Wednesday, 20 June 2018
Consideration of Legislation
I seek leave to move a motion relating to the consideration of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Personal Income Tax Plan) Bill 2018.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to contingent notice standing in my name, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to provide that a motion relating to the Treasury Laws Amendment (Personal Income Tax Plan) Bill 2018 may be moved immediately and determined without amendment or debate.
Opposition senators interjecting—
we are committed to delivering income tax relief to hardworking families and we want the government's long-term plan to be legislated in full and unamended. Earlier today the Senate decided to move an amendment to our bill for providing income tax relief to hardworking families. That means, in order for us to deal conclusively with this bill this week, it needs to go back to the House of Representatives and it needs to have time to come back to the Senate for final determination.
Obviously, we've had some debate on this now. The truth is that we could have debate on this for another couple of weeks. That would not change the mind of the Labor Party, it would not change the mind of the Greens and it would not change the mind of Senator Storer. Everybody knows what their position is in relation to this bill. Obviously, we have taken into account the feedback that we've received from senators across the chamber. There was no appetite for extended hours tonight and there was no appetite for extended hours tomorrow, so there is only one way we can deal with the bill this week, given that it has to go back to the House of Representatives, where the government will not be supporting the amendment that was passed by the Senate. The only way we can deal with this efficiently this week so that we can provide certainty to hardworking families around Australia about the income tax relief that they deserve is by now moving this motion in the terms that have been circulated in the chamber.
The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate is about to stand up and be completely outraged about what the government is doing here. She, of course, was part of a government that moved motions to limit debate or guillotine or gag debate on no fewer than 188 occasions—including 53 times in one week! The Labor Party government that Senator Wong was a party to, the government that Senator Wong was a senior minister in, gagged debate on 188 occasions and gagged debate on 53 occasions in one week. Many of their bills were passed without any debate at all, supported by the Greens. I remember when Senator Bob Brown, the then leader of the Greens, participated in the first gag.
The truth is that this is a very important economic reform. This is a very important reform for working families around Australia. This is about the government, the Senate and the parliament as a whole making sure that working families around Australia can keep more of their own money, don't go backwards and are not on the receiving end of bracket creep. We have the opportunity to legislate in full this week the seven-year long-term plan that the government announced in the budget for working families. I call on all senators who support this personal income tax cut getting legislated this week. I call on all senators who want to see working families around Australia keep more of their own money so that low- and middle-income earners can have some relief from cost-of-living pressures and so that all working Australians get the right incentive, the right encouragement and the right reward for effort to ensure that they are not on the receiving end of bracket creep and there is not this drag on economic growth moving forward that comes with bracket creep. I call on every senator who supports this bill and supports the efficient passage of this bill through the parliament as a whole to support this suspension and to support the procedural motions that will follow so that the Senate can deal with this bill conclusively today so it can go back to the House of Representatives, where the government will reject the amendment that was passed by the Senate this morning, and so that the Senate has the opportunity to conclusively deal with this bill here in the Senate tomorrow so we can all go home this weekend, having delivered for working families around Australia.
Not happy in failing in their attempt to hold the tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners hostage to the tax cuts for high-income earners, what we now see are a government spitting the dummy and not even allowing debate in the Senate chamber. How pathetic! What a government! We gave you 3½ hours last night by agreement. You lose a vote on an amendment and you say: 'Oh, my goodness! We have to guillotine debate because we don't want any further debate.' What are you so scared of? This is a complete dummy spit by Senator Cormann, the man who styles himself as the Leader of the Government in the Senate. What a dummy spit! You lose on one amendment and now you want to guillotine the debate. I mean, really?
But let me just come back to this point. The government say, 'Our priority is low- and middle-income earners.' Do you know what? They're holding tax cuts for low- and middle-income Australians hostage to tax cuts for high-income earners that they want to deliver in six years time. That's what this guillotine is about. They're saying, 'Let's hold hostage the tax cuts for low- and middle-income Australians that will apply from July this year—next month—that everyone in this chamber supports, except the Greens, to tax cuts for high-income earners in six years time.' That is what this guillotine is all about. It's not about low- and middle-income earners. It's about executing a naked political tactic to prioritise high-income earners in six years time. It only needs to be said to demonstrate how ridiculous it is.
