Senate debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022


Excise Tariff Amendment (Cost of Living Support) Bill 2022, Customs Tariff Amendment (Cost of Living Support) Bill 2022; Second Reading

7:02 pm

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party, Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech es read as follows—


This Bill amends the Excise Tariff Act 1921 to halve the excise rate which applies to domestically produced petrol and diesel. This means the excise rates for petrol and diesel will fall from 44.2 cents per litre to 22.1 cents per litre.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has seen fuel prices increase, adding to the cost of living pressures faced by families and the cost of doing business. As part of Australia's plan for a stronger future, the Government is taking decisive, responsible and temporary action to reduce the pressure of high fuel prices on household budgets across Australia.

The temporary 50 per cent reduction in excise will apply to all fuel products, other than aviation fuels, for six months from 30 March 2022 to 28 September 2022. Existing indexation arrangements will still apply to the reduced rates in August 2022. At the conclusion of the six months, the excise rates will revert to the previous rates, including indexation that would have occurred on the full rates during the six months.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will continue to monitor the prices, costs and profits relating to the supply of petroleum products in the petroleum industry in Australia, to help ensure benefits are passed on to Australians. This standing direction from the Treasurer is currently in place until December 2022.

This Bill is complemented by measures in the Customs Tariff Amendment (Cost of Living Support) Bill 2022 and the Treasury Laws Amendment (Lowering Household Costs and Other Measures) Bill 2022.

Full details of the measure are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum.


This Bill supports Excise Tariff Amendment (Cost of Living Support) Bill 2022 by amending the Customs Tariff Act 1995 to halve the excise equivalent customs duty applying to imported fuels. This means the excise equivalent customs duty rates for petrol and diesel will fall from 44.2 cents per litre to 22.1 cents per litre.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has seen fuel prices increase, adding to the cost of living pressures faced by families and the cost of doing business. As part of Australia's plan for a stronger future, the Government is taking decisive, responsible and temporary action to reduce the pressure of high fuel prices on household budgets across Australia.

The temporary 50 per cent reduction in excise equivalent customs duty will apply to all fuel products, other than aviation fuels, for six months from 30 March 2022 to 28 September 2022. Existing indexation arrangements will still apply to the reduced rates in August 2022. At the conclusion of the six months, the excise equivalent customs duty rates will revert to the previous rates, including indexation that would have occurred on the full rates during the six months.

Full details of the measure are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum.

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

In the interest of time, I won't make any extended remarks; I'll just refer people to the second reading speech I gave for the previous bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Cost of Living Support and Other Measures) Bill 2022. The sentiments that we expressed in that speech apply here as well. We fully support providing Australians with cost-of-living relief. It's a shame that it's taken this government so long to recognise that people have needed cost-of-living support, it's a shame that it took an impending election before the government delivered cost-of-living support and, of course, it leaves unresolved the matter of wages stagnating under this government, but we are fully supportive of providing the cost-of-living support that this bill seeks to provide.

7:03 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll also be relatively brief, but I want to reflect on the fact that the opening of the Treasurer's budget speech last night was very grave. He said:

… as we gather, war rages in Europe.

The global pandemic is not over.

Devastating floods have battered our communities. We live in uncertain times.

Indeed, this parliament and parliaments and governments around the world are faced with these weighty issues, to which he could have added that we are living in an era when the planet's climate is breaking down around us. Yet, having set out in these Churchillian tones, the Treasurer proceeded to introduce a budget that, instead of rising to the gravity of the times and to the gravity of his opening remarks, is designed to do nothing more than get the government through to polling day in just a few short weeks.

The budget confirms that this government is completely devoid of a moral compass, 100 per cent transactional, politically and electorally desperate, and cynical to its core. The budget is nothing more than a money-for-votes pitch. Sure, people will be happy to see an extra $250 or $420 in their wallets or their tax returns, but, individually and as a nation, we'd be much better off if we had a government that actually addressed the weighty issues of our time and went about ensuring access to reliable, affordable and high-quality essential public services so that, in a country as wealthy, safe and prosperous as ours, no-one would actually need budget handouts on budget night just to help them pay next week's bills.

