Senate debates

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Matters of Public Importance

Albanese Government

5:17 pm

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

A letter has been received from Senator Canavan:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The Albanese Labor Government's litany of broken promises; from cheaper power prices, to cheaper mortgages to no changes to super and no new taxes which demonstrate a betrayal of the Australian public's trust.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

While some might say the government is still in its honeymoon period, it has broken more promises than any newlywed in history. It's been only 10 months since the election, and I have a list of 10 broken promises from this government, one for each month in government. They're not little promises, either; they're not small ones, but they were all sweet nothings that the Labor Party whispered to the Australian people over a year ago, during the election campaign, to reassure them that it would deliver for them. Instead, the Australian people have been completely dudded and these promises have been completely broken.

At the top of the list is the oft-repeated promise to cut people's power bills by $275 a year. In fact, the now Prime Minister made that promise 97 times before the election. Ninety-seven times Anthony Albanese said to the Australian people that he would cut power bills by $275. Guess how many times he's repeated that promise since the election: zero, nada, zilch. He doesn't mention it anymore. It was a sweet nothing said before the Australian people walked down the aisle with the Australian Labor Party. Once the vows were said and the ring was on the finger, he completely forgot about it, as if he'd never said it before. Anyone who's opened up a power bill in recent months knows that they certainly haven't gone down by $275. My power bill hasn't. It's skyrocketed up, in the opposite direction, and now the Labor Party won't even give an inch of support to the fact that they made this promise.

The Labor Party also said there will be no changes to superannuation. The Prime Minister said that on radio many times. He said he had no plans. He said on 31 January last year, 'We have not planned for changes on superannuation.' In the last two weeks we've seen a doubling of superannuation tax rates for—we now know, thanks only to the Senate yesterday—10 per cent of Australians.

The now Prime Minister also said that he would increase real wages for the Australian people. In fact, a couple of weeks ago it was confirmed that we've had the biggest reduction in real wages in recorded history—another broken promise from this Prime Minister. We had a promise that there would be no increase in the tax burden. As I said, that has already been breached by the superannuation promise. We've also had the Treasurer out there in the last couple of weeks saying that he might tax the family home, too. He hasn't ruled that out of contention.

Who knows! Who could trust what you say here today, when you're definitely not keeping up with what you said last year.

The Australian Labor Party also promised that people's franking credits wouldn't be touched. Remember that? They wouldn't be touched. We learnt this week that they're back on the agenda to be taxed. When the Australian people elected the Labor Party last year, they thought they were getting Anthony Albanese as Prime Minister. They're actually getting Bill Shorten. All of these policies are what Bill Shorten took to the 2019 election. The Labor Party tried to drop and hide for the 2022 election, but Bill Shorten is back. He is back with his agenda of taxing superannuation and taxing franking credits, and, we expect, probably taxing the family home and investment properties in the future as well, like the Labor Party wanted to do in 2019, which was rejected.

The Labor Party also said there would be no return to industry-wide bargaining. That was removed late last year—another promise broken just before Christmas. They promised wage rises for aged-care workers. Like the rest of us, they're seeing their real wages go down. Mr Albanese promised that he would deliver cheaper mortgages for the Australian people. He promised cheaper mortgages, and then today, just in the last couple of hours, we saw the tenth increase in interest rates—nine on this government's watch. We've seen nine interest rate increases in the space of 10 months from this government, after promises of cheaper mortgages. Finally, he promised that Australian families would be better off. Clearly, with rising interest rates, rising power prices and increasing taxes, Australian families are not better off under this government. No-one could make that claim.

My opponents here will get up and say: 'There were all these problems. We've had the Ukraine war and all these things.' Guess when Ukraine was invaded: February last year, three months before the election. It happened then. Guess when inflation started peaking: about 18 months ago. He should have known that then. The Labor Party knew they were telling fibs to the Australian people a year ago. They tried to hide it. It's been exposed. Now they have a litany of broken promises that are going to be held around their necks until the next election, in two years, when the Australian people have their say on how they think broken promises should be treated.

5:22 pm

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

What a desperately written MPI from an opposition that couldn't even navigate their way back to port in calm waters, let alone when there's been a storm. Public trust in government has been at an all-time low after a decade of the Liberal coalition government. I will put up Anthony Albanese as Prime Minister against Scott Morrison any day. The Australian people finally saw through the Liberal coalition under Scott Morrison for their rorts, dishonesty and lies. They made their judgement based on what they had experienced for over a decade.

