Thursday, 24 June 2021
I move general business notice of motion No. 1174:
That the Senate notes that the Morrison Government's 2021-22 Budget left people on low incomes behind.
Budgets are all about choices. The government's latest budget completely misses the opportunity to address the growing inequality and poverty in our community. In fact, it works to further entrench it. Instead of ensuring everyone has enough to live a good life, ensuring people's wellbeing, the government has decided to spend $62 billion a year in handouts to big corporations and billionaires; $8.5 billion in tax rorts for property investors, with no new funding for public housing and community housing; $213 million and counting on compliance measures for people on income support; and $42 million to further entrench the cashless debit card. The budget should be used to address long-term problems as well as the most immediate issues. Inequality is increasing, wages have flatlined, work is more insecure and the cost of living keeps going up. Far too many Australians are living in poverty.
Australia is in the middle of a housing crisis. In a wealthy country like Australia, no-one should be without a roof over their head. Instead, there are 116,000 people sleeping rough in Australia every night and even more experiencing extreme housing stress, and there are many people couch surfing. This budget further strengthens a housing system that actively impoverishes people and makes inequality worse. Instead of guaranteeing everyone's right to a safe home, the government has given $8.5 billion in tax breaks to wealthy investors and property speculators in this budget. Despite the housing crisis, this budget has not allocated any new funds for public or community housing. Public housing should be universally accessible so that no-one is living without a roof over their head.
Housing prices and rents have skyrocketed, particularly during the pandemic, squeezing the most vulnerable into extreme housing stress and insecurity. Home ownership is increasingly out of reach for a majority of young people in this country. In Perth, in my home state of Western Australia, the medium rent is 460 bucks a week. This is not even close to being affordable for someone on income support, particularly when the payment is $44 a day, or for someone working at the minimum wage, with a yearly income of $38,480 a year. This budget gives $62 billion a year in subsidies to billionaires and big corporations, but the government says there's not enough money to increase JobSeeker to $80 a day, which we know is the level that would lift people out of poverty and ensure they're not condemned to poverty.
During the height of the pandemic the government acknowledged that the rate of the JobSeeker payment was inadequate and chose to immediately increase the payment to above the poverty line with the introduction of the COVID supplement. This one decision immediately lifted hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty. They knew they had to do that to ensure that people weren't living in poverty during the pandemic lockdown. It had a remarkable impact on the lives of people receiving income support payments. People were able to eat regular meals, pay off existing debts, save for education and training and go to the dentist—things that other people take for granted. When you're living on $44 a day you can't afford to go to the dentist or afford the essential medications—they were putting it off because they simply couldn't afford it.
It is a disgrace that this government does not significantly increase the JobSeeker payment to ensure that millions of Australians are not living in poverty. It must be acknowledged that people on the disability support pension and carers were cruelly excluded from the COVID supplement, a point the Greens raised in this chamber many times. Despite all evidence that expenses for disabled people and carers increased in the pandemic, they were simply left out from receiving extra assistance. This is despite the government knowing very well that disabled people face additional costs of living generally. That is very clear in work that AFDO has done on the cost of a disabled person's living expenses.
Despite paying more for health care, medical supplies, PPE, transport and utility bills, disabled people and carers are still struggling to make ends meet. There is nothing in this budget to help alleviate these costs. As quickly as the COVID supplement was introduced, it was then taken away. Once again, people looking for work, students and single parents are forced to live below the poverty line. This is a choice by this government to drop those people back below the poverty line.
People on income support payments have gone back to regularly skipping meals and missing their medications to try and keep a roof over their heads. They have articulated all those things so many times to us through various inquiries. It has been spoken about in this chamber. That's the reality for people looking for work. And this government does not care. They don't care for the consequences. This has been their policy choice. Half of all households in Australia who receive parenting payments live in poverty, with single mothers—because that's the majority of single parents by far; they're clearly overrepresented in this group—being particularly at risk of financial stress.
It should also be noted that parents, when their youngest child turns eight, are put on to the lower rate of the JobSeeker payment. That's a policy that has still not been reversed despite its adverse consequences and despite the data clearly showing an increase in poverty for single parents when those changes were made. The changes were made and came into effect after the decision of the Howard government and after the decision of the Gillard government to move the grandfathered cohort on to the then Newstart payment, now JobSeeker payment. This forces parents into poverty, and it significantly undermines their caring work. We know that poverty is a barrier to finding work. There are more than 1.1 million Australian children in homes where an income support payment is the main source of income. These children live in poverty. There is nothing in this budget to reduce this shameful statistic. Further, the government's First Home Loan Deposit Scheme for single parents will help very few single parents. How does the government expect single parents to save enough money to purchase a house when they are living in poverty? There is no greater evidence that the government is out of touch than this.
