Senate debates

Thursday, 8 February 2024

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Answers to Questions

3:04 pm

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

I move:

That the Senate take note of answers to all questions from coalition senators.

'My word is my bond.'

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I believe you, Senator Scarr.

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

Thank you very much, Opposition Leader—as I believe you. 'My word is my bond.' That is what the Prime Minister said to the Australian people before the last election in the context of the stage 3 tax cuts. I have a basic principle: if you say something, if you promise something before an election, you should actually do what you promise after the election. It's a pretty basic principle, and I would have thought most Australians who voted at the last federal government election would agree with that principle. But now we have an issue. If we couldn't believe the Prime Minister before the election, when he said his word is his bond, how do we believe anything the Prime Minister says in the context of Australia's taxation policy? During the course of this question time, taxation policy in relation to negative gearing; capital gains tax, including the 25 per cent discount after one year; the non-application of capital gains tax to the principal place of residence; the mining tax; the diesel fuel rebate—a whole raft of taxation policies have now been reopened.

Photo of Ross CadellRoss Cadell (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They're in the book!

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

Absolutely. They're in the book, as Senator Cadell says.

And then what happened after the election? As recently as mid-December, when Australia was already in a cost-of-living crisis, the Prime Minister said, 'We're not reconsidering the position with respect to the stage 3 tax cuts.' At the same time that the Prime Minister made that statement, Treasury was working on a change to the position, at the same time there were people in the Treasury department here in Canberra working on a change to the position. So first we've got 'My word is my bond.' After the election we got 'We're not reconsidering our position,' but at the same time Treasury was working to implement a changed position. Now, when we are discharging our role as the opposition on behalf of the Australian and ask questions to probe whether or not there are going to be any other changes in relation to taxation policy, we are not receiving clear answers.

I want to go through some of the no doubt carefully chosen words that Senator Gallagher has used not just in question time here but leading up to question time as well. When Karl Stefanovic asked the finance minister to say on the record that there would be no change to negative gearing, the finance minister said there was no plan. She refused to say there would be no change; she just said 'no plan'. We all know that could mean 'We don't have a plan today, but we've got a plan tomorrow,' right? They are weasel words. Senator Hume today asked a question about negative gearing. The answer we got was, 'The law is clear.' That's not an answer. The law is clear today, but, just as they've done with respect to the stage 3 tax cuts, they can introduce a bill tomorrow and change the law.

We then had my colleague from Queensland, Senator Canavan, ask a question about the mining tax and the diesel fuel tax credit system. In that case, again there was a refusal to rule it out and we were simply told, 'It is not currently part of the tax reform agenda.' Again, the agenda today can change. All options are on the table. And then Senator Gallagher said, 'We have been upfront.' No, that cannot be accepted. If you are upfront—and it's not a question of being upfront with us as senators; it is a question of being upfront with the Australian people before they vote. If you're upfront with them, you tell them before an election what you're going to do and, when you say, 'My word is my bond,' you actually mean it.

3:09 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Through you, Deputy President, I believe that what Senator Scarr is saying to Queenslanders is that, if there is a cost-of-living crisis and they are out there are looking for a solution, and if the government is able to find a better way to deliver cost-of-living relief, that's not something that Senator Scarr would support. What Senator Scarr and others on that side of the chamber are saying is that those Queenslanders who are getting a tax cut shouldn't be getting it and that, for some reason, they expect us to look at this cost-of-living crisis, be told that there's a better way to deliver income tax relief and walk away from an option like that. That's not what this government is doing. That's not what the Prime Minister has done.

The Prime Minister has looked at this policy and has found a better way to deliver income tax relief for 13.6 million people. Every single Australian taxpayer will get a tax cut. What we know is that that means that more lower income earners and more middle-income earners will receive a bigger tax cut under Labor's plan. That's why, after all their complaining, whingeing and sulking about this, and in spite of everything they're planning to say in the chamber over the next couple of weeks, what we know is that the coalition will walk in here and vote for this policy. It's because they know it's the right thing to do. Australians know it's the right thing to do. Our government knows that the right thing to do is to look at this policy and at the times that we are in, and to make a decision and be upfront about that decision and make sure that we deliver cost-of-living relief for every Australian taxpayer when it is needed the most.

