Wednesday, 24 March 2021
Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 4) Bill 2020; Second Reading
This bill has four schedules. I've spent a bit of time going through the schedules. I also foreshadow that in the course of my second reading reply I will be moving a second reading amendment, and I will go to some of the issues that I will be moving in my second reading amendment.
The bill was referred to a Senate inquiry by the Economics Legislation Committee which reported on 26 November 2020. The Senate inquiry's final report, which was supported by Labor senators, recommend passage of the bill but it did recommend that the bill have some amendments made to it, and I will go to those issues shortly.
Let me deal firstly with schedule 1 of the bill which amends the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to allow refunds of large scale generation shortfall charges to count as non-assessable income, non-exempt income, for income tax purposes. The purpose of this provision, sensible in our submission, is to clarify the operation of the income tax law for some affected power generators who receive refunds with shortfall charges when rectifying failures to meet their obligations under the Renewable Energy Target. It's a measure that makes sense to us and a measure which will enjoy our full support.
Schedule 2 of the bill provides additional transitional measures to support the transition from the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority—the Australian Financial Complaints Authority being the successor body to the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal by virtue of legislation of this place, if it serves my memory correctly, some 2½ years ago. The transition was previously agreed to by the government and by the opposition as a response to the Ramsay review into financial services dispute resolution. The great benefit of the Financial Complaints Authority is it is a non-judicial form of alternative dispute resolution, which enables ordinary citizens, without the cost and the burden of having to engage legal counsel, barristers at 30 paces, the capacity to seek redress for an alleged wrongdoing by one of the business entities—namely banks, insurance companies, finance companies, superannuation funds—if a citizen alleges a wrongdoing or a malady at the hands of one of those organisations. In the past, citizens would have to have taken those complaints, those issues, at great expense to themselves, to a court to seek redress.
Having an alternative dispute resolution process provides affordable justice to members who have such a complaint. It's a no-cost jurisdiction, and for the participants within it, a low-cost jurisdiction, which in my submission fulfils an important role in ensuring justice for victims of financial wrongdoing. There wouldn't be a member in this place who, over the course of the past 12 months, has not had cause to refer a member of their electorate to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority to assist them in having their matters dealt with. It's not always perfect, but it's a lot better than a system that operated in the absence of such alternative dispute resolution procedures.
Schedule 3 of the bill doubles the maximum possible penalties that can be set out in a prescribed industry code under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. This will primarily affect the franchising code. The franchising code is incredibly important. Labor members of parliament have put a lot of time and effort into advocating a better code and improvements in the code. Two years ago we read the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services. They conducted an inquiry into franchising in Australia. The inquiry heard from franchisees across Australia who had suffered from the misconduct of their parent companies.
What we learned from that inquiry and what we learned through many of the complaints that led to that inquiry was that companies such as 7-Eleven, adversely mentioned in many media reports and the subject matter of many of the case studies brought before that inquiry, have profited from the misery of franchisees. Many of the employees of those franchisees were effectively working at below minimum wage rates, while huge profits were flowing back to the parent company. We also learnt that the fault was very often led by the parent company, because they were imposing conditions on the owners of those franchise operations which were only commercial. Those operators were effectively breaking the law by not paying their staff in accordance with the minimum standards operating within those industries or by cutting corners, regulatory and other.
We heard the stories of franchisees like those of the Retail Food Group, owners of the Brumby's chain, Gloria Jean's and Donut King, who suffered under unfair contract terms that gave enormous power to the parent company and shifted huge liabilities to the franchisees. The report went on to make a range of recommendations, including significant increases to penalties under the franchising code—increases that, in our view, matched the significance of the offences that were being conducted and the penalties that were available in other areas of corporate misconduct.
Given the background—given the stories of abuse and exploitation within the franchising sector---it was with great surprise and disappointment that we discovered, when this bill was introduced into the parliament last year, that it barely shifted the dial when it came to increasing those penalties. In effect, it was giving a green light to the egregious behaviour that had been uncovered by that joint parliamentary committee inquiry. Labor made it quite clear to the government that the bill that they brought to the House was not good enough. We flagged it in the other place through the course of the Senate inquiry into this bill. We made it abundantly clear that we would move amendments in this place and in the Senate to ensure that the penalties imposed through amendments to this bill were appropriate to the crimes and the offences that were being conducted. We did not want to see a repeat of the stories in 7-Eleven, Gloria Jean's, the Brumby's group, Donut King and so many other places around the country. The penalty must meet the offence.
Like in so many other instances with this government, they've been dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing. After exploring every other avenue to get out of doing the right thing, they've been dragged kicking and screaming by Labor to ensure that those penalties within schedule 3 of this bill are appropriately adjusted to meet the recommendations of the PJC inquiry. If my memory serves me correctly, Deputy Speaker Georganas, you actually served on the committee which conducted that inquiry, a matter that you would be fully aware of. I'm sure it's of great embarrassment to the government, but of great relief to Labor MPs in this place, that they are finally, after exploring every other alternative, going to do the right thing and sufficiently increase the penalties under this code. When they introduce those amendments to their own bill, they'll enjoy our hearty support. That deals with schedule 3 in the bill.
I turn now to schedule 4 of the bill, which extends the operation of schedule 5 of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Act 2020, but, additionally, includes a mechanism for further extension of the operation of that schedule, enabling the designated minister to determine by legislative instrument a new date of repeal in response to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. I have to pause and say: isn't it interesting that, when the government needs to rush legislation into this place to deal with the adverse impact of the coronavirus pandemic, when they think it's worthy they'll do it? And isn't it interesting how deaf they are to the pleas of so many within the industry who are saying they are still being affected by the coronavirus pandemic? There is no relief in sight, yet the government will do nothing to meet their needs.
I say something about that in my second reading amendment, which I'd like to quote from before formally moving it at the conclusion of my remarks. We won't be declining to give the bill a second reading; however, we'll be asking the House to note that the government:
has failed to deliver sufficient economic support to Australian workers, Australian families, and Australian businesses during the coronavirus pandemic …
has not implemented the full recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services inquiry into the operation and effectiveness of the Franchising Code of Conduct report, particularly in relation to applying adequate penalties to franchisors who act improperly …
has consistently failed to deliver adequate support for jobs and businesses in the renewable energy sector—
a point that we'll be making more forcefully. We've already introduced important policy in this area through Labor's Rewiring the Nation initiative. We'll have a lot more to say about that in the lead-up to the next election.
They have consistently failed to deliver adequate support for jobs and businesses in the renewable energy sector. And didn't we see that again on display this week, when the minister, who bears the title Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, was embarrassed by the publication of an ANAO report which exposed the rorts and the dishonesty in the election commitments to the people of Collinsville in the promise, or the noise around making a promise, to commission a coal-fired power station in their town.
All us who had a fairly detailed understanding of what it would take to commission such a power station—the economics behind it and the enormous burden that that would impose upon taxpayers, the fact that it would increase power prices—knew that this was a chimera, that this was a fraud, that this was a grossly dishonest exercise in an attempt to harvest votes but do nothing for the generation of new power. We knew that it was a fraud from end to end and the ANAO has exposed that and, once again, exposed this hapless Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, as quite possibly the worst minister in a Melbourne Cup field of bad ministers. He was exposed this week over $4 billion to a company that wrote to him and said, 'We cannot conduct this feasibility study. We do not have the skills, the know-how or the inclination to conduct this feasibility study.' But what did the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction do? He said, 'We don't care; we're going to give you the money anyway.' This is the Leppington Triangle circumstance all over again. 'How much is this parcel of land worth?' '$3 million'. 'Fantastic, we'll give you $30 million; what a bargain.' I would love to play poker against these guys any day of the week. If it wasn't so serious, it would be laughable. The government have consistently failed to deliver adequate support for jobs and business in the renewable energy sector and, by action after action, added to uncertainty and added to the increase in power prices in this country.
My second reading amendment will also go to the issue of superannuation. We'll note on this side that the government continues to refuse to commit to implementing the solemn promise that it made to the Australian people before the last election to stick to the superannuation guarantee levy legislation. Its law, it's been legislated, they promised to do it and now they're walking away from that promise. They have been invited time after time after time to do nothing more sensational than confirm the promise and yet they still will not do it. So I will be moving that second reading amendment and I know there will be a lot of speakers on this side of the House who would like to join the debate discussing that issue.
The bill does some things that will enjoy Labor's support but it falls short for the reasons that are outlined in my amendment. We know what lies at the heart of this government, which has been so on display this week. It has lost its way. Is it any wonder that the government hasn't got a plan for the country because it has lost its moral compass; it has lost its way. It is certainly not focused on the issues that are of concern to ordinary Australians. It is certainly not focused on the issues impacting households as they struggle with flat wages, increased costs and no relief in sight. It is not focused on the issues of those businesses along the East Coast of Australia, who have dealt with fire, who have dealt literally with plague. In fact, they have dealt with all the curses of the apocalypse—fire, plague, now flood, pestilence. They have dealt with all of this, and the government's response, in a few short days, will be to pull the rug out from under them, pat themselves on the back and say 'Job done on pandemic. You are no longer in need of the JobKeeper support.'
The government is doing this because it is so focused on itself. It's dealing with the existential crisis at the heart of the coalition parties, both the Liberal and National parties, which goes to their relationship with women—and hasn't that been on display this week? It is their relationship with women within the ranks of their own parliamentary parties and their failure to understand the concerns and issues of Australian women. If you don't understand, the very least you can do is listen. There was a wonderful opportunity for the Prime Minister to walk outside those doors and listen to the concerns of the women of Australia on Monday last week. But, instead, he was hiding under the desk. If you can't listen, if you can't govern yourself, if you've lost your moral compass, if you are so distracted by the unspeakable affairs that have been going on inside your offices and inside your own party rooms, how can you be focused on the issues and concerns facing everyday Australians? The truth of the matter is this: this government is eight years old, it's tired and it has run out of ideas. Isn't that on display this week?
