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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 17365

Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) (8:20 PM) —I move:

That the amendments insisted on by the Senate be agreed to.

I am particularly unhappy to be standing before the House tonight to move that the amendments insisted on by the Senate be agreed to. lt is particularly unfortunate that the Senate has once again taken on its obstructionist armour. The Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2003 is a particularly important piece of legislation, and the government is very unhappy that Senate amendments insisting on the removal of the expatriate tax measures have been passed by the Senate and the Senate appears to be insisting on the removal of those items from this very important bill.

I think most people listening to this debate, and most people who have listened during the many times when this debate has returned to the chamber, would know that the Senate's amendments are simply designed to obstruct the government's ongoing attempts to reform the current tax treatment of expatriates. The Senate is failing to recognise that this government has a mandate for the changes contained in Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2003. Who is to blame for this? Is it the Australian Labor Party? The answer to that question is yes. Is it other senators in the other place? The answer is yes. By insisting on this amendment, the Australian Labor Party, which is supposed to be a responsible opposition, in some people's eyes, have simply indicated that they do not care that they are obstructing the removal of barriers to Australia's international tax competitiveness.

The member for Kingston will no doubt speak after I finish and will try to justify something that cannot be justified. He will get up and try to explain to those people listening why the Senate and the Australian Labor Party have the right to insist on the removal of the expatriate tax measures from the bill. In doing so, he will simply indicate that he and his Labor colleagues do not care that they are blocking measures that will make lasting changes to create employment and investment in Australia or that they will impede the development of Australia as a strong business centre.

The member for Fraser, who is currently shadow Treasurer—but who may soon be succeeded by the member for Kingston—pointed out in the House over the past couple of days, when the opposition did in fact agree with certain proposals of the government, that the opposition does not always obstruct government legislation. Yesterday, the member for Fraser was completely correct. It is true that on occasions the opposition will cooperate in the national interest. But, regrettably, on more occasions than not—and increasingly—we find that the Labor Party, no doubt attempting to divert attention from their internal leadership woes, seek to frustrate this government's mandate from the Australian people.

With the Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2003 we find once again mindless oppositionism and mindless obstructionism from the Australian Labor Party. They do not bring forward any positive suggestions; they do not bring forward a vision; they have absolutely no ideas. They are a real policy-free zone, with no alternative policies of their own. This is nothing more than opposition for the sake of opposition. It is eminently regrettable that they are taking this approach, because this approach will undermine Australia's international competitiveness.

Let us look at the history of these reforms. They have had a long history and they represent a sound policy initiative. They were recommended to the government by the Ralph Review of Business Taxation as far back as 1999. They were introduced by the government last year and again this year, and during this lengthy period the measure has been subjected to extensive consultation. We are a government that consult. We went out to the Australian people and to stakeholders. We asked what they thought of our proposals, and we obtained a mandate from them. We sought their support, and we obtained their support.

The measures before the House are particularly important measures which have been backed by people with whom we have discussed these proposals. These proposals have been consistently supported by business, and this support has more recently been endorsed by the Board of Taxation. These changes would remove counterproductive taxes imposed on workers temporarily posted to Australia. The Labor Party appear not to recognise—or, perhaps more appropriately, do not want to recognise—that this measure would help to meet identified shortages in professions in a wide variety of vocations. (Extension of time granted)

The proposal would promote employment and investment in Australia by removing competitive disadvantages for the development of Australia as a strong business centre. This objective has been supported by successive federal governments. It might surprise my friend the member for Kingston, who is looking a little embarrassed by his approach to this legislation, that successive federal and state governments, including Labor governments, have supported this objective. A wide range of business groups have shared the government's vision.

As has been done before, the opposition are attacking this measure as being a special concession for rich, foreign executives. That is a particularly stupid assertion. We have a national shortage of accountants, registered nurses, pharmacists, occupational therapists, radiation therapists and information and communication technology professionals, among others. These are the sorts of people this measure would help to attract to Australia. We have a skills shortage, and we are trying to bring about a regime which will encourage people to come here and help boost our Australian economy. But the ALP seem to think all of these people are in some way rich foreign executives.

How out of touch are the ALP, Mr Deputy Speaker? Is it any wonder that they were rejected by the Australian people in 1996, 1998 and 2001? Is it any wonder that the opinion polls which are regularly brought down by the various polling companies show that the ALP are seen as being so far short of reality that they really have major problems? What they have done, therefore, is remove their focus from the big issue—namely, the need to provide responsible opposition to the government—and simply decide to navel gaze, to look at their own problems. They seem to think it is more important to run the Australian Labor Party than it is to run the government of this country or, for that matter, to provide a sound and reasonable opposition.

