Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 February 2024

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Answers to Questions

3:03 pm

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of answers given by ministers to questions without notice asked by coalition senators today.

Obviously, I want to come to this issue of the Taipan helicopters. The minister has correctly advised that the government is responding in accordance with the briefs provided by Defence. But I would offer the evidence that appeared last week, with the photographs of helicopters largely intact in hangars at Townsville, and the subsequent confirmation that, while they are not flyable at the moment because of the removal of some parts, they are largely intact and they are still airworthy. It is common practice during Defence servicing of aircraft, including helicopters, for parts to be removed and then reinstalled. In fact, the disposal plan that Defence has talked about goes to the issue of the removal of parts for sale. I know from my experience dealing with the airworthiness system in Defence that, for another nation to buy those parts, they will need to be assured that they have been removed by qualified technicians in accordance with approved processes, which means that the aircraft are still airworthy and, just like at the end of a servicing period, parts can be replaced.

Now, Minister Conroy has made the comment that it would be beyond a reasonable expectation that Australia should put these aircraft back together. I disagree with that, but, even if you accepted that, the request from the Ukrainian government makes it clear that they would work with their NATO allies, including Germany and France, who take a lead in the NATO or European defence contact group for Ukraine, and they are two of the founders of the NATO helicopters industry group, which produces the helicopters and operates them on behalf of NATO countries. They are partners in Airbus, who have people in Europe who are supporting the same type of helicopter, and those helicopters are (a) operating safely and (b), as we see even through people like New Zealand, getting far higher rates of serviceability than the Australian Army, for whatever reason, managed to get here.

For the Defence Force here to say that they don't think this is a suitable platform for Ukraine, who are showing themselves remarkably adept at taking on a range of platforms, from fast jets to precision guided weapons to unmanned seaborne systems that are having great effect against Russian forces—I think it's the height of arrogance to say that we don't think that they are up to handling these helicopters when clearly other nations have been able to actually operate them more effectively than we have. They're operating safely, and the Ukrainians have done their homework and indicated in their formal request that they believe they can work with their European partners to operate these aircraft in an aeromedical, casualty evacuation role, which has been proven ever since the Vietnam War to be a key factor in saving lives.

It is a real issue for the Ukrainians. Some hospitals—for example, a hospital in Dnipro—are doing between 50 and 100 operations a day. This hospital alone has performed more than 3,000 amputations, committing soldiers to a life of disability, whereas the medical science shows that early intervention, getting people to medical facilities and surgical support early not only saves lives but, importantly, prevents some of the disability outcomes that result, in particular, from the blast injuries that we are seeing in Ukraine. If Defence don't believe that they have the money, the manpower or the time to get the aircraft, which are in Townsville, largely intact, back into a flying state given they are already airworthy, the option is to just donate the airframes as they are to the Ukrainians, who can then work with their European partners to put the tail rotor gearboxes and other parts which are being apparently sold to NHIndustries, who are the people who actually work in Europe. They would have the airframes, the parts and the workforce to work with the Ukrainian government to make these aircraft available. So there is nothing for the Australian government or the Australian Defence Force to fear in terms of cost implications of donating the airframes, because the Ukrainians have indicated they will work with other partners to get them airworthy.

I am bemused—in fact, I am alarmed—by the attitude that has been taken, which appears to be a mindless adherence to a decision that was taken some months ago. Despite the new information in the request from Ukraine that they consider their position to be that they can operate them safely and effectively with the support of their allies—despite the fact that it will save lives—it appears that organisations here are perhaps more concerned about saving face than they are about saving lives. That is not the Australia I know. That is not the Australia that has put its shoulder to the wheel many times to support like-minded nations—particularly here, where we're seeing such a great loss of life and injury to their population as they fight against totalitarian regimes in order to protect the democracy that we share and want to preserve.

3:10 pm

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make my contribution on this take-note motion, in relation to the wonderful position that the Albanese Labor government has made in relation to the tax cuts. I'm very excited for Australians to be able to see the benefits that will flow on to them and their families. Our plan means that every Australian worker will actually receive a tax cut this year. Every Australian taxpayer that pays tax will receive a tax cut this year. These cuts are designed to provide bigger tax cuts for people in Australia to help with their cost of living while making our tax system fairer. It's a plan for tax relief, and it's a plan for tax reform. Our plan is good for Australians. It's good for women. We heard the statistics earlier, and I'll go through them if I've got enough time at the end. They're good for helping out with cost-of-living pressures, good for labour supply and good for the economy.

