Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Budget, Economy

3:03 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Environment and Water (Senate)) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of questions from Senators McAllister, Brown, Ciccone and Cameron.

As all of the answers to questions in question time today from this government highlight, what we have before us in this budget is a fake budget, full of fake promises. If you drill down into the answers to every one of the questions asked by the opposition today, you can drive an absolute truck through all of the premises inside the answers to any one of those questions.

We have heard here, in the answers to questions from Senator McAllister to Minister Fifield, that they have treated Australians on low incomes as a complete afterthought in this budget. Less than 24 hours after this budget was delivered we see a backflip for forgotten Australians who weren't included in the $75 payment—those on Austudy, ABSTUDY, double orphan pensions, Newstart allowance and parenting payments. Why didn't you think of these people before?

Let's move to the other people affected by this budget. Look at the 'fairness' of the tax cuts contained in this budget, which are inherently biased against those on low incomes. Those earning under $40,000 will get a puny, tiny tax cut compared with those at the top end of town. If you take someone who is a student on Austudy, they were going to miss out on their energy supplement; it has now been rectified. Those on low incomes are absolutely not getting their fair share of the tax cuts in this budget. Instead, if you look at the forecasts for these tax cuts, it is an absolute bonanza for the high-income earners in our nation—an absolute bonanza! If you look at the wage index of our nation, as Senator Cameron asked of Senator Cash, and if you look at the false declarations of wages growth in this country that this government has forecast, not once has this government met forecast wages growth predictions. I think it was 3.5 per cent in the 2017-18 budget by 2020. In the following year, it was pushed out to 2021. And now we are seeing wages growth being pushed out another year.

What if the assumptions that the government had put forward about wages growth in our country had been correct? According to the papers that the government has put forward, wages in this country should have grown by some seven per cent—that is despite the fact that the government does things like attack penalty rates. What kind of thing is it to expect that you can deliver wages growth in our nation while, at the same time, cutting penalty rates? It simply doesn't stack up. You do nothing as a government to stimulate wages growth, because your industrial relations settings—and Senator Cormann said it himself—are pretty much designed to keep wages low in our country.

So, as we head into this election, which I hope will be called on the weekend, we have laid out before us, plain and clear, a fake budget full of fake policies. The fundamentals in this budget simply do not add up. There is the NDIS saving that should have been spent and the slow progress of this Commonwealth government in dealing with the states. There are the attacks on penalty rates and the lack of wage rises. Assumption after assumption— (Time expired)

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I remind senators that in the motion passed earlier today the exact cut-off for this debate will be 3.30 pm.

3:08 pm

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The budget is back in black and Australia is back on track. Are there 12 more beautiful words in the English language than those? If there are, I haven't heard them. I am so proud to be speaking this afternoon on Treasurer Josh Frydenberg's first and outstanding budget—the first of many Frydenberg budgets, I hope. It's a remarkable budget because it does return the budget to surplus, and it does so without increasing taxes and while guaranteeing essential services. In fact, not only have we returned the budget to surplus without increasing taxes; we're returning the budget to surplus while cutting taxes. We're delivering hardworking Australians the tax relief that they need and deserve. In fact, cumulatively, between this budget and the last one, we're reducing personal income taxes by almost $300 billion. That makes the choice at this election very clear between the opposition led by Mr Shorten and the government led by Mr Morrison, and the clearly contrasting tax plans that we're taking to this election.

From the coalition you have $300 billion of lower personal income taxes, and from the Labor Party you have $200 billion of increased taxes, at least. That's a $500 billion turnaround for hardworking Australians, in terms of the tax burden they will bear, depending on who wins this upcoming election. In this financial year alone, up to 10 million working Australians will receive tax cuts of up to $1,080—in this financial year. By the time our tax plan is rolled out in full, 94 per cent of taxpayers will face a marginal rate of no greater than 30 per cent. This effectively eliminates the scourge of bracket creep for all workers earning between $45,000 and $200,000. They'll face no disincentive, in the form of higher taxes, to taking on more risk and more hours and to being more productive and entrepreneurial.

