Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Matters of Public Importance


4:12 pm

Photo of David LeyonhjelmDavid Leyonhjelm (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am today, 14 proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Dastyari:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

"The Turnbull Government's unfair Budget that delivers tax handouts for multinationals and millionaires while hurting every Australian family."

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today’s debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

4:13 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

The Turnbull government's unfair budget that delivers tax handouts to multinationals and multimillionaires will hurt everyday Australian families. You do not need to have a poll to know that Malcolm Turnbull and his government are so out of touch with the Australian people—they are the most out of touch government we have seen in recent history. The Turnbull government's budget offers nothing positive to everyday Australian families. It puts big business and the big end of town before the Australian community. We all know that Mr Turnbull likes rich people, and this budget proves just how out of touch he is with everyday Australians' ambitions and the difficulties they have in balancing their weekly budgets. You have to ask yourself what sort of Prime Minister rips money out of our kids' schools and out of our health budget just to give the big end of town and millionaires their tax cuts.

At what cost is that? That leads me into the disaster that we have before us. We have seen evidence of that again today in this place, where the minister, Minister Birmingham, has a civil war going on in his own caucus, because he has been caught out not giving all the relevant information to his own caucus. Then he expects them to come into this place and support him and his proposition in the other place. We have seen numerous House of Reps members saying that they are not happy with this. We have had senators in this place coming out and saying that they may cross the floor. In the last week in this place Senator Back is threatening to cross the floor because this is flawed policy. It is unfair policy—that is what it is. We have also had Senator Eric Abetz, from my home state of Tasmania. Once again, he understands and values the education system, particularly what the Catholic education system does for our home state. It is very disappointing that Senator Bushby and Senator Duniam have chosen to be quiet on this and not speak up for Australian kids, and in particular for Tasmanian schools. It is just extraordinary that this minister has been referred to—I would like to quote—this is what the Australian Catholic education sector is saying about Senator Birmingham as a minister: 'He has been told that in the last 50 years we have been dealing with governments, we have never had a government not engaged with us on major changes to policy.' They actually referred to Minister Birmingham as the worst education minister.

What is even more alarming is that it demonstrates how out of touch the Turnbull government is with what is happening in the Australian community and in our schools. Can I just remind people that under Mr Turnbull's policy 85 per cent of public schools will not reach their fair level of funding, even in 10 years. I have already spoken about it in this place, yesterday and last week, that unfortunately the Turnbull government does not even understand what the word 'fairness' means, because they have done nothing to demonstrate it in any of their budgets, going back to the Abbott government and through the Turnbull government—and who knows whether Abbott is going to come back or not—but they certainly have not delivered anything in the way of fairness to the Australian community.

The Catholic education sector has officially declared a loss of confidence in this government. They have already put on the public record and told the minister that they will campaign every day until the next election, because they will not forget the betrayal that this government has committed. It demonstrates again that this government takes different sectors of our community for granted.

Let's turn to another issue that has come out of this budget. That is the government's failure to stand up for some of the most vulnerable, lowest-paid workers in this country. It is now is some 10 days until 1 July, when Tasmanian and Australian workers will lose their penalty rates. We are talking about people working in the hospitality industry, some retail sectors, hairdressers—the list goes on. We know that under the criteria of this government there is no sector, including the aged care sector, that is off limits for taking away penalty rates for carers and nurses working in that sector, because aged care workers and nurses are not considered to be essential services.

This is very serious. We know that in Tasmania alone, from 1 July, there are going to be some 40,000 Tasmanians who will lose up to $77 a week from their take-home pay. I have attended committee hearings and heard firsthand, because I talked to people in the community. They are devastated that this government has allowed this to happen. This government has ample opportunity. In the House of Representatives they could have voted for the legislation that the opposition, with Mr Shorten, introduced to protect Australian workers from these cuts to penalty rates. But they have failed to do that.

