Senate debates

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Matters of Public Importance

4:10 pm

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

I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am today, eight 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 Gallagher.

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

The obsession of the Turnbull Government with the economic policies of Eastern Europe prior to 1989 rather than the economic priorities of Australian families in 2017.

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.

4:11 pm

Photo of Chris KetterChris Ketter (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What a topic to debate today, Mr Acting Deputy President Leyonhjelm! I want to touch on a few key economic issues before diving into the politics of this matter. Firstly, let's get some facts on the table. Most noticeably, we're seeing that wages growth is stagnant under this government; we haven't seen a rise in wages for some time. Let's just set the context for this debate. We know that the Treasurer has indicated that low wage growth is probably the economy's greatest threat. Today we see the national June accounts showing annual growth of 1.8 per cent, which is a long way short of our nation's potential, notwithstanding the fact that we've experienced a record period of economic growth in this country—but I'll come back to that point. We've got economic growth below two per cent, and it's been below two per cent for the last three or four quarters. This is now the worst run of economic growth performance since the GFC. There is no question that we are lagging behind. These accounts put Australia's annual growth performance below that of Canada, the US and New Zealand in the OECD.

It's ironic that we have the Turnbull government trying to whip up fear of socialism whilst it relies on public spending to prop up the June quarter wage figures. Yes, that's right: it wasn't actually the private sector which generated the growth in the economy. It was, in fact, total government investment in that period—driven largely by the new Royal Adelaide Hospital and the Weatherill government in South Australia, and government consumption—that is the explanation for the fact that we had any growth at all in the economy. So it is somewhat ironic that it is public sector growth that this government is holding up as part of its economic performance.

Average wages fell by 0.1 per cent in the June quarter, which is another reminder of the squeeze being felt by low- and middle-income earners, and living standards have slipped significantly. Despite these concerns, the Turnbull government, with its policy to cut penalty rates, presides over a scenario where the wages of low-income employees are being cut without any compensation and continues to fail to deal adequately with the surge in power prices. The ABS notes that, for the last five quarters, households have been spending more than their incomes, and this is in line with the RBA governor's concerns around household debt and the risks that this poses to future economic growth. We have the extraordinary situation where household debt is around 180 per cent, I think—it was when I last looked at it—of GDP. That is an extraordinary position.

So, I would go so far as to say that it's the Turnbull government that is posing the biggest risk to future economic growth. Indeed, in March of this year an analysis from the Australia Institute showed that 46.2 per cent of the share in the GDP in the March quarter was the lowest recorded since the ABS started collecting data in 1959. So we're talking about the share of the economy there. It's even lower than when economic policies of Eastern Europe were at their most popular.

When it comes to company tax, one of the classic arguments put forward in 1980s economic thinking was that tax cuts were self-fulfilling, that if the government got out of the road of corporations and lowered the tax rate we'd have higher growth and wage rises and these benefits would pay for themselves. Last year we had a Prime Minister and a government clutching at straws to have a credible jobs and growth campaign. We all remember how many times that slogan was repeated, but—unusually—we don't hear much of it these days. And what did we see as the centrepiece of that economic policy? A company tax cut, straight out of 1980s economic thinking. It was put forward as a solution to all our economic woes. I think this goes to the heart of the issue: we have a government that is looking at the problems that beset the Australian economy in 2017 and beyond through the lens of what happened in the 1980s and before that.

Now, let's be clear about company tax cuts. They are not always a bad thing. We remember the good work of former Prime Minister Paul Keating in reforming our economy and lowering the company tax rate. But there is a difference. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating paid for all of his tax cuts; the Turnbull government didn't, blowing a $65 billion hole in the budget—so much for responsible budget management from the other side of the chamber. As I repeatedly mentioned—Stephen Koukoulas makes this point—when you're looking at which side of the chamber actually has the record of being the low-taxing government, it's actually Labor governments that quite empirically can be shown to be in that category.

Budgets are about priorities. There might be times when a company tax cut is the best use of taxpayer money, but we also hear from the RBA and the IMF that infrastructure spending is likely to be much more productive. Education is also a worthwhile investment. On this side of the chamber we take a modern, progressive approach to economic thinking. We see on the other side a government that is stuck in the 1980s, trying to re-prosecute old battles.

I just want to talk about the presence in Australia recently of former shadow chancellor in the UK, Ed Balls. I thank my colleague and former Treasurer Wayne Swan, the Chifley Research Centre and the Australia Institute for arranging his tour of Australia. Ed spoke about how current economic challenges have shown that policy thinking needs to move on from the 1980s. He made a couple of points in his Press Club speech that are worth thinking about:

Assumption one was that the main source of instability in our economies came from governments making mistakes – too much inflation, too much deficit spending – and that if you had a sound approach to monetary policy and got your fiscal policy right that was the best way to ensure stability in the economy.

When we look back to the GFC we see that the lack of strong regulation and oversight of the financial system was a crucial oversight. And when we look to this government we see a government stuck in the past, refusing a royal commission into the banks, refusing to take a strong interest in macro-prudential regulations to manage runaway housing prices. The second issue Ed Balls mentioned was:

… we didn’t see … that inequality wasn’t going to be, as we thought, simply about the bottom falling behind. In Britain from the early 2000s, from America from before that and maybe Australia more recently, the issue has been that people on the highest incomes have seen their incomes shoot ahead while medium earners, people in the middle, have seen their wages stagnate as well as people on the bottom. And in terms of jobs and technology we’ve seen an absolute increase in unskilled jobs, an absolute increase in high skilled jobs and an absolute fall in middle skill, middle wage employment.

