Tuesday, 2 July 2019
That standing order 3(4) be suspended, to enable the Senate to consider business other than that of a formal character before the address-in-reply to the Governor-General's opening speech has been adopted.
Omit all words after "That", substitute:
"so much of standing order 3(4) be suspended to enable the Senate to consider the following business before the address-in-reply to the Governor-General's opening speech has been adopted:
(a) business other than that of a formal character (excluding government business); and
(b) government business relating to the consideration of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Tax Relief So Working Australians Keep More Of Their Money) Bill 2019."
In effect, this requires, firstly, that the government will ensure that the first order of government business will be the tax bills and, secondly, that the government will need the agreement of the Senate to proceed with other bills before finalising the address-in-reply, which I think on the last occasion took two years. I would make the point that the government has flagged medevac legislation.
An honourable senator: Hear, hear!
Hear, hear! This amendment would ensure that the Senate would have to give the government permission to bring in that legislation before it is debated and voted upon. I would also make the point—and this is something the Labor Party is concerned about—that the government today flagged via the Governor-General's speech industrial relations legal changes, which I do not recall them campaigning on in the election, for which they have no mandate. We do not intend to give the government a leave pass in bringing that legislation forward.
Firstly, this amendment is obviously seeking to determine the government's business on the agenda. It's always a matter for the government to set its business on the agenda. I can also say that our expectation is that Thursday will be fully occupied with dealing with our income tax relief plan, which we took to the last election and which the Australian people voted for, because we want to get more money into workers' pockets as soon as possible; we want to create more jobs on the back of the economy being stimulated with our income tax relief plan. That is the No. 1 and only major priority for this week.
I can also advise the chamber that there is absolutely no plan to—and we will not—bring the medevac legislation to the Senate this week.
Opposition senators interjecting—
I'm speaking on behalf of the government. The government will not be bringing the medevac legislation to the Senate this week. That is very, very clear.
The principle of the opposition trying to hijack, on the first day, the government's legislative agenda is breathtaking in its arrogance and in its inappropriateness. The government will be opposing the amendment, and I commend the unamended motion to the Senate.
With regard to Labor's amendment, we ask that we vote on parts (a) and (b) separately. We want to ensure that this Senate is given the opportunity to address the address-in-reply, but we do have concerns that these tax measures are going to be rushed through this parliament on Thursday. We have concerns about this because this legislation hasn't even been before a thorough inquiry process. This is one of the most significant changes to the tax system that has ever been put before this chamber, and we think that it is absolutely critical that this go through a thorough and exhaustive inquiry process. There is absolutely no rush for this to be rammed through this parliament on Thursday night.
We would like to see an opportunity for those people who are currently considering this legislation—indeed, members of the crossbench and the Labor Party—to understand the implications of passing a tax cut that would redirect billions of dollars, $30 billion, to some of the highest income earners in the country. This is money that could be spent on raising Newstart; money that could be spent on putting a roof over people's heads and food on the table; money that could be invested in providing everybody with Medicare funded dental care; money that could be invested in public schools and hospitals; and money that could be invested in ensuring that no-one in Australia is homeless—that we build half a million affordable community homes.
We should be looking at what the huge cost associated with this budget measure is, what the alternatives are and what it will do in terms of economic inequality. We've seen some very rigorous analysis that indicates that it will turbocharge economic inequality in this country. This house should be afforded the opportunity to review this legislation and to ensure that we do our job in understanding the implications of one of the most significant taxation measures ever put before this chamber. It is absolutely incumbent on us that we be afforded that opportunity.
We have the same concern that the Labor Party has: that this motion as it is currently structured gives the government an opportunity to ram through other bills on Thursday if it so chooses, and we know what some of those bills may be, as we heard earlier today from the Governor-General. We don't think that there is any need to rush into massive tax cuts that turbocharge inequality and that rip revenue out of our budget that should be invested in the foundations of a decent society.
I interpreted—and I am happy to be corrected by Senator Di Natale—that he has asked that (a) and (b) to be dealt with separately to allow them to vote differently on those clauses, and he is indicating that that is the case. I will put part (a) of Senator Wong's amendment to Senator Cormann's motion. The question is that part (a) of Senator Wong's amendment to amend Senator Cormann's motion be agreed to.
Senator Wong interjecting—
I've been looking at the wording myself.
Senator Cormann interjecting—
I was going to take it separately and that, if (a) fell, I would consider the introductory paragraph and paragraph (b) separately.
Senator Wong interjecting—
If I may assist the Senate: I understand the political point that Senator Di Natale was seeking to make, but voting on paragraph (a) in isolation is actually meaningless; it doesn't deliver anything.
An opposition senator interjecting —
I don't think this is an amendment that leads itself to be taken in two parts, because one follows the other.
I do take your point. I've been looking at it, Senator Cormann. Consulting the Clerk, I'm advised that they can stand separately because it would otherwise exclude—and I'm looking at the Clerk to indicate that I'm correct in my description here—the consideration of any business other than the address-in-reply.
I thank the Senate for its patience. I'll provide the advice that the Clerk just gave. Maybe we're all a bit rusty. If Senator Di Natale's indication was carried by the Senate, and paragraph (a) was carried but not paragraph (b), that would preclude the consideration of the tax bills. Senator Cormann.
I would encourage senators to look at the Notice Paper. We lodged a notice of motion today in order to ensure that the Senate can deal with our income tax relief plan on Thursday. Our intention is to provide the entire day—as much time as is required—to debate our income tax relief plan, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Tax Relief So Working Australians Keep More of Their Money) Bill 2019, on Thursday. In fact, we are prepared for the Senate to sit until all stages of that bill have been dealt with, including any messages from the House of Representatives if and as required. So the easiest way to bring on debate of the income tax relief plan, and the income tax relief plan only, is by voting for the government's motion on Thursday morning.
I understand there is some complexity but I don't view this amendment as out of order, and the Senate can express its will as to its appropriateness by voting accordingly. The first matter I will put to the vote is that the introductory clause and paragraph (a) of Senator Wong's amendment to Senator Cormann's motion be agreed to. The question is that the covering clause and paragraph (a) of Senator Wong's amendment to Senator Cormann's motion be agreed to.
Senators, I consulted with the Clerk about the wording of this motion during the division. The Senate having voted against the covering clause and clause (a), with clause (b) lacking the words 'business other than that of a formal character' the next amendment cannot be put. So we will now go to the substantive motion of Senator Cormann.
That's a different ruling to the ruling you made a moment ago, President. With respect, had we known that, we would have perhaps had the opportunity to amend the amendment. Based on that, we would like to be afforded the opportunity to amend that amendment.
Because of the way this amendment was drafted—I appreciate that advice has changed—for your information, the key part of clause (a) that needs to be addressed separately is the part in brackets, 'excluding government business'. Again, I'll look to the Clerk. If the amendment—
Senator Fifield interjecting—
I'll repeat that. If the amendment's paragraph (b) also included the words 'business other than that of a formal character', the amendment could stand on its own. Are you seeking leave to amend your amendment with those words?
So it will read: 'so much of standing order 3(4) be suspended to enable the Senate to consider the following business before the address-in-reply to the Governor-General's opening speech has been adopted: business other than that of a formal character and government business relating to the consideration of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Tax Relief So Working Australians Keep More of Their Money) Bill 2019'.
I was seeking advice from the Clerk earlier. The way this was drafted, and what inadvertently caused a little confusion in our first hour back, was that the phrase 'excluding government business' should have been in a separate part of the amendment.
Sure, but the Greens asked for it to be taken separately so they could vote for (a) and against (b), and now they're seeking to amend (b), which they were going to oppose. So they didn't actually want to vote against (b).
I'm afraid I have to concur with Senator Cormann. I deliberately asked whether the Greens intended to vote differently on both of these amendments. The answer was: yes, they did. And now they're seeking to change the rules halfway through the game. I find this entirely disingenuous.
With respect, Senator Bernardi, I think the confusion has arisen because of the two issues in paragraph (a) being conflated—'business other than that of a formal character', which also appears in Senator Cormann's motion. The key phrase is 'excluding government business', and the way the amendment was drafted wasn't enabled, on the fly, to consider that separately. So Senator Di Natale has asked for leave to put the words 'business other than that of a formal character' in paragraph (b)—which would become paragraph (a)—of Senator Wong's motion to amend Senator Cormann's motion.
Senator Di Natale interjecting—
It does change the operation of the motion.
The changes to part (b) that you've suggested there change what we were trying to do with regard to separating parts (a) and (b). Given that we haven't had the opportunity to restructure the entire motion in a way consistent with our intention not to bring forward the Treasury Laws Amendment (Tax Relief So Working Australians Keep More Of Their Money) Bill 2019 on Thursday, it seems to us that, given that part (a) has gone down—and obviously we would have done this before voting on part (a)—the only option available to us is to vote down the substantive motion that was moved by Senator Cormann.
If I understand your ruling from earlier—unless that is now being altered—it is that, as a consequence of what I might call the chapeau and paragraph (a) being voted against, paragraph (b) is no longer operative, in which case there is no further amendment to be put. We then moved to the substantive motion moved by Senator Cormann, and I understand Senator Di Natale has reserved the Greens' position to vote against the substantive motion, which has, in effect, the same political position. Am I right?