Senate debates

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Ministerial Statements

Taxation

5:32 pm

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

I seek leave to provide an update to the Senate about the government's progress in relation to our Ten Year Enterprise Tax Plan.

Leave granted.

I thank the Senate. We believe that:

… 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.

We also believe that:

… lowering the corporate tax rate for smaller businesses only—

as the Greens used to propose—

creates an artificial incentive for Australian businesses to downsize. In worse case scenarios some businesses might actually lay people off to get smaller—and the size-based different tax treatment would create a glass ceiling on business workforce growth. Instead we want a level playing field regardless of the size of the company.

We also believe that the burden of a higher company tax rate falls hardest on workers rather than wealthy shareholders. We believe that it is in Australia's national interest that 'the nation should be aiming for a 25 per cent corporate tax rate' over time, and we do understand that 'that is not an easy thing to do'.

If all of these comments I have just made sound familiar, that is because I have shamelessly plagiarised them from Mr Bill Shorten and Mr Chris Bowen—literally.

The truth is that the big businesses of today were the small businesses of yesteryear. Small businesses today want to become bigger businesses. We want small businesses today to become bigger businesses. We want there to be small businesses across Australia today that will be become the big champion businesses of Australia in the future, operating as a global champion for Australia in a globally competitive environment. That is what we want. We want small businesses in Australia today to aspire to become the BHP, the Qantas, the FMG and the Woodside—you name it—of tomorrow. That's what all of us should aspire to. We should all want that because we all know that big businesses and small businesses together create the jobs that help Australian families get ahead.

We don't want bigger businesses to become smaller businesses. If we put our bigger businesses at a competitive disadvantage by forcing them to pay higher taxes than that which is paid by businesses that compete in other parts of the world, they will become smaller than they otherwise would be. A smaller business will hire fewer people than they otherwise would; a smaller business will pay less in wages than they otherwise would, because if they hire fewer people and, if lots of businesses across Australia end up hiring fewer people, there'll be less competition for workers and, as there's less competition for workers, there would be less pressure on wages moving forward.

We want more investment, we want more jobs, we want higher wages, but more jobs and higher wages don't grow on trees. They are created and paid for by successful, profitable businesses. If we can get more businesses to be more successful and more profitable, they will, as they grow and expand—as small businesses of the past have done in years gone by—hire more people and they will have to pay them higher wages. In fact, having more businesses being more successful and more profitable is the only sustainable way to create more jobs and deliver higher wages. This is basic common sense and a basic economic truth, yet, for some reason in Australia today, it is a contested proposition. It never used to be. It used to be a bipartisan consensus that, if we wanted more investment into the Australian economy and if we wanted more investment into future business growth, then, of course, we needed to have a globally competitive business tax rate. Surely, everyone can accept that, if you make it harder for business to be successful and profitable, they will only hire fewer people and, hence, create fewer jobs. Surely, that is basic common sense. How can a business which is less successful in selling its products and services in Australia or around the world hire more people and pay them more? I mean, it just doesn't add up.

So that is the case that we have been making as a government over the last two years. The Senate is aware that this time last year we passed the first three years of our Ten Year Enterprise Tax Plan successfully through the Senate and, of course, we thank the Senate for having supported the first three years of our Ten Year Enterprise Tax Plan, which reduced the corporate tax rate for all businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million down to 25 per cent. That was a hotly contested proposition last year, too. It was hotly contested by the Labor Party, yet, if you look at what has happened in Australia over the last 12 months, more than 420,000 new jobs have been created. Wages growth is picking up; wages growth today is stronger than it was last year. We want wages growth to continue to strengthen and that is why we will continue to make the case as to why it is so critically important that Australia has a globally competitive business tax rate, not just for some businesses, but for all businesses—because, in the end, we are all in this together. Big business does not only employ a lot of people directly; it also buys goods and services from the many thousands and thousands of small and medium sized businesses. The more successful a big business is the more people they'll be able to hire directly, and the more they'll be able to pay them in wages, the more they'll be able to invest in their future growth and expansion, the more goods and services they can buy from small and medium sized businesses, and the more profitable they are the more tax they will pay. Look at what has happened to corporate tax receipts.