We will see the impact from this roll out into the community and to small businesses. Those on the other side always speak up to say they are the only ones in this place who understand what small business is about, but small businesses are the ones who are going to lose out, because people on very low wages—the people who rely on penalty rates to pay their mortgage, to put food on the table and to support their children through school excursions et cetera—are the ones who spend all their money every single pay. It is not the millionaires. They are not the ones who keep the local economy and small businesses on the move—not at all.

Yesterday, this government, when moving their legislation to make changes to Medicare, had the opportunity, through the amendments I moved, to withdraw it, come back to the drawing board and then come back and give real guarantees for the funding of Medicare and to give real funding to our hospitals. What did they do? They voted against it.

We know, as the Australian people know, that this crowd sitting on the government benches promised so much before the last election. They promised things they could never deliver and they have broken that promise to the Australian people, because they have made cuts to schools.

This minister has bungled any reforms. If he had just stuck with Gonski. The sector and the government and opposition in the past all had an agreement that we would roll out Gonski. But what did these people do? They turned their back on it. Now they have not only the Catholic education sector but also the private schools—the sandstone buildings of Melbourne and Sydney and the prestigious school Friends' in Tasmania, which I am sure Senator Bushby will understand—not getting an increase in their funding. They take away from the state schools in Tasmania and give more funding to Friends'. That is what these people are supporting. So you can never use 'Turnbull government' and 'fairness' in the one sentence.

Not only has the minister been misleading this chamber but he has also been misleading the Australian community. The minister cannot even come to the table with accurate data and give his own caucus a full briefing. That is why you have the situation with Senator Abetz and Senator Back. And I know that Senator Seselja will not be feeling too comfortable, either, because he will have to go out and face the Catholic schools in his community here in the ACT. From the contact I have had with the Catholic Education Commission in my state of Tasmania, I know that they will not rest until they get their funding. After all, the Catholic education system in this country educates one in five Australian children, and most of the time in rural and regional areas, the most disadvantaged areas. In some remote areas it is the only school available to Australian kids.

Our kids come first for us on this side of the chamber. We will fight this every day until the next election. We will fight with the sector to get fair funding for the education sector in this country. (Time expired)

4:23 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

We have done more than any other government to ensure that multinationals pay their fair share of tax. I want to go back to basics. I think low tax is good and lower taxes are even better. I think small government is good and smaller government is even better. I think freedom is good and more freedom is even better. When it comes to the history of the world and of Australia, when the four horsemen of the apocalypse come, which they surely will, we are going to be divided into two camps: those who believe in freedom and those who do not; those who believe in giving people the liberty to look after themselves and those who want to chain them up through the regulations of government.

It is disappointing that we have this modern Labor Party who like spending—throwing away—other people's money like drunken, horny sailors on shore leave, compared with the pious, sensible Liberal-Nationals government, who believe in spending people's money sensibly, in ensuring that taxes are as low as possible and that services are delivered properly. We believe that lower taxes are good, because that gives the man, the woman or the kids earning money the right to decide how they spend their money. But we do believe that multinationals, corporations, should pay their fair share of tax. We believe that society operates better when people pay their fair share of tax. But we also believe that government should manage that money well, because it is not government's money; it is the money of the people who worked for it. It is not the money of Canberra, not the money of this Dubai-esque four-star Hilton that masquerades as our national parliament sometimes; it is the money of the taxpayers of Australia. It is the money of those who are on their tractor at the moment, listening—poor souls!—in Queensland, to this. It is the money of those who are in their trucks driving around Queensland. It is the money of people at home who are trying to have a nap in the winter sun but have been interrupted by this puerile debate that has been brought on by a puerile Labor Party.

Here we have a Labor Party who look at themselves in the mirror and get a bit of a fright and then move on, because they refuse to look at history. They refuse to look at how they have run this country when they have accidentally won an election, when they have got into power. What they do is they destroy the economy. And I will give you a lesson in history, although I am sure you already know this. Let's talk about the Scullin government of 1929 to 1931. They got into power and then drove Australia into not just a recession but a depression. So, we had to get the Tories—my side—the United Australia Party, along with the Country Party, to get into office and clean up Labor's mess. The same thing happened in 1949, when Labor, under the soft velvet hand of the communists, wanted to nationalise Australia's banking industry. It took a reformed Liberal Party of Australia and a Country Party to win the 1949 election and stay in power for a record 23 years and provide this country with record economic growth.