Labor's tax cuts will make a real difference to 13.6 million taxpayers, who will benefit by receiving a tax cut on 1 July this year. That is 2.9 million more than would have benefited from Mr Scott Morrison's plan from five years ago. It means that 11.5 million taxpayers—that's 84 per cent of taxpayers—will receive a bigger tax cut than they would have had we not made some adjustments to the tax. It means that 5.8 million women—that's 90 per cent, and I think in her contribution and her answer Senator Gallagher talked about 90 per cent of women taxpayers—will now receive a bigger tax cut. We're talking about nurses, teachers, truckies, factory workers and shop workers. They are the most likely to benefit, with more than 95 per cent of those taxpayers getting a bigger tax cut. Parents, particularly women, with young children will be meaningfully supported to return to work under the government's changes through increases to their take-home pay. Under the proposed changes, taxpayers earning less than $45,000 per annum will now receive a tax cut. This will significantly boost the take-home pay of Australians on modest incomes and people working part-time.

The advice from Treasury has been very clear that our tax cuts will not add to inflationary pressures, because they are broadly revenue neutral. The Albanese Labor government is introducing these changes because it recognises the economic realities of right now in 2024. Australians are under pressure right now, and they deserve a tax plan that responds to the challenges that they are facing. When the coalition's planned stage 3 was legislated five years ago, the world was a very different place before a once-in-100-year pandemic, persistent inflation, higher interest rates, two conflicts and global uncertainty put Australians under more sustained cost-of-living pressure. When the circumstances change, changing policy is actually the responsible thing to do. And we are providing that meaningful cost-of-living relief in a responsible way that doesn't add to inflationary pressures, while laying down the foundations for a stronger and more resilient economy.

My duty electorate of Braddon in the north-west coast of Tasmania will significantly benefit. The workers in that electorate will significantly benefit: 45,000 workers in Braddon alone will be beneficiaries of this tax cut. I spoke to a number of people last week after we had made the position very clear. Some of them were Liberal voters and some were other voters. Some of them were obviously Labor voters. I went to an event on Saturday night where there were over 5,000 people, and I had people talking to me, coming up to me, saying what a great position that was and what a really good thing it was to do in this current climate. I am very proud to stand here as a member of the Anthony Albanese Labor government that has provided this relief for workers in our country.

3:15 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I, too, rise to take note of answers. I'm going to focus on the economic issues. Before I do, I congratulate Senator Fawcett both on his question and on the very constructive way in which he approaches these issues. It strikes me as something that needs to be reconsidered by this government, and I will lend any support I can give to Senator Fawcett in that regard. His knowledge and background in the military is significantly more than mine, and he makes a very sensible argument.

On the economic issues: we again saw the government twisting in the wind, flailing about, attacking the opposition because it doesn't like its own record in the tax space. That's because the Australian people know that Labor governments over decades, over my life, have form in this area of not being able to be trusted on tax cuts. You don't have to go back very far, just to the previous Labor government. Everyone remembers the carbon tax mistruth—we'd better not say that other word because everyone gets upset; don't worry, I'm not going to channel a thesaurus like Senator McGrath! Everyone remembers the carbon tax mistruth from the Gillard era. Fewer people probably remember the 2014 tax-cut rollbacks that were also a broken promise.

We stretch back a little further, don't we, Senator Colbeck—I'm sure Senator Colbeck remembers the 'l-a-w, law' tax cuts.

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I wasn't here then!

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I know you weren't here. I wasn't here either; I was in high school, or maybe just out of high school. But I remember them, and I think a lot of Australians who were taxpayers at that time remember them. Another Labor government, another broken promise on tax policy.

Labor governments have form in this area. This Labor government has form in this area. What about the promise that there would be no changes to superannuation taxation arrangements? Yet, lo and behold, in the next few months we're about to see an increase in superannuation taxation, one that's going to hit that part of the economy that's very close to my heart, as I've talked about in this place—the SMSF sector, particularly those related to small business and farmers who have happened to put some tangible assets into their self-managed super funds, like farming property. As a result of natural price inflation, that property will now potentially be worth more than $3 million and they're going to face a tax bill. In order to pay that tax bill, those farming families will have to either come up with cash or sell assets.

So there we have it: we've got a Labor government that breaks promises. We've got a Labor government that, to use the Australian vernacular, tells porky pies. I love the old expression 'the furphy'—the tall tale told around the water carriers back in World War I. This is a Labor government that tells big furphies. It tells the Australian people things that simply are not the truth. The Prime Minister says things like, 'My word is my bond.' You can't say anything more direct than that. And then the Australian people see those mistruths come forward. They see the twisting of the words and Labor twisting in the wind as they try and keep a straight face while they remain true to their commitments to the Australian people.

Labor governments have form. We've talked about Keating, former Prime Minister Gillard, former Prime Minister Rudd and now we're talking about the Albanese Labor government—governments that repeatedly had form in this tax space. Every aspect of taxation that they supposedly have committed to not altering is now under question. The Australian people will go into the next election with that reality staring them firmly in the face. This is a Labor government that cannot be trusted with the future of the Australian economy. Australian households have seen their costs increase by $8,000 to $25,000 per year. These are costs that the average Australian family simply cannot bear, and this government cannot be trusted to do anything about it.