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

Oh, yeah? I've heard that before.

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

Senator Cameron is laughing, but, if you look at what has happened to corporate tax receipts since we cut company tax for businesses with turnovers of up to $50 million, they're actually going up. For the first two months of this year, company tax receipts are $3 billion—

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

For two months!

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

In only two months company tax receipts are $3 billion higher than was forecast in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook in December. It stands to reason that, if you have more businesses that are more successful and more profitable and that hire more Australians, they'll be able to pay them better wages. As competition for workers increases they'll have to pay them higher wages, irrespective of what it is that businesses would spontaneously feel that they should pay.

Only a few short weeks ago no-one thought we had any chance of getting anywhere near the necessary support to pass the next phase of our Ten Year Enterprise Tax Plan. Everybody knows the maths in the Senate. The coalition has 30 members of its Senate party room—and they of course are a fantastic team who are strongly supporting the important need for our enterprise tax plan. We've also of course had very consistent and very reliable support from Senators Leyonhjelm, Bernardi and Anning all the way through for the good public policy of making sure that our businesses are not disadvantaged and can hire more Australians and pay them better wages, and we thank them for that. We thank Senator Martin, who last week, after having engaged in a series of discussions with the government, indicated publically that he will support the government's Ten Year Enterprise Tax Plan. I would also like to thank in particular Senator Hanson and the One Nation team of Senators Burston and Georgiou, who have engaged with us very positively and constructively and who have tested the government's assertions and propositions as to why our Ten Year Enterprise Tax Plan is so important to protect jobs and to ensure that we can have the strongest possible wages growth, because in the end nine out of 10 working Australians work in a private sector business and their future job opportunities, their future job security, their future career opportunities and their future wage increases depend on the future success and profitability of the businesses that employ those nine out of 10 working Australians.

But everybody of course will want to know what is happening with our company tax cuts legislation in the Senate this week. It is a matter of public record that, as a result of the work that has gone on so far, we have been able to secure the publicly stated support of 37 senators in this chamber for our business tax cuts legislation. Everybody knows we need 39. So, given that proposition and given that that is the situation that we're in, the government have made a decision that we will need to do some more work. We are committed to these tax cuts as being in the national interest. We are committed to these tax cuts because we passionately believe that they are in the best interests of working families across Australia. That is what the Labor Party used to believe.

We believe that to create more jobs and to deliver higher wages we need to ensure that the businesses that create those jobs and the businesses that have to pay those higher wages have the best possible opportunity to be successful into the future. We believe that we should not be putting our businesses at a competitive disadvantage. We don't believe we should be forcing our businesses to compete with businesses in other parts of the world that are subject to significantly lower business tax rates.

Given that and given what I've just stated, we believe that there is opportunity to get there. We believe that there is opportunity for the government to persuade the majority of senators of the merits of our argument. We believe that there is an opportunity to find a consensus with the majority of senators in this chamber to ultimately support our Ten Year Enterprise Tax Plan in full. That is why the government is committed to keep working, to keep engaging. I should say that we are very grateful for the positive, courteous and very professional engagement that we've had from all non-government senators on the cross bench. We have very much appreciated the conversations so far and we believe that there is scope to have further conversations moving forward.

So it's the government's intention to bring the business tax cuts legislation back to the Senate in the next sitting week. We believe it's in the interests of working families of Australia that their Senate passes our business tax cuts legislation in full because, ultimately, as I said at the beginning, jobs and higher wages don't grow on trees; jobs and higher wages are created and paid for by more successful, more profitable businesses. In the end, that is a basic economic truth. We are an open trading economy engaged in global competition. We cannot afford to put our businesses at a competitive disadvantage moving forward because it will lead to investment leaving Australia, it will lead to wealth leaving Australia and it will lead to jobs leaving Australia. That is, of course, precisely the opposite to what we need.

