Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 September 2014


Consideration of Legislation

12:32 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move a motion relating to the consideration of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Repeal and Other Measures Bill 2014.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice standing in the name of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Abetz, I move:

That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion relating to the consideration of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Repeal and Other Measures Bill 2014.

The parliament has now debated the mining tax repeal legislation for longer than it debated the original mining tax package and related measures putting this failed tax in place. So far, we have spent nearly 32½ hours all up debating the mining tax repeal package, compared to 30 hours and 40 minutes to introduce the original tax and associated measures. If this motion is successful, after this debate, we will have spent nearly 34 hours debating the mining tax repeal package. The suggestion that we have not spent enough time and that we do not know what our respective positions are in relation to this bill would not be a fair characterisation.

The government's position has been very clear in relation to this bill for a very long time. We are committed to repeal Labor's failed mining tax because it is bad for our economy, bad for investment and bad for jobs. We also campaigned and were elected on a platform to repeal the unfunded promises Labor attached to their failed tax. However, when we put this legislation to the Senate for a second time back in July, the Senate voted to support the repeal of the mining tax but also to keep three of the measures the previous government attached to it in place. The government have listened to the Senate and, since that vote in July, engaged positively and constructively with party leaders and senators who were prepared to work with us on a way forward to ensure we could repeal the mining tax in a way which accommodated the support in the Senate for those three measures while not detracting from our important efforts to repair the budget.

I would like to thank in particular Mr Palmer, the Leader of the Palmer United Party, the Palmer United Party senators, Senator Muir, for the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party, Senator David Leyonhjelm, for the Liberal Democrats, and Senator Bob Day, for the Family First Party, for their very positive and constructive engagement in the pursuit of common ground on this important bill in the national interest. I am pleased to announce that the government has received indications from a majority of senators in this chamber that they will support our mining tax repeal package subject to amendments which are currently being circulated in the chamber. Those amendments implement an agreement between the government and the Palmer United Party and the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party reflected in a letter to the Leader of the Palmer United Party, which I table now.

Those amendments are very straightforward and easily dealt with. They will ensure that the low-income super contribution remains in place until 30 June 2017, well and truly after the next election. The income support bonus remains in place until 31 December 2016, after the election. The schoolkids bonus, means-tested so that only families earning up to $100,000 per year will qualify, will remain in place until 31 December 2016, also after the election. Compulsory super will not be increased again from where it is now until 1 July 2021, when it will increase to 10 per cent, increasing by further 0.5 per cent increments every year from 1 July 2022 onwards until it reaches 12 per cent. If the government's amendments to the mining tax repeal package today are passed, those increases will be specified and locked into the legislation.

This is not an adverse unexpected change as it will leave Australian workers with more of their own money pre-retirement, which they can spend on paying down their mortgage, spend on other matters or save for their retirement through superannuation as they see fit. It will also reduce the cost of doing business, helping business employ more Australians.

We have also agreed to support the establishment of two parliamentary joint select committees—one to investigate the establishment of an Australia fund to more effectively deal with and respond to natural disasters, and a second to investigate measures to further boost Australia's trade and investment performance.

If this bill is supported by the Senate, it means that the mining tax will be gone, as promised. It will mean that the three measures the Senate indicated in July it wanted to keep are secure—until 31 December 2016 for the income support bonus and the means tested schoolkids bonus, and until 30 June 2017 for the low-income super contribution. It will then be up to the next parliament and the government elected at the next election to determine how it wishes to proceed with those measures after the next election.

The passage of this bill secures just over $10 billion in budget bottom line improvements over the current forward estimates, with that growing in the period beyond the forward estimates. It also achieves savings in the period beyond the forward estimates as a result of the proposed changes to the implementation of the phased increase in compulsory super. The cost of the amendments over the forward estimates is just over $6.5 billion, leaving a net saving of just over $10 billion over the current forward estimates. That additional cost over the forward estimates will, in effect, be offset by additional savings beyond the forward estimates with the effect that, by the end of 2023, the effect of all of the amendments before the Senate today is, broadly, budget-neutral. I commend this motion, the mining tax repeal bill and the amendments to the Senate. (Time expired)

12:38 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, what we see today is a stealth attack on the Senate and a government treating this Senate with the same contempt with which it treats the Australian people. And we know the contempt with which this government treats the Australian people, because we know before the last election this government told Australians a range of things that are now demonstrated to be lies. 'There will be no cuts to education; there will be no cuts to health; there will be no changes to the pension; there will be no cuts to the ABC and SBS.' And, of course, 'There will be no adverse changes to superannuation.' Well, that is the latest lie in a conga line of lies from this government, which is utterly contemptuous of the Australian people. What the minister just read out is another broken promise.