And then we had the Whitlam experiment. Gough Whitlam danced into office like a fairy on steroids and spent money—wanted to borrow money from the Ba'athist party in Iraq because they had run out of money to steal from Australia or borrow from Australia. So they went to Iraq, of all places, and knocked on someone's door and said: 'How about it? Give us the money.' That sums up the Labor Party: let's go to Iraq and borrow money. It took Mr Fraser, in the 1975 election, to get the Liberal Party—and I think by then the National Country Party—to win that election and clean up Australia again.

Then there was Mr Hawke and Mr Keating, who won in 1983. It took them 13 years, because they were slow learners, to drive the Australian economy into dust. We had the recession that we had to have. We had interest rates that went through the roof. And we had Paul Keating, who racked up $96 billion of taxpayers' money as federal government debt. Mr Howard came in with the right attitude, and Mr Fisher and the Liberal-National government, and they cleaned up Labor's mess once again. They made sure they dealt with taxes. They made sure companies paid their fair share. They looked after the families of Australia.

And when Mr Howard was asked by the people of Australia to choose a nice font for his CV, in 2007, and Labor came in under that paradigm of economic responsibility—Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and the other members of that circus—what did they do? They were like drunken kids on a tractor, just having so much fun, hooning around the paddock, spending all these people's money, having a ball of a time. These people had never had a real job. They had gone to university, been a student union activist, got a job in a union office, got a job in a lawyer's office. And we do not talk about what happened to former Prime Minister Gillard and that lawyers' office, do we? The lawyers get involved, because of the lawyers' fight in the lawyers' office.

And they have racked up hundreds of billions of dollars of debt. They once again have taken the Australian economy to the brink. So it is up to the Liberal-National Party—because history repeats itself—to come in and clean up Labor's mess. We have said: 'Righto, we're going to clean up the mess again. Off you go, Labor people. You have trashed the Australian economy. We'll come in here and clean it up.' We're the ones who will make sure we look after the money that comes in from the taxpayer. We on this side of the chamber are the sensible party. We understand that, while there should be taxes, they should be low. Those taxes are there to pay for public services. But we will not spend money that we do not have. We will get this debt down, we will get this deficit down, because we are cleaning up Labor's mess. (Time expired)

4:30 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

If it were Friday afternoon, you could be forgiven for thinking we had had a claret run in this place. Then again, I suppose it is good to let off some steam. While we are having some fun, perhaps we can play our own version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? My first question is: which big parties in this 45th Parliament voted for a tax cut for millionaires? I will give everybody five seconds to think about it. Which two big parties in this parliament voted for a tax cut for millionaires?

Senator Polley interjecting

You are right, Senator Polley; it was the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. Not long ago we had the Treasury Laws Amendment (Income Tax Relief) Bill, one of the first bills that passed through this Senate, which gave a tax cut to everyone in this country on an income above $87,000. So it is fascinating that we have this debating topic today, put up by the Labor Party—

Senator Polley interjecting

I will call out hypocrisy when I see it, Senator Polley; no doubt you are working very hard to cover up for that. But let us not forget. Let's go to question 2 of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?Which party fought really hard and publicly opposed the most significant legislation we have seen tackling multinational tax avoidance, 'the Marles laws'? That was in the 44th Parliament, to add a degree of difficulty to the question. Which big party opposed the most significant legislation this parliament has seen on multinational tax avoidance?

Senator Dastyari interjecting

Yes, you are correct, Senator Dastyari; it was the Labor Party. In fact, not only did they oppose the laws which increased tax transparency in this country; Senator Dastyari put up billboards in Sydney saying that the Greens voted down tax transparency in the Australian parliament. Every chance we get we ask the ATO at estimates—

Senator Dastyari interjecting

Are you doing a war dance, Senator Dastyari? I cannot hear exactly what you are saying.

