Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 November 2018


Treasury Laws Amendment (Making Sure Every State and Territory Gets Their Fair Share of GST) Bill 2018; Second Reading

6:36 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Making Sure Every State and Territory Gets Their Fair Share of GST) Bill 2018. Prime Minister Morrison is due to visit Darwin at the end of this week, and I certainly urge him to make sure that he has a copy of the city deal in his back pocket, ready to go. In May 2017, the Northern Territory government and the federal government signed an MOU for a city deal for Darwin. That's 18 months ago. The Townsville City Deal was signed after just one month and the Launceston City Deal was signed in seven months. There was not a cent in this year's budget for the Darwin City Deal, and it shows the lack of vision, support and foresight this government has for the future of the Northern Territory and, indeed, for northern Australia.

The mantra of developing the north seems to have been abandoned by the Morrison government. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund is really nowhere to be seen for the number of organisations and businesses that have put forward their hopes and expectations for assistance in the north. The glossy reports, the big promises, the ideas and the time and energy that stakeholders took in putting forward their projects, knowledge and enthusiasm to see northern Australia reach its full potential seem to have fallen by the wayside.

It takes more than a quick drive in a big blue bus to gain some serious insight and understanding of what needs to be done to stimulate the entirety of our north, let alone the Northern Territory. No-one wants to go cap in hand to the Commonwealth, seeking assistance, but there is no doubt that Commonwealth assistance will be required to restore the Territory's fiscal capacity. There are options that I submit need to be examined seriously around the relativity floor and excluding from Commonwealth Grants Commission processes the funding needed to address Aboriginal disadvantage, to address infrastructure deficits and to support enabling infrastructure to develop the north. The Commonwealth could look at the possibility of increased funding to the National Partnership on Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal Investment and at using that avenue to provide capital for additional services to people living in remote communities in the Northern Territory. That would take a lot of pressure off the Northern Territory government's budget.

The Commonwealth's own projections indicate that this much-needed certainty for the Northern Territory is unlikely to be much of a cost burden. However, it would go a long way to restoring confidence in the Northern Territory, with the people of the Territory feeling the full effect of some of the biggest economic and fiscal challenges that the Territory has ever seen.

6:39 pm

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's hard to know where to start. Just 12 months ago I stood in exactly the same seat to introduce a private senator's bill that led to the introduction of same-sex marriage. Over the last few years as a senator for Western Australia, I've committed myself to the resolution of a number of issues that I have considered important not just to the make-up of our country but also to the future direction of Western Australia. I'm particularly proud to be able to stand here today as a member of the coalition government led by Scott Morrison, who was the Treasurer not so long ago, and to almost bring to a close this debate about legislation that will bring reform to the goods and services distribution arrangements in Australia and, in doing so, mark perhaps one of the most significant reforms to federal-state financial relations that the country has seen.

Before I provide a brief overview of the long campaign, the long road that has been GST distribution reform in this country, I thought I might just detail exactly what it is that the Treasury Laws Amendment (Making Sure Every State and Territory Gets Their Fair Share of GST) Bill 2018 seeks to do. This bill will amend the Commonwealth Grants Commission Act 1973 and the Federal Financial Relations Act 2009 to give effect to key elements of the government's interim response to the Productivity Commission's inquiry report Horizontal fiscal equalisation. The key elements of the government's interim response include: transitioning the horizontal fiscal equalisation system from full equalisation, equalised to the strongest state or territory, to reasonable equalisation, equalised to the stronger of New South Wales and Victoria; introducing a minimum goods and service tax revenue-sharing relativity—or the GST relativity floor, as it's known—that may be determined by the Treasurer for any individual state or territory; and permanently boosting the GST revenue pool with additional Commonwealth financial assistance. The following elements of the government's interim response are given effect under existing laws: providing short-term transition payments to any state or territory with a GST revenue-sharing relativity factor below 0.7; and providing short-term transition payments to the Northern Territory if its revenue-sharing relativity falls below its determined relativity factor for 2017-18. The bill introduces a guarantee that each state and territory will get the better of the current distribution system and the updated distribution system during the transition period.

In the six years that I have been a senator, I think there have probably only been two moments more significant than this in shaping the framework of Australia's federal system of government. One, I would argue—others might differ—was the reforms to the Senate voting system that were introduced and agreed by the Senate in advance of the 2016 federal election. Of course, for those of us that can remember, it was the opposition that some coalition senators led to the Rudd plan to amend the Commonwealth Constitution to provide recognition for local government. That was a debate that raged inside the coalition under the leadership of Tony Abbott first. It was a debate that we had in this Senate chamber. If I recall correctly, eight coalition senators, including me, opposed that referendum proposition on the basis that it would undermine the federal nature of our system of government, not enhance it.