What those on that side of the parliament want is to ram through a new amendment, a new aspect, in the MRRT legislation. It was rammed through the Lower House yesterday without even a second reading speech being given by the relevant frontbencher. They want the Treasurer of this country, the bloke who thinks that poor people do not drive cars, to have the discretion as to whether Australians should get an increase in their superannuation. We will just give Joe Hockey the discretion!

I will say something to the Palmer United Party and to other independents in this chamber. We recognise you will not vote with us on occasions. We recognise that and we respect it. We disagree with you on things but we respect your right to choose which way you vote. We do not respect doing a deal, coming in at 12.30 and voting to suspend standing orders so as to truncate debate to deliver a deal without notice. We in the opposition have tried to deal with you with courtesy; we have tried to deal to make sure, even when we disagree, we do so respectfully and give you appropriate notice. We were told of this stealth attack at 12.25. That is when the Manager of Opposition Business was told.

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A stealth attack? You wouldn't have even been told about it!

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

What is this government doing? Well, here we have another deal—another dirty deal that they tried to ram through the chamber just like we have seen before, showing as much contempt for this Senate as they show for the Australian people, as they break promise after promise after promise, and then tell people they are actually not breaking any promises. As I said, the minister on that side essentially read out a whole range of new policy positions in that introduction, which senators are supposed to absorb, debate and to consider. Presumably, perhaps, some of the crossbenchers might have that in writing. Those of us on this side of the chamber only had the benefit of the wisdom of the minister as he spoke. What is the Senate supposed to do? Apparently, what the Senate is supposed to do is say, 'We reckon we should make a change to superannuation in this legislation and we reckon Joe Hockey is doing such a great job that we will give him a bit more power. We will give him a bit more power to decide if we should dole out another superannuation guarantee increase.' What contempt for the Australian people.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

Read the amendments.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister says, 'Read the amendments.' Well, we will when we get them, Minister. He is inviting the opposition, the Labor Party and presumably the Greens—I presume they have not been told about this either—to read the amendments. Well, I look forward to them being circulated, given the minister circulated them about four minutes ago.

Anyway, there was another lie, or falsehood—or perhaps misinformation might be correct—in what the minister put to the chamber when he said that the Senate was holding up the passage of the mining bill. The government got the mining repeal legislation through. What they did not like was the amendments protecting expenditures that are important to working people. They did not like the amended bill. That is what they are actually talking about, because they do not like democracy and they do not like to be questioned. Today, of all days, what we should remember is that Mr Abbott, on 5 August, told another lie:

There's a commitment that I want to give you … There will not be deals done with independents and minor parties under any political movement that I lead.

Well, what are we seeing today? We are seeing another dirty deal and a stealth attack on the Senate designed to ram through legislation by 1.40—it was rammed through the Lower House yesterday and has changes in it that have not been debated—just because this government wants a political win. (Time expired)

12:43 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Yesterday, I tried to suspend standing orders to have a debate in this parliament about a decision to commit Australian troops on a military intervention in Iraq. And that was not deemed to be a reason to suspend standing orders. The most important issue that you will ever deal with is whether or not you send young Australians into harm's way. But, today, we come in here and the government, as a result of a deal that they have done with the Palmer United Party, is seeking to suspend standing orders—and, not only that, ram the whole thing through in an hour without even having circulated the amendments.

They had the courtesy to tell the Labor Party that they were going to do it. They did not even have the courtesy to tell us they were even going to bother doing it. Within one hour, they want to come in here, circulate amendments, just bang them on the desk and say, 'It does not matter what you think about it, we have done the deal, we have the numbers, we can ram it through.' And there has been no opportunity for us to see what this is going to do to people around Australia with regard to the schoolchildren's bonus, superannuation contribution for lower income people, and the family tax benefit.

