Monday, 25 June 2018
I seek leave to move a motion relating to the conduct of business in the Senate—namely, a motion that government business order of the day No. 3, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enterprise Tax Plan No. 2) Bill 2017, be called on immediately and take precedence over all other government business until the conclusion of all proceedings on that bill.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:
That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Wong moving a motion relating to the conduct of the business of the Senate, namely a motion that government business order of the day No. 3, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enterprise Tax Plan No. 2) Bill 2017 be called on immediately and take precedence over all other government business until the conclusion of all proceedings on that bill.
What I am moving to do is bring forward the debate on the company tax legislation. The reason I'm doing that is that that is the bill the government claims has priority, that is the bill the country is focused on and that is the bill the Senate should be debating. The government has listed a whole range of legislation prior to that bill being debated. And we know why that is. It's because they want to give themselves time to try to do a deal with the crossbench. Let's be clear about it.
We on this side of the chamber don't support these company tax cuts and, if a number of the public statements from senators are true, then neither do a clear majority in this chamber. Senator Hanson has told Fairfax:
I have no intention of supporting corporate tax cuts.
And on Twitter yesterday she declared in a tweet that she personally signed:
One Nation are no chance of supporting company tax cuts.
Just this morning, Senator Griff told journalists that his party remain unconvinced. In an email to Senator Hanson's supporters today—maybe not today but recently—her office declared that Senator Hanson has announced that One Nation will not be supporting company tax cuts which include multinationals.
If what Senator Hanson and One Nation and Senator Griff, Senator Patrick and Centre Alliance are saying in public and to their supporters is true then there is absolutely no need to delay this debate for another hour. We should get on with debating the bill. If One Nation and Centre Alliance are serious that they don't support these unfunded and extravagant tax cuts, then they won't delay debate to enable more backroom deals. If senators do not support this motion, we can only assume one thing: that they are not being honest with the Australian people and are seeking to deceive voters in the July by-elections by saying one thing on company tax cuts now but keeping them alive so they can do a dirty deal in August, after the by-elections.
Can I say: unlike the government, we are not actually voting to gag this bill. We are voting to bring this bill on for debate. Last week we saw the government and crossbench senators vote to gag debate on a bill. We're saying that we're happy to debate it, so let's bring it on. I also make the point that the Senate has extensively debated this issue. We've spent seven hours and 40 minutes debating the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enterprise Tax Plan) Bill 2016 and six hours and 13 minutes debating the Treasury Laws Amendment (Enterprise Tax Plan No. 2) Bill 2017, so we've already spent 14 hours debating a policy that a clear majority of senators say they oppose.
We on this side believe that these bills are about an $80 billion handout to big business at a time when we have the budget in deficit, penalty rates being cut, wages failing to keep up with inflation and schools and hospitals being cut. Seventeen billion dollars of these tax cuts will go to the banks—the same amount that the government is cutting from schools. Let's remember what is also happening: by cutting out revenue sources down the track, this government is ensuring that a future government will be in the position of having to look to cut education, to cut health and to cut social security—even to cut defence, particularly if there is a downturn in the economy—turning off the tap in order to impose more spending cuts. These tax cuts, we believe, are deeply unfair and unaffordable. As Goldman Sachs and others have pointed out, the vast majority of these tax cuts would actually go into the pockets of overseas investors.
It's time for senators here to put up or shut up: are you being straight with the Australian people? If One Nation doesn't support this motion and if Centre Alliance doesn't support this motion, Australians are entitled to assume that these senators are not being honest with the Australian people. Australians can assume that these parties are seeking to deliberately deceive voters in next month's by-elections by keeping these tax cuts for companies and the big banks alive so that they've got the option of doing a dirty deal with the government when we return in August.
For that reason, the Senate should bring on this debate. We should debate these tax bills. The government say that they are the centrepiece of their economic plan but, instead, they've pushed them down the debating list because they want time to try and do another backroom deal. They're entitled to try and do a backroom deal but the Senate is entitled to say: 'No, we have a position. The majority of the chamber has a position that does not support billions of dollars going to multinationals and the banks.' We are entitled to bring on this bill and have a proper debate. I urge senators to support the suspension of standing orders to enable this debate to be brought on. Let's get on with debating this legislation.
The government will oppose the suspension of standing orders, because we are in favour of orderly management of the chamber. The government sets the government's business agenda. The next item on the government's business agenda is the very important passage of our appropriation bills. The appropriation bills are, of course, time-sensitive and they should be the next item that is dealt with.