There are Queenslanders who'll be receiving a tax cut. Nurses, teachers and truckies are some of those who are most likely to benefit, with more than 95 per cent of those taxpayers getting a bigger tax cut. Ninety per cent of women taxpayers will be getting a bigger tax cut under this plan. These are all the things you won't hear from those opposite. You'll hear semantics and stories about time lines, but we know that, at the end of the day, they will vote for this legislation because it is the right thing to do. The right thing to do—for me and every other Queensland senator, especially out there in rural and regional Queensland—is to provide cost-of-living relief, and that's exactly what we're doing. It's interesting to me that those opposite—who say that they are the natural home of people from rural and regional Queensland, that they represent people from rural and regional Queensland and that only they know what people in the bush would want and need—are ignoring the pleas of people in rural and regional Queensland, because, under our plan, 784,000 people living in rural and regional Queensland will receive a tax cut, and 85 per cent of people living in regional Queensland will receive a bigger tax cut under Labor.

The average tax cut of the people in the electorates that those opposite say that they represent is $1,500. In Cairns, what that means is that 79,000 people will receive a tax cut, and 87 per cent of those people will receive a bigger cut under this plan that we're delivering. In Townsville, 87 per cent of people will receive a bigger tax cut; that's 78,000 people in the Herbert electorate. That's an average tax cut for all of those people living in Townsville of $1,500. People in Cairns, Townsville and North Queensland do it tough during summers. The cost-of-living crisis is compounded by the disasters that we have lived through. But those opposite want to say to the people living in North Queensland that they would see a better plan, see a better way, know the right thing to do and walk away from it. In Rockhampton, 71,000 people will receive a bigger tax cut, and 82 per cent of people living in that area will receive a bigger tax cut under Labor. The truth is that, in Gladstone, 66,000 people will receive a tax cut, and 82 per cent of those people will receive a bigger tax cut. An average tax cut for people living in Bundaberg is $1,300.

Rural and regional Queenslanders will benefit from this plan, but you won't hear that in the questions from those opposite. Those people opposite are supposed to stand up for the bush and are supposed to stand up for regional Queensland. If they did, they would back in this plan. They would back in a plan to give people more cost-of-living relief when they need it the most. That's what our government is doing.

3:15 pm

Photo of Dave SharmaDave Sharma (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is not my first speech. Australia is in a cost-of-living recession right now. Over the past 18 months we've seen real net disposable income per person go down by 8.6 per cent. It's never been so dramatic and it's never been so rapid. If you're an average full-time earner on $95,000 a year, you've seen your real disposable income fall by $8,000 a year or $150 per week.

Working Australians are being hit right now by a triple tsunami. They're being hit by higher income tax. Personal income tax collections have increased by 27 per cent since Labor came to office, which means people are taking home less of their pay. They've been hit by higher mortgage repayments because of higher interest rates. There have been 12 interest rate rises now under the Labor government. We've seen mortgage repayments go from $11 billion per quarter to $29 billion per quarter, so more of people's take-home pay is having to go to service the mortgage. Finally, we have high inflation, which the RBA has confirmed is a homegrown problem. Food's up by nine per cent, electricity by 23 per cent and gas by 29 per cent. That means that people, after paying higher taxes and more on their mortgage, are left with less money, which buys fewer groceries and fewer back-to-school supplies, and people are less able to pay their electricity and gas bills.

During this debate, and from those opposite today, we've heard Labor crowing about the U-turn they've executed, boasting about a broken promise and daring the coalition to vote against them. They've abandoned the stage 3 tax cuts that they took to the last election, that they voted to put into legislation and that they confirmed on over 100 separate occasions. You'd think from listening to them today that they'd fixed the cost-of-living crisis they've presided over. But based on Labor's own figures, a person on an average annual wage is going to receive an extra $800 a year or $15 a week under Labor's amended tax cuts. So they've lost $8,000 a year or $150 a week and they're only going to get an extra $800 a year or $15 a week.