There are challenges in the modern economy to protect the middle class, and Labor has clear policies addressing housing affordability, education, protecting Medicare and protecting penalty rates to ensure that people have a decent shot at life. But we see from the government's approach that their thinking is stuck in the past. They are looking to undermine the social safety net, undermine the union movement on a daily basis, lower penalty rates and engage in rampant deregulation and widespread privatisation. The government needs to get out of the 1980s time warp and come into the 21st century. If the Liberal-aligned commentators and ministers stopped ragging on Labor and addressed their own party's policy shortfalls, perhaps Australia's economy wouldn't be so stagnant.

I am proud to be part of a movement that has stood up for ordinary working people for more than 125 years. As the working environment continues to change, our policies will continue to change to suit the needs of working people and the needs of our families. The only people in danger of adopting 1980s policies are this failing government. They want to fight the same battles that were drawn up years ago. They are refusing to change and, in doing so, they are failing to change Australia for the better.

4:20 pm

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

There is only one side of Australian politics that is obsessed with the economic policies of pre-1989 Eastern Europe, and that is those who are trying to introduce the policies of pre-1989 Eastern Europe. The Greens have long aspired to retrofit our dynamic, modern economy with outdated command and control economic policies. Senator Rhiannon, as we know, is a particular fan. But the most disturbing new development in Australian politics today is that the Labor Party is now copying them. Clearly inspired by the so-called success of ageing socialists like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, who want to turn the economic clock back to a centralised, interventionist past, the Labor Party is embracing reckless, dangerous, economic populism.

It is not obsessive to warn the Australian people about the disastrous consequences of going down the socialist path—it is prudent. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann put it well recently when he said:

Pursuing the socialist ideal of equality of outcome leads to mediocrity and stagnation.

I was born in 1987. I'm 29 years old. My generation is blessed in many ways. One of those blessings is that, unlike our parents and grandparents, we've never lived under the shadow of socialism. We've lived in an era of unprecedented prosperity and growth. Many of us don't even remember the last recession in Australia, let alone the old totalitarian regimes and the devastating damage they did to humanity. But it is my generation who has the most to lose from a return to policies inspired by these socialist ideals.

A common myth about socialism is that it is bad for rich people and good for poor people. It's often not the case. People who have already accumulated wealth typically retain it, even when economies take a turn to the left. Once you've built your wealth, new regulation and taxes are certainly undesirable but, short of confiscation, you'll probably be okay. It's the people who don't yet have wealth who suffer the most. It is their aspiration to build wealth for themselves and their family that is most affected by socialist policies. Overwhelmingly, the people who will lose out from a shift to the left are the young. We don't yet own houses. We might still have a HECS debt to pay back. Our super balances are pretty meagre. We don't have extensive shareholdings. I should be clear: I am not talking about myself here—I'm a highly paid politician; no-one needs to lose too much sleep over me—but I do genuinely worry about the prospects for my generation if the Labor Party continues down the path it is on.

History teaches us where that path leads. Higher taxes stifle aspiration, and that's exactly what Bill Shorten has in store for Australia. We know that, if elected Prime Minister, he has a plan to increase taxes by more than $150 billion—$65 billion in higher taxes on all businesses, including small business; $15 billion in a further hit to small business by going after trusts; $32 billion in higher taxes on housing by scrapping negative gearing; $13 billion in higher taxes on savings and investment by increasing the capital gains tax; $22 billion in higher income taxes to discourage hard work and risk-taking; and $20 billion in secret further changes to raise more money from superannuation.

No-one will be harder hit by these policies than young, aspirational Australians. Higher taxes on business will make it harder for my generation to get and keep a job. Higher taxes on housing will make it less widely available and less affordable, not more. Higher taxes on savings will make it harder for young people to put money aside for their future. Higher taxes on income will dampen the entrepreneurial spirit of young people and discourage them from working harder and taking risks. Higher taxes on superannuation will only make it more difficult to save for a secure retirement. These plans are a recipe for economic stagnation and decay. Young people who are just starting out financially will bear the brunt of that burden. If these taxes are put in place, they will have fewer opportunities to get ahead and succeed.

Sadly, as we know, higher taxes are not the only thing Bill Shorten has in store for young Australians. He also wants to saddle them with even more debt. Our debt problem is bad enough already. Despite the best efforts of this government—not at all helped by the Labor Party in this chamber—gross government debt now exceeds $500 billion. That's more than $21,000 for every man, woman and child in Australia. And we know that if this generation doesn't fix that problem now, it is future generations who will have to shoulder that load. Incredibly, Bill Shorten wants to make this serious problem even worse. His plan for higher taxes is outweighed by his plans for higher spending. That means more debt—more debt that young Australians will ultimately have to pay back.

