House debates

Thursday, 8 September 2022


Treasury Laws Amendment (2022 Measures No. 2) Bill 2022; Second Reading

12:18 pm

Photo of Max Chandler-MatherMax Chandler-Mather (Griffith, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

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

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

(1) notes this bill delivers a Liberal Party election commitment adopted by the Labor Party, namely the downsizer contribution, adding to the list of Liberal Party economic policies adopted by the Labor Party, such as the stage three tax cuts; and

(2) calls on the Labor government to stop adopting taxation measures that will increase inequality and instead ease cost of living pressures by getting dental into Medicare, making childcare free, wiping student debt and freezing rents".

We're in the middle of one of the worst cost-of-living and housing crises in a generation, and the government continues to just tinker around the edges with bills like this. Right now, this House should be considering a bill to repeal the stage 3 tax cuts and invest the revenue in putting dental into Medicare, free child care and affordable housing, but, instead, Labor are enshrining a Liberal election promise in law.

The Prime Minister has talked about tough choices that this government will have to make when passing the upcoming federal budget. But why is it, in Australian politics, that the tough choices are always made by everyday people? When it comes to the federal budget, one of the things you can be sure of, Mr Deputy Speaker, is that the politicians, billionaires and big corporations who run this country won't be the ones making those tough choices. Nothing illustrates that better than Labor's stage 3 tax cuts. Two hundred and forty-four billion dollars—that's how much Labor's stage 3 tax cuts are going to cost this country.

When it comes to tough choices, let's talk about exactly who will be making them. It certainly won't be the Prime Minister, who earns $549,250 a year—more than half a million dollars, or 13-times the minimum wage. The Prime Minister will receive an extra $9,000 a year from his government's own tax cuts. It won't be the Treasurer, who earns a measly $396,000—only nine times the minimum wage! The Treasurer, too, will receive an extra $9,000 a year from his party's own tax cuts. It certainly won't be a lowly backbencher or crossbencher like me, who earns an outrageous $217,000 a year. In fact, the last thing anyone in this place needs is an extra $9,000 a year. What we all really need is a pay cut. It absolutely won't be Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas, making any tough choices, as he received $1.98 million last year while Qantas laid off 8½ thousand workers. The government has decided that he too needs an extra $9,000 a year. Indeed, the only tough choice any of them have to make is how to spend that extra $9,000 a year. Who knows? Maybe it'll be on an extra investment property.

I'll tell you what real tough choices look like. A tough choice is a teacher having to use their own money to feed kids in their school who would otherwise go without. A tough choice is a pensioner having to choose between paying the rent or buying groceries. A tough choice is a single mum working out where to park the car for the night after she and her kids were evicted from their home because they couldn't afford to pay the rent. A tough choice is working out how long you can ignore that toothache, because you can't afford to go to the dentist. A tough choice is a family having to cancel their first holiday in years, because the mortgage repayments just went up by $200 a month and they don't know how they're going to make ends meet. A tough choice is a childcare worker wondering how much longer they can survive on low wages and long hours. A tough choice is a young man struggling to find the hundreds of dollars a week it costs to pay for the mental health support that he so desperately needs. These are the tough choices that Australians make every day, and they are tough choices imposed on them by the decisions of federal and state governments.

So, when the Prime Minister talks about tough choices, let's remember that by repealing the stage 3 tax cuts we could invest $244 billion to ensure everybody in this country has what they need to live a good life. We could fund a universal free breakfast and lunch program in every school so that that teacher doesn't have to worry about which of their kids are eating today. We could raise the pension above the poverty line so that that pensioner can retire in comfort and doesn't have to decide whether they pay the rent or pay for groceries. We could build enough public housing so that that single mum can move straight into a well-designed, rent-subsidised public home. We could bring dental into Medicare so that no-one has to put off going to the dentist because they can't afford the thousand dollars it's going to cost. We could improve pay and conditions so that childcare workers are able to stay in a profession that they love, knowing that their work is valued and that they can afford to buy a house of their own and put down roots. And, while we're at it, we could make child care free so no parent has to make the tough choice to give up opportunities in their lives because they can't afford child care. We could bring mental health into Medicare so that that young man would be able to afford to get the support he needs straightaway, without having to stress about how he's going to pay the $200 a week it costs to get therapy.

But, instead of choosing to help out that teacher, that pensioner or that single mum, Labor are choosing, with their stage 3 tax cuts, to double-down on a political and economic system that always makes the lives of everyday people tougher while handing out billions of dollars to the super-rich billionaires in big corporations.

The amendment I've moved today is about this place signalling to the government that the last thing we need is more of the same—the last thing we need is more Liberal Party election promises; the last thing we need is the status quo. It's time this government scrapped the stage 3 tax cuts and, instead, spent $244 billion funding the services everyday Australians need to live a good life. You could vote on behalf of everyone in your electorate struggling to pay for housing, groceries, health care and child care, rather than on behalf of the top one per cent. You could vote to ensure that none of us sitting here on at least $217,000 a year get an extra $9,000 a year while there are people sleeping in cars.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

12:24 pm

Photo of Stephen BatesStephen Bates (Brisbane, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment. Four months ago, I was working in a retail job in the suburbs of north Brisbane. I was making about $55,000 a year, just above the median wage in Australia. At times, I and many of my colleagues lived pay cheque to pay cheque. I have countless memories of us sitting around the break room talking about our financial stresses, such as making rent or finding a doctor that would bulk-bill, and complaining about toothaches and being unable to afford a dentist. Frequently, single parents would be forced to choose between working a shift or utilising child care. Not working a shift lost them income, but utilising child care was the more expensive option.

