today, would boost local employment, would boost wages and would boost those local economies. In my own electorate, where over 20,000 people a day get in a car or on a train and travel to Sydney or Western Sydney for employment, an upgrade to the Illawarra-Sydney rail link, an improvement in the Appin Road, an improvement in the Picton Road, and improvements to and investment in the Princes Highway—which the government has promised to do—are sorely needed investments which should happen and can happen. The planning has been done. Money has been set aside, we are told. Bring that money forward. Invest in those local projects to get the economy moving. We call on the government to invest in those projects within the Illawarra and on the South Coast and right around the country.

No. 2: if there is a politician on that side of the House who says that they can live on $280 a week, well, stick your hand up, because we want to see it. A chorus of people, from big business and the Business Council of Australia to the community organisations—in fact, the majority of organisations who have turned their mind to the problem of the unsurvivability of Newstart—have said: 'We need to shift the rate of Newstart.' So we call on the government, as part of a comprehensive fiscal strategy which invests in infrastructure, to review the rate of Newstart, because we know that that will provide an immediate stimulus to the economy and provide much-needed sustenance to the people who are on the lowest incomes in this country. We are told that the level of Newstart is so low that it is actually acting as an impediment to people entering the workforce. So we call on the government to do the right thing: firstly, invest in infrastructure; secondly, review the rate of Newstart; and thirdly, bring forward those stage 2 income tax cuts.

The majority of the income tax package won't be delivered until close to or after the next election. We're calling on the government to bring forward those stage 2 income tax packages to provide relief for middle- and low-income earners. This will provide, three years earlier than currently planned, up to $1,350 a year to those earning above $90,000. Again, it's another sensible measure which would provide much-needed stimulus to the economy. This is the strategy that is needed—not strutting around the country unwilling to listen to business, unwilling to listen to the Reserve Bank of Australia, unwilling to listen to the investors and unwilling to listen to anybody who doesn't agree on the need to put in place an economic plan and a fiscal strategy. So I commend the amendment to the House.

Going to the details of the bill, schedule 1 extends concessional tax treatments of genuine redundancies and early retirement scheme payments to those under the pension qualifying age. These payments generally include a tax-free component. However, currently, a person can only receive the tax-free component if they are under 65 years of age at the time of the termination of their employment or their retirement from employment. This change has been necessary since the age for pension eligibility increased on 1 July 2017. These amendments will assist older Australians who receive a genuine redundancy or early retirement payment but are not yet able to receive the age pension. These are much-needed reforms, a little late in coming to this parliament, but they are reforms the opposition will support.

Schedule 2 to the bill provides an increased refund of the luxury car tax to individuals who purchase a heavy duty passenger vehicle as part of their tourism or primary production business. The proportion of luxury car tax that can be refunded will be increased, and the maximum amount of the refund will also be increased, to $10,000. These changes will apply to eligible vehicles acquired on or after 1 July 2019. We support these proposed amendments.

Schedule 3 to the bill amends the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 to expand the board of the Australian Energy Regulator from three to five members, and puts other measures in place to ensure that the expanded board can operate efficiently. We support this uncontroversial amendment.

Schedule 4 to the bill includes an amendment which was initially drafted by Labor to include a deletion right as part of the consumer data right reforms passed with bipartisan support a few months ago. Labor made the introduction of this amendment a condition of its support for the consumer data right legislation. Labor supports the open banking regime. However, we want to ensure that, as consumers' information is passed from one bank to another or through to intermediaries through the operation of this scheme, the owners of that data, the people whom the data is in respect of, have the right to initiate the deletion of that data. That is an important privacy protection that should have been a part of the initial drafting of the scheme.

The amendment requires the ACCC to develop rules relating to the deletion of personal data, allowing individuals to demand that their data is deleted by a data recipient. This will instil greater confidence in the consumer data rights system and ensure that respect for consumers is a central element of any participating data recipient's approach. This is a win for the consumers in the CDR regime, and I commend the Treasurer and the government for honouring the agreement that they reached with me and the opposition in bringing forward this amendment.

