Thursday, 10 May 2018
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to questions without notice asked by Senators Wong and Marshall today relating to the 2018-19 Budget.
One of the greatest cons ever perpetrated on the Australian public is the myth that the coalition government has some sort of economic credibility. I think if anyone was watching question time today or yesterday in the Senate or the House of Representatives, they would have seen evidence of that myth being completely demolished. Here we have a budget perpetrated on the Australian people which is a budget that is good for the Liberal Party. It is not a budget that has the interests of Australians or this country at its heart. It is a budget that is purely about re-electing the Turnbull government. And what is the best demonstration of that? It is the government's absolute lack of knowledge of the details of the tax cuts that are the centrepiece of their policy, that move into the never-never, that move into budgets not just this year but next year and the year after. They move not only into future budgets but into future parliaments.
The cornerstone of this budget is Malcolm Turnbull saying to the Australian people, 'If you re-elect me not only at this forthcoming election but at the next election, here is all this money that's going to come like Christmas to everybody in the Australian community.' Again, it is one of these great cons. It demolishes the myth. It's one of the cons and myths that's carefully constructed and supported by the apparatchiks in the Liberal Party and those that support them, like the Business Council of Australia, which we heard today in question time is not only enthusiastically supporting this government but could do more and were actually asked to do more by Senator Cormann. It is those people who, in this budget, are going to receive $80 billion in tax cuts. It is the banks that are going to receive billions of dollars in tax cuts. If this were a budget that had anything to do with being properly constructed for the benefit of Australia and the Australian people, it wouldn't give $80 billion of tax cuts to companies that don't need it and to companies that have ripped off Australians every day of the week and at the same time cut $270 million from the TAFE system, leaving working people in this country vulnerable. But the $270 million cut in this budget is on top of previous budget cuts to this sector.
We just heard a debate in this place, which went for an hour, about our submarine corporation and the ability of Australia to maintain a skilled workforce to give us the capacity to build high-level submarines and frigates in this country. And at the same time we are cutting the TAFE sector. This is an absolute disgrace. It is a construction for the benefit of the Liberal Party and the re-election of Malcolm Turnbull. As meagre as these tax cuts are for the lower income people, we support them, because those people need relief from this government. At the same time, we're seeing electricity prices skyrocket. In this budget we see pensioners losing the energy supplement, which will cost them $14 a fortnight. This is at the same time that the government is giving $80 billion worth of tax cuts to companies that don't need it and to companies that rip off those very same pensioners day after day. It is a budget that is purely constructed in the interests of the Liberal Party, and I say that that is not good enough. We can't put up with $17 billion of accumulated cuts to schools and $2.2 billion of cuts to universities. We cannot accept a budget that cuts $80 million to the ABC, one of the few places where we can get an unbiased news service. We really do have a situation now in this country where this government has simply discarded the interests of Australians and the interests of this nation for its own self-interest.
But tonight we will see an alternative. Tonight we will see what we will do in government if we are elected. What we're interested in doing is putting up a budget, a plan, that benefits our kids, that supports our older people, that helps our sick people, that doesn't discard people to permanent unemployment, with no benefits, to live on the poverty line.
I rise very slowly today to speak to Senator Marshall's motion to take note of answers by Senator Cormann during question time. He mentioned economic management in relation to the budget, and he said that the budget that we have brought down is 'only good for the Liberal Party'. I had the pleasure this morning of hosting the Treasurer and the Prime Minister in the electorate of Eden-Monaro, where I live. They met with Australians with a real interest in this budget. They met 12 seniors from Queanbeyan in that federal electorate, the electorate of Eden-Monaro.
The reason why we went there was that this budget does work for a vast range of Australians. Let me give you some examples that relate particularly to the electorate of Eden-Monaro. There are more than 63,000 low- to middle-income earners across Eden-Monaro who will get tax relief as a result of this budget. There are 5,000 local families who are eligible for childcare provisions as a result of this budget. There are 16,000 local businesses throughout Eden-Monaro who have benefitted already from the legislated enterprise tax cuts; 1,000 of them have already accessed the $20,000 instant asset write-off facility. There is $23.7 billion being spent on infrastructure that will go to New South Wales, an increase of $9 billion over five years.