Photo of David LeyonhjelmDavid Leyonhjelm (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! To the chair, please.

Senator Dastyari interjecting

Senator Dastyari!

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I have obviously hit a raw nerve. Senator Dastyari seems very agitated. The Greens took carriage of that bill, as we did for the tax transparency bills, and we opposed the tax cuts for millionaires in this parliament for the simple reason that we know we have rising inequality in this country. We as a parliament owe it to the Australian people, to those who are less well-off in this country, to at every chance call out inequality, and legislation that adds to inequality, and do everything we possibly can to combat that. That is why my party, the Greens, has taken a consistent stance to always oppose tax cuts for millionaires, as we will for any future legislation.

We have also put up some very positive policy solutions to raise revenue—none less so than this week in which this parliament, which I never would have thought possible even six months ago, passed legislation taxing the big banks. That is right. We have gone to the big end of town, some of the most profitable banks in the world, to raise billions of dollars to pay for schools and hospitals. We know the track record of this Liberal government in the last four years has been zombie cuts targeted at the most vulnerable in this country—pensioners, students, the unemployed, the sick and the elderly. Well, we managed to get money off the big banks.

But guess who are throwing mud every chance they get at taking money off the big banks? It is the last question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Yes, it is the Labor Party again. They are throwing mud at the first opportunity that I have seen in my time in parliament to get legislation up and put in place to take money off big, powerful corporations—$5 billion to $6 billion to help pay for schools and hospitals. So if we are going to be consistent today let's not forget that the Greens are in this parliament and in the Senate to hold big politics to account when they get in bed with big business.

4:35 pm

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You have to hand it to Senator Whish-Wilson. He is perhaps the only Green I have ever seen who could take a motion with the terms 'the Turnbull government's unfair budget that delivers tax handouts for multinationals and millionaires while hurting every Australian family' and turn it into a soliloquy—

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

You wrote it—

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am sorry that English is my second language, Senator Whish-Wilson! You keep going on about this! That was in jest. I withdraw any inference there. I think Senator Whish-Wilson understands that that was in jest.

But to turn a topic like that into a love letter to this government is just disappointing. I get what is going on here. It is obvious. It is the mating dance. It is the mating ritual that is going on at the moment between the government and the Greens. This happens every time we get to the end of a session. All of a sudden Senator Whish-Wilson starts attacking the Labor Party. That is what he does. Then he starts laying the groundwork. Now we know that Senator Hanson-Young and others are in negotiations at the moment about doing an education deal with the government. They have done it before. It happens at the end of every session. There is nothing that the Greens seem to like more than a dirty deal done dirt cheap late with the government. It happens all the time. That is fine. We see this happen at the end of every session.

Let's be clear: the Labor Party voted for the MAAL. But before that we did everything we could to make sure it was going to be a stronger piece of legislation. What we said at the time—and I stand by this—was that it was a bad deal. We had all the cards for those who wanted very strong action taken on international and multinational tax minimisation and tax avoidance. There had been a crossbench coalition of many parties working together, and the Greens had been part of that. All of it came through inquiries, one of which the Greens had a huge role in. I have consistently acknowledged the previous Greens leader, Senator Milne, who was very, very strong on this and actually brought the issue to my attention and to the attention of many other senators over a number of years. At the end of it, there is nothing better for the Greens political party than to snap defeat from the jaws of victory. They did it once again, and they will perhaps do it again on the issue of education. That is really a matter for them. I understand that they are in a position now where they are holding more meetings than the Liberal Party are these days, and the best of luck to them.

The issue at hand is that there is at the moment a fiscal issue when it comes to where we are going to raise revenue and what we are going to spend it on. We had Senator McGrath before using motherhood statements like, 'We believe that people should be paying their fair share of tax.' Everybody agrees with that principle. The debate in this chamber is: what is fair? Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, Senator Leyonhjelm and the libertarians have consistently said that people should be paying their fair share of tax. Now, I believe that the libertarian perspective and perhaps my perspective on what is fair for different people to pay is wholly different, though I note that Senator Leyonhjelm's position is increasingly becoming more and more like mine as time goes by.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's the ageing process!