These conversations were not unique to my former workplace. They happen in break rooms and at worksites around the country. All of us know that things shouldn't be this hard and that something is very wrong. No-one should be putting off visiting the dentist because of the cost or living in constant fear of not being able to afford rent. And yet, for millions of Australians, this is the reality. To combat these issues—rising inflation, spiralling healthcare costs, rent stress and interest rate hikes—what is the government's response to my former colleagues? The stage 3 tax cuts: a $269 tax cut for my former colleagues and a $9,000 tax cut each year for CEOs and politicians.

The Labor government tells us that tough decisions will have to be made in this year's budget. But when it comes to supporting tax cuts for the very, very wealthy—these are not hard decisions. The now government voted for these cuts at their introduction. They made the decision to support bad legislation then and they have doubled down on it now. When I asked a question in question time, the Treasurer could not give me a single reason why these tax cuts were good for the economy. I don't even think the government wants to keep them. They are now in a wedge of their own making.

Every day I am contacted by constituents who cannot fathom the government's decision to not repeal these cuts, and I can't give them a good answer. They didn't make sense when the government voted for them, they don't make sense today and they won't make sense in 2024. We need courage. We need the government to show everyday Australians that it is really on their side. The government wants to pretend that it is powerless to stop terrible coalition policy, but it is not. It has the majority in this House, and it would have the support of the Greens both here and in the Senate to repeal these tax cuts.

The government often talks about its legacy—Medicare, the PBS and so on—but this will be Labor's new legacy. It will be known as a government of tax cuts to the rich at the expense of meaningfully raising income support, JobSeeker, the pension and the DSP. It will be known as a government that legislates people into poverty. It will be known as a government that looks at the cost-of-living crisis and thinks, 'Politicians need a tax cut.'

It is that simple. Our essential public services are funded by taxation. If the government wants to rip out over $200 billion of revenue, cuts to public services will have to be made. There are no two ways about it. The government has the nerve to claim these tax cuts will mean more in people's hip pockets, but how will it reconcile this with the fact that these cuts will have to be paired with essential services becoming harder to access and more expensive? Right now, it is getting more and more difficult to find a bulk-billing GP, our healthcare system is at crisis point, higher education is becoming out of reach, and students are saddled with over $60 billion in debt. How can the government possibly plan to address this with a $200 billion plus gap in the budget?

This is a natural consequence of the government's commitment to neoliberalism and the hollowing out of public services. This is the government suggesting that the very richest people in Australia will solve the cost-of-living crisis out of the goodness of their hearts, despite all of history pointing to the contrary. This did not happen during the Great Depression, and it did not happen during the global financial crisis. It is said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and second as farce. The coalition's policies consign them to irrelevance in this parliament; why does the government want to follow in their footsteps?

It seems I'm expected to go back and tell my former co-workers that, despite their financial stress and despite the universal acceptance that our economic system is broken, we can't afford to fix their problems. It's a lie. We can. We have solutions ready to go. They are solutions that have precedent. They already exist in countries around the world. They can be done. Why should Australians be left behind?

In the past we have been bold and courageous enough to transform our country for the better. I am here because of the community's hope for a better future and to put a stop to politics as usual. We can get dental and mental health into Medicare. We can make child care free. We can wipe student debt. We can freeze rents for two years. It's just that the Labor government would rather give themselves a tax cut.

12:30 pm

Photo of Luke HowarthLuke Howarth (Petrie, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

As the member for Petrie I want to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (2022 Measures No. 2) Bill 2022. This second reading amendment and what the Greens are talking about here is total rubbish. The reality is that the Greens do not love this country. The Greens want to change everything that is successful about Australia. The reality is that their own leader won't even stand in front of the Australian national flag. He can't do that, yet he's an elected member of this House.

The reality is that the member for Griffith and the member for Brisbane probably got 35 per cent of the vote when you count in LNP preferences, because LNPs voted 1 and they put Labor next above the Greens. So those two members are here with probably 35 to 40 per cent of the vote. The way the system works delivered the seats to the Greens rather than the Labor Party, which is a real shame. It shows that our democratic process is not working when these two members can get elected with 40 per cent of the vote and when 60 per cent of people in their own seats voted for Labor before they voted for the Greens.

The Greens here won't stand in front of the Australian flag. The Greens want to cut the Defence Force budget in half. As a father with a son in the Defence Force I say that is shameful. And that is before the previous coalition government committed to increasing the budget, which the Labor Party will, hopefully, support. They want to cut it in half. The Greens here want to ban private schools. They don't want a Catholic school in the country. They don't want a Lutheran school in the country. They want only state schools. Their policies are absolute rubbish. They don't deserve to be taken notice of by the Australian people.