Schedule 5 of the bill amends the Superannuation (Unclaimed Money and Lost Members) Act 1999 to enable the Commissioner of Taxation to calculate and pay interest on ATO held superannuation that is held by the commissioner under the act. For the benefit of members, the ATO now has responsibility for holding in trust unclaimed or unidentifiable superannuation accounts—that is, those superannuation accounts where the super fund has made attempts to contact the owners but, because of a lack of personal information, the fund has been unable to track down those account holders. The ATO, if you like, is the trustee of last resort, taking control of and ownership in trust of those superannuation funds until they can be reunited with their rightful owners.

Schedule 5 also amends the relevant regulations to prescribe the rate of interest paid by the commissioner on those ATO held accounts, which, according to the regulations, will be based on the consumer price index. It is interesting to note that this rate is significantly below that which the government or any Australian would consider to be a reasonable rate of return for a superannuation account. I am quite certain—as APRA is conducting its heat map of the performance of superannuation funds or RSEs over the next 12 months, with the initial data to be released in a few months time—that the expected rate of return for those funds will be considerably more than the CPI. I fully anticipate that both APRA and, perhaps in due course, ASIC will be issuing 'please explain' notices to the trustees of those funds if they are delivering rates of return at just CPI. We do note that the ATO is intended only to hold these funds on a short-term basis. However, this is a provision that warrants the ongoing scrutiny of parliament in all its forms to ensure that if these funds are not kept for a short period of time—that is, they are unable to be reunited with their rightful owner—then we review the rate of return which is presumed to be earned by those funds held in trust by the ATO.

I would encourage the government to review these regulations and consider whether paying Australians CPI rates on their superannuation funds—funds that they are relying on for their retirement—is an appropriate decision. With these observations in mind, we encourage all members to vote for the amendments and to support the schedules to the bill as indicated in in my address.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Financial Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

11:28 am

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

I thank once again the member for Whitlam for his erudite speech and for his insights into our superannuation system and into the bill in front of us.

Mr Stephen Jones interjecting

I am just buttering you up, don't worry. Having owned and run my own business—

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

Hansard is no place for irony.

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

I know, it's on the Hansard now; I'll have to own those words—I agree, Jonesy. Having owned and run my own business, I have always been committed to ensuring that Australian entrepreneurs are given every available opportunity. Our small and medium-sized business owners remain pivotal to this country's ability to innovate and provide jobs. We have always punched above our weight when it comes to our small businesses as global innovators expanding internationally.

Schedule 2 of this bill increases the luxury car tax refund available to eligible primary producers and tourism operators. This will support small to medium-sized businesses around Australia and proactively assist industries critical to the livelihoods of many communities.

This is the Asian century, and Australia is perfectly positioned to take full advantage of this opportunity. There is no better way to do that than by reducing the tax burden on Australian businesses so that they are empowered to do what Australian businesses do best. To give full effect to schedule 2 of the luxury car tax, primary producers or tourism operators who have acquired an eligible vehicle on or after 1 July 2019 will be able to apply for a current partial refund of the luxury car tax paid up until the legislation comes into effect. We are aiming for the positive outcomes of this bill to be felt as soon as possible. At the point when the legislation does come into effect, an increased refund amount on eligible vehicles will be adjusted for any amount of the partial refund which may have already been paid.

Businesses in this country can have full confidence that this government is their strongest advocate both internationally and in ensuring that the domestic climate is supportive of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, encouraging businesses to grow, innovate and hire. Running my own business taught me just how constraining and dumb government overregulation, overtaxation and red tape can be. Australians are always at their best when free from the imposed limitations of the government and bureaucratic apparatus. At the very heart of this government is the commitment to small and struggling businesses to give them every opportunity to thrive and grow in an increasingly competitive domestic and international marketplace.