Let me talk for a minute about infrastructure, for the simple reason that the people of Eden-Monaro who met the Treasurer and the Prime Minister this morning were very, very interested in infrastructure. Over the next 10 years, because of this budget, we will invest over $75 billion in new and upgraded transport infrastructure projects across Australia through a 10-year infrastructure investment pipeline. We are building on our current investments to improve our road, freight, rail and urban public transport networks. In New South Wales, we're investing $17.2 billion through the Infrastructure Investment Program up to 2021-22, with $1.7 billion to be funded in 2018-19.
The coalition's vision to deliver infrastructure of critical importance can be seen right across New South Wales, which is of basic interest to those people in Eden-Monaro, with investment in projects from the Western Sydney Airport and infrastructure plan to Inland Rail and the duplication of the Pacific Highway. In my home electorate of Eden-Monaro the benefits of the Turnbull government's infrastructure investment for the community include an additional $100 million for the Barton Highway upgrade package and a $100 million investment in the Monaro Highway upgrade package. These investments will bust congestion for people travelling to Canberra from Queanbeyan, Murrumbateman, Yass and beyond. It will help to move freight more efficiently, better connect our regions, grow our economy and create new local jobs. Importantly, it will improve safety so that our neighbours and friends can get home sooner and safer.
This money, this $200 million, is real money and it's having a real effect, unlike the pie-in-the-sky promises of those in the Labor Party. The local member for Eden-Monaro, Mr Mike Kelly, described that $200 million for the Barton and Monaro highways as 'a con job'. That's sad and I think, unfortunately, it's a bit shifty. Ongoing activities are also occurring in Eden-Monaro: for example, the port of Eden, the Bega sewage treatment plant, regional development grants for Men's Sheds and RFS facilities, the Shoalhaven bridge and an ACT overpass, which is also of value to Eden-Monaro residents. The local member, Mr Mike Kelly, describes this budget as 'a great disappointment'. It would be a great disappointment to him because it's the truth. There are no cuts to education or health; each year both education and health budgets in Eden-Monaro increase, not decrease, and it's duplicitous to say otherwise. That is why the people who the Prime Minister and the Treasurer met this morning, who were locals, believe that this budget is a manifestation of the superior economic management of the coalition government.
Today in question time Senator Wong asked Senator Cormann, as she also did yesterday, to provide this parliament with the revised total cost of corporate tax cuts over the 10 years from 1 July. She asked the question today. She asked it yesterday. It was also asked in the other place of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. But the Prime Minister and the Treasurer and, again today, the Minister for Finance, have refused to answer this question. They have refused on some four occasions now. They have refused to answer whether or not the total cost of Prime Minister Turnbull's big corporate tax cuts over the next 10 years, from 1 July this year, is more or less than $100 billion.
Why won't they answer this question? Why are they so scared to tell the Australian people exactly how much of their tax is going to corporate Australia? Corporate Australia does not need this money. Australians know that very clearly, because by just turning on the TV they can see the profits of Westpac or the Commonwealth Bank. They see exactly how much profit corporate Australia is making. They know very well that it does not need a tax handout from this government. But this government refuses to tell the Australian people exactly how many billions of dollars it's going to cost.
The reason the government don't want anyone to know is that this budget takes money away from Australian taxpayers. It takes it away from schools—some $17 billion—and gives it to big corporations who make record profits and who do not need government handouts. This is a budget that takes taxpayer dollars out of our health system and out of our Medicare system and gives them to big banks—banks who report record profits and don't need a tax cut. How is that fair? It is not fair, and that is why they are hiding the largesse of these corporate tax cuts.
What we have in this budget is Australians who are going to miss out. They will miss out on great schools, on world-class hospitals and on a chance for a better education and TAFE system because of the fixated, antiquated, backward and trickle-down-economics view that this government has and its desire to use Australian taxpayers' money to look after the wealthy end of town—the corporate end of town. As we know, this is the corporate end of town that has shareholders, board members and investors that aren't even in Australia. So how on earth is this money going to provide any benefit to Australians? It is not.