When it comes to stage 3 tax cuts the reality is that the former government and the current government supported stage 1 and stage 2 tax cuts, which gave tax cuts to the poorest people in our community. They ensured that $18,200 earned by every person, including students, is tax free. They ensured that earnings from $18,200 to $45,000 are taxed at 19c in the dollar. Stage 3 ensures that everyone earning from $45,000 to $120,000 receives a tax cut from 32.5c to 30c. The Greens talk about politicians, wealthy people and Clive Palmer, but the reality is that most people in Australia will get a tax cut under stage 3.

Rather than talking the country down, start talking about what's good in this country, like the government and the opposition often do. That's all I have to say on this issue.

12:34 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support this excellent implementation of the former Morrison government's suite of important policies, including in particular the adjustment to the eligibility for the downsizer contribution to superannuation. I note that there is an amendment from the Greens condemning this and anything else that puts money back into the pockets of hardworking Australians. I appreciate this opportunity to prosecute their position on these things for my electorate of Sturt. It would horrify them to think that it's the position of a party like the Greens to reverse and take away Australians' hard-earned savings in the case of super or hard-earned money from the point of view of an appropriate regime of income tax rates that don't punish unfairly people who are damn hard workers and deserve as much of their money in their own pockets as they can have.

On downsizing: this is a really significant reform—dropping the eligibility age to 55. I was thrilled when this was announced during the election campaign by former Prime Minister Morrison. I'm happy enough, obviously—and like many other things that they said—that a few minutes later Labor said they'd do the same thing and 'me too-ed' the policy. So now we're here implementing it. It will be transformative for the retirement planning for so many of my constituents in the seat of Sturt and, frankly, for so many Australians nationwide.

It allows people to plan with so much more certainty for their financial security in retirement. It's a very big decision to make, and a lot of people plan many years in advance as to how they are going to make sure they have provisioned enough to support themselves in what should be a very relaxing and non-financially stressful retirement. I also wish anyone going into retirement many, many years of it. Self-funded retirees are the great economic heroes of this nation. Again, as I always do on legislation relating to self-funded retirees, I want to thank them so very much for what they do to make provision for their retirement and the costs of that retirement. By doing that, they take an enormous burden off the Commonwealth government—all government, frankly—because they fund the cost of their own retirement. If they didn't, of course we would do so through the aged pension and the other supports that are put in place for all Australians, who absolutely deserve it if they're not in a position to make provision for their own financial requirements in retirement. But those who are self-funded retirees do so much to take the burden off the taxpayer and allow us to invest more money in so many other services that are good for all Australians. So thank you to them.

Reducing the age to 55 allows a lot more people to start to make provision—potentially, to sell a large family home—much sooner than they would have if they were waiting for eligibility for this important tax concession. We can think of a couple who own a family home which isn't necessarily the home they need once their children have moved out. It probably has a large amount of value in it. From the age of 55 that couple can sell the home and put $300,000 each into their superannuation without it being taxed on the way in. There's an enormous incentive there to do that, of course. That puts people in a position to do that from the age of 55, well in advance of when they might ultimately retire and start to call upon their superannuation.

There's an enormous peace of mind in undertaking that transaction, getting it done and putting the money into super, and, equally, in being able to move into a different home that's more appropriate for the stage of life that you're moving into and to meet the costs of doing so. Everyone has moved home and we all know there's a lot of cost in moving from one home to another. Even if you're downsizing, there's a lot to get organised and arranged, and there are always unforeseen or unexpected costs in doing that. A lot of people would feel much more comfortable doing that while they're still in the workforce and while they're still earning a salary or wage.

Now, through this measure, they can effectively undertake that process from the age of 55: square away those arrangements, put money into their superannuation and, therefore, reassess their superannuation and the amount that they have in it. They can have a new home that they'll probably intend to spend the balance of their retirement in. They can settle all that down and meet all the costs of that transaction, of that relocation and of purchasing a new property and of provisioning for themselves by putting those funds into superannuation. They can settle their affairs while in the comfort of still being well and truly in the workforce and earning an income, not while staring down the barrel of a very imminent retirement and the uncertainty of whether or not they'll get the value they're hoping to for the property they sell and whether the new property they want to move into will cost what they thought it would, with all the various taxes and charges that state governments in particular put on those selling one home and moving into another.

The other benefit of this, of course, is that it will encourage people to sell dwellings that were appropriate for a family—a family they might no longer have, if their kids have grown up and moved on, though there is another whole problem around that that isn't worth getting into in this debate—but will be less appropriate for the next stage of their life as they approach retirement. This will—I hope, as I'm sure everyone hopes, which is why the government said 'Me too' to the policy that we announced—increase the supply of family homes in the marketplace. That should help young families—who are at a very different stage in their life and in the economic cycle, with having and raising children, et cetera—by making it easier for them to purchase an appropriate family home, because more of the people who have a family home but don't need it anymore will be making the choice to sell that family home, having been encouraged to do so by this measure and this tax concession. I hope, as I'm sure we all hope, this will increase the supply of family homes in the marketplace.