The debate that has been raging in regard to the GST distribution arrangements as they affect Western Australia is not a new one. What demonstrates the shallowness of Labor's understanding of this issue thus far is that they have failed to recognise the contribution of one important person, the person who called out this issue first in 2007. That was none other than Eric Ripper, the Labor Treasurer of the Western Australian state government at the time. The Hansard in the Western Australian parliamentary record makes it very clear that he drew the attention of Western Australians to this issue first. Then, over the next 10 to 11 years, the level of understanding and the level of anxiety started to grow in our home state of Western Australia because it dawned on Western Australians, at a time of tremendous growth in our state, that the GST system wasn't allowing Western Australia to be the best and strongest it could be.

Coalition senators, aided and supported by people like Colin Barnett and—I'll be the first to admit; I'm happy to say this—the chorus of Western Australians that built over the last number of years from Kununurra to Esperance in the north and the south out across to Perth and Kalbarri and all the suburbs in between, led this and deserve to have the fullest recognition given them for standing firm, standing strong and making sure that their voices were heard very loudly both in this Senate chamber and in the government at the time. John Howard himself has made it crystal clear that, while people absolutely expected there to be fluctuations in the GST distribution arrangements and the relativities that were borne out of that over time, no-one foresaw the magnitude of the variances that the GST distribution system would deliver and no-one could foresee the magnitude of the GST relativity as it would affect Western Australia during a time of tremendous economic activity.

It's worth reminding people of those relativities, which were most recently announced by the Commonwealth Grants Commission and approved by the government, and reflecting on them. It takes tremendous courage for senators from the Northern Territory and Tasmania to come into this Senate chamber and argue GST distribution issues, because the system quite rightly provides the most generous arrangements for them. What did the GST relativities in the most recent announcements mean for our country? For New South Wales the relativity fell from 88c to 86c in the dollar, but that still meant that New South Wales would get $18 billion, or 27.4 per cent of the GST pool. For Victoria the GST relativity meant that it would rise from 93c to 99c, meaning Victoria would get $16.8 billion, or 25.6 per cent of the GST pool. The Northern Territory is taking home $4.26, Tasmania $1.77, South Australia $1.48, the ACT $1.18, Queensland $1.10 and my home state of Western Australia went from 34c cents to 47c, meaning a GST revenue of $3.3 billion, or 4.9 per cent.

That's worth reminding ourselves of, because what makes this particular initiative so profound is that, when this debate started, much of the hand-wringing revolved around that almost intractable issue: how do you correct a very obvious anomaly in the GST distribution arrangements which left Western Australia with just 30c in the dollar without unnecessarily penalising other states and territories? It's a great testament to the creative thinking of Treasury officials and of this government that they were able to craft a solution that not only benefits Western Australia to the tune of $4.7 billion but also leaves no state worse off and has left many states in a slightly better position. When this debate started, that was an impossible dream, but since then over time we've seen some hard-headedness and persistence on the part of Western Australians and a willingness on the part of Scott Morrison as Treasurer and as Prime Minister to make sure this deal could work in the national interest.

I acknowledge the contribution of the Productivity Commission. I was someone that argued very early that the Productivity Commission should be trusted as the independent umpire over this issue. The Productivity Commission process was very transparent. It had demonstrated a great capacity to handle and come to conclusions on important macroeconomic and microeconomic issues across Australia. That Productivity Commission process of taking submissions, preparing a draft report, making that draft report available to the community and again using the contributions and submissions of others in coming to a final proposition made the Productivity Commission absolutely well suited to the task of trying to find a way through what many thought was intractable and many thought was an impasse.

It's important to acknowledge that this is not a campaign or an argument that only Western Australians have made. In fact, I argue that at critical points the great bulk of the country, led by the governments of Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales, was arguing for reform. You only have to look at the history and the submission processes and the various reviews that were undertaken prior to the Productivity Commission's inquiry to see that many states, under various political leaderships, had been arguing that the GST system, as it was then constructed, was not working for them. There were words like 'opaque', 'seriously flawed', 'inequitable' and 'perverse outcomes'. This was the language that other state governments were using to describe the GST distribution arrangements. So, rather than this being an issue of concern just to Western Australia, I argue that over the last few years other states also recognised that the GST distribution arrangements that had previously worked were not suitable for the future and were not fit for purpose in making sure that the Australian economy was as robust as it possibly could be.