The government failed, right from the very beginning of this pandemic, to grasp the fundamental link between a health policy response and an economic response. From the very beginning of this pandemic, we saw everybody within this government, from the Prime Minister down, hectoring state premiers, state medical officers and state health ministers when they took tough and sometimes unpopular but very effective and very responsible health measures to protect the citizens of their states and thereby the economies of their states from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic. They were tough decisions and not always popular but always necessary. It is because of those decisions that those states and the country as a whole are faring comparatively better than most other countries around the world that didn't take a lot of those tough decisions. But the government never got this. They were always quick to criticise, always there to hand out the brick bats and always there to collect the bouquets, but never there to take responsibility for everything.
Isn't that on display again this week? The government told us that by the end of the week there would be four million Australians vaccinated. Remember that? They said we were at the front of the queue and four million Australians were going to be vaccinated. Yet we discover this week it's not four million. You might give them a pass mark if we hit 98 per cent or maybe even 95 per cent.
Ms Rishworth interjecting—
The member for Kingston, a more generous soul than I am, might say at 80 per cent you still get a pass mark. We're not at 50 per cent. We're not at 40 per cent. We're not even at 30 per cent. Ten per cent of Australians have been vaccinated when it should have been 100 per cent of four million people.
What has this got to do with bills directed at the economy? It has everything to do with it. We said right from the very beginning that you can't get the economic challenges right unless you've got control of the health challenges. We have seen from the bitter lessons learned in other countries right around the world where they didn't take the tough decisions that, if you didn't get the health on track, you couldn't get the economics on track, That is why it is curious to us that the government is able to bring this bill before the House which extends certain coronavirus measures but not others. Why is it when we've only got 10 per cent of the population vaccinated that, in a few days, we're going to remove 100 per cent of the support that has been provided to struggling businesses and their workers.
This matters and it matters a lot. I don't argue, and I have never argued, that JobKeeper should be an ongoing wage subsidy to every business in this country. I don't believe it. I never argued it from the very beginning. In fact, I was one of the very few who said, when JobKeeper was initially implemented, that there needs to be an activity test. That was because I wanted to ensure that, if a small business whose workers were getting JobKeeper—some of whom were getting more than they were pre pandemic—could safely have their workers come in and do meaningful work which was within their skill and classification and capacity and they could perform that work and that was justified and reasonable, then they should be doing it. I did not support a proposition that JobKeeper should be stay-at-home money. I thought that, if we were to stay true to the proposition that JobKeeper was about maintaining the relationship between the employee and the employer, then there needed to be an activity test. So nobody can fit me up with the argument that I said, 'JobKeeper is free money; it's sit-down money forever.' I've never argued that, not from the very beginning, nor do I argue that every business is out of the woods, because, quite simply, they're not.
We've talked about the travel industry, and we've talked about the hotel and hospitality industry. I take a very, very simple approach to this that even members of the coalition would understand. If government says to otherwise viable industries, 'You are not allowed to operate; we are closing you down in the public interest for the public good,' then there is a moral and ethical obligation to then provide some support and assistance to those otherwise viable and good businesses, that you have said, in the public interest, are being shut down. This is exactly what has happened in the travel industry. If you're a travel agent or if you're running a business that almost entirely relies on international tourism, we have said to you: 'There is no market for you. We are closing your business down because it is in the national interest and in the public interest to do so.' How can we say to those businesses, 'At the end of the month we're pulling the rug out from under you, with no support for you and no support for your employees'? It beggars belief.
I would think that, if you went through the ranks of travel agents in this country, you would find more coalition voters than Labor voters. It's just a hunch. Why has the coalition abandoned that group of businesses which have supported them so loyally for so long? The answer to that is quite simple. It is for the same reason that they cannot hear the pleas of Australian women who are saying: 'The culture in this place stinks. The culture in our workplace stinks. We need change and we need leadership from the top.' And the reason that Australian women are saying that, the reason that those travel agents are saying that, and the reason that people within the hospitality industry are saying that is that the government is not listening. It is not listening. It is so distracted with its own internal problems and so distracted with its own internal scandals that it cannot attend to the basic business of running a government and the basic system of providing some justice to the tour operators, to the travel agents and to all of those people to whom this parliament and this government has said, 'You're out of business for the foreseeable future.' There should be a second sentence: 'You're out of business for the foreseeable future, but we're going to look after you.' Instead this government says: 'You're out of business for the foreseeable future and you're on your own. Off you go.' We say that's not good enough, and our second reading amendment, which I now formally move, draws attention to that issue:
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 notes the Government:
(1)has failed to deliver sufficient economic support to Australian workers, Australian families, and Australian businesses during the coronavirus pandemic;
(2)has not implemented the full recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services inquiry into the operation and effectiveness of the Franchising Code of Conduct report, particularly in relation to applying adequate penalties to franchisors who act improperly;
(3)has consistently failed to deliver adequate support for jobs and businesses in the renewable energy sector; and
(4)continues to refuse to commit to implementing its election promise to deliver the legislated increases to superannuation".
The bill, as introduced into this House, was deficient. The government has been shamed into addressing the deficiencies in schedule 3 of the bill by increasing the penalties that are imposed upon head franchisors for the crimes and offences that they perpetrate on small businesses. And that's what it's about, by the way. You might be forgiven for thinking this is just about the employees, but it's not, because there were two lots of victims in those franchising scandals. There were the small business operators and there were the employees of those small business operators, and we want to ensure that the penalties that are imposed fit the offence, and the bill, as we understand it to be amended by the government, will address that issue.
With those very, very brief comments, I commend the bill to the House.
It's always something to follow the member for Whitlam, least because he is the chief champion against homeownership in this country. He has moved an amendment that once again focuses on putting homeownership last and their mates in super funds first. You never hear the member for Kingston or the member for Whitlam complain about the tens of millions of dollars of bonuses that get paid to fund managers, who happen to be their mates—and I wouldn't be shocked if they donated to their campaigns as well. This is the fundamental problem. Labor's economic position is based on their interests and not on the interests of the Australian people.
The Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 4) Bill 2020 makes sensible and practical amendments to address fundamental issues around large-scale generation certificates. It makes sure that responsibility for superannuation complaints goes to AFCA. There are amendments around the Competition and Consumer Act and the industry code for franchising, and the extension of the modification power related to measures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. This debate is on rudimentary legislation to address and manage the economic affairs of this nation, to put laws in place to make sure that consumers who are wronged have pathways for redress and to make sure that we can deploy renewable energy investment across Australia, but Labor want to turn it into not virtue signalling—because that assumes that there is virtue behind their agenda and there is no virtue behind their agenda—but what at best can be called self-interest signalling, with the amendment moved by the member for Whitlam. The member for Whitlam has form. The member for Whitlam will always choose those in big super ahead of aspirational Australians. The hard data is quite unambiguous about this.
Up until 1992, on the entirely logical pathway of life, the biggest financial decision that young Australians made was to buy their own home. It fit in the slipstream of their life. They went to school and may have moved onto a skill, tertiary education or an apprenticeship. They saved for a deposit for a home with money they put away from their wages. They used that money to pay a deposit to buy a home. At that point the average age was 26. They got into the housing market and paid off their mortgage over the next 10, 20 or 30 years, so, even if it was a 30-year mortgage, by the age of 56—still a decade off the retirement age as it is set now—they had paid down their home while concurrently saving for their retirement. That was an entirely logical pathway to manage the challenges of life. Of course, once families had children off their hands, had reduced their costs and paid off their home, they were able to save and contribute more towards securing their financial security in retirement.
What's happened since 1992 is that we've taken that entirely logical process—homes first and super second—and reversed it. We've engaged in a form of economic social engineering to feed the interests of the Labor Party and their friends in big super. Their friends, who are fund managers, get paid bonuses in excess of $13 million. At least some fund managers have boasted of up to $36 million.
We have engaged in a form of economic social engineering to put super over homes, and the dreams and aspirations of young Australians have gone with it, for the perversion of the self-interests of the Labor Party so that they can stand up and scream self-interested virtue or signal their motivations and intentions. We know the consequences of this. The average age of purchasing your first home has blown out. Before I said the average age in 1980 of purchasing your first home was 26, but it was actually 24, and it has blown out now to 36. Young Australians' dreams have been thrown on to the ash heap by the Labor Party.
We do understand why. It's because home ownership is the greatest democratisation of the ownership of this country. It is the greatest empowerment of young Australians in economic terms in this country. Superannuation is the greatest advancement of the concentration of the economic capital in the hands of the few associated with the Labor Party so that they can achieve undemocratic ends, manipulating capital to achieve things they can't achieve in this chamber because the people of Australia don't trust them.
The Labor Party has actively undermined young Australians' dreams and aspirations to own their own homes. While they've done that, of course, the price of housing has gone up. They don't sit on the other side and scoff when big super invests Australian super to purchase homes that big super owns. They have no issue with that, because what they actually want to do is create a nation of Australians who are dependent serves to their own superannuation so long as they maintain control. If not, then the member for Whitlam would pass amendments to this bill to say that big super shouldn't be able to invest in housing.
Opposition members interjecting—
If the member for Whitlam was sincere in saying that he supported young Australians owning their home, he would ban big super, in this amendment, from investing money in housing that they own with the hard-earned retirement savings of young Australians that they plan to rent back to them. But he won't, because we know full well that the playing field is not level.
Retirees are able to use their super to buy their own home or to pay off their mortgage. In fact, 469,000 retirees over the past years have drawn down from their superannuation balance to either pay off their mortgage or renovate their home. Big super is allowed to use your money to invest in housing that they own to rent back to you, but they oppose you using your super to buy your own home. We know why. It's because there is nothing they hate more than the empowerment of Australian families through the economic democratisation of this country. It is the foundation of who we are as a nation. They've found a sneaky, tricky, backdoor campaign on how they can concentrate economic capital in their hands.
Yes, members of the Labor Party will be horrified that somebody is calling this out, but it needs to be called out, because it fundamentally violates and risks our liberal democracy when big capital, big Labor, big government and big commodities are all sitting on the same side of the ledger against the Australian people. Some of us are going to stand up.