Another enormous challenge we've got at the moment is around housing affordability. There is a particular challenge for people looking to transition from what may have been the first home they purchased—if they have been lucky enough to even get into the property market, which is just an ever-increasing challenge. Recent increases in interest rates have only made that challenge harder still.

So I hope this measure helps those people who, having bought their first home, now find that that home, which was appropriate for them at a certain stage of life, is no longer appropriate. If they partnered up and bought their first home together as a couple but were not then at the stage of having children, by now they may be looking to have children or may already have young children and find that that home is not perfectly suited to the needs of a young and growing family.

People who've reached the age of 55 will, in many cases, have exactly that type of home. They probably will have spent the last couple of decades raising their own family in that home but now may be in a position where they don't need that particular type of property anymore. These very sensible tax incentives will encourage them to downsize from that property and have the benefits of doing so and of putting a significant contribution into super. They may do this individually or as a couple—both, of course, will get the opportunity. Then I think we could have the good outcome of helping younger people to get into family homes.

Now, this is obviously completely voluntary. My parents, funnily enough, are in this circumstance themselves. They certainly are not downsizing their property! They're very happy staying in a larger family home. It is, of course, absolutely their right to do so. All we are doing here is providing the opportunity and an enhanced incentive to downsize, for those who choose to, through avoiding taxation on the proceeds of selling that property, up to the amount of $300,000, by contributing it to super. That obviously means they're downsizing, because they will have sold their property, and, if they take advantage of this, they will have less money left over—having contributed up to $300,000 into their superannuation—to go towards the property that they're buying to replace the one that they've sold. I think the outcome is self-evident there. It's going to be an excellent opportunity for people to plan and provision for their retirement.

There are a couple of other measures that emanate from the previous government in this TLAB No. 2 bill—others have probably commented on that—in particular around being a lot more flexible with small businesses around honest mistakes they might make in the way in which they manage their business accounts, which might lead to them inadvertently misrecording and therefore misreporting certain things to the ATO. I am absolutely pleased this new government is continuing with the position of the previous government to not be too heavy-handed with people when they have probably made some genuine and honest mistakes. It's a bit like community service instead of being sent straight to jail where, frankly, the circumstance most probably is that they haven't meant to make a bookkeeping error. It's not something we will condone into the future, but one option is they undertake appropriate training to understand why they have made certain mistakes in the accounts of the business, and they won't get a second chance if, having done that, they make the same mistakes again in the future. I think that's eminently sensible.

I'm particularly pleased, as I've made clear, that we're here to give an opportunity for much greater security for people planning their retirement. I thank the millions of Australians, a growing cohort, who are provisioning for their own retirement. I've made the point as to how much of a significant economic contribution that is and how much of a significant budgetary contribution it is particularly to the Commonwealth budget. This is one thing we can do to help them feel more secure in their retirement. I think it'll also lead to more people being self-funded retirees and taking a further financial burden off the Commonwealth payments that are made. That is in no way any criticism of people who do need and should always have the support of us to have the aged pension and other government supports in retirement, but, clearly, where people can afford to support their own retirement that is of significant help to the Commonwealth. This is one very good opportunity we have to help those people who help us in that way. I commend the bill to the House.

12:47 pm

Photo of Elizabeth Watson-BrownElizabeth Watson-Brown (Ryan, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

We have in front of parliament right now the Treasury Laws Amendment (2022 Measures No. 2) Bill 2022, which simply does not address the biggest budgetary issue in this country: Labor's stage 3 tax cuts. I want to take this time to ask: who does this government govern for? It's not clear to me that it's for everyday people. The rhetoric is there but you have to look at the actions.

At the moment Labor are about to rip $244 billion out of the budget over the next decade and hand the bulk of it to the ultra-wealthy—a quarter of a trillion dollars. Labor will say they inherited these handouts for the mega-rich from the previous government. That is not true. They in fact voted for them along with the Liberals. This was a bipartisan commitment to putting money that was meant for health, education and social support into the hands of people who don't need it. But Labor can reverse it. It's okay. Be mature. Admit you made a mistake and repeal these tax cuts—and do it now.

Labor's stage 3 tax cuts aren't just some numbers on paper; they will affect millions of people's real lives. People in this chamber may be sheltered from this on these, frankly, absurdly large salaries we have, but many everyday people out there are going through hell right now, with a cost-of-living crisis unlike any in recent memory. If you were just getting by a year ago, you are in a state of absolute stress and anxiety now. If you were just making rent or mortgage repayments before and just managing your electricity bills, you are really stressing out now about where to find that money. Inflation is running at 6.1 per cent, and real wages have fallen by 3.5 per cent. It is tough out there. Rents have spiked 16.9 per cent in Brisbane in the last 12 months. Mortgages are about to significantly increase with the RBA's recent interest rate hikes. We're hearing of more and more people finding themselves without a roof over their heads. We have families sleeping in cars. But, instead of taking that $244 billion and spending it on the things that will help everyday people get by, like building public housing, doubling JobSeeker, funding Medicare properly, Labor have decided to hand it over as tax cuts, the bulk of which will go to the megarich of this country.