Australians are being robbed by this government, robbed of their hard-earned money and the taxes that they pay. And they deserve better. They deserve the services that they expect the government to deliver. They deserve decent public hospitals. They deserve, in this country, a decent public education system where, no matter what your postcode, you end up getting a really good education. That is the country of the fair go that Australia stands by and that we all want to live by—but not those on the other side of this place; not the Turnbull government. The Turnbull government want to look after the banks, the corporate sector and the wealthy end of town, because they don't care about everyday average Australians; they don't care about Australians that are doing it hard to make ends meet. And they certainly don't care about older Australians. They don't care about pensioners. They don't care about those in our aged-care sector, who are crying out to this government, saying: 'Come on! What are you doing? Why are you robbing us of all those years of hard-earned money and the taxes that we paid, to give it now to the corporate end of town?'
This budget is an absolute disgrace when it comes to fairness. There is nothing that this government can say that is going to make Australians believe it is somehow sensible, decent or honourable, or that it has any integrity, if it gives $80 billion of taxpayers' money to corporate Australia—corporate Australia, who continue to record profits. Good on them for getting record profits, but they should stand up and say, 'We don't need Australian taxpayers' money to get there.'
Well, it's a little bit off topic, but can I just start this afternoon by congratulating Dr Mahathir on his magnificent victory in Malaysia. Dr Mahathir will become the world's oldest leader, at the age of 92. I think he'll bring great wisdom and great experience to the role in Malaysia. Anyone who's interested in the politics of Malaysia—and perhaps the recent politics of Malaysia, without dwelling on it too much—can't but be impressed by the victory. I had the pleasure of being in Dr Mahathir's company in January 2017 at his home with his wife, and I was greatly honoured to hear his vision for Malaysia but importantly also his vision for the Asian region.
And I know you're a generous man, so I will just make one last point, and that is that Dr Mahathir has given a pledge to uphold the rule of law and, importantly, to prosecute those that have breached it. I think that's an ominous sign for some who have engaged in less than decent practices across Malaysia, and indeed internationally, in recent times.
But that brings me to the topic du jour, and that is, of course, the federal budget. And I'm spoilt with choice—I don't know where to start! I don't know whether I should start with sharing with Liberals across Australia why this is a budget that they can be proud of—indeed, why it's a budget that fiscal conservatives can be proud of. I don't know whether or not I should start by talking about why the budget is a significant win for Western Australia. You're right, Senator Molan: while it's not a fix for the GST problem in Western Australia, it's a very, very good budget, a strong budget, that Western Australians can be very, very proud of. Perhaps I should just start by quoting back to Labor what it has said itself about the importance of company tax cuts.
You're right, Senator Molan; I think I'll start at the end. I think I will start by sharing with Senator Keneally, Senator Moore and Senator Urquhart what it is exactly that Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, himself has had to say about the importance of company tax cuts.
Senator Bartlett interjecting—
I'm disappointed, Senator Bartlett, that I have only 2½ minutes to go, because I have three pages. So let me start from the top.
What did Bill Shorten say to the House of Representatives on 23 August 2011? Let me remind you:
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.
That's convincing for me. So what did Mr Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, say in a speech to the Australian Council of Social Services National Conference on 30 March in that same year, 2011? He said:
Reducing the corporate tax rate … sees more capital flowing into our domestic economy, which will then flow on to workers in the form of higher wages—thereby improving standards of living.
I know; I know. There is more. What did Bill Shorten say in an interview on Sky with Kieran Gilbert on 12 March 2012? He said: 'Friends, corporate tax reform helps Australia's private sector grow and it creates jobs right up and down the income ladder.' What did Bill Shorten say when he addressed the Institute of Chartered Accountants on 6 April 2011? He said:
The Government's tax reform agenda has a strong focus on ensuring that Australia remains an attractive place to invest.
… … …
Cutting the company tax rate is an important step along this road.
This recognises the benefits to investment and growth from lower company tax rates and a trend to lower rates across the OECD over the past 30 years.