Labor senators in these debates like to talk about their supposed concern about inequality and fairness, but here's nothing less equal or fair than saddling future generations with our debt. Yet that is their plan. The Labor Party might not like it, but there's no doubt these policies are inspired by socialist thinking. If that's what motivates them, they should be honest about it. If it isn't, then it's time they abandoned these policies and updated their constitution, which, in 2017, is still, remarkably, promising. It says:

… the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange …

and proudly calls the ALP a 'democratic socialist party'.

The contrast with this government could not be clearer. We are motivated by free enterprise and economic freedom. We believe in individual liberty and reward for effort. We don't want to increase taxes; we want to cut them. We don't want to increase debt; we want to reduce it. We want to do these things because we know that it will provide the best opportunities for Australians to get ahead and succeed. We want young people to be ambitious for their future and we want the government to get out of the way so that they can seize it.

The strong economic results we have seen today are the dividends of our responsible approach to economic policy. On this path, Australia has a bright future. The socialist panacea risks all this. It poses a serious risk to our future, and it is young people who have the most to lose. That's why we will never stop highlighting the dangerous and irresponsible economic policies that the Labor Party offers. We'll stop talking about pre-1989 Eastern European policies on the day that you stop advocating them.

4:27 pm

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

When you walk down the street—pick any busy street around this lovely country—and talk to people, they don't see the world in terms of left and right. They don't talk about left and right and socialism and capitalism. I'll tell you what they are interested in: new ideas and solutions to problems that they face in their everyday lives.

The best way I have heard my party, the Greens, described was by my former leader and my predecessor in this place Bob Brown. Bob said, 'Whenever I get asked this question I say: the Greens aren't to the left; the Greens aren't to the right—the Greens are out in front. The Greens are leading this country on progressive economic policies. Let me give you a couple of examples about the Labor Party, who are, of course, being labelled as the new socialists by their right-wing opponents across the chamber, the Liberal and National parties. Guess who led on the banks royal commission? The Australian Greens. Who led on legislating for penalty rates? The Australian Greens. Who led on removing negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions? The Australian Greens. Who led on taxing trusts and companies? The Australian Greens. Who led on an infrastructure bank? The Australian Greens. I'm proud to say that if we have helped to shift the Labor Party to adopt some good policies then we are very happy about that.

It's not just the Labor Party that has listened to the Greens. Have a look at the Liberal Party. It is also a very impressive list. Senator Duniam, that's more impressive, because you've adopted some of our policies and actually legislated them in this place into reality. Let's have a look at them: a bank levy—something that we have been fighting for for 10 years since the GFC, and lo and behold, we get a bank levy in this budget; an effects test—something Christine Milne and I have campaigned on for a very long time—which will, hopefully, very soon pass fully into legislation; and a small business package, including tax cuts for small business, instant asset write-offs and a Small Business Ombudsman—a Greens' policy, again, adopted by the Liberal Party. What about housing affordability and aggregate bonds? It is another idea that we've run with that the Liberal-National Party put in the last budget. Good debt and bad debt—distinguishing our national accounts—is also a Greens economic policy. A beneficial ownership register to help tackle tax avoidance issues and account portability for bank accounts are also Greens policies. We are proud to be out in front, ignoring this immature left and right debate, looking at the solutions that people in this country want to their problems and coming up with new ideas.

I would say to Senator Paterson—who unfortunately fled the chamber as soon as I got up to speak; and may that be noted by Hansard—I think you are asking the wrong questions. The question he should be asking is: 'Why are Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn so politically popular?' That's not the question that the senators on this side of the chamber are asking. They are popular because ordinary people out there who are struggling feel very strongly that the system has let them down and they're looking for alternatives. That's where the answer to this dilemma lies. The policies of the right—globalisation and free markets—haven't delivered for people on the ground. We need markets, but markets fail and that's why we need governments.

Isn't it interesting that the Labor Party support removing perverse legislation—and we're glad they do—like negative gearing concessions and capital gains concessions, but the Liberal Party, supposedly, the free market party, want to keep them in place? They're happy to distort markets when it suits their stakeholders who donate to them, like the Property Council. The Labor Party opposed the bank levy. As soon as the bank levy was brought in in the last budget—a Greens policy—the Labor Party were out there mercilessly campaigning against the bank levy. Who would have thought that a tax on the big wealthy banks that helps pay for schools and hospitals would have been opposed by the Labor Party? It just goes to show that, if you want to have an honest debate in here about socialism and capitalism, it's bloody hard to tell where the duopoly of politics lie on this issue. I can't tell, nor can the Australian people. (Time expired)

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Whish-Wilson, I ask you to withdraw that unparliamentary reference.

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

Excuse me?

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You were very unparliamentary.

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

Could I ask that you reflect on that and have a look at the Hansard? I was talking about policies. I wasn't saying anything about them in particular as individuals or parties. I said, 'It's bloody hard to tell'. It is a very colloquial Australian term.

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

You need to put a dollar in the swear jar.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senators, thank you. Senator Whish-Wilson, I will reflect on that, but it is still my belief that it was unparliamentary.

4:33 pm

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

I can't say for certain whether or not it was unparliamentary. What I can say is that Senator Whish-Wilson's speech was certainly confusing. It was hard to work out exactly what Senator Whish-Wilson was going on about.