These tax cuts are actually quite obscene. Of this $244 billion, the richest one per cent in Australia will receive as much as the poorest 65 per cent of Australia combined. The top 20 per cent of income earners will receive 77 per cent of this $244 billion. For the rest, crumbs. Members of this chamber will receive $9,000 in tax cuts a year. Alan Joyce will receive that too. Billionaires like Gina Rinehart will get $9,000 in tax cuts a year, and two-thirds of these tax cuts will flow to men, while only one-third will come to women, only furthering that gender pay gap. I'm sorry if it offends people in this chamber, but someone on over $200,000 a year doesn't need another business class flight every year.

My Greens colleague, Max Chandler-Mather, has just moved an amendment to this Treasury laws bill to call on this government to stop these unjustifiable stage 3 tax cuts. There's no reason to proceed with them. Let's use this opportunity to drop them now. While Labor are handing out $9,000 to the Alan Joyces of the world, our public services are eroded. But imagine what we could do with $244 billion. Since Labor seem to be lacking in imagination at the moment, here's a quick list of some of the things we could do with that quarter of a trillion dollars. Medicare hasn't kept up with inflation, so it's increasingly impossible to see a bulk billing doctor. We could fix that, giving everyone access to genuinely free and comprehensive health care. People can't access dental under Medicare. We could make seeing the dentist something everyone can do for free. Our nurses, teachers, early childcare workers are underpaid; our hospitals are understaffed; and our schools are underfunded. We could make sure our health and education sectors are fully funded, world class and our essential workers are looked after. JobSeeker is well below the poverty line. With $244 billion, we could double it and ensure everyone has something to fall back on when times are tough. The pension is also below the poverty line. We could let everyone have comfortable, happy retirements regardless of whether they were fortunate enough to accrue a lot of super. Child care is prohibitively expensive for so many families. We could make it free. We have hundreds and thousands of people currently on the waiting list for social housing. With $244 billion, we could build enough beautifully designed public housing to give every single one of them a decent home and have plenty left over for people who just want a secure place to live for low rent. One of these things alone could be transformative, but with $244 billion we could go a long way to making all of these a reality in Australia.

We have a Treasury laws amendment bill in front of us that doesn't mention Labor's stage 3 tax cuts. It doesn't repeal them, although it could. It doesn't free up that $244 billion to fund the things that everyday people need. Whenever we in the Greens suggest that the government could deliver something that would genuinely help everyday Australians, like bringing dental into Medicare, like raising the pension, like lowering the age of retirement, they cry poor and say, 'We're in too much debt.' Too much debt when we could give billions upon billions in handouts to the megarich? Well, you can't use public debt as an excuse to not fund social programs while ripping a quarter of a trillion dollars out of the budget. It's an insult to the intelligence of everyday Australians.

Why does this government not govern for the real people? If they go ahead with these tax cuts, it will be sadly all too clear that they're not governing for the person who can't afford to see the dentist, the person who's lost work, the person who can't afford to pay the rent or mortgage. They'll be governing for the megarich.

12:54 pm

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm always pleased to rise and speak on a treasury laws amendment bill, and it's good to see the Assistant Treasurer in the House for the contribution. I'm sure he'll appreciate it, as he always does.

The Treasury Laws Amendment (2022 Measures No. 2) Bill 2022 implements a number of sensible measures from the previous coalition government. I'm pleased to say that it's good to see the government looking to pursue and implement those measures, which are part of a long line of many sensible measures that we implemented over the last nine years in government. The implementation of a number of these measures was delayed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this bill provides effective changes to support small business in handling their affairs with the ATO and provides them with additional support in the event of inadvertent breaches, as opposed to penalties.

I'll say at the outset that it would be fair to characterise the ATO's relationship with small business as certainly not a love-love relationship. It's probably more a love-hate relationship. We need to do anything that we can in this place to make that relationship better. We need to ensure that small businesses are treated by the ATO with the respect and dignity they deserve and that, when they do make inadvertent errors, they're not inappropriately penalised for those oversights. Small businesses don't have accounting departments, chief financial officers and all of the things that our large corporates do. Many of them are mum-and-dad businesses where people are not just the financial managers; they're also seeking to run the business each and every day and generate sales and revenue. More often than not they have a mortgage on that small business that is secured by their home, so they've got the pressure of keeping a roof over their head, and that is entirely dependent on how the business goes. They're also employing people in our local communities and supporting our local sporting clubs and community organisations. And they certainly don't have HR departments; the business owners are the HR department.

This bill provides small business with additional support in dealing with the ATO appeals process and removes tax barriers to sole traders and individuals looking to upskill. It also, importantly, supports gig economy contractors and companies to manage their tax obligations. In this place, we all know of the growing prevalence of the gig economy in a whole range of areas.

The measures in this bill also put in place the coalition's election commitment to support Australians over 55 to downsize their properties and contribute to their superannuation. The bill builds on the coalition's strong record of supporting small business, supporting retirees, making sensible reforms to superannuation and supporting the housing market.