The Liberal coalition were caught out, time and time again, for the lies, the corruption and the rorts of grants. That is what this opposition will be remembered for, for some time to come. It's very unfortunate that those opposite have the audacity to come in here and make these claims in relation to broken promises when, in fact, the Australian people still see us as the government of hope, the government that will put their interests first and the government where they know the Prime Minister is the Prime Minister, not a prime minister who tries to take on other ministers' portfolios.

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

I have a point of order on relevance. It's not addressing the question that was put by Senator Canavan at all. Could you bring Senator Polley back to what the actual urgency motion is?

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

It is a wideranging debate and I'm sure that Senator Polley has addressed the issue and will continue to address the issue.

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

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President, for your protection from that. You always know that you're hitting a nerve when they take frivolous points of order that have no relevance whatsoever.

This gives me the opportunity to continue to talk about the trillion-dollar debt that those opposite left the Australian government of today. It's not just a problem of the Australian government. It's actually Australian people's debt that we have inherited from a lacklustre, dishonest, rorting government. They're the facts, so it doesn't matter how many times those opposite come into the chamber and want to rewrite history. They want to make everyone feel that they haven't been looked after or the promises that we made at election time have not been fulfilled. They know that they have cheaper medicines. They know that they have affordable child care. They know that we will be addressing climate change. They also know that there are 180,000 fee-free TAFE places.

When those opposite were in government they were very proud of the fact that they were running down TAFEs, with their state colleagues in Tasmania, and did nothing about building Australia's skills. They did nothing to protect manufacturing in this country—not a thing. Under the former government we saw manufacturer after manufacturer leaving this country and going overseas. Why? Because they were never on the job. Now they come in here and bleat about 0.5 per cent of the population who have $3 million in their superannuation funds. They're crying crocodile tears for those people, but they don't give a damn about the average Australian who has $120,000 or less in superannuation.

You never hear those opposite come in and defend Australian workers. We saw them do nothing to address the concerns about the crisis in aged care, where we can't get people to work. We didn't see them doing anything about legislating to bring more nurses back into aged care. We heard absolutely nothing. We heard nothing from them when it came to instilling the support of their government to skill up Australians. They did nothing for low-paid workers, and they come in here now and try to rewrite history.

The Australian people saw through them and they are still seeing them for what they were. I will guarantee one thing: history will actually hold Anthony Albanese, the Labor Prime Minister of this country, in much better esteem than history will ever show Scott Morrison and his government, with their rorting and dishonesty—and the fact that Scott Morrison had so much faith in his ministerial colleagues he took over responsibility for their portfolios! I mean, come on: give me a break. It is just ludicrous for those people to come in here and try and defend their record—the record of rorters, cheats and people who are dishonest with the Australian people. (Time expired.)

5:28 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the many different people across Queensland who make up our amazing Queensland community, I'm speaking to Senator Canavan's matter of public importance motion. This MPI quite fairly criticises the Albanese Labor government for their record of broken promises already, including a promise not to raise taxation and a promise not to change superannuation. The Prime Minister is now raising tax on unrealised earnings of large superannuation funds. Way to go! Labor are running a two-for-one sale on broken promises, just in time for the New South Wales state election, where 5½ million voters are going to ask themselves: 'Do I trust Labor with government? Will they keep their promises?'

To be fair, the Albanese government has not resorted to dividing promises into core and non-core promises—yet. But wait; it's early days. Their promise to bring down the cost of living is already broken. Today, Brisbane's Courier Mail newspaper reported that an average household in Queensland now has to spend an additional $1,150 a month to pay their bills and keep a roof over their head. That is a hell of a lot of money for everyday Australians to find every month.

The Labor government is wrongly trying to blame international pressures for gas price rises. Gas was already increasing rapidly before the Ukraine conflict. The gas price rise has nothing to do with war between countries and everything to do with the war on coal. As the government closes down energy-intensive coal power and introduces more weather dependent solar and wind power, the grid needs more and more gas to firm the supply and maintain reliable power.