Let's go to Julia Gillard. What did Julia Gillard say? We will cast our minds back a little bit further to show that cutting corporate tax rates is as much in the DNA of the Australian Labor Party as it is in the coalition's. Julia Gillard said in March 2012 to the House of Representatives:
If you are against cutting company tax, you are against economic growth. If you are against economic growth, then you are against jobs.
It is worth repeating: 'If you are against economic growth, then you are against jobs.' It's convincing, I know. (Time expired)
I rise to participate in this debate, noting the questions asked by Senators Wong and Marshall during question time today. They are very relevant questions. As represented in the budget, how much will certain government policy initiatives cost the budget? We're talking about the corporate tax cut and we're talking about the personal income tax cuts that are cast off into the never-never, seven years and two elections from now. It's valid that the opposition ask these questions. It's valid that the Senate, through the crossbench and the other minor parties, ask these questions. We are being asked by the Minister for Finance and the Prime Minister to vote for these personal income tax cuts and to vote for this corporate tax cut, yet we cannot get an answer out of this government as to what providing these tax concessions to big business, the big end of town and some of the wealthiest people in our community will cost the budget.
Budgets are all about choices. They are about what you choose to invest in, how you choose to stimulate the economy and how you choose to provide wage growth to people who have not seen a wage increase in many years. It is valid that the Senate ask these questions. Today we got no answers. We received no answers from Minister Cormann on the cost of the corporate tax cut or the cost of those personal income tax cuts—phase 3, as the Treasurer called them in his budget speech.
I make note that Labor has already made clear it will support the government's income tax cuts that are slated to come in on 1 July. That is because we know working people have not participated in the profits and in the productivity gains that we've seen in this country. Their wages have flatlined. We believe it is appropriate that the government, through the tax system, provide them with some relief. When it comes to an $80 billion big business tax giveaway, we see the government giving $17 billion to the banks there. That figure of $17 billion is important because it also happens to be the amount of money that the government is taking away from schools. That is the choice the Turnbull government is making in this budget: $17 billion given to the banks in the form of a corporate tax cut and $17 billion taken away from our nation's children and our nation's schools.
We also heard in question time today that Minister Cormann does believe the Business Council of Australia is helpful to his cause and that they could do more. I'm sure he's delighted with the news that the Business Council of Australia is creating a $26 million fighting fund to campaign for the Turnbull government. No doubt they're grateful for the largesse that will flow to big business as a result of this corporate tax cut. No doubt the Liberal Party and the Prime Minister are happy about this fighting fund. It may well prevent Malcolm Turnbull from having to put his hand in his deep pocket for the $1.75 million to fund the next Liberal Party campaign.
I want to look briefly at this third tranche of the personal income tax cuts that will take two elections and seven years before we see them. What we do know from the Treasurer is that he's planning to flatten the tax rate. If you are earning between $40,000 and $200,000, he proposes that you pay the same rate of tax. Ask yourself: how is it fair that somebody who is on $40,000 will get a couple of hundred dollars back in a tax cut but someone on $200,000 will get $7,000 back on a tax cut? These are the numbers we know. The number we don't know is the cost of this tranche of the personal income tax cuts to the budget, yet we are being asked by this government to vote this in without that information.
Senator Smith had a great time when he finally got to the substance of the debate, reading out a number of quotes from the past. What the good senator may well bear in mind is that there is a different context today. Today we have a budget where the deficit is 6½ times what the Liberal Party promised it would be in 2014. The deficit has increased by 6½ times on their watch. We have net debt that has doubled. We have debt that has crashed through half a trillion dollars, and we've seen no prospect of that coming under half a trillion dollars in the next decade. That is the budgetary context in which we operate. It is very different to the past context. Senator Smith may want to ask himself this: if the coalition was so gung-ho on corporate tax cuts, why didn't they support them in 2011? Of course, they didn't. Here we have a Senate being asked to pass a corporate tax cut and to cut income tax cuts off in the never-never with no sense of what they will cost. It's valid that we get those answers. (Time expired)
Question agreed to.