Senate debates

Thursday, 10 May 2018


Statement and Documents

8:04 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I open by acknowledging the Ngunawal people as the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. I want to start by saying the Greens welcome the government's budget. We welcome it, because it presents Australians with a clear and stark choice about the future. Do we want to live in a more selfish, dog-eat-dog society where everyone is in it for themselves, where we get tax cuts for big corporations and wealthy Australians to make them richer, and where everyone else is left behind?

Do we want to live in a society where young people are denied a safe and stable climate, affordable housing and a quality education? Or do we want to come together as a community and fund universal services that we know are the foundations of this society, that give everyone, not just those with wealth, the ability to fulfil their dreams and aspirations and to live a good life? As a doctor, I know that tax cuts mean crowded emergency departments, longer hospital waiting lists and bigger bills when you see your GP. As a parent, I know that massive tax cuts mean more children crammed into overcrowded classrooms, struggling to learn. And I know that it's my children's generation who will inherit the legacy of an unstable and dangerous climate.

Scott Morrison might have his name on this budget, but let's be absolutely clear about who the real author is. In the long history of ghostwriters, hidden from public fame, this budget has been written for and by the corporations that have captured this government. This is not a budget that rises to the challenges we are facing in this century, challenges we can only face together, challenges like climate change, inequality, affordable housing and the changing nature of work as jobs are replaced by machines. It's a selfish budget, a mean budget, one that steals from the future and benefits corporations and the super-rich at the expense of everybody else. This budget is a case study in how big companies have taken over politics and reorganised the economy for their own benefit. Big business wins twice in this budget. Firstly, it gets a whopping great big tax cut worth $80 billion. Secondly, the personal income tax cuts mean it doesn't have to give up one cent of its additional profits to give workers a pay rise. Yet again, it's the public who pays while the big end of town gets off scot-free. The champagne corks will have been popping in boardrooms right across the country on budget night.

Look at our multinational gas companies, who are making billions of dollars getting our gas for free and not paying a single cent in tax. We were promised the government would crack down on this rort. We could have at least $4 billion from collecting a 10 per cent royalty, alongside an improved petroleum resource rent tax, that could raise revenue for thousands of jobs, jobs for park rangers, community legal centres or an investment in climate mitigation programs. Instead, the big energy giants ended up writing themselves out of the budget. Now they can sit quietly and wait for their tax cut. It's more evidence that we do not have a tax system in this country; we have a tax avoidance system. That's what needs to be fixed.

Instead, the Liberals have rewritten tax thresholds, and with that they will rewrite the fabric of Australian society. They have delivered a budget that will turbocharge inequality. Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison are hoping against hope that they can fool you, that you will be bought off with a few tax cuts and that you'll miss the devil's bargain at the heart of their plan: they give with one hand but they take twice as much with the other. Australians won't be fooled. They know that this budget rips billions of dollars in tax revenue from our schools and hospitals. They know that it is grossly unfair that a nurse or a childcare worker gets a few hundred dollars in tax cuts but a politician or a banker gets $7,200 in tax cuts. Even for those measly tax cuts starting on 1 July this year, a graduate childcare worker earning the minimum wage of $36,000 will only get $3.65 a week. If you're a young mum returning to the workforce, working one or two days a week, you'll get nothing. Of course, the ABC will struggle to report on these changes because they've had another cut to their annual budget.

With this budget this government is taking us further away from the kind of decent, generous and caring society that most of us want and believe in. Look no further than the government's shameful refusal to increase the Newstart payment. Despite even John Howard and the Business Council of Australia joining with people right across the community, agreeing that now Newstart is so low that it guarantees that people who fall out of work will be locked into a downward spiral of poverty, Malcolm Turnbull said no.

