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Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Page: 4617

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (10:31): I rise to make some comments today on the bill before us, the Passenger Movement Charge Amendment Bill 2012. In looking at this piece of legislation, it is interesting to note the comparison between the rates of departure tax, or departure-type tax, for Australia and for the rest of the world. We see a very striking contrast between Australia and other nations. The decision by this government to raise the passenger movement charge by $8, from $47, takes the departure tax to $55 per passenger. When we compare this with other countries, we see a stark contrast, with Australia being taxed far greater than other countries. The Australian dollar equivalent charge for travel outside the European Union is $10 in France and $34 in Germany. New Zealand has a $19 charge and the US has a $14 arrival tax. Here we are in Australia, with a population of roughly 22 million people, we are looking at a passenger movement charge tax of $55, which is really quite extraordinary. It just shows this government's absolute addiction to tax. There is no doubt that this Labor government simply cannot manage money. Whenever we see the government scrambling around trying to somehow manage the economy, they are diving straight to—yes, you guessed it—yet another tax.

The contrast in this area between the coalition and the government is also very stark. Under the Howard government the passenger movement charge only saw reasonably modest increases. From 1996 to 2007 the passenger movement charge rose by only $11, from $27 to $38, which was a rise of only 35 per cent over those 11 years. In contrast, in just five years, this government has increased the passenger movement charge by $17, from $38 to, with this extra increase, $55—a rise of almost 45 per cent. That contrast just cannot be ignored. This government simply has no idea what to do to manage this economy, to run the country, without diving for yet another tax. This year alone there is a 17 per cent annual increase, and that is compared to an expected CPI increase of only 3.25 per cent. We will get to the CPI a little later. That is extraordinary.

As my very good colleague Senator Ronaldson said earlier, the government has simply no regard for the tourism industry—absolutely none whatsoever. Why on earth would you place an impost on an industry to make things tougher for it? We have heard a lot from this government over recent years about the impact of the global financial crisis and how difficult things were in this country. Well, why would they do something to make it harder for tourism? It is simply stupid. Like so many other decisions that we have seen from this government, it is simply stupid.

I digress for just a moment: we now have the Treasurer telling us how well we are going as an economy and how tremendously we are going on the world stage, and the Prime Minister telling people overseas how brilliant our economy is and giving them a finger-wagging talk about what they should be doing—which is quite ridiculous. What the government is not doing is talking to people in the street, in the businesses, in the towns, in their homes. I can tell you what, Mr Acting Deputy President Fawcett, as I know you know full well, people out on the ground in our communities, particularly our regional communities, are doing it very tough. So it is all very well for the Treasurer to say, 'Oh, it is fine; we are all going brilliantly'—he is not talking to people on the ground. He is not talking to hardworking everyday Australians around this nation who are coming to me and saying, 'It is tough.' There is no confidence in this government and, particularly in regional communities, money has stopped moving and they are doing it very tough. So here we have another example of the government making a stupid decision to impose something that will directly affect the tourism industry, which needs help, not hindrance—which needs the government to respect and understand what sort of environment the industry is faced with and to do things that help, not make it more difficult. But this, again, shows the complete ineptitude of this government to properly communicate with industries and with people on the ground to determine what it is that they need to do in terms of policy. Again, this is yet another stuff up.

We will not be opposing this legislation today, as much as we want to. We on this side of the chamber understand what we need to do to ensure a sustainable economy. We understand what we need to do to be fiscally responsible, unlike this government, which has put us in a situation where we now have a debt of around $239 billion. Labor just cannot manage money. Not only can it not manage money; it cannot make a sensible policy decision in the best interests of the Australian people. Here we see that again today.

This government's level of ineptitude is just extraordinary and breathtaking. I know you, Senator Birmingham, understand this very well. Why on earth would the government tax an industry that is doing it tough and that needs assistance? We know why. It is simply a cash grab, because the government has no ability to run the economy. I know I have said this before—and you will get sick of hearing me saying it and I am sure that others will say it after me and have said it before: the Australian people understand that this government has no ability to run the country.