We'd also be much better off if we had a government which hadn't actively campaigned—as this government did in the last election—against the transition to electric vehicles. We all remember Mr Morrison three years ago doing his Chicken Little routine about electric vehicles being the end of the weekend. Well, how's the Prime Minister's weekend looking now? What's his solution? We've got a six-month cut to fuel excise proposed in this legislation. That could easily be wiped out overnight, before it even gets to the petrol pump, by a spike in global commodity prices and the endlessly voracious profit gouging of multinational oil and gas companies, who, let's not forget, have obscenely profited by contributing so massively to the breakdown of our climate.

So we've got temporary cash payments and a temporary cut to fuel excise. They both highlight that this government has no plan and no interest in addressing the fundamental cost-of-living pressures that people around the country are facing. Even with the temporary relief—and it's very temporary—that is offered by this budget, rents will still be going up thanks to this government giving $13 billion of tax breaks to property speculators in this budget so they can buy their third, fourth, fifth, 10th, 20th or 50th investment property. These tax breaks have turned what used to be regarded as homes for people into just another investment class. We will see medical expenses still going up, because this government is more interested in subsidising the profits of the private health corporations than it is in running a world-class public health system. We will see young people continuing to be priced out of a turbocharged housing market that is significantly increasing pressure on rents and pricing many people out of the rental market.

Young people will also still be saddled with crippling levels of student budget. In this budget, another $9 billion is added to the student debt in this country, thanks to a government made up of ministers who almost without exception got free university back in the day. We should be abolishing student debt in this country. That's what we should be doing, and we can afford it easily by making the big corporations and the billionaires pay their fair share of tax and ending the $10 billion that we see going every single year, including in the four out years of this budget, to direct public subsidies to burn fossil fuels. House insurance will continue to go up thanks to this government doing nothing to prepare cities and towns for the impact of climate change, whether that be floods, sea level rise or bushfires.

Meanwhile, what do we get in this budget? Confirmation that the millionaires and billionaires can look forward to a $9,000-a-year leg-up when the stage 3 tax cuts come into place. This is a budget where there are tiny cash handouts for people who are struggling to make ends meet. The $250 for people on business will lift a group of people out of poverty for two weeks and then plunge them straight back into poverty. Meanwhile, the billionaires get a $9,000-a-year tax cut in perpetuity. It's an utter, utter disgrace. For the rich and powerful, the billionaires, the big corporates—the planet cookers—the handouts in this budget are massive, just like they are in every budget each and every year that this government has been here. I will never forget—and I will never stop reminding the Senate of it—that the Prime Minister once infamously said: 'This government looks after its mates.' So it has in this budget, because this is a government of its mates, by its mates and for its mates.

The good news is that this country is less than 50 days away from kicking them out. We're going to see the back of this government that doesn't even believe in being a government. I genuinely hope that, when this parliament next convenes, we will have more Greens here in the Senate, and I believe we will, and that we will have more Greens in the House of Representatives as well, and I believe that we will. We actually have a positive vision for this country. With more Greens and with the Greens in the balance of power in the House of Representatives and the Senate, we can build more affordable housing; we can get rid of negative gearing and the capital gains tax concession; we can give people who are renting proper rights, so we can address the housing crisis head-on; we can get dental and mental health into Medicare; we can abolish student debt; we can keep coal and gas in the ground; we can restore a price on carbon pollution; we can protect the beautiful environment and the magnificent nature of this country; we can drive investment in clean energy; and we can make Australia a renewable energy superpower.

