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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 2041

Mr NEUMANN (9:56 AM) —I speak in support of the Tax Laws Amendment (2010 Measures No. 5) Bill 2010. Let the sun shine in; open and transparent. What about the Charter of Budget Honesty that those opposite so fearlessly touted when they were in government? Guess what—they did not comply. Did they submit their costings before the last election? They hid things. It was secret. They did not want to reveal to the Australian public the full extent of their economic irresponsibility. They somehow came up with the notion that they had $50 billion worth of savings. Guess what—when the Australian people, in their infinite wisdom, decided to construct the parliament the way it is and there were negotiations with respect to who should form government, they had to come clean. They had to submit their election promises to the Treasury and to the Department of Finance and Deregulation—and guess what. The shadow Treasurer can wax lyrical and sing songs all he likes, but, when it was really revealed, there was a $10.6 billion fiscal black hole. Talk about irresponsible. Those opposite have form.

They talk about their history. Let’s have a look at their history with respect to tax. We have the GST, which he mentioned. Let’s think about the ratio of tax to GDP—never below about the mid-20s. It never got to 20.9 per cent, which we have presently. The Howard coalition government were the biggest taxing government in the history of the country—far more than this. They talk about economic responsibility. How many tax bills and how many savings are they trying to stop on the red carpet in the Senate? We have seen a performance by the shadow Treasurer that would be good for an Oscar, but the reality is that it is on the red carpet that they are playing their economically irresponsible and silly games, and here he can say all he likes—‘I’m the member for North Sydney. I’m the likeable, lovable cuddly bear’—but the truth is that they are acting irresponsibly in the other place. The shadow Treasurer can come in here and give us his little sermonettes, but they started acting irresponsibly when they were on this side of the chamber. Whether it is Work Choices or taxing the devil out of the Australian people, that is what those opposite did. What they thought about economic responsibility was to privatise everything they possibly could and send people to the scrapheap. That is their idea: take away people’s rights at work.

The shadow Treasurer was given a lot of licence by you, Deputy Speaker Scott, with respect to taxation. He sat in the Cabinet. He was responsible for Work Choices and he was responsible for every economic decision they made.

Mr Crean interjecting

Mr NEUMANN —Absolutely! So let us talk about tax. Let us talk about the consequences of raising those taxes. I see the member for Hinkler over there. He knows very well that the Howard coalition government did not use the tax laws well with respect to providing for road funding in regional and rural Queensland. How many roads were not funded? Look what they did with the Warrego Highway, the failures on the Warrego Highway. We have increased the funding for the Warrego Highway and the Brisbane Valley Highway. And there is the Ipswich Motorway which they had no idea about at all. So with respect to raising tax and spending it appropriately and responsibly in regional Queensland, it has been this government that has allocated $37 million of road funding with respect to the area and $22 million in regional and rural Queensland.

Let us talk about economically irresponsible behaviour and investing in infrastructure. The legislation before this chamber now means a number of things by schedule. The first schedule is at the request of the Australian film industry, increasing our capacity and employment opportunity by reducing the minimum qualifying expenditure threshold from $5 million to $500,000 and removing the requirement for films with qualifying expenditure of between $15 million and $50 million to have at least 70 per cent of the film’s total production expenditure as qualifying Australian production expenditure in order to qualify for the location offset.

There is a change with respect to the benchmark interest rate under the Income Tax Assessment Act, schedule 2. That relates to borrowings that a person may undertake to purchase listed shares. The investor is protected from any fall in the prices by the capital protection feature and the benchmark interest rate determines the cost of capital protection. I welcome this particular legislation which will have a positive fiscal impact of about $170 million over the forward estimates.

With respect to schedule 3, there is an extension of the capital gains tax exemption with respect to compulsory acquisition under, say, the land acquisition legislation of states and territories that enables an exemption with respect to land adjacent or close to the principal place of residence, and we are talking about it covering up to two hectares.