I would say this to the crossbench: regardless of your position on tax, what a discourtesy to the chamber. We gave this government 3½ hours of debate last night, because we do understand that it is important to get on with this debate. We have amendments from Senator Storer, we have amendments from the opposition and we have amendments from the other members of the crossbench which have not even been debated. Did Mathias send me a little text and say, 'Can we please have a bit more time. Give up the MPI'? No. Because, you know what, they want the timetable to get it down to the House and back up again. This week it's all entirely about the political tactics but don't worry about the Senate chamber and actually debating amendments.
I say to the crossbench: why don't you make them guillotined for tomorrow so we can actually finish the debate? How about that? You see, I can't move an amendment because he's moved the motion in a way that I won't be able to amend it. How about we guillotine tomorrow, so that we can actually have a debate? If you don't agree to finish debate here what is clear is that this government is able to walk right over this Senate chamber as a legislating chamber, because they want to execute a political tactic. This is nothing to do with anything other than holding tax cuts for low-income Australians hostage to tax cuts for high-income Australians in six years time.
It is an utter discourtesy, Senator Cormann, to me and to the opposition, when we gave you what you asked for—additional hours last night—to come in here and spring on us, during a question time debate, that you're going to move a guillotine to not allow any further debate beyond 6.30 pm, which will not even allow the crossbench to debate their changes. Senator Cormann, if you and your team think that you will get cooperation from the opposition around a range of issues you want I think you better think something else, because we're not going to allow a discourtesy to the chamber like this to subsist. At no stage were we even asked to give up the MPI today—not even that—after we'd agreed to give up 3½ hours last night. Why? Because you want a political tactic— (Time expired)
One of the great parliamentarians, one of the great Liberals, Peter Costello coined the phrase, 'Hypocrisy, thy name is Labor', and we are seeing that writ large today on the other side of the chamber.
Regrettably, I have had a very good vantage point over a number of years from which to see that Labor hypocrisy. What I am referring to is my misfortune for the best part of eight years to be the manager of coalition business for half that time in government and half that time in opposition. In that time in opposition we saw an incredible display of the use of the guillotine. Over the course of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government 188 bills were guillotined. Debates on 188 bills were guillotined by the Australian Labor Party with the support of the Australian Greens but there was one—I have to say—outstanding example.
I'm not in the habit of doing this, but let me refer to a press release of my own from 20 June 2013 headed 'Government to gag debate on 53 bills in the Senate'. Senator Macdonald, who it would be fair to say has a fair degree of institutional knowledge in this place, still recalls what an incredible time that was.
Let me just give a little more detail for the benefit of crossbench colleagues who may not have been with us at that time:
Of the 53 Bills listed to be guillotined, there are 49 bills that will each be debated for less than one hour and of these Bills there are 30 that will be examined for less than half an hour, and 17 for less than fifteen minutes.
So, for those opposite, using the guillotine was standard operating procedure. On this side of the chamber, it is something that is deployed very sparingly.
Senator Cormann interjecting—
This is the fourth time, as the Leader of the Government in the Senate remains me.
As the Leader of the Government in the Senate indicated, everyone in this chamber knows what they are going to do. Everyone in this chamber knows what their position is. These are matters which have been canvassed extensively in both chambers of the parliament and in the community. The time has arrived for the Senate to do its job, and that is to make a call on this important legislation.
It's worth reminding colleagues that this legislation is all about allowing the Australian people to keep more of what is theirs. We've seen from those opposite an interesting twist on their previous policy of roll-back. You might recall that, when we introduced the new tax system and we got rid of the wholesale sales tax and applied the GST and reduced income tax all at the same time, those opposite wanted to roll back the GST. They actually wanted to remove a tax. What those opposite now want to do is introduce a different twist on the concept of roll-back, and that is to roll back tax cuts. They want to roll back tax cuts. This is bizarre in the extreme.
Colleagues—I say through you, Mr President—should support this motion to suspend standing orders so that we can move the motion that will set out a mechanism and a time frame within which we can address this legislation together. That's what the Australian people expect. They expect us to get on with transacting the people's business. That's what this motion for suspending standing orders seeks to do: simply to give this chamber the opportunity to pursue the people's business. So we will not hear and recognise the calls of those opposite when they complain about the guillotine. I look at Senator Collins. She was the Manager of Government Business at the time that those 54 bills were guillotined.