To listen to this government's boasting—they're like arsonists who've set fire to their own house and are now daring us to deny them the garden hose. We're not. We're not going to stand in the way of a tax cut for people already being smashed by Labor's cost-of-living crisis, but we are going to point out that this is woefully insufficient and that Labor is simply seeking to alleviate the symptoms but not treat the disease of high inflation and escalating cost of living, a disease they have made considerably worse. We are going to point out that this is a broken promise and goes to the heart of issues of integrity from a leader who promised us all that his word was his bond.

Today we've also been discussing Labor's so-called closing loopholes bill, which they've rushed onto immediately after breaking their promise on the stage 3 tax cuts. This is not so much a closing loopholes bill as a creating burdens bill. Will it address inflation? No, it will make it worse. Will it improve productivity? No, it will make that worse. Will it reduce complexity? No, it will add to complexity. Will it promote flexibility? No, it's going to make that worse. This bill—

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Which one?

Photo of Dave SharmaDave Sharma (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The cost-of-living bill. All it does is add to the bonfire of inflation.

I was doing some bedtime reading last night and looking at some of the greatest hits of Paul Keating, the revered leader on the other side of parliament. One of Paul Keating's great insights was that wage rises needed to be accompanied by productivity increases, and he saw that enterprise bargaining and workplace flexibility were the key to delivering these productivity increases. But what we've got in Labor's legislative agenda is only going to wind back enterprise bargaining, reduce workplace flexibility and detract from productivity. What we've seen here is a Labor government of old, losing sight of their proud legacy of economic reform and returning to the state based industrial reallocation systems of the 1970s.

3:20 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to debate industrial relations and the 'closing loopholes' bill with Senator Sharma. As someone who lived through those years before we had enterprise bargaining, and given what we have seen with enterprise bargaining—at the time, enterprise bargaining in the 1990s was a wonderful thing. It gave my industry, truck drivers, the ability to get above minimum wages and to start getting a decent dollar while working with the employers to get productivity. The problem we had, Senator Sharma, just for your own information here, was: that was okay while we had the industrial relations system where, when productivity was gained in the workplace, when employers and employees worked together to improve productivity and get a pay rise for it, the basic award would move accordingly. You know how it works: the unions and employers would argue, they'd ask for 10 per cent or 15 per cent and they'd get one or two, and that was how it worked. Unfortunately, your previous idol, Mr Howard—I think he was your idol!—stopped and said: 'No more will the awards move. They will never move. They're not allowed to move again', and he killed that.

I'll tell you what happened: the good employers who actually sat down and negotiated with their employees all of a sudden found themselves, five or six years later, while their pay rates were moving with productivity—it got to a scale where a lot of companies could not be any more productive. There were so many award rate conditions that were traded off for profitability or for pay rises, while the ones who weren't doing enterprise bargaining with their employees were protected by an archaic central wage system where the awards never moved. All it did was, with the greatest of respect, penalise the good employers and employees who sat down to negotiate productivity with each other. It took about 15 or 20 years before it hit, and I was a member of the one union that pulled out of the ACTU—back in 1995, I think it was. We knew back then what enterprise bargaining would eventually do when there were no more productivity gains to negotiate back. I just wanted to clarify that for you.

To get back to what we're talking about here—and thank you very much, Deputy President, for allowing me some freedom there—seriously, this has been a real circus the last couple of weeks! When I say 'circus', I'm always mindful, after many years in this chamber—and with many more to come; unless I win lotto, I don't intend on going anywhere! I couldn't come back for the caucus meeting when Prime Minister Albanese announced the new tax plan with the Treasurer, but I listened to it on the radio intently and I was absolutely lifted. I was absolutely rapt to hear the new plan. How can you not be pleased to move from when Mr Morrison's stage 3 was first mooted and voted on many years back—I think it was about 2019, something like that. Since then, we have found ourselves in a situation that we weren't in before. We've seen interest rates go through the roof. I commend the leadership of Mr Albanese, our Prime Minister, and I also commend Mr Chalmers, the Treasurer, and Senator Gallagher, the finance minister, for showing leadership, for adapting, for moving. What may have been okay back then for a certain cohort of workers is not now; it is not the situation now. This is magnificent, when we know that 13.6 million Australians are going to get some form of tax relief. It really excites me that 84 per cent of that 100 per cent are getting more than they were going to get before.