Don't get me wrong; before the last election the same members scoffed and sneered at the idea that removing refundable franking credits would hit low-income Australians and push people below the poverty line. They took exactly the same attitude then and we all know what happened: the government was re-elected and it was a critical part of the national discussion. At least to his credit, the Leader of the Opposition came into this chamber after the election and conceded in public that it was going to hit low-income Australians. It was because they don't understand the consequences of the policies they put forward. Now they're making a dishonest claim that it's off the agenda, even though so many members of the Labor Party have said consistently that it's an issue which should stay on the agenda. It's necessary, as far as they're concerned, for the financial sustainability of the country.
That is the Labor Party; so many of them have said it in the past and so many will say it in the future. We know that deep down they have a secret agenda to reintroduce a retiree tax later. We only need to look at their own words and repeat them. The shadow Treasurer has been quite unambiguous about his support for it. One member on the other side of the chamber said, 'You'd have to believe it was a con to think that this issue isn't going to come up again.' I agree with them—they're right. Labor has a secret agenda for a new retiree tax in the future. Every point and every decision—every economic and financial policy decision they make—is based on what will advance the concentration of economic capital into their hands.
That's because, in the end, politics is actually about power, or, more critically, who has the power. The foundation of the mad socialist centralist mindset is to concentrate power in the hands of the few with the idea that their benefice and benevolence understands how better to run a society technocratically than to empower Australians and their families. The foundation of a liberal democracy is to democratise the ownership of the country in economic, social and political terms. It's for people to own their own homes, be enfranchised and, through the ballot box, exercise the democratic direction of their country. It's for rights and freedoms to be respected as part of a free society.
We see a constant effort by those on the other side of the chamber, at the heart of their mad ideology, to shift power from Australians to themselves. They sell it on the lie that somehow it's better for the Australian people. Some of us are here to say, 'Not on our watch,' and I make no apology for that. There are of course people who disagree with that and think that we should continue prioritising super over home ownership, but I'm not one of them and I'll continue to call it out at every step of the way. Like with the retiree tax, those opposite sat in the chamber, smugly waiting for their day to sit on the government benches. The trade-off for their hubris and arrogance was that they went to the election and couldn't see what was standing in front of them: low-income Australians about to be pushed below the poverty line. They learned their lesson when the people of Australia went to the ballot box last year—sorry, it's now a year and half ago.
They learned a lesson, but they've only learned the lesson on that policy and not on their attitude. They have not learned the lesson that hubris and arrogance are the consequences of the policy agenda they proposed. What they're doing by putting super over home ownership is making sure that young Australians' concerns about the economic future of this country are completely disregarded. They're denying young Australians the basic foundations on which to build security during their working lives and their retirement. They're saying to young Australians, 'Give up on the Australian dream because we think we know how to run your lives better than yourselves,' and, more critically, 'If we concentrate the capital of the nation in our hands, and that of our million-dollar fund manager mates, then we'll deliver a better country.' The people of Australia can see through this con, they can see through this lie and they can see through the misinformation that's put out there.
I know Industry Super are now even spending tens of millions of dollars of your super to stop you owning your own home. This is how bad it has got and they feel that they are unaccountable. Now it is up to the regulators who need to rise to the challenge and call out this conduct. Where are you, APRA? Where are you, ACIC? Industry Super Australia is spending tens of millions of dollars on an ad campaign to deny Australians the chance at their own dream. How can they sit by and do nothing? I know that they're before the Senate estimates today and they're going to be before the House economics hearings next week. If they think that they can sit on their hands and not call out this conduct and this misuse of Australian superannuation savings, deliberately designed to undermine young Australians' aspirations and hopes of owning their own homes, they are kidding themselves, just like the Labor Party.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, for calling me and putting us all out of our misery. Does the ego and the hypocrisy know no bounds? To rant across the chamber knowing full well that everything he just said, his own government disagrees with. Will we see the member for Goldstein put his money where his mouth is and move a private members bill to the effect of what he has been speaking? No, I don't think we will. Will we see him cross the floor against his own government? No, I don't think he will. But he did a very good job of promoting his new book, for people who might be interested in purchasing it. I suspect there are not many who want to dive into the diatribe any further by member for Goldstein. That was an embarrassing performance if ever there was one, because anyone with any form of economic literacy who is listening to it would have known straightaway just how error-ridden that contribution was.
To turn to the actual bill at hand that we are discussing in the chamber today, the Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 4) Bill 2020, I wish specifically to address schedule 3, which relates to the Franchising Code of Conduct. This is something particularly close to my heart, not only as the shadow minister assisting small business but also as a member in the last parliament of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, which conducted an inquiry during the last parliament into this code. Unfortunately it has to be said that the government has completely dropped the ball on protecting small businesses and franchisees, refusing to defend the many mum-and-dad franchisees and, in particular, the auto dealers around Australia, from exploitive franchisors and car manufacturers.
Fortunately, this parliament today though can ensure that Australian franchisees receive greater protection from these exploitive franchisors. However, this Morrison government proposal in the bill of only $133,000 maximum fine, otherwise known as a slap on a wrist, for those franchisors breaching the code, quite frankly, is laughable, when we consider what that represents against some of the profits being made by the franchisors in this country, indeed those that are owned overseas. Despite a bipartisan committee report, the report of the inquiry I referred to earlier, emphasising the need for a significant increase in penalties available under the franchising code, the government, until it has announced amendments to this bill, will effectively have done nothing.
Only earlier this month, the Morrison government put out a press release saying that they would increase the available penalties under the franchising code from their woeful increase of $133,000 up to what Labor had been calling for—$10 million. In December last year, the minister delivered a voluntary set of principles, specific for car dealers, which failed to include any significant increase in fines for companies such as General Motors, Mercedes Benz, Honda, which the government knew were destroying decade-long family owned businesses across Australia. Car dealers across Australia described this voluntary set of principles as a 'do-nothing policy' and 'doomed to fail'. At the time, the minister hailed the voluntary based principles in a media release as the 'biggest' for the industry. However, they did not include any fines for car manufacturers. Worse still, the minister lashed out against car dealers who dared to speak out against a half-baked policy.
After numerous reports of disruption within the coalition party room, though, and an in-depth Labor led Senate inquiry into the relationship between car dealers and car manufacturers, it was revealed last month that Minister Andrews, who had previously been responsible for this area of policy, had been sidelined and that her responsibilities for the car industry had been handed over to a separate minister. After the minister's removal, the government was left scrambling when Labor senator Deborah O'Neill moved a private senator's bill in the Senate on this very matter. It passed the Senate with the support of the crossbench, providing for an increase in penalties of up to $10 million so that companies like General Motors that have left General Motors dealers in Australia high and dry, in the way in which they have removed themselves from the Australian market, would face penalties of up to $10 million where they breached the code where it affects car dealers—or, even higher, up to 10 per cent of their annual turnover. Family owned Australian businesses deserve a government that is on their side, not a minister that has lost the faith of their own government to get the job done.
This proposed increase in penalties was a recommendation first proposed by the ACCC to deter bad behaviour exposed by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services inquiry into franchising. The increase in fines was substantially more than that proposed by the Morrison government, until very recently, because for all their rhetoric about being the party of small business they were reluctant to bring forward legislation that would protect small business. The amendment to increase the available penalties up to $10 million received widespread support from the automotive sector, including from wronged franchisees who had been calling for small-business owners to have equitable access to justice, to ensure that the despicable acts currently acceptable in the franchising sector were stamped out.
Labor will always fight to protect small-business owners across Australia. The franchising sector has been a breeding ground for unconscionable behaviour for decades. It's why we held the inquiry in the last parliament, and it's time to even the playing field. Peter Strong, the CEO of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, has said that small-business owners, franchisees, might not know they are even being exploited by their franchisors until it is too late. James Voortman, the CEO of the Australian Automotive Dealer Association, said that the government's proposed $133,200 penalty wouldn't even cop a mention in the annual report of a large multinational car manufacturer, and that that is why they needed a penalty with teeth. The CEO of the Australian Association of Franchisees, Mike Sullivan, agreed, saying that the proposed fines put forward by the Morrison government in this legislation are barely a slap on the wrist. The punishment of up to $10 million will actually have a real impact on these massive scale operations.
This government has so far failed to fix franchising. The regulatory environment it is operating in has manifestly failed to deter systemic poor conduct and an exploitative power imbalance. The Liberal government was set to completely squib many of the important recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry review into franchising. Even the new small-business ombudsman, Bruce Billson, who was the Minister for Small Business in this Liberal government, supports these further increases to the maximum fines of up to $10 million. In a recent press release, he said:
Higher fines for significant breaches of the Franchising Code will act as a big stick that will force the larger players to think twice before acting unfairly towards their franchisees.
That's right; that's absolutely what we've been calling for and trying to do. But the government has completely resisted doing that—until now, saying they will move amendments to their own legislation.
It is about time that this government stood up for mum-and-dad franchisees, small-business owners who have been done over for far too long. The government has been shamed into now moving amendments to its own insufficient bill. This is a desperate move by the Morrison government to claw back some respect from the automotive retail industry. But the industry now know that only Labor is on their side. Only Labor is on the side of franchisees and the many thousands of Australians that they employ.
We were having this debate in the Federation Chamber about whether deputy speakers are acting deputy speakers or deputy speakers, but you definitely look like more than a deputy speaker, Madam Deputy Speaker! It's very good to be here in the chamber as you president over it.
Madam Deputy Speaker, the fact of the matter remains that the Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 4) Bill 2020 is clearly a sensible piece of legislation that is about reforming exactly the sorts of things that we need to reform. This is the sort of stuff that the parliament does day in and day out to ensure that we are delivering the sorts of services and creating the types of markets and providing the very incentives that we need so that ordinary Australians can get on with their lives. We are deep in the weeds on these ones.
I heard the member for Burt's contribution to this debate. It was excellent, as always. However, it may have slightly been gilding the lily. I know the member for Burt has never been accused of gilding the lily previously to this; however, it really pains me to say that franchisees in this country know that this government has their back. Small businesses in this country know that this government has their back. We know the very engine room of economic growth, employment, competition, innovation and consumer choice lie with small businesses. We know that they're the ones that day in and day out get up, have their houses on the line, employ people. They're not just the ones at risk; their family and all their funds are at risk. They're the ones who have taken a punt on making this country a better place because they believe in the promise of Australia. And that's what this legislation goes to.