What another great day for the Australian parliament! What a great day! We've been engaging in this debate: 'My tax cuts are bigger than your tax cuts.' 'No, my tax cuts are bigger than your tax cuts.' Where are we now? 'You guillotine more than we guillotine.' What a great day for the Australian parliament!
Let's get to the crux of what's going on here. The government are desperate to rush this bill through because it's very clear that, the more that people understand about this legislation, the less likely they are to vote for it. We had a perfect example right here only a few hours ago. We had Pauline Hanson's One Nation party coming into the Senate, with Senator Hanson herself saying, 'I don't get a tax cut out of this; this doesn't affect me,' demonstrating that she has no idea what this legislation does. Stages 1 and 2 deliver Senator Hanson over $4,000 in tax cuts. That's what they do. When you add stage 3 of this bill, she gets over an extra $11,000 in her pocket. It is very obvious that even those members of the crossbench that the government are talking to don't understand it, and the government's desperate to rush it through this chamber. That's what's going on right now. The quicker you get it through, the less likely it is that Senator Hanson will understand what she's voting for.
I rarely quote Paul Keating, but I will today. I'll quote Paul Keating in reference to another debate on tax reform. When it came to the GST and Mr Hewson, the then opposition leader, talking about his plans to introduce a GST, said, 'If you don't understand it, don't vote for it, because, if you did understand it, you'd never vote for it.' That's what Paul Keating said about the GST. That's the same advice I give to Senator Hanson. She clearly doesn't understand it, so don't vote for it. Don't vote for something you don't understand. She came in here and she impugned Senator Hanson-Young. She said, 'Senator Hanson-Young implied I'm going to get a tax cut, but I don't get a tax cut out of this.' She clearly doesn't understand the legislation.
If you vote for stages 1, 2 and 3 and you're on an income of over $200,000, that's an extra seven grand in your back pocket thanks to stage 3 of the tax cut. If you are a banker, a CEO, an executive or a politician, this package is a windfall. This is like winning the lottery. If you're a childcare worker, a nurse or a teacher, there's a few hundred bucks in your back pocket—that's true. But if you're somebody who's working in this joint, or the CEO of a bank or a senior executive at a large corporation: thank you; that's thousands of dollars in your back pocket. This is a prescription to turbocharge inequality in this country.
When you hear a debate in this chamber and when you hear the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and members of the crossbench saying, 'No, my tax cut is bigger, better and fairer than yours,' what you're also hearing is: 'We're going to spend less money on schools. We're going to spend less money on hospitals. We're not going to increase Newstart. We're going to cut jobs from the Department of the Environment and Energy, so we're going to lose threatened species in this country. We're not going to invest in renewable energy infrastructure.' That's what you hear. When you hear, 'My tax cuts are bigger than your tax cuts,' just listen to what that means. It means that if you're waiting in an emergency department, you'll wait longer. If you're somebody who needs to have their hip replaced and you're on a waiting list in a public hospital, you'll wait longer. If you're somebody who sends their child to a public school, you'll pay more. If you're somebody who at the moment can't afford to put a roof over your head, if you're somebody on Newstart, you're going to be consigned to living in poverty. That's what this debate is.
This is a debate that is ripping money away from the vital institutions that make Australia a decent country, and it's throwing around a few pre-election bribes in the lead-up to an election, saying to people, 'Vote for me, because I'm going to put some money in your back pocket, but screw your children, who are going to have to pay for the mess that we leave behind.' The reason this government wants to rush this piece of legislation through this chamber is that it knows that the people who are about to support it don't understand it. So Senator Hanson, I say to you, 'If you don't understand it, don't vote for it.'
I'll follow Senator Wong's contribution as to why we oppose this suspension by firstly addressing Senator Fifield's reminiscing of days gone past. Some of that reminiscing, for instance—and I point this out to senators in the crossbench—is referring to standing order 142. The critical issue here is: what is the urgency? As far as we're aware, the only justification for this rush is that Senator Cormann is having a dummy spit because, an hour after he lost the vote, he realised he'd lost the vote. This is what the problem is. Senator Cormann is completely embarrassed about the fact that, as the Senate was addressing the running sheet, we started on the most significant issue. The most significant issue was stage 3. Senators in this chamber have addressed that matter and Senator Cormann and the government don't like it. To the crossbench: why should the Senate now cooperate with the government's dummy spit about the decision or the matter we have determined? Why would you do that?