Honourable Senator:

An honourable senator interjecting

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

No, no, it was lovely. He talked a bit about Bob Brown; he talked a bit about himself; and he talked a bit about the Greens. He didn't really talk about socialism as much as I think we all expected him to; but, then again, Senator Rhiannon wasn't here, so I guess he didn't need to impress her.

An honourable senator: She is watching.

Senator Rhiannon is always watching.

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

I thought you were her friend, Sam.

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

I am. It's the Labor Party. We're all friends. In our business, they're referred to as 'mates'.

We're all a little bit frightened about the 1980s. I note that people here, certainly those on the other side, are quite scared by the 1980s. Let's be clear: this government has a chant that fills the hallways—that is, 'The reds are coming.' One should be afraid because the reds are coming. Unlike a lot of other people, I have to be honest, I am actually a fan of the 1980s. I think a lot of Australians are. Who could forget the offerings of ABC afternoon TV with James Valentine? But the obsession of the Turnbull government with eastern Europe's economic policies up to 1989 extends to so many policy areas. Start with energy.

The coalition government, with their love of MTV, Madonna and James Valentine on the ABC show, also love towering smokestacks and coal-fired power plants. This government is so obsessed with burning coal that, no matter how much we on this side extend the offer to compromise and shift policy, they will not be changed. This fascination with coal flies in the face of reports received from the Australian Energy Market Operator, AEMO, this week. These AEMO reports bear four years of utter failure on the part of Mr Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Turnbull on energy policy. Over the course of the last four years since the election of the Abbott government, wholesale power prices have doubled—doubled—leading to skyrocketing power prices for Australian households and for Australian business. The AEMO reports are one more rejection, hopefully the final rejection, of Prime Minister Turnbull's fantasy that the solution to the country's deep energy crisis is to build new coal-fired power stations, with a taxpayer subsidy if need be. We call on the government to get out of 1989, to get past the politics of energy policy—most of the politics, of course, being in the coalition party room itself. It's time to start to implement the key recommendation of the Finkel report: a clean energy target.

When it comes to immigration, the irony here is that you have a government that keeps trying to call out those opposite to them, those in the Labor Party, on having pre-1980s socialist views, when the fascination of the Turnbull government is with the power of the secret police in eastern Europe in the 1980s—yes, I'm referring to the Stasi, who were beyond reproach and who operated without review. On today's Notice Paperwas agovernment bill that would be better suited to the 1980s and the Stasi headquarters than to modern multicultural Australia. It purports to provide the minister for immigration with the ability to withdraw citizenship without a merits review. Avoiding a merits review on personal decisions made in 'the public interest' brings this government in line with the double-speak of the great democratic republics of eastern Europe in the 1980s. The bill would grant the minister the power to revoke citizenship without review, relying on the minister's suspicion of belief to be sufficient. This is further power to a minister who, in a previous portfolio, as revealed in the past day, was voted the worst health minister ever. In its explanatory memorandum, the government has argued:

As an elected Member of Parliament, the Minister represents the Australian community and has a particular insight into Australian community standards and values and what is in Australia’s public interest.

In the enlightened times we live in, in 2017, we can surely all agree that discretionary powers which have a direct and immediate effect on personal rights and interests should, in principle, be subject to merits review—a decision made in the public interest which the minister alone decides is simply not good enough. A minister who would criticise lawyers representing asylum seekers and who at times holds in contempt the rule of law would be well suited to eastern Europe in 1989, not to Australia in 2017. The government attack the Labor Party, their political opponents, for the preconceived idea that Mr Bill Shorten is some kind of crazy socialist. Firstly, they need to decide which set of socialists they think we are. Are we the eastern European variety?

Are we the Latin American variety?

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

You're all the same!

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

Well, it keeps changing! But what it represents is this: this is a desperate government. This is a government with nothing left. This is a government whose internal wranglings, fights and disputes have now so dominated their ability to make any kind of decision—any kind of decision—that all they have left is cheap stunts and attacks. This is a government whose strategy—look, you may as well lay it bare—is this: 'We have to go and try and discredit our opponents as much as possible because our current policy agenda is no longer electable.' And it becomes more and more desperate. It becomes more and more unhinged.

What you have is a government made up of two parties who are now just chasing the far right of Australian politics. What you have now is a National Party that is chasing One Nation. You know, Senator Hanson came into this chamber today and congratulated the National Party on following her policy lead. I'm not one who would normally agree with Senator Hanson in this chamber, but I think that, on that point, she is correct. The hypocrisy—that the same party, the National Party, that would come into this chamber and argue against same-sex marriage on the basis of its infringement on religious liberties would come and use their conference to argue for a banning of the burqa! The hypocrisy of that!

Let's be clear: I'm not a fan of the burqa; that's the type of Islam that I've always rejected; I'm not a fan of that. But I believe in religious liberty. I believe in freedom. And I believe that freedom sometimes means freedom for things that one doesn't necessarily like. To argue against same-sex marriage on the basis of religious liberty and then, at the same time, turn around and argue against garments or dress that you don't particularly like shows a level of hypocrisy that is preposterous. But I digress.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Dastyari, I think that is correct; you have digressed!

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

And I acknowledge that and appreciate the indulgence of the chair. The idea that somehow there is some kind of socialist plot being led by the Labor Party—and political opponents—which we've heard Senator Cormann and others in this government try and express in the past couple of weeks, just shows how desperate, how unhinged and how lacking a basis in reality this government has become.

