Senate debates

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Answers to Questions

3:04 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers to all questions asked by Coalition senators.

What we saw in question time today was a Labor Party who have fundamentally failed to understand that they've broken their trust with the Australian people. We've seen them break one promise, and we know they're going to break more promises. If they're going to go after people with $3 million in their super account, what's to stop them going after people with $250,000 in their super account? That is what this is all about. It is about the fundamental breach of trust between a political party elected into office and those who voted for them.

The Labor Party are forgetting the main principle of super. It's not the Labor Party's money. It's not the government's money. It's not Canberra's money. It's your money. It's money that you've put away. It's money that your employer has put away on your behalf so you can have a safe retirement. Over the last few weeks, the Labor Party, who went to the last election promising one thing, have now swooped in like a bunch of angry magpies, wanting to steal people's money from them. That's what this debate is about. It is about the Labor Party taking your money from you. Before the election, the now Prime Minister specifically ruled out any changes to the super system; that is what the Prime Minister said. Treasurer Chalmers said the same thing: 'There are not going to be any changes to taxes; there will be no tax rises.' But they are doubling the tax on people's super accounts.

Treasurer Chalmers has inherited an eccentric economic legacy. He is a child of Paul Keating. Treasurer Chalmers did his PhD on Paul Keating, who most famously broke a promise. Before an election, Keating said that tax cuts would be 'l-a-w law' tax cuts, and then he broke that promise. Treasurer Chalmers then went on to great heights and worked for that other great Labor Treasurer, Wayne Swan. He was his deputy chief of staff and then chief of staff. This is the person who is now in charge of Australia's finances. Treasurer Chalmers is the love child of Paul Keating and Wayne Swan. If that doesn't scare you, then the full realisation that Labor are coming after your super accounts should scare you.

What a Labor minister has said in relation to your super accounts is that it's honey—just think about that. I'm a big fan of Winnie-the-Pooh, and Winnie-the-Pooh is a great fan of honey, but that's Winnie-the-Pooh's honey. How dare the Labor Party treat your money—the money that you've worked so hard for—as their money, their honey, to be given away, to be put where they want it? Leave people's money alone. I don't know anyone who has millions of dollars in their super account, but—guess what—good on them! They've worked so hard for it. It's not like they won Gold Lotto and went, 'Yippee, I've got $3 million in my bank account!' These people worked for it. What the Labor government is saying to these Australians is, 'We're taking that money off you.'

What should concern you even more—and I'll repeat myself here because certain people in this building are hard of hearing; they've probably come from the shallow end of the gene pool and don't understand basic economics—is that, if they're going to come for super accounts with $3 million, they're going to come for super accounts with $250,000 or $300,000. Once they break a promise, they'll break other promises. The strongest message that has come out of today's question time is that Labor have no shame whatsoever about breaking promises and they have no shame about taking your money—money that you and your family have worked so hard for. But the mob over there, the mob on the Left side of politics, don't understand that, because they've never had a real job. These are the people who've never worked on a farm, have never worked in a business. These people have worked in the Public Service—and by the way, good on people who work in the Public Service, except when you end up on that side, being that bunch of economic vandals who are destroying Australians' retirements.

3:10 pm

Photo of Jana StewartJana Stewart (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to start by thanking Senator David Pocock for advocating for people who actually need government support, and that is people who are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of experiencing homelessness—

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Scarr?

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order on relevance—

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, I think the honourable senator hasn't had long enough to make—

Photo of Jana StewartJana Stewart (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

To talk about a different question.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Stewart, I'm handling it. I don't require assistance from you. I'm handling a point of order. So, just let me finish it, and then I'll give you the call in a moment. Senator Scarr, the senator hasn't had long enough to even attempt to be relevant. Senator Stewart.

Photo of Jana StewartJana Stewart (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. I'm getting there; I'm getting there. I was thanking Senator Pocock for advocating for people who really need help from the government—unlike the hill that those opposite are going to die on for 0.5 per cent of the population who have over $3 million in their super balances. It is an absolute disgrace. This is the hill they want to die on—but sure. There are some sensible questions coming from over here, but over there is absolutely ludicrous. We know what side they've chosen, and it is not the side of the Australian people.

