Wednesday, 12 September 2018
Treasury Laws Amendment (Accelerated Depreciation for Small Business Entities) Bill 2018; In Committee
I won't respond too much to Senator McKim's contribution except to make the comment in passing that, according to Senator McKim, it was all an accident that the economy crashed in Tasmania under a Labor-Greens government and it was all to do with exchange rates rather than the disastrous antibusiness policies of the Labor Party and the Greens. That contribution was an interesting one. I don't think that many would find it particularly persuasive.
The government won't be supporting the Greens amendment. The government announced in the 2018-19 budget that it will extend the $20,000 instant asset write-off by a further 12 months, to 30 June 2019, for businesses with annual turnover of less than $10 million. This will improve cash flow for small businesses, providing a boost to their activity and investment for a further year. The Greens amendment would increase the threshold to $30,000 for assets relating to energy efficiency or clean energy, on an ongoing basis. The government's $20,000 instant asset write-off is widely supported by stakeholders and applies to all small businesses with an annual turnover less than $10 million. In extending the $20,000 threshold for a further year, the government has sought to strike a balance between helping small businesses' cash flow and investment and the revenue impact on the budget. We therefore don't support the amendment.
It is no surprise that neither the Labor Party nor the LNP will be supporting this amendment, because we know that they are fully owned—lock, stock and smoking barrel—by the fossil fuel industry in this country. They both receive massive donations from fossil fuel companies. This amendment would encourage and incentivise small businesses to invest into infrastructure and assets that would result in an energy-efficiency dividend for small businesses, which would bring Australia's emissions profile down as well as improve the bottom line of small businesses. It would also encourage and incentivise small businesses to reduce their use of fossil fuels and to fuel-switch from gas to electricity. So it's no surprise at all that what we're getting from those political parties that accept large corporate donations is, once again, backing in of the fossil fuel sector and voting against an amendment that would ultimately deliver a more energy-efficient country, a more energy-efficient small business sector, and a country and a small business sector that would actually reduce their greenhouse emissions. Senator Seselja's been rewriting history once again in here this morning in regard to what happened in Tasmania. I had to put him over my knee last night when he tried to do that, and I'm going to do the same thing to him again this morning. I didn't hear everything he said, because I've just come from a meeting of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, but my friend and colleague Senator Whish-Wilson informs me that Senator Seselja's been at it again. Despite being schooled last night, he's going to have to be schooled again this morning.
Firstly, I want to make it clear that, in fact, the period of government between 2010 and 2014 in Tasmania was government for grown-ups. It was a government that Liberal leader and current Tasmanian Premier, the Hon. Will Hodgman, could have actually participated in, if he'd had a bit of spine, backbone and courage. Of course, on election night in Tasmania in 2010, Mr Hodgman got up and made a victory speech, and a fine victory speech it was, too. There was only one problem with it. Ten seats out of 25 doesn't give you a majority. In fact, he hadn't won; he'd lost. We all remember that speech, and Senator Bushby, I'm sure, remembers that speech as well. He might even have been there. I don't know. I was there when Mr Hodgman gave that speech, and I was having a good old giggle at it because I knew that 10 out of 25 does not equal 50 per cent. I knew that, but Mr Hodgman didn't know that, and he thought he could walk into government with 10 seats in a 25-seat lower house in Tasmania. History proved me right and proved him abjectly wrong and exposed his lack of understanding of basic mathematics.
What did happen, ultimately, is the Greens and Labor got together and engaged in a government for grown-ups. What that government for grown-ups did was massively put the budget back on track. It engaged in taking on the forestry issue in Tasmania, something that successive majority governments had consigned to the too-hard basket for decades. And do you know what? We actually landed that issue—something that had split our community apart and resulted in violence in our community and resulted in arrests, including my arrest back in the 1980s for protesting at Farmhouse Creek. Other people were arrested there and in other places. We were arrested defending our magnificent, globally unique forests, defending the carbon in those forests to ensure that it wasn't emitted and would contribute to the disruption of the climate that we are seeing today, and defending those forests on behalf of the people who actually own them, which is the Australian and Tasmanian people, not the governments of the day. Governments of the day are only ever temporary trustees of any public asset. We did it to stop the transfer of wealth from public to private, because, of course, for many decades in Tasmania, the more trees you chopped down, the more money you lost. That still applies today, with a massively subsidised and, in fact, mendicant forest industry in Tasmania.