Let us look at the facts. This measure would apply to people who are Australian residents for tax purposes but who are only here on temporary entry visas. These are really the kinds of people who would benefit most from this measure, rather than the rich foreign executives that the Labor Party talk about. Over the years, successive Labor governments have done a lot to open our economy. They have deregulated the exchange rate—they have actually done quite a lot—and this government has not been at all churlish in giving credit to the ALP for the reforms that they made. The Hawke and Keating governments, and Hawke and Keating in particular, would be appalled by the approach being taken by the opposition under its current leader.

Australia is no longer a closed, isolated economy. That statement might well come as a surprise to the member for Kingston. We as a nation have major trading partners. We have major investments. We have recognised the benefits of skilled labour and the introduction of new ideas from overseas. Costs relating to temporary resident employees are an important consideration in establishing regional offices and headquarters. International companies are not forced to come to Australia with their regional offices. They have a choice of Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore—they have the choice, really, of going anywhere they want. What we need to do, as we seek to make Australia very much a financial centre, is to bring about an environment such that those companies want to come to Australia. The attitude espoused by the member for Kingston and his Labor colleagues essentially expels a lot of these people from the country. It certainly expels the idea of coming to Australia from the minds of a lot of these companies.

Other countries in the region that compete for this kind of investment have special tax arrangements for temporary employees. The very sad reality is that without the unamended Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2003 Australia will fall behind in this respect. The Australian Labor Party continues to penalise Australian businesses that rely on specialist skills which can come from abroad. They almost take the view that we do not need specialist skills; even though we have a shortage, Australia is to be deprived of them. That is an approach which most people see as being entirely unacceptable and undesirable.

It is regrettable that the blocking of these measures will most hurt Australian employers who are experiencing short-term skill shortages. The Senate's rejection of expatriate tax reform for the second time squanders the government's well thought out and effective tax policy and sacrifices it to the cynical obstructionist policies of the Labor Party. (Extension of time granted) This cynical political strategy by members of the Labor Party has Labor, in a continuing trend, picking off bits of legislation they do not like without proper consideration of the effects on the drivers of economic growth. This is despite the government having a clear mandate for these measures.

This economic and legislative vandalism reveals a lack of strategic vision—indeed, any vision—on the part of the Australian Labor Party. It indicates the need for a national debate on constitutional reform with respect to the possibility of there being a joint sitting of the two houses of parliament without the need for a double dissolution. That was a proposal originally put forward—

Mr Cox —You want a double dissolution over this?

Mr SLIPPER —It was a proposal, my friend, that was originally put forward by a range of people, including Sir Alexander Downer and Gough Whitlam. It is also supported by Carr, who suggests that it is one of the most major initiatives anyone can suggest. Mr Crean has indicated some support for it; the member for Barton has also indicated some support for it. I hope it gets through. The former member for Dickson, the former Attorney-General Michael Lavarch, brought forward a similar proposal.

What we need is a national debate on how we as a country could better operate our parliamentary system. We have a situation at the moment where it is almost impossible to bring about real and meaningful reform—even reform for which the government has a mandate as determined by the people at an election—without a double dissolution and a joint sitting. If we as a nation could talk about the benefits of being able to have a joint sitting in circumstances without a double dissolution, then it might be possible for the policies that the Australian people vote for at an election to be implemented without the need for a double dissolution and a further election.

As I said at the outset, I am moving—regrettably—that the House accept the Senate amendments. I move that motion with considerable reluctance. We agree to accept the Senate amendments to excise schedule 1 of the bill. In doing so, it ought to be recognised publicly right throughout the Australian community that the ALP has effectively defeated the bill before the House. The Senate has failed to pass Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2003.

We see the other measures in the bill as being sufficiently necessary for us to sacrifice what we believe to be a very important part of our legislation. I have explained to the troglodytes opposite why their approach is entirely unacceptable. I have explained how they are attempting to defeat Australia's international competitiveness. I have explained that they are out of touch with reality. I have explained how they are denying the mandate given to this government by the Australian people.

Despite all of that, the government will continue to progress its ongoing commitment to reform of expatriate taxes. We will return to this measure in the context of the government's recently announced international tax reforms, despite Labor already committing to its all too predictable response to these wider and much needed reforms.

In this nation, we have a very good government. We have given sound economic leadership. We inherited an economic basket case. We did not create the problem but we accepted the responsibility of fixing it. Having been elected in 1996, 1998 and 2001, having gone to the people and told them that we wanted to achieve certain aims to make Australia a financial centre and to make it a more internationally competitive place, it is enormously frustrating that under our current system we find the Australian Labor Party essentially thumbing its collective nose in the direction of the Australian people.

They say, `We know you gave the government a mandate; we know the government has the right to bring in its legislation. But because of the vagaries of the Senate—because of the way this parliament currently operates—we are going to seek to frustrate what the government achieves, even if the price of doing that is to reduce Australia's international competitiveness.' The ALP stands condemned for its approach to this legislation.