Household gas is costing more as large electricity generators bid in the market for the gas they need to keep the electricity grid functioning. Increasing gas prices are demand inflation. Housing price rises are demand inflation. Four hundred thousand new Australians arrived in the last 12 months—400,000—all needing houses in which to live. Of course the price was going to rise. No wonder the Albanese government changed their election promise from 'cheaper power' to 'power going up less quickly'.

Every coolroom in every farm and dairy, and every Coles store and every other supermarket is now more expensive to run. Every bakery, restaurant, butcher, store and shopping centre is passing on huge increases in power prices. Mortgage repayments are rising because the previous government's money printing caused increasing interest rates. Labor went right along with those measures and is equally to blame for the inflation that that's now caused.

Last week, Treasurer Jim Chalmers recklessly, wrongly, uncaringly, claimed the worst of inflation is over. Really? On what basis? New South Wales voters should not believe that for a moment. Inflation is a direct result of this government's core energy and spending policies. And this government is not going away until 2025.

5:31 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I might begin by saying, of course, we have to discount a motion coming from the Liberal-National coalition around broken promises. It's a party that seems to think it's okay to lie to the Australian people to maintain cabinet-in-confidence, which we've just found out about in recent days. I want to say to the Labor Party: if the safeguard mechanism that you are bringing to parliament is your plan for climate action, that will be a broken promise to the millions of Australians who gave you and the Greens and the crossbench a mandate for change in this parliament, at this really important and absolutely critical time in history.

If the best we're going to get is an ex-Tony Abbott scheme, adopted from the Liberal Party and from Angus Taylor, Australians are going to be bitterly disappointed. They will see this as a broken promise when you campaigned on climate action. That's okay, because the Greens are here to help. It might feel like a thin green line, some days, but we are here to hold that line for the millions of Australians who voted for climate action and make sure that we put our communities, our country and nature first, and make sure that we get an outcome on reducing emissions.

The legislation that you are bringing to parliament and that we've had a good look at now does nothing to reduce emissions. It does nothing to act on our planet emergency. You can't fix a problem by making it worse. This is the greatest challenge of our time. Guess who said that? Yes, a former Labor prime minister. This is a chance to fix it. We're happy to work with you to make sure we have no new fossil fuel projects in this country. (Time expired)

5:33 pm

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

There are so many broken promises here to choose from but so little time to speak. It is very regrettable that there isn't more time. For the enjoyment of the chamber I'll focus on a couple that are known to me in some level of detail.

In the 2019 election there was a policy statement by the Labor Party that it would turn off refundable offsets and thereby, effectively, destroy franking credits for many retirees. This was an agenda put forward by Mr Bowen, now Minister Bowen. He said, famously, in a radio interview in Sydney that if people didn't like that policy they should vote for the coalition. That's what people did in 2019. This time, they've come back and tried to attack franking again.

Franking is a policy that the Treasury probably doesn't like. I'm sure Treasury's advice to the government is that they should try to damage franking, much to the chagrin of former prime minister Paul Keating. But rather than being upfront with the Australian people and saying, 'We want to stuff franking,' the Labor Party said they wouldn't touch franking. The quotes are really quite good. On 4 March 2022 Mr Albanese said in Perth that they were not touching them, when referring to franking credits. Just two weeks later he said, 'Labor won't have any changes to the franking credits regime.' The Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, told Queenslanders, when it came to tax: 'We won't be doing franking credits. We won't be doing them. I couldn't be clearer than that.' He's certainly doing them. He's doing them over. What we're seeing now is a very sneaky and underhanded way of taking on franking credits. Rather than remove the ability of the funds to receive them, they're trying to turn them off from the corporate end and are thereby trapping $86 billion in credits that are on balance sheets today.

The explanatory memorandum is very interesting. It says that if any entity has never previously made a distribution, then the entity will not have a practice of making distributions. That is the key test in this bill, that it will effectively stuff franking by removing the ability of a company to pay a franked dividend when it has raised capital—at any point in the past, possibly. The link between a company raising equity and then paying a distribution is going to be there in the bill. Therefore, the whole franking system is, frankly, at risk. This will have very serious consequences for Australia as a competitive jurisdiction. People will be less likely to invest in Australian companies. It will be harder for Australian companies to raise equity, and Australian companies will be more reliant on debt as a result of this change. The political point here is that the government should have been upfront and said, 'We are going to change franking.' Instead, they wrapped themselves in these promises. It's very disappointing.

