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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 1012


Dr LEIGH (Fraser) (16:51): It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (2011 Measures No. 9) Bill 2011. I am reliably informed by the office of the Assistant Treasurer that I now hold the record amongst government backbenchers for speeches on TLABs, a record that I suspect only I in this place would be proud to hold.

The bill before the House is non-controversial. As previous members have noted, it contains six schedules enabling superannuation fund members to request the consolidation of their benefits; amending CGT provisions to make it easier for businesses to restructure; implementing a number of the recommendations out of Treasury's review of the GST financial supply provisions; ensuring that sales or long-term leases of new residential premises are taxable supplies and that sales or long-term leases of existing residential premises are input tax supplies; adding the Rhodes Trust to the tax act; and making a number of what the previous speaker described as 'rats and mice' amendments.

Despite this, the coalition referred the bill to the House of Representatives Economics Committee. It was our not unpleasant duty to inquire into the bill—an inquiry which ultimately produced a report supported by coalition and Labor members. But it did raise in my mind the question as to why the coalition thought it was worth the House Economics Committee spending time on this rather than, for example, conducting inquiries into other questions such as the strong status of the Australian economy relative to other nations, boosting innovation in Australia and the importance of good economic management over fear mongering.

I would like to place on record the coalition's somewhat odd behaviour now when it comes to referring legislation to the House Economics Committee. As the chair, the member for Parramatta, told the main chamber earlier today, the House has discharged a reference of the appropriations bills—a particularly bizarre reference given that one would think that a government needs to appropriate money to conduct its business. It was in fact difficult for us to see how you would even begin to conduct an inquiry into the appropriations bills—but that was what those opposite wanted us to do. Naturally, the House Economics Committee have refused that reference. It is again just an indication of the general disarray of those opposite when it comes to economic management.

Over the weekend Laurie Oakes wrote in his column that the reason that there have been so many estimates as to how large the opposition's budget black hole is is that the member for North Sydney does not trust his colleagues. So, in order to work out which of them is leaking, he gave each of them verbally a different number for the size of the opposition's black hole—a cunning trick. He laid carefully a trap for his colleagues to fall into and then waited to see which number would emerge in the public domain. A number did very clearly emerge in the public domain. The opposition finance spokesperson came straight out and said, 'The number is $70 billion.' It explains something many of us have been wondering about, which was why the member for Goldstein was so confident about his $70 billion estimate and why the member for North Sydney was saying, 'It could be in a range; it could be $50 billion, $60 billion of $70 billion.' That is because the member for Goldstein had a precise figure which he was given not realising the trap he was about to fall into.

While those opposite are busy laying traps for their colleagues to fall into, we on this side of the House are focused on good economic management. We have a resilient economy with three-quarters of a million jobs created since Labor came to office. We are putting in place record investments in roads, doubling the road budget. We are increasing the rail budget tenfold and investing more in urban public transport than every federal government since Federation. At the same time we are putting in place a price on carbon pollution—an essential economic reform if we are to modernise our economy and create the green jobs of the future.

The choice is not between a carbon price and no carbon price. All those who look at the problem seriously know that the choice is between a carbon price now and a carbon price later, which will be more costly because the changes will be more gut-wrenching. Those opposite are in disarray when it comes to returning the budget to surplus and they are in disarray on just about every fundamental economic question one can point to. Former Liberal boss John Hewson has said the opposition leader is 'one of the most negative people I know' on economic and political issues.

Those opposite supported a recommendation that we have an independent parliamentary budget office. The member for Higgins was on the committee which unanimously recommended a parliamentary budget office, as was Senator Joyce. But, when it came to the House and the opposition realised the magnitude of the fiscal task which lay before them, they opposed a parliamentary budget office. They now say that they will not put their costings to be independently verified by a parliamentary budget office but will again use private accountants—private accountants who were, in the 2010 election, fined for their behaviour in looking into the opposition's costings.