We know that the tax changes they made to superannuation affect one in three people—four per cent of the population, but it will affect one in three people in 30 years time. But sure: have a crack at us. They don't want to support things that will actually ease cost-of-living pressures for Australians, like cheaper child care, cheaper medicine, skills, housing. They're focused on 0.5 per cent of the population. The people they're advocating for wouldn't necessarily care a whole lot about these things. They don't care about secure jobs. They don't care about Australian manufacturing. They don't care about affordable housing, power bill relief or wage increases for the lowest-paid workers across our economy, or veterans at risk of homelessness, women fleeing family violence or businesses looking for energy security. They don't care about any of these things, but they're advocating so, so hard for 0.5 per cent of the population.

It wasn't just Labor who inherited $1 trillion of debt from the absolutely derelict management of the budget. It's the Australian people who inherited that debt. Australian taxpayers are having to pay for the trillion dollars of debt they left them. So, I just want to make sure that we understand the problem that we are facing as a country and that Australian taxpayers are having to pay the bill for. It is an absolute neglect of responsibility on their side.

What's been really clear over the past couple of weeks is whose side they are really on. They're on the side of 17 people who have over $100 million of super. That's whose side they're on—not the side of the average Australian person. And they're on the side of the one person who has $400 million of super. But they want to absolutely try to deny a $1-an-hour wage increase for our lowest-paid workers—$1 an hour is all those workers were asking for. Those opposite want to absolutely say that that's off the table, but they want to go in hard and die on a hill for people who have over $3 million in super balances. What an absolute disgrace. They want to be on the side of 0.5 per cent of the population. It's worth saying that Labor built super. We will always protect it. We know that those opposite have a whole lot of things that they want to say no to: secure jobs, Australian manufacturing, affordable housing, power bill relief and wage increases. But what they want to say yes to is borrowing billions of dollars to give 0.5 per cent of Australians a tax break.

This measure will give the budget $2 billion in its first year. Those opposite have no solutions, no ideas and no alternatives—just 'no'. Their idea for trying to repair some of the damage done to the budget is to go after some of our most vulnerable Australians. Of course I'm talking about robodebt. Alan Tudge said:

We'll find you, we'll track you down, you will have to repay those debts and you may end up in prison.

They try to track down some of our most vulnerable Australians but they advocate hard for those with over $3 million in their superannuation.

3:15 pm

Photo of Andrew BraggAndrew Bragg (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make some remarks in relation to Senator Gallagher's answers during question time today. The current government made a number of promises before the election about not wanting to touch super. Several statements were made on the record. Further to that, statements were made about not wanting to touch franking credits. This week we've seen legislation introduced to change franking credits, to destroy the franking system, and a new policy to introduce a new tax on super. All of these ideas may have been developed in the treasury department. The government are facilitating these ideas because they are not wanting to restrain spending, which is what they should be doing. They're spending $45 billion on off-balance-sheet items, which is fuelling inflation. And we've seen another interest rate rise today, thanks to the Labor Party. The government could also be looking to bank their gains from commodity price increases, but rather than do that they've decided to introduce this new tax.

So far, the government have had two policies on super. The first policy has been to funnel more money to the unions and the second policy has been to put in place a new tax. If they're not locking it up and taxing it, they're locking it up and shipping it off to the union. Those are the two policies the Labor government has on super. In relation to this particular taxation measure, it introduces a very novel, very strange concept of unrealised gains. If you're a company, you don't pay tax on revenue and you don't pay tax on sales; you pay tax on profit. You deduct your expenses from your revenue and that is your profit, and you pay tax on that profit. The same thing goes for the super funds today. They pay tax on earnings, which recognises that it's very hard to pay a tax if you haven't actually got some money in your hand to pay the taxman. But the government want to pursue this very strange idea of unrealised gains, which will result in superannuants having to sell lumpy assets in their funds in order to pay the taxman. That is a foreign concept in Australian taxation law. It remains to be seen how that will happen.