With those few words, I say to the Senate: the government will never give up fighting for the best interests of working families across Australia; the government will never give up on making sure that businesses across Australia have the best possible opportunity to be successful and profitable into the future. That is why we will persist with this legislation and why we will bring it back to the Senate in the next sitting week.

5:45 pm

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

Thank you, Senator Cormann, for confirming that we won't be dealing with this legislation before Easter. Senator Cormann said he wanted jobs and higher wages. There's one certain way that you won't get that result of jobs and higher wages, and that's by supporting the government's legislation to give big business in this country a $65 billion tax cut. If the minister's theory had worked, we would have seen it when Ronald Reagan gave those tax cuts in the 1980s. America would have created jobs and increased wages, but, of course, that's exactly what didn't happen in the United States. It didn't happen in the United States and it's not going to happen if this parliament passes that legislation.

What the government is doing this week is, on the one hand, giving big business a $65 billion tax cut and, on the other hand, proposing a tax rise for ordinary working Australians. That simply doesn't compute. That's not the way this country is meant to work. It simply increases the level of inequity that we have in this country.

This weekend is, of course, Easter. It's an opportunity for us to reflect on sacrifice and an opportunity for us to reflect on social justice. The minister has referred to the crossbenchers who decided to jump on board with the $65 billion tax rise. It's surprising, I think, that the government didn't bring the bill forward to allow us to test the numbers, but I'd say to all of those crossbenchers who are considering supporting this legislation, and Senator Cormann mentioned them—Senator Bernardi, Senator Anning, the Pauline Hanson group, Senator Martin and Senator Leyonhjelm: 'Here's an opportunity to reflect on your decision to support this legislation, because that decision is the wrong decision. That's not the way we create equality in this country.'

What did we find out today from that secret survey conducted by the Business Council of Australia?

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

No jobs.

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Cameron says, 'No jobs', but, more importantly, there are no wage rises. Senator Cormann has referred to the number of jobs that have been created in this country. Yes, there have been jobs created in this country. There have been jobs created in this country because the world economy is on the rise. But what hasn't happened in this country over that period of time is workers' wages going up. If this government gives big business a $65 billion tax cut, we already know from the BCA that they're not going to pass that on to ordinary working Australians in the form of wage rises. Sure, some of them will get an increase—the CEOs will get an increase, I'm sure, and the executives of those companies will get an increase—but it won't trickle down to ordinary, hardworking Australians. It won't trickle down to those people who really need a wage rise in the current environment. We also know that a hell of a lot of the money from this tax cut will go to companies overseas and shareholders overseas, who, let's be frank about it, don't need any more money.

As we reflect on sacrifice and social justice principles this coming Easter, I'd say to those people who are going to determine whether this government gets this legislation: think very carefully about whether the course of action that the government is proposing is the best course of action for this country. I don't know what's going to happen in the next election—we're very close to an election, we're probably 12 months out at the most from the next election—and the Labor Party's position is very clear. Bill Shorten has said, 'We will reverse these high-income tax breaks. We will reverse them.' So whatever you decide to do with this government, this is going to be reversed by virtue of an incoming Bill Shorten Labor government. I also say to those people: we have inequality in this country and we don't improve inequality by voting for a $65 billion tax cut. Think long and hard about your decision and come back after Easter, let the government present its legislation, and reject this $65 billion tax cut.