This legislation goes to the fact that we are about trying to create a fairer and more equitable society, a just society, in this country by giving people more hope, more opportunity and more choice. I know that a lot of these things are deep in the weeds, but they're important. So when schedule 1 of this bill, which talks about removing the tax on refunds of large-scale generation certificate shortfall charges, it is a great way to solve the problems of insomnia that are prevalent in so many suburbs and regions of this country! However, it is important. It's important because these are the places where this parliament creates the framework that allows people to make the sorts of choices that make this nation a better place.
As has always been the case, the Renewable Energy Target scheme, energy retailers and other liable entities are still required to surrender large-scale generation or pay a shortfall charge. This makes perfect sense. Should businesses later surrender outstanding certificates within the allowable time frame, they receive a refund of that shortfall change. Once again, this makes perfect sense. This was always intended to provide the flexibility to help these businesses manage the cost of complying with the scheme. So this is what schedule 1 continues to deal with. This schedule provides certainty that energy businesses will not be taxed on the amount of shortfall changes that are being refunded. This ensures that no anomalous situation occurs as a tax deduction is not allowed for the payment of shortfall charges. This will clarify the operation of the tax treatment and ensure the market for large-scale generation certificates works as intended: meeting targets for clean energy while minimising costs for consumers.
The question that I have for those opposite is: Why are you opposed to this? Why has the member for Whitlam, Stephen Jones, moved amendments to this bill? If you are in favour of reducing emissions, if you are in favour of creating investment certainty so businesses can come into this market to reduce emissions, why wouldn't you support this? Why is the member for Whitlam once again putting the interests of producers ahead of those of ordinary hardworking Australians?
The schedule makes it clear that there are no changes to the Renewable Energy Targets. There are no decreases in penalties for noncompliance. This measure will apply to refunds of large-scale generation certificate shortfall charges paid since 1 January 2019. It's estimated to cost $70 million over the forward budget. I quote the Assistant Treasurer from when he introduced this bill:
Schedule 1 to the bill will amend the income tax law to ensure that no tax is payable on refunds of large-scale generation certificate shortfall charges.
This measure will apply to refunds paid since 1 January 2019.
Under the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000, energy retailers and other liable entities must surrender large-scale generation certificates or pay a shortfall charge. This shortfall charge can be refunded where the outstanding certificates are surrendered within the allowable refund period.
This measure will therefore clarify the operation of the income tax law for energy providers and will ensure that the market for large-scale generation certificates works as intended, meeting targets for clean energy while minimising costs for consumers.
Is this not yet another example of this government demonstrating that its interests lie with the interests of hardworking ordinary Australians and the environment?
Schedule 2 talks about the transitional provisions relating to the repeal of the Superannuation (Resolution of Complaints) Act 1993. In 2017 this government, the government of the Australian people, agreed to the recommendation of the Ramsay review to establish the Australian Financial Complaints Authority to replace the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal. That tribunal was closed on 31 December 2020. These amendments ensure that the closure of the SCT is smooth, that administrative arrangements are in place to allow ASIC to undertake ongoing management of SCT records and that any outstanding cases are appropriately passed on to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority. The SCT will work to resolve all open complaints by 31 December. However, there may be a small number that cannot be resolved before then due to reasons outside the tribunal's control, including the impact of the coronavirus on business continuity. These cases will now be transferred to AFCA for resolution.
Why is the member for Whitlam moving amendments to schedule 2? Why does he not want to protect the interests of Australian consumers? Is it because there is no greater spruiker for industry super in this place than the member for Whitlam? Why is he always looking after the interests of industry super and not the interests of its members? The complaints will not be adversely affected, as AFCA is now the primary external dispute resolution body responsible for handling superannuation related complaints and is appropriately resourced to resolve outstanding tribunal complaints. The AFCA Act will also be amended to allow for the transfer of the tribunal's records and documents to ASIC for ongoing records management and will also allow the Federal Court to remit appealed cases back to AFCA where previously these had been remitted back to the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal.
Schedule 2 to the bill will also introduce a rule-making power to the AFCA Act to allow the minister to prescribe matters of a transitional nature that may be required to facilitate the closure of the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal. There is no financial impact associated with this measure. Yet the member for Whitlam puts the interests of industry super ahead of that of ordinary Australians, ahead of their members. Deputy Speaker, I know that you are equally concerned about this matter. We are, at the moment, witnessing industry super spending hundreds of millions of dollars of members' money on themselves in threatening the elected government of this country that, if we do not do what they tell us to do, they will cry havoc and unleash the dogs of an advertising war.
And whose money are they spending? Are they spending their own? Are they spending that of their trustees? Are they spending that of the union movement to whom they send hundreds of millions of dollars a year? No. They are spending the money of ordinary Australians. And who is standing up for ordinary Australians? This side of the House. What are those on the other side of the House doing? What is the member for Whitlam doing? The member for Whitlam is trying to neuter this proposal so that ordinary Australians have no redress for the complaints and problems created by the superannuation sector, a sector I might add that Australians have no choice as to whether they make contributions to. This parliament determined that they must contribute to it, and then it took away their choice in so many instruments. The Labor appointed head of the Fair Work Commission can preside over determining where hardworking Australians get to put their money, hundreds of billions of dollars, without choice and without discretion. This is appalling. It's appalling that the member for Whitlam would not come into this place and give full-throated support to such a measure to protect the rights and the interests of ordinary Australians. What's happened to the modern Labor Party, where they don't care about working Australians, where they only care about the interests of industry super and not those of ordinary Australians, who we have forced to make contributions and often give them no choice as to what fund they make those contributions to?
I say that this is a very sad day. I would hope that the member for Whitlam would reflect upon what he has done and would come back into this place and withdraw his amendment to this bill so that ordinary Australians do have some right to make complaints and to seek redress when their money, as we speak in this place today, is being misspent by industry super on industry super. Let this House make it clear that superannuation exists for the people. It's provided by the people and should be of the people, not as it stands at the moment, where it is superannuation for the millionaire fund managers—for them, by them and of them. No. That is not what this parliament created when it created the retirement income system. I note that there is no-one on the other side that is willing to make those arguments.
In the short time that I have left, I would also point to schedule 3 of the bill, which is the industry code panel under part 4B of the Competition and Consumer Act and changes that we are making there, which the member for Burt referred to. The member for Burt recognised that these changes are indeed brilliant, and I accept his congratulations of the government. I can add no more to it than that, because the member for Burt is far more eloquent than I, having been trained as a lawyer and indeed whose genius is often on display in this place.
Schedule 4, which is extension of the modification power, is another important schedule. I will just briefly speak to this because I am running out of time. This measure will extend the power which allows responsible ministers to change arrangements for complying with information and documentary requirements under Commonwealth legislation in response to challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The extension of this power addresses continuing difficulties experienced by individuals, businesses and government agencies in complying with information and documentary requirements, including requirements to witness and sign documents. All determinations made under this power will cease to have effect when the schedule ceases to have effect. These are important changes to our law. It's important that this House deal with them. As Steve Crawford of Col Crawford motors and Bill Buckle of Bill Buckle motors have told me, these matters are critical for them in them supplying goods and services to the people of the Northern Beaches.
Labor supports the principles of the Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 4) Bill 2020. Schedule 1 clarifies the operation of the income tax law in relation to the renewable energy target, ensuring that generators are not taxed when they later rectify a failure to meet a target in a given year. Schedule 2 allows for the smooth transition of disputes from the existing Superannuation Complaints Tribunal to the new Australian Financial Complaints Authority. Schedule 3 allows for increased penalties to be applied to breaches of industry codes prescribed by the Competition and Consumer Act. Increasing penalties for breaches of the franchising code was expressly recommended by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services.
Labor supports franchisees being protected by industry codes as recommended. But we don't consider that the scale of the penalties set out in the schedule aligns with the findings of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services. To that effect, we will move amendments to the bill to increase the maximum allowable penalties for corporations that breach the franchising code and other industry codes prescribed by the ACCC. Schedule 4 allows for the extension of certain arrangements for meetings and documents which were put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We've seen 17 inquiries into the franchising sector in Australia over the past 30 years. The problems in the sector are well known. Yet this government has failed to take action to help protect small businesses from large corporations. In the most recent parliamentary inquiry, the franchising sector was described as having 'manifestly failed to deter systemic poor conduct and exploitative behaviour' and having 'entrenched the power imbalance'.
We saw the despicable treatment of Holden car dealers across our nation when General Motors decided that they were exiting the Australian market. We all know why General Motors exited the Australian market. It was because there was no plan by the Morrison government to support an automotive industry in this country. They abandoned automotive industries—car making in Australia. As a result, in a situation where those larger international auto makers walked out of this country, those people—many of them mum-and-dad small businesses where people had mortgaged their homes to take out loans for their businesses to become franchises of Holden—were left in the lurch.
And there was no requirement for General Motors to negotiate with those Holden dealers. I remember sitting in meetings down here in Canberra with those dealers, who had come to tell us how poorly they'd been treated by the General Motors head office in the United States. General Motors left their Holden franchisees with a paltry offer of $2½ thousand per car and expected dealers to change their business models completely. There was no negotiation. This government didn't make sure there was negotiation, because they'd ignored the previous recommendations of all of those inquiries about franchising in this country. Once again we see that what the Morrison government says about supporting small businesses and what they actually do are worlds apart.
There are some really good franchisees out there, but there are too many like GM that are big, powerful players who put in place terrible contracts with unconscionable terms. The Morrison government has done nothing over the past three terms. That's eight long years, while hundreds of families have gone to the wall on their watch. Only the Morrison government would allow big companies to profit and dominate in an unconscionable manner, with unfair contracts, in this franchise space. Be it in 7-Eleven or one of the many other businesses throughout the country, we've seen small businesses treated appallingly by big multinationals because the protections weren't in place for collective bargaining and for a fairer deal for franchisees.
When in comes to the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession that ensued, many big companies have been able to profit from the government's JobKeeper scheme and pay bonuses whilst cutting off vital support for small businesses and workers who actually need it to survive. We all know that the JobKeeper cuts will mean more uncertainty and anxiety for Australian small businesses already doing it tough.