Our aged-care system is in crisis. While additional resources were committed to aged care, they were not enough to address the dire need for reform and to do the job properly. This budget does not address fundamental workforce issues. Nor does it properly fund the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety. Older Australians and aged-care workers continue to suffer because of poor conditions and a lack of regulation, problems this government has allowed to fester. Aged care needs total reform, and the government is neither acting with the urgency that is required nor committing the funds necessary. We have an ageing population, and we don't have the workforce to keep up. No money was committed in this budget to increasing wages for the aged-care workforce. If the government were genuinely committed to addressing this issue and offering more hours of care, they would have committed, in this budget, the money for an increase in wages. They wouldn't hide behind the fair-work case. They know very well that this is needed. Some workers in aged care are working on very low wages. We need to ensure that our aged-care workforce and our caring workforce is paid properly. A sustained commitment to the care sector is fundamental to guaranteeing access to essential services for all, regardless of their income or where they live.
The budget takes away from employment services. Australia is one of the lowest spenders in the OECD on employment services. The pandemic has resulted in hundreds of thousands more people accessing income support, but this government still can't give up on its obsession with making savings out of our social safety net. With more than 50 per cent of jobseekers on the payment for more than two years, this also is urgent. We need to be putting more resources into employment services, not punishing people through ramping up mutual obligations. There is very little in the budget to help long-term unemployed people find work. Instead, the budget provides $213 million to strengthen so-called mutual obligations. This is more money to punish, threaten and bully people who are looking for work.
This is a budget that continues the ongoing disdain this government has for people doing it tough—people on income support, older Australians, young people, single parents and disabled people. In budget after budget, this government has failed to address entrenched poverty. Instead, it expects charities and the not-for-profit sector, which are under increasing strain, to pick up the slack, while, on the other hand, it tries to gag them further using ACNC governance standard 3. A strong social safety net and properly funded public services are the bedrock of ensuring equality and opportunity for everyone. Budgets should prioritise this. A budget for the community, rather than billionaires, would invest in reducing poverty.
Senator Siewert's motion is that the Senate notes that the Morrison government's 2021-22 budget left people on low incomes behind. I would go further. This budget leaves the whole country behind, and that means it leaves everyone behind. There have been massive increases in debt in the last 12 months, without the necessary objective data to underpin them. That shows, yet again, poor governance of our country. In Senate estimates, I discussed with the chief medical officer and the secretary of the health department the seven essential components of a plan for managing a virus. The federal government is addressing one; the state governments are addressing another—that's it—and they have both been addressed poorly.
I want to discuss the productive capacity because that's what determines the wealth and the economic security and, indeed, sometimes the defence security of our nation in the future. The productive capacity of our country has been declining considerably since 1944 and, in fact, since 1923, if we want to get into basics—but that's for another day. Let's look at the most important part of productive capacity—the human asset, our people. Look at education, because it's the future leaders of this country who will determine the future productive capacity, as well as us determining that capacity today. We have declining scores in education. Reading and writing, mathematics and science—declining. By world standards, we are falling well behind in the core aspects of education but we devote plenty of resources, plenty of time, plenty of energy to teaching kids—misleading kids—about gender fluidity, critical race theory, non-gendered language and a national curriculum that the government forks out money for yet cannot control. That's what has been told to us by the federal government.
We need charter schools. We need parents to have more say in the running of their schools, and principals to have more say in the running of their schools; parents to control what values are passed on; and parents to decide whether or not their children will be taught about gender fluidity. I want to compliment Mark Latham in the New South Wales parliament and my colleague Senator Pauline Hanson for the bills they are introducing and evaluating right now to restore values and common sense to education. I note that Singapore, Japan and Korea have really moved ahead in recent years, as has Taiwan. They all have solid basic education.
What's happened to apprenticeships in this country? Senator Lines moved a motion today with regard to apprenticeships sadly lacking in WA. Senator Hanson has proudly introduced an apprenticeship scheme that the government has taken and refurbished and expanded, such is the success of her suggestion on apprenticeships. What has happened to universities? They followed our primary schools and high schools in becoming more woke and driven by anything but education. As for university education, it is now just pushing an ideology. Our TAFE systems have fallen into disrepair; our trades qualifications are falling into disrepair.