We need to do those things because, as the Treasurer said at the start of his budget speech, we are living in very challenging times. Our climate is breaking down around us. Economic inequality has been turbocharged. We are living through the sixth mass extinction event in the history of this planet. We need to take action to address those things. The budget did not take the necessary action, and that is because it is nothing other than a panicked scam—a desperate and cynical attempt to buy this government's way back into power. But what lets me sleep at night is that I know it's not going to work. I know it's not going to work because it is time that the Liberals are kicked out, and I genuinely believe the Australian people will do it this time around.

I hope the Australian people put the Greens in the balance of power in the Senate and in the House of Representatives so we can push the next government to go further and faster on those significant public policy areas that are the cause of some of the great challenges of our time.

7:13 pm

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McKim has actually started the theme that I wanted to talk about tonight. It was in this place only last night that Greens Senator Faruqi made the comment:

The Greens in the balance of power will push the next government to move further and faster to tackle the climate crisis, to end coal and gas, to do more on mitigation and resilience, and to protect people and the planet.

I don't know about everybody else, but that sounds like a done deal to me. Obviously those opposite and those at the end of the chamber have already got into bed together. They're already lining up to destroy industries, to destroy jobs, to turn the lights off and to kill regions like the Hunter. What else would we expect from a party that has the member for Shortland, who is from the very far Left of the Labor Party, busy hugging snowmen at COP26 whilst he's trying to shut down the industry that his entire electorate is based on?

This is absolutely appalling, and it is exactly why a Labor-Greens alliance is the most dangerous thing facing this country. And, if Senator Faruqi hadn't said it last night, we've just heard it said again by Senator McKim: with the balance of power and their Labor mates—already locked and loaded—they're going to shut down every coalmine, shut down every power station and kill off jobs. I'm off to the Hunter on Sunday and I'm now very much looking forward, even more than usual, to catching up with those industries—the defence industry that is absolutely striving to support our nation and the makers of the lithium-ion batteries being produced up in the Hunter. I'm looking forward to going to see the coalminers and the Newcastle ports, industries that sustain the entire Hunter region.

At one point in time the Labor Party purported to be the party of workers. Well, we know that's gone. And we're going to lose the member for Hunter. It's like the last great hope as Mr Fitzgibbon leaves the Labor Party, because at least he got it. We've lost Senator Kitching; she got it. The Otis group seems to be a bit quiet at the moment. Maybe they can't get a booking, or maybe they've stopped stocking The Godfather Too, so Senator Farrell won't go any more. But we very much look forward, hopefully in the coming weeks, to hearing from the Otis group—giving us some solace at some point—that coal is important to Australia, that energy production and fuel is important to Australia and that gas production is important to Australia. If you don't get that already, just go and have a look at what's happening in the Ukraine and Europe at the moment. It is absolutely irresponsible to suggest otherwise. We expect that from the Greens. We know that from the Greens. To their bed buddies who are all lined up with their power-sharing agreement, the Albanese-Bandt government: we know what's coming and we know how many jobs are going to be lost.

People are experiencing incredible hardship after COVID. That is coming out of an incredibly strong economy bounce-back, better than almost anywhere in the world, with a AAA credit rating. But people are still doing it tough. We know there are cost-of-living pressures, because we all do actually live in the real world. We actually do go in and turn our lights on and appreciate where that power comes from. But we know that Australians, real Australians, are experiencing cost-of-living pressures. And, again—here's a little bit of intellectual depth that we know is lacking around most of this chamber on the other side—a lot of those cost-of-living pressures are actually created by international factors. We've had supply chain issues because we can't get the ships and the planes, that used to bring so many goods into and out of our country, to travel. We've got the fuel issue being driven by the war in Ukraine. These are international levers.

But we as a government have taken responsible action in supporting everyday Australians by putting more money into their pockets. We know that when you have a job, it's the best thing that can happen for you. It's good for your confidence, it's good for your self-esteem and it's great for your kids to see it. We don't want to see a consistent welfare state. We don't want to see people on a lifetime cycle of welfare. We know that senators sitting over there want a living wage. We haven't heard what's coming from those on the other side. Are they backing a living wage too—backing a living wage so that we don't have people in work? But when people are in work, we trust them to keep more of their own money, because we know they can spend it the way they want to spend it. They can invest in their family and spend the money they earn much more efficiently than a group, a gaggle, a pair of bed partners that want to shut down entire industries.