A progressive taxation system is the best protection we have to combat inequality, but, if we want to keep it, we've got a serious fight ahead of us. We in the Greens believe in progressive taxation because it ensures that people contribute according to their means. It allows us to raise money and to target it where it is most needed. We all know that, if you want to fix the tax system, you fix the tax avoidance system; you don't give a tax cut to corporations and the super-rich. With one small and achievable policy change we could be making big mining companies pay fuel excise tax like the rest of us, and with that small change we could lift youth allowance, Newstart and payments for single parents by $75 a week so that no-one in this country is living beneath the poverty line. And, if we did that—if we made that small change—we'd still have a staggering $14 billion left over to inject into Medicare and into more childhood education, which would mean fewer out-of-pocket costs for people and lift the quality of life for both young and old. If we didn't plough billions into continuing the capital gains tax rort for wealthy investors, we could invest those billions into public schools instead of leaving it up to parents to raise money through fun runs, through cake stalls and through reading challenges.

But here's the rub: you see, parents can't afford to bankroll a television campaign, so it's young people who get screwed over time and time again, budget after budget. Those without a roof over their head, those living in insecure housing, those living in fear of domestic violence—they're left to fend for themselves because they can't organise a lavish fundraising dinner on the 20th floor of Ernst & Young House. Schoolteachers, nurses and those on the front line of social support services—they can't offer lucrative contracts for retiring energy or trade ministers once they leave parliament, so they don't get the budget they want.

And so what are we left with? Housing remains as a speculative asset. It's a great tax lark. It's easier for people to buy their third, fourth or fifth house than their first. Renters are locked out; they have to brace themselves for the next inevitable rent increase. People are forced to buy health insurance they don't want or need to boost the profits of private health companies, who funnel it into tax havens offshore. We need to end that unfair and inefficient subsidy so that we can invest it in Medicare-funded dental care so that going to the dentist is just like going to the doctor. We know that taking $140 billion out of our tax revenues is going to give future parliaments no hope of meeting the $57 billion in capital costs for hospitals and aged care and the $30 billion to run them and to pay the 120,000 nurses and 400,000 aged-care workers that we're going to need in 2025, when these tax cuts really start to bite.

The reality is that Australia is already a low-taxing nation. We've got the eighth-lowest tax collection of the 35 countries in the OECD. Of course the government wants you to believe otherwise. Corporations have exploited our broken political donation system to buy influence and to rig the rules for themselves so they can make megaprofits from our resources while the rest of us pay for it. Good job if you can get it.

We know what happens when a country places greater importance on corporate profit and individual tax cuts than the public good. Just look at our mates in the US. Just look at the US to see what it's like to live in a society run to benefit big business and the super wealthy. Good luck if you get sick, because there's no Medicare to cover your medical bills. If you lose your job as a result of your illness then you'd better find a charity that can feed and clothe you, because there's no income support to help you get back on your feet. Do you want to send your kid to uni? You'd better hope you've got a spare hundred grand lying around so you can send your kid to uni, or get ready to carry that debt burden on your back for the next 20 years.

Margaret Thatcher once said there was no such thing as society, but she was wrong. She was dead wrong. We are all in this together, and how we choose to treat each other is one of the critical questions that define who we are. Decent societies have a few things in common: universal health care, access to high-quality education, environmental sustainability, a social safety net to ensure that no-one's left out in the cold, modern infrastructure, a pathway to employment, and housing for everyone. It's not a huge list, not a long list, but each and every element is vital to a fair, decent and caring community.

This is a budget that does over young people. Successive Liberal and Labor governments have pushed the tough choices onto future generations. They've done it through tax and housing policies that lock young people out of the housing market. They've done it by privatising higher education, which makes it harder to equip our next generation for a future that is rapidly changing. They've done it by propping up dying industries at the expense of investment in a future economy rich in clean, green jobs, one that values caring and learning.