I want to mention one area in particular where franchisees are quite common, and a business area where businesses are going to struggle dramatically when JobKeeper ends, and that is the Australian travel agents and tourism business sector. The COVID-19 Consumer Travel Support Program that was put in place by the government completely misses the mark and perfectly highlights this government's inability to consult with small businesses and their operators about the support that's needed to make sure that they get through this COVID pandemic. Because of the way those businesses operate, many of them keep trust accounts with funds in those on behalf of the clients that they are managing, there's a discrepancy with the notion of turnover. Many of those businesses have failed to meet the requirements for eligibility for the consumer travel support scheme. So with JobKeeper ending at the end of this month many of those businesses are unable to trade as they would have pre COVID, because of government regulation that closes our borders and prohibits international arrivals and all of the associated travel that goes with that.
These businesses in the travel agents industry and the tourism industry are being left in the lurch by this government. One of those operators said to me recently, 'What's the point in almost getting us through this recession and the difficulties associated with COVID-19? What's the point in getting us three-quarters of the way through only to allow us to fail at the final hurdle?' Their view is that once JobKeeper ends this month because their revenues can't be restored due to government regulation those businesses will end as well. Most of them are small businesses. The employment of many of those employees that work for them will end as well. That is the outcome that this Morrison government is going to deliver to many of those operators in the travel agents and travel business sector. It's simply not good enough. These businesses, these small business operators, deserve the support of this government to help them get through this pandemic.
That is why Labor is calling on the government to look at targeted support, particularly for the travel industry, in the form of some form of JobKeeper or wage subsidy, to allow those businesses to continue to get through, hopefully only until the end of this year, so that they can maintain their businesses and keep people employed. That is the moral and the just thing for this government to do for those businesses in the travel agents and tourism industry.
Of course, we know that not all sectors and industries have shared in the recovery. The great disappointment about the government's JobKeeper scheme is that there are many large Australian corporations that have profited from JobKeeper. They didn't need to. I'm speaking of businesses like Harvey Norman and Premier Investments which have turned profits. I don't know how they qualified for JobKeeper when they turned a profit, given that the eligibility criteria was that you had to demonstrate a downturn in your revenue of 30 per cent. Nonetheless, Harvey Norman had half yearly profit of half a billion dollars. What do they do with it? Well, they return it to shareholders as a dividend, subsidised by the $22 million that they pocketed from the Australian taxpayer. Yet this government is going to allow travel and tourism operators to go to the wall. A big business like Harvey Norman or Premier Investments is going to be able to pocket that JobKeeper that they didn't need without having to return it to the Australian taxpayer. That stinks, that is wrong and that is not a government that supports small business at all.
That is why Labor is calling on this government to look at extending that payment. They should be making those bigger companies that have profited from JobKeeper return those taxpayer funds that they didn't need. But even if they don't do that, they should still be looking at providing support for small businesses who, by virtue of government regulation, can't trade properly in this COVID environment, particularly in the travel agents and tourism sector, to ensure that they can get through this pandemic, and that is what Labor is calling on the government to do.
I am very pleased to rise in the chamber to support the substantive Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 4) Bill 2020 today. Unfortunately, the Labor Party's attitude to this bill speaks volumes about why they have become so disconnected from Australians and particularly from Australian business.
This bill should be a no-brainer. It's a very simple package of amendments that we are making to provide certainty and to make important changes to provide more security for small businesses and medium businesses. Why? So that these businesses can create jobs. At the end of the day, we want to create more jobs coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. We want to create more job opportunities for Australians, and who is going to do that? Not government, but the private sector. Properly supported and with enough certainty, the private sector can make the investments in their people which they need to. That's part of what this bill provides.
By standing and speaking against it, Labor MP after Labor MP has shown that they don't get what it takes to make an investment as a small or medium business to employ somebody. They don't get what it takes to provide the certainty from government to allow small and medium businesses to invest. I'm very proud that the changes provided in this substantive bill today will help to do just that. That's because, regardless of the pandemic and especially in the case of what we've been through with the COVID-19 recession, a good government, like the Morrison government is, will always be looking for ways to streamline processes and to improve them to achieve better outcomes for Australians and Australian businesses, to help to provide them with that certainty. No change is too small, in my mind. Everything that we can do to make the lives of small and medium businesses better potentially means an extra job and an opportunity for an Australian family.
The measures outlined in this bill help provide some of that certainty to a number of industries and bodies as we move forward. I just want to take this opportunity to support those directly in the House. The most important part of the bill amends the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to make refunds of large-scale generation shortfall changes nonassessable and non-exempt income. To give some context of what we're talking about to the House: one large-scale generation certificate is equal to about one megawatt-hour of eligible renewable electricity. As has always been the case with the Renewable Energy Target scheme, energy retailers and other liable entities are required to surrender large-scale generation certificates or pay a shortfall charge. If the business later surrenders outstanding certificates within the allowable time frame, the business will receive a refund of that shortfall charge. This bill will now provide the certainty to energy retailers that they need, that they will not be charged for the amount of the shortfall that will be refunded. Again, that certainty in the energy market is exactly the type of change that we're looking to make, and it's important. Importantly, we have gone about this in consultation with industry. This amendment supports a submission received from the Australian Energy Council. Again, for those Labor members opposite, that's what good governments do: they consult with industry, they take a considered view and then they act and see those changes shepherded through this House.
I'm a very passionate spokesman when it comes to renewable energy in this place, particularly for my electorate of Ryan. I'm very proud to stand here as a member of the Morrison government who is committed to meeting our targets—targets that we have already met in relation to Kyoto and that we are on track to meet and beat for our Paris targets. Only yesterday, I was speaking about the importance of how we get there as much as when we get there. The importance of how we get there makes a difference to these industries. It provides certainty and it makes a difference to people's lives—whether their jobs are going to be there. Our approach has, and will continue to be, about technology not taxes. I know that's one that the Labor MPs turn their noses up at, because they like the more ideological approach of targets without properly explaining to the Australian people how they're going to achieve those targets. The concept and importance of achieving those targets, as this government is doing through technology not taxes, I think has really brought it home to me in the work that we are doing right here in the Ryan electorate, which I have the pleasure of representing. For example, the CSIRO in Pullenvale is doing some extraordinary work that I've had the pleasure of seeing. They're developing hydrogen as a renewable energy source. They're doing the work not just on stabilising hydrogen as a clean energy source but also on stabilising it to be exported. Here is an opportunity for us not just to meet our own targets but to export clean energy to the world to help them meet their targets.
We've spoken before in this place about how, with our percentage of global emissions, we alone are not going to be able to achieve the real action on climate change that we want and are ambitious to achieve in the world, but we can be proactive partners with the rest of the world and some of the world's largest emitters, in terms of reducing their emissions, by leveraging our significant know-how when it comes to technology and our significant research capability, like what is being undertaken in the Ryan electorate. In this case, I am very optimistic of the confidence that those who are undertaking this research are showing that, in the not too future, we will be able to undertake significant exportation of clean energy hydrogen to not only meet our own targets but also help others around the world to meet theirs. I have digressed, so I will bring myself back, but I am very passionate about that work that we are doing and that some of the smartest minds in the Ryan electorate are doing to shape our future.
Another part of this bill that I'd like to draw to the House's attention is the amendment to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. It speaks to what we are doing to bring fairness to our franchising sector. Like the previous Liberal speaker on this bill, the member for Mackellar, I too have heard from the motor dealers in my electorate who have spoken about the problems that they have had as franchisees in dealing with large multinational companies based overseas and the difficulties that they have with very restrictive contracting and with large costs that are imposed on them. This has been something that I, and the member for Mackellar, the member for Longman and other backbenchers in the government, have been speaking about repeatedly—about the need to provide more fairness to those motor dealers and to franchisees in particular.
I really want to commend the work Minister Sukkar and Minister Cash have done on the franchising sector to make it more fair, more effective and more accountable, particularly to address some of the power imbalances that we have seen present in it. Not every franchise business will succeed, and we know that, but, where people take risks to take on a franchise—they give it a go and they put in their sweat, tears and significant funds to achieve it—we don't want to see them weighed down by unfair franchise practices. Those franchisees make an incredible contribution to the Australian economy and, importantly, to supporting jobs right across Australia. They are mum-and-dad businesses. They employ locally, as do a lot of the car dealerships that I've spoken to. They employ local people, give local people an opportunity and are willing to invest more, if given the opportunity, to employ more Australians. As the Prime Minister has often said, we on this side of the chamber unashamedly will stand in support of Australian businesses. With these amendments, we back Australian franchise businesses by finding the right balance between the franchisees and the franchisors to ensure continued development and success of the sector.
We're committed to a number of amendments in the franchising code. This is in response to the Fairness in franchising parliamentary report. A particular amendment contained in this bill will increase the maximum penalty amount for breaches of provisions across the industry codes, because, as well as reducing red tape, we really want to make it clear that doing the wrong thing is not acceptable by these small businesses and these mum-and-dad businesses in Australia and that the penalties for those who choose to do the wrong thing will be significant. They'll be so significant that they won't be able to be dismissed as the cost of doing business for these multinationals, particularly these overseas multinationals. They will be significant and they will impact the bottom lines of these franchisors if they do the wrong thing by the mum-and-dad franchisees. If they wilfully breach the franchising code, the penalty will not be small. It will be felt. It will be a strong deterrent.
During the COVID pandemic the Morrison government has acted quickly and decisively to respond to a situation that is rapidly changing. I think Australians, particularly Australian businesses in my electorate of Ryan, now recognise that Australia and Australians have done an extraordinary job in responding to the COVID pandemic and the COVID-19 recession. We are the envy of the world, and quite rightly so. The fact that we've been able to take our time to get the vaccine rollout right is testament to the fact that we have been able to keep the number of cases of COVID-19 down and have been able to keep businesses open as a result. Because we've been able to keep businesses open as a result we've been able to see the economy bounce back to the point where there are now more jobs than there were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Just like this bill, that is great news for Australian businesses.
