Senate debates

Monday, 19 June 2017


Major Bank Levy Bill 2017, Treasury Laws Amendment (Major Bank Levy) Bill 2017; Second Reading

8:03 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I rise to decry this lazy government. The Major Bank Levy Bill 2017 is just window dressing. It is avoiding the clear problems. At Pauline Hanson's One Nation we are certainly no fans of the banks. We have proclaimed for some time now that a royal commission is needed into the banking sector. We so far have been unable to have that passed. We have been working to get a Senate select committee inquiry into lending to rural production customers, and I have been selected by Senator Hanson to chair the committee that she managed to negotiate.

We have also become a co-sponsor of the commission into banking, and we are proud to join Senator Whish-Wilson in that initiative. But bank bashing itself does no good if it simply avoids the core issues. This is yet another example of policy on the run, as we have come to see. This will be passed onto customers. I will read some quotes from the Centre for Independent Studies' study of this bank levy, but, before I do, let us look at an overview of what is happening in our country.

The cost of living is foremost on people's minds. Last year incomes rose 1.9 per cent while the cost of living rose 2.1 per cent. That is a backward step for everyday Australians. Real issues include energy prices skyrocketing. Senator Brandis today said that, under the Liberal Party, prices for energy are stabilising. Oh, really? In South Australia, since the federal Liberal Party came into power prices have risen from 5c per kilowatt hour to 16c. That is over three times more! That is not stability. In Victoria, prices have risen from 5c per kilowatt hour to 11c, a more than doubling. Queensland has doubled from 5c to 10c. That is not stability; that is ignorance.

Look at overregulation. When I listen to constituents in Queensland, overregulation is their second-most mentioned hurdle. Overregulation is killing small businesses, killing personal enterprise, choking farmers, choking small businesses and choking individual income earners.

The third issue—hardly any surprise—is tax. Tax has gone out of control in this country. Why do we tax payroll? We all know that when we tax something it decreases the use of that taxed object. So why are we taxing payroll? Do we really want to decrease payroll? Then there is the PAYE tax. That is also a tax on employment. And what do we see from the government and from the opposition? They blame the Senate for not being able to tackle the real issues. That is a lazy approach.

Government is not a right. Just because people get elected into the government benches, that does not mean they get whatever they want. That is not their right. The opposition's job is to oppose the government and come up with better options, and the crossbench senators' job is to continue to work that process even stronger and make something workable from the opposition and the government.

I will give you an example of a first-class international leader from not so long ago who inspired me. In 1980 I was fortunate to be in the United States when President Reagan was inaugurated. I watched that man. He did not complain about the Democrats having the majority in the lower house when he was a Republican president. No, he didn't. He rolled up his sleeves and got to work. He got the data, and he made a presentation to every person in America through the TV one night. All he did was take five or so graphs on an easel—simple graphs, simple language, everyday connection with the real people across America. And what happened? As a result of his forthright leadership and his understanding of the basic issues addressing every American, 40 southern Democrats jumped ship and joined the Republicans to vote in favour of President Reagan's economic initiatives.

So that is cost of living. What about the fact that governments continue to keep pushing costs onto people through mad policy? The Murray-Darling Basin Plan, spending billions—$13 billion and counting—of taxpayer money to buy water rights, to sell water and, eventually, to put it in a foreigner's hands is a policy initiated by the current Prime Minister and perpetuated by both the Liberal Party and the Labor Party. I have just given you an example of energy policy. We see regulation causing the destruction of our energy sector. There is no more vital sector in this country, no more vital sector in an industrial country, than energy. We are seeing the de-industrialisation of our wonderful country. We are seeing regulations choking the energy sector. The problem is clearly regulation. What did the Finkel review say: more regulation is the solution. What a dishonest mess. Then we see climate change policy that contradicts empirical evidence. The real world, hard measured data is contradicted by our policies. All of these things and many, many more are raising costs directly and indirectly through the impost of government.

Let's turn to post offices and how this government and its predecessors have been screwing people who are trying to do a good job in this country and finding it very hard to do so. The CEO of Australia Post recently resigned after receiving salary of over $5 million a year and then a payment of $2 million for severance. He reportedly received $8 million in his last year. Then we see the salaries of the heads of departments and agencies right across federal government—$400,000; $600,000; $680,000; $800,000; $900,000; $1 million; over $1 million; and, for Ahmed Fahour, many millions of dollars. When we delve into that 1.9 per cent increase in incomes, we see that those in the private sector got an increase of 1.8 per cent, and they paid for an increase of 2.4 per cent in the Public Service. Then what do we see? We see post office franchisees in my office last Thursday, detailing that in the commitment that Australia Post has given them they are entitled to receive $1.38 for 20 minutes of work, because the banks have left town and they are now the bankers' agency. It is 20 minutes work for $1.38 pay. That is not sustainable. That is disgraceful. And then the CEO makes out like a bandit.

Then we see welfare. The abuse of welfare is on the lips of so many Australians. Senator Hanson has been proclaiming her national identity, the Australia card. A reputable economics consultancy has recently valued it as saving more than $4 billion each and every year once it is put into place, and then it would also save money in health. It would increase revenue by preventing people's attempts to avoid paying their fair share of tax and fulfilling their responsibilities. It would save many more billions of dollars than this initiative with the banks.