I should also say: I'm very disappointed that my good friend and valued colleague, Senator Wong, would move to stop this debate at a time when only one Labor senator has spoken to this particular bill. Only one Labor senator has spoken to it, and that is Senator—
Let me say again: it is absolutely true that the government is committed to this very important economic reform. The government is committed to making sure that workers in Australia are not put at a competitive disadvantage with workers in other parts of the world. We want to ensure—
Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting—
We've got Bill Shorten here, standing up for the top end of town, trying to help the top end of town, at the expense of Australian workers. He's standing up for the top end of town in the United States; he's standing up for the top end of town in the UK; he's standing up for the top end of town in France, in Sweden—in just about every other country around the world where there are lower business taxes than here in Australia. He is working to help businesses in other parts of the world take business investment and jobs away from Australia. That is what Bill Shorten is trying to do. He is so desperate to assist the top end of town in countries around the world, to lock in their competitive advantage at our expense, that he will stop at nothing. He will stop at nothing.
We believe that it is incumbent on us as a government and it is incumbent on the Senate to engage for as long as is necessary to find a compromise on the appropriate way forward. I think the Australian people would take a very dim view of us here as senators if we didn't allow this debate to be conducted in an orderly and proper fashion, as set out in the government's business agenda. This is yet another example of the Labor Party playing games.
Anthony Albanese is spot on. Anthony Albanese is spot on when he says that the antibusiness agenda of Bill Shorten is bad for our country. This is another demonstration of the approach taken by the Labor Party under Bill Shorten. Under Bill Shorten the Labor Party now is antibusiness, antigrowth, antiopportunity, and focused on the politics of envy and class warfare, turning Australian against Australian. What the Labor Party seems to have forgotten—and what Bob Hawke and Paul Keating well understood—is that, with nine out of 10 working Australians working for a private sector business, their future job opportunities, job security, career prospects and wage increases depend on the future viability and future profitability of the businesses that employ them and pay their wages.
Bill Shorten is happy—
I'll say it again. Mr Bill Shorten is running a politics-of-envy-class-warfare-antibusiness-antigrowth-antijobs socialist agenda, selling out the best interests of working families in Australia and working to lock in a competitive advantage for businesses in other parts of the world at our expense. Bill Shorten's approach to this is un-Australian. He's desperate to put businesses in Australia at a competitive disadvantage with businesses in other parts of the world.
We are working to protect jobs in Australia. We are working to protect wages growth in Australia. We don't think it is fair to workers in Australia that we would help businesses in the United States, France, Sweden, the UK, Canada, New Zealand—businesses all around the world. I don't think it's fair to workers in Australia that we would help businesses all around the world take investment and jobs away from Australia because we are imposing higher taxes on business in Australia than are faced by businesses in other parts of the world.
This what is the Labor Party used to believe. Mr Shorten used to stand for a lower, globally-more-competitive tax rate until he sold himself out to the union movement here in Australia, until he had to promise he would commit himself to— (Time expired)
I rise to support the suspension, because it's absolutely critical that we recognise what we have at stake here. We have at stake one of the biggest, most extreme changes to our corporate tax structure ever proposed by any parliament in Australia. This is a change to the corporate tax regime that would take $85 billion from our schools, from our hospitals, from Newstart. It would mean that we've got less money to protect our environment at a time when we're losing biodiversity at a far greater rate than any other time in human history.
We have an opportunity here to debate this in a way that is thorough and orderly, as Minister Cormann said. But let's not repeat what happened last week when it came to the debate around income tax cuts. If Minister Cormann believes that that, in some way, was a thorough and orderly process, he's sadly mistaken. Last week we had one of the most significant changes to income tax ever in this country rammed through the parliament with no debate. We had gags supported by members of the crossbench, by Centre Alliance and the One Nation party. We had gags of suspension motions last week. That's not thorough. That's not orderly. We need to make sure we don't ever see a repeat of what we saw last week. Here's an opportunity, through the week, to debate corporate tax—not to have it lobbed in at a minute to midnight so that we have something rammed through the parliament in the early hours of the morning without it having been given the scrutiny it deserves—without members of the crossbench or opposition having been given the opportunity to move amendments to the proposed changes and to thoroughly scrutinise what's put before us.
We know from international experience that when corporate tax cuts of this magnitude have been introduced all they do is serve to line the pockets of CEOs and improve value for shareholders. They do nothing for ordinary working people. For example, we know that if you want to lift wages you don't cut income tax: you raise the minimum wage. This is why we're supporting a legislative increase to the minimum wage.
We've had 14 hours of debate on this package. That's right and as it should be. In this chamber we are discussing some of the most significant tax legislation ever put before an Australian parliament. We are saying let's bring this debate forward, let's have it through the week and let's scrutinise what deals may be done to secure the support of the crossbench senators. We still don't know what deal was done last week by Minister Cormann and Pauline Hanson's One Nation party in order to secure its support for income tax cuts. We don't know whether that deal extends to areas beyond the legislation that was being debated, because we didn't have time to scrutinise what was required to get the support of One Nation in order to get that package over the line. We can't repeat the mistakes that were made last week. That was a very dark day for this chamber.