Of course, we're not just delivering a surplus but putting the federal government, finally, on a path to paying back the debt burden that was left to us. We've taken six years to get back to surplus, despite the best efforts of those opposite to make it even harder and longer, and we're forecasting that within 10 years all of the net debt accrued as a result of the irresponsible fiscal path we were placed upon, as a country, by the Labor Party will be reversed. The damage will be undone. Net debt will reach zero by 2029-30. In time, this will help alleviate the $18 billion of interest payments that Australian taxpayers currently have to meet every year. That $18 billion of interest payments a year is one of the single biggest budget items that we have to service, and that is in a time of record-low interest rates. God forbid—if we weren't able to put ourselves on a path to fiscal repair—that interest rates ever return to higher, more normal, levels. This, of course, is despite the best efforts of the Labor Party, particularly in this chamber, to thwart our efforts to repair the budget—to make that task as difficult as possible.

Importantly, we've done all of this—returned the budget to surplus and provided meaningful tax relief for working Australians—while guaranteeing the essential services that Australian people rely on. This government will deliver record funding for health. It will deliver record funding for education. It will deliver record investment in our national defence. We've done all this without raising taxes. We haven't had a hit on self-funded retirees. We haven't had a hit on property investors. We haven't had a hit on small- and medium business owners. We've had no hit on those who pay income tax and we've had no hit on those who use family trusts. All of those people will be in the gun if Mr Shorten and the Labor Party are successful at the upcoming election. How do we do this? We do it by restraining spending growth with prudent fiscal management—led particularly by our Minister for Finance, Mathias Cormann—and presiding over a growing economy that's delivered 1.3 million jobs. The choice could not be clearer.

3:13 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development (Senate)) Share this | | Hansard source

I was sitting in your chair earlier on, Madam Deputy President, when I heard Senator Macdonald talk about the standards in this chamber and how they've slipped over the last 28 to 29 years he's been here, and I can say that over the 14 years I've been here the nastiness has been just incredible. I've seen it myself from the time Mr Abbott took over the leadership. Standards really did drop. I don't think I'd get much of an argument from those of us who aren't Liberal senators.

Senator Macdonald also talked about the lies perpetrated in this chamber, and in the other chambers, that are gotten away with. But there is a greater lie here. We are not back in the black. We're not. There's still debt. It's projected that we won't be back in the black until next year. So there's another blatant lie that's being peddled by the government. We understand that their backbench senators get wheeled out and have to run the party line, and that's a classic example. I'm not blaming Senator Paterson, because it's what the Treasurer's saying and what the Prime Minister's saying, but I want to quote one page of an article that's come to my attention. It's by Greg Jericho from The Guardianand it's under the heading 'The seven graphs that expose the Coalition's 2019 budget fairy tale'. I won't go too far into it, but he does say:

Tax cuts, surpluses and fancifully optimistic forecasts add up to a make-believe budget.

He says:

Morrison splashes the cash in final election sell to the suburbs

The rosy forecasts in Frydenberg's budget—and the big assumptions behind them

I'm quoting him. If it were me saying it, I'd refer to their proper titles. He also says:

This year's budget is an odd mix of tax cuts and spending measures targeted to win an election, but with assumptions so joyous and optimistic that you could be forgiven for thinking the Liberal party wants to lose just so it can blame the ALP for not living up to their predictions.

People are a wake-up to this. The media are a wake-up to this.

This has been a really strange session. I'm not using these as props, Madam Deputy President. I just want to put them under my nose so I can refer to them. Something was brought to my attention by Senator Gallacher this morning. I hadn't noticed it. This is the first time it has happened in living memory, certainly for me—and I'd be interested to hear from other senators, especially you, Madam Deputy President. Normally in the newspapers after the budget there is a photo of the Treasurer looking like a leader. You know how the cameramen get down and they make the Treasurer look like they're huge and this is a thumping win for our nation. What do Australia's papers carry today? Can you believe that just about every paper in this nation—I'll hold them down here so I don't get told off—features cartoons?

In The Australianwhich I call the paper they give away for free at the airport—there is the Treasurer, Mr Frydenberg, and he's got no clothes on and he's sitting on a cloud. He's the love cherub with a bow and arrow. He's smiling and he's got big rosy red cheeks. He's shooting arrows out there, and there's money being aimed at a nurse and a construction worker, I assume, with a helmet on. But, in the background, there is a big black ominous cloud with lightning flying out of it.