I think Australian businesses are pleased that the Morrison government, having facilitated that economic recovery and having facilitated that outstanding response of all Australians to the COVID-19 pandemic, is now turning its mind to these kinds of important changes. As I said at the beginning, these important changes are giving businesses certainty and confidence to invest in their businesses, to create more jobs and to create more opportunities for Australian families so that they in turn can create opportunities for their kids. That is why it has been so important to act swiftly and put in place vital support measures for COVID-19. It's so important that this bill now pass the chamber so that we can continue to support small businesses. I know that small- and medium-sized businesses in the Ryan electorate know that the Morrison government is always there to support them. It has their backs now during COVID and going forward.
I rise today to speak to the Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 4) Bill 2020 and in particular I rise to speak in favour of the second reading amendment moved by the member for Whitlam. This bill contains four schedules. In saying that, this is a bill that is far less substantive than one might think for a bill with four schedules. As is so often the case with bills brought to this place by this government, it is less than the sum of its parts. More importantly, this bill is far less than what is needed, given the predicament this nation faces.
We can look at each of the schedules in this bill and find minor measures, most of which are fairly unobjectionable, particularly after the government very belatedly included amendments in relation to franchise measures. What is most galling about this bill is not that it's one in a succession of bills that contain almost no content but that it does so at a time when this nation is at a fork in the road and needs so much more. We are at a point in time when so much of this nation is being flooded and is facing natural disaster risks. We are at a point in time when the vaccine rollout is occurring far slower than this nation needs. What we see in this bill is a complete lack of economic vision. This government should be bringing so much to this chamber, but instead it is withdrawing so much support.
I will deal with schedule 4 of this bill first because to me it is the most egregious part of the bill, mostly because it reflects what this government is not doing. Schedule 4 of this bill extends the operation of schedule 5 of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Act 2020. Schedule 5 of that bill provides for temporary mechanisms for responsible ministers to change arrangements for meeting information and documentary requirements under Commonwealth legislation, including requirements to give information and produce witnessed and signed documents. That's all fine. The hundreds of thousands of workers out in the community who are unemployed and the additional hundreds of thousands of workers out in the community who are at risk of losing their jobs will be saying, 'That doesn't really seem like enough at this point in time.' We're now going to be discussing in this bill schedule 5 of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Act 2020, but what we're not going to be talking about—because this government isn't offering it—is anything substantive to provide support to those hundreds of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs already or are at risk of losing their jobs because support is being pulled.
I want to go back to the single biggest measure that this government has introduced. It was something we supported. They brought it in after some weeks of us calling for it. It was JobKeeper. I will talk about a couple of aspects of JobKeeper which we would have liked to have seen done differently, but I want to talk about the rationale for JobKeeper. The reason I want to talk about that is the rationale for JobKeeper hasn't disappeared. Indeed, over recent weeks the rationale for JobKeeper in many areas of Australia has strengthened. We are pulling out JobKeeper holus-bolus at exactly the worst time.
What are some of the key rationales for JobKeeper? This is not an exhaustive list, by the way. One is—and this is something that the member for Whitlam spoke about at some length during his contribution—that there is a moral obligation on the government of the day to assist businesses and the employees of those businesses where the government, through legislation or regulation or edict, shuts those businesses down or shuts an industry down. Everybody in this chamber agrees that many industries did need to shut down for a period of time during the start of the pandemic. The point is, because it was a recession brought on by the government shutting those industries down, there was a moral obligation for the government to help the businesses and the individuals in those industries. I think that that rationale for JobKeeper would be agreed on by people across this chamber.
The second rationale for JobKeeper and for wage subsidies in general is that it is important to keep a connection between employers and employees, particularly where businesses are likely to be sustainable in the long-term. Because of the significant search costs, the significant cost to individuals and businesses of losing that connection, it made perfect sense to maintain that connection where it was highly likely that a business would survive the pandemic. Many of the costs of having an unnecessary separation of a worker and a business would be irrevocable; those would never be connected again. So it was absolutely critical that we kept workers and businesses together where it was clear that businesses were only under financial stress because of the necessary regulatory impositions in response to coronavirus, and that businesses would be able to get back on their feet once those impositions had been lifted.
Another rationale for JobKeeper and for the wage subsidies contained within that program was need. Many individuals, many households and many regions had lost incomes for considerable periods of time. So another rationale for that program was to provide people with support during a time of need.
Finally, a key rationale for JobSeeker was macroeconomic stability and supporting aggregate demand. Here, it's critical to acknowledge that one of the key reasons we needed JobKeeper, and we still need JobKeeper in many areas, is it's the spending power of people receiving JobKeeper that supports so many other businesses. So it's not just the people who lose JobKeeper that are going to suffer when those supports are pulled out; it's all of the other businesses and individuals that those people spend money with. It's that interdependence within the economy that is a key rationale for JobKeeper.
Those four rationales are important to spell out, because, as I'm going to outline in a moment, those four rationales still exist in this economy and, indeed, have arguably become more urgent over the last month. As I said, we supported JobKeeper. We called for JobKeeper for some period before this government implemented it. We thought that some aspects of JobKeeper weren't implemented as well as they could have been—for example, the fact that a number of businesses, a number of extremely wealthy people, have lined their pockets unnecessarily through the payments that were made. That's a debate which is still going on in our community. We felt that the scheme should have been better designed. In fact, if it had been better designed with that issue in mind there would be more money now for people who are truly in need.
Secondly we felt that a number of businesses were excluded. I can point to dnata and a number of other businesses as cases in point. I have spoken about dnata a number of times in this chamber. Many, many employees in my electorate and, of course, right across Australia suffered greatly because they were, in my belief, arbitrarily excluded from the JobKeeper scheme. Then, of course, there were a number of other scope issues which, I think, were material and arbitrary. For example, casual workers were excluded if they had 12 months or less of continuous service. There were many instances where people had longstanding connections to an industry or discontinuous but longstanding connections to a business. Many of these people had dependants. The scheme wasn't well designed for those instances.
I want to return to the situation we find ourselves in now and the fork in the road we are now facing. Is now—31 March—the point in time when we should just be taking this scheme away entirely? The answer is clearly no because the rationales that I outlined before remain. In fact, there are a number of ways in which our economy and our society have become even more vulnerable over the last month. The floods are damaging the economy and, more than anything, societies—communities, individuals, households, property and livelihoods—and they are putting people at risk. Those floods make it even more difficult for many communities to deal with a sudden withdrawal of income support. The vaccine, as we know, is being rolled out slower than expected. I won't go into all of the reasons why that might be the case. That's a separate issue. But the reality is that that is what is happening. We're at 10 per cent of the government's target, and we know that the health outcomes are intimately intertwined with the economic outcomes. We cannot get the economy back on a full footing until we have our health outcomes on a proper footing. So we know that we should not withdraw the economic supports until we are more confident about the vaccine rollout and about getting the health outcomes onto a firmer footing.
We also know that, while the recovery in aggregate terms has been stronger than expected, it is still very patchy. It is patchy in terms of geography; it is patchy in terms of sector. That ought to make us a bit more careful about withdrawing this significant support package in its entirety. I want to look at a couple of examples, which have been raised by a number of others in this chamber, both in this debate and also over recent weeks. One is travel agents. It's a very good example of where those initial rationales still exist. The first rationale was that, where the government has—through necessary regulation, but through regulation—shut down the operation of a sector, there is a moral obligation on the government to provide some kind of support. For travel agents, particularly those relying on income from international tourism, that is still the case. The borders are closed, so that rationale still exists. The second argument, which is that we should be keeping a connection, where possible, between employers and employees where a business is sustainable, still exists. International tourism will, at some point, return. These travel agents are sustainable businesses. We ought to be putting in place arrangements which allow for sustainable businesses to maintain themselves until regulations are lifted. And the need for the JobKeeper program, which was the third rationale that I talked about before, still exists. It certainly still exists in the case of travel agents. One can look at a number of other sectors, such as international aviation and related businesses, and, in terms of those first three rationales, the boxes are all ticked.
I want to look at the fourth rationale, in terms of the overall economy. There are, clearly, individual sectors where not enough is being done by this government and where the original rationales for JobKeeper are still there. What about the overall economy? Macroeconomic considerations were central to JobKeeper. It was meant to be a support for aggregate demand during a very difficult time for the economy. What has happened to aggregate demand over recent weeks and months? We have a massive natural disaster right up and down the east coast. We have many communities that have been shut down and are fighting to survive. We have incredible uncertainty over the vaccine rollout, and, as I outlined earlier, this is absolutely central to the economic recovery. As many, many prominent economists here and overseas have said, the two are absolutely intertwined; one cannot have a full economic recovery until one has a full health recovery. So the macroeconomic considerations have actually worsened, and the need for aggregate demand support is, if anything, more urgent. Now, because of some announcement made many months ago under entirely different circumstances, the government is proceeding with this plan nonetheless.
An additional consideration I think is worth mentioning is the sheer uncertainty around the current circumstances. It is true to say that the recovery that we have seen in the labour market over recent months has been stronger than just about all forecasters had predicted, whether they be public sector forecasters in government agencies, whether they be private forecasters or whether they be academics. The whole point is that forecasting the macro economy in circumstances such as this is extremely difficult. What that says is that it is just as possible that the forecasts which are currently saying that we can get through withdrawal of JobKeeper could be wrong also. The point is, with worsening macroeconomic conditions, we should erring on the side of caution. When the livelihoods of so many communities, when the livelihoods of so many sectors, when the livelihoods of so many individuals and households are at stake, we should be a bit more humble and accept the fact that our forecasts might be wrong, the other way this time. Were that to be the case, were our forecasts in relation to GDP, were our forecasts in relation to commodity prices, were our forecasts in relation to the labour market wrong—the other side—and we pulled the entire JobKeeper scheme out as a whole, it would be an absolute disaster for many of our most vulnerable individuals.
We can use that set of arguments around the need for aggregate demand at the regional level because they apply there also. We are going to be pulling support out for many vulnerable people in communities like Cairns, when so many other small businesses are relying on individuals who currently have that support. So what is that going to do to communities like Cairns? We simply can't be so bold, we simply can't be so foolhardy, as to rely upon one set of forecasts when they could be wrong and when so many people could be adversely affected.