What does it all mean? Most particularly, it gives Clive Palmer what he wanted—that is, it gets rid of the mining tax for the big miners so that maximum profits can go to the big miners. Who are the losers? The losers are the people around Australia who thought that they might get some support with their superannuation—people on low income who wanted the ability to build their superannuation for their retirement.

With regard to superannuation, we are told all the time that people have to contribute to their retirement, yet this legislation will mean an inevitable delay in going from the nine per cent to the 12 per cent. And that is not fair. It is not fair that Gina Rinehart can maximise her profits and that the other big miners can maximise their profits but that these things are going.

The Greens have said all along that the issue here is that we need to raise revenue in this country so that we can provide for and help people with superannuation, so that we can provide the health and education services we need, so that we can invest in our universities and so that we can invest in the future. That is why the Greens have said: 'Fix the mining tax so that we can return $39 billion over the forward estimates. If you get into this and fix the mining tax we can make a great deal of money for the country.' Instead of that, the government is letting the big miners off the hook.

We should not be surprised that somebody who has so invested in the resource based industries and in the mining industry would want to facilitate an end to the mining tax. That is wrong for this country. We should be expecting companies that make mega profits to invest in the best interests of the future, which is in health and education.

Finally, we are seeing here a contempt for the Senate. I cannot remember when we had something brought into the chamber and were told we had one hour, with amendments dropped on the desk with no attempt to explain or understand what they mean. That is why this is a wrong way to go.

If the Palmer United Party and the government were so confident that this is a good deal they would have dealt with it in the appropriate way, we would have had a chance to look at these amendment and we would have had a chance to make the case, yet again, for an increase in the mining tax by fixing the mining tax and ending the loopholes that the big companies sorted out for themselves.

After all, the reason the mining tax is not returning the money that it should to the community, for the resources that the community owns, is because Xstrata, BHP and Rio Tinto ran rings around Wayne Swan and the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. That is why we do not have the money. The companies got what they wanted: not paying the tax. The former government got what it wanted: a deal on a mining tax. But the community lost. Now is our opportunity to give the community a win, keep the mining tax, fix the mining tax and maintain the efforts we had to support low income earners with their superannuation contributions.

12:48 pm

Photo of Glenn LazarusGlenn Lazarus (Queensland, Palmer United Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to inform the chamber that this is not my first speech.

As the Leader of the Palmer United Party in the Senate, on behalf of Palmer United and Senator Muir of the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, I would like to inform the chamber and the people of Australia that we support the amendments put forward by the government. We support these amendments because we must remove the mining tax so that this unjust, unfair and unnecessary tax is removed from Australia as soon as possible. This tax is hurting investment in Australia and diminishing our competitiveness on the world stage.

The Palmer United Party has always supported the removal of the mining tax, but we would not allow the tax to be removed unless key elements—including the schoolkids bonus, the low income super contribution and the low income support bonus—were retained. Today, Palmer United is grateful that the government has agreed to our insistence that the mining tax be removed while still retaining these important measures.

This is a win for hardworking Australians across the country including single parents, carers, pensioners, low income earners and others who rely on much needed support to survive. Many women would have been affected by the removal of these important measures. In fact, of the 3.6 million Australians benefiting from the low income super contribution, 2.1 million are women. Retention of these measures is a win for women and a win for the most vulnerable in our community.

The amendments we have initiated and secured the government's support for—and which are being put forward today—will ensure that the low income superannuation contribution remains in place until 30 June 2017; the low income support bonus remains in place until 31 December 2016; and the schoolkids bonus, which is means tested so that families earning up to $100,000 per year will qualify, will remain in place until 31 December 2016.

These amendments ensure these three key measures which the previous government attached to the mining tax will remain in place and protected until after the Australian people have spoken at the next election. The Palmer United Party wants to ensure that we take care of our people and treat our citizens with respect, decency and kindness. This is the Australian way. This is the Palmer United way.