Then we go to The Fin Review, one of the last organs you would think would turn the budget into a cartoon, but here they have Mr Frydenberg on the back of a truck, with 'Back in Black' written on it, and he's playing a guitar. There's the Prime Minister drawn in the cartoon. He's playing a flute or something. They're mimicking the AC/DC video for 'It's a Long Way to the Top', down Swanston Street. But there's a big road sign saying, virtually: 'Look out. There are holes in front. Roadworks.' This is how seriously they're taking it.

Here's the front page of The Daily Telegraph. We've got The Terminator—I was going to say 'The Cormannator'—puffing on a cigar. He's with others, and they're cooking a barbecue, and the headline takes the mickey: 'Prime cuts'. Then we have this one here, The Canberra Times. They have Mr Frydenberg dressed up as a yodeller in the mountains , and he's got funny pants on with money falling out of them. Then they've got the Prime Minister sitting on a bull there, ready for the 'election rodeo'. I'm not making this up.

Wait till we get to this one, the Herald Sun. Oh my goodness me. I'm not allowed to use it as a prop, and I wouldn't dare, but, anyway, here's a picture of an overweight Prime Minister with a pair of shorts and a footy jumper on. He's kicking the ball and showing hairy legs. It just keeps getting worse. Then we have this one here, The West Australian. They've got Mr Frydenberg as some genie rubbing a bottle, hoping for wishes, and it says that you get 30 wishes, not three. It's an absolute joke. They're a wake-up to you.

3:18 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I can only thank the senator for his commentary about cartoons in newspapers. It shows how much the Labor Party have got to attack in the wonderful budget.

Madam Deputy President, tomorrow night you're going to be subjected to what will be called an alternative budget by the alternative government. It will be full of lies, mistruths and misconstructions. Let me just warn anyone who might be listening to Mr Shorten tomorrow night about Labor's record on what they promise and what they do. Remember 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'? A Labor leader said that and was elected, and the first bit of legislation that came in was a carbon tax. Mr Swan, for the six years that I heard him deliver budgets in this house, each year promised that the next year there would be a surplus of the budget, and not once was there a surplus. In fact, in most years the deficit went up.

If you want to know what Labor promises, just go back to the 1993 election, when Labor promised tax cuts. In fact, they did more than promise tax cuts; they actually passed laws. They were called the l-a-w law tax cuts. They were legislated. Labor did that because they thought they were going to lose the 1993 election. As it turned out, miraculously, they won that election. You know the first thing they did when they came back into office? They reneged on them. They cancelled those l-a-w law tax cuts. So, whatever you hear Mr Shorten say tomorrow night, just know that it won't be truthful; it'll be misconstrued. Don't take my word for it—go back and look at the record of Labor's budget malfeasance.

There are a couple of things that need to be raised. The first is that Senator Pratt kept talking about penalty rates being dropped by this government. A lot of Labor senators keep talking about that. It is a complete, abject, outright lie. They know that penalty rate decisions are made by the Fair Work Commission. And who set up the Fair Work Commission? The Labor Party in government. Who appointed most of the judges to the Fair Work Commission? The Labor Party—yet they continue the lie that it's the government that has cut penalty rates. The second is that Labor simply can't be trusted with money.

This is a wonderful budget. Every low- to middle-income earner will get $1,000 more in their pay packet once the government's laws are brought in. For a dual-income family, that's $2,160 to help low-income earners and middle-income earners, to support consumption growth and ease the cost of living As my colleague Senator Paterson has explained, there are tax cuts for all, going into the future, and there are tax cuts immediately for small business, the engine room of Australia's economy. There is the instant tax write-off increase from $25,000 to $30,000—and it seems, if I'm reading the budget right, that that now becomes a permanent feature for small business.