I will say this, and it might ruffle a few feathers: all of us in this chamber cannot deny the fact that we are rewarded handsomely for our efforts. We are absolutely paid very well. We cannot whinge. I find it really weird when I talk to a lot of my friends who are on wages and earnings similar to what we're on here—I'm very happy that I'm only going to get half of what I was going to get before. I'd give up the whole lot; it doesn't worry me. I'm so rapt to see that middle Australia is going to get some of it and that lower wage earners are going to get some of it. That is what's right. We've got to get away from this shocking greed that we hear in the conversations around here.

I was talking to one of my colleagues the other day. He said he was up somewhere at the Press Club and he heard one of the fourth estate, the media, whinging because it's only $15 a week. 'What's $15 a week going to do for some wage earners?' Let me tell you, as a parent—and I've been through the hard times, growing up in the working class—that's a babyccino and a bickie with Smarties on it down at the shopping centre on shopping day. How good is that for the little one, who might not have had that before this? I've run out of time. An extension? No? Okay. (Time expired)

3:25 pm

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

What we found out in question time today is that the Labor Party—and I'm going to quote here because I wrote it down—has a full book of tax reforms. That's what we found out in question time today. The question was asked by the shadow minister for Finance to the Minister for Finance, and the finance minister said, 'The Labor Party has a full book of tax reforms.' Now, of course, then I got up and asked for the minister to table this full book of tax reforms. There was a lot of blushing on the government's side of the chamber. Of course, this full book of tax reforms was not tabled, because the Labor Party are not telling the truth to the Australian people about their intentions for tax reform in this country.

When I say 'tax reform', I mean punishing hardworking Australians. Sadly, we have a Labor Party government that went to the last election promising—making that sacred promise, that sacred pact between a politician and a voter. When politicians say to the voters, 'We will deliver on this if you vote for us,' it's sacrosanct. But, sadly, the Labor Party have broken that bond between the Labor Party and the Australian people. Before the election, Prime Minister Albanese said:

… Labor in government will uphold the legislated changes to personal income taxes and maintain the existing regimes for negative gearing and capital gains tax.

That quote is so important because the Labor Party have not upheld the legislated changes to personal income taxes. They've actually changed them.

When you're dealing with someone and they're prepared to break a promise in relation to personal income taxes, that should give you a pretty fair indication they're going to break their promise in relation to negative gearing and capital gains taxes. This is less about the tax; it's more about the honour of those who go to an election and give a commitment to the Australian people and then breach that honour. We've got a Labor Party in power who will not give a commitment to this chamber, to the Australian people. Questions have been put to them: will you rule out any changes to capital gains taxes? What you get from the Labor Party is nothing. They're not ruling out any changes to negative gearing. You put a question to the Labor Party: will you rule out any changes on capital gains taxes? Nothing from the Labor Party. They're not ruling out changes to capital gains taxes.

What we're seeing and what question time today in the Senate has shown us is that the Labor Party clearly has plans to change negative gearing and plans to change capital gains taxes. As the finance minister said, they do have this full book of tax reforms. What we want to know is what else is in this full book of tax reforms. They've already tinkered with personal income taxes. They've changed the stage 3 tax reforms that were put in by the previous coalition government. But what are they actually going to do with capital gains taxes? What are they going to do with negative gearing? What about other taxes?

Senator Canavan asked what they're going to do in terms of taxes that particularly impact rural and regional Australia. Once again, no denial from the government that they would be making such changes. What that shows everybody, in the minute that I have left, is that the Labor Party have declared war on aspirational Australia. What we've seen is a Labor Party who have bypassed the Hawke-Keating government and bypassed even the Whitlam government. They've gone back and said, 'We are going to declare a war on aspirational Australia,' because that is what the Labor Party have done since they've come to power. We see the power they're giving to union barons. We see the power that they're giving to the union thugs to enter workplaces. This is a government that exists solely for the political benefit of the union movement and the Labor Party. They do not exist to help modern Australia. They do not exist to help those who are suffering under a cost-of-living crisis—a cost-of-living crisis that this government did not talk about last year at all. It was only over the Christmas break that they started—

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

Thank you, Senator McGrath. I appreciate those comments. We've reached the appointed hour.

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

I am devastated that I've run out of time.

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

We're all devastated. I put the question that Senator Scarr's motion be agreed to.

Question agreed to.