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Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Page: 4535


Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (18:52): I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I am referring to the agreement between the government of Australia and the government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands on the exchange of information with respect to taxes done at Majuro on 12 May 2010. The operative words here are 'exchange of information with respect to taxes', because, of course, taxes are what this government knows a lot about but it does not know so much about 'exchange of information'. We were promised a new era of openness and transparency in government. We were promised that this Prime Minister would let the sun shine in. But we have multibillion-dollar new taxes imposed by this government to fund multibillion-dollar new levels of expenditure. This is a government which spends too much and borrows too much, which leaves this government in debt and deficit. We are now looking at $107 billion worth of government—

Senator McLUCAS: I rise on a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President, that goes to relevance. I know that we usually range fairly widely when we are taking note of government documents, including treaties, but I do think that Senator Cormann is possibly stretching the normal practice of Senate procedure.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Pratt ): Thank you, Senator McLucas. I shall pay careful attention to Senator Cormann's remarks and draw his attention to the standing orders.

Senator CORMANN: Thank you very much, Madam Acting Deputy President. I can well understand why Senator McLucas is very touchy when I talk about the lack of information that is being exchanged by this government, even though they committed to the good people of the government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands that they would exchange information.

Government senators interjecting

Senator CORMANN: What I am wondering is whether the people in the Republic of the Marshall Islands have had any more luck than the senators in this chamber, because, of course, the senators in this chamber should not be treated any worse than the good people in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. It is for that reason I am complaining that we are being treated way worse than the citizens of the Republic of the Marshall Islands—and, of course, we should not be treated by this government like a bunch of mushrooms.

I will get to the pertinent facts straight­away, Madam Acting Deputy President. It is an issue that arose earlier today. More than 150 days ago I asked this government for some information about how they were spending taxpayers' money here in Australia. Specifically I asked:

How much of the stimulus package remains to be spent for each of the following financial years: (a) 2010-11; (b) 2011-12; and (c) 2012-13.

It is true that the government has taken so long to answer this question and to exchange this information with the Senate—and I am sure they would have sent the information to the Marshall Islanders but not to us. So here we are and 2010-11 is now finished. The financial year is now over. So that information should be very readily available but it has not been provided. The 2011-12 one has since been provided to a Senate estimates committee—I grant them that—but the information for 2012-13 has not been. This question has been on the Notice Paper for more than 150 days and to this day the government has refused to provide the information to the Senate. I hope that the good people of the Republic of the Marshall Islands have more luck in exchanging information about taxation with this government than we have had in trying to scrutinise their expenditure, because this government's economic team is led by a Treasurer who is incompetent, who has been fiscally reckless, who has presided over four successive deficits in a row and who comes in with one new multibillion-dollar tax after another.

After the Henry tax review observed that we have way too many taxes, with 125 taxes around Australia, and after the Henry tax review observed that 10 of those taxes collect 90 per cent of the revenue, with the remaining 115 taxes collecting 10 per cent of the revenue, and after the Henry tax review observed that we should have fewer taxes than the 125 taxes, this Labor government has added another five taxes to the mix. We are now going to be talking about the student tax, the flood tax, the carbon tax, the mining tax and the LPG tax. One tax after the other comes out from this government, yet this government is not prepared to be accountable to the Australian parliament when it comes to explaining how much of taxpayers' dollars they are spending and when. Very specifically, I think it is an absolute disgrace that, after the more than 150 days that question No. 437 has been on the Notice Paper, this incompetent Treasurer refuses to be accountable to this parliament, refuses to provide any information about how much of the stimulus package remains unspent for 2012-13. I hope that somebody in the press gallery will try their luck and get this information from the Treasurer. Certainly we here in the parliament are unable to do so as, sadly, we are unable to do way too often, because this is a secretive government which always has something to cover up, which always has another example of incompetence or wasteful spending to cover up. No doubt that is why the Treasurer is not sharing this information, not exchanging this information, with the Australian parliament.