Another component of this Treasury laws amendment bill is the extension of the concessional tax treatment of genuine redundancy and early retirement scheme payments to those under the age pension qualifying age. The effect of this is to align the pension age with the early retirement scheme payments. This is an important step in enacting the government's commitment to retirees while helping to reduce the burden on future generations. This amendment will benefit Australians under the age pension qualifying age who receive a genuine redundancy payment or early retirement scheme payment. The tax-free component is not being made available to people at the age pension qualifying age or over as there are a number of other government assistance schemes available, such as concessionally taxed superannuation and the age pension.

Whilst the tax-free component is not available for those at the age pension qualifying age or over, the termination payment they receive is concessionally taxed at 15 per cent up to the employment termination payment cap. Payments made in relation to the termination of employment will continue to attract significant tax concessions to ensure that people are able to pay their own way and make the life choices they want to make. This amendment's focus is on providing seamless support to older Australians and retirees to maximise their quality of life whilst ensuring that we don't pay for the present at the expense of future generations.

Another key element of the bill is working to expand the board of the Australian Energy Regulator. The composition of the increased board will include two Commonwealth members and three state or territory members. Providing Australians with affordable and reliable energy remains a priority for this government. The energy security of Australia and Australians and the protection of Australian consumers in the energy market must be a continuing priority. Whilst this is primarily an administrative change, increasing the board's resources and implementing these changes will increase the regulator's efficiency and help to enforce effective competition that puts the customer first.

Further protecting the rights of consumers, schedule 4 of this Treasury laws amendment bill is focused on giving consumers more power over their own data. We live in the century of data. This is the Asian century and the data century. This amendment is focusing on giving consumers more power over their own data. This is enshrined in the consumer data right, which provides individuals and businesses with the right to access data related to them but held by businesses. This may include information related to their raw bank transaction data. The consumer data right also enables the authorisation of accredited third parties to access this data. The right does not allow businesses who hold or receive data to transfer or use this data without the consent of the customer.

The consumer data right drives improved outcomes for the consumer and businesses alike by giving greater access to data on goods and services offered by them. In short, it untangles the complexity which so many businesses have used to confuse and conflate consumers and drive them into products that are not the best possible products for them. By improving this access to their own data, consumers will be able to compare services more effectively and there will be increased competition. Australians will be able to get a better deal and select products and services that are more tailored to their individual circumstances. This is particularly critical in relation to the banks and financial services sector at large. Open banking is about serving the interests of the customer by creating a more effective marketplace through honest product comparison and driving competition into the market.

In a fintech age, the consumer data right, or CDR, may prove critical to supporting data driven innovation and insights. In helping to create and sustain a strong start-up system, we have to begin with providing a legislative framework conducive to protecting the consumer whilst empowering entrepreneurs and industry disrupters. New jobs and economic growth come in the wake of innovation in Australia. As a government, we will continue to work to ensure that they are supported.

Instrumental in the protection of consumer rights over their own data is the requirement of the ACCC to create consumer data rules that include an obligation on accredited data recipients to delete CDR data in response to a request. Practically, this gives consumers the right for their data to be deleted—the right to be forgotten. Part of strong privacy safeguards embedded within the legislation is the encryption of communication, as part of the implementation of wider data standards related to the transfer and securitisation of data. This is coupled with further requirements requiring explicit consumer consent for the collection, use and disclosure of data.

This bill, the bill in front of this parliament now, will also work to ensure that regulators such as the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner are strengthened and given significant resources to ensure that consumers are protected. In cases where data breaches do occur, we are putting in place a framework where adequate remedies and dispute resolution arrangements are in place to help safeguard privacy.

Due to the rapidly changing nature in how data is utilised, the CDR enables the ACCC to make consumer data rules to determine the detail of how the right will apply in different circumstances. This flexibility in rule-making will enable a system tailored to the industry itself. By taking into account different industries, business and existing regulatory frameworks, the ACCC will be able to better make provisions benefitting all stakeholders.