I made the point about the urgency. There is no urgency in this matter. There is no urgency about how stages 1 and 2 could operate. Indeed, proper and detailed consideration of the amendments before the Senate are critical to ensuring that what eventually is resolved in relation to stages 1 and 2 occur appropriately.
Think about what the government have suggested here. They gave no notice. In the course of question time, they circulated a motion which I suspect was not even consulted on with the crossbench either. They left no opportunity to discuss alternatives to moving immediately into consideration of this bill and wiping out our existing program for the day. Senators, I ask you to remember the last time I made this point, which was the last time the government tried a stunt like this. It was only in the last sitting fortnight, if I recall correctly. The government say on one hand, 'We want cooperation; we want the Senate to work cooperatively in relation to how we work through that program.' Well, that's what we did yesterday. We said: 'We cannot imagine how you can get your legislative agenda through in the two weeks that are involved here. What do senators prefer in terms of when we should sit and how we should conduct our business?' We agreed to an additional 3½ hours last night to do that. But did the government give anyone any notice that this stunt was going to occur and that we were going to completely wipe out the program today to move to the committee stage consideration of this bill? No, they didn't. In fact, they probably designed it over the last hour or so once they woke up to the fact that stage 3 had been determined.
Senators, don't reward a dummy spit like this and don't be fooled by the characterisation that this is how things previously occurred. Senator Xenophon would have been very distressed if a gag of this character had been agreed to. The part of this story, of course, that Senator Fifield doesn't tell is that he wasn't particularly good at being a manager and, indeed, Senator Macdonald was the one running the floor most of the time. The problem with that disharmony was that they wasted an enormous amount of time, which then necessitated us managing their time to force them to deal with the critical elements such as what amendments they might propose. Even then they still wasted that time when they were time managed, because the current government, when in opposition, were not Her Majesty's opposition. They were too busy bickering and not addressing the critical issues that they should have. We're seeing similar things now, when, without any notice and with an enormous breach of faith in question time, they've landed a stunt like this. There is no urgency with this legislation.
Mr President, I was standing absolutely in line of sight then. Senator Cameron was on his feet first. I agree that, if they'd stood together, the minister would have had the call. He absolutely stood first, and you ought to have called him.
Senator Wong, firstly, Senator Cameron stood while Senator Collins was still speaking, while I was calling Senator Collins to order. If you would like that to be the precedent for this place, there'll be a lot of people standing up. Secondly, I might say that, if a minister had not stood and I had called another member of the opposition, I think that would have been an unfair representation of what happens in these limited debates around the chamber, where managers and leaders are given precedence to represent the positions.
That's the case when people stand together. Mr President, I accept that your version of what you perceived was Senator Cameron standing earlier. I saw Senator Cameron on his feet well before Senator Birmingham, after Senator Collins had finished speaking. In those circumstances, the appropriate thing for you to do would have been to call him.
There was one second on the clock when I stood. You are entitled to stand and seek the call. That's exactly what I did, and I was first on my feet. Senator Birmingham didn't even consider standing until I stood. The precedent is there. I stood properly and at the right time.
Indeed, the outrage and the indignation continues on so many levels, but of course it's the hypocrisy that strikes home time and time and time again when you listen to the arguments of the Labor Party on this. This is hypocrisy from the party who saw fit to apply a guillotine 188 times during their time in government, against the coalition, who have applied the same approach just four times in five years. Look at the scorecard of respect for the Australian Senate: 188 times over there, four times here when it's necessary and warranted.
Why is it warranted? Senator Collins comes in and says: 'What's the urgency? What's the import?' The import is that these tax cuts matter to Australians. These tax cuts matter to a stronger economy. And what else is the import? The very long list of other legislation that senators right around this chamber expect to be dealt with.