Perhaps the most important point, though, is the judgement call not to index this measure. For the party that say super is their favourite thing, this is the thing that is going to wreck the system, because why would anyone want to put money into a system for 30 or 40 years when they know there's going to be a great big tax at the end of it? If you are 30 years old, you are going to be in the cohort that will have the greatest tax disincentive because of the time value of money. If the measure is not indexed, why on earth would people put money into a super scheme? If I wanted to wreck the system—and I personally think it's a very bad system because it doesn't work very well for workers or for the taxpayer—I would do what the Labor government is doing, which is to not index the scheme. Increasingly, Australians will look at other ways of saving for retirement.

One of the great differences between us in this chamber is that we believe in the individual. We believe that Australians are smart enough to make their own judgements. The Labor Party believe in paternalism, and they think people are too stupid to save for themselves, so they have introduced—

Government se nators interjecting

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order on my right!

Photo of Andrew BraggAndrew Bragg (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I can't hear over the interjections, Deputy President. You might need to bail me out.

Of course, the Labor government believe in paternalism. They think people are too stupid to save for themselves, so they've introduced this saving scheme which takes away—

Honourable senators interjecting

I can't hear over the interjections, sorry.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order on my right. I can't hear the senator.

Photo of Andrew BraggAndrew Bragg (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I can't hear meself think here!

They've introduced the system, and it's very paternalistic. Now I think they're going to kill it with this design feature. Of course, this new tax policy works in tandem with Mr Stephen Jones's initiative to introduce an objective for super, which, of course, the government want to introduce to stop people from taking money out when there is an emergency, like a pandemic, or to take money out to pay for a first home deposit, because their only objective here is to keep the money in the fund so that it can be transferred to the union. In the government for vested interests, the only objective is to feather the nest of the rent seekers and the bloodsuckers at the unions and at the super funds. They don't give a rat's about the workers.

3:20 pm

Photo of Fatima PaymanFatima Payman (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Bragg, I can't believe you just said that it's wrecking the system. Senator Hume earlier mentioned something about how this is another tax credit to prop up rampant spending. Can we just get to the facts straight here? Those opposite seem to be thinking increasing wages of our lowest paid workers is rampant spending. Are you saying that increasing paid parental leave is rampant spending? Are you saying that cheaper medicine to help all those vulnerable Australians is rampant spending? Are you saying that accessible and affordable housing is rampant spending? And now you walk away. Listen to this: are you serious?

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Point of order—

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Payman, I got the point of order. You cannot reflect on the movement of a senator.

Photo of Fatima PaymanFatima Payman (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw. Have a great day, Senator Bragg!

Getting back to the context of the matter—I am having too much fun, clearly—we will not allow those opposite to lecture us on honesty and transparency. This is a modest and meaningful change that has come before the government, which was elected by the Australians as a responsible government to fix up the mess that we were left with, a trillion dollars in debt. And not only that, there was a decade of delay, denial, destruction—that is, triple-Ds on your report card—but debts in the trillions as well. I don't think your parents would be happy. Stop blaming COVID for your poor policy choices. You had a decade. What did you do?

Photo of Jana StewartJana Stewart (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Rorts and waste!

Photo of Fatima PaymanFatima Payman (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Exactly—thank you, Senator Stewart. Those opposite love spreading fear. They don't realise that this change is not going to affect 99.5 per cent of Australians out there—99.5 per cent. These are Australians who are doing it tough out there with the cost of living, the rising pressures that are on their families and—

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

It's 10 per cent.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Henderson, please don't—

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Just ignore the interjections.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong!

Honourable senators interjecting

It's not a discussion. I am very interested in what Senator Payman is debating in the chamber. Can we please allow her to speak in silence.

Photo of Fatima PaymanFatima Payman (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's fewer than 0.5 per cent of Australians with super balances of $3 million who will still enjoy generous tax concessions, but they're not as a generous as they have been—and I do not think that is asking for a lot, when we are talking about what the government has delivered so far for people who are doing it tough out there, including making medicines cheaper, creating 180,000 fee-free TAFE places, delivering on the 20,000 new university places, establishing 10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave, making sure that we had the Jobs and Skills Summit to hear from stakeholders, to hear from locals about what issues in those industries we needed to address.

