Senate debates

Monday, 19 June 2017

Bills

Treasury Laws Amendment (GST Low Value Goods) Bill 2017; Second Reading

10:59 am

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | Hansard source

Let us not gild the lily: this is a great big new tax on consumers, no matter how the government wants to dress it up and the opposition says they do not support it—they do. This is going to result in higher prices for everyday Australians. I do not think that is justified. It is not about protecting or preserving the domestic retail sector, it is not about getting a better deal for the mums and dads of Australia; it is about providing more revenue to government, because they cannot and will not live within their means. My position, the Australian Conservative position, is quite straightforward: Australians already pay enough tax. We do not spend their tax dollars wisely enough to ask them to give us any more. The spendthrift nature of the former Labor administrations and the existing coalition administration is extraordinary and is doing a huge disservice to our country and our children. We are collectively accumulating hundreds of billions of dollars worth of debt, which we are going to ask future taxpayers to fund, and we are doing it because we are not prepared to live within our means today.

The government and the opposition will dress up this big new tax on consumers as an equity measure to protect the Australian retail sector. If they were serious about ensuring a thriving retail sector in Australia, they would look towards cutting the regulation and bureaucracy attached to running, owning and operating a business in this country, which are a direct result of the policies implemented by those on the other side and those on this side of the chamber. Government policy is directly responsible for the massive electricity prices affecting every business and every consumer around the country. You want a more effective and economic retail sector? Cut those regulations and allow their electricity and utility prices to be lower; cut the regulations and red tape attached to employing people and allow more competition.

If you want an example of competition, Coles and Woolworths do Australians a massive disservice in the retail sector. They were selling products at a massive mark-up, far higher than the pricing of their international peers. They are under pressure now because their inefficient models, which were ripping off consumers, have been exposed by the likes of Costco and ALDI. I went out to Costco last week. The shopping experience may be different, but the prices are lower, because they are more competitive. If you cut competition, you are going to have a more uncompetitive environment. We need more competition in this country. We need the likes of Amazon to come in here to keep our retailers honest. No longer is it acceptable for them to engorge themselves at the Australian consumer's expense, when we are paying much more for products than it would cost to obtain them internationally.

What is the response? It is not to cut regulation but to put a new tax that is going to be paid by the Australian people. I am absolutely in principle opposed to that. That is why I do not support this bill. It is also a problem with the concept surrounding this bill. After Bert Kelly—and I note the Modest Member society chairman here—rather unfashionably first did so, we have argued for decades that free markets are good and tariffs are bad; now we are back to arguing for a new tariff. You can call it whatever you like, but it is a tariff. It is a tariff on low value purchases from overseas.

More importantly, the tariff is going to be cumbersome and unwieldy to implement and is going to raise a whole range of questions. Who pays it? Is it collected by the retailer overseas? Should it be collected by the transport agency here?

Is it going to apply to second-hand goods? I can game the system already: if I were an overseas retailer, I would transfer it to a second retailer and call it second-hand. I would even repackage it to save money. There are a whole bunch of ways this could be scammed and gamed, because government are trying to be too clever. What is it that the government have against people being able to obtain goods for less money? If they are that opposed to consumers' interests, my message to them is that they are once again putting their own inability to cut the cost of government and to cut the expenses and the programs of government ahead of the interests of Australian people.

This is wrong in principle. The concept of it is wrong and overturns what I thought was decades of learned wisdom about getting more benefits. It undermines the principle of competition, and the execution of this is, quite frankly, diabolical. Here we are with a big new tax where the government do not really know how they are going to collect it or how they want to collect it, and this new tax is only a couple of weeks from being implemented. That is why, when the opposition seek to delay this tax for a year, I will be supporting that delay. I am happy to delay it for 10 or 12 years if it helps them to get to a better answer and a better outcome. But, ultimately, I will be voting against this bill in whatever shape or form it is. I am not here to put taxes up; I am here to cut the cost of regulation for businesses and for consumers. I am here to drive prices down so that people get better value not only from government—where we should be lowering taxes—but from the retailers, who have been feasting at our expense for a very long time.

Anyone who has been overseas and has gone into the apparel industry in America or Europe knows that you can buy things for much less there than you can in this country, and it is not because they are made in America or in Europe; it is because the regulations attached to selling those items allow for a more competitive environment and a more competitive market. I believe Australian consumers deserve better value from their retail sector. It is up to government to provide that environment by cutting the cost of doing business, not imposing new taxes on those who seek to get the best possible value for their money in a global environment.

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