This is a bill with four schedules. As earlier speakers have said, we on this side don't have an objection to most of them. But the egregious thing is this government is bringing such a trivial set of schedules to this place when so much more is needed at a time of so much dire need in our community.
I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 4) Bill 2020. Whilst it might not sound like the most glamorous bill to come before our parliament, it's an important one comprised of a number of streamlining and integrity measures. Schedule 1 of the bill will amend the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to make refunds on large-scale generation shortfall charges non-assessable, non-exempt, for income tax purposes. Why is this important? Well, it will provide certainty that no tax is payable when energy retailers and other liable entities receive a refund of the large-scale generation certificate shortfall charge. This will enable the market for large-scale generation certificates to work as intended, meeting targets for energy while minimising cost impacts ensuring affordable electricity for consumers.
Now, more than ever, affordable energy is crucial as we look to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19. This government has always been focused on ensuring energy is affordable and reliable for households and businesses whilst at the same time honouring our commitments to reduce emissions. Importantly, I note there are no changes to renewable energy targets, no decrease in penalties for noncompliance. It will simply provide certainty for taxpayers so that they are not inadvertently disadvantaged when they receive a refund of shortfall charges.
Schedule 2 of the bill addresses the transitional provisions relating to the repeal of the Superannuation (Resolution of Complaints) Act 1993. These amendments will ensure that the closure of Superannuation Complaints Tribunal is smooth, that administrative arrangements are in place to allow ASIC to undertake ongoing management of Superannuation Complaints Tribunal records and that any outstanding cases are appropriately passed on to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.
It was in 2017 that the government agreed to the recommendations of the Ramsay review to establish the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, AFCA, to replace the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal. The review's recommendation was that there be a single external dispute resolution body for all financial disputes—that is, AFCA. AFCA are there to assist consumers and small businesses with fair, free and independent dispute resolution for financial complaints. They are impartial and independent, and I have encouraged my constituents to reach out to them when they have been unable to resolve complaints directly with their financial services provider.
Turning now to schedule 3 of this bill, which considers industry code penalties under part IVB of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, the government will establish a more effective enforcement regime to encourage greater compliance of the franchise code by amending the Competition and Consumer Act of 2010 to increase the maximum civil pecuniary penalty available for a breach of an industry code from 300 to 600 penalties points and increasing the civil pecuniary penalties for breaches of the franchising code accordingly. I note that it is in response to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services report FairnessIn Franchising that the government has committed to increasing civil penalties available for breaches of the Franchising Code of Conduct. It is imperative that we provide a strong deterrent against breaches of the franchising code across the franchising sector. Such penalties in the code are appropriate and necessary. Having sufficient penalties will allow the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to help protect prospective vulnerable franchisees against exploitive behaviour by their franchisors.
In recent times I've been contacted by local car dealership franchisees raising concerns regarding how they were treated by their franchisor. Like many small and family businesses, Australia's automotive dealers are vital pillars of our local communities, major employers and part of the lifeblood of our economy. However, the power imbalance between new car dealers and manufacturers meant it could be difficult for dealers to negotiate terms and receive fair compensation at the end of an agreement and effectively resolve disputes. That's why it was great news when the government announced an automotive franchising reform package to support Australia's hardworking automotive dealers. We want to deter exploitive behaviour and ensure Australia's largest franchisors do not see fines as merely a cost of doing business.
Lastly, I will speak about schedule 4 of the bill, which addresses the extension of modification power. This measure extends the power which allows responsible ministers to change arrangements for complying with information and documentary requirements under Commonwealth legislation in response to challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The extension of this power addresses continuing difficulties experienced by individuals, businesses and government agencies in complying with information and documentary requirements, including requirements to witness and sign documents. It is important to provide the flexibility to temporarily adjust information and documentary requirements in order to ensure the continuation of business transactions and government service delivery.
Australia has done a fantastic job in navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year. Australians have all played their part and we should be very proud of our efforts, particularly when you look around the world and see how other countries have been unable to effectively control the virus. We are now able to reap the rewards of our sacrifices and efforts as we get back out there and enjoy our wonderful, safe and prosperous country. We have already seen the tremendous way in which our economy has bounced back, which was made possible because we got COVID-19 under control.
However, we must not get complacent, with many businesses doing it tough following the economic hit of the pandemic and, hence, the necessity of providing a mechanism to extend the operation of the temporary mechanism. The mechanism allows for further extensions in response to the coronavirus pandemic to occur more flexibly and in a timely manner should the coronavirus pandemic continue to cause difficulties in complying with information and documentary requirements. This provides continued flexibility to enable necessary temporary adjustments to legal obligations. Understandably, it is important to allow further extensions to occur more flexibly and in a timely manner should the coronavirus pandemic continue to cause difficulties in complying with information and documentary requirements. As I noted when I rose, these matters are vital and necessary in streamlining and integrity measures.
Member for Bennelong, I note your sincere commitment to better working relationships between members of parliament. I heard your 90-second speech today. I'm sorry I couldn't make your lunch. It is a good thing, and I know that you are genuinely committed to people treating each other with respect.
I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 4) Bill 2020. I will primarily speak to the second reading amendment. I'm very concerned about our economic recovery from COVID. I'm concerned about jobs for Australians, including people in my electorate of Dunkley. I am concerned about the effect of the collapse in investment in renewable energy in this country on the ongoing growth of the economy and the protection of the environment.
We know that renewable energy investment has fallen by 80 per cent since 2017. In August last year, the Clean Energy Council told us that $600 million was invested in large-scale renewable energy projects in the second quarter of that year, which was a drop of almost 50 per cent from the previous quarter. The Reserve Bank has put out analysis showing a peak of 23 per cent for the renewable energy investment target. It would appear that the government has been resting on its laurels, because that has been declining ever since. According to the CEC, there hadn't been a large-scale energy storage project commissioned for 12 months as at August last year. Members in the House might recall that Tilt Renewables told its shareholders in August last year that urgent reform was needed to manage the transition to clean energy—urgent reform. And not only have we not seen urgent reform; we haven't seen any reform. That is a disservice to the economy, to jobs and to the environment.
It's also the case that investment in the electricity transmission network has not kept pace with the deployment of wind and solar farms. Quoted in a Guardian Australia article in August last year, CEC chief executive Kane Thornton said: 'Investors don't have a clear view on what the federal government's long-term strategy and policies are—that's challenging.' I think Mr Thornton was pretty polite with that quote—'that's challenging'. It's devastating. 'Investors don't have a clear view on what the federal government's long-term strategy and policies are'—and we're talking about investment in renewable energy, we're talking about reducing the cost of electricity and we're talking about growing jobs and the economy.
If I've heard the Treasurer of Australia say 'growing jobs and growing the economy' once, I'm pretty sure I have heard him say it a hundred million times. It is supposed to be the priority of this government. It's what they talk about over and over and over again. But yet there is a problem in the ranks of the Liberal and National Parties that means that they appear to be incapable of accepting that growth in jobs and the economy will come from investment in the renewable energy sector and investment and upgrading of the transmission network to allow that to occur. What is the government's energy policy really? Is it coal? Is it nuclear? Is it gas? It's not the future, that's the one thing that's clear.
Before someone from the opposite parties yells at me about reliable energy, because of course reliable energy is important, I want to remind the House that AEMO's plan for what an optimal national energy market would look like to 2040 found that renewable energy could at times provide nearly 90 per cent of electricity by 2035 and that there would need to be major investment in new transmission lines.
In June of last year WWF-Australia did a review that suggested that economic stimulus programs that focused on clean energy would create three times as many jobs as new fossil fuel projects. So put aside what likes to be a screaming debate about fossil fuel projects and just focus on the fact that if we invest in renewable projects there will be three times as many jobs. Why wouldn't you do that? Even if you wanted to look at other sorts of projects, why wouldn't you also invest in renewable energy projects? Three times as many jobs, it's better for the environment and it helps the economy grow.
University of Sydney analysis says that up to 11,000 jobs could disappear from our renewable energy industry under this government's policies. It was pretty generous to say that they have policies. Under this government's policies up to 11,000 jobs could disappear from our renewable energy industry. That's 11,000 people. So when we hear the Treasurer and the government are talking about the wonderful investment that they've made to set Australia up for the recovery, we should be also remembering the absolute lack of investment in the future of energy, the renewable energy market, in this country and the disservice that it is doing to all of those students around the country who are going to be looking for jobs in the next 12 months, 24 months, five to 10 years. They've have been encouraged to go and study STEM. They are involved, active and understand the science about climate change. They want to not just have a job and an economy but also have a clean, healthy and sustainable planet to live in. If this government isn't going to do it for our generation then they really, really need to do it for the generations that are coming after us.
This issues in this bill before the House were the subject of a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services inquiry into franchising in Australia two years ago, which looked at some of the issues that this bill covers. As colleagues of mine already said, that inquiry heard from franchisees across Australia who had suffered from misconduct at the hands of parent companies. We know that franchising companies like 7-Eleven have at times profited from the misery of their franchisees and also from the underpayment and exploitation of employees. People that own and run franchises often work for incomes that are below minimum wage as they're trying to get their small business, their franchise, working, but profits flow up to parent companies. We know, from the work that was done in that inquiry, that stories of franchisees, like the retail food group that owns Brumby's, Gloria Jean's and Donut King, suffered unfair contract terms that gave enormous power to parent companies and shifted huge liabilities to franchisees. That joint committee parliamentary report made a range of recommendations, including to significantly increase penalties under the franchising code. It was to increase penalties so that they matched the significant penalties available for other corporate misconduct.
When this bill was introduced to parliament last year, it barely shifted the dial in terms of penalties. It barely shifted the dial. Labor was going to move amendments to match the bipartisan recommendations of the parliamentary joint committee, but now the government has decided that it accepts the findings of that inquiry. It distributed late amendments that increase the penalties available to the regulator. That's a good thing; it's always a good thing to accept your mistakes and fix them. I'm not sure if there's been an explanation as to why there's been that late acceptance that the bill was inadequate. Hopefully there are members on the other side that pushed the case that it was inadequate. Perhaps they were going to be brave enough to vote with Labor's amendments—who knows?—but I guess it is a case of better late than never.