But it is hard to conceive of a greater act of intergenerational theft than this government's inaction on global warming. On the day the budget was delivered, the world hit the highest concentration of heat-trapping gases in 800,000 years. With extreme weather becoming more frequent and more violent, with the increasing risks of tipping over into runaway global warming, you'd think the government would have some semblance, even a fig leaf, of a climate plan—but no. Instead, the budget shows climate funding falling off a cliff to a tiny 0.2 per cent of total government expenditure—all this in the face of a climate crisis. Some of that money is earmarked to monitor the Great Barrier Reef after bleaching events. But surely preventing global warming from occurring is a more sensible investment than counting dead corals?

Those of us who work in this building are the temporary custodians of this fragile planet. Instead, one in every three workers in the department of the environment, who are striving to ensure the survival of threatened species, will be thrown out the door and into unemployment over the coming months. Australia's extinction rate is the worst in the world. Previous cuts have meant that one-third of the 538 threatened species are of so little interest to the Liberals and their donors that they're not even being tracked. We don't know anything about them. These species are disappearing from our earth quicker than our dismal records can keep up with. But, of course, again, the government's donors don't see the super profits in bringing an ecosystem back from the brink of extinction. To the Liberals, a statue of Captain Cook is more important than supporting an environmental scientist to stop the extinction of Leadbeater's possum.

The Liberals have also trumpeted the infrastructure spend in this budget. But the great bulk of the capital spend in the budget is on military infrastructure. It's not on public transport or on building climate resilience—not on any of those things. There's now more money in the budget to support exporting weapons of death than there is for clean drinking water and educating young women in our region. There's money in the budget for private toll roads but none to preserve the local rivers and ecosystems that sustain us. There's now more money in the budget to support Victoria's polluting brown coal than there is in clean, renewable energy.

If we want to create the sustainable industries of the future and if we want to make our economy work for all of us, we need real tax reform. That means stopping tax avoidance, not giving tax cuts. The Greens' three-point plan would raise $59 billion in contributions from those who aren't paying their fair share. Firstly, we would make wealthy corporations actually pay tax. We would do this by using gearing ratios that prevent corporates from cooking the books and shifting profits offshore, and by forcing them to publicly disclose the details of any settlements with the ATO. Secondly, we would close loopholes that allow millionaires to pay less tax than their secretaries by introducing a Buffett rule. It doesn't matter how many expensive accountants someone employs and how many dodgy deductions are claimed, every cent over $300,000 would be taxed at a minimum rate of 35c in the dollar—it's a minimum, a floor. Thirdly, we would ensure mining giants give us a fair share of our natural wealth. We would implement a fair petroleum resource rent tax, with a low uplift rate and royalty provisions that don't gift oil and gas giants our resources. And there would be no more tax-free fuel for miners.

Wealthy corporations and the super-rich don't need a tax cut; they need to start paying their fair share of tax. That's what our plan does. To do all of this, we need to resource those critical public agencies that help us to enforce the law, particularly the ATO and ASIC, whose responsibility it is to enforce these policies. It's outrageous that, in light of the recent banking royal commission, a $26 million cut to ASIC is going to result in fewer staff to ensure compliance with the law when there should be more.

We'll be taking this plan to the election because we know that Australians want a national budget that ensures that big miners, insurance companies and property investors contribute their fair share. We know that people prefer services over tax cuts. We know that people want urgent action on climate change. We can fundamentally transform our society. These are choices that we need to make. We can transform our society to reduce inequality, to urgently tackle climate change, to build a future for young people to prosper, to return public ownership over essential services to the public, to restore our environment and to bring forward new ideas—like the people's bank. We know it means taking on the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country, but we're up for it.

We know where the Liberals stand. We know that big business aren't going to stop trying to push the boundaries in pursuit of profit. We know that, if Labor wins government, big business is going to come knocking again, looking to collect the rent after years of donations into their party coffers. That's why, when we see yet another budget written for big business, the Greens are more motivated than ever to clean up politics, to get donations and corporate influence out and to stop the revolving door between our parliament and the big end of town. Only then will we have a government that writes a budget that is for all of us, not just a select few. Colleagues, we've got a big fight ahead of us and the choices we face have never been clearer.


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