Fourthly, looking more broadly, there are the states and what happened to competitive federalism. Competitive federalism was designed by the forefathers of our Constitution to put in place a check against a rampant central government. We now have rampant central government in our country, sadly. It is running out of control. In fact, 20 years ago, the states found that they were getting more than 50 per cent of their revenue from the federal government; it was under federal control. Let's listen to the people. The councillors and deputy mayor at Balonne Shire Council said in February that 73 per cent of the Balonne Shire Council's annual revenue comes from the federal government, with no security of ongoing payment—just conditions that change periodically. So who is running the Balonne Shire Council? The federal government. Who is running the states? The Murray-Darling Basin covers 80 per cent of New South Wales. Who controls the water rights? Who controls the land rights—the property rights?

Who controls the income of so many states and local councils? It is the federal government. So we now have a de facto all-powerful federal government.

We have also seen a need for looking back in our history, because there are many solutions we can find. If we look to the Commonwealth Bank, which was formed in 1911 after the legislation passed by the Fisher Labor government, we saw Australia flourish and blossom under that initiative. We saw Denison Miller invest money through the Australian people in developing Australia's infrastructure, agriculture and transport, giving us access to international markets. We now see the public Bank of North Dakota. That is right—an American state has a public bank. And it is one of the very few banks that has continually made profits ever since its inception. It is continuing to give cheap loans to its farmers and its business people. It is continuing to put dividends back into the hands of the state governments, back into the coffers of the people of North Dakota. It is much like the Commonwealth Bank.

So let's get into some more details after that overview and think about some of the comments from the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney: 'Who pays the levy? Well, the banking levy will most likely be passed on as increases in mortgage and business interest rates. This expectation is based on overseas experience, including in research cited by the government and an analysis by Australian experts. As a result, the levy will act as a tax increase on households already afflicted by flatlining real wages growth and ongoing increases in personal tax, including through bracket creep. The ratio of personal tax to gross domestic product has been increasing by about 0.3 percentage points per year cumulative since the global financial crisis. An increase in business borrowing rates will dampen business investment, which is already at near-record lows as a share of the economy and is forecast to decline further.' Only a fool or a cynic would laugh, but that is what we hear.

Then we see based on an IMF study that, according to the Centre for Independent Studies, Australia's levy could reduce GDP by about $1.7 billion per year, a substantial impact compared to the revenues raised of $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion per year. In the executive summary, the Centre for Independent Studies says that the bank levy is likely to feed through to higher mortgage and interest lending rates. As I have said, this will hit many households already facing tax increases. Secondly, if the big banks have substantial market power, as the government already implies, the banks would just use this power to ensure the levy is fully passed on to customers. We can not have it both ways. They either have substantial market power or they do not. If they have substantial market power then they will just pass it on.

The government, thirdly, cannot use international experience to justify the levy, as many other developed countries have chosen not to implement a levy on borrowing. Fourthly, the levy will help mortgage customers only if they switch to smaller banks and then those smaller banks cut mortgage rates. The government has provided no evidence that this will occur. The process for developing the levy breaches numerous government requirements for best-practice regulation and consultation. That could be an echo in this chamber. How many times do we see government requirements for best-practice regulation and consultation just bypassed?

Next, the harmful impact of the levy appears small, but this in no way justifies the levy. A bad policy is bad, no matter what its size. And the levy rate could easily be increased in the future to have a large adverse impact on households right across the country. Former Prime Minister John Howard just two weeks ago was quoted in the newspaper on a Saturday saying that he is appalled at energy policy, and he specifically referred to the Renewable Energy Target favouring intermittent energy sources.

Who introduced the Renewable Energy Target? It was former Prime Minister John Howard's government. Who accelerated it? That was the governments of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. These are both parties that have been responsible for irresponsible government in the last couple of decades—in fact, since the 1940s. And who pays? Mums and dads, boys and girls, families and small businesses right around this country. The Centre for Independent studies concludes:

Given these flaws in the levy, it should be abandoned in its entirety. If however the levy is not abandoned, it should be subject to a much more detailed inquiry over the coming year, with a consequent delay in the start date. This detailed inquiry would enable the government to meet its own guidelines for best practice regulation, ensure unintended consequences are known, if not addressed, and allow the levy’s interaction with other work to be included—including interactions with changes in prudential regulations, and the inquiry by the PC into competition in the financial sector.

We need to face up to the real issues. The real issues are the abysmal lack of accountability in governance from the central Commonwealth government at the moment in this country. We need to face up to the enormous and rapidly increasing cost of living burden on every person in this country—every working man and woman, and their kids. And we need to face up to the severe, daunting challenges for economic security that people in the government and the opposition just seem to turn a blind eye to.

Our economic security is under threat. Until 10 years ago, energy prices for the last 170 years, since the industrial revolution, have continually decreased in real terms. That is the secret to an increasing standard of living for 160 years. In the last 10 years, through insanity and contradiction of the empirical evidence, we have seen policy after policy destroying our economy, destroying the key energy sector, destroying livelihoods, killing jobs and sending them overseas, where they are increasing real pollutants—particulates, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide. What is happening in our country is insane, and the people who are paying for this insanity are everyday mums and dads. That is why we will be opposing this legislation.


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