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I note that as Acting Deputy President, Senator Leyonhjelm, you cannot comment in a debate or interject! When you reach a debt of half a trillion dollars but are still too weak on taxing multinationals, saying, 'We are going to have $65 billion'—$65 billion!—'in tax cuts for big business', while, at the same time not funding education to the extent it needs to be funded, then you have a government that is lost, a government that has its priorities mixed up and a government that has lost touch in governing for all Australians. It should not come as a surprise. Here we are on the Tuesday of the last week of sitting for this session. We are about to go off for a seven-week break, and those of us sitting here on this side of the chamber are not even clear what the government's position on school funding is going to be 24 hours from now. Why? Because the government itself has no idea.

Let's be clear: in politics, within parties and in the Senate there is always negotiation, and nothing is settled until it is settled. What the government is facing at the moment is not a question of what they have to negotiate with other parties on for the passage of legislation; it is what they have to negotiate with themselves on to actually have a position that is going to be passable. At 5 o'clock today we will be saying goodbye to Senator Back. Formal speeches will be made about his contribution, which I think has been a considerable one in his time in the Australian Senate. I understand that there will be an opportunity to say a few words about him then. But Senator Back came out this week and made it very clear that he has issues with the education policy as it has been structured. Senator Abetz, and Mr Andrews and Mr Abbott in the other place, and others have raised their concerns repeatedly. Why? Because they are highlighting what is their fundamental problem when it comes to priorities.

There are principles that we all agree on, and the facts are these: budgets are about priorities, and governments have to make decisions with limited finite resources. What this motion is saying is that if you accept that as the basic principle then why is it that the actions that are being taken on multinational tax minimisation are still so weak? I have said before that I believe the government has done some good things in this area. I think we are in a better position now because of some of those measures than had we not done them. I believe a lot of that happened because the government was dragged kicking and screaming to that position, but there has been some good legislation. Do I believe it goes far enough? No. Do I believe there is a lot more that can be done? Yes. There is a lot more that can be done. But to turn around and look at giving tax cuts to big business at the same time as having a debate about how you are going to fund schools and not put on the table the resources that are needed to properly fund our schools shows a complete lack of direction and judgement. When it is the government's own members—the government's own backbench—who are raising and highlighting these concerns, it shows how lost and out of touch the government is.

Tax office data from 2014-15 shows that one in three large firms in Australia pay no tax—one in three. That includes 109 companies that pay no tax despite reporting more than $1 billion in total income. Let's be clear: you only pay tax on profit. Those companies have claimed that they have not made a profit. There are companies, including big companies, that have good years and bad years. There are big companies that occasionally do not make a profit and legitimately have a reason to pay no tax. When you see numbers as large as this, the concern is that there are companies—and we know this happens; we have seen evidence of this happening—who are gaming the system and creating a pretence in their books through accounting tricks and strategies. Many of these practices are legal, but some are dubious and some are—I think the term used in the industry is—'sharp practices', where companies give the pretence of not being profitable or where they appear on paper as not being profitable for the sole purpose of minimising their tax obligations. Many companies have done this. We have had Senate report after Senate report and inquiry after inquiry, including one large inquiry with many, many hearings, that has exposed this. Frankly, all the measures that have been taken have not been enough. The government's priorities are wrong, and the government has lost direction.

4:46 pm

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I commiserate with you, Mr Acting Deputy President Leyonhjelm, having to sit there silently in the chair while Senator Dastyari verbals you in a most egregious and defamatory way for having moved positions on issues of economic freedom towards Senator Dastyari. I am pleased to be able to exonerate you of such crimes, Chair. As far as I am aware, you have not done so, and I would certainly be alarmed to learn if it were the case. I hope it is never the case.