Frankly, what concerns me is this. As this government descends into the rabbit hole that is its own agenda, all we're going to see is more and more of this. All we're going to see is more desperate attacks and more desperate pleas. It wasn't good enough that there was some kind of international conspiracy involving New Zealand and the Australian Labor Party; now it's some kind of giant socialist plot that has been put together!

Look: there is a problem with inequality in this country. There is a problem that can be addressed, that should be addressed, that sensible policies can address, and the Labor Party will continue to put forward a series of sensible, reasonable policy proposals to the Australian public. Name-calling and making ridiculous kinds of claims is not doing anyone any benefit.

4:43 pm

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

One thing Queenslanders and Australians say to me, as a servant to the people, is that Australians are tired of the political games being played by the duopoly of tired old parties. What is worse is that Australians no longer trust both these parties. 'Trust' is a key word—crucial to many Australians, and most certainly to the people of Queensland. The public no longer trusts the two tired old parties to be anything different. They deliver the same window-dressing, year in year out, election after election.

Both parties dwell in eastern bloc socialism, their policies more reminiscent of Nicolae Ceausescu's than of any other government of the modern era—repressive; Stalinist; centrally planned; yet ultimately leading to poverty and desperation in a once proud and vibrant country. Both parties have sold out the battlers, everyday Australians, for quick, cheap, tacky and destructive politics.

When Ceausescu was finally executed, they said one of the season's jokes was that Dante had been wrong and that hell was not hot at all—it was, in fact, as cold as a Romanian apartment in winter. This could be as easily said about Adelaide this winter, thanks to the Labor-Greens-Xenophon alliance and a gutlessly silent Liberal Party. The greatest rejoicing in Romania after the revolution was simply at being able to say 'Christmas' again—so penetrating was communism that simple words like family and Christmas had been banned. Imagine that.

If only John Curtin and Ben Chifley knew what today's Labor were doing to their memory, their inheritance. With climate policies based on a blatant lie, driving up electricity prices and plunging many into living without electricity, into a cold as bitter as Dante's hell was hot, how could Labor waltz in here, allied with GetUp!, and spew forth that they are the party of the workers?. That living hell is cold; it is jobless, powerless, prospectless and futureless. And everyone knows it is enforced on us by a cold modern Labor, aided and abetted by the Liberals in this and the other place.

Imagine a situation where Curtin looked on the Labor Party of today to see them cuddling with the country's worst enemies, cuddling up with climate zealots, religious zealots, repressers of our freedom and destroyers of the working class. How ashamed that man would be. He would die of that tragic heart attack all over again. That great man in office, that honourable Prime Minister, died after fighting day and night to protect us Aussies from the worst of our enemies. How dare today's Labor claim his inheritance. Would Curtin be proud of the cost-of-living pressures Labor now inflicts on everyday Aussies or of the increases on everything but the wages that union thugs, like the CFMEU and the AWU, barter away on working conditions and penalty rates, week in and week out?

Betrayal, hurt and pestilence are all that today's Labor has brought to the national discourse, and I can say with certainty that revolution is brewing. The revenge, not in bullets, will be delivered at the ballot box. Senator Hanson and I hear the murmurs and disquiet in every corner of Queensland when we travel through our beautiful state. Aussies are being crushed by repressive costs of living and, in particular, a communist level of taxation. The proposed solution to burdensome taxes and broad tax reform is for the repressive Stalinists opposite to just propose more tax, more pain, more destitution and squeeze more blood from a famished populous. Here is a message to Labor from those to whom we listen—the public. Remember them? Your number is up. The death of the movement you self-cannibalised will be dealt with swiftly, and not before time.

For Labor to waltz into this place with an MPI like this is shameful. Although, on reflection, it's a good opportunity for us to turn our minds to how Labor's policies are so eagerly taken up by the Liberals, how there is little difference, in many areas, between how both parties act like each other so eagerly, so afraid to be real. It's timely to be reminded how those opposite have destroyed the working class and now target the most vulnerable while pretending to care for the less fortunate. No-one trusts today's Labor. The ALP have morphed into a monster. They act like a mad king that could only be dreamt of by GRR Martin. And you should treat mad kings the way mad kings are always dealt with: regicide or regency. Untrustworthy, incompetent, shallow. Get out of the way, today's Labor, and let the grown-ups govern. Australians don't trust you anymore.

4:48 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

It's great to be able to speak on this matter of public importance today. When we read the words of this MPI we see the sensitivity of the Labor Party revealed, for all to see, in relation to their policies being scrutinised, most recently by the very capable and very impressive finance minister, Mathias Cormann, who has called out the Labor Party's return to its socialist roots.

We've all been aware, and there's been debate in recent times, that the Labor Party's had the socialist objective in its platform since its foundation. There are debates, and we sometimes hear various state divisions saying, 'Do we get rid of the socialist objective or do we keep it?' But the interesting thing is that up until recently, if we look at, say, the Hawke and Keating governments, even though it was in there, we know that Labor governments tended to ignore a lot of it. That was the difference: it was in there but it wasn't an issue, because I don't think that anyone could say that Paul Keating was a socialist.

