Senate debates

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Questions without Notice: Additional Answers

Pensions and Benefits

6:48 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. I wish to clarify remarks I made in question time regarding the impact of Labor's retiree tax on low-income Australians. This was based on advice that was provided to me and my office at the time. I have since been advised that the correct statement should be: more than half of all individuals receiving franking credits have taxable income less than the $18,200 tax-free threshold.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to take note of the minister's clarification. This was a pathetic performance from this minister during question time. I'm not surprised that she was forced to come in here and make a clarification. This minister had not a clue about what she was trying to deal with here, and this is part of this government's attack on what is a reasonable proposition to make sure that people that are getting a dividend imputation have to pay tax. They should not get a tax refund if they have not paid any tax. This is a nonsense position from this government. If you go back to where this started, former Prime Minister John Howard, rolling in cash coming in from the mining boom, was trying to placate every group in the economy and across the country that had a gripe with the then Howard government by throwing money at them. That's exactly where this dividend imputation rort came in.

Government Senators:

Government senators interjecting

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

It's all right for the National Party, bellowing away as they are. You understand that this was a John Howard rort that we are trying to fix and will fix in government because we are concerned to make sure that we've got enough funding for hospitals, health, education and infrastructure. These are the key issues for Labor and we're going to make sure that those that should be paying tax are paying tax.

This was Senator Fierravanti-Wells in attack mode, trying to attack what is a good policy position, and she couldn't even do that with her prepared answers. This is a government, as I've said before, that is in terminal decline and a government that doesn't understand what the key issues are for working people in this country. They just don't get it. Senator Fierravanti-Wells comes in here, completely out of her depth at question time, is incapable of giving a proper response and then has to suffer the humiliation of coming back in here and saying that she'd got it wrong. The government have got this wrong. The government have got their whole position on dividend imputation completely wrong. They keep saying that this is about pensioners. This is predominantly about self-funded superannuants who are getting tax refunds for tax that they never paid. That was never, ever the reason why dividend imputation was introduced, and former Prime Minister Paul Keating has been clear and unequivocal about that position. The Grattan Institute has clearly belled the cat when it comes to the coalition trying to misrepresent the position, and again we have Senator Fierravanti-Wells coming in here misrepresenting the position and trying to indicate that poor people are suffering because of the proper policy that Labor has introduced on dividend imputation. Senator Fierravanti-Wells is completely out of her depth and is just making statements that are wrong.

But it's not just Senator Fierravanti-Wells who has been making statements that are wrong—it's the government, trying to protect the rich, trying to protect the powerful and trying to protect their mates at the big end of town against ordinary working families that don't get this type of refund that the rich and powerful get because of decisions that John Howard made many years ago. This is simply another example of a government that will say anything and do anything to try and mislead the public. You're in so much trouble that you can't even get prepared answers correct when you come to question time. You've got a frontbench who don't understand the key issues for ordinary Australians in this country, don't understand the need for a good education, don't understand the need for a decent health system and don't understand that you can't keep throwing money at people who don't deserve it. You can't keep throwing money at people who don't need it. You should actually be putting money into the key issues that are important for building a decent society and a decent economy in this country—and they are education, health and dealing with inequality.

All you as a coalition want to do is continue inequality in this country—look after the rich and powerful at the expense of the poorest people in this country; look after your rich mates; look after those who are putting money into your pockets at election time. That's exactly what your lot do. And now we have Minister Fierravanti-Wells having to come in here, humiliated because she couldn't even get the basics right during question time.

She can't get the basics right because your Prime Minister can't get the basics right. Your Prime Minister is trying to mislead the public on this issue. The Prime Minister doesn't have a clue about what's important to working families in this country. Why would he have a clue, living in his mansion on the shores of Sydney Harbour? He's so divorced from the reality that families face day in, day out, trying to pay their rates, trying to pay power bills, trying to put food on the table.

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator, resume your seat. Minister?

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President, on relevance. I believe the question before the chair is to take note of the ministerial statement that has been made. I respectfully point out that the senator is now departing into issues around someone in the other chamber. It is completely devoid—

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Canavan, resume your seat. There's no point of order.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll just take up where I left off. We have a Prime Minister who has not got a clue what it's like for ordinary working families in this country to battle to pay their rent, pay their mortgage, make sure they've got power coming to the house, make sure their kids can get school shoes to go to school. He would not have a clue, and if he had a clue then he would not be going down the track of continuing what was a rort by John Howard and by the weakest, worst Treasurer we've ever had in this country in Peter Costello—a Treasurer that was too weak to stand up to a Prime Minister that wanted to throw money out to the richest in the country just to make sure he got their vote at the election.

This is a government that is following in the footsteps of the Howard government by trying to maintain rorts to the rich and powerful in this country at the expense of working families. Any day, I'll look after the ordinary working-class people in this country against those that are sitting in their mansions on the shores of Sydney Harbour, picking up refunds for dividend imputation that they never paid any tax on. Where is the sense in that? Commentators around the country have got you guys well and truly picked on this. This is just an absolute rort that you are engaging in. There is absolutely no economic sense at all in what you are doing. You claim to be the party of economic responsibility, the grown-up party. Well, we've seen the grown-up party in action—an absolute rabble of a party, an absolute rabble of a government that is absolutely unconcerned about the key issues that affect ordinary working people. And that's why Senator Fierravanti-Wells had to come in here, humiliate herself and admit that she'd got it wrong and had misled us again.