We have established the National Anti-Corruption Commission, we have got wages moving again after a decade of stagnation that we have experienced, and we hear from those opposite that all of this has been rampant spending—it's rampant spending to take some sense of responsibility and to actually fix the mess? It's really tough to just sit there and hear all that.

Senator Stewart earlier quoted one of your leaders; I don't know if it's appropriate for me to mention their name. But last week we heard the member for Fadden admit to the royal commission that he lied about robodebt because loyalty to his colleagues mattered more than what it did to Australian people. So many Australians suffered under the scheme. For what? What a perfect summary of their entire time in government: loyalty to themselves and not to the Australian people. You sit here thinking that Australians should listen to you, to your scare campaign, to you neglecting them and putting yourself first. It really is a matter not just for shame but for you to really reflect. I would highly advise that those opposite really reflect on the last decade that they've been in government and what they've done with that time. Maybe take a leaf from our book on what we've achieved in the short time we've been in power.

3:25 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd say to Senator Payman: I've got my own library and I don't need to take a leaf out of anyone else's book. But I did enjoy seeing her having fun making her contribution here today, and I acknowledge her contribution.

There are two fundamental issues we have in relation to this issue of the superannuation changes. The first is the legitimate expectation of the Australian people that people who are elected in this place, especially if they're from the governing parties, will say before an election what they plan to do and then actually do it and also will say before an election what they're not going to do and then not do it. That's the first issue we have.

Let's go through it chronologically. This is all on the public record. Prime Minister Albanese said on 31 January 2022:

We have not planned for any changes on superannuation.

Barely one year later, promise broken. Our Treasurer, the Hon. Jim Chalmers, member for Rankin, said:

Look, we've said about superannuation that we would maintain the system.

Our Treasurer said that on ABC Insiders on 27 March 2022, less than 12 months ago—promise broken. And then our Prime Minister again:

We've said we have no intention to make any super changes.

That's our now Prime Minister, speaking on 2 May 2022—promise broken.

That is the fundamental issue in this debate: broken promises from the now Labor government. They said in opposition that they wouldn't do certain things. They get into government. Less than 12 months later, they do exactly what they promised not to do, and that will quite legitimately shake the Australian people's belief in the integrity of this new government. They have said one thing before an election to get elected and then done the opposite thing after an election. To be frank, it impacts all of us. It impacts all politicians, because we all suffer a bit when someone makes a promise before an election and doesn't carry it through. That's the fundamental problem we have here: the government saying one thing in opposition and doing the opposite when they get elected.

The second issue we have here is the notion that you should tax unrealised capital gains. I don't know where this concept came from, but it doesn't make any sense. In superannuation, you want to keep your investments stable over the longer term. You shouldn't be forced to sell them in order to meet a tax liability. It doesn't make any sense. I don't know where the government got this advice from.

My colleague Senator McKenzie asked a very legitimate question of the finance minister with respect to the position of farming families who hold the family farm in a self-managed super fund. It's quite reasonable that tax is paid on the rent that's paid by the individuals to the self-managed super fund which owns the farm. No-one's going to quibble with that. We wouldn't cavil with that at all.

The problem under the laws as proposed is that, if the price of the farm fluctuates upwards because of high rainfall, good markets et cetera, it could create a tax liability which would require the liquidation of the farm in order to meet the liability. That is the fundamental issue. And it isn't just me saying this; it is the National Farmers Federation. These are not the words of a politician, but the words of the peak body representing farmers. It said:

Australia's peak farming body has warned that superannuation changes announced by Treasurer Jim Chalmers could cool investment in agriculture, unless the detail is worked through with farmers.

…   …   …

"Yesterday's announcement throws up significant uncertainty for family farms—with scant detail on things like grandfathering, treatment of revaluations, or how this might impact lending in a climate of rising costs and interest rates.

These are not my words. They are not the words of a politician but those of the peak body representing farmers. The farmers in my home state of Queensland deserve to get answers from the Minster for Finance in relation to those questions.

Question agreed to.