In landing the Tasmanian forest agreement, in getting it through parliament—albeit in an imperfect way, because the upper house took the chainsaw to it when they had the opportunity—what that government did was deliver hundreds of millions in investment into Tasmania, thanks to the federal government. That's hundreds of millions of dollars of investment that the Liberal Party is now running around trying to claim credit for. That's hundreds of millions of dollars that set Tasmania up for the future, with investment into tourism, investment into everything from cut flowers to berry production, and investment into transitioning the Tasmanian economy out of an overreliance on the old 'dig it up, chop it down' mentality that the Liberal Party love so much and into an economy that could thrive and prosper in the 21st century. When you look at Tasmania now, you see—and it's generally accepted—that our economy is moving forward in a more beneficial way not only for Tasmania but also compared to the rest of the country. And what's the major reason that is happening? It's that shot in the arm that was given to small businesses, tourism operators and primary producers in Tasmania, thanks to the hundreds of millions of dollars that flowed in through the Tasmanian Forest Agreement that the Liberal Party opposed. Senator Seselja has again displayed his extreme level of ignorance with regard to anything Tasmanian. I would have thought that Senator Bushby might have known a bit better, but clearly not. He should have advised his colleague Senator Seselja about the facts of the matter. I place on the record that I'm proud of the role the Greens played in that government. We delivered stable government. We addressed the primary challenges facing the state at the time.
The CHAIR: Senator McKim, I draw your attention to the amendment. You started off talking about the amendment. You have come close, and I appreciate that it's a wide-ranging debate, but perhaps you could focus more on the amendment before the Senate.
I am, I believe, speaking in the main about small business, and, obviously, this amendment is with regard to providing more incentives for small business to become more sustainable. But just to complete the thought that I was engaged in: that period of government was government for grown-ups. It was a government that the Tasmanian people voted for comprehensively at the 2010 election, it was a government that took on all of the hard issues that had been left in the too-hard basket by majority governments of both political stripes in the past, and it was a government that, as I said, could have involved the Liberal Party, had Mr Hodgman had the backbone and courage to take it on. But instead, he had to sit there for four years on the opposition benches and impotently gnash his teeth every time the Labor-Greens government conducted itself in a way with which he disagreed. All of this was within the context of very difficult economic times for the whole country and particularly for Tasmania, the most export-exposed economy in the country, with a very high exchange rate between the US dollar and the Australian dollar.
It is very disappointing that neither the Labor Party nor the Liberal Party are prepared to support this amendment, but, as I said earlier, it is not surprising at all, because this is an amendment that is beneficial to small business, and we know that the Liberal and Labor parties are the parties of the big corporates, big business and the top end of town. The small business community, I might add, support the Greens' move for this scheme with a higher expenditure limit for renewable assets. That's important to place on the record, and has been placed on the record by Mr Peter Strong from COSBOA. As I said, it's disappointing but not surprising that the major parties in this place—who accept those tens of millions every year in corporate donations—are not prepared to support an amendment that would not only help small business but also help bring Australia's emissions profile down.
I rise to urge the Senate to support Senator McKim's amendment, and make the point very clearly that the Greens have been the leaders on small business policy in this place over the last six years. You may not want to acknowledge that, Minister—through you, Chair. We brought the most comprehensive small business policy package to the 2013 election. That included a cut for real small businesses with a turnover of under $2 million, which make up the big bulk of my state of Tasmania's economy, that needed a leg-up. We worked with the small business community and COSBOA on accelerated depreciation and another 11 policies, and we took that package to the 2013 election. After the 2013 election, Senator McKim, my colleagues in this place, and I were all proud to vote for a tax cut for small business, and for accelerated depreciation for small business. There's a really important history here, Senator Seselja—through you, Chair. You should be taking this amendment seriously.
While we're talking about how the Greens delivered for Tasmania, it's seldom acknowledged that the price on carbon, which is the international gold standard for action on climate—and Senator Bushby would know this—delivered billions of dollars in windfall to Hydro Tasmania, who then paid a dividend to the Tasmanian government which funded schools, hospitals, policing and national parks. In fact, the Greens pretty much provided a lifeline to Tasmania's Treasury through a price on carbon. That has never been acknowledged in any public comment by the Liberal Party, who came in here and recklessly ripped up action on climate and billions of dollars of revenue to the Tasmanian government and to the Tasmanian people. That has never been acknowledged. Had that price on carbon gone into its final phase, after three years of being a carbon trading scheme, which is what it was set up to do, we would have had an official price on carbon. And we were that close to getting offsets for Tasmania's forests that would have been in the billions. The forests that Senator McKim, in his time in government, saved for the Tasmanian people, were eligible for offsets under the additivity principle, and there were advanced negotiations for the Greens to deliver billions of dollars to the Tasmanian economy. That was ripped up by the Liberal Party, with their cavalier attitude towards climate and the Tasmanian economy.