Schedule 1 of the bill amends the Tax Administration Act 1953 to empower the commissioner, where the commissioner reasonably believes an entity has failed to comply with its tax related record-keeping obligations, to direct the entity to complete an approved record-keeping course as an alternative to existing financial penalties. I think that's an excellent move. One of the benefits of the increase in technology that we see all around us is the ability for small business to have access to good technology to keep much better records. I know, because I see the work my brother does as a ceramic tiler in the building industry, that this is particularly important for tradespeople and self-employed people, who don't necessarily keep the records that they should keep. If they can do a record-keeping course and get access to appropriate software and other training to better manage their financial and tax affairs, without being penalised, I think that's a particularly good initiative.

The bill also introduces, in schedule 2, a third-party reporting regime, which will require sharing economy online platforms to report identification and income information, regarding participating sellers, to the ATO for data-matching purposes. We've already seen that in other areas, particularly in the building sector, where there are reporting requirements for data-matching purposes. This measure will apply to ride-sourcing, short-term accommodation platforms, asset sharing, food delivery, task based platforms and other platforms in the economy. Once these platforms begin these measures, it's expected to result in increased self-reporting of currently unreported or underreported income by sellers.

Schedule 3 of the bill amends the Income Tax Assessment Act to make consequential amendments to the fringe benefits tax, to remove the exclusions as a deductible expense for the first $250 of expenses for prescribed courses of education. This is another measure that I think adds to providing incentive to undertake additional education, to build the skills of small-business owners and tradespeople. It delivers on the coalition's 2021-22 budget commitment to backing small business with a simple, fast and cheap way to pause or modify—sorry, that's a separate matter; schedule 4 does this—in relation to orders with the AAT, and to stay those orders or otherwise affect ATO debt recovery actions. This is an area where I have had many discussions with small-business operators across my electorate and the conduct of the ATO in these particular matters.

I'll congratulate the government on taking this coalition budget measure of backing small business with a simple, fast and cheap way to pause or modify the ATO debt recovery action in relation to debt that is currently under review by the AAT. I would go a step further and look to see wholesale reform of this area and ensure that the ATO is much more forthcoming in its reasons and explaining why it comes up with these assessments in the first place. But this is a good step, in the right direction, by enabling small business to pause any ATO debt recovery action while their case is being decided by the independent umpire.

Schedule 5 of the bill partially implements helping homeowners who want to downsize, a commitment announced by the former government on 15 May 2022. This was ultimately matched as an election commitment by Labor.

These measures, I'm pleased to say, build on the tremendous track record of the coalition government over the last nine years of providing support to small and medium business, across the economy, in recognition of the tremendous effort that they provide to innovation, employment and generating wealth for our country. We often hear about our big corporates but, more often than not, where a lot of our innovation occurs is in our small to medium business sector.

The measures we took during our time in government were because we understand the importance of small and family business across our economy. One of the great measures that we undertook, when we were in government, was the establishment of the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman in 2016, to ensure that small business had an advocate within government and in the community. As they're part of the role, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman assists small business to resolve disputes through case management and alternative dispute resolution processes. The coalition also bolstered the mediation services within the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman and established the Small Business Taxation Division within the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. I think, again, that was a tremendous step in assisting small business with what sometimes can be very difficult matters with the ATO. I know that in my time on the Standing Committee on Tax and Revenue we had many discussions about the ATO and the way they conducted their process of dispute resolution and management. We strengthened protections for small and family businesses through including them in the unfair contract provisions and providing greater access, again, to alternative dispute resolution processes through various industry codes.

All of these measures and many more are the track record that the previous coalition government has left for this country and for our small business sector, and I'm very proud to have been part of the government that delivered those key and important measures. As we keep working towards supporting small and medium businesses across our economy, I'm happy to see the government take up some of those measures which we would have implemented if we'd had the privilege of being re-elected to government at the last election. I'm pleased to see that the government has decided to take these on and they are reflected in this bill.

1:06 pm

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

As has been said here, the coalition will be supporting the Treasury Laws Amendment (2022 Measures No. 2) Bill 2022 because it implements a number of very sensible measures of the previous coalition government. It is all about small business, as we've heard previously—the small businesses that employ the majority of Australians and do so very well in all of our small communities in particular.

We see in this bill a common-sense approach to the practical way that our small businesses work and the fact that they're often just a mum-and-dad business, two partners or an individual. That's why a practical approach to the Australian Taxation Office, as we see in the measures here, is so important. As we know, many of our small business owners don't have a massive HR department to work with them. They are everything. They often work all day in their business and sometimes at night as well. They're often in the role 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but they do an amazing job. I want to recognise those small businesses in our support of this bill, particularly those in small rural and regional communities.

Small businesses do a fantastic job of keeping those local economies ticking over, but what they also do, which is often unseen, is support every community service organisation, every one of our volunteer emergency service organisations, and our sporting and other organisations. Whenever local people need a donation, the first place they go to is a local small business. So anything we can do in this House to provide that additional support and to assist small businesses to manage their issues through the Australian Taxation Office is a very good, practical move because it reduces the amount of time that they need to spend on those matters and allows them to get on with what they're there to do, which is to run their business and work in that business and employ other Australians—such an important part of the role that they play. I see that in my own part of the world.