5:52 pm

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, we gave leave to the Leader of the Government to provide the Senate with an update on the negotiations in relation to the enterprise tax bill. What we heard from Senator Cormann was a fairly lengthy attempt to argue the merits of his bill, which, obviously, he has not been able to convince the Senate of to date. We heard Senator Cormann refer to 'his belief'—as, indeed, he has done on several occasions in question time during the course of this week. Each time he talks about his belief, it is countered by question after question after question of the evidence that's there before us. Today, the most recent evidence was this secret BCA survey. But, of course, the indisputable evidence, as both Senator Farrell and Senator Keneally mentioned today, is that fairness simply doesn't trickle down. You don't need to hear this in the language of fairness; you can hear this in the language of economic commentators as well. If there is a fundamental difference between the government and Labor here in the parliament, perhaps this is the point: the government's got its priorities wrong and has been unable to convince the Senate otherwise. The government's priority is the top end of town, and this enterprise tax bill is the best example of that point. There is no economic case—we have demonstrated that in the last two weeks here in the Senate—and the Labor Party will continue to argue this point.

We heard Senator Cormann in question time today attempting to say, 'Well, you know, you're on board for the first three years of the program.' That is a complete misrepresentation of the Labor Party's view on the enterprise tax bill. We have been, and will continue to be, clear that we do not accept more tax breaks for the top end of town. In case and case again, our focus has been on jobs, the cost of living, education, health and closing down the capacity of some in our society to access tax breaks that this government seems so keen to continue to make available and, indeed, further.

I indicated, in seeking an opportunity to respond to the minister's statement, that I wanted to reflect on some procedural matters, so I will focus on those. Apart from the point I just made, the minister told us that he was going to give us an update on negotiations. After a fairly lengthy contribution about his beliefs, we finally got there. It is: senators, we cannot anticipate that this bill will be before us tomorrow. Fortunately we will have the opportunity to return home for Christmas—sorry, for Easter.

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

We could still be here at Christmas!

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

We could still be here at Christmas; you're right, Senator Farrell. But I do want to take this opportunity to reflect on what else is before the chamber now. Alarmingly, it seems to be somewhat linked. It is the government's prerogative, of course, to order government business in the Senate. This is why we allowed the leader leave to make his statement, to reorganise the program—as, indeed, he has—and to give us an updated statement about his negotiations and whether we're likely to get to that bill.

But what's more concerning is this next motion that has been circulated, and so here I talk to the crossbench. If the crossbench have supported the government in bringing on this next matter, I beseech them to understand what they are really doing. You are allowing the government to have the prerogative beyond government business. One key example on that point is that further down on the program today, as Chair of the Senate Privileges Committee, as chair of the Senate's most senior committee, I'm due to report on a very important inquiry into parliamentary privilege that affects all of us. I will not be able to provide that report today if the motion that has been circulated in the chamber proceeds in the way the government proposes.

It seems we will have to argue about whether and how this should proceed. The opposition will not provide leave. Indeed, the crossbench might want to carefully consider that any crossbench senator who, in the future, might seek to move a disallowance motion might have, with the cooperation of some other senators, the government hijack it. That's what is going on here. Whether the government think that by moving to proceed with this matter, the marine parks disallowance, they'll get some shield or some cover for their lack of progress on tax—

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Tell them they're dreaming!

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

Indeed, I'll tell them they're dreaming. We may hear that there's some other agenda that they've got happening that we're not privy to because we haven't been part of these company tax negotiations. Indeed, Senator Cormann is trying to say, 'No, Labor's really on this agenda.' No, we haven't been participating in these negotiations. We don't know what the government's agenda here is. We will not be providing leave for the government to change the program for today. We will be arguing against it strenuously because we think there are some very serious procedural matters at hand. The first point, as I said, is there are important matters on our existing program that we won't get to. The second point, as I said, is for any senator in this place to think very carefully about whether they want to allow the government to hijack business of the Senate and disallowance motions. There are set procedures for how we proceed with disallowance motions; they exist for very good reasons. If the crossbench join the government in supporting this motion, they will regret it in the future.