And why can we give these concessions to small business? Why can we make these concessions to low- and middle-income earners? Why can we have record spending on education? Why can we have record spending on health, with more drugs, more expensive drugs, put on the PBS? Why can we substantially increase infrastructure expenditure to $100 billion over the next 10 years? Why can we do all this? It's because we managed the economy carefully. We've got the budget back into the black. We've got the budget in such a way that, in the forward years, there will be more surpluses, and we'll be able to build more hospitals, more schools and more roads. That's what you can do when you carefully manage finances and carefully manage government expenditure. Labor, on the other hand, will spend like crazy. We know that. Everybody knows that. They will buy votes with it, but someone always has to pay, and we've seen the results of that. We've seen the job that our government have had to do to get the budget back into the black and keep it that way. We need to do that because we need that money to spend on essential services. (Time expired)

3:23 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to take note of answers to questions asked of a number of government senators in relation to last night's federal budget. As my colleagues have already said, there's really only one way you can describe last night's federal budget, and that is: a massive election con job. This budget last night comes after six years of neglect of the Australian people and, worse still than neglect, outright cuts to the services that so many Australians depend upon right across my state of Queensland and right across this country. Over the last six years we have seen cut after cut from this Liberal-National government to schools across Queensland, to hospitals across Queensland and to infrastructure that Queensland desperately needs as a growing state.

On top of all of those cuts, the other thing that has defined this government over the last six years is absolute chaos. From year to year, from Prime Minister to Prime Minister, the knives have been out constantly, and the undermining has happened constantly as well. I was just thinking before that we're now on our third Prime Minister under this government, and, if they try really hard, they've still got a few hours left to knife another Prime Minister and put in a fourth. That's the kind of thing that you can't rule out from this government, such is the level of chaos we've seen from them over the last six years—six years of cuts and chaos delivered by this government. They're trying to paper over it now with a new Prime Minister, a new Treasurer and a new federal budget. But I have confidence that the Australian people will see through this and that the Queenslanders back in my home state will see through this and will see that this is just an election con job—that a government that is on the ropes, that has neglected them for six years, is trying to rush through in a belated attempt to win them over.

As I was watching last night's budget, it reminded me quite a lot of sending someone a belated birthday card six years after their birthday. For six years, this government has cut back on services to Queensland and neglected what Queenslanders need. Six years later, on the eve of an election, they come out and say, 'Here are a few sweeteners; we'll try to win you over.' The problem this government has is that, in my experience, when you send someone a belated birthday card, all they remember is the fact that you forgot their birthday in the first place. I'm very confident that last night's budget will show that Queenslanders, and Australians in general, will not forget the fact that this government has cut their services and will not forget the fact that wages have barely grown under this government. They'll remember all those things, just like they would remember it if it were a birthday that this government had forgotten and then sent them a belated card six years down the track.

I was also remembering before—we're all reminiscing a little bit, because this is probably the last day of sittings before the next election—former senator George Brandis. Who could forget one of the LNP's shining stars in Queensland over many years? Some of you might remember that he had some things to say about the Queensland LNP before the last state election. He described them as being very, very mediocre. I think that description could also be applied to last night's federal budget delivered by this government: very, very mediocre.

It was particularly mediocre for my home state of Queensland. All last night's budget did—rather than put money back into the services that Queenslanders need—was actually lock in the hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts that we've seen to Queensland hospitals and the hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts we've seen to Queensland schools, TAFEs and apprenticeships. In question time today we had ministers getting up and talking about all this great news about new funding for skills. Why didn't you do some of it sometime over the last six years, rather than pulling it out of the bottom drawer just before an election?

Mackay, one of Queensland's most important regional towns, is now suffering from a skills shortage, with unemployment down to about three per cent and employers struggling to find people for jobs. Why would that be? Could it be to do with the fact that this government has cut tens of thousands of apprenticeships over the last six years? All of a sudden they want us to forget about that and look at the fact that they're putting in a few little trickles of money for apprenticeships and for skills into the future. The budget last night locked in those cuts to schools, hospitals and TAFEs. It didn't reverse them at all. The budget has no plan to lift the wages of Queensland working people, who have barely had pay rises for any of the six years that this government has been in power.

Probably worst of all, there is not a single dollar of funding from the federal government for new infrastructure in Queensland—not just this year but next year as well. They want us to look at all these infrastructure projects they're talking about, but they're years into the distance. Not only would you need to vote for this government at the coming election; you'd need to vote for them at the next one as well. It is a joke, it is a con job, and Queenslanders will see through it. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.