As technological advancement continues to evolve, it is important that our regulatory framework does not lag behind, especially when it relates to the protection of consumers. This similarly assists in addressing different and emerging risks which may occur as technology continues to develop. The rule-making freedom that the ACCC has is constrained within the limitation of matters related to datasets and data portability. In the rapidly changing field related to consumer big data, this will ensure that government remains responsive and engaged.

The fifth schedule of the bill introduces a regulation-making power to allow the Commissioner of Taxation to pay interest on lost, unclaimed or inactive low-balance superannuation amounts that are proactively returned to members' active accounts. This change is long overdue. The objective of this section of the bill is to protect lost, unclaimed, inactive or low-balance accounts from erosion by paying interest while they are held with the ATO. Protecting superannuation from being needlessly depleted is important to take care of future retirees relying on their super. This is important to ensure the integrity of the superannuation system at large and protect consumers from having their superannuation needlessly depleted due to accidental mismanagement.

Protecting the rights of consumers remains fundamental to maintaining the integrity of businesses operating in sensitive spaces, whilst minimising the downside for entrepreneurs trying to innovate. The response to these amendments has been overwhelmingly positive, as reflected in the submissions and consultation that took place. As a government, we are committed to markets powered by innovation and defined by protection of consumers, for it has never been any other way. We stand by retirees seeking to fund their own future and by the next generation, who won't have to foot the bill. We are a government dedicated to supporting small businesses, whether they are operating as primary producers, as tourism operators or as start-ups and innovators. This bill works to continue to implement the government's strong economic agenda, and for this reason I commend it to the House.

11:40 am

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, I'd like to thank those members who have contributed to this debate. This bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (2019 Measures No. 2) Bill 2019, contains measures which will assist older Australians, help farmers and tourism operators, improve the efficiency of the Australian Energy Regulator, ensure that consumer privacy remains central to the Consumer Data Right regime, and protect retirement savings from erosion.

Schedule 1 to the bill amends the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to extend the concessional tax treatment of genuine redundancy and early retirement scheme payments for those under age-pension-qualifying age. These amendments will assist older Australians who receive a genuine redundancy or early retirement scheme payment but are not yet able to receive the age pension. These amendments are a part of the government's commitment to deliver lower taxes and ensure Australians keep more of the money that they earn.

Schedule 2 to the bill helps those farmers and tourism operators who need heavy-duty passenger vehicles to traverse vast distances and rugged terrain. Schedule 2 will provide them with a greater refund of the luxury car tax which has been paid, by now allowing for a full refund and by lifting the refund cap to $10,000. These new arrangements will apply to eligible vehicles acquired on or after 1 July 2019.

Schedule 3 to the bill amends the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 to expand the board of the Australian Energy Regulator from three to five members and ensures the expanded board can operate efficiently. This will ensure that the Australian Energy Regulator is adequately resourced to effectively regulate our energy markets, which will lead to better outcomes for energy market participants and consumers.

Schedule 4 to the bill amends the Consumer Data Right to ensure that consumer privacy remains central to the regime. The introduction of the Consumer Data Right implemented an economy-wide right to data access and use for consumers. It requires that the primary consumer data right regulator, the ACCC, use the rule-making power already afforded to them in the original act to create rules that allow consumers to request that the accredited data recipients delete consumer data relating to them. This is stronger than the specifications in the original act, which provided the ACCC with the power to make these rules but did not compel them to do so. By legislating that the ACCC must include rules relating to the deletion of personal data, we are encouraging longer-lasting confidence in the system and helping to ensure that government-to-government public concerns about privacy remain central as the system expands.

Schedule 5 to the bill enables the Commissioner of Taxation to calculate and pay interest on ATO-held super that the ATO proactively reunites with members' active accounts. This is another step in the government's agenda to ensure that people's hard-earned retirement savings are protected from erosion.

I commend the bill to the House.

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

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Whitlam has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment moved by the member for Whitlam be agreed to.