Of course, these tax cuts are a full package, much of which takes effect much sooner, and that's why you want to make sure that Australian businesses and Australian taxpayers have certainty. But it is not just certainty over the tax cuts; you also want to ensure they have certainty over other important reforms that come out of this year's budget, other important reforms that the government's brought legislation before this chamber for. We've seen that the Labor Party are happy to soak up time in this place to ensure that other business cannot be dealt with. Yes, we heard the Labor Party say, 'Well, we gave additional hours last night,' and yes they did. But what did we see during those additional hours? Twenty-minute speech after repetitive 20-minute speech from Labor Party senators, who would have happily kept on doing that as long as the window was available for them to do so. We see it time and time and time again.
What we see now is of course that, once they do the indignation and the hyperventilation, the Labor Party move on to the threats. They threaten the government, they threaten the chamber and they threaten the crossbenchers. I trust that the Senate crossbenchers, of course, will be better than that in terms of acknowledging—
Senator Collins, that's not a point of order; it's a matter of language used in the chamber.
Senator Wong interjecting—
Senator Wong, I'm trying to rule on your colleague's point of order from the chair. Can I conclude this ruling before you raise the next point of order? Senator Collins, I don't take that as a point of order. It's a matter of language used in the chamber. Senator Wong.
The simple message that everybody should take is: don't listen to Labor's bullying, don't listen to Labor's threats, don't listen to Labor's feigned outrage or moral indignation; look at Labor's hypocrisy. This party thought that it was okay in one week to do on 53 occasions what it now condemns the government for doing just once. This party thought that it was okay through its time in government to do on 188 occasions what it condemned the government for doing on four occasions.
This is what was, as Senators Cormann and Fifield rightly pointed out, standard operating practice for the Labor Party in government, yet in opposition they rail against it. In the end we hope the tax cuts will deliver savings for Australians for years to come, for generations to come, setting in place a better, fairer tax system that addresses the problems of bracket creep. The Labor Party can go to the next election, if they want, promising to roll on taxes. 'Roll on new taxes' is what Labor's policy is going to be, but that's no justification to stand in the way of this Australian Senate, this year, at this moment in time, giving Australians better, fairer taxes, a tax cut that would create a better opportunity—
And indeed, Senator Wong, debating it is what we have done. It is what we have been doing. Now is the time for decision, for action, to give Australians the tax cuts that they deserve.
Senator Cormann might be in the position that we all are in relation to the motion that he has circulated, because the procedure for dealing with these issues is that indeed he does seek to move a motion without amendment or debate. The problem is the Senate as a whole doesn't understand the detail of the motion and its implications.
Sorry, Senator Collins. There has been a little confusion here at the Clerk's table, and conflicting advice. I ask for a moment to resolve it. On the basis that there is conflicting advice, I'm going to defer to the Senate having the right to debate it. We'll seek advice from the actual Clerk, who's currently not in the chamber. Senator Collins, please continue.
Thank you, Mr President. I commend you on that decision. Senator Cormann is in a flurry because he doesn't want the Senate to fully understand the implications of the motion that he's seeking precedence to move. Let me give you one example amongst opposition senators that we have been dealing with in the last few minutes. The question was: how does this impact on today's program? What does it mean for the remainder of the program? The motion that's been circulated appears to mean that when we get back to government business on the Red, which is item 19—when we get through all the other business this afternoon and get to item 19—if we haven't reached 6.30 by then, we'll have whatever the remainder of the time is. That is what the government is proposing. I would highlight to senators who have circulated amendments that are on the running sheet here to consider: if they support precedence now to deal with this motion, how much time will we be allowing for consideration of their own amendments?
Let's look at what might happen here if we allow the government to abuse Senate processes and have this process occur. What will happen is that we will move through business on a Wednesday as we ordinarily do—if you're lucky, under normal arrangements, you might only have about half an hour more of government business—and this tax plan that the government is moving, phases 1, 2 and 3, may receive only an hour and a half of committee-stage consideration in the Senate. An hour and a half! What are you hiding? There is no rush. There is no urgency; I'll come to the detail about the lack of urgency in a moment. But I do ask senators to consider: do you really want to allow precedence for this minister to move a motion that will circumvent proper consideration of the government's tax plan? If you allow precedence, that is where we will be going.