I think we've all heard it today. We know it's all happening. The Australian public deserve to know what alliance you have set up, between the Labor Party and the Greens, what sort of backroom, secret, dodgy deals you're doing—I don't know, have you got a movie theme for that one as well? The Australian people deserve to know just how and when and how quickly—if you were to form government—you would kill off their jobs. That hubris is sneaking back in. We all remember the 'we're ready' photo. I'm really looking forward to the next one; I think it will be a cracker. And I'm sure we're going to have to have Mr Bandt in that one, because Mr Bandt is ready as well, to get into that power-sharing agreement. I think you might all find in a couple of months that Australians are going to understand that this government has taken them through COVID, has saved their jobs and has kept the economy strong.

We are seeing debt being repaid at a much faster rate, and one of the reasons for that which you might enjoy, Senator McKim, is the unbelievable commodity prices at the moment: iron ore, coal, thermal coal—love it!—and gas. Those commodity prices are what are going to bring the deficit down. But because some of us actually did pay attention in economics, we understand that. I think the Australian people are going to see it, because they do not want a bunch of economic illiterates who want to cut their jobs off and who bully their colleagues but don't look into that whilst jumping up and down, hypocritically. It's absolutely appalling and the Australian people deserve to know exactly what sneaky deals you guys have done.

7:20 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Excise Tariff Amendment (Cost of Living Support) Bill 2022 and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Cost of Living Support) Bill 2022.

If the government is defeated in May, its parting gift to all Australians is an increase in petrol prices in September and, of course, not keeping up with prices, a trillion dollars in debt and rising interest rates. Under this government we could see petrol prices and cost of living skyrocketing, and we're going to see working families falling further behind. We should also consider that before the Ukrainian-Russian war, before all the horrors that have been occurring in Ukraine, petrol prices were going up under this government.

When we start looking at dealing with the cost of living, particularly with the fuel excise, we start looking at my old industry, which I'll get to in a moment, the old transport industry, which I still take a deep interest in. There are some great companies, some wonderful owner-drivers and great employees which make that industry. Of course, I'm proud to say, as a union official, that I also represented the largest small business organisation in this country: the Transport Workers Union. They represent many, many thousands of owner-drivers across this economy. In actual fact, I think it's the largest small business organisation, even when you put all the other groups together.

What really strikes me when we start looking at what this excise tariff means for those drivers is that it costs $1,000 to fill up their tank and that the money they'll get back, approximately, is $88. That's $1,000 to fill their tank and they'll only get $88. How has this government helped the cost of living for small business? Firstly, they got rid of the right for owner-drivers to negotiate collectively for agreements—that was only a number of years ago under this government. Then they said they would put something in place to make sure that there wasn't devastation across the industry. Of course—surprise, surprise!—nothing has been put in place at all to effectively give rights back to those owner-drivers, those small business people, which were stolen by this government.

What's particularly galling when we start looking at the exploitation that's happening in that cost-of-living question for owner-drivers as small business people is the consequences of the death and injury rates. When you're in a supply chain—and this is a bit of a lesson for them—you have the employer at the top, reaping all the benefit and contracting out, and contracting out and contracting out what is fundamentally the same work. The people at the bottom, who are often those hardworking owner-drivers, are the ones who are forced to take the price they're given. They're not price-makers, they're price-takers.

This is the exact same thing when you look at Uber, when you look at the gig economy in transport. These people, these hard workers, are not price-makers, they're price-takers. They don't have the capacity to bargain collectively. And what are the consequences? Five people dead across the eastern seaboard from delivering food. And those are the ones which have been reported. In further reports as a result of forensic pursuit by the Labor Party in New South Wales, there were hundreds upon hundreds of injured workers each year who were not identified to WorkCover in New South Wales. So there are hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of serious injuries across the gig industry in food delivery for one company, Uber—the one they defend, because, don't forget, they reckon that those Uber workers can negotiate. If they don't like it, they can just take their labour somewhere else. When you've only got the option of starvation wages and starvation, then you take starvation wages.