In the contributions from Labor senators particularly—particularly those from Western Australia—in the course of this debate, we've heard a lot of commentary, a lot of partisan commentary, about the performance of the Barnett government and the financial management of Premier Barnett and his team at the time. It's important to understand the broader context in which Colin Barnett and the Liberal government were governing in Western Australia. It's only when you understand the broader context that you can properly understand the very real challenges that were facing Western Australia. Again, I highlight this particular point: Western Australia went to 30c in the dollar. Over the first 10 years of the distribution system, no state fell below 86c. In the last five years, no state has fallen below 88c. But, in the last five years, Western Australia has dipped to as low as 30c in the dollar.

What is particularly concerning about that is not just that Western Australia went to 30c but that the Commonwealth Grants Commission itself said it was 'totally conceivable'—its words—that a relativity could fall to zero, and, in the Commonwealth Grants Commission's own words, the fairness of that would depend on where you sat. So here we have the Commonwealth Grants Commission performing its function very well, theoretically, but being blind to the real consequences that state governments would have to face as a result of serious dips or serious changes in their GST relativity—and heaven forbid that any state should ever have got to zero. The fact that the Commonwealth Grants Commission was unrelenting in that view that applied only a theoretical lens to the issue of distribution was, to me, significant cause for concern.

Claims by Labor, particularly Labor senators from my home state of Western Australia, that WA's budget was mismanaged by the former Liberal-National government fail to recognise the effect that the failed GST formula has had on Western Australian finances. During the period of the Barnett government, the population of the state of Western Australia grew by over 400,000 people. Putting that into a context that Tasmanian Senators Brown, Polley, Urquhart and Whish-Wilson will understand, that is nearly 80 per cent of the population of Tasmania. This led to a significant increase in demand on services provided by the state government and a need for major infrastructure improvements to ensure that services met community expectations.

Between 2008-09 and 2015-16 the government invested over $51 billion in its Asset Investment Program, with the 2016-17 budget set to spend another $5.9 billion. You only need to look to the outer suburbs of Perth—I note that the Deputy President, Senator Lines, from Western Australia, is here—to see the expenditure on new schools and transport infrastructure; visit a regional town like Karratha, like I do, to see the transformation of health and education facilities; or drive past the new Perth Children's Hospital, the Fiona Stanley Hospital, the Midland hospital or the Joondalup Health Campus to see where that infrastructure money was spent by the Barnett government. I challenge Labor to point out which one of these major pieces of infrastructure shouldn't have been built, or doesn't need or deserve to be the focus of Western Australia's infrastructure build.

In regard to recurrent expenditure, it's not too hard to see why the government ran a deficit of nearly $2 billion in 2016-17. In 2016-17, WA received less than $2 billion in GST, a share of just over 30c in the dollar, as I have already highlighted. In that same year, around $4.7 billion of GST revenue was being redistributed to other states. State governments, as senators would be aware, provide the majority of funding for health, education, and law and order. The government chose not to make massive cuts to these services, which would have been up to nearly 10 per cent across the board. It decided instead to run a deficit. This is not financial mismanagement but an understanding that the services could not sustain the cuts without significant reductions in the services that could be delivered. This GST solution ensures that the state will never face the same circumstances again.

In the very brief time that's available to me, I do want to acknowledge the contribution of a few people who aren't in this Senate chamber any more. The only person to bring forward a private senator's bill to reform the GST was Senator Dio Wang from Western Australia, who is no longer here. I acknowledge Senator Dio Wang's contribution. The other is Senator Joe Bullock, Labor senator for Western Australia, who, early on, went on the public record arguing for reform of the GST distribution arrangements. In all fairness, I think it is important to acknowledge his contribution as well.

As I like to say, this chapter is not the end of a debate about federal-state financial reform in our country but the beginning of that debate. What we have seen in this debate is a desire on the part of states and territories to have much greater independence and autonomy in how they raise money and spend money. As a very, very strong federalist I think that is a debate we need to have and continue to have in this country. The debate about the GST is not just about distribution, though that is the element of the debate that has occupied much of our time; it is also about the base and it is about the rate. I stand resolute that, by broadening the base of the GST, you can keep the rate low. As a senator who wants to see low taxes in our country I don't argue for an increase in the GST rate, but I do argue for a broadening of its base.

