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Peter on the Turnbull Government

Speeches in Parliament
Peter Whish-Wilson 23 Feb 2016

Senator WHISH-WILSON

It never ceases to amaze me that the ultraconservatives like Senator Bernardi are fairly happy to talk to us about the role of government. They do not see any role for government in our lives except when it comes to social issues that you rely on the government to step in and regulate, such as same-sex marriage and other issues.

Let us talk about Bernie Sanders. It is a really interesting point. Why has Bernie Sanders been so successful in the US in the primaries today? It is probably the same reason that Donald Trump has been so successful. This is an international hot topic. I heard a really good summary from none other than Mr Kim Beazley on TV the other night, on . He said that the reason that US politics seems to be going haywire is that white males of middle income brackets have had no change in real income in the US in the last 20 years, whereas Australian incomes have increased 3½-fold. In the US, trickle-down economics has failed. Trickle-down economics, small government and leave it to the market have failed the American people. That is why we are seeing such an interesting race in the US primaries.

Tax reform is partly about revenue raising; it is partly about balancing budgets; but mostly it is about having a fair and equitable society. It is using the levers that we have in tax reform to get outcomes that we want to have a more prosperous and sustainable society. My party, the Greens, have been very proud to have led on the biggest tax reform of our generation with a clean energy package, putting a price on carbon, trying to tax the superprofits of mining companies.

This government ruthlessly and cynically campaigned at the last election to rip up $18 billion worth of good policy that raised significant revenue for our country. But what they failed to tell the Australian people was how they were going to replace that revenue. In their first budget, which we all remember very well, they were going to attack pensioners, students, single parents, the sick and the elderly—and it failed, because they had no plan. Since then we have gone through a green paper process and a white paper process, constantly ruling in and ruling out what we are going to look at in tax reform. In our party, the Greens, we just want to have a sensible debate.

Talking about sensible, sadly we lost the clean energy package and now we are paying polluters billions of dollars. But we have done a good job of getting some outcomes on tax transparency. That still has a way to go, but we are convinced we are on the right track there. We have delivered a small business package, which has helped small business get up. They are the engine room of our national economy. We have delivered pension reform. That gives an increase in pensions to the least well-off this country, those who need it the most. We have constantly stood up against the GST, not just because it is a regressive tax but because it is lazy. It is lazy politics, when there are so many other things we could do. We have been out there suggesting these constructive alternatives for some time now.

I am very proud to say that my partner in crime here, Senator Ludlam, has been campaigning on negative gearing for at least 18 months, if not longer. I sat in the Press Club nine months ago debating negative gearing and capital gains tax with Judith Sloan and the Grattan Institute. This is something we have been talking about for some time. We have constantly had policies on removing negative gearing, removing the capital gains tax concessions and having superannuation tax reform. We have been happy to put those costings out there. We have been happy to lead on this. I am proud to say that we now have the support of the Labor Party in a couple of these things and, in a constructive process, they have joined us to campaign on tax reform around these issues. Adam Bandt was on the front page of last week saying that he was holding out a fig leaf to the government: 'Come and talk to the Greens about super concessions, come and talk to us about capital gains tax and come and talk to us about negative gearing. Together we can secure $22 billion of revenue and make this country fairer.' It is no surprise to me that, three days later, Labor caucus finally approved their negative gearing plan, 12 months after Chris Bowen started talking about it. Thank you for the leadership from the Greens and thank you, Labor Party, for entering the fray.

We also have a vision for infrastructure spending around this country. We have a vision for getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies and other areas where we know we can get up to $80 billion worth of revenue in this country, which we can redirect into schools, into hospitals, into affordable housing, into where it is needed, and look after those who are least well-off in this society. That is the role of government—not what Senator Bernardi said. The role of government is, when markets fail, being there to protect those who are vulnerable.

Senator LINES

This week marks just 12 sitting days before the budget is brought down—just 12 sitting days. The government is in a shambles over tax, and that was amply demonstrated last week in the embarrassing Press Club address by the Treasurer, Mr Morrison. To this end, I saw a news headline last week which said 'Malcolm in a muddle'. Is it any wonder? Last week there was a universally bagged speech by the Treasurer which, at best, went down as a backdown on his rhetoric about the generous tax cuts he wanted to deliver, which, according to the Treasurer, would have enabled Australians to get on. But, of course, that was just a furphy, as any gains would have been swallowed up by their big fat new tax: their proposal for a massive hike in the GST.

And where is the government on GST? Who knows. On the day the Prime Minister ruled it out, Senator Cash ruled it in. Over the last couple of days we have had Mr Morrison ruling out changing super to enable low-income earners to opt out and, at the same time, the new Deputy Prime Minister ruling it in. One assumes the Deputy Prime Minister outranks the Treasurer. But wait—there's more. Two more government members have taken the proposal a step further by saying, 'Let's extend this exemption to include students.' That's right, students—and why? Well, they will need additional income to pay off their HECS debt, their $100,000 degrees, because that proposal is still on the table.

Back to Mr Morrison's National Press Club address: it should have been a bit of a hint and a promise of what was to be expected in the upcoming budget just 12 sitting days away, but instead it was once again a contradiction on the issue of bracket creep. We heard that Mr Morrison said that bracket creep was a job killer and a growth killer, and he confirmed that again at the National Press Club by saying it was something that should be a priority. However, his cigar-smoking mate, the Minister for Finance, Senator Cormann, contradicted him the very next day when he said that bracket creep is not there to the same extent as it might have been in the past. Let's not get to the real issues of the tax avoidance of some almost 600 companies in this country that those opposite have refused to do anything about. We saw their pathetic deal with the Greens last year, which did not go any way to looking at how we might really address companies paying their fair share of tax in this country. So the real issues are still there. The Turnbull government simply wants to attack those at the bottom end. It thinks Australians should pay more through a GST or through cutting back on pensions or through all the other sorts of measures we have seen in the two budgets which have failed it so far.