The problem for modern Labor, under Bill Shorten, is the way that they are embracing their socialist roots more and more, as reflected in their policies. The MPI says there's an obsession with the economic policies of eastern Europe. Well, I think the only reason that is being talked about is that some of the policies that are being put forward by the Labor Party today are looking pretty socialist. They are about dragging everyone down rather than enabling everyone to be lifted up, and that is what the coalition believes in. We believe in setting a framework for an economy where, if you work hard, you will have great opportunities to get ahead. If you can't look after yourself, we've got a safety net, but, for those who can, we want to give you opportunities to get ahead. If you work a bit harder than the person next to you, we think it's fair that you do a little bit better than the person next to you and that you take those opportunities. If you want to take risks, we want to support you. Sometimes that will lead to great success, as it does for many businesses. Of course, when you take risks sometimes it doesn't work out, but we encourage that risk-taking mentality and the idea that if you do invest your own money, your own time and your own effort and you do well, well, good luck to you. We want to see you succeed.

The contrast with today's Labor Party's list of proposed tax increases is extraordinary. We can go through some of the list of what the Labor Party wants to do if they get into office. They want to increase taxes on small and family businesses. They want your local small and family business to pay more tax, and then, of course, they'll employ fewer people. They won't have as much money for their family and there won't be as many jobs in their community under a Shorten Labor government, if they were to be elected.

On the housing and rental tax: they want to get rid of negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions. This is the modern Labor Party.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No, that's not true.

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Okay, they'll keep it for some new houses; there you go. They'll get rid of it for existing houses. They'll get rid of it for 93 per cent. Where do most people get their rental stock? From the 93 per cent who claim it on existing stock. The Labor Party wants renters to pay their tax. Small businesses and those who work for small businesses will suffer from the tax increases of Labor. Those in the rental market will, of course, pay more, because of their housing tax.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You cut $56 billion out of it.

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator O'Neil doesn't like hearing about it, but it's a housing tax. Who's that going to hit? It is going to hit renters fundamentally more than it will hit anyone else under a Shorten Labor government, if they were ever to come to office.

Family trusts, of course, will cop a hit, because now Labor says that family trusts are somehow illegitimate—they are wrong somehow. There's no legitimate purpose; therefore. the Labor Party will hit them. And they're going to increase income tax. They're going to hit the aspirational people—people who are doing reasonably well. Yes, they've worked very hard. To get to $180,000 a year, yes, they work hard. They're doing okay, some of them, but I wouldn't say that they're mega-wealthy and that they are this class of people who should be brought down, as the Labor Party would like to see, but they're going to increase their tax, as well. That's going to be the income tax increase.

Who knows what other taxes they've got? We do know about their electricity tax—their 50 per cent renewables target. What do you think's going to happen there? That's going to be a tax on every household and every business. That's the electricity tax that's coming back under Labor. And when they restore the ABCC, that will be an infrastructure tax. When you allow the corrupt unions to own the workplace again—to own our building sites again—not only do you support their corrupt business model, but that's an infrastructure tax. We know what it does: it pushes up the cost of roads, it pushes up the cost of schools and it pushes up the cost of hospitals. So, infrastructure that Australians need, that they expect their governments to deliver, becomes more expensive. The only way you can deliver it under Labor's policies is to borrow more money to do it, or deliver less infrastructure. You don't get as many roads, you don't get the rail, you don't get the schools and you don't get the airports, or you get substandard versions of them. This is the picture of life that Bill Shorten is offering the Australian people.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

No wonder Senator Gallagher is a little sensitive and the Labor Party are a little bit sensitive about being called out on their policies. We will stop criticising your policies and comparing them to socialists past when you have policies that aren't socialist, when you have policies that are about lifting people up.

I want to devote the short time I've got left to the policies that Bill Shorten has said he has for growing the economy—it will be very short! I'm going to do it in the next 15 seconds. I'm going to hurry; I'm going to do it. He was asked, 'What are you going to do to grow the economy?' He said, 'Well, I support public transport.' There you go! That is the Labor Party's— (Time expired)

4:55 pm

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Much like Senator Seselja, I am very much looking forward to having a say in this debate. I'm going to start by being kind. I have to say, my observation in estimates is that Senator Cormann is quite a competent performer, and I hear from Liberal Party observers of the Expenditure Review Committee that Senator Cormann certainly carries the Treasurer in that committee, if not the Prime Minister as well—you see, I'm being nice, Acting Deputy President—but the fact that his education was gained in European universities sometimes leads him into misunderstanding Australian politics. According to Liberal Party sources, when an enthusiastic—

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order, Senator Seselja?

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I think it is offensive to be suggesting, as Senator Kitching just has, that because someone is educated in a foreign university and is foreign born they somehow don't have an understanding—

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you very much, Senator Seselja. Senator O'Neill, a point of order?

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That's a debating point.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator O'Neill. I was just about to make the same point. If Senator Kitching would just like to clarify the intent of her comment, I'm sure we'd be grateful.

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm not actually suggesting that, because I'm going to come to someone else who was educated in European universities, Senator Seselja—through you, Acting Deputy President.