This government simply and fundamentally does not care. And for those who do care, there is a solution. For those who are in this chamber, in the Senate, there are solutions. The solution isn't $88 to those owner-drivers; the solution is about having a plan, not a one-off payment. It isn't necessary for us to turn around and make sure that we have proper regulation to equalise bargaining rights between employers and those supply chains; to make sure we deal with the cost-of-living pressures; to make sure that we actually have a plan to make sure small businesses aren't being done over; and to make sure those people who are in the most exploited industries have rights, the rights that we all enjoy, because we actually don't have the will to turn around and give legislative protections.

This government needs to turn around and decide that the Oliver Twist approach to wages is no policy at all—going to the governor with your bowl and saying, 'Please, can I have some more?' Surprise, surprise, the governor says, 'No.' And what do you do? You go back to your seat. Well, that's not the sort of country that we should have here. We should have rights for working people to be able to argue for decent wages. This is not an anti-company position; it's actually supporting good business. Because there are lots of good businesses out there, including in the gig industry, that want further regulation; however, they can't do it unless there's proper competition, proper regulation and fairness in the market.

The Oliver Twist approach by this government just does not work. As recently as 22 March, Ben Butler in a report—and this was reported in a number of other places as well—on the Reserve Bank said:

Real wages have been stagnant in Australia for almost a decade, frustrating Lowe, who said he would 'like to see some bigger increases'.

And what's the government's plan for that? No plan. No strategy. No way to make sure the middle-class are putting workers, small business people and its employees in jobs that are vital. All they can think of is, 'Gee, I tell you what: wages are really going up for the executives in those finance companies. They're really going up for some sections of the market. They're really going up for that top one per cent, but they are not going up for everybody else across this economy.' They've got more job insecurity, they've got lower wages and, under this government's plan, they'll have even lower wages.

7:28 pm

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the Excise Tariff Amendment (Cost of Living Support) Bill 2022 and of course it forms part of the federal government's budget delivered yesterday by Mr Frydenberg.

The budget does something very important for all Australians. It acknowledges the challenges that households are facing right now as our market adapts to many of the challenges that have put inflationary pressures on prices; the concerns emerging from Europe and the Ukraine; and the impact on fuel prices. The impact on the cost of transport and its impact on groceries and household bills is something that we acknowledge in this budget, something that we empathise with and something that we understand. So, there is action to reduce the cost of living now, whether one looks to the cost of fuel which, by halving the fuel excise for the next six months, means a household with two cars that fill up once a week will find themselves around $700 better off during that period. Whether it's about the cost-of-living tax offset—$420 that means more than 10 million low- and middle-income earners in this country will find themselves better able to cope with those increased costs of living. We'll have pensioners, carers, veterans, jobseekers and eligible self-funded retirees and concession card holders better equipped to handle the price fluctuations we have seen due to that international change.

We're also taking important steps to make sure that more Australians can afford the cost of a home. We know and we understand just how important that ambition of Australians to be able to save for and get into a home of their very own is, including ensuring that that's not something that's out of reach for people who are single parents. We're more than doubling the home guarantee scheme to 50,000 places per year, knowing that the enthusiasm for this program in its early years has been through the roof. Helping more Australians get into their own home, get out of the cycle of renting and own their own little piece of Australia is a big part of how we are showing that we understand the pressures that are on people to manage those cost-of-living pressures every day.