3:20 pm

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

I am pleased to rise today to put on the record some facts about the tax cuts that are underway for more Australians. As Senator Wong said in her response to questions to her today from Senator Hume and as we've just had materialise in that contribution by our fellow senator, this is an opposition that's complaining about a change that they're now actually going to vote for. They're coming grumbling, whingeing and whining in their questions and their commentary about a tax cut for no fewer than 13.6 million Australians. That's 13.6 million Australians who stand to benefit from the decisions of a responsible Labor government led by Anthony Albanese and defended here in this first question today by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Wong, and they are whingeing and whining on the opposite side. Finally, after saying they were never going to agree to the changes that we proposed, finally, under pressure from the Australian people themselves, they've changed their position in the last 24 hours and they accept that maybe they shouldn't stand between 13.6 million Australians and a tax cut they desperately, desperately need.

You've got a couple of choices when you're a government. You can either stand deaf to the Australian people, wring your hands, say, 'Oh, I'm so sorry it's a bit hard for you at the moment,' and do nothing, which is what we saw under the opposition when they were in government, or you can actually listen to the Australian people, actually care, invest energy and emotion in responding to the concerns that they raise and then carefully design a response to the pain and suffering that they're articulating to you. We did it when we put in Medicare 40 years ago. We've been talking about the anniversary of 40 years of Medicare. People should know that the major cause of bankruptcy before Labor instituted Medicare was medical debt. We heard, we designed policy and we responded, and that is what's going on with the tax cuts for 13.6 million Australians.

I want to speak to the duty seats that I represent across the great state of New South Wales. If you're in Oberon, Orange or Bathurst in the seat of Calare, a beautiful part of the state of New South Wales, there will be 71,000 local people who will be getting an average tax cut of $1,532. That's 85 per cent of the people of Calare under Labor's tax plan where you keep more of the money that you earn. That's what we will be supporting, and, belatedly, after a huge whinge and a continuing dummy spit, the opposition now say that they're on board. If you're from Farrer and live in Albury or Coleambally, 76,000 taxpayers are going to get the benefit of Labor's policy which is responding to the pressure that Australians are telling us that they're under from cost of living. The average tax cut for 66,000 people in the seat of Farrer is $1,359. In Hume, if you're in Narellan or Picton or anywhere around that seat, 79,000 taxpayers will benefit to the tune of $1,585. That's 68,000 taxpayers who are going to get a bigger cut than they would have under the Liberal-National coalition's plan. In Lyne, if you live in Manning Point or Kew, 57,000 of your fellow citizens will get a $1,325 cut. If you're in the seat Riverina around Wagga Wagga, 67,000 of the people that you live around in that community will get an average tax cut of $1,425. In Parkes, Coonabarabran, Broken Hill, Dubbo and Wilcannia, 62,000 people will receive a tax cut, with an average of $1,465 going back to individual taxpayers. These are the facts. They're a Labor investment in the people of Australia—allowing you to keep more of your tax for your own benefit and for the benefit of your local economy.

3:25 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

While taking note today of all answers to questions from the opposition to the government, I intend to focus on two of those questions. Firstly, I want to offer my support for the question and the taking note by Senator Fawcett in relation to the potential donation of helicopters to Ukraine. If there were a subject matter expert on any particular topic, Senator Fawcett would be that in respect of this matter in this parliament. During his service in the Defence Force, Senator Fawcett became the officer responsible for flight test programs for all Australian Defence Force aircraft. If anyone knows about this, Senator Fawcett does. The government should challenge the advice they received from Defence, reverse the decision and make this donation. It's not that complicated. Congratulations to Senator Fawcett for doing the research. The government should take advantage of the knowledge that he brings to this place. It is unique knowledge and skills, and they should take heed of it.

The other point I would like to raise as part of my taking note response is that watching a government senator stand and try to justify their complete breach of faith with the Australian people is very disturbing. The fact is that the Prime Minister stood before the Australian people at the National Press Club before the election and said, 'I'm going to do after the election exactly what I am saying now.' That he went on television and said in relation to these tax cuts, 'My word is my bond,' demonstrates that this government no longer has any integrity. The Australian people cannot believe a single word that this Prime Minister says or that this government says. When you ask them for an assurance, you can't believe it, because their word means nothing.

Senator Urquhart talked about speaking to people in her region of Braddon. I live in the same part of Tasmania. The day after the announcement a constituent said to me, 'They forgot to mention that I got a $1,500 tax cut last year that the government took off me when there were still cost-of-living pressures, and they're now congratulating themselves on breaking a promise.' This is a dishonest government and it can't be believed by the Australian people.

Question agreed to.