There are a number of other changes with respect to schedules as well. There is the extension of deductibility for not-for-profit subentities. For example, if you have a situation with a church or a charity organisation which has an exemption, extending that exemption to subentities also is a sensible way to go about it. This can be a bit of a challenge. If anyone has served in a not-for-profit organisation, as I have, they will know that there are a number of committees and organisations below those that can have some difficulties with respect to these concessions. This is simply confirming what the Commissioner of Taxation is doing anyway, so it is putting at law what is happening in practice. It is a sensible measure.

Schedule 4 is really just to fix up an anomaly with respect to medical condition benefits to members under superannuation funds and retirement savings accounts. I think that is a prudent thing to do as well. Schedule 6 also makes some amendments with respect to running balance accounts and that makes prudent economic management as well.

Schedule 7 is the one I want to talk about briefly, the education tax refund. I warmly welcome this particular extension. The press release from the Prime Minister on 13 July 2010 said that she would extend the option to apply to uniforms under the education tax refund. Existing items at that particular time included the cost of computers, computer equipment, textbooks and trade tools for secondary school trade courses. I noticed that the Prime Minister made reference—and it was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 14 July last year—to school uniforms, and I agree entirely with the comment. She said:

… having a school uniform helps undercut the kind of unhealthy competition we can see at schools to have the latest, most expensive, fashionable gear.

That would be my observation. It is a long time since I went to school, but I can see that school uniforms are important. Indeed, I can recall one day in year 11 at Bundamba State High School, as it was called in those days, having almost a Damascus road conversion experience on the issue of school uniforms. Having been someone who could not see the benefits of them until a uniform-free day took place, I became a St Paul advocate for school uniforms thereafter. I saw how young people, particularly young women, tragically wore the trendiest and the most expensive gear. So I am a passionate believer that school uniforms are a great leveller. They also help with respect to discipline, and they are good preparation for work life because in many jobs people wear uniforms.

This is an important reform and I think that it will help families in the Ipswich and Somerset regions to get access to the kind of support they need. Anyone who has got children knows what I mean. I have got two who are both at university, but I recall having to take them to school uniform shops or to shoe shops to buy shoes as their feet grew, and you see that sort of thing all the time. Mums and dads talk to me in my electorate office and in the mobile offices about the cost of education. It is not as free as they would like and certainly the cost of school uniforms is very expensive.

I know that has been the challenge, by the way, in the flood affected schools in my electorate, and I want to pay tribute to the wonderful work particularly done by people in the P&C and to people like Shelley MacDonald who is the P&C president at Ipswich State High School and at Brassall State School as well. The work that she and her committee have been doing, particularly in helping get those schools back on their feet, is most laudable. A lot of the tuckshops and school uniform shops are run by P&Cs and so in those flood affected areas in my electorate the P&Cs and school communities have been working fantastically well to ensure that young people, who lost their uniforms and particularly their shoes in those days of flood crisis in Ipswich and Somerset region, got help.

If you look at a school like my old primary school, Ipswich East State Primary School, 40 per cent of the kids lived in houses that were flood affected. At the school itself, the out-of-hours care area, the music room, a number of classrooms as well as the school grounds were inundated. In schools like that many of the kids lost their uniforms, their shoes, their sporting gear and a lot of their personal possessions. So this amendment can have a practical impact in my seat, in seats such as Moreton, Brisbane, Oxley and Ryan and in seats across Australia which have been affected by the floods crisis. This is a practical way to help mums and dads and I am pleased that the coalition supports it. I think helping working families with high living costs is what this parliament should be all about and what we should do.

I am passionately of the belief that giving kids the best education they can have improves not just their self-esteem and their dignity but their employment opportunities and their financial security for the future. I am a passionate advocate for education, which should not be the purview of those on the left or the right of political life. It is about social justice, social inclusion and equity, but also about increasing the profitability of our economy and making sure our businesses work as well as they can. It is in the national interest for us to extend the education tax refund for school uniforms. I warmly welcome this particular initiative.