This is a demonstration again of what the Australian Senate can do on behalf of the states and territories that senators represent. This should be a very, very powerful message to every senator that standing up for the interests of your state, your constituency, will not get you punished by your electorate but actually get you rewarded by your electorate. Western Australians want to make sure that their senators are vocal, and have a strong voice, in the Senate. This legislation is a demonstration that that can be done. This legislation deserves the fullest possible support, from every senator in this place.

6:59 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Disability and Carers) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Making Sure Every State and Territory Gets Their Fair Share of GST) Bill 2018 as a Labor senator for the state of Tasmania. As Tasmanians, we know the issues around the GST just as well as Western Australian senators do. I'm proud to speak in support of this legislation on behalf of my party and my state, because, after much advocacy from my fellow Labor colleagues—the member for Franklin, Julie Collins; the member for Bass, Ross Hart; the member for Braddon, Justine Keay; the member for Lyons, Brian Mitchell; and the Labor Senate team from Tasmania—the government has finally seen fit to meet, at least in part, our demands.

While we're unfortunately all too familiar with how the current Prime Minister views my home state, what we weren't able to see until very recently was a guarantee that Tasmania's share of the GST would not be going backwards, at least in the short term. As Treasurer, the current Prime Minister opposed Labor's insistence that we have a legislative floor for the state's share of the GST. I have to say, as well, that we also acknowledge the issue that has been raised by our Labor Western Australian colleagues and of course the Western Australian senators opposite. The Prime Minister previously described the legislative floor as unnecessary. Since then, he's backflipped—following Labor's lead and the needs of Tasmania—for now. It took two weeks of tireless advocacy from the Tasmanian Labor representatives to drag the government to the point where they caved in on the GST, and the government keeps sending mixed messages about the future of the scheme.

It's a fact that Tasmania relies on the GST a great deal. Commonwealth funds total over 60 per cent of our $6 billion state budget, and that's certainly above the national average. Labor invested heavily in schools and hospitals during its time in government, working to bring my home state up towards the national average. Since then, Liberal governments have unfortunately starved the state of funding. Our hospitals are again at breaking point and our schools are crying out for investment, and our public servants are underpaid and the government is arguing it can't afford to provide them with the pay rise they've been calling for. That's why this victory is a welcome one. It's welcome to see the government coming to accept the need for a GST floor, but it's worrying that it's taken such efforts to achieve this. It's worrying that, when it's as plain as day, the government somehow still manages to avoid legislating what is clearly in the national interest until it's dragged, kicking and screaming, to do so.

It takes a great deal to unite state governments of all political persuasions. It's usually something that's fairly unique that unites Liberal and Labor governments alike, but on the matter of GST all states and territories came to the federal government asking for a legislative guarantee. All state and territory governments were united with the Australian Labor Party, and the government still considered it unnecessary. When the government finally came around, it was, quite frankly, clear that they simply couldn't avoid the necessity of this legislation. Consistent advocacy in campaigning showed that this legislation would ensure the wellbeing of Tasmanians and, indeed, all Australians protected under these changes to the distribution of GST revenues.

These changes will ensure that the funds that Tasmanians rely on to fund their schools and hospitals do not go backwards. Thanks to the continual advocacy of so many other Tasmanians, we now have a commitment through to 2026-27 that our state's share will not go backwards. We do, however, remain concerned that a future Liberal government would act to ensure that after 2026 our GST share is no longer guaranteed. Yet, despite these concerns, it's unmistakable that we need legislation to put this debate to bed. That's why Labor supports this bill and that's why I'm rising to speak in support of the legislation. Labor's support of this legislation is needed to see much-needed certainty for all states and territories. That's why Labor will vote to support this bill and to ensure Tasmania gets its fair share of the GST.

I would like to endorse the contribution from Julie Collins, the member for Franklin, in the other House. She put the government on notice that, when we get to the transition in 2026-27, we will be fighting for Tasmania again and we'll be insisting that our state continues to be no worse off. Indeed, we want to see our state much better off. We hope to see the outcomes, particularly in health and education, for Tasmanians improve. So I'm pleased to say we're able to support this bill today because of Labor leading and demanding that no-one be worse off and because of the pressure that we put on the Liberal state government and the Liberal senators from Tasmania to insist that this clause be in the legislation.

7:05 pm

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

A very delightful passage from one of Australia's greatest literary masterpieces, by Mr Norman Lindsay in 1918, called The Magic Pudding:

Onions, bunions, corns and crabs,

Whiskers, wheels and hansom cabs,

Beef and bottles, beer and bones,

Give him a feed and end his groans.