What isn't better late than never, or won't be after Saturday, will be any late realisation from this government that it is taking away JobKeeper payments before the job is done. There have been signs of recovery in the economy, which is terrific, but it's not an even recovery across geographic locations, across industries or across businesses. Everyone in this place should know that, just from talking to the businesses and the workers in their electorate. I've got businesses in my electorate of Dunkley who are coming to me saying that they just don't know how they're going to survive after JobKeeper goes. This government promised in an announcement to the country that JobKeeper would go when the vaccine was rolled out. We don't have any hope of meeting four million vaccinations by the end of March, and there's a host of reasons for that. It's not going to happen, and yet JobKeeper is going to go.
There's almost 10,000 people—not numbers, people—in my electorate who are still on JobKeeper. About 3,200 businesses in my electorate still rely on JobKeeper. What's going to happen to them after Saturday? What's going to happen to the people that are going to be made redundant, much to the heartache of their bosses, particularly in small businesses where their staff are like their family. What's going to happen to those people who are going to be made redundant? Are they going to go not onto JobSeeker but on to Newstart, which is still not enough money to live on, let alone to support a family on or to go out and find a job on. It's not surprising that travel agents in my electorate contact me every day saying that yet another day has gone by and they don't know if they're getting any assistance and they can't survive. It was right and necessary to close the national borders to protect this country from the public health crisis of COVID.
But it's also right and proper to support the people whose life work has been decimated because those borders are closed—and they are still crying out for help every day—let alone the businesses that are contacting me to say that because of anomalies in the way JobKeeper was rolled out they fell through the cracks. They have received correspondence from government members saying, 'Yes, we rolled it out quickly, and, because of the way it was designed, not everyone's been supported.' Businesses are showing me those letters and saying, 'We have been struggling, and we are still struggling, and we are not getting the help we need.' The government can't just say, 'Job done; let's walk away,' because there is so much more work to be done for the small businesses that they purport to represent and for the people who work in them.
I'm pleased to speak this evening on the Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 4) Bill 2020 and do so in my first contribution to this parliament from this position. Firstly, since we are talking on a money bill: about 11 years ago, when I first came to this parliament, I sat in that seat over there, just a few places from where I am now. At that time, we were most concerned that the debt the federal government had run up was approaching $100 billion. We ran around with our debt trucks and complained about how bad this was and how we would work hard, if we came to government, to get that debt back down to where it was before.
The last estimate is that this parliament, since I've been here, is heading for a debt of $1.3 trillion. It's very hard for people to get their head around how big a trillion dollars is. But $1.3 trillion is $1,300 billion, or $1.3 million million. That is where, after a decade of my being in this place, our national debt is headed, as a result of expenditure that has been approved in this chamber, where I now stand. That is the debt we are leaving future generations to pay. It also means that in every budget for years to come the largest government expenditures will not be on health, on education or on aged care or for kids with disabilities; one of the largest expenditure items in the budget will be interest, because of the debt that we have run up.
Getting back to the specifics of the bill, schedule 1 of the bill, it says, will amend the income tax law to ensure that no tax is payable on refunds of large-scale generation certificate shortfall charges. That's wonderful! But let's be very clear about what we are talking about here. It goes on to say that under the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Regulations 2007 energy retailers and other liable entities must surrender large-scale generation certificates of pay a shortfall charge. Let's call a spade a spade. This shortfall charge is not really a shortfall charge. It is a green tax on the production of energy in this country that makes the generation of electricity higher. It goes onto the bills of every Australian small business, and it goes onto the bills of every household. This year, if my calculations are correct, the current renewable energy target is 33 million megawatt hours, and the current certificate price is around $34. That means we have a billion-dollar green tax on electricity in this country. And I hear speakers from both sides of this chamber saying that this is somehow a good thing—that it is somehow a good thing that we add a billion dollars of tax to the production of electricity in this country.
And what is the result of that? The result of that is that, as a nation, we import more and more solar panels from China. The current imports, on the last numbers from the Parliamentary Library, show that close to 90 per cent, by dollar value, of the imports of solar panels to this country come from China. So the ultimate winner in all these policies—and as we add these green taxes on the production of goods in Australia, which don't apply to the production of goods in China—is the People's Republic of China. These policies we have are nothing more than a wealth transfer out of this country and straight into the People's Republic of China.
And what is China doing? Let's just have a look at a report from a couple of weeks ago. It says that last year China put 38.4 gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity into operation. Let's put that into some perspective: Australia's total capacity of coal-fired generation is something around 24 gigawatts. So last year alone, in 2020, China added 50 per cent more to its fleet than the entire fleet of Australian coal generation plants. Another way to equate that is to say that a coal generator, somewhere like Liddell or Yallourn, which are scheduled to close without replacement, is around 1.5 gigawatts, so, last year, China built the equivalent of a new Liddell every 14 days and yet we're closing these things down.
I have more about what China is doing at the moment. Not only did China build another 38 gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity it also approved a further 36.9 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity. That was approved to be built in the years to come. So China now has 247 gigawatts of coal power under development. That's 10 times more than Australia's entire coal fleet capacity. That isn't what they have today, that's just what they have under development. And do we think that we're going to change the weather by putting a billion-dollar tax on small businesses and households through generation of coal-fired capacity? We think we should get some great credit, because if they pay that tax as a shortfall charge and they then actually pay the money out to buy the certificates we're going to give them a refund of the tax that they've paid elsewhere. So we applaud and clap ourselves. I could go on.
I would also like to comment on the member for Goldstein's contribution to this debate. I agree 100 per cent with him. The mistaken ideology that we have in this country, when it comes to superannuation, is that the money seems to grow on trees. Every single dollar that a worker earns in superannuation has to be earned by the company that he's working for. It's different in the government sector; they just tax the private sector. But every small business out there working in the private sector and which pays their workers superannuation, compulsorily, has to earn that money. That worker has to earn that money. So the money you put into superannuation is taken out of that worker's pockets. It means that they have less disposable income than they otherwise would.
The problem with this is that it makes it so difficult for young Australians to save a deposit for their home. We're saying to every young Australian, 'You have to take 9½ per cent of the money that you earn, of the wealth that you create, and put it into a superannuation fund, and you can't touch it until you're 65.' We have to understand that it makes it so much harder for that person to save for a deposit on their house.
The great irony of this current policy is that when someone gets to 65 they can take all their superannuation money and go and buy a house. Surely it would have been better to allow that Australian citizen to use that money to put down a deposit for their house, to help them save throughout their life, because there is nothing like having a mortgage when it comes to a form of compulsory saving. Everyone here in this place that has taken out a mortgage will understand that you scrape, you scrimp and you find that money to pay that mortgage. That is what you do first. For most of us of my age and my generation, that has been the best investment we have ever made. Yet we are denying that to an entire generation of Australians.
Sir Robert Menzies, one of our longest-serving and greatest prime ministers, knew this most of all. I'd like to finish with this quote from the 'Forgotten people' speech:
I do not believe that the real life of this nation is to be found either in great luxury hotels and the petty gossip of so-called fashionable suburbs, or in the officialdom of organised masses. It is to be found in the homes of people who are nameless and unadvertised, and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma, see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race—
Then, the important line—
The home is the foundation of sanity and sobriety; it is the indispensable condition of continuity; its health determines the health of society as a whole.
He went on:
The material home represents the concrete expression of the habits of frugality and saving "for a home of our own". Your advanced socialist may rage against private property even while he acquires it; but one of the best instincts in us is that which induces us to have one little piece of earth with a house and a garden which is ours; to which we can withdraw, in which we can be among our friends, into which no stranger may come against our will.
It should be the obligation of this parliament to do everything it can to make it as easy as possible for young Australians to buy and own their own home. We are forcing them, through the superannuation system, to put their money aside in an account and not invest in a house until they are 65. That policy is highly mistaken.
I thank all members who have contributed to this debate on the Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 4) Bill 2020. In recapping, schedule 1 to the bill amends the income tax law to ensure that no tax is payable on refunds of large-scale generation certificate shortfall charges. This measure will clarify the operation of the income tax law for energy providers, ensuring that taxpayers who receive a refund of shortfall charges are not inadvertently disadvantaged. This will enable the market for these certificates to work as intended, meeting targets for clean energy while minimising cost impacts for consumers.
Schedule 2 to the bill amends the Treasury Laws Amendment (Putting Consumers First—Establishment of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority) Act 2018 to facilitate the closure of the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal and any transitional arrangements associated with the AFCA replacing the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal.
Schedule 3 to the bill amends the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 to encourage greater compliance with industry codes of conduct by increasing the maximum civil pecuniary penalty for breaches from 300 to 600 penalty units. For the franchising code only, the maximum penalty is being increased to the greater of either $10 million, three times the benefit of the breach or 10 per cent of annual turnover.
Schedule 4 will amend schedule 5 of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Act 2020 to re-implement a temporary mechanism which allows arrangements for complying with information and documentary requirements to be altered under the Commonwealth legislation, including requirements to give information in writing and to produce, witness and sign documents. The temporary mechanism was previously in place from 9 April 2020 until 31 December 2020. The reimplementation of this mechanism responds to the continuing challenges posed by social-distancing measures and restrictions on movement and gathering in Australia and overseas introduced as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Social-distancing restrictions, as members will know, are expected to continue to cause difficulties in complying with information and documentary requirements under Commonwealth legislation both in Australia and elsewhere, which requires this extension.
In recognition of the importance of continued business transactions and government service delivery during the pandemic, this measure provides that a responsible minister may continue to determine that provisions in Commonwealth legislation containing particular information or documentary requirements: (1) can be varied; (2) do not apply; or (3) prescribe that another provision specified in the determination applies for a specified time period. The responsible minister must not exercise the power unless they are satisfied that the determination is in response to circumstances relating to COVID-19. This mechanism is again temporary and will be repealed at the end of this year, at 31 December 2021, and any determination made under the mechanism will cease to operate when the temporary mechanism is repealed. I therefore commend this bill to the House.
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. So the immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.