We still have before the committee-stage consideration amendments by Senator Storer, a class by the opposition, a separate class by the opposition, Senator Storer, Centre Alliance and the opposition again. Indeed, we've dealt with the final block but only one block of all of the amendments here. Of course, what's generated this dummy spit is that, in managing the committee-stage consideration, the opposition went immediately to the critical issue and the Senate determined an outcome that the government doesn't like. I ask those senators who joined with the opposition and the Greens to vote down stage 3 to consider common sense here: if you agree to precedence, and if you agree to this motion, you're basically compromising yourself. You're saying, 'I oppose stage 3 but I'm going to circumvent any consideration of the other stages and I'm going to fast-track this back to the House of Representatives.'
Then comes the next danger of interpretation in this motion. Have a very close look at paragraph (c) in the motion, and read the last phrase in (c): when the message comes back from the House of Representatives, it will be dealt with 'immediately without amendment or debate'. What this government is trying to do is the extraordinary thing of removing your own prerogative. Why would you support it? It makes no sense. This is an enormous dummy spit by Senator Cormann because he did not succeed with stage 3. Now he's asking senators to compromise their own capacity in relation to dealing with this matter.
You saw just a moment ago that the government needed to even get advice about how to move forward with the guillotine, because they didn't know when senators could speak. Fortunately, I do know it is our prerogative to address this issue, and we should do so. We should allow time for all senators to understand what this motion really means. So, on the face of it, I and others thought, 'Oh, we're going immediately into this.' Well, we're not. We'll get to it at item 19 on the Red, if we even get there before 6.30. And guess what's going to happen at 6.30? At 6.30, we're going to roll through votes. You won't have the opportunity to ask any questions. You won't be able to query the government about how one thing or another with stages 1 or 2 might operate. They are completely avoiding scrutiny of this package. They are removing the Senate's power to review. Our critical and core responsibility is what is at stake here. That is what this motion does. I would be stunned if a well-informed senator would agree to have their powers compromised in this fashion.
But let's get to some of the other facts of the matter here. Let's go back to Senator Birmingham's discussion about the urgency. There is no urgency other than the government's desire to spin together some political whim. Let's address these tax issues. Labor supports stage 1. So there's no urgency on that one. In fact, it's a refund. You've got until June-July 2019 for it to be dealt with administratively, so there is no immediate urgency on that. Step 2 doesn't come into effect until 1 July 2022—48 months away. Step 3 doesn't come into effect until 1 July 2024—72 months away—up to two terms of the parliament. The other element of this picture that hasn't really been well explained by the government is why they are relying on standing order 142. They're basically asking the Senate to again limit its power, limit its capacity, to consider issues in debate. I encourage senators who are considering this issue to have a look at section 142 in the standing orders. For crossbenchers, the standing orders are in your drawers. Have a look at it. Pull it out. Look at standing order 142.
If I misheard Senator Abetz, I invite him to tell me what the real interjection was. If you make an interjection like that in debates, you will get a response. So, perhaps you would like to tell the crossbench what your real interjection was. I believe I heard what I said. If I'm not right, well, fair enough. But let's go back to the important issue here. This revision that the government is using is about getting senators to agree to a limitation of debate on bills. Don't agree to that sort of thing easily. You need to understand that there has been consultation, that there is some urgency and that there is a justification to essentially pass away your powers to ensure that matters are addressed properly. These are the issues that the government has not addressed. They criticise Labor when we are in government—call us hypocrites—but the fact is that in those stages we achieved agreement to manage the Senate program, because senators, including the crossbenchers, were frustrated with how this government conducted itself in opposition.
This is not the case here. The case here is that during question time the government alerted us, with no notice, that they were going to move this motion, and they are now suggesting that we should give it precedence. We should not give it precedence, because there is no urgency. Since there is no urgency, I now move the following amendment to the motion:
That the words 'without amendment or debate' be deleted from paragraph (c).
I want all senators to be aware that they should not easily allow the government to slip into an amendment that they should relinquish their power to amend and debate any matter. To do that is essentially passing on your responsibilities as a senator, without due consideration. The other element at stake here is the lack of consultation—
Shameful lack of consultation and even poor understanding about what it is they're proposing, what the motion is and what procedure should be considered going forward. I believe it highlights that the government wants to rush this through to avoid scrutiny.