The other, broader promise they made was not to touch super. Hilariously, there's a gentleman in the House named Mr Stephen Jones. He's the Assistant Treasurer. He gave an address to the SMSF Association. He said:

Anthony Albanese wanted me to deliver a particular message to everyone in the sector today. And it's about stability and certainty.

…   …   …

We want you to have peace of mind in your retirement. We want to make the case that your nest egg, your retirement savings are always going to be safer under Labor …

There you go. You couldn't make it up. That's a good quote, isn't it?

All the government has done since the election is move the goal posts. Clearly, there has been an agenda to try and feather the nests of their favourite rent-seekers, but this substantial tax change is really going to be a significant change to the system over the long term, because over the long term it's going to be younger Australians who will pay a much higher level of tax.

Yesterday we heard in this chamber that 10 per cent of people will be hit by the tax over the long term, and that in the short term it will be about 100,000 people. The point is that if you've gone to an election saying you won't change the tax settings on super and your promises last less than a year, it shows breaking promises is part of your DNA. Whether it's in this policy area or on climate or on a range of other things across the board, the government has shown itself to be very unreliable when it comes to making promises and keeping them.

5:38 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's unbelievably galling to be lectured to by those opposite on broken promises. The ridiculousness of it is that they actually made an art form of breaking promise after promise. Tony Abbott on election eve in 2013: 'No cuts to education; no cuts to health; no cuts to the ABC or SBS'—

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

That was 10 years ago.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll take that interjection from Senator Bragg as he leaves the chamber. Yes, it was 10 years ago, and then you just got better at lying over the 10 years. It got worse and worse.

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Hughes on a point of order?

Photo of Hollie HughesHollie Hughes (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

That was disparaging of a colleague. Can we ask that to be withdrawn.

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator O'Neill, I remind you that it is disorderly to cast aspersions on reasons why senators might be leaving the chamber during your remarks. I remind you of that in making your contribution.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw.

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator O'Neill.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I didn't know that was the bit that was offensive. I thought you were taking umbrage at me calling the former Prime Minister a liar, but, if this is just about Senator Bragg leaving the chamber, it's okay.

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator O'Neill, I would also remind you that it is best to be careful when using that particular word in reference to other members of the parliament. Please continue your remarks.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In 10 years, they made an art form of it. Four point seven billion dollars in funding to universities was cut, hundreds of jobs at the ABC and SBS were lost, and the former government scrapped the last two years of the Gonski reforms, and those were just the warm-ups. It just got worse and worse and worse. There were billions and billions in entrenched cuts that devastated the services that everyday Australians rely on, including the tearing up of $56 billion in funding under the National Health Partnership Agreement. Ask any Australian how hard it now is to get in to a doctor. Those were the kinds of broken promises that we saw day after day, year after year, during nine wasted years in Australia's history when we could have been really advancing on so many fronts. Mr Morrison was the PM with so many portfolios that he failed to do his day job and failed to fulfil his promises. He promised a religious discrimination bill, but his own party revolted against it. He promised a national integrity commission. He didn't even get up to bringing it into the parliament. He didn't even introduce it in the House. I don't have enough time to list the litany of pretences from the former government. So I'm absolutely not going to take any notice of the crocodile tears from those opposite when they come in here and talk about broken promises.

It's a joke to see the coalition going in to bat for the richest superannuation holders in Australia at the very same time that the scandalous robodebt program that they instituted is unfolding before the eyes of Australians in the royal commission. Minister after minister, day after day, has been admitting to covering up systemic theft, with debts being illegally raised against their own people. And they dare to come in here and have a go at a government that's actually making a positive difference in the lives of Australians. Let me tell you: when I'm out there, people are saying to me, 'I'm so relieved to wake up in the morning and not feel as if there's a disaster landing on my head.' That was the characteristic of the former government. People know that the former government were happy to send illegal debt notices out to hundreds of thousands of Australians, hound them with debt collectors and then systematically lie and bully their way out of accountability for this tragedy. It was supposedly to improve the budget bottom line, yet they've left Australian taxpayers with a trillion dollars in debt. That's their record in economic realities.