We have an opportunity to do this properly. Senator Cormann said he wants to do this in an orderly way, but there's nothing orderly about what happened last week. There's nothing orderly about lobbing this in at the last minute and forcing the Senate to vote on something in the early hours of the morning without them having been given the opportunity to thoroughly scrutinise any changes or deals that may have been made. So we will be supporting the suspension. We hope that if the minister is keen to see the Senate do its job, that if the minister, as he says, is currently working with the crossbench to get their support—and they've indicated they're not prepared to give it—let's hear what the arguments are. And let's not be presented with legislation in the early hours of the morning, effectively, to hold a gun to the Senate's head.
It's quite interesting, the suspension of standing orders to bring on this debate. Senator Wong accuses me—it seems to come down to One Nation—of, in her words, 'grubby deals' being done. I have made my stance quite clear: I will not be supporting the corporate tax cuts. Senator Georgiou has also indicated that he will not be supporting them. If you think that bullying is going to change my opinion on this, it's not going to happen. It's got nothing to do with shutting down the chamber. The last time I looked, the government has the numbers in this chamber. They will determine and have their say about how this chamber is run. If you think you're going to sit there and bully me into making a decision on how I vote for this, to bring on debate, no, you can't. When this is opened up and on the floor of the parliament to be debated, fair enough.
I've just supported the Greens amendment to do with lowering it to $50 million for accountability for those in business. I look at the legislation based on what is right for the country and the people. I will not be bullied into it, and I'll make my case quite clear. Whether I support the corporate tax cuts or not has nothing to do with the seat of Longman. That's only one part of Australia. We're talking about the whole benefit to all Australians. It's the same as backing the personal tax cuts.
When you talk about grubby deals, let me remind the Greens that they supported the government's backpacker tax. That's a $100 million grubby deal they did there. Isn't it lovely? Everyone wants to throw around the words 'grubby deals'. You're not concentrating on the job that the people have elected us to do in this parliament. You've all done it, even the Labor Party. When you're in government, you all do your grubby deals—you all come knocking on the door. Let's get some accountability and honesty onto the floor of the parliament, because, I tell you what, the public are sick and tired of it. You're throwing the innuendos across the chamber at anyone who doesn't agree with you. Base it on debate. Base it on what the people of Australia want. They are all watching you. They tell me all the time it's like a sandpit in this place. The public are sick and tired of it.
Why do you have to lie to the public? Why do you have to put out false robocalls in Longman? Has what happened in Western Australia on the weekend been a wake-up call to the Labor Party? People are sick and tired of where you have this country heading. It's the same with Senator Murray Watt and all his lies that he puts out all the time in Chisholm with regard to One Nation. People will judge me on my performance and what I achieve in this chamber. If there's good legislation put up by the government, I will support it, as I have supported other legislation put forward by the Greens, by the other minor political parties, by independents in the chamber or even by the Labor Party. I will support good legislation.
In our communities and in our schools, we are speaking against bullying. We speak about bullying in the public arena but you, in this chamber, are not an example for the people of this country. You're nothing but bullies in here. Do you really think that these comments will endear to you the hearts of the public? I will stand up for anyone in this country who I believe needs a fair go. You need to wake up to yourselves and have a good look in the mirror.
I was talking this morning with Senator Cormann and Senator Birmingham and we were speculating as to what stunt the opposition might pull today. I made the prediction that they would move a precedence motion. The only thing I got wrong was that I thought those opposite would do it first-up this morning and not after private senators' business time. While those opposite are predictable, I have got to say, it is hard to follow their thinking over the last week and the start of this week.
Last week, those opposite, when it came to personal tax relief for the nation, were using every procedural mechanism and manoeuvre they possibly could to prevent us dealing with that legislation. Every possible manoeuvre, they tried. Now all of a sudden, today, we have those opposite taking the exact opposite approach—that being, to seek to up-end government business in order to alter the arrangement that we have on the Notice Paper.
It is the convention in this place that the government of the day determines the order of government business. That's something that was the convention when those opposite were on these benches and it's the case today. The government of the day determines the program; that is what the convention is. We do have, on the agenda here, a range of government business that we want to transact. Yes, the enterprise tax plan is an important piece of government business but we also have the appropriation bills, the Water Amendment Bill and the Higher Education Support Legislation Amendment (Student Loan Sustainability) Bill, so we have a range of important pieces of government business that we wish to transact. What we're seeking to do, by denying leave for Senator Wong to move her motion, is to conduct the business of this place in an orderly fashion. Those opposite, from their own contributions, have clearly been making the point that they're not terribly keen to afford crossbench senators the opportunity to consider, as is laid out in the program, the enterprise tax plan legislation. We think it's appropriate that those colleagues have that opportunity. The government will not be supporting the motion to suspend standing orders for the reasons outlined.
