Senate debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


Budget; Order for the Production of Documents

12:17 pm

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for the Public Service) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the explanation given by the Minister for Finance.

How quickly the gloss comes off a Labor government, how quickly the rhetoric of opposition gives way to the political expediency of Labor governments. There was certainly a lot of talk from Minister Gallagher about transparency, about openness—indeed, it was only in October last year that she actually said, 'Transparency is a core part of APS business.' It's a core part of APS business, Minister Gallagher. In this spirit, I have to give credit where it's due. I was encouraged that when the Senate agreed to the order for the production of documents No. 87, which sought the Budget Process Operational Rules, the government provided them to the Senate. They were convincing about those proclamations of a new style of politics and new levels of transparency, and those proclamations were so convincing that for a moment even I almost believed them.

But it only lasted a moment. It's very concerning that the moment that those rules were updated, Minister Gallagher changed tack. In fact, instead of providing them, she then told the Senate that the BPORs govern the consideration of policies that are being brought forward in the '23-24 budget process, which has commenced. That's a line that she has repeated just now. She claims that those documents would divulges deliberations of cabinet and then she sought public interest immunity from the order. It is Minister Gallagher's right—don't get me wrong—to make that public interest immunity claim. However, when a public interest immunity claim is made, it is fundamental that it is genuine, it is fundamental that it's consistent—indeed, it is a test of honesty and integrity that it is so.

And with that in mind, I note that evidence provided at Senate estimates, from Minister Gallagher's own department, confirming that the documents we have requested are not classified cabinet-in-confidence documents, but rather 'Official: Sensitive'. That is a lower classification, and it is a significantly different classification. Senator Gallagher said herself, at Senate estimates, 'We are putting that budget together. My preference is that we don't release them once we're doing that, with a view—I think I said this in the Senate—that once that process is complete, I would be in a position to release them the Senate.' But this process is entirely inconsistent with the approach that Senator Gallagher took in November last year. She then admitted that the BPOR documents provided to the Senate on 28 November were in fact in operation at the time that they were tabled. They were in operation at that time. So what has changed between November last year and February this year? What has changed? It is entirely inconsistent with the reason that the minister has just provided the Senate.

I asked departmental officials at those estimates when the new rules—that is, the rules that were replacing the versions that were tabled on 28 November—were approved. Early December was the evidence that was provided. I asked if there was any vacuum in time when the old rules ceased to operate and the new ones came into effect. Senator Gallagher confirmed that this was not the case. Therefore, we know that the rules tabled in the Senate on 28 November were operating until at least early December. So it is totally laughable to claim that the minister cannot now table the new version of the BPORs as they're currently in use, because she has confirmed that the previous BPORs were being used at the time she tabled them. So what has changed? What has changed?

This is a document that was previously handed over with no hesitation at all. But now, all of a sudden, the government has decided that it won't hand it over anymore. Now that change of tack is surely no coincidence. Once again, we've seen that Labor are very happy to say one thing about transparency when it suits them, but another thing about transparency when it doesn't suit them. Just as the government starts to break its promises on no changes to super, on no changes to taxation, on no changes to franking credits, Minister Gallagher has suddenly decided that budget transparency is also no longer important. What a surprise that might be.

This is a government that doesn't take managing the budget seriously, and so it's afraid to budget. It's afraid to publish its budget rules because it doesn't want to be publicly held to the standard that it's apparently setting itself. Those opposite have dumped the objective of a balanced budget from their fiscal strategy. It was gone. Nowhere in the last budget did the words say, 'We are going to bring the budget back into balance.' Nowhere. Not once in the budget documents. It's been decades since that phrase, or even an implication of that phrase, was absent from budget documents. It's nowhere to be seen.

They have ditched the tax-to-GDP ratio, so there's no handbrake on taxes. Let it rip! Let it rip on taxes! There is no handbrake; there are no rules. It's part of their plan to let bracket creep eat into the wages of Australians to help prop up the budget. They won't rein in spending so that's why the RBA is being forced to do all the heavy lifting on interest rates, which is hitting everyday Australians in the hip pocket. And yet they have the audacity to point to the Governor of the RBA and say it's all his fault. Higher mortgage rates, higher energy bills, higher grocery prices: this is what this government has delivered. And let's not forget higher taxes. Perhaps the reason the government don't want to release their budget rules is because there is no offset rule anymore. That's disappeared from the budget process rules. Or the rule is there, potentially, but maybe it's just so flagrantly ignored that it's meaningless. Perhaps that's the case.

Labor announced $23 billion in additional spending, and we expect to see a hell of a lot more. We expect to see an awful lot more where that came from in the May budget. And how will they fund all that spending? Certainly not with making the hard calls about reducing expenditure. It's with taxes. It's with doubling of the super tax, it's with new franking credits taxed via stealth, it's by removing the personal income tax cuts that they tried to oppose at the time. This is a government that does not keep its promises. 'We have said that we have no intention of making any changes to super taxes,' said Anthony Albanese in May 2022. 'We've made it very clear, Kieran, that we don't have any proposals for tax increases,' said Jim Chalmers in April 2022.

These promises, clearly, mean nothing to Labor. They don't mean much to Senator Gallagher, clearly, or to the Treasurer or Prime Minister, but they mean an awful lot to Australians who are planning for their retirement. They mean something to the recent retiree who sold a business and is putting the proceeds in their self-managed super fund and now finding they're going to be charged tax twice. They mean something to a farmer who transferred their farm into their super fund and is suddenly looking at how to find cash to pay for unrealised capital gains for the first time. We knew the Labor Party would say anything to be elected and they did. This is the same Jim Chalmers who said he was 'pleased and proud' of the high-taxing agenda that Labor took to the 2019 election. Labor is clearly happy to say one thing and do another. In the case of the BPORs, Labor is happy to set the standard but not abide by it.

Australians are sick of the double standards. They are sick of the doublespeak. They are sick of broken promises, of having no intention to do something but then going ahead and doing the exact opposite only months later, of having no proposals to do something but then going ahead and doing the exact opposite less than a year later. Whether it be on transparency or reducing the cost of living, Labor is happy to say one thing and do another.

Who suffers for this? It's the ordinary Australians who felt that they were doing the right thing, who trusted the Labor opposition when they said they were going to make no changes to taxes. They trusted the Labor opposition when they said they were going to make no changes to super. They trusted the Labor opposition when they said, 'We have no interest in taking your franking credits away.' They trusted you and you duped them. They have a right to be disappointed.

Whether it be on transparency or the cost of living, you may be happy to say one thing and do another. You may do that. But in the coalition we are committed to holding you to account for the commitments that you have made. We will continue to do that every single day until you stick to your promises.


No comments