The bill deals with matters around the Australian Taxation Office, providing small businesses with additional support in dealing with the ATO appeals process and removing tax barriers to support sole traders and individuals looking to upskill—practical matters for small businesses. The bill supports gig-economy contractors and companies to manage their tax obligations and ensures that the ATO has the data it needs for accurate reporting. It puts in place important reforms to support the coalition's election commitment to support Australians over 55 to downsize their property and contribute to their super. The real key issue for me is the strong support for small business, though supporting retirees is absolutely very sensible, as are the reforms to super and the housing market.

I can recall in my time as an MP—which I think a number of members in this parliament would have done in their time as local members—an individual who got in touch with me two days before Christmas. He said, 'The ATO wants to take my house and my business, and I'll be out of business.' We had to work overtime to make sure that he connected with the right people in the ATO and was able to work through the issues that were on the table. It was about 18 months or two years later that I happened to run into him at a local service station. He bolted across to say, 'I am still in business and I still have my home.' I think that's one of the things that we get to do as local members: facilitating very sound discussions that enable people to stay in business and to work out their issues with the ATO, if they're able to connect with the right people and get a fair hearing about what they're dealing with. Much in this bill is related to that.

It is quite tough for a lot of small businesses to deal with the complexity that goes with dealing with the Australian Taxation Office, so there are a lot of benefits in this bill—even the one to seek orders from the AAT that stay or otherwise affect ATO debt-recovery actions while the small business is disputing the underlying tax assessment in the Small Business Taxation Division of the AAT. This reflects what I was talking about earlier, the issues facing a small business and the sense of panic they get if, particularly, they've inadvertently made an error or just need the right person to talk to to work through their issues.

I'm really proud of what we've done. This really helps resolve disputes in a timely and cost-effective way. Access to justice is a simple thing for small business. The previous speaker, the opposition whip, spoke about the coalition establishing the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman. I think that is a particularly important office. This advocate that small business now has with government and in the community is such an important role. I would encourage as many small businesses as possible—and it really doesn't matter what issue you're dealing with—that when they need assistance to get in touch with the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman. There are a lot of other areas that they can assist you with, not just in this space.

For many small businesses, resolving disputes through case management and referral to alternative dispute resolution are things that they get to deal with. Hopefully, that isn't very often, but when they do, they are time-poor and often don't know where to start. How about starting with the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman as a first point of call if they're not sure where to go? I imagine most of them work with their accountants and others but, in this instance, why not talk to the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman? If you're aware of a small business in this space, please tell them to get in touch for that purpose.

We bolstered mediation services within the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman and established the Small Business Taxation Dispute Division within the AAT. There's that importance of strengthening protections for small and family businesses from unfair contract terms, which happen on a regular basis. We've seen some move in that, particularly with small businesses in the agricultural sector, and changes for those who find themselves at the bottom end of supply and value chains. The work in the unfair contract terms space is very important. Being a dairy farmer myself, over the years I've understood some of the challenges of having a perishable product and being in that position. It's a huge challenge for small business, particularly in the rural and agricultural sector. So I'm very proud of our ongoing support for small business.

There was also the instant asset write-off which we introduced and the number of small businesses which were able to take advantage of that. I'm very proud of our ongoing support for small business and the number of small businesses that were able to take advantage of the instant asset write-off that we introduced, whether it was a local small business such as a café or even a pizza shop. The local guys who are livestock transporters were able to use the instant asset write-off to buy themselves the new gear that they were desperately needing. If you consider the number of small businesses that really took advantage of this during COVID, they were the ones who were still open, and they were mostly, in many instances, small businesses that did everything they could to keep their communities ticking over.

In a little place called Nannup, in my electorate, the local supermarket, of course, had real struggles. You were allocated certain numbers of items, and they had limited access to the one thing we saw so much hoarding off, which was toilet paper. Here was this little business in a tiny community, and one of the local people came and saw Joyce at the store and said, 'What are you short of?' She said, 'This is something we're struggling to get hold of because we're limited to what we can have.' So this gentleman drove a couple of hours to where there were supplies. He bought the supplies back to Nannup and said to Joyce, 'Tell me who's been in who desperately needs some of these.' He went around and dropped them off on the front doorstep, safely, of these premises for the people who couldn't access them. That's the strength, that's what happens with small business and that's what happens with good people in local communities.

During COVID, people come from major populated areas into small communities looking for certain products. My own local supermarket said: 'Nola, stop panicking. We've got some supplies out the back. For all of our regular, particularly mature-age, customers, we're making sure that that one packet of flour or sugar or the things that they buy every week are kept available—for the people who need them most, the people in our small communities.' That's the value of small community business. That's why I'm very proud of all the measures that we took in our time in government to support small business, and I know that we'll be continuing to work in every way we can to support small business.