No issue better highlights the economic illiteracy of the Australian Labor Party than the issue of taxation, and this motion before us today moved by Senator Dastyari is yet more evidence of it. On what economic planet does a tax cut which returns money earned by people back to those same people constitute a handout? On what planet is it a handout to allow people to keep their own money? There are two initiatives of the Turnbull government that have returned money earned by individuals and companies back to them. I want to talk about why those are important and positive initiatives and why they do not constitute in any way or in any form a handout.

A handout is a gift by government of someone's money to someone else in society. For example, if the government were to provide a bailout or assistance to industry in the form of a subsidy that would be a fair description of a handout. What is not a handout is the taking of a little bit less tax than you used to take from someone the previous financial year, and the Turnbull government has done this in two ways. The Turnbull government has ensured that the temporary budget deficit levy enacted in the 2014 budget has come to an end, as it was scheduled to come to an end after two financial years, having collected extra revenue for the government. It means that an income earner earning more than $180,000 a year will go from a tax rate, including the Medicare levy, of 49½ per cent to 47½ per cent. On what planet is allowing people to keep only 47½ per cent of their income over $180,000 a handout? On what planet is confiscating nearly half of someone's income a handout? It is a strange place, indeed, if you seriously think that is a handout. My view is that it is a very good thing that that levy has come to an end, and I hope it is the first of many more reductions in personal income tax rates for all income tax earners at all levels, because the truth is that Australian individuals are relatively highly taxed by world standards. We are relatively highly taxed in our region. We are relatively highly taxed among our competitors. When looking at our top income rate, we are, believe it or not, even relatively highly taxed compared to the OECD, which has been described not by me but by others as a club of high taxing countries. So that is indeed quite an achievement.

The other way in which the Turnbull government is returning to taxpayers money that they have earned is through the enterprise tax plan, which reduces the tax rate to 27½ per cent for small- and medium-sized businesses with revenues of up to $50 million. It means that, instead of the government taking 30 per cent of the profit that companies make and spending it, the government will now take only 27½ per cent. That, in any plain language understanding of English, does not constitute a handout in any way, shape or form. It is a very important initiative because, as we know, there will be significant economic benefits that will flow from that. Companies, knowing that they will receive a lower rate of tax on their profits in the future, can have confidence today that the investments they make will earn them better returns than they would have earned otherwise. They can have confidence today that they will have the capacity to invest in their businesses by employing more people today, and we know the economic benefits that will flow from that.

But you do not have to take my word for it, as I have said in these sorts of debates before, because, happily and helpfully, we have extensive comments on the public record from the Labor Party themselves. The Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, and the shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, have been extensive in their praise of the idea of tax cuts, including for companies. I will cite just two examples, although there are dozens and I have cited them before in these sorts of debates. It was in the House of Representatives on 23 August 2011 that Bill Shorten said:

Cutting the company income tax rate increases domestic productivity and domestic investment. More capital means higher productivity and economic growth and leads to more jobs and higher wages.

Amen, Mr Shorten. You were absolutely spot-on, then, and you would be spot-on today if you had upheld that position. His colleague the shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, said:

… it's a Labor thing to have the ambition of reducing company tax, because it promotes investments, creates jobs and drives growth.

I could not have put it better myself. I could not have put it more eloquently myself. Chris Bowen is absolutely right to say that all those benefits will flow from reducing the company tax rate. Unfortunately, it seems that the Australian Labor Party have been caught by the siren's song of Corbynism, the economics of Bernie Sanders and perhaps the Australian Greens, and have gone to the populist far Left on these issues and are now railing against the things they once believed in and advocated in this very place.

Most important, though—and I think it goes to the heart of Senator Dastyari's motion today—is the suggestion that, in some way, tax cuts for businesses and individuals do not benefit families. Nothing could be further from the truth. Families benefit more than anyone else from a competitive company tax rate that ensures that companies have the incentive and the certainty to invest and to employ more people. No-one benefits more than families from a reduced income tax burden that will make it easier for them to balance the household budget. If we are really concerned about the cost-of-living pressures facing Australian families, if we are really concerned about their ability to make ends meet, then the best thing we can do is give them back their money which they earned through their own hard work. That is the best thing we could do to help them afford all the many pressures they have in their family household budgets.

