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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1586


Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (12:54): I want to speak today in relation to the obvious lack of economic leadership by the current government and, in particular, the Prime Minister. Last week ended in chaos and dysfunction; this week, the chaos and dysfunction continues when it comes to the government's plan for the economy and for taxation reform.

Here we are on another day in Canberra and, no doubt, another day of dysfunction within the Turnbull government. The government is in full panic mode now and its economic leadership, or lack thereof, has turned into blindly throwing darts at a list of vague ideas. After 2½ years, and almost six months with a new Prime Minister, we still do not see any plans for the future of this country when we are talking about taxation reform or strengthening and growing the economy.

Senator O'Sullivan: Put your plan out there.

Senator POLLEY: I am going to outline to you, Senator, the plan that Labor has. We have, in fact, already put our policies out to the public, and they have been well received. We will continue to do that. When Mr Turnbull knifed the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, he said:

… the Prime Minister has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs.

…    …   …

We need a different style of leadership.

For a little while, we did get a different style—a nicer suit and a better vocabulary, but not much else. The man in the suit changed but the policies certainly have not.

The Liberal government is 2½ years into its term. But we on this side and, more importantly, the Australian community still have no clear understanding of what this government stands for. What the Australian people do know very clearly is that the person they voted for at the last election told them a whole range of mistruths about not cutting education, not cutting spending in health and no changes to the pension system. We know that those things were not true on the eve of the election. But then we had a change of Prime Minister—and I, along with a lot of others in the community, thought, 'Wow, finally we're going to have somebody who at least we're not going to fear what may or may not come out of their mouth every time they go to a lectern.' But what we do have now is a waffler. We know that Mr Turnbull is good at waffling on and on, but there comes a point when he is going to have to put policies to the Australian community. After all, he has the government, all of the departments and all of the resources available to him, so there is really no excuse for them not having an economic plan. There is no excuse for them not having taxation reforms.

They can come into this place and say that they are not going to be rushed. Well, when it comes to the electoral reforms to elect people to this place, that went right off the table, because they have rushed that legislation through. They have actually shown no respect at all to the Senate committee process, which is the backbone of the work that we do in this place. It is becoming increasingly clear that Mr Turnbull does not have a plan or the skills to lead this nation. The only thing we are certain of is that he is 'Mr Abbott in a top hat'.

This is an election year, and the Australian people should be given an opportunity to vote on detailed and considered plans. But we know that nothing has been done on the future of our economy and taxation reform—absolutely nothing. They ran away from putting a real proposal out to the people—a proposal that they all wanted to support—to increase the GST up to 15 per cent. They wanted to increase it on everything—on fresh food, on everything. But they ran from that. So I say to the Australian people: do not be misled; the GST is in the government's top drawer. After the next election, if they are successful at being re-elected, the increase to the GST will most certainly be back on the table.

We have seen this Prime Minister showing absolutely no leadership at all. In fact he, who has spoken up on a whole range of progressive policy issues in the past—including ones that I disagree with him on, when it comes to same-sex marriage—has failed to give his caucus a free vote on that. For someone who supports that proposition, what is he running away from? Why do we need to have a plebiscite? This is why we are elected in this place—to make decisions.

So I say to the Australian people: be very careful and make sure that you listen intently to what this Prime Minister says when and if he finally puts something out to the Australian people well in time for people to give it due consideration before they go to the polls. I can guarantee you that what they say today will not be what they implement when in government.

It is very important that people also understand that we now have a Treasurer in witness protection. It might be the best place for him to be because, quite frankly, it is not helpful to the Australian economy, and certainly not helpful to government, that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer keep contradicting each other. No wonder everyone is confused. Even in their own caucus they are confused.

But we are not confused on this side, because we believe that respect for the Australian voters, respect for the people who have to cast their votes in the next election, means that they need to have time to consider and know that the policies that are being put forward have been costed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office. We have put forward some comprehensive policies already. Under Labor budget reforms, the capital gains subsidy will be halved and negative gearing will be targeted at new homes. Labor's reforms will strengthen the budget by $565 million over the forward estimates period and $32.1 billion over the next decade. This has been costed by the Independent Parliamentary Budget Office. The savings from these reforms will be used to invest in education, health care and strengthening the budget.

We want to boost the supply of housing and create new jobs. At present, only 7c in every dollar spent on negative gearing subsidies is directed into new housing stock. Negative gearing of existing properties means no new housing supply and no new construction jobs. Under Labor's reforms, negative gearing will only be available on new homes, creating a powerful new incentive to drive investment in new housing and create up to 25,000 jobs.

We are about levelling the playing field for new homebuyers. Our reforms will mean that homebuyers will no longer need to compete against property investors receiving generous negative gearing subsidies from the government. As I said, this will help to level the playing field so that home ownership is within reach of more working and middle-income Australians. Labor will protect investments made in good faith under the existing scheme. There will be no change to the treatment of any property investments made before 1 July 2017. There will be no capital gains charged on the family home or superannuation investments. Labor will limit negative gearing to new homes, which will give opportunities to those who aspire to have their own home. We are going to grandfather the laws that are currently in place for those who already have investments in property.

We have seen that the government is divided. They are speaking out each and every day with a different message because there is no leadership, because there is no unifying taxation reform being adopted in the caucus. It is very clear that this government is in chaos. They do not have a plan. After 2½ years, they should.