Wednesday, 30 March 2022
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Birmingham. Yesterday, the Morrison government handed down a budget that makes housing more expensive, locks in tax cuts for the wealthy and funds more coal and gas projects. Minister, as the climate crisis ravages our country, how can you stand by a budget that provides more than $38 billion in handouts to coal, oil and gas corporations but cuts climate spending by 35 per cent?
There was quite a bit in terms of that question, but I will try to deal, first and foremost, specifically with the questions that Senator Cox posed at the end of her commentary there.
It's incorrect to assert as she did in relation to climate expenditure. The government's investment in relation to achieving net zero, continuing to drive down emissions from the 20 per cent reduction that Australia has achieved to date and continuing to invest in areas of low-emissions technology is real. In this budget alone, building on top of our previous low-emissions strategies and commitments, there is new funding for microgrids in rural and regional communities, to take them off diesel power generation and to give them both cleaner and cheaper electricity for the future.
In this budget alone, there is of course the patent box reforms, which I have already referenced, to ensure that clean energy and low-emissions technologies developed in Australia are actually commercialised in Australia. This is to make sure that we seize the advantage. All of this is building on the fact that there is more money for hydrogen in this budget too, for ensuring that the hydrogen hubs our government is seeking to develop and invest in in that industry also support the development of demand for hydrogen, to ensure that all aspects of the supply chain for hydrogen are supported. So this is very strong.
In terms of the claims which Senator Cox has made about subsidies: this is a common refrain from the Australian Greens. When you dig down, what they're actually talking about are the diesel fuel tax rebates. Those are the subsidies they're talking about. Essentially, they're tax rebates provided to businesses in Australia, to those in the resources sector and to Australian farmers as well. They're tax rebates in relation to their business expenses. That's not an uncommon thing and it's certainly not a subsidy in terms of their operations. These are some of the biggest taxpayers in Australia—some of the biggest contributors to our economy in terms of jobs and revenue—and from that, support for climate action, for example— (Time expired)
This budget fails to fix the housing crisis. Minister, do you acknowledge there's $13 billion for property investors in the form of negative gearing and capital gains tax concession but no new money for affordable housing in this budget?
No, I don't acknowledge that because I don't agree with it. There's, in fact, $2 billion extra in this budget for the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation, $2 billion of additional support to help them with the low-cost financing that NHFIC provides through community housing providers to support social and affordable housing.
This is also a budget which we proudly build upon our track record as parties in government of supporting first homeownership. We are proud, from the very foundation of the Liberal and National parties, to have always supported first home ownership. The first home guarantee that our government has introduced is helping tens of thousands of young Australians to get into their first home sooner than would've been the case, to stop rent, to start paying off a house, to have the economic and financial security that comes with owning your own home. We are incredibly proud of that achievement.
If you're a low- or middle-income earner, this budget gives you a one-off $420 bonus, but under the stage 3 tax cuts a millionaire will get an extra $9,000, not once, not twice, but each and every year. Why is lining the pockets of millionaires more important than helping ordinary Australians with the cost of living?
Senator Cox, you mentioned stage 3 tax cuts. Of course, they're stage 3 because we've already delivered stage 1 and stage 2. Stage 1 and stage 2 prioritised low- and middle-income Australians first and foremost. I know that if we have a change of government—heaven forbid!—at the next election it won't matter whether you're a low-income Australian or a high-income Australian you will end up paying higher taxes, which is evidenced from the fact that every one of Senator Cox's questions was about putting more tax on some of Australia's biggest income earners, more tax in relation to Australian property owners, more tax in relation to Australian workers. If the Greens have the ability to hold, as they will, the Labor Party—hold them to things in government—then the Australian Greens will be pushing for more taxes on Australian wages, more taxes on Australian housing, more taxes on Australian industry, and they will leave Australia far worse off.
ator BIRMINGHAM (—) (): Thank you, Senator Smith, for the question in which you seem to have assumed that there's only one measure in the budget papers relating to regional Australia when in fact there are many measures in the budget papers relating to regional Australia. Yes, there is one measure that is particularly focusing on resource and energy hubs and providing investment in terms of infrastructure and spending in those resource and energy hubs, but there is also support in other ways for regional Australia. Two billion dollars of the regional acceleration program, that Senator McKenzie spoke of before, will help ensure that whether it is across manufacturing or the skills agenda, or exporters from regional South Australia, they will have a greater opportunity in relation to accessing those areas of regional funding.