Finally, I want to turn to the issue of so-called multinational tax avoidance that Senator Dastyari and others have talked about this debate. Firstly, let us start with some economic theory and talk about why it would be that a company would choose, if it were able to, to try and avoid paying tax in Australia. Of course, the government has a number of tough measures to ensure that there are no legal means of doing so. But what are the economic reasons why a company would seek to place its profits elsewhere in the world?

They would do so if they were able to get a better return on their investment elsewhere in the world. In a modern, capitalist economy, where so much of the benefit derived from a company's innovation is in the form of intellectual property, and that intellectual property can be based anywhere in the world, it makes sense that companies will choose to base their intellectual property in countries which have lower rates of company income tax because that ensures that they get a better return on the investment for that intellectual property. They are acting in the interests of their shareholders when they do so because it is their obligation to return the best investment to their shareholders.

So, if we really want to ensure that companies are booking more of their profits within Australia, that their taxes are being paid in Australia, the best thing we can do is ensure that our company tax rate is internationally competitive. While ever it is the case that there are like jurisdictions that offer secure property rights and competitive tax rates—Ireland is one such example—that are far lower than Australia's, then there will be an economic incentive for companies to try and move their profits elsewhere. We could ensure that that was not the case by further lowering our own company tax rates here in Australia.

One person who is not an economic illiterate is my great colleague and friend from Western Australia Senator Back. I will not be contributing to the valedictory debate later on, so I take the opportunity now to say what a pleasure it has been and what an honour it has been to serve with him for just a little bit over a year, and how sorry I am to see that he is retiring. We would have loved to continue having his company and his service here in the Senate. He has been a distinguished servant of the people of Western Australia. He has been a dedicated member of this Senate, he has upheld its traditions in the proudest way and he is a great Liberal, and I have been very proud to serve with him.

4:55 pm

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

This matter of public importance is blaming the Turnbull government for the unfair budget that delivers tax handouts for multinationals and millionaires while hurting everyday Australian families. They do not need a budget for this to hurt everyday Australian families. I find it very hypocritical that Labor are actually blaming the government for this because I remember that, when I spoke in the other chamber in 1996 about multinationals not paying their fair share of tax, I was basically looked down upon, laughed at and ridiculed. If I recall correctly, it had been years under Labor—the Hawke government and the Keating government—and 1996 was the year when the Howard government took over.

I do not believe it just comes down to what is in the budget and looking after the multinationals. I think it goes further than that, right across the board in government legislation. I actually had a meeting today with a gentleman from Queensland. His name is Kane Booth. He is a farmer, he has a wife and he has two children. Actually, Mr Booth is in the chamber. Welcome. Mr Booth has an issue with government which is all about the fact he has a property at Chinchilla—he has 1,100 acres—that has been taken over by coal seam gas mining.

We actually have to look at this. This gentleman, for seven years, has been fighting this. It is about the multinationals. Labor talks about multinationals, and here you have APA Group, who own the gas piping on Mr Booth's property. APA Group have most of the gas pipes and are the most profitable gas company. But APA group have donated $10,492 to the Labor Party. It is the Labor Party in Queensland—the state government—who are not doing anything about Mr Booth's problem, which is an environmental problem. Mr Booth has gone to the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection to put in a complaint. They have investigated, but they have not brought down their report after 10 months. It has been 10 months, and they are still waiting. It should have been brought down, under legislation, within 40 days. Why are they shutting it down? So we do not need to really look at the budget here.

There is another thing I must tell this chamber and the people of Australia. They know what I am talking about, because the people of Australia have been very angry about the multinationals and what is happening in our country: the sale of our land, foreign ownership and the question of the gas off the North West Shelf. We are getting nothing from it, and we are paying dearly for it because of the multinationals and what is happening in Australia. Also, a small number of petroleum companies in Australia donated $300,000 to the Labor Party. Should I also mention Sam Dastyari and his $5,000 for legal expenses or his $1,600 for travel expenses?

