Tuesday, 28 November 2023
Treasury Laws Amendment (Tax Accountability and Fairness) Bill 2023; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Tax Accountability and Fairness) Bill 2023. This is the 15th tax bill from a government that promised the Australian people it wouldn't raise taxes. It is their 15th tax bill, and they said they wouldn't raise taxes. What we see in this legislation is a case study in the way this government works—the lack of seriousness of this government for acting in the interests of the Australian people rather than acting in its own political self-interest.
As far back as May the government announced their changes to the petroleum resource rent tax, the PRRT. Almost seven months have elapsed since the government announced the policy. Have we seen the bill? No. Have we received answers to the most basic of questions? No. Has the government engaged seriously with the coalition—or any other party, for that matter—to progress this legislation? No.
What we see today is a silly stunt from a Treasurer who is out of his depth and out of touch. By attaching the $2.6 billion gas tax to measures responding to the PwC issues and the Tax Practitioners Board, the Treasurer has demonstrated that he is more focused on politics than on outcomes. And why would we be surprised? He's not a doctor of economics—he likes to call himself Dr Chalmers—but a doctor of spin, a doctor of politics. That is what he spends his days doing, and that's exactly what he's done with this bill.
Tacking these PRRT reforms, which he can't answer the most basic question about, to a completely different set of issues is absolutely heinous. As I said, it's the sort of thing we're coming to expect from the government. But there are many basic questions on the PRRT reforms that haven't been answered. What's the level of new revenues raised by this tax? What's the impact on industry and on investment? What's the medium-term cost of the measures? These are all sensible questions, all raised by the opposition, all unanswered, months after first being raised and despite being put to officials at Senate estimates. Tacking this onto measures responding to the revelations this year about the Tax Practitioners Board and PwC is cynical in the extreme.
Attaching those two things together shows a level of cynicism that I suppose we're starting to get used to from this government. It makes a joke of the genuine cross-party engagement on this issue that we have attempted to exercise for some months. It makes a joke of the work of Senators Colbeck, Pocock and O'Neill through the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee. And it shows how contemptuously this government views a rare matter of potential cross-party agreement, and we won't fall for it.
Our message to the government is clear and it's simple. Pull the PRRT schedule from this bill and start again. Engage with the coalition in good faith on this measure to support the future of our gas industry, to bring down emissions and power bills, to support our manufacturing businesses and to secure a critical revenue base as a result of this and other measures. A really important point here is that this government has added $188 billion of spending since it came into government. That's over $7,000 in extra spending for every Australian. And the way the government is paying for that is with huge revenues—unexpected revenues—coming from coal, from iron ore and from the gas industry. This is a measure that hasn't been thought through as it should have been to make sure we have a gas industry in the future—and I'll come back to that in a moment.
There is an opportunity for the government to engage in good faith on this measure, to support the future of the industry and to live with the same standard that the Prime Minister promised before the election. There's before-election and after-election with this Prime Minister, but let's go back to before-election, on 30 April 2022, when he told Kieran Gilbert this:
I think really people are sick of a government that has 'wedgislation', as I call it, looking to wedge the Opposition rather than legislation.
He also said:
I think Australians have got conflict fatigue.
My opponent is always looking for an argument, always looking for a disagreement, never looking for a solution.
This came from the Prime Minister, as I say, before the election. After the election, he had a very different approach, which was to provide us with exactly that 'wedgislation' that he didn't like in the first place.
The sad and exhausting reality for Australians at home is that this is just another example of a Prime Minister promising one standard before an election and pursuing a different standard after it. The promise of $275 off their power bills was broken. Cheaper mortgages? That was a broken promise. Real wages increasing? That was a broken promise. No changes to franking credits? That was a broken promise. No taxes on super? That was a broken promise. No taxes on Australian businesses? That was a broken promise. This Prime Minister has broken more promises than he has delivered. The government is demonstrating that its approach to this bill puts politics first and what's right for this great country second.
Let me make a few comments about the PwC component of this bill, of this 'wedgislation'. The behaviour of PwC and the Tax Practitioners Board unveiled over the last year plainly doesn't meet community standards. It's important than any business contracting to government abide by their legal obligations. The coalition is continuing to support scrutiny of government practices surrounding the Tax Practitioners Board and the broader use of consultants. No-one is defending that behaviour, and no-one in this parliament, it seems to me, is defending or should defend that behaviour.
Schedule 1 increases the time the ATO has to bring an application for civil penalty proceedings to the Federal Court, increases the maximum penalty applicable and expands the application of promoter penalty laws. Penalties will be extended to significant global entities. The maximum penalties will increase 100-fold from the current $7.8 million to as much as $780 million.