Earlier, Senator Wong referred to it as a dummy-spit—in fact I think she might have borrowed my words from sitting behind her at the time. That's our reflection on how Senator Cormann responded to the limited amount of consideration in detail being given to these matters ahead of question time. It seemed that at first the government didn't quite understand what had happened. Then, obviously, once they had realised what had happened they tried to convince some unsuspecting senators that they should relinquish their powers. I can't understand why any senator would do that, especially in a situation where we've had these bills before us for a limited time only. We facilitated the second reading debate last night and we've had only about an hour of committee-stage consideration, and there was no notice ahead of question time that the government was going to attempt to circumvent that.
During question time, the manager was running around talking to crossbench senators, asking, 'How about this?' Don't agree to things under those circumstances. Get some advice. At least consider dealing with these issues about urgency or limitations on considerations after allowing yourself to be properly informed about what is really occurring here. On reading this motion, senators who have been in this place for quite some time at first believed we were going straight into the bill. That is not what I believe is proposed in this motion. It will occur when we get to item 19.
As I've pointed out, the more concerning element in paragraph (c)—and it is critical we make this point at this stage, because the government might again attempt to rob us of any opportunity to amend the next motion—is the issue of our dealing with a response from the House, without amendment or debate. This is outrageous. Had the government consulted us in relation to this motion, these are, of course, the points, after advice from the Clerk, that we would have been able to respond to. But we didn't have the opportunity to even seek advice from the Clerk. You saw a moment ago—consider this, Senators—that the Leader of the Government was in a flurry over understanding the motion that he was putting. He needed to seek advice from the clerks. On the floor we had to pause the consideration of the chamber for him to get advice from the clerk.
This is why we are in such dangerous territory. As Senator O'Neill says, they are making it up as they go, and we should not cooperate.
Let me again run through why there is no urgency here so that it's clear in the minds of senators. If the government agreed to have step 2 removed from this bill, leaving the parliament to vote only on step 1, we'd vote for that today. There's no problem. We would vote on that today. That's been Labor's position from the start. Stage 1 is the only area where there is such urgency. In relation to step 1 itself, the low- and middle-income tax offset, being a rebate, doesn't take effect until 1 July 2019, so that can be voted on anytime next financial year. The government can provide notice. The government can provide certainty. There's no real issue about certainty, and the government knows that. There is no urgency in relation to step 1. The change to the threshold can retrospectively be changed by the tax commissioner. There is no urgency.
Let's consider the argument put by the government about certainty. I interjected when Senator Birmingham was talking about certainty, because he knows and I know that there is very little certainty in three of his core funding areas. Early childhood education: where's the certainty there? They can't even get sufficient families to register in the system. It's going to be an enormous mess next month when it becomes so clear that there are so many families missing out on their support for child care. School education: I have said time and time again that schools cannot plan their funding for next year. This is an enormous problem. This is a bigger issue of certainty than what is proposed with this tax issue. Higher education: the higher education bill is the third bill after this one. There is enormous uncertainty for higher education institutions about what circumstances will operate next year. They don't know how many future higher education places they can offer Australian students. These are the issues that lack certainty.
There is no credibility at all to suggest that certainty is the justification for this stunt. This stunt is an enormous dummy spit because the government lost stage 3. Step 3 of their tax plan has been rejected by this chamber in the committee consideration so far, and this is a dummy spit by the Leader of the Government in the Senate because this chamber acted. Don't remove your capacity to continue to act just because the Leader of the Government in the Senate is throwing a dummy spit or having a big sook.
Let me say again: Labor supports step 1. We would vote on that today if it would be facilitated, but of course it won't, because they're holding Australians to ransom for tax benefits for the top 20 per cent. Step 2 doesn't come into effect until 1 July 2022, 48 months away. Step 3 doesn't come into effect until 1 July 2024, 72 months away.
The kids will be finished high school by then.
Senator O'Neill interjecting—
The Prime Minister might even be about 70 by then. Maybe this is part of his encouragement program for us all to work until we're 70.
Senator Marshall interjecting—
That's right, Senator Marshall. It's about this government's approach to aspiration, and it's a stunt.
(a) government business order of the day no. 1 (Treasury Laws Amendment (Personal Income Tax Plan) Bill 2018) be considered under a limitation of time, and that the time allotted for all remaining stages be until 6.30 pm today;
(b) paragraph (a) of this order shall operate as a limitation of debate under standing order 142; and
(c) on the reporting of any messages from the House of Representatives relating to the bill, the message be considered immediately in committee of the whole and any questions on the remaining stages of the bill be put immediately without amendment or debate.