5:59 pm

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

I will say just a few brief words following Senator Cormann's speech. I think it would be true to say that we are all here in order to increase the standard of living of Australians. We measure the standard of living in terms of getting a job and how much we get paid for that job. Where we differ, of course, is in how to achieve that increase in standard of living. Quite a lot of people in this chamber are preoccupied with how to slice up the pie. Others, myself included, are concerned about creating a bigger pie. I've had this discussion with quite a lot of Labor people as well, and within Labor that same debate occurs. We are not going to create a bigger pie if all we argue about is big business and whether big business is being benefited. We have to remind ourselves, as Senator Cormann pointed out, that all big businesses start off as small businesses. What we would like is our Australian small businesses to become big businesses, but they won't if taxes are too high.

I want to address also the question of overseas shareholders in that context. Overseas shareholders certainly have some shares in our Australian companies, but Australian shareholders also have shares in overseas companies. Do we really want our shareholders in Australia to be investing in overseas companies because they are more profitable, more likely to become big companies? Tax cuts will simply keep the jobs we have. The tax cuts that are proposed are very small, in my opinion, and very slow to come in. They will do nothing more than keep the jobs we have, but they are absolutely essential if we are really looking at growing a bigger pie. In May, when we come back, I hope the tax cuts bill passes resoundingly—for jobs, for wage rises, to create a bigger pie and to raise the standard of living.

6:01 pm

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

I just read, five minutes ago, a media report by David Crowe in The Sydney Morning Herald, who said:

Australia's biggest companies are launching a national campaign to restore "faith and trust" in business amid a ferocious political debate over a second round of company tax cuts.

That is exactly what we are debating right here, right now. Apparently there's going to be a blitz of advertising later this year about how you can basically buddy up and become a friend of a big business in this country and how really everyone is a friend. My message to the Business Council and the other stakeholders who are going to be promoting this message is: if you really want to make a statement to restore the faith and trust of the Australian people in the business community then come out now and say these corporate tax cuts were a bad idea, that the revenue that the Australian people have generated through taxes—and admittedly some of that comes from corporations—should be left with us here in government, to spend on our social safety net, on education, on health care, on infrastructure and on action on climate change, just to mention a few things. There are many other ways we can produce sustainable jobs, industry and futures here in Australia without giving a handout to big, wealthy corporations.

I make this very clear: the Greens voted against the second round of tax cuts in this country. We led on tax cuts for small business. We were very happy back in 2012 and 2013 to push for tax cuts for businesses under $2 million, which is a majority of businesses in this country, and many of them are doing it tough. But we have consistently voted against tax cuts for bigger business. We voted against tax cuts for businesses up to $10 million, and we voted against tax cuts for businesses up to $50 million. It is not in our DNA to support tax cuts for big businesses in this country, especially when many of those businesses don't pay their fair share of tax. Of course, that's something that the Business Council, in this campaign, is very well aware of—the reputation of a lot of multinationals who dodge tax. Many of us senators in this chamber have been on numerous committees that have looked at this in a lot of detail. Although we've passed new laws in this place—and the Greens were very happy to be part of putting those laws into place—and we have been able to pursue some of these multinational corporations for tax for the Australian people, to pay for schools and hospitals, we still have a long way to go.

As far as big business all around the world getting in the ear of governments and pushing for tax cuts is concerned, that is a race to the bottom. Senator Cormann's logic is that all Australian people should have been supporting this today because Australia will be uncompetitive if we don't match our neighbours' tax cuts. Given the disparity already between tax levels, this is nothing but a race to the bottom. And we get gamed by multinational companies. They game the system by going to governments all around the world and saying: 'Your tax rate is too high. Look at Australia. You need to cut it.' And we have a race to the bottom. Eventually there will be no corporate tax and they will have exactly what they wanted. No-one can tell me what the optimal rate of corporate tax rate would be. It's only based on a relativity of what the next country is going to pay. We've seen countries, like Germany, with higher both effective and headline tax rates than Australia still having much better employment numbers and economic growth numbers than most countries in the world, including Australia.

