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Wednesday, 25 May 2005
Page: 87

Mr BROUGH (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) (3:23 PM) —Here we have the Labor Party this afternoon presenting just another piece of hypocrisy. Here we have the Labor Party, which has stood in this place since the Treasurer delivered his budget night speech delivering tax cuts to every Australian, saying that it will do its absolute level best to confuse the situation for small businesses—to have them out there looking at two different sets of withholding schedules trying to work out what they have to do on 1 July to meet the law of giving tax cuts to their workers. The Labor Party caucus has decided, in its wisdom, to make a decision not to make a decision. That is ticker with a capital T from the member for Brand.

Here we have the shadow minister for small business, who sits opposite, ranting and raving in this place today as he presents a whole heap of misinformation—which we will make very clear to him shortly. If he took the time to go out and speak to the superannuation companies that have just completed their around-the-country consultations with small businesses on the ground, including in my own electorate—conducted not by the government but by industry funds and master trusts—he would find that small business is not running scared, nor is it concerned about these issues in the way he has described.

However, small businesses are concerned about two things. One is the ridiculous policy of the Labor Party to oppose tax cuts for Australians—to oppose every tax cut for every Australian. Small businesses are opposed to the confusion that the Labor Party is putting upon their payroll systems so that they do not know what to do today and tomorrow in regard to their obligations in that area. They are also concerned about the Labor Party’s scaremongering about what will be required and whether they will be sent to jail. They are worried that somehow, embedded in the Tax Laws Amendment (Personal Income Tax Reduction) Bill 2005, there is some sort of draconian penalty for small business in the superannuation choice legislation that says that small businesses that do not comply will be sent to jail.

I make it clear to the shadow minister and to the small business community of Australia that there is no such provision in the choice legislation. I invite the shadow minister to take a look. The comments of the shadow minister, and of his leader in his speech in reply, alluded to the point that somehow we, the government, had introduced in this legislation a policy and a position that would require, in the event of a broken commitment by small businesses, their ending up in jail—and that is untrue.

Let us go to the heart of what they are talking about. I understand that the shadow minister has only been in this place since the last parliament. But one would expect that, if he wanted to take on the role of a shadow minister, he would go back and have a look at the origins of the legislation he is referring to. It is legislation that came into this place in 2001. It is about the provision of financial advice and it is there to protect Australian workers from unscrupulous behaviour, not just from employers but from everybody. In addition, it was strongly supported by the Labor Party at the time. Today they are trying to use this as a scaremongering tactic in saying to the small business community, ‘You’ll be sent to jail if you don’t meet the rules of the super choice legislation.’ That is untrue.

There are no jail terms prescribed in the superannuation choice legislation. The Leader of the Opposition was simply wrong in his budget reply and, in this way, the shadow minister is again trying to confuse the issue and to confuse small business for no other purpose than to fight a pathetic rearguard action on their objection to super choice. Perhaps I can tell you how confused that position is, Mr Deputy Speaker. I encourage the second speaker from the Labor Party today, in this place, to confirm once and for all whether the Labor Party is for or against choice. It is pretty simple: is the Labor Party for choice or is the Labor Party against choice?

Mr Burke —For choice.

Mr BROUGH —It is now for choice. Every comment made in every speech by Senator Sherry always lambastes choice, saying that it is wrong and not supported. I challenged him at a conference in Tasmania, his home state, this year, to stand up on the platform and talk to the super industry and confirm what he had said on the Gold Coast last year before the election: he said to the ISFA conference that the Labor Party federally, if elected in the coming federal election, would make mandatory choice for all of the states.

Is that Labor Party policy in May 2005? I have not heard it recanted. It was not in your policy documentation, as I recall, during the election. Perhaps the honourable member who will address us in a few minutes might like to enlighten and inform the parliament and the small business community about that particular issue. I am sure that the superannuation industry would be only too delighted to understand your position.

Let us go to the heart of this. This is a three-step process that small business has to undertake. We have heard from the shadow minister that lots of people have been excluded. This is about maximising the retirement incomes of Australians. It is about empowering Australians with their superannuation, the second-largest financial investment they will make beyond their mortgage, so that they have some ownership of and involvement in decisions about the fees they will pay, the returns they will get and the risks they will undertake. In doing so they could utilise the super co-contribution, which we heard about in question time today and which, I remind the House, the Howard government has generously put up to $1.50 for each dollar that eligible recipients invest. They have until 30 June, so I would encourage all members of this House to go back to their electorates and tell people who are earning under $58,000 that, for every dollar they put into their superannuation, the federal government will give them $1.50.

How much was the Labor Party going to give them? The Labor Party wanted to get rid of the super co-contribution. It was going to rip $3.8 billion not only out of the super co-contribution but out of the retirement incomes—out of the hip pockets—of Australians. The opposition has no credibility whatsoever when it speaks in this place about superannuation and the retirement incomes of Australians.