What about when the PM said he wanted to have a conversation with the Australian people about tax? That is pretty much all he said from the day that he took over from the other failed Prime Minister, Mr Abbott. My advice to the Prime Minister is that he really needs to start that conversation with his own government in their caucus room, as we see senior members of government, cabinet ministers, on a daily basis contradicting one another and indeed contradicting the Prime Minister.

Goodness knows what is going to be in the budget. It would seem that Mr Morrison has had to rip it up and start again because he was getting contradictory messages from all sorts of people—not backbenchers, but senior members of the government who want to be out there contradicting one another. It is shambolic and it is a disgrace. I have not heard it, but we know there is an internal conversation going on, and it is one of dissent within the Turnbull government about where to go on tax. That is what we have seen: shambolic government and empty promises among other things. There are 12 sitting days until the budget and we have seen no real hint of what is going on, apart from there will be announcements at some point into the future. It is shambolic and the Australian voters know that—they know it well and truly—the gloss is off.

Senator SESELJA

I am very pleased to contribute to this very important debate today. I want to focus on two or three areas of tax policy, and the first is the achievements of this coalition government. When it comes to tax, we got rid of the Labor Party's carbon tax. We got rid of that job-killing carbon tax for the good of households—so they had lower electricity bills, more money in their pockets and lower gas bills. We lowered the cost of doing business by lowering the cost of electricity; that was a great achievement and good for business. We got rid of the Labor Party's ill-thought mining tax, which was an attack on one of our most important industries. We came in promising to get rid of it and we got rid of it. We have focused on giving tax relief to small business—hard working men and women who employ millions of people and who go out and take risks. We said to them, 'We will give you a small business tax cut and a small business instant asset write-off.'

Our runs are on the board when it comes to tax. They are in stark contrast to the attitude of the Labor Party, and not just the taxes they imposed on us when they were last in office. They did their best to take one of the best performing parts of our economy, the mining industry, and kill it and they did their best with the carbon tax to have an additional hit on families and on business. Unfortunately, we know that the Labor Party, if they came back into office, have a plan to tax Australians more. Having not learnt the lessons in their last failed experiment in government—which was all about taxing more and spending more—they have a plan, if they come back in at this year's election, to tax more and to spend more. Who would have thought? They have very clearly laid that out on the table. Their plan is to tax Australians more—not to try to get the budget under control or to have policies that stimulate and grow the economy and grow jobs. We have seen 300,000 jobs created in this country in the last 12 months; that does not come about by accident; it comes about through policies which encourage business, policies which encourage people to employ others and which encourage people back into work. That is what we have been focusing on.

The Labor Party's alternative is to tax more. We know they are going to whack people's retirement savings by hitting their nest eggs with additional taxes. I want to focus on one of those proposals, their plan to tax housing in Australia—this massive housing tax proposed by Bill Shorten and the Labor Party. If they seriously think that this will not have a significant negative impact on ordinary Australian homeowners and on the broader Australian economy, then they have to be kidding themselves. The idea that you can make such a dramatic change to a longstanding, bipartisan policy and that it will not have a significant impact on house values! As the Prime Minister has pointed out, if you take out 30 per cent of the buyers, what is going to happen? We know what will happen—people's homes will be worth less.

If you vote for the Labor Party and you vote for this negative gearing policy, your home is going to be worth less. They can pretend that that is not the case, but we all know it to be true. We have heard from a range of voices in this debate, including from the Property Council and the Master Builders Association, which makes its living from building homes. You would think such a group would like a policy that is apparently about building more homes, but they see severe dangers to the property industry as a whole. But do not just take their word for it, what about the Grattan Institute? The Grattan Institute supports this policy; they are not critics of this policy and, along with Labor's McKell Institute, they helped to create this policy. Regardless of whether that is the case, they support the policy, but what do they say about housing values? According to the Grattan Institute, they will drop by up to 10 per cent. But that is the opinion of the group that supports the policy, and so it may well be more.

We talk about first home buyers and the reason that so many first homebuyers are locked out of the market is that state and territory governments, particularly of the Labor bent, have held back on land release and have unreasonable planning laws which restrict the amount of land coming on board. Is this going to magically change under Labor's policy? Of course, it will not. What about all those home buyers who purchased a house a year ago or two or three or four years ago and who took out large mortgages to make a major investment? The Labor Party is saying to them, 'We do not care about you. We are happy to see the value of your home drop.'

What is this going to mean for future borrowings, as banks consider whether houses remain a good risk? People might find they cannot get into the property market, even with those lower values, because it will be harder to access finance. What kind of flow-on impact will this have on the economy—when people lose significant amounts of their wealth, do not have any confidence, do not have the same disposable income, do not have the same ability to access funds necessary to make major purchases? What is that going to do for business and spending? This is the Labor Party's future. This is the future for Australia under the Labor Party—more taxing, more spending and, most importantly, when it comes to negative gearing changes in particular, a whack on the value of the family home and a whack on the value of all properties. This is what the Labor Party is advocating, and a coalition—

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