Senator Birmingham: They know how to spend, though!

Senator NASH: They do know how to spend. Thank you very much, Senator Birmingham; I will take that interjection.

Senator Williams: And they know how to borrow!

Senator NASH: And I will also take the interjection from my good colleague Senator Williams. They know how to spend and they know how to borrow. It is a downward cycle. I am sure that, when people on the ground are looking at this piece of legislation, they will be saying, 'What on earth are the government doing?' Hardworking everyday Australians are out there in their homes, balancing their budgets, making ends meet. Quite a lot of them are giving up things so that they can do other things. Contrast that with the Labor government, which is in this shambles of borrow and spend, as my good colleagues here have just indicated through their interjections. It is no wonder that the Australian people are tearing their hair out, saying, 'Please, will you give us an election so we can have some grownups run the country, who can make some sensible decisions in the national interest?' But it is simply not happening under this government.

I found it quite extraordinary when I realised that, on 2 March, 2012 there was a National Tourism Alliance meeting and out of that came the communique from the Minister for Tourism's roundtable. I want to quote to you from the section on passenger facilitation: 'Industry raised concerns regarding the cutting of the passenger facilitation budget in the context of increasing passenger movement charge collection over recent years.' Again, I quote:

The Minister informed the meeting—

that is, Minister Ferguson, the Minister for Tourism—

that he had heard of no proposals to raise the passenger movement charge in the upcoming budget.

On 2 March the minister had heard of nothing to increase this passenger movement charge. He is either completely inept or he was not being completely honest with those at the roundtable. It has to be one of those two things. Because, surely, as the minister responsible in March, he would have known that this passenger movement charge increase was on the table. If he did not, it just shows (a) that he was completely inept or (b) that it was policy on the run, which we see so often from this hopeless Labor government. The alternative, (c), is that he was being less than honest with the people at the roundtable. Any way you look at it, it is simply unacceptable.

Here we have the minister saying, on 2 March, that he had not heard of any proposals to raise the passenger movement charge. What do we see in the budget? An increase of $8, from $47 to $55. This has a familiar ring to it: before the budget we were told that there will be no passenger movement charge increase. After the budget, what did we get? A passenger movement increase of $8. It sounds familiar. I wonder what it is tweaking my memory about. Let me see. It may well be the carbon tax. Before the last election, the Prime Minister said, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' After the election, what did we get? A carbon tax. In a few very short days, on 1 July, we are going to have a carbon tax.

This is a common thread in the government. Whether it is the Prime Minister saying, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead' and giving us a carbon tax or whether it is the Minister for Tourism just a few months ago saying, 'I haven't heard of any proposals to increase the passenger movement charge,' they are true to form. What do we see in the budget? An increase in the passenger movement charge. The Australian people no longer trust the Labor government under any leader. Who knows who the next leader will be? Mr Kevin Rudd might be having a few chats at the moment. It does not matter who is leading the Labor Party; they simply are not trusted anymore by the Australian people. Is it any wonder that the Australian people have no trust when they are constantly being told one thing by the Labor government and by the current Prime Minister—'current' in capital letters—Ms Julia Gillard, and then doing completely another? They are sick of it. This might just seem like a piece of legislation with an $8 tax increase, but this is about the heart and soul of Labor and their inability to be honest with the Australian people. This is about them not being straight with the Australian people. This is about their complete inability to formulate any decent sort of policy that is in the best interests of the Australian people. They simply cannot do it.

It is no wonder the Australian people are completely fed up. The ineptitude of this government—again shown through the Prime Minister—is absolutely gobsmacking. I will quote the Prime Minister on ABC Brisbane on 14 June when she was asked about the passenger movement charge and the increase. The Prime Minister said:

… first and foremost, we are not taxing Australian tourism through the increases in the Passenger Movement Charge. People will pay that increased Passenger Movement Charge if they are going to an airport to fly out of the country to take their money overseas and go and spend it in some overseas tourism destination, you know, anywhere round the world that people might want to go to …

Senator Birmingham: So tourists to Australia never leave the country?