Schedule 2 extends the whistleblower protections to individuals who make disclosures to the Tax Practitioners Board. Schedule 3 implements the second tranche of amendments from the TPB review to improve the register and boost investigative powers. Schedule 4 allows taxation officers and TPB officers to share protected information with Treasury about misconduct arising out of breaches, or suspected breaches, of confidence by intermediaries engaging with the Commonwealth.
The coalition, Greens and Labor Party senators have approached these issues with a significant degree of bipartisanship over the last year. They are sensible measures that are worthy in principle, but they deserve to be dealt with in isolation. They deserve to be well dealt with in isolation, not packed together with a completely different issue, as this government is so often inclined to do. This is why the coalition will move amendments to separate the PRRT schedule from the bill. Our message to the government is simple: Deal with this like a mature government. Own the policies you have committed to. Do not come into this chamber and try to play games. We will not fall for it. That is why we will be bringing forward that amendment.
Let me turn now to the PRRT schedule. The coalition wrote to the Treasurer proposing practical suggestions in exchange for our support for this component of the legislation. That will secure an additional revenue base. We are not a party that likes high taxes. We realise this is effectively a bring-forward of taxes. It is raising taxes in the shorter term, but what is critical here is that we don't deter investment. The proposals that we put forward were about making sure we continue to encourage the investment we need. They were modest and supported by industry. If this government were to come to the table then we could have a sensible discussion about it. Instead, we've seen that rejected through no response. All we have seen is spokespeople in the media. The Treasurer himself wasn't even willing to say anything on it, not even in a reply letter.
It's clear that the government's not serious about passing these laws but is trying to use the legislation as a political wedge. I would have thought, with the cost-of-living crisis and everything that Australians are facing right now, there were more important things to do than to play politics in this place.
As I said earlier, we've seen the Treasurer bizarrely attaching these PRRT changes—which he knows are controversial—to a bill dealing with the PwC matter, which has bipartisanship support across all parties in the parliament.
We've extended an olive branch on the PRRT changes in good faith. The Treasurer needs to pick up the phone. If he wants the bill passed, he should come to the table and negotiate with us. If he's not prepared to do that, it just confirms what we've seen over the last 18 months: Labor cares more about playing politics than managing the economy, and Australians are paying a very high price for that. The Treasurer needs to decide whether his focus is on the economic wellbeing of all Australians or his political interests.
I want to finish with a couple of comments on the gas industry. We compete in this great country for investment in this industry and other resource industries with countries across the world. With gas in particular, there are three very large LNG exporters in the world: ourselves, the United States and Qatar. Global investors make a choice, and if we don't offer a regime that is going to work for those investors they will go elsewhere. We've put layer upon layer of barriers to investment in our gas industry in this country. We've seen new changes to the offshore gas regime, which are effectively halting investments in gas in Western Australia, and every Western Australian in this place should be deeply opposed to those changes. They're putting in place a new EPA, and that risks, again, slowing down and stopping the flow of investment we see in this important industry for this country, an industry that our manufacturers rely on, an industry that our export customers rely on, an industry that Australian small and large businesses right across the board rely on for cheap energy. And, if this government is serious about the future of the gas industry, then they need to sit down and work with us to make sure that those sensible proposals are negotiated and put through this place, and then we are very open to work with them on this PRRT legislation.
This mishandling of legislation is just another sign of a government that is more focused on politics than outcomes. We see this with the cost of living, we see this with energy policy and we see this with this bill. The coalition supports appropriate responses to the PwC matter—nobody disputes that. The coalition is even prepared to sit down and accept the changes that are being made to the PRRT, but it has to be accompanied by a future for our gas industry.
I ask the Treasurer to get serious about dealing with this, and 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:
a) the Treasurer has failed to engage in negotiations with the Opposition on sensible proposals to support investment in the gas industry, which is the revenue base for this tax;
b) the Government still cannot answer simple questions about this tax, including whether it is new or a bring forward of revenue, its impact on investment in the industry, and its impact on energy prices, despite having had more than six months to do so; and
(2) calls on the Government to support the Opposition's proposals to support the future of the gas industry; and
(3) notes that the cynical and absurd stapling of changes to the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax to measures with cross-party support responding to the PwC and Tax Practitioners Board issue demonstrates the lack of seriousness from the Government towards this legislation".
The original question was that the bill be read a second time. To this the honourable member for Hume has moved, as an amendment, that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words.