According to Liberal Party sources, when an enthusiastic PMO suggested that he incorporate comments about socialism into a Sydney Institute speech, he agreed with alacrity. Why? Because he misunderstands Australian political philosophy. In his speech he made the mistake of importing abstract European ideological categories into Australian politics, and his speech suggested that his understanding, in politics or in our society, is lacking. I can assure him that very few Australian voters care about 'socialist revisionism', whatever that might be. So let me attempt to re-educate Senator Cormann, not in a scary, Chinese labour camp kind of way but by telling him that the ALP has no interest in abstract ideological categories.

Senator Duniam interjecting

Senator Smith interjecting

Senator Dastyari interjecting

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd ask senators on both sides to keep their commentary down because I can't, from here, even hear Senator Kitching.

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor is a social democratic party, a party of practical reformers, as shown by every Labor Prime Minister from Fisher to Gillard. In fact, it was Labor that carried out more successful free market reforms over the past 30 years than any coalition government. It was the ALP that floated the dollar, the ALP that scrapped the restrictive two-airlines policy of the Menzies years, the ALP that liberalised the labour market through enterprise bargaining. It was the ALP that ended the state's role in retail banking, aviation and other areas. Indeed, if I could quote someone expert on the nature of socialism—and this is my quote from another person educated in European universities—Vladimir Lenin was so disgusted by the moderate nature of the ALP that he complained in 1913 that the Australian Labor Party 'does not even call itself a socialist party'. 'Actually,' he went on to say, writing in Pravda, 'it is a liberal-bourgeois party, while the so-called Liberals in Australia are really Conservatives.' I hate to break it to the chamber, but, sadly, the ALP is not the vanguard of the revolution.

I have to say there are people in the ALP who would ensure that we have responsible, moderate policy positions. I've outlined some of those above. Meanwhile, it is the Turnbull government which wants to relaunch one of the largest pieces of state enterprise in Australian history—the Snowy Mountains scheme, a scheme that was opposed then by the then opposition leader, Robert Menzies. I do love quoting Menzies to the government.

While Senator Cormann is denouncing Labor as alleged socialists, his PM is embarking on a great piece of socialist construction. We've also seen Mr Tony Abbott advocating that the state should build and operate coal-fired power stations—a Stalinist idea straight out of the 1930s. What will they do next? Introduce a five-year plan? Collectivise agriculture?

Senator Cormann has a lot of hide for lecturing Labor for allegedly embracing extreme political ideologies. Might I suggest he actually have a look at his own Western Australian branch. This is a party that has sent such ideologues and demagogues as Wilson Tuckey, Ross Lightfoot, Dennis Jensen and Noel Crichton-Browne to this parliament. This is the party which just last month voted that WA should economically secede from the rest of Australia. The WA branch of the Liberal Party has been soft on bigots, racists and divisive people for decades. This is also the party that virtually bankrupted the Western Australian economy, a state which earns $4 billion a year in mining royalties. Not even Chavez could do what the Western Australia Liberal Party did. But there is a serious side to that. You can't go around— (Time expired)

5:01 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We have almost cleared out the gallery. It is little wonder, I have to say, when you look at the silly MPI we are debating today. It is, frankly, something that leaves little wonder to understanding why Australians seem to have lost faith in what we do in this place. Nonetheless, here I am contributing to the debate. About one year ago, in my first speech to this place, I mentioned the name Fran Mirakaj. I mentioned his name because he was someone who I heard of through the experience of meeting my in-laws, who came from a communist country after the fall of communism—

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't know why you're looking at me there, Senator Duniam!

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was just looking at everyone in the room hoping they were listening, but they were probably not. I am honest. Anyway, I mention Fran Mirakaj because it is through the stories I have been told about him and the experiences he had in his life, culminating in his final experience, which was being tortured to death by the communist regime in Albania for not denouncing his faith, that stood out to me about the importance of what is great about Australia: the democratic values that we have and share and that we should hold onto; the things that I believe, as I'll come to later, the Liberal Party stands up for and the coalition stands for in this place, as a contrast to what many have called, I think rightly, the socialist agenda that is being pushed by the opposition.

Fran Mirakaj was one of the more unlucky ones. He lost his life. Others simply lost their right to vote, to own property, to choose the career they were going to pursue, to think what they wanted to think. They lost all of that. That is what happened in Albania—a communist country, underpinned by socialist values—a terrible place, if you ask anyone who has ever lived there and lived under the regime at the time.

Looking at the MPI today, and drawing a link between the experiences of my wife's family, who came here to seek political refuge, and today's MPI, I wanted to go through a bit of that background. The reason my parents-in-law chose to leave Albania and come to Australia is salient to understanding what is so good about this place and why we need to uphold what is good about our democratic values and our democratic system. Before they arrived here they saw this country as a country that gave you the freedom to pursue all the choices in life that you want: to pursue the job that you wanted to; to choose the lifestyle that you wanted to live; to aim for a salary that you thought you ought to be earning; to work hard to be able to earn that salary; indeed, if you wanted to, to invest in a business venture and pursue that as a way of making a living. Anything you want to do in this country, you can do. No-one holds you back. No-one prevents you from doing it. No-one tries to tax your efforts out of existence if trying to start a business is what you want to do.