But we're not just dealing with the here and now. We also have in this budget a long-term plan that is about building the kind of strength in this economy that delivers job and wage growth for the long term, and that is something every Australian benefits from. With $2.8 billion invested to increase the take-up and completion rates of apprentices, we will see more skilled people in the workforce. There will be 800,000 people supported into training places as a part of this budget. With support for small businesses to get supersized tax deductions for every dollar they're prepared to spend investing in the skill sets and training of their employees—investing in the software, the technical and electronic infrastructure needed to improve productivity, to improve cybersecurity and to improve efficiency of their business—they can get benefits of up to $100,000 a year per business if they are prepared to double down on their investment in the jobs of their team, in the growth and in the contribution that they make to our economy.

We're investing hard in local manufacturing. Of course, we've made enormous progress in developing the kind of specialised and high-skill manufacturing in Australia that remains an area in which we can be very competitive despite the comparatively high labour costs that we have in Australia. It is going from strength to strength. With support for greater commercialisation of the research that is being done in enormous quantities, particularly in partnership between our universities, the CSIRO and industry, we are driving the commercialisation and the manufacture of new technologies, whether those are in energy, medical supplies, defence or other high-priority areas for this country. Importantly, agriculture and energy are core to this manufacturing strategy. It's all about making sure there is a steady stream of high-value intellectual property developed here in Australia so that income from new patents developed here can be taxed at almost half the rate that ordinarily applies. That means this country will become a really attractive destination for people to set up shop, do their research and development and forge a manufacturing enterprise.

Our regions are a big part of the story of the coalition government's vision for the future growth of our economy. Investment in our regions is how we ensure that we give great opportunities to people who live outside our cities, who we know ordinarily have fewer opportunities from which to choose. It is how we harness the enormous gift that we have in the size and richness of the mineral and land wealth of this country. And it is how we ensure that people, no matter where they live in this great country, can have not only the same aspiration to have a great job and afford a home they can be proud of but also the expectation of high-quality services. By building the wealth of this nation, by harnessing both the human talents and the natural talents of our regions, we can make sure that there is opportunity for all in this country from the strength of our economy.

All of this makes possible something that is really important, and that's our safety net. We're able to guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on because of the strength of our vision for our nation's economy for the long term. Of course, we have guaranteed Medicare. We have funded our health system at increasing levels every year under our government so that now health spending is at a record high. In last year's budget there was a landmark $2.3 billion investment in the mental health of Australians and in suicide prevention, and in this budget we have built on that commitment further.

We heard today in the debate on the Women's Budget Statement just how much the prosperity, the safety, the health and wellbeing, and the leadership of Australian women is vital to this economic story. That is something the women of this country, who now face almost the lowest gender pay gap ever and the highest workforce participation they have ever seen, are benefiting from now. And the families of this country will continue to benefit, with more support for child care and more flexibility in paid parental leave than we have seen in the past.

I could keep going but I think the point is clear: we are able to guarantee the essential services that Australians depend on because we have a strong plan for our economy to deliver opportunity for all. What that means is fewer Australians who need our support in welfare. Those very same people not just are getting the dignity of a job, not just getting the pride, the skills and the camaraderie that comes from having work to go to every day; they also become contributors to this country in the sense of making contributions to the tax system. They are net givers rather than takers. That is what we need to make sure we can guarantee the essential services on which Australians rely for the very, very long term.

Finally, this budget makes it possible for us to make a record investment in the security of this country. As we face a less certain world, as we observe geopolitical tensions in Europe and elsewhere, it is more important than ever that we invest in the good men and women of our defence forces, that we grow our capability to protect our shores, and that we prepare our cybersecurity, in both the governmental and defence senses but also to assist industries to cope with changing dynamics on that front. Our cybersecurity investment in this budget puts us on a robust footing in this new frontier for international conflict. So it's in that context that I look with great optimism to what is ahead for Australia. These bills play such an important part in realising that vision, delivered so well by Treasurer Frydenberg yesterday. We look forward to not just sharing it with the Australian people in the days and weeks ahead but delivering it—delivering it today, tomorrow, next week, next month and for the years and decades ahead.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.