So, Senator Seselja, if you want to talk about economy-wrecking policies of the Greens, you should have a look at yourself and what you've done to my state of Tasmania. The hundreds of millions of dollars that we delivered through the diversification funds in the Tasmanian Forest Agreement—which I'm proud to say my colleague Nick McKim played a role in delivering—have gone towards setting up mountain bike paths that are now leading the charge in the diversification of the Tasmanian economy. That is another win for the Greens, and for the Tasmanian people. In fact, I could go on and on all day about our 20-year vision for the Tasmanian economy that's come to pass.
In 1992, previous senator Christine Milne and the Green Independents put together a policy for Tasmania. This did include a policy for small business, because they knew back then that small business was the backbone of the Tasmanian economy. They knew that the big businesses that were tied to global commodity cycles would, unfortunately, likely fail in a changing world of globalisation. They predicted the demise of price-taking industries that had no control over their future, and they were right. They said governments should be investing in small business, incentivising small business, and focusing on the competitive strengths of Tasmania—what we have that is unique, that the rest of the world wants and will come and see and will pay good money to see. And we were right.
The only thing that's held Tasmania back for decades—it's benefiting from this now—is the Liberal Party and the Labor Party and their anti-Greens rhetoric and the action they have taken to do everything they possibly can to put us out of business. But I say to Senator Seselja that we were right about small business and the importance of small business in Tasmania.
Senator Bushby, I urge you to support this amendment of Senator McKim's, because you know how important small business is to Tasmania. You have small business interests in your family. You know both my wife and I have run small businesses in Tasmania, and we're just like the tens of thousands of Tasmanians that have small businesses. They work really hard; they employ the majority of Tasmanians. This is exactly the kind of amendment that you should support, to support Tasmanians.
A few points that were made by the previous two contributors to this debate need some comment. Senator Whish-Wilson was just talking about the so-called windfall to the hydro-electric corporation in Tasmania as a result of the so-called carbon tax that was introduced by the previous Labor government. There is no doubt that they did have an opportunity to make extra money at that time. But that money didn't come from nowhere; that money was coming because they were able to charge higher energy prices to Tasmanians—to Tasmanian households and to Tasmanian businesses—because, as part of the National Electricity Market, the carbon tax had increased the national price of energy and therefore they were able to charge more for their energy. That meant that Tasmanian households and Tasmanian businesses were paying higher energy costs and that Hydro, because it's renewable and was not having to contribute the same degree of cost through the carbon tax, was making a windfall. But make no mistake: that windfall was coming at the expense of Tasmanians and Tasmanian businesses—Tasmanian small businesses, which Senator Whish-Wilson is saying this amendment will assist. I think there was also a mention of mountain bike paths as one of the magnificent things that were delivered by the previous Tasmanian state Labor-Green government. Most of the mountain bike paths that exist in Tasmania—that have been built—have been funded in large part by the federal Liberal government since 2013.
The fact is that, by most economic metrics, prior to March 2014 Tasmania was languishing at the bottom of the pack relative to other states. We were seen as the poor cousin right across the nation, no matter which metric you looked at. That turned around after March 2014. There was an immediate improvement in business confidence just because of the election of the majority Hodgman Liberal government. There was an immediate improvement in confidence that resulted in an immediate increase in business and other investment, which led to Tasmania now being around the middle or higher in those same economic metrics.
So let's not pretend and try to rewrite history that the Labor-Green state government was somehow a miraculous government that just happened to miss out on all the good things showing up because it lost the March 2014 election but all the good things that they did came out afterwards. The reality is that it was the election of the majority Hodgman Liberal government that provided confidence for businesses in Tasmania to make the investments.
The CHAIR: Senator Bushby, I appreciate the passion of the Tasmanians in the chamber this morning, but, in the same way that I cautioned Senator McKim, I have been listening very closely to your contribution, and we are discussing the amendment that's been proposed.
I did mention small business, which is what the amendment is about.
The CHAIR: You mentioned small business once. Could you focus particularly on the amendment before the chamber.
I think I've sufficiently corrected the record to make sure that Hansard adequately doesn't record unchallenged those incorrect assertions that were made by previous speakers.
If anyone wants to talk about incorrect assertions maybe we should look at what Senator Bushby has just said. You elect a Liberal government in Tasmania and, whoosh, everything changes—magic takes place. It doesn't work like that. Economics doesn't work like that.
Senator Bushby interjecting—
I know you've got an economics degree, but I've never seen it really deliver much in this place. You haven't really filled me full of faith that you've got any understanding of economics if you think an election suddenly and immediately makes changes.
I want to come back to the issue. I don't know what it is with the Greens this morning, and I don't know what it is with the Liberal Party, but maybe it's because you are both doing so badly in Tasmania. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe you've just got to get up here and not worry about the depreciation bill that we're talking about for small business. I simply say: let's get this bill up and help small business and stop the nonsense and squabbling that's going on here between the senators from Tasmania—the Greens, who will never be in government, and the Liberal Party, who are just about to lose government.