Leaving Albania behind, as I say, they were told where to live and what career they were going to pursue. They were not allowed to own property. They were not allowed to run businesses. It was all state-owned property. People were not encouraged to be their best. People were not encouraged to live up to their full potential, because there was no way of controlling them. There was no way of telling them they needed the government to guide them through life and help them out every day. That's why they left Albania and came to Australia. That's why, as keen political observers, they are extremely frightened about the prospect of some of the policies that have been put forward by the Australian Labor Party, many of which have been discussed in the debate so far by those who have gone before me. Those policies relate to increasing income tax rates; abolishing negative gearing—attacking those in the middle income brackets who rely on that to put away for their retirement to make their life a little bit more comfortable and provide for their children into the future as well; and reversing the enterprise tax plan, making it impossible for business to thrive and to create employment in our regional communities.

Then there are trusts—these nasty, awful things called trusts—which, if you believe the Labor Party, are things used by billionaires and multi-multi-millionaires and no-one else. But the facts don't bear that out. We need to actually keep in mind that this policy manifesto is all about keeping people down, as Senator Seselja said. It's all about bringing people down to a common base level rather than helping them achieve their full potential and actually do something great for this country.

It's easy to confuse the government's concern for the reckless policy agenda of the Labor Party, the Australian opposition, with a fascination for eastern European policies of pre-1989 governments, but it's because they are so closely aligned that there is that confusion. You don't have to look much further, as Senator Seselja said, than, in my case, the ALP Tasmanian branch state platform, which talks about its socialist foundations and principles. It actually talks about them as something underpinning the decisions it makes and how it will draft up policy. It's not a fascination with the eighties and Madonna and the other things we've talked about in this debate. It's actually a concern about taking us back to the future—taking us back to the eighties, to a time when we had tyrannical communist leaders ruling the world. (Time expired)

5:07 pm

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

I would like to pay tribute to Senator Cormann for calling out Labor on its policy position. Senator Cormann is someone—and people in this chamber may not know this—who, when the Berlin Wall was falling, drove with some university friends across to Berlin to watch the wall fall down and watch those East Berliners, those East Germans, run to freedom. We in this place have got to remember our history, and we've got to remember the part that the Labor Party has played in the history of Australia in terms of its failures at socialism. They admit over there that sometimes they're not very good socialists. That's because they're incompetent at everything they do, whether it is socialism or capitalism.

What we've got with the modern Labor Party is a leader who doesn't have a backbone or an inherent set of values. What the Leader of the Opposition has realised is that the best way for him to win the election is look around and plagiarise. Mr Shorten has got on the interweb and typed in 'how to win an election', and what's come up is what Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn have been doing in terms of this class-based warfare; this warfare of envy; this 'them and us' approach. In the Liberal National Party, we believe in freedom and lower taxes. We believe you get on with your lives and do it. We believe in smaller government and lower taxes. You want to grow your family, you want to grow your business, go ahead and do it. What's happened with the modern Labor Party is they've looked at what Jeremy Corbyn has done—that bearded nut job who is currently the leader of the British Labour Party. This is the guy who opposed the Northern Ireland peace process, who supports the IRA and who supports the PLO. They've looked at what Jeremy Corbyn has done and they've gone, 'He's promised to raise taxes. He's promised free money,' so Bill Shorten and the shadow cabinet have danced around the magic money tree like a bunch of drunken wobbegongs and gone, 'Come on down! We want all the free money to come on down'. They don't know where it's going to come from, except that they are going to tax other people for it. If the modern Labor Party stands for anything today, it stands for taxing. It stands for new taxes; it stands for more taxes; it stands for higher taxes.

But if it doesn't stand for taxes, let's look at what they are doing with electricity. Let's look at South Australia. When you look at this motion, it talks about the obsession of the Turnbull government blah, blah, blah, rather than the economic priorities of Australian families in 2017. Let's look at Australian families who live in South Australia, who don't have a reliable electricity market. The modern Labor Party want South Australian families to power their homes not through coal but through a combination of rhythmic dancing, rabbit droppings and the squawks of galas—rather than making sure that when people turn on their light switches, the lights turn on, and when they turn on their TVs, their TVs come on. This is because Labor actually doesn't care about helping families; they care about themselves.

When you look at the history of Labor in Australia, we on this side remember, and that's why we will oppose Labor until the day we die. We remember the state in which you left this country in 1931. We remember what you tried to do in 1949. We remember what you did in 1975—how you wanted to borrow money from the Baath Party of Iraq. We remember the state in which you left this country in 1996, when your Treasurer, who became Prime Minister, forced a recession upon this country—the recession that we had to have. How did that help Australian families?

My people in Queensland remember what Labor did to Australian families. We remember those high interest rates. We remember you forcing businesses to go to the ground. We remember families out in the street because of the failures of Labor's economic policies. We remember the state that this country was left in when we lost office, sadly, in 2007—there was no debt at all. But in 2013, when we won office, the debt was going through the roof. That is hurting Australian families, because Labor actually only cares about power; they do not care about Australian families. They like to do these wedge politics. They've looked at Jeremy Corbyn. They want a them-and-us approach to Australian politics. But what they should be doing is working with the government to deliver lower taxes, to deliver a smaller government so businesses can grow and employ more people and get people more money in their back pockets so they can go and spend it.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the discussion has expired.