Let's move on, then, to the workplace. The Fair Work Act is an abomination. It is about that thick in pages printed. It destroys the employer-employee relationship, which is essential for productive capacity. It is difficult for anyone, an employee or a small businesses employer, who doesn't have access to lawyers and consultants and HR practitioners to work their way through that. How can they possibly be held accountable for that relationship when they can't even understand it and never will understand it, not because of lack of intelligence but because of lack of time and surely being overwhelmed? Again, just like education, this is poor governance to get into this state.
Then we go to energy, arguably the most critical in material resources because energy has determined the competitiveness of every country. Under President Trump, America reversed the decline in its competitiveness because it reversed its increasing energy prices and it started to decrease its energy prices again. America became more competitive against its competitors and blossomed because of that. President Trump created more jobs than any president in history because of that and because he cut away regulations.
This government and its predecessors have fiddled the Renewable Energy Target, destroying our baseload coal-fired power stations, our grid. The network costs are destroying our grid, making it unaffordable. Retail sectors of electricity are just a fabrication. The National Electricity Market is now a national electricity racket. It's not a market at all; it's a bureaucracy that's interfered with and manipulated by bureaucrats looking after vested interests. Then we see privatisation. The Queensland Labor government is taking about $1½ billion every year from people who use electricity—businesses, small businesses and families—and that is now a tax. We have taxes on electricity. Why is it that the Chinese can produce electricity and sell it for one-third the cost of electricity sold in this country when they use the same coal as we do? They take it thousands of kilometres, burn it and sell the coal-fired power to their consumers and we sell it for three times as much because of regulations that come out of both sides of this parliament.
Then we look at water. The Murray-Darling Basin has been gutted. Communities have been gutted. Regions have been gutted. And nothing is happening about it. Today we passed an amendment to restore compliance with the law, the Water Act of 2007, with regard to water trading. It was supported by the Labor Party but denied by the Liberals and Nationals. They don't want to comply with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It went down to the lower house and Labor changed and sent it back here, in cahoots with the Liberals and Nationals. That will continue to destroy water allocations in our country because it will continue the corruption and the likely—I'm very confident in saying this—criminal activity going on in the Murray-Darling Basin with regard to abuse of water trading.
Then we see property rights, which are fundamental to running a farm or a business. They were capriciously stolen under the Howard-Anderson government in 1996 and then progressively by Labor premiers from Queensland and New South Wales, jumping on the bandwagon to steal farmers' property rights. Why? To comply with the United Nations Kyoto protocol of 1996—that's why. Farmers have lost the value of their land. We see that extended in Queensland, for example, by the Queensland state government, relying on bogus claims about the reef to lock up land. We then see the federal government enacting carbon farming, where vast tracks of good farmland are laid waste, abandoned and taken over by feral animals and noxious weeds. There are costs to managing them as they spread around the country and fall on their neighbours' properties. This is another example of poor governance. There's a lack of infrastructure in water. The Bradfield scheme is crying out for investment.
Then we go to the most destructive system of all in our country, the Australian taxation system. In 1996 and 2010, Jim Killaly was the deputy commissioner of taxation for large companies and international matters. He said on both occasions—1996 and 2010—that 90 per cent of Australia's large companies are foreign owned and, since 1953, have paid little or no company tax. They use our resources, people, assets, defence forces, police forces and education system and pay nothing in return and just take. The Japanese, by comparison, have in their large companies 2.5 per cent foreign owned. The American and the British figures are about 12.5 per cent. Who pays for these foreign companies to use our assets and to make money without paying company tax? The people of Australia pay for that through families paying taxes, individuals paying taxes, small businesses paying taxes and some large Australian come companies paying 30 per cent against their multinational competitors who don't have to pay that. How can we possibly compete? Then we found out in the late 1990s and early 2000s—and I've asked the Parliamentary Library to update this figure—that a person on an average income in this country pays 68 per cent of their income to government. Housing is not our largest expenditure in life; government is, through taxes, rates, fees, levies, chargers, supercharges and special charges. Joe Hockey admitted when he was Treasurer that 50 per cent of a person's income is taken in tax. He said people work from January through to the end of June for government and then they keep what's left. The actual figure, when you take in government charges, rates, levies and fees as well, is 68 per cent, which means that someone on the average income is working from Monday to mid-morning Thursday to pay for government. Then they have what's left, the two-thirds of Thursday and Friday, to pay for their entire life: their retirement, their education, their food, their shelter, their car, their transport, their entertainment. That is not fair, and it shows poor governance. I haven't got time now to talk about attempts to reform taxation, but both parties, both the tired old parties, have shown a reluctance to invest energy and political will and sheer guts in tackling—and they lack the integrity to tackle—comprehensive tax reform.