It is a tale of Bunyip Bluegum, who was seduced when walking through the bush by a pudding that he was quite unable to pass by. As the story goes, Bunyip Bluegum was seduced into eating the magic pudding, a pudding that never ended, a pudding that demanded eating. This tale has been popular with Australians and Australian children for nearly a century because, I think, we understand the intuition, the seduction, the attraction of a magic pudding—an endless source of nourishment.

That's what we see with the GST debate. The GST has recently become a magic pudding. Well, who would have thought, fixing the problem with the GST, that there's not enough money to go around the states? Who would have thought the fix to the problem is more money? What a revelation! We've heard in this chamber that, obviously, the Labor Party are claiming this was their idea. They've been talking about more money now for some time. The question is: where is the money going to come from? That's the question that hasn't been answered in this chamber here tonight.

It's fine to say that we can fix the problem with a floor rate on the GST at 70c initially and then 75c so that no state is worse off. Intuitively, that sounds great. That makes a lot of sense. But this pool of funds that's allocated and shared across the states, based on a principle of fairness, a principle of equity and a principle of efficiency, has been, like the magic pudding, a source of seduction for so many states. If you read the tale of The Magic Puddingthe Senate will adjourn in just over 10 minutes and you can get a copy of it online when you get home if you haven't read it for few years—you read the tales about the pudding thief. In fact, not just one pudding thief but numerous pudding thieves are all drawn to the seduction of the magic pudding. The idea of endless and limitless money is very, very relevant to this debate. I won't disclose straight away who I think the pudding thief is; I'll get to that.

Let's talk a little bit about why the GST has been so seductive and why it has led states such as Western Australia and New South Wales to claim they're not getting their fair share of the distribution. To go back a few steps, when the GST was brought in and the Commonwealth Grants Commission was set up, we had this principle—somewhat complicated and impressively named—of horizontal fiscal equalisation. The idea was that those states that didn't have the ability to raise revenue to pay for fair provision of services would be funded through the GST pool of contributions of other states. This principle is about our Federation, fundamentally. You can put all the technical and complex stuff aside; it was designed because we're a federation of states and territories in this country. As has been pointed out in this chamber, some states—for example, Western Australia—happened to be blessed and endowed with some of the world's greatest deposits of natural resources. Unlike Western Australia, my home state of Tasmania doesn't have such abundance of riches. However, we do have many other riches in abundance which I'll also get to a little bit later.

I was very impressed to hear from Senator Dean Smith that he hopes that this is just the beginning of tax reform in this country and especially of debate on federal roles and responsibilities on tax reform. I'm very glad to hear that because it is exactly the point that I was going to raise tonight. Where do we go next with tax reform? The reason we've seen these changes to GST distribution is the impact over time of state based policies affecting the fairness and equity of the GST distributions. In theory, the efficiency principle was designed so that these contributions shared amongst states would help equalise different taxes across different states so that we did get, for example, some states leveraging much higher rates of payroll tax. We've talked chamber during the debate in the about revenue from pokies and the gambling industry, but there are a number of other levers that states can pull. It was deemed to be more efficient if the federal government made allocations of GST revenue to try to take pressure off some states having much higher rates of, for example, payroll tax, land tax, stamp duty or a number of the other levers that they can pull. I think most people agree with the principle of equity. Even the Productivity Commission, although it made a number of recommendations, admitted that generally most stakeholders agreed with the idea that through Federation we would have a fair system of allocating the distribution of the GST.

I was outraged, as most Tasmanians were—and I'm sure Senator Colbeck here tonight also was outraged—when his Liberal state colleague Mr Barnett called my home state of Tasmania a 'mendicant' state. I note also, although it was designed I'm sure to get a headline, that Senator Leyonhjelm was out last night claiming that Tasmania and South Australia should be kicked out of the Federation because we can't pull our own weight. The whole idea is that we have a fair and equal Federation. At different times over the years different states have been net recipients of GST funds, and at other times they haven't been. It's well established that for a large number of years Western Australia was a net recipient of GST funds from other states. Then came the mining boom, and that situation changed. It's also been well established that it was actually the Western Australian government's policies around raising royalties that led to the rate of GST it received going down to 30 per cent. That's one of the issues that it has been claiming is a fundamental driver for changing the GST distribution.