Both sides of politics need to clean up their act to what the public expects. There is a pub test here. To Mr Booth and his family, I will continue to fight for your right to have justice and for those many other Australians, especially around Chinchilla. Because of the coal seam gas and the state government allowing for these wells to be put in, I have seen children with their noses running with blood and black under their eyes. They are sick, and no-one is taking responsibility for this. We cannot allow multinationals to take over our country and have control of it and have their tax benefits and cuts and not be paying taxes in this country. I would like to finish by saying that this is not just the Turnbull government's problem. It is the problem of both sides of this parliament. It is the Liberals', the Labor Party's and the Nationals' problem, for consecutive years, for not reining in and making the multinationals pay their fair share of tax.

4:59 pm

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in this matter of public importance debate to wholeheartedly condemn the Turnbull government's unfair budget, which delivers tax handouts for multinationals and millionaires while hurting every Australian family. The facts do not lie. In this budget, every worker who earns more than $21,000 a year will pay more tax, and at the same time millionaires will receive a tax cut of over $16,000 a year. Multinational businesses have been let off the hook. In this budget, workers in receipt of the minimum wage face a tax increase of at least $170 a year. Teachers, nurses and many small-business people face a tax increase of over $300 a year. The premise of the budget is quite simple: reduce taxes on the rich and increase taxes on the lower and middle-income earners—at the same time as wages are now falling in real terms.

What is truly remarkable with this budget is that it actually goes one step further. The budget locks in a wage cut for 700,000 of Australia's lowest-paid workers—workers who give up valuable time on the weekends, late at night, early in the morning and on public holidays. These workers face losing hundreds of dollars a year in wage cuts, and in some cases thousands, and they are facing a tax increase to boot. And the Prime Minister and those opposite have the gall to talk about cost of living pressures as an excuse for their inaction on Australia's energy crisis. What is clear is that the Australian people are watching, and for the 14th poll in a row the Turnbull government trails the Labor opposition on a two-party preferred basis. This budget is completely out of step with Australian values and completely out of step with what Australians want.

Turning to some specifics about my home state of Tasmania now, we have the Mercy hospital deal, which hands back the hospital to the Tasmanian government and locks in a reduced rate of Commonwealth funding over the coming years. It sets the Tasmanian government up to rely on the stock market to meet the funding gap over the coming years. The funding package that the Tasmanian Liberal senators are so confident about is supposed to last for 10 years, when in fact this money will last that long only under a high-return and low-inflation scenario. So, if the Tasmanian government is unable to achieve a high return, or if the cost to the hospital services continues to rise at a rate above the budget inflation rate, then the Turnbull government appears to be expecting the Tasmanian government to just foot the bill. Who knows what the Turnbull government's plans are if the Tasmanian government's investors lose money on their investments. It might have been a nice announcement for the Prime Minister to make, but we are watching the progress of this deal with detail. Relying on the stock market to fund a vital hospital service might be innovative but it is definitely risky, and it is no wonder the Tasmanian Premier did not bother to attend the announcement. It just gets worse with health—with over 8,000 people in north-west Tasmania saying they will skip going to a GP because of cost, yet the Turnbull government's budget fails to drop the Medicare freeze immediately.

For our schools and TAFEs, this budget locks in a cut of $85 million from Tasmanian schools and millions of dollars of cuts to TAFE and training programs. This is leaving thousands of Tasmanians behind and leaving Tasmanian industry without the skilled workforce that it needs. Tax cuts for millionaires and multinationals will not grow jobs in Tasmania. What Tasmania needs is strong growth, strong economics, strong investments in education and training, and support for industry to grow. Yet there is no money for the Cradle Mountain Master Plan, with the Turnbull government continuing with a pointless feasibility, when Deloitte Access Economics have already completed one which shows that the project would create around 140 jobs and $29 million worth of investment. It is the No. 1 project for the Tasmanian tourism industry, yet the Turnbull government has failed to give it due attention in its budget. It is a budget based on a strange set of ideologies. It fails the Australian people. It is clear—very clear—that the Turnbull government have prioritised millionaires and multinationals over Australian families yet again.