Labor, instead, is undertaking a responsible, orderly, predictable cabinet style government such as has not been seen in generations. We are making sure that we bring Australians along with us in facing the challenges that we face. The world changes, and our world needs a careful response from a government that pays attention to the detail. We know that fair and sensible measures need to be undertaken to restore our nation's finances. Those opposite think it's just fine for those people with millions and millions of dollars in super to actually pay a smaller marginal tax rate than a pay-as-you-go earner on a $44,000-a-year salary, and they think it's fine to borrow billions of dollars to keep in place those tax arrangements in super for people who have balances over $3 million.

Now, I love the endeavour of people to get into business, create jobs and get the benefits of business. If you've got $3 million in super, good on you. But, if you've got more than $3 million in super, I don't think you should be getting more of a tax break than is being applied with this option, at 30c in the dollar. I think there are people in your committee who probably need to be able to see a doctor. I think people need services from this government. People need services a lot more than somebody with $3 million needs the protection of those opposite, who are standing up for 0.5 per cent of Australians who are clearly not doing it that tough. We're going to continue on with our plan to support workers, families and small businesses with cheaper medicines, cheaper child care, wage growth and more paid parental leave—game-changing reforms that are real and will make a difference to the bottom line of families across Australia. (Time expired)

5:44 pm

Photo of Ralph BabetRalph Babet (Victoria, United Australia Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was elected to government in no small part because he insisted that his government would be one of integrity. In February 2021 Mr Albanese told the nation it was time to bring integrity back into politics. Well, it has been almost a year now and we're still waiting. Where is the integrity? Should we expect integrity anytime soon? Will Mr Albanese bring it back this year or perhaps next year? Perhaps in 2024 is when we will see the integrity. Now, don't tell us that the war in Ukraine means that the government can't do integrity anymore because we have used that as an excuse in this place for absolutely everything else. Or is integrity something that he needs the crossbench to support to deliver? Well, good luck getting the teals to agree to that one.

Do you know what's funny? The only thing that Mr Albanese talked about more than integrity pre-election was $275 off your power bill. Almost a year in we are still waiting to see a sign of integrity, and the cuts to power bills are nowhere to be seen. Perhaps when the PM promised integrity what he actually meant was dishonesty, like when he promised the $275 cut to power bills. He made that promise, might I remind everyone here, 97 times. Maybe he actually meant rises in power bills, not cuts—kind of like when he promised no changes to super. That's what he promised, but maybe what he meant was changes to super. Much like when he promised that Labor had a plan—a clear plan—for cheaper mortgages. Maybe he meant that the Labor Party would preside over 10 consecutive interest rate rises to now.

Less than 12 months into the Albanese government we are actually seeing quite a clear pattern: the government promises one thing, and the government goes and does something else. How is that for integrity? They say this, but they go and do that. The Prime Minister says you can absolutely, most definitely rule out changes to capital gains tax on the family home, just like he said you can rule out changes to superannuation, and then he goes and announces changes to superannuation and he doubles the tax rate. Why would you believe a word that this government says? Meanwhile, the Deputy Prime Minister was so confused by the constant changes to super policy—a policy that, of course, we were assured before the election wouldn't happen—that he couldn't answer basic questions when he was on Sky News recently with Peter Stefanovic. No wonder the Deputy PM was confused: he has no more faith in his government and their policies than the rest of us do.

It takes a special kind of dishonesty to promise integrity and then break so many promises to the people that believe the claims of integrity. Mr Albanese can sure walk across the harbour bridge in a pride march, but do you know what he can't do? He can't walk in a straight line; that's what he can't do. The Treasurer, 'super' Jim Chalmers, can write 6,000 words on remaking capitalism—that's what he did—but he'd be hard pressed to write 60 words on what it means to operate with integrity.

It's time that we bring integrity back to politics, Mr Albanese—it's time. We're all waiting for it. We're waiting for integrity from your government, just as Mr Chris Bowen is patiently waiting for his taxpayer funded Tesla—that's what he's waiting for. We're waiting for integrity from this government in the exact same way that Tanya Plibersek is patiently waiting for her chance to assume the top job. Actually, the way this government is going there is far more chance of seeing that than of seeing any integrity. Mr Albanese started with so much promise. What a pity he has not kept any of his promises. Does Mr Albanese not understand that democratic nations run on trust? The citizenry grant permission to government to exercise authority in exchange for a government's commitment to act honestly and to act fairly. That's the deal, and Mr Albanese has trashed that deal in less than 12 months. The litany of broken promises shows all of us that. Next election, vote differently.

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for consideration of the matter of public importance has expired.