This is a government that will mislead the public every chance it gets, because it doesn't care about the key issues that are required for workers to actually feed their families, get their kids to school and pay for their transport to get to work. The problems working families have got do not matter; all you lot want to do is keep the rorts that John Howard put in place for the rich and powerful. You are an absolute disgrace, and Senator Fierravanti-Wells should well look after her position in future. (Time expired)

6:59 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I also seek to take note of the ministerial statement. I do not seek to delay the work of the chamber, but there were a number of misrepresentations and simple mistruths aired by Senator Cameron that I believe require correction. The first point to make concerns the clear mistruth that is presented here by the Labor Party that somehow people should be made to pay tax twice. The refunds are provided to hardworking Australians who invest their money, often in Australian companies—in this case, they have to be Australian companies they invest in to get franking credits. They should not be made to pay tax twice. That should be a basic principle. We don't believe that people should be made to pay tax twice.

But, of course, the Labor Party think twice is not enough—they should be made to pay three times, four times, five times—because Labor constantly need more money to fund their ever-expanding schemes to waste your money. We're on the side of people who work and save and invest in this country. That's why we believe they should be able to keep some of their money in their pockets to provide for themselves in their retirement. The Labor Party see anybody's savings as a big nest egg for them to raid, and that is what they are trying to do.

The second point to make is: Senator Cameron is saying that this particular policy, which has now been in place for almost 20 years, is somehow a rort. If what Senator Cameron just said was half-true, even one-quarter true, why did the Labor Party, in their six years in government in the intervening 20-year period, do nothing to fix this rort? Mr Shorten was in fact the Assistant Treasurer for periods of time in that six years and apparently did nothing to fix this, according to Senator Cameron, obvious rort.

Senator Cameron interjecting

That exactly shows the bankruptcy of the point you are making, Senator Cameron, because in your time in government you did nothing. What you have seen now in opposition is a need to fund your ever-expanding spending promises to the Australian people. At the last election, you didn't have enough money to fund them; you were $16 billion in the red for them. Now you need to raid people's piggy banks to fund the schemes you want to waste people's money on. We don't think that people's retirement savings are there for the Labor Party to come and raid when they run out of their own money. That is not what people should have to work and save and invest for. They should be able to provide for their own retirement themselves.

Finally—and I don't want to delay the chamber long here—we see now an opposition clearly not ready for government. We already see in the newspapers and the press that the policy, this major tax reform, according to the opposition, which it put out only a couple of weeks ago, is about to be changed. My colleague Senator Di Natale made the point earlier today in the chamber that the opposition is about to change its own policy. The policy has lasted just two weeks. It's clearly not an opposition ready for government, because it can't even get a simple policy announcement right. This is clearly a first draft for the Labor Party. It is a first draft of tax reform. It is not an opposition that is ready for government, and you can't trust an opposition that can't get the simple things right with the government's finances, with the Treasury benches. It obviously needs more time to get its act together, because it's about to change and dump a major tax reform that's only been in place for two weeks.

Instead, the Labor Party should join with others in this chamber to adopt real tax reform, which actually means trying to lower the tax burden on Australian businesses and families and lower corporate taxes, like we are trying to do here, to try and encourage more investment, more savings, better business conditions, more wealth, more prosperity and more job opportunities for all Australians.

7:03 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I think it's an important debate that we're having here today, and it is important to ensure that the facts are fully out on the table. I welcome Senator Cameron's contribution and the continuing signs, intermittent as they are, that the Labor Party is gradually following the Greens' lead in addressing unjust tax measures in this country and reducing inequality, particularly wealth inequality. It was correct of Senator Cameron to point to the various measures, including the franking credits measure, that came in during the John Howard era. As he said, they were decisions John Howard made many years ago. But it is worth noting that these weren't just decisions of John Howard and the Liberal government; they were decisions of the Senate. These measures had to pass the parliament, and these measures were supported by the Labor Party.

As the minister, reasonably enough, just pointed out, the Labor Party had six years in government and didn't address this problem of a measure that clearly excessively benefits those who are the wealthiest. But the Labor Party also, of course, supported the measure coming in in the first place, as the Labor Party did with other John Howard measures, like the capital gains tax discount. Going back to the Hawke-Keating era, negative gearing was briefly abolished by that government and then restored by that government. There are the problems we are seeing now with increased casualisation and wage stagnation under Labor's Fair Work Act. And, of course, there was the privatisation regime that was followed by both Labor and Liberal. All of these things have contributed to growing inequality. It is pleasing to see Labor following the Greens, partially at least, on things like addressing, partially at least, the problem with negative gearing and the massive impact of that, combined with the capital gains tax discount—which Labor also supported being put in place in the Senate 15 or more years ago. That has caused a huge problem with housing affordability in this country. It's good to see some measures slowly being put in place to address that.

As Senator Di Natale made clear in this chamber earlier on today, the Greens support measures to reduce some of the tax loopholes, the tax breaks, that inappropriately favour those who are the wealthiest—clearly regressive tax measures. Anything the Labor Party puts forward that does that effectively we will certainly support. Let's not forget that many of these measures—and others such as the private health insurance rebate, which is billions of dollars in forgone revenue that goes to people who are on the wealthiest end of the spectrum—need to be wound back. These are all measures that the Greens have unequivocally opposed, and ones that, unfortunately, have been inconsistently addressed by the Labor Party. With regard to the Liberals, as Senator Cameron rightly pointed out repeatedly, the Liberal-National Party will do what they can to favour those at the top end of the wealth spectrum. They have made a key contribution to the continual increase in wealth inequality in this country. I just wanted to put on the record the Greens' unequivocal and continuing support for addressing the tax loopholes, the tax measures and the tax breaks—in superannuation and in other areas—that clearly are regressive and clearly contribute to growing inequality in this country. We will continue to push forward measures that address that and we will support them when others put them forward as well.

Question agreed to.