1:17 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank the previous speaker, the previous Chief Government Whip, for her outstanding contribution in this debate. The opposition will be supporting this bill because the bill implements a number of sensible measures that the coalition government examined—and pushed for—in its previous life. The bill provides effective changes to support small businesses in handling their affairs with the ATO, providing them with additional supports in the event of inadvertent breachers. That's very important. Before coming into this place, I was a builder by trade, a carpenter by trade. I then owned a building business, and then I became a barrister. So I spent 30 years in a small business before coming to this place, and I've always said, 'Wouldn't it be great, wouldn't this place look a bit different if everyone had to spend time working in small business, if everyone had to understand the trials and tribulations of actually employing people and working their way around how to pay people on awards and, quite frankly, sweating blood on a Wednesday night trying to figure out how they're going to make payroll tomorrow.' I've often told people who have spoken to me about their desire to come into this place, 'In my view, you will be a lesser parliamentarian if you come into this place without having endured those trials and tribulations.'

This bill does a number of things, and I'll touch on them in due course, but one of them is that, in schedule 1, if the commissioner is of the view that an entity has failed to comply with their tax obligations, specifically in relation to recordkeeping, then, rather than ping them, the commissioner can require that person to undertake a course. Schedule 1 actually reminds me of when I was a young fellow sitting for my builder's licence and I had to go and do all these various courses. I would have been about in my early 20s at the time—

Photo of Henry PikeHenry Pike (Bowman, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Still are!

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Still am? I wish I was! I was sitting in the HIA office in Brisbane with 30 or 40 other people and met a fellow by the name of Frank O'Neill. Frank's the kind of guy who will probably be listening to this right now as we speak. So if you are, Frank: Cheers, mate. You did a good job with me and many of my colleagues. You actually ignited my love of learning. So thank you for what you gave to me. But I digress.

It is very important to know that people, particularly in small business, come from various backgrounds and various levels of education. Sometimes in my industry, the building industry, particularly amongst the trades—it's certainly not exclusive to the trades—for many people school was not their greatest forte. Lunchtime was my favourite subject when I was at school, as you can tell! The opportunity to go and do these courses to become better bookkeepers and to become better managers of your business—like the one that I did when I was studying to become a builder—was very much welcome. It stood me in good stead, as it has done for hundreds of thousands of other contractors in Queensland, unlike in some other jurisdictions in this fine country, I hasten to add, which do not require you to complete these sorts of educational courses to become a builder. I think Queensland had it right when I was going through some 30 or 35-odd years ago.

I really do acknowledge and congratulate the drafting of schedule 1, which enables these sorts of education courses. Rather than fine someone, it says, 'Let's work with this individual and try and upskill them.' That's surely better than just pinging them with a fine.

Schedule 2 of the bill is also an important provision which provides for data matching for the ATO. It specifically does that in relation to ride sharing, ride sourcing and short-term accommodation platforms. This is really important. It's really just bringing those data-matching abilities into line with, once again, my old stomping ground—that's the building industry. It's interesting because last week, or it may have been the week before that, I called upon a local business called Advance Kitchens, in Caloundra in my electorate, and I spoke with Carol Langton. Carol rang me up and she was frothing at the mouth. She is very upset about how she has to be doing all this unpaid public service, as I ultimately called it. Small businesses have all these reporting requirements, particularly for subcontractors. After I had the opportunity to sit down with Carol and explain to her the importance of these anti-black-economy provisions that enable the ATO to data match information with their own material and the reporting of their own subcontractors, Carol, to her credit, could see the benefits of those requirements.

Whilst I was at the warehouse factory I had a good tour and saw the great work that Advance Kitchens in Caloundra are doing. I met some of the staff. I met an older gentleman who had been working there for decades. He was in his 70s. His granddaughter was working at the factory and was keeping it in the family. It is a terrific local business.

I come back to the point. Schedule 2 essentially just brings onto parity the reporting requirements for rideshare and gig economy platforms and much more traditional business, such as those in the building industry. Those data-matching requirements have been in place for a very long time. It's very important that we ensure that we have these provisions that are very tight in relation to the black economy. We want to make sure that businesses are paying their fair share of tax. I don't think anybody would quibble too much with that point.

Schedule 3 is a little less interesting, but it does amend the Income Tax Assessment Act and makes consequential amendments to the FBT act to remove the exclusion as a deductible expense the first $250 of expenses for prescribed courses of education. Having said that, once again it creates an added incentive for small businesses to provide educational courses to their staff. That is always a good thing. It doesn't matter whether it is a course in relation to IR, first aid or whatever it might be. There are FBT benefits for the first $250 of expenses for prescribed courses. It's a very good thing to provide those opportunities for additional learning for staff and to provide that economic incentive as well.

Schedule 4 of the bill is something that is relatively close to my heart. I've talked in this place often enough about being a builder and becoming a barrister. Schedule 4 allows small businesses to seek orders from the AAT that stay, or otherwise affect, ATO debt recovery actions whilst the small business is disputing the underlying tax assessment in the Small Business Taxation Division of the AAT. This is very much a commonsense provision. If a businessperson feels aggrieved by a decision of the ATO then that businessperson has every right to challenge the decision of the ATO in the AAT. If that person doesn't get a successful outcome there, they go onwards from there to the Federal Court et cetera. This provision stays the decision of the ATO until they get an outcome through the legal process. This shouldn't be seen as anything controversial. Simply, while someone is exercising their legal rights to have the decision challenged in the AAT, that decision should be stayed. It reminds me that a constituent of mine, who's been vociferous in his opposition—

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour, and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.