I seek leave to make a short statement.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:
That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent me from making a statement.
I'm very pleased to rise on this to explain to the crossbench why it is so important that they allow this motion to be amended. The crossbenchers—and I appreciate that some of them may not have understood the full import of what they were doing—
I'm getting a lecture from Ian Macdonald about being patronising; that's fun!
They have agreed to a motion which prevents this chamber from debating a message from the House of Representatives. That is what paragraph (c) of this motion does: it prevents this chamber from debating a message from the House of Representatives. That is an extraordinary thing. I would invite the crossbench to consider what we were sent here to do as senators, which is to legislate.
We accept, as we accepted during the debate, that Senator Hanson, for example, had a different view to the Labor Party on the tax package. We disagree with her view, but we accept that she has a right, obviously, to that view. We accept that Senator Patrick and Senator Griff had a different view on stage 2. They were with us in our opposition to step 1 but opposed us in relation to step 2, and we accepted that.
What we are saying is that this chamber at least ought to have the opportunity not only to debate the bill in substantive but to debate the bill when it comes back after the House of Representatives takes out the amendments Senator Patrick supported. You ought to have the opportunity to have the chamber debate the bill that comes back from the House, given that the amendment that the House of Representatives will take out is the very amendment that Centre Alliance put into the bill. It is entirely illogical, frankly—and I shouldn't just say Centre Alliance; it was Centre Alliance, the opposition, Senator Storer and the Greens.
The majority in this chamber have voted to remove step 3 from the government's tax package on the very sound basis that they do not believe that this tax package ought to be held hostage to tax cuts for high-income earners put in place in six years time. That was a sensible amendment. So I'd invite members of the chamber to consider whether or not it is sensible to pass without amendment a motion which ensures that we cannot debate a message from the House of Representatives. That is our job. If the House does not accept amendments from the Senate, we ought to at least have the opportunity to debate whether or not those amendments should be insisted upon. That is what this second chamber does.
I'm told that there's some deal whereby every party leader will speak when the message comes back. That kind of deal is not a substitute for the right of this chamber to insist on an amendment.
I put this point to Senator Patrick, Senator Griff and all of the others on the crossbench: the only amendment that has the prospect of being insisted upon is the amendment that you supported this morning. So why on earth would you allow a process whereby the government prevents you from debating and insisting on that amendment? It is an extraordinary thing to agree to that, to say, 'I'll vote for an amendment in the morning and then in the afternoon I'll vote for a procedural motion which prevents the chamber from insisting on that amendment.'
The motion that Senator Cormann has just moved, which we cannot amend because of the procedure, is saying that the message be put immediately without amendment or debate—in other words, this chamber works as simply a tick-off on whatever the House of Representatives has decided. That is not what senators were sent here to do. So I would urge the crossbench to support the suspension of standing orders to enable the statement to be made, and I would urge them to reconsider their position on paragraph (c).
I thank the Senate. I confirm that, when the message returns from the House of Representatives, the government will grant leave to each party leader or Independent to make a contribution on the consideration of the message.
Opposition senators interjecting—
What we've just seen is the deal that I referenced. I want to make clear what this deal means. It means the Senate is seeking to bind its own hands so as not to insist on the removal of step 3. I ask those senators who supported amendments from the opposition and Senator Storer to remove step 3 of the tax package, for the reasons which were discussed this morning, to consider that they have just agreed to a motion to prevent this Senate from insisting that the amendments stand. What they have copped instead is a deal which simply says each of us can have a chat about it.
We weren't sent here to have a chat and a cup of tea, actually. We were sent here to legislate. This amendment that those opposite are now saying we cannot insist upon is to remove step 3, which is the part of the package that does not start until 2024, that overwhelmingly advantages high-income earners, that is growing at 12 per cent a year in terms of the cost of the package and that will fundamentally undermine Australia's progressive taxation system. That is the amendment that the majority of the Senate—the government and some of the crossbench—is today saying this Senate cannot insist upon. I would ask the crossbench to reflect upon the wisdom of going down this path. Whatever one's view about the content, to prevent the Senate from insisting is a very poor precedent, indeed.