We speak about a $70 billion black hole in the costings of those opposite but really we should be speaking about $70 billion of hidden cuts. That $70 billion is equivalent to stopping Medicare payments for four years and stopping the age pension for two years; it means cutting deeply into hospital spending and education and not investing in the future. In my electorate of Fraser it is already clear that one of the ways in which the opposition seeks to meet their massive fiscal target is to cut 12,000 jobs. The member for North Sydney has proudly spoken about making 12,000 Canberra public servants redundant. None of my constituents would have pride in that. Those opposite have said that they want to get rid of the Department of Climate Change. The member for North Sydney told Q&A last Monday that he does not know what public servants in the Department of Health and Ageing do. I might suggest he ask his leader who was, after all, the Minister for Health and Ageing under the Howard government when the Department of Health and Ageing employed about as many people as it does today.

On this side of the House, we are committed to keeping taxes as low as possible. Taxation as a proportion of the economy is lower now than it was under John Howard. The tax to GDP ratio was 23.7 per cent when Labor came to office; now it is 21.2 per cent. Our jobless rate has risen due to the global financial crisis but it has risen by only 0.7 per cent since Labor came to power. Compare that to a rise of 3.1 per cent in Britain and 3.6 per cent in the United States. The opposition's approach to the economic debate is all care and no responsibility. Those opposite would have thrown us into deep debt when the global financial crisis struck. We on this side of the House saved 200,000 jobs and tens of thousands of small businesses from going to the wall. When it comes to taxes, we have put in place income tax cuts and we are delivering pension rises and tax cuts under the clean energy future package from 1 July this year. Under those opposite the only people who would get tax cuts are the big miners and the big polluters. When it comes to the surplus, we will return the budget to surplus in fiscal year 2012-13. Those opposite have a dozen positions on the surplus. They have no consistency on their economic message.

Finally, Deputy Speaker—and may I congratulate you on your ascension to the role—I want to address an issue raised by the member for Wright over the cost of living. We in this country have a metric for the cost of living. It is not the amount of hot air that comes out of the Leader of the Opposition's mouth; it is the inflation rate. The inflation rate now is lower than when Labor came to office. The inflation rate is stable under Labor and we are proud on this side of the House to have ensured price stability. Many things have in fact fallen in price over the last year. Among the categories of things for which prices are cheaper than they were a year ago are bread, milk, shoes, appliances, pharmaceuticals, cars, computers and toys.

Mr Buchholz: Thank God for that. I can go back to my electorate and tell them that.

Dr LEIGH: Do go back and tell your electorate, member for Wright. I would be very happy if you were to have an honest discussion with your electors about the cost of living—not the fearmongering that we have seen so often from your side of politics but some direct, fact based discussion. I know those opposite do not like dealing in facts. They would prefer to speak about towns being wiped off the map—

Mr Buchholz: Mr Deputy Speaker, my point of order goes to relevance. We are seven minutes in and not once have I heard the member who is your gun—the government's gun—on the TLAB actually address TLAB No.9. You have got to get close to it soon.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Symon ): The member for Fraser will address his remarks to the bill.

Dr LEIGH: I shall, and I hope you do not take the reflection on the chair that the member for Wright has issued there.

This is a fundamental piece of economic legislation that underpins the Gillard government's commitment to a strong economy. Under us income taxes are lower than when we came to office. Inflation is lower than when we came to office. Interest rates are lower than when we came to office. A family with a $300,000 mortgage is saving $3,000 a year thanks to lower interest rates under the Gillard government. I commend the Tax Laws Amendment (2011 Measures No. 9) 2011 Bill to the House. It a small piece to be sure but an important piece of the long-term economic reform that we on this side of the House are putting into place.

Let me conclude with the words of a constituent who came and saw me in the mobile office that I attended on Saturday at the National Multicultural Festival. He said to me: 'When you look out across all the people at this festival probably almost none of us will still be here in 80 years time, but our children and grandchildren will be here and the reforms we are putting into place are ensuring that their prosperity is upheld. Yes, they are good for the current generations but they are recognising that in politics we do what we can for the future. We are not here just to scaremonger.' He said: 'You should see through what Mr Abbott is proposing. You should see out his negativity and you should see him out of politics, because what is important is the future prosperity of all Australians.' I commend the bill to the House.