I won't hold the chamber up much more, because as Senator Cameron rightly points out this is an important piece of legislation, and, in fact, is going to be passed with the LNP voting for it, the Labor Party voting for it and the Greens voting for it. The problem that we face is that neither the LNP nor Labor are going to vote for the amendment that's currently before the Senate. Remember, this amendment would incentivise small business to invest in energy efficiency and to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. That position is not surprising, given the massive donations that both the LNP and the ALP get from the fossil fuel sector—tens of millions of dollars a year straight into their parties' coffers so they can run campaigns to get re-elected. Of course, those donations buy the fossil fuel industry policy outcomes, and we're seeing that play out on the floor of the Senate this morning.
I just want to be clear on this amendment: Senator Bushby and every other Liberal and National senator from Tasmania are voting against an amendment that would encourage small businesses, through an instant asset write-off threshold increase, to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency, which would help those small businesses bring their bottom lines into a more favourable state, because it would bring their energy costs down. Every single LNP and Liberal senator is about to vote against that and vote against small business in Tasmania. The same applies for every single ALP senator from Tasmania. They're about to vote against every small business in Tasmania being able to receive a more favourable tax treatment for assets they invest in, up to a threshold of $30,000, which would allow them to invest in energy efficiency, to reduce their use of fossil fuels and to fuel switch from gas to electricity.
Climate disruption, the disruption of our climate that we're seeing today, is by a long way the pre-eminent public policy challenge facing humanity. As part of that, all senators ought consider it the pre-eminent public policy challenge facing Australia and facing this parliament. We're in a situation where the new Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, is washing his hands of responsibility to act on the disruption of our climate; to bring Australia's emissions profile down; to show global leadership and show other countries that as a rich, developed nation we can step up and fulfil our moral obligations to the rest of the world.
I'm glad Minister Payne is in here to hear it. At the Pacific Islands Forum, Minister Payne managed to give a speech which didn't mention climate change. How absurd is that? Last week she went over to Nauru and gave a speech that didn't mention climate change to a Pacific Islands Forum.
I have seen reports—
Senator Payne interjecting—
No, you can get up in a minute, Minister. You don't get the chance to talk over me when I'm on my feet and you're not.
The CHAIR: Senator McKim, please resume your seat.
I have seen—
Senator Payne interjecting—
The CHAIR: Order! Senator McKim has the right to be heard in silence. Senator McKim, please direct your remarks to the chair.
Thank you, Chair. I've seen reports that one of Minister Payne's speeches to that forum did not mention climate change. Pacific island nations have shown global leadership on this issue, because some of them are going to disappear this century, Minister. It's not good enough for you and your government not to take the issue of emissions reduction seriously. Australia should be a global leader in showing the way forward on this issue. It is a disgrace that we have a Prime Minister who basically said this week that Australians are not interested in climate change. He's wrong. The polls show he's wrong. It's part of the reason why he's going to be ignominiously turfed out of government next year, along with Minister Payne and all his colleagues. He is misreading the mood of the nation.
Australians want strong action on climate change. They want far stronger action than even the Australian Labor Party are proposing on climate change. In fact, it is the Greens who are proposing setting a pollution standard for power stations and progressively shutting them, starting with the worst first. It is only the Greens in this place who oppose the Adani coalmine. The Queensland Labor government wanted to give free coal, free water and free money to one of the most corrupt corporations in the world, the Adani Group. That's exactly what they were doing. The Liberal National Party—
The CHAIR: Senator McKim—
Oh, we've hit a nerve here now, haven't we!
The CHAIR: please resume your seat. Senator Cameron on a point of order?
A point of order: we are dealing with an amendment to the Treasury Laws Amendment (Accelerated Depreciation for Small Business Entities) Bill 2018. It's not for me to argue that everyone should be on point every time in here but, come on, can we get this bill done. Senator McKim, basically what you should do is go back to Tasmania and see if you can get more votes. Stop trying to get them here.
The CHAIR: On the point of order, Senator Cameron is quite correct. Senator McKim, you were absolutely focused on the amendment. You'd started to drift away. I was waiting for you to come back to the point before I drew your attention to the amendment.
Thank you, Chair. I appreciate your drawing the amendment to my attention. In continuing my contribution, I would draw the Senate's attention to the fact that our amendment is actually all about reducing emissions, at least in part, as well as helping the bottom line of small business. Senator Cameron wrote the book on digressing from the topic at hand in this Senate, in my experience, so I'm very happy to take his counsel on that!
It is extremely disappointing that we're not going to get support for this amendment, because ultimately it would show leadership on climate action and it would help small businesses drive an investment into their operations which ultimately would help them bring their emissions profiles down and improve their bottom line. It would give the opportunity for every small business in this country to thrive and prosper to a greater degree than will be the case when this amendment fails.