Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 12960

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Mackellar) (16:30): In rising to speak to this package of bills, I will make some preliminary remarks regarding the imposition of the new MRRT itself but make specific reference to the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Amendment Bill 2011, which is also a part of this package, and the misleading of the parliament by the minister responsible for the bills with his second reading speech and subsequent actions.

It is purported that this whole package of legislation sets out to raise $11 billion in tax but proposes to spend $14 billion of tax. In reality, it will raise only $8 billion because the agreement between the now Prime Minister and the heads of BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata—after her assassination of the former Prime Minister—has in fact meant that $3 billion which is being raised by state governments, quite properly, in royalty payments will be refunded by the government to the companies paying those royalty payments. In other words, a tax which has been purported to be brought in to enable certain benefits to be given to people in fact results in a further debt being incurred by this government in that its expenditure is once more greater than the income it brings in.

It was most interesting that when those discussions took place between BHP, Rio Tinto, Xstrata and the Prime Minister, Ms Gillard said that she would settle this question of the minerals tax—which had become such a burdensome question for the former Prime Minister, Mr Rudd—and came out of those decisions and said, 'It has now all been fixed.' But, of course, it has left the smaller miners in the very difficult position of them in fact carrying the burden of the money that has to be raised or that will be raised by the tax. There has been a paper put out which shows that the amount of tax paid over the next five years by those large companies—that is, BHP, Rio Tinto and Xstrata—will in fact be nil. But, for the smaller companies, the MRRT that will be raised is from nought to 46 per cent over those same five years.

I think people get a bit confused when they hear it said by the government that the mining companies need to pay tax, implying that somehow they do not. Indeed, in respect of one particular company where there was evidence given in the Senate and it was disclosed that no corporate tax had been paid in the start-up period for that company, they had in fact paid royalty taxes of something between $450 million and $500 million a year in that period—so, clearly, not being in the position of having paid no tax; it simply was bearing another name.

Then we come to the question of the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Amendment Bill. The minister responsible, the Assistant Treasurer, Mr Shorten, in his second reading speech—and this is the tabling speech and therefore part of the official record—said:

And this bill abolishes the superannuation guarantee age limit.

It simply does not do that. In fact, all it does is implement the government's policy that it took to the last election. It said that it would raise the age from 70 to 75, being the age where the employer can elect whether or not to pay superannuation entitlements. We, on the other hand, said that was not good enough and, in the promise that we made to the electorate in the lead-up to that election, said that we would abolish that age limit for employees in the paid workforce altogether. So, in accordance with that promise, I brought in in February of this year a private member's bill which would abolish that age discrimination.

The minister, having said in his tabling speech that the bill would abolish the superannuation guarantee age limit, misled people in his press conference and then in the parliament by saying that they were doing it. I then raised with the Speaker the question of whether or not the minister could come back into the chamber and correct the record or whether or not he would consider it as a prima facie case of contempt and refer it to the Privileges Committee. After question time on that day, the minister in fact came back into the chamber and said he wished to make a personal explanation and he said:

The member for Mackellar seems to be confused.

I was not confused at all; he was. He continued:

The government is firmly committed to abolishing the Superannuation Guarantee age limit for all Australian workers. My second reading speech for the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Amendment Bill yesterday states that the bill will lift the SG limit to 75.

That is exactly what I had said—it does not abolish it. He then went on to say that various people had convinced him of the need to abolish it and that he would introduce some amendments to his own bill. I find that particularly curious, because the only way that he can amend his own bill is to introduce a bill in exactly the same terms as the one that I brought in as a private member's bill in February. By the time we got to May to have the second reading debate and a vote on my bill, the government moved heaven and earth to stop that bill having a second reading debate, saying that it should be voted down. I appealed to the then minister and to the crossbenchers for them to give the bill a second reading and to give a commitment during the consideration in detail that they would bring in an appropriations bill to allow the legislation to function.

The Speaker was asked to rule on whether or not the private member's bill was a tax or an appropriation bill. The Speaker accepted the ruling of the clerks, which was that, because my bill would enlarge the class of persons to whom the superannuation guarantee charge would apply, it was in effect an appropriations bill—it increased a charge. I find it intriguing that the minister said that he will introduce an amendment to his own bill when he might be caught by section 55 of the Constitution, which says that a bill dealing with a tax can only deal with a single item—that tax. The bill increases the superannuation guarantee that must be paid from nine per cent to up to 12 per cent in 2019. There are plenty of arguments about whether or not the minister will be caught by section 55 and therefore will have to perhaps withdraw the bill and bring it in in another form.

The reason that I have gone into this amount of detail is because it shows that the minister is simply not across his brief in this area. He simply does not understand the way in which the law operates or the way in which it can be amended. The government has shown all along, including in speeches during the debate on my private member's bill, that it has no concern about mature age workers who remain in the workforce having the right to be paid in exactly the same way as anybody else of any other age. In attempting to pretend that the bill he had brought in removed that age discrimination simply shows that he is not competent in this area and that he does not care, either. He was just busy making a political point, trying to say, 'We do care after all.' I am afraid that the people who are concerned about these issues see through that.

I would point out once again that there are at least 100 employees in the Public Service, of whom the government is the employer—and the government is supposed to be the model employer—who are not paid the superannuation guarantee. Therefore, for the minister to say that the government is championing this cause when it is within their power to, right at this moment, pay those employees in the Public Service who are between the ages of 70 and 75 their superannuation entitlements shows once again his falsity and cynicism. He wants to pretend that he is concerned and yet the way in which he presents legislation and argues for it shows that he does not care at all. I challenge the minister, Mr Shorten, to seek to have those public servants between the age of 70 to 75 who are in the employ of the Commonwealth right now to be paid their superannuation entitlements. There needs to be no amendment to legislation for that to be done.

Instead of amending his bill