I mentioned infrastructure a minute ago. What about projects like the Richmond agricultural project? What about the irrigation project up in Hughenden? What about things like Iron Boomerang, which would transform our country and make it the most cost-effective and largest producer of steel, and give us enormous security for manufacturing and for our defence? Then we have things that tap into that Iron Boomerang—things like an inland rail that's being destroyed by the Liberal-National government, an inland rail that is sucking up resources and coming up with something that will be far worse than the existing installations, especially when we consider the blowout in the cost. Again, it's a lack of data, a lack of sound planning. An inland rail and a proper route through to Gladstone would be part, then, of a proper national rail circuit.
Madam Deputy President, I submit to you these points that show and prove that the government here has not only left the poor behind, as Senator Siewert points out; the government has put additional burdens on the poor, the government has put a regressive tax on the poor in terms of energy prices. Energy prices are increasing alarmingly, and the poor have to pay a higher and higher and higher proportion of their income on a fundamental, which is energy. And then the poor pay for it because they lose their jobs when our manufacturing jobs and some of our agricultural and agricultural processing jobs are exported to China, which uses our raw materials—gas and coal—to produce electricity far more cheaply than we sell it for in our own country. So we're losing out entirely and we lose out in the diminishing of our defence security.
So I certainly agree with Senator Siewert that the Morrison government's 2021-22 budget has left people on low incomes behind. It has left people right across the country behind. It has left Australia behind.
In the time remaining, I will make some comments about the budget. I think the budget was a good opportunity for Australians to see the multifaceted economic plan that we have. Of course, this starts with being a competitive economy, because an economy that is outward looking like Australia's—we're not isolationist; we're not trying to run a rust-bucket economy—needs to be competitive. We need to be able to attract foreign investment. Foreign investment is something that we have relied upon since the First Fleet. Being a dynamic, open, modern economy, there are many measures to improve our competitive position.
In the budget, there was the announcement that Australia will have a patent box system. There was an announcement that we would modernise the tax residency rules. There was an announcement that we would establish an ATO-style concierge service to attract and win that foreign investment. Because of some of the disruption in our region, most particularly in Hong Kong, there are more opportunities for Australia to capture growth from the region, but we can only capture that growth if we are dynamic and competitive. These measures in the budget do that.
Only in the last few weeks, the G7 met, and there's been a discussion about having a minimum company tax rate. As this chamber knows, there have been many attempts to try and cut the headline tax rate, for good reason, but they have not been successful. In an era of lower-tax competition, it is important that Australia is right on the cutting edge in terms of having the sorts of tax schemes and regulatory frameworks which are really going to drive that investment. We need foreign investment because, for all that people come into this chamber and say how much they love superannuation, superannuation does not fund Australian companies. If you want jobs, you need to get money going into companies.
The second thing that our budget does is gets taxes down. It obviously builds on our prior budget, which reduced the tax rate for small companies with turnovers of under $50 million. In this budget, we extend the instant asset write-off. For small businesses, whether they're making canoes or making coffees, their ability to access the instant asset write-off has been a real boon because it has improved significantly the ability of a business to make a capital investment. It's effectively saying you can expense your capital investment, which is a very good thing. It not only stimulates the economy but it also effectively delivers an asset to that small business.
We've also extended the temporary loss carry-back, which means that, if companies have paid tax in a prior tax year, they can offset that against a loss, which gives them a direct refund. The philosophy here is that the government has no money of its own. All the money the government has to play with it taxes from individuals, so the idea of the government giving tax back to people and back to companies is a very sound principle. One thing we understand well and truly on this side of the Senate is that most small businesses are just people who have an idea who are running a company. They could be running a sole tradership. Whatever we can do to support those businesses around the country is very important.
The third element is providing more flexibility for retirees, because we think that people should be able to downsize their houses easily, voluntarily contribute more to super if they want to, and use their super to purchase a first home in certain circumstances. It is probably well known that I think we should be extending that further, but the budget does provide a measure that allows Australians to take $50,000 from their super—it has to be voluntary contributions—to use for a first home. We've always believed in homeownership on this side of the Senate, always, because having a home not only gives you a sense of security; it also gives you a place to build a family and it gives you a greater stake in society. We're always looking for ways to boost homeownership, and there are now more first home buyers in the market than there has been at any time over the last 10 years.
The budget makes Australia more competitive. It gets taxes down, which is great, and it provides more flexibility in that very rigid superannuation space, which has been dominated by the dreaded vested interests for far too long. We look forward to people having more control of their money in the future.