What do employers have to do? On 1 July all eligible employees will receive a two-page form. That is it. The form says: ‘If you don’t wish to do anything, you don’t have to. If you wish to involve yourself in the decision making and where your superannuation is invested, then, for the first time, it is now your right to invest in your second-largest investment. In doing so, Employee, it is now up to you to take some responsibility. Go out and get the documentation from the superannuation company, investigate it and use the ASIC web site, which will show every superannuation company and over time will put up the single fee disclosure of the costs to you for investing your money with them. Compare them and make a choice about your future, because the government believe that Australian workers have the capacity to make that decision.’ We believe that Australian workers are intelligent enough and have the interest and the capacity to involve themselves in these issues. When they have done that, they should give the form to their employer and their employer will make a payment to their super fund.

The opposition is running around all over the place saying that small business will have to write out 35 cheques, for example, and send them off to 35 different companies. There are things called clearing-houses. They can write out one cheque, send it to one super fund and the money can be distributed. It will not be up to the small business. The opposition seems to misunderstand: this is not about government and this is not about the business per se; it is about the super funds that the owner of that money, the employee, should have some control over, some connection with and some say in how they are invested.

This rearguard action that has been dressed up today as huffing and puffing on behalf of small business is a fundamental objection that the Labor Party has across the country to super choice. It was demonstrated by none other than Peter Beattie, the Queensland Premier, whose minister went into the assembly this year and inserted a very small amendment into the legislation, not to increase the choice options for Queensland workers but to restrict them even further. For eight long years the Labor Party denied the passage of super choice legislation, which the coalition had taken to the Australian public in 1995 as an election commitment for the 1996 election, which the Labor Party has rejected every time since. I was asked by one of my colleagues just a little while ago, ‘Why did the Labor Party roll over and finally agree to choice? They did not. It was the Senate, made up of the coalition members and Independents, that joined together to pass choice and to empower Australian workers.

Is this an onerous thing for small business? No. Is small business up in arms about this? No. Will this empower Australian workers to have a connection with their second-biggest financial investment in their lifetime and the sort of life that they want to have in retirement by making use of things like the super co-contribution? Is that something we should all be embracing? Everyone on this side of the House knows that is what we should be embracing. Members on this side of the House will be going out in the coming days and weeks to say to the small business community: ‘Support your workers because the way to maintain lower taxes is to get people involved in things like super. It takes the weight off the back of the welfare system when people make an investment.’ The government will reward them today for doing so and they will see their funds grow at a much faster rate than they otherwise would have.

The Labor Party policy is a failed one. They have failed the Australian worker on all fronts. They are failing to deliver tax cuts, some of which could be put into superannuation, and they are confusing the business community by not sending a clear message about what they intend to do with the disallowable instrument. They could do that today. The best thing that the small business shadow minister could do today in this House is to stand up here and clarify that position on behalf of small business.

Mr Fitzgibbon —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I draw your attention to standing order 77 on page 563 of House of Representatives Practice, which refers to the anticipation rule. The minister is now debating a tax bill that is currently before the House and which appears on the front page of today’s Notice Paper. I ask you to ask him to desist from doing so.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—The minister will come back to the MPI.

Mr BROUGH —This is about red tape. The Labor Party can make big inroads into the confusion that they have inflicted upon the 860,000-odd Australian small businesses by making a decision in this place today. I say to the shadow assistant treasurer and the shadow small business representative that that is a duty you should fulfil, because red tape is something you are hollering on about here.

Mr Fitzgibbon —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The minister is defying your instruction. He came back to the dispatch box and he immediately started talking about tax cuts again.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I do not think he is defying it. The member for Hunter will resume his seat or I will apply 94(a).

Mr BROUGH —The way is clear for the Labor Party. The removal of the super surcharge is being blocked by the Labor Party, and there will be $2.5 billion less in tax cuts going into Australian workers’ pockets. They could make a decision on that. A decision would be good; a positive decision would be better. Pass the legislation through both houses of the parliament before 1 July. The Labor Party could reduce red tape for the Australian business community and lessen the confusion about matters we have already covered in the budget measures.

Mr Fitzgibbon —I rise on a point of order.

Mr BROUGH —What is going on, Mr Deputy Speaker, with these insistent points of order?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The minister will resume his seat. I remind the member for Hunter that I have a very strong intolerance to points of order that are frivolous.

Mr Fitzgibbon —This is not a frivolous point of order. I simply refer you to standing order 77.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Hunter does not have a point of order.

Mr BROUGH —This is just the most desperate rearguard action I have ever seen by the Labor Party.

Mr Fitzgibbon —You have nothing else to say.

Mr BROUGH —If I had nothing else to say, you wouldn’t be trying to sit us down. The bottom line is that you are embarrassed about the Labor Party’s position, you are embarrassed about the fact that you do not know where you stand on superannuation, you are embarrassed about the fact that the Labor Party does not support super co-contributions and the removal of the surcharge and you are embarrassed about the fact that Australian workers for the first time are going to be given the right to determine where their money goes—and that the small business community and the superannuation industry and, most importantly, Australian workers stand with the coalition on these issues. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I remind the member for Hunter that the anticipation rule has been modified under the new standing orders. He might care to look at that.

Mr Fitzgibbon —Not that much.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Hunter will not debate with the chair.