In relation to the infrastructure spending, I've noticed commentary in non-South Australian media, in the Financial Review or elsewhere, suggesting that South Australia is receiving a disproportionate share of infrastructure spending. In fact, up to 17 per cent of new infrastructure commitments are going into South Australia. So you have to be careful when you start trying to pick and choose in those regards, because what we've seen in relation to delivery of the North-South Corridor, investment in the South Eastern Freeway and support for the Horrocks Highway is that in South Australia there is a surge in infrastructure spending and investment supporting SA. Of course, in terms of our government, there is perhaps the most significant impact for South Australia, which is what we have done to turn around defence industry investment. Those opposite, when they were in government, commissioned zero vessels in terms of naval shipbuilding, versus, on this side, 70 vessels as part of a strategy supporting SA and WA.
Last month, the Liberal MP for Barker, Tony Pasin, blasted this government, saying that South Australians in the south-east of the state had felt 'kicked in the guts' and 'retraumatised' more than two years after they were 'forgotten' in the Black Summer bushfires. Why does the Morrison government keep turning its back on regional South Australians?
I do not accept the premise of that question at all. I just went through a number of the areas of investment for South Australia. In terms of generating further wealth for regional communities in South Australia, you need only look, for example, at one of our major manufacturing investments that we have announced and made. The new investment in plant protein will ensure that South Australian grain and legume producers have the opportunity not just to be exporters of their grains or legumes to the world but to benefit from value adding and to have a manufacturing industry that invests in higher-value products, generating more for our farmers and our regional communities. It's not just that investment in roads and other infrastructure; it is, of course, also that creation of new industries across SA which are making sure it will be stronger into the future.
As Mr Pasin said, during the bushfires South Australians in the south-east felt 'forgotten' and 'kicked in the guts' when they missed out on support. Now they've missed out on the $7.1 billion in regional spending. When even your own Liberal colleagues call out the Morrison government for retraumatising and forgetting South Australians and kicking them in the guts, why should South Australians feel any different?
South Australians should have confidence that what our government has done in supporting SA—investing in defence and infrastructure and supporting regions—has made a fundamental difference in job creation and economic opportunities. South Australians, like all Australians, are paying lower taxes thanks to our government. South Australian businesses, including small businesses, are paying lower taxes thanks to our government. South Australians, indeed, like others across the National Electricity Market, are paying lower electricity prices thanks to our government. Let's take that, for example. Electricity price averages, when the Labor Party was last in office, grew by 12.9 per cent, but under our government we've brought that back to 0.4 per cent throughout the life of our government, with, indeed, a reduction of eight per cent over the last two years. That means that, if you're in SA or elsewhere across the NEM, you get the opportunity, as a rural or regional person or anybody else, for more cost-effective living and business. (Time expired)
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business, a proud Western Australian, Senator Cash. Minister, how will this Liberal-National government's plan, as outlined in last night's budget, help Australian small and family businesses, who already provide more than four in 10 Australian jobs, to create more jobs for Australians and secure a stronger economic future for this country?
I thank Senator Small for the question. As always, I acknowledge Senator Small as one of those people who employ Australians. He runs a small business, Small's Bar, down in Bunbury in Western Australia. Senator Small, you're on the coalition side of politics, so you understand that small and family businesses are the backbone of the Australian community. They are the heart of our local communities. They employ nearly eight million Australians.
Currently in Australia we have more people in work than ever before. We have more people in work now than we did before COVID-19, and, of course, a lot of that has to do with the growth of small business in this country. Look at how small businesses themselves have embraced the policies that the coalition government put in place throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Employment in small business has grown by around 10 per cent since the beginning of the pandemic. That just shows you how resilient small businesses are in Australia and—in particular in Bunbury in Western Australia, where Senator Small comes from—how resilient small businesses are in rural and regional Australia.
What did the government do last night? We backed small and family businesses even further. They were already benefiting from the lowest tax rate in 50 years and record investment incentives under the coalition government. That is a stark contrast to what those on the other side offer. Under those on the other side, they were paying a tax rate of 30 per cent. They are currently paying a tax rate of 25 per cent; that is the lowest tax rate in 50 years. Last night, we invested further. In particular, we have invested a $120 tax deduction that they will get by investing in upskilling their workforce. For every $100 a small business spends on training their employees, they will get a $120 tax deduction back. (Time expired)
Minister Cash, in light of that outlining of the achievements of small and family businesses in Australia in doing what they do best—creating jobs, employing Australians and training Australians for future jobs—how does this budget, delivered by the Liberal-National government, ensure that Australia's small and family businesses continue to do what they do best, unimpeded by red tape and with easier access to support from this government that understands their needs?