If we're talking about more reform, as Senator Dean Smith has put on the table, especially around the role of the federal government and the Federation, when are we going to start having a proper debate in this place about superprofit taxes? When will we start talking about properly fixing the petroleum resource rent tax? There is $240 billion in tax credits that has been clocked up by some of the biggest, wealthiest corporations on the planet and is sitting there to be deducted against future tax—if they ever pay any of that future tax. We've got a system where we have uplift rates that I note the government is looking at reducing. They are very, very high—15 per cent for exploration expenditure and five per cent for operating expenditure—which means essentially these deferred tax credits are going to get to who knows where? I'm looking forward to the next estimates so we can get an update on where they're at now. I'm guessing there will be over $300 billion in deferred tax credits—in other words, tax that's not going to be paid—through this very generous system. What about our mining superprofit tax? For those who were in the chamber back in 2012 and 2013 we had what I would agree was a much watered-down version because of the politics of this place. But the idea behind a superprofit tax, which came originally from the Henry tax review, is still a very good one. It is a tax that essentially is levied by the federal government. It could also be used to pay for schools and hospitals and be shared amongst the states. I notice we've actually had no debate at all in this place on this legislation about where we're going to go with superprofit taxes. So I look forward to hearing Senator Smith's contribution on this and whether he agrees that there's an enhanced role for the Commonwealth in fixing the petroleum rents rort tax, the PRRT, and implementing a superprofits tax on the mining resources that are owned by all Australians.

That leaves me with, I think, the most critical part of this bill that needs to be digested. Once we go past the forward estimates, the next five to 10 years, where is the money going to come from? We know their top-ups to the GST pool—this magic pudding—are going to come from consolidated revenue. They're going to come from future governments, whoever they might be. It may be the Liberal Party or it may be the Labor Party. I don't know if it will be the Greens party, but it will come from a future government. We have to deduce that those contributions are going to come from somewhere because, as we know, it's a zero-sum game.

I look at the track record of this government since the zombie budget cuts of 2013 right through to the present day, where we've even seen in recent weeks a whole number of revelations around cuts to basic services, such as the coalition's cut to the Foodbank charity of nearly 25 per cent—which I'm glad that the Prime Minister backed off on today. It was an issue that was even raised by the farming federation body themselves, especially around the impact it would have on drought-affected families. That's just one particular issue. What about cuts to the ABC and SBS? These cuts were of course outlined on Four Corners last night, I suppose with the revelation that those cuts were tied to the political content and goings on within the ABC—something to be probed very shortly by a Senate inquiry. We have also seen an efficiency dividend in place across the Public Service. We've seen no decent pay rises for public servants. We've seen job cuts right across the service, including at Centrelink and the ATO, leading to massive service failures.

There are cuts to Landcare and threatened species budgets of around $200 million a year. So, to save the species in this country, we have to beg German charities for funding for some of our most endangered animals. In my home state of Tasmania these cuts are very serious. I know Senator Duniam and Senator Colbeck are working overtime as Tasmanian senators to get the funding in place for NRM South and NRM Cradle Coast, who have also lost their funding. Why is that, considering the importance of these NRM groups? They are especially critical in a place like Tasmania. We don't know; we've got no decisions.

The government have done everything they can to kick people with genuine needs off the disability pension and they have failed to raise Newstart. I'm wearing my $75 badge today. I didn't have large enough lapels to wear a larger badge, but that can be easily fixed when I get home and get one of my op shop suits. I warn senators that I have worn it once in here already and I'm prepared to do it again. For people who are living on the poverty line, $75 a week is not a big ask. Not only will it help these people who desperately need it; it will also help the economy—and we think that's a great priority. But the government are too stingy and too mean to raise Newstart at all. And let's not forget the revelations today about more devastating cuts to universities and the statements put out by the Tertiary Education Union. We are seeing cuts to schools, public hospitals and, sadly, more cuts to foreign aid. We've even seen money come out of the NDIS recently to go towards one of the government's pet projects.

So let's be honest: the magic pudding isn't so magic. There isn't an endless goodness in this pudding; it is limited. We know that the money has to come from somewhere once the GST top-ups start in a few years time. We have no idea where that money is going to come from, but I'll bet my bottom dollar that, if that money is allocated by a future Liberal government, it will come from the nation's most vulnerable and it will come from essential services. So it's not so magic after all.

While the Greens will be supporting this bill and the intention of it, we will be closely scrutinising and keeping a very close eye on future allocations of funds, where they are going to come from and how we are going to pay for this. The Australian people need to understand—

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It being 7.20, the time for this debate has expired. The senator will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.