I want to make another point before I finish here tonight. The Greens are that passionate about this debate that we want to campaign going into the next federal election on reversing these tax cuts and making sure that Labor, if they get into government—and I hope they do get into government at the next federal election—will reverse these tax cuts. I want to be really clear. We will support the current status quo with tax thresholds of $10 million. Although we voted against the increase of the threshold from $2 million to $10 million, we will support the status quo of $10 million. On 30 June this year the sliding scale changes so that companies up to $25 million will get the tax cut and then, in the following June, companies up to $50 million will get a tax cut. We do not support that, and we want to see that legislation reversed. We hope the Labor Party will join us in our campaign going to the next election to make sure that those corporate tax cuts are reversed.

I remind everybody today of what we saw in the leaked document from the Business Council of Australia that made its way to The Fin Reviewtoday. I said this in my speech last week—and I may have been the only one who raised this point—but it is critical in this debate. If businesses are choosing to take their corporate tax cuts, their windfall gains, as they have in the US, and reinvest them in their own shares by buying their shares or giving money back to shareholders, it's not only an admission that they're not going to give any money to their workers—which will lead to higher wages or more employment—but an admission that they have nothing better to invest that money in. In other words, they're not going to reinvest it in their own industry or their own growth plan if they don't see that investment being the best return. That is actually the most important point here. It's right up there with the fact that they're not going to give any of this money to workers.

The whole logic behind Senator Cormann's push for this tax cut and behind the modelling that the Treasury has done assumes that this money will be invested back in the business. We found out from the Business Council of Australia leak that, out of 130 CEOs in this country, 80 per cent were considering buying back their shares. Only 20 per cent said that they would consider giving some of this windfall gain that the Australian people are passing on to them to their workers. Let's be very clear about this. This is taking Australian government revenue, taxpayer revenue, from the citizens of Australia and gifting it to some of the biggest, wealthiest, tax-dodging corporations in the world—not just in this country. These multinationals get away with it everywhere. We are gifting money from the Australian people to big corporations. It is a transfer of wealth. There's no other way that you can look at this, especially when they say: 'Thank you very much. I'll put that in my pocket.' By the way, rising share prices and, no doubt, better share valuations on the back of changes to their capital structure will mean better CEO and executive bonuses.

So what's at stake here is very real and it's extremely important. We need to not only celebrate the fact that these tax law changes have not got up this week but fight hard to make sure that they don't next week. Going into the next election we need to commit to reversing any tax cuts that we see coming in the Senate, if they happen at all. This needs to be campaigned on. This is critical for those of us who have a different vision for this country and for the Australian people.

6:09 pm

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

If there's one thing that really annoys me, it's Senator Cormann talking about fairness and it's the coalition talking about looking after working people. Let's look at their record on this, and let's go back to the first budget this government ever produced, a budget that ripped way from families in this country and attacked those who were in the weakest position in this country. How did Senator Cormann celebrate that? With a glass of wine and a big Havana cigar—that's how he celebrated unfairness and inequity. It's an absolute nonsense for this senator to stand up here and lecture anyone about fairness and equity. It's a nonsense for Senator Cormann to be standing up here and lecturing people about making the pie bigger when he cuts the capacity for families to put food on the table and to clothe their kids and send them off to school. It's a nonsense for Senator Cormann to get up here and lecture anyone about good economic policy.

What have we had from Prime Minister Turnbull and Minister Cormann? An increase to the GST was going to be the first terrific change that this government was going to make. I think that lasted about a week. It was the big announcement, the big policy change, that was going to make things different in this country—the GST—and I think it lasted one week. Then we had taxing powers being given to the states. I think that lasted a couple of days. That was going to be the game changer from this so-called economically competent government. And now we've got trickle-down economics. Trickle-down economics has never worked in the United States. It hasn't worked in North Carolina, where they were arguing the same point; it hasn't worked in Kansas, where they've done the same thing. They've gone: 'It doesn't work. We need to be able to keep our hospitals going. We need to keep our infrastructure, we need to keep our education system and we need to pay our public servants.' This is the reality of being in government. These guys over on the other side of the chamber, these people that see Milton Friedman as their hero, believe in small government and think that government should only deal with defence and legal issues. It doesn't work. Governments need to be intervening in a mixed economy to make the economy work.