Senator Small understands small business, so he understands in particular that investing in a skilled workforce ensures small businesses are able to prosper, grow and create more jobs for Australians. Senator Small also understands how important it is for the government to invest in small businesses so that they can embrace the digital revolution. You saw again last night the coalition government further investing in the capacity and the growth of small business. From budget night, every $100 these small businesses spend on digital technologies like cloud computing—we know how important that is—e-invoicing, cybersecurity and web design will now see them get a $120 tax deduction. That is getting them where we need them to be: in the digital age. We are also focused on cutting as much red tape as we can for small business, because when you cut red tape, small businesses prosper, they grow and they create more jobs for Australians.
We've heard a lot from Minister Cash on the strength of Australia's small and family businesses in providing those jobs and taking up the support that they get from this government to support the investment that underpins jobs, but the real question that faces this chamber—and, indeed, that the people of Australia will face very shortly—is: what are the risks to those jobs and economic opportunities if our small and family businesses in this country are not supported by a government that wants to see them prosper and grow?
I think it's pretty obvious to us on this side of the chamber what the greatest risk to small and family business is, and that is of course an Albanese Labor government. Why? It's because the closest most of them have ever come to a small business is to proudly close it down. That is unacceptable behaviour. When it comes to taxes, there's only one way that those on the other side go, and that is up. It is in their DNA. On this side, we know that the best thing you can do for small businesses is to lower their taxes. That is why, under the coalition government, they are paying the lowest tax rate in 50 years. Then you look at the alternative Prime Minister—
Government senators int erjecting —
As I said, when it comes to lowering taxes that is in the DNA of the coalition government. We lower taxes; you raise taxes. We look at small business and we say, 'You deserve more of what you earn, and we will give it back.' You, on the other hand—
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel, Senator Payne. Yesterday Minister Gee told the House that there was $96 million in the budget to clear up a backlog of veterans compensation claims. Can this minister tell the chamber in which budget paper and on what page that $96 million can be found?
I thank Senator Keneally for her question. I don't have that budget paper with me, but I will note that this government—and I will take that on notice therefore—invests over $11.5 billion each year to support 336,000 veterans and their families.
I am seeking to respond to what I regarded as perhaps, mistakenly, a serious question from those opposite. If it is not possible to respond to that question by indicating that I will take it on notice, return to the chamber and provide Senator Keneally with further information, then I'll decline to answer the question any further.
On the weekend, Minister Gee threatened to resign if he did not receive the $96 million in budget. He labelled the 60,000 unprocessed claims within his department a national disgrace. Why does it take a minister speaking out publicly and threatening to quit for Mr Morrison to take responsibility; and where is this $96 million?
I absolutely reject the propositions put by Senator Keneally in her question. As a government, we've invested over half a billion dollars to implement substantial changes to the Department of Veterans' Affairs processes and their technology, making it both easier and faster for veterans and their families to access services and support. We've seen the number of claims received by DVA double—in fact more than double—over the last three financial years, and that of course requires additional resourcing to manage and that's exactly what the Australian government is doing.
This budget has provided an initial $22.8 million which will fund 90 extra staff to address that backlog of unprocessed claims, and it will be followed by a further investment to continue to improve the veteran claims processing system and reduce waiting times.
As a nation, we have looked very closely at the support we provide to veterans and their families in this country. I want to acknowledge each and every one of them for their service and their families for supporting them as well. (Time expired)
When asked why it took Minister Gee threatening to resign for his government to provide the necessary funding, Mr Morrison said:
I wouldn't agree with that assessment.
Given the $96 million required to get through the 60,000 unprocessed claims appears nowhere in these budget papers, isn't it just the latest example of Mr Morrison not telling the truth to the Australian people and to his own colleagues?
Unsurprisingly, Senator Keneally is absolutely fundamentally wrong. But I'm from New South Wales, so I'm used to that, and the people of the electorate she's going to purport to represent at the next election are going to have to get used to that too. To be absolutely clear and in the absence of any facts from the other side, let me—
I began by saying, in my response to Senator Keneally's supplementary question, that she was absolutely and fundamentally wrong. That is completely pertinent to the question.
Honourable senators interjecting—
I do wish to indicate that, in addition to the funding I've already discussed and the funding provided in the 2021-22 budget of over $137 million, there is an increase of 447 APS positions across the DVA, taking the total to over 2,000 Australian Public Service staff. The additional funding and the average staffing level numbers received through this budget will be used to recruit additional APS staff, both ongoing and non-ongoing, across DVA. In the claims processing area this will take into account that absolute requirement to reduce the backlog to which Minister Gee has been so committed over two years, and it will ensure appropriate staff are available to maintain claims processing at a normal rate into the future as is required. (Time expired)