I just think this debate has exposed exactly what's going on here: there is a deal in the offing between Senator Hanson and the government. If Senator Hanson is not doing another grubby deal with this government to sell out working people in this country, then Senator Hanson will support this proposition, because this proposition is about bringing this debate on, bringing this bill on and getting a decision that she claims she will support.
Senator Hanson has got an opportunity now to put all of the speculation behind us, to get this bill on and to make sure that we have the debate now so that she doesn't end up doing as she predominantly does in this place. She predominantly sides with the Liberal Party, going back to her roots as a Liberal. She predominantly goes back to the Liberal Party and supports what is not in the interest of people in this country.
I have to say I thought the contribution from Senator Cormann was a pretty desperate contribution talking about class warfare. Let me tell you what class warfare is: class warfare is attacking pensioners; class warfare is attacking workers in this country so that they don't get penalty rates; and class warfare is cutting social security payments from some of the most vulnerable people in this country—that's what class warfare is. That's what the Liberal Party, in conjunction with Senator Hanson, have been doing non-stop since they've been in there—all the class warfare. Look at Senator Hanson's votes on the issues that are important for this community. Look at Senator Hanson's votes on the issues that give workers a fair go. What this is all about is simply another opportunity for the government to get Senator Hanson and One Nation on board to attack working people in this country. There's absolutely no doubt about it.
How about looking at the areas where this money would be better spent? How about housing? How about homelessness? How about doing the right thing by people who can't put a roof over their heads? No, not Senator Hanson, not Senator Cormann and not the Liberal Party. They would rather give the money to multinational, overseas corporations. We know exactly what's happened in Canada and we know exactly what's happened in the US, and it's not what the coalition and Senator Cormann are saying. There's been no more investment from the tax cuts in the US. There's been no more investment from the tax cuts in Canada. There have been no more jobs created. This is an economic theory that's been proposed by the Liberals and accepted by Senator Hanson, if she votes against this motion now. We will see money being handed over to the big banks and big business when it should be spent on housing and on homelessness. We should be giving families a fair go. We should be looking after the working people of this country. We should be looking after the pensioners in this country.
Senator Hanson has not indicated why she doesn't want to debate this. We should be debating it now. Not everyone who has been here this morning would know that this has been a legitimate, perfectly decent debate. It's not about bullying anyone; it's about making sure that this bill comes on so that working people in this country can be clear about exactly where people stand. What they need to be clear about is exactly where One Nation and Senator Pauline Hanson stand. You would be confused over the last period of time, because one minute it's support for tax cuts and then the next minute there's no support for tax cuts. You cannot understand what Senator Hanson and One Nation are doing from one day to another.
Senator Hanson has been out today and yesterday saying that she supports the Labor Party's position on this. She should vote that way now and make sure it's clear that One Nation does not support these giveaways to the big banks and giveaways to big business at the expense of working families.
I shall be supporting Senator Wong and her call to suspend standing orders. My position is quite clear. Senator Di Natale, my party made no deals with the government over personal tax cuts. I voted for all three stages of the personal tax cuts because I believe that they are the right thing to do for 90 per cent of Australian workers. No deal was done. Nothing was offered, nothing was gained.
On the company tax: I've made it quite clear to the government for many, many months that I am more than happy to put more companies into the lower region of 25 per cent for company tax because, if we do that at $500 million, nearly 6,000 more smaller businesses can benefit from that.
Even though I want the debate to come on, I don't agree with the Labor Party saying that it should apply only to companies with $2 million of turnover. I suspect that eventually they will come up with about $10 million. I still think that that's far too low. We got to $10 million last year with Senator Lambie. We got to $50 million last year with Senator Hanson. I'm prepared to go to $500 million this year to help 6,000 more companies.
It's a worthwhile thing to do. I agree with the government that we need lower company taxes. That's because of what's happened in the United States, Canada and other countries. But I disagree with them that there's going to be a great big flow-on of wages. In the United States, despite President Trump saying how wonderful it was going to be, the fact was that most of the money from the 25 per cent cut went to share buybacks and increased dividends. It did not flow on much. Nancy Pelosi was quite right when she said that it's not going down.
I'm open to discuss other figures—maybe $500 million, $600 million or $700 million; I don't know—but I will not give money to the banks when they're facing a royal commission. To quote a great Labor man named Mick Young—what he said once about Ian Sinclair—'They are stealing money from dead men's eyes'. That's what the banks are doing right now. I cannot, in all good conscience, support them. I will stand my ground.
The Centre Alliance will be not be supporting the suspension of standing orders. It has nothing to do with our position on the bill at all; it's simply that we support the convention that the government has control of its legislative agenda.
Opposition senators interjecting—