Senator NASH: Thank you, Senator Birmingham. So, tourists to Australia clearly, according to the Prime Minister, never leave the country. Well, there are some people who try to come here and never leave the country but that is a debate for another day.

If this were not so serious it would be hilarious. The Prime Minister of the nation is effectively saying: 'Gee, people coming here are never going to leave and pay the departure tax. And people leaving here and paying the departure tax are not going to come back and go somewhere.' It is just extraordinary. All of the people, particularly those out in the regional areas, whom I so strongly represent, would be shaking their heads at this. Does the Prime Minister think that international travellers coming to the wonderful destinations in Australia, particularly our regional destinations, are just never going to go home? Does she think they are going to stay here forever?

When they leave the country they will pay the departure tax. It is called a return ticket. They will go home from whence they came and they will pay the departure tax. And here is a news splash for the Prime Minister: those travelling to Australia will actually take that into account. So, for the Prime Minister to indicate that these people are just going to come here and never go home is just extraordinary. Clearly, if they are coming from their home nation there will be a return journey.

Again, more shambolic policy from this Labor government. Perhaps the Prime Minister was tied up in knots, because she clearly had no idea what she was talking about. Clearly she has no idea of what this piece of legislation involves. Otherwise, why would she say something so stupid? I do not know how many times I can use the word inept; I am going to have to come up with some new words.

Senator Williams: Hopeless will do.

Senator NASH: Thank you, Senator Williams, I will take that interjection. This government is hopeless. It is sad when we see this wonderful nation of ours being run by a collection of such hopeless parliamentarians in the Labor Party, led by a hopeless Prime Minister. We saw the government back down on linking the increase to CPI, which is one of the very few intelligent decisions—or maybe it was more to do with saving their bacon—the government has made.

Senator Birmingham: Their hand was forced by the industry.

Senator NASH: I was coming to that point. Thank you, Senator Birmingham. It is one of the less stupid decisions the government has made, but the government was forced to do it by the industry, strongly backed by the coalition. I have to commend my colleague Mr Baldwin, in the other place, who is working in this area. They were forced into a backdown. The fact that the Labor government was even considering linking the CPI to this was just stupidity.

How many times does this government have to whack industries across this nation? I think the Australian people would be absolutely thrilled if this government could just once get something right. It is not just a question of us standing on this side of the chamber railing against this bad government. It is actually true and the Australian people recognise that. I really feel for all the people in the tourism industry, particularly those people in regional areas. We have some of the best holiday destinations in the world. I love this country, and I know that so many Australians do. All Australians do. We think Australia is the best place in the world, and why wouldn't we? But the people who are out there working hard in the tourism industry, many of them in small businesses, woke up the morning after the budget to find that they had had yet another whack, all because the Labor government cannot manage money and they needed another tax grab to try to shore up the coffers.

Just look at the waste and mismanage¬≠ment. In the Home Insulation Program $2.5 billion was mismanaged, with at least $500 million to be spent fixing the mistakes. Computers in schools had a $1.4 billion blowout and it is way behind schedule. The $175 million Green Loans Program was mismanaged and eventually dumped and then replaced with the $130 million Green Start Program, which never started. And my personal favourite: the government sold the parliamentary billiard tables for $5,000 and then spent over $102,000 determining whether or not they got value for money. They wonder why the Australian people get so angry when we see yet another tax hike, when the government simply cannot manage money. That is only the tip of the list—and there is around $239 billion of debt.

So, here is the government whacking the tourism industry to try to scrabble some money back out of them, and they are one of the industries least able to withstand a whack. It just shows this government's complete disconnect from the tourism sector and with what is right for the Australian people. With this piece of legislation we have seen yet another shambolic tax grabbing policy from this appalling, inept, hopeless Labor government.