I want to go to this issue about increasing the pie. You don't increase the pie by cutting penalty rates from working families. You don't increase the pie by making one of the major areas of social benefit in this country—the trade union movement—weaker. All this mob want to do is give more power to the bosses over the workers and diminish the capacity of the trade union movement to protect workers' wages and conditions. Well, let me tell you, Senator Cormann: that doesn't increase the pie. That diminishes the pie because all it does is put more money into corporate profits that go to their bottom line and go right back to executive salaries in this country. That is not what we want in this country. If it's about redistribution then Labor's in for redistribution. We want to look after those who have difficulty looking after themselves. We want to make sure that workers get a fair go in this country. And we want to make sure that the inequality that is so rife in this country—the inequality that is a huge problem—is dealt with. All this government wants to do is increase inequality and increase the capacity for employers to gain more at the expense of working people.

If we're going to talk about sustainable growth, the future of the economy and the future of this country, let's do something about climate change and make sure that we are in a position to build and access the new technology and keep power getting to communities around this country by going to renewables, because that is the future. All we have from this mob are scare campaigns. Remember when it was the former Senator Joyce in here—it was $100 lamb roasts. They are the experts in fear campaigns in this country. I won't cop a lecture from Senator Cormann about good economics, because he has displayed none of that as the finance minister.

The Prime Minister has displayed no good economic positions in this country. I've gone through the failures that the government have had. When you attack the health system, as this mob did in the 2014-15 budget, when you take money out of the education system and try and penalise the poor—that is not the way forward. Is there any wonder the Prime Minister is now on his 30th Newspoll loss? And, when you add the previous Prime Minister, it's 60 losses! People are jack of this terrible government, this rabble of a government, this government that just cannot get its act together. Its members are too busy beating up on each other. It's an absolute disgrace.

And I have to say it's a disgrace that some of those senators across the chamber—the Independents—have just caved in to this bad government. I heard today the new senator from Tasmania, who's supposed to be representing Tasmania, reading out a dorothy dixer prepared by the government. What are they doing? They should look after working people in Tasmania, stop capitulating to this bad government and make sure that Tasmania's got a future. That's what they should be doing, not capitulating and kowtowing to the Turnbull government. And, Senator Anning, the sooner you join the Liberals the better, because you are no more than a vote for the Liberals on every issue, regardless of whether it hurts working people in this country. All the Steven Bradburys in the Senate that are here now because others have fallen apart should really be in the Liberal Party or the National Party, because that's how they vote. They don't care about working people. They don't care about penalty rates for workers. They just simply accept the rhetoric that we hear from Senator Cormann in here day in, day out.

Senator Cormann has just not got it when it comes to economics. This government doesn't have it when it comes to looking after its finances. Budget deficits have increased. National debt has increased. And this is the mob that were out there telling everybody what a terrible position we had. They are hopeless. They are absolutely hopeless. If you Independents want any chance of surviving—and I don't think you've got much now—and hanging on at the next election, you've got to stop backing this lousy government in every time it attacks working people and working families in this country. It is a bad government with a weak leader that doesn't understand what's good for working people in this country. When you go away, you should come back here and vote against these corporate tax cuts. You should listen to your communities when they tell you that they don't want $65 billion going to the corporates, they want their penalty rates saved and they want to make sure that they've got an opportunity to feed their families. This is a bad government with a bunch of Independents who are simply kowtowing to it. They should show a bit of backbone, show a bit of leadership, stand up for their communities and stand up against this bad government.

Question agreed to.