Importantly, we will also support the government's proposal not to increase compulsory superannuation again—from where it is now at 9.5 per cent—until 1 July 2021, when it will increase to 10 per cent, increasing by further 0.5 per cent increments every year from 1 July 2022 onwards until it reaches 12 per cent.

Among other things, this will now leave Australian workers with more of their own money in their own pockets pre-retirement. As well, it will mean lower costs for businesses, helping them to employ more Australians. Businesses employ the majority of Australians, and we must support them to grow employment. Australians need more jobs.

The Palmer United Party and the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party have also been able to secure government support for the establishment of two important parliamentary committees. One is a joint select committee which will investigate the establishment of an Australia fund to more effectively deal with, and respond to, natural disasters. The second is a joint select committee to investigate measures to further boost Australia's trade and investment performance.

Finally, as I have indicated, we in the Palmer United Party and the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party recognise that the mining tax debate has gone on for far too long, and this is why we support the amendments put forward by the government to remove the mining tax once and for all by 2 pm today, while still retaining much needed support for hardworking Australians.

12:52 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

I suppose we do not need this half hour. We certainly do not need until whatever time this afternoon for the debate, as we just heard the debate on the bill. We just heard what has been agreed to. I called the Manager of Government Business this morning to discuss what was happening on general notices of motion this afternoon. Naturally, I did not immediately get a call back because people are very busy. It was not until 24 minutes past 12 that I got a call back from the Manager of Government Business in the Senate not to respond to the question I put but to tell us that we were going to have 'a time managed process to look at the MRRT'.

That was seemingly not a surprise to many people who have been able to gather in the chamber today to hear about what is going to happen. It was a bit of a surprise to us, because we thought we had an established process, that we would have a discussion around how we would bring the bills on in this place and how we would work through them and come up with a parliamentary decision.

We have had many hours of debate on this bill. We know that. We think it is an important bill. The hours of debate we had a couple of weeks ago on this issue led to a range of decisions around important issues, some of which have come up today in amendments which we have just seen. These include important areas around low-income super and the schoolkids bonus. Those are issues that we debated in this place and understood. We have now seen the government response and we have to work out what has happened.

But the absolute doozy is this new proposal on superannuation for other Australian workers. We have not seen this before. This in itself constitutes an issue which demands debate in the Senate. It is definitely something that all of us care strongly about. Superannuation, as we know, is an important element for all Australian workers. Today an amendment which we have just seen has come through looking at a wage freeze for Australian workers for seven years. I have would have thought that this was a significant issue not just for this chamber but for workers and employers all across this nation. However, as we are led to believe is going to be standard practice from this government, they did not bring this out so we could look at it carefully, see the impact and look at the costings. We know that one thing about this particular amendment is that it will not be a spend; it will be a save. It will be a big save. And at whose expense will it be? It will be at the expense of people who are working in our community. To have their guaranteed superannuation frozen into the future is not really an incentive. It does not protect the real value of super and, in fact, is a wage cut.

We believe that the issues that we have before us are significant. They demand some cooperation from people in this chamber to bring forth the real arguments. But, as I have said, we have heard that the process is going to be, in effect, guillotined in the Senate. We have got through three weeks of sittings in the new parliament and already we have a guillotine that is going to affect legislation impacting on Australian workers. We need better than this. If this is going to be their methodology, I would suggest we do not even have to come into this chamber. A deal could be made. We may take up the wonderful proposition that I remember then Senator Barnaby Joyce suggesting in this chamber of email voting! We could just have information sent out and we could press a button saying yea or nay.

Bringing this into this chamber in this way today, in effect, negates the opportunity for debate and negates the opportunity for questions. As the motion now reads, we will have about 40 minutes to push through all the amendments and push through this whole bill. Then people can go out to the community and say they have saved the people of Australia. But what they have actually done, as has happened many times, is come to a deal. We have not had appropriate Senate scrutiny of a major change in policy and a major savings measure which was not put out in the budget and was never debated.

We should have known yesterday when we heard all those bells ringing over in the other place and saw all those flashing green lights that something was happening. We should have known that. But we will not even have the chance for a flashing red light in the Senate today— (Time expired)

12:58 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I will be as brief as I can. I will speak to the motion, but I just want to open with the final words of then Senator Nick Minchin to this parliament. I will remind honourable senators of what he said. He said:

I close with just one piece of gratuitous advice to all senators, and that is to remember the virtue of earning the respect of your colleagues on all sides of the chamber—earn their respect for your integrity, your decency, your passion, your commitment to your ideals and your willingness to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

That pretty much sums it up. This is no way to run a parliament. This is no way to run a country.

I actually happen to think that two of the three compromises are not too bad. The fact that we have kept the low-income superannuation support is good. The fact that there has been a compromise on the schoolkids bonus is a good thing. I do think, though, that it is extraordinary that we are throwing away and abandoning the issue of increases in compulsory superannuation for effectively seven years, as Senator Moore has said. It is outrageous.

Also, let's put this in perspective for all the new senators in this place. We get—and I am not criticising anyone for this—15 per cent super, our staff get 15 per cent super and public servants get 15 per cent super, but we are going to say to the rest of the country, 'You are going to be stuck on 9½ per cent.' That is wrong. I am not going to have a go at my crossbench colleagues for the deal that was done. No doubt they acted in good faith. But the trouble with stealth attacks is that they will be done to you eventually. This is not a good way of doing things.

My negotiating style—this is probably why I have not been able to negotiate with the government on this, and I am not criticising Senator Cormann—is that I will tell everybody on both sides what I am doing so there is no subterfuge and no secrecy. That is the way I would like to do it; it probably infuriates Senator Cormann. I am grateful that Senator Cormann did speak to me. We eventually spoke at about 12.27 pm today and I knew what was going on. I did get a heads up—only a little heads up, but I am grateful that I got that.

This sets a very bad precedent in this place. My plea to the crossbenchers who support this legislation and this package of measures is: let us at least have a couple of hours of debate. That is, at least, better than rushing it through. There are some important issues here in this bill as to the mechanics of it and how it will work. What we are doing is using the guillotine again. The other side did it, the opposition—they did it ruthlessly. I am not having a go at the Greens and the opposition but they did it too, ruthlessly, in the previous parliament. The other side is using the same technique.

This is bad for democracy. It is bad for our parliament and I would urge at least some decent level of debate. I do not know whether these questions will be answered. This sets a very bad precedent. Senator Nick Minchin—a great senator in this place and a good man—was absolutely right in his closing remarks. We should heed that.

1:01 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

If you listen to the contributions from the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens you could be forgiven for thinking that never in their time in office—never during the period that they were in coalition—did they put forward time management motions. But I can remember very clearly time management motions from Senator Ludwig. I remember very clearly time management motions from Senator Collins. In fact, Senator Collins started to develop the nickname 'the queen of the guillotine', so often did she seeks to deploy time management motions.

The reason the government is seeking to use this procedure in this place is because, with the exception of the carbon tax repeal legislation, there has been no package of legislation regarding which the Australian Labor Party has sought to defy the will of the Australian people on more occasions than the MRRT package of legislation. The Australian public were very clear at the last election on what they wanted in relation to the carbon tax and the MRRT. We are merely seeking to give effect to the will of the Australian people as expressed at the ballot box. That is what we are seeking to do here. The Australian Labor Party have thwarted every attempt of the government to do that. It is worth noting that there has, in fact, been 34 hours of debate on the repeal of the MRRT, as opposed to 30 hours of debate on the imposition of the MRRT. There has been more debate about repealing that which the Australian Labor Party put in than was provided for its imposition. This procedural motion should be supported.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time allotted for the debate has expired. The question is that the motion moved by Senator Cormann to suspend standing orders be agreed to.

1:09 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I move the motion in the terms circulated in the chamber and that the question be now put.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:


(a) the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Repeal and Other Measures Bill 2014 be called on immediately, have precedence over all government business and be considered under a limitation of time;

(b) the question that the bill be now read a second time be put immediately after the bill is called on and that the time allotted for all remaining stages be until 1.40 pm;

(c) subject to paragraph (d), this order shall operate as a limitation of debate under standing order 142; and

(d) at the expiration of time, the question shall be put on all circulated amendments.