Senate debates

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Questions without Notice

Aged Care

2:49 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Aged Care, Senator Colbeck. I refer to the minister's statements regarding the retention bonus for aged-care workers. Yesterday the minister said:

We never said at any point in time that these support bonuses would be tax free. That was never said.

Does the minister concede that his media release of 20 March 2020 described the payments as 'after tax'?

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

At no point in any of those statements that Senator Walsh has just read—and I thank her for the question—particularly in the press release, did I say that the bonus would be tax free. I never said that it would be tax free. That's exactly what I said yesterday. We never, at any point in time, indicated that this bonus would be tax free. We said, at all times, that these bonuses would be up to $800 and up to $600, but we never said—

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong, a point of order?

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Direct relevance: it was a very specific question. Does the minister concede that his media release described the payments as 'after tax'? I ask you to remind the minister of this question.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

At the point that you interrupted the minister, Senator Wong, I believe that he was actually directly addressing, albeit challenging, the assertion contained in the question. That is a matter for debate after question time. It's not a matter for me to direct the minister how to answer the question. I believe he was being directly relevant, and opposition senators can say something after question time in the appropriate slot.

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

At no point in time did the government say that these bonuses would be tax free—at no point did we say they were tax free—

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong, a point of order?

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to table the minister's statement, which shows clearly the words 'after tax per quarter', on two occasions. This is becoming a farce. Question time should have some accountability associated with it—

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong, order! Senator Wong, please resume your seat.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

He is simply lying.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong, I am going to ask you to withdraw that particular accusation directed at an individual senator.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

He is simply not telling the truth, Mr President.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Wong. Senator Cormann, a point of order?

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

There are basic courtesies when it comes to tabling of documents. Senator Wong has been here long enough to know.

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! On the point of order, opposition senators who wish to challenge the minister's answer have an opportunity to do so after question time.

Senator Wong interjecting

The point—

Senator Wong interjecting

Senator Wong, he is directly addressing the terms of the question and you have an opportunity to debate it. I cannot direct the minister how to answer a question.

Senator Wong interjecting

I have allowed you to do so, Senator Wong, on two occasions.

Senator Wong interjecting

Senator Wong, the answer can be debated after question time. As long as the minister is addressing the terms of the question—and he is directly addressing the terms of the question—I do not have the authority to direct him how to answer a question.

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

The statement in my press release does not mean tax free—

Opposition senators interjecting

which is the implication that the Labor Party is trying to make. So the two statements are completely and utterly compatible. The government at no point indicated that these bonuses would be tax free, because that is not the way income bonuses work. They are clearly subject to tax, because at no point in time did we say they would be tax free.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Walsh, a supplementary question?

2:53 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Can the minister assist the Senate by telling us what he thinks the words 'after tax' mean?

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

The words 'after tax' clearly do not mean tax free. The government at no point in time said that these bonuses would be tax free, and quite frankly I am very proud of the fact that this government recognised a particular sector of the Australian workforce to provide them with—

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Watt, a point of order?

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

The point of order is relevance. We just want to know what 'after tax' means.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I believe the minister is being directly relevant. I will listen carefully—he is 27 seconds in. He was asked about what a term means and he is directly addressing that particular part of the question, which was the only part of the question.

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

Only the Labor Party could make a full glass sound as though it's empty. This government made a very deliberate decision to provide support to aged-care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic because of the circumstances they found themselves in. We said that they were important to the government and that they were important to the community, and so we made a decision to provide up to $800 and up to $600 for residential aged-care workers and home-care workers to support them through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Walsh, a final supplementary question.

2:55 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Why did the minister's press release use the phrase 'after tax' if not to suggest that these bonuses would be tax free? Why does the minister find it so hard to own up to his mistakes?

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

Thanks, Senator Walsh, for the supplementary question. As I said in my previous answer, 'after tax' does not mean tax free. It's a very, very simple statement. I'm very proud of the fact that this government provided support to residential aged-care workers and home-care workers. In fact, this group of workers is the only group of workers in the Australian economy that was provided with direct support, to recognise the work that they're doing through the coronavirus pandemic. It's in recognition of the fact that their work is so important in the care of senior Australians. It was a very specific decision to support residential aged-care and home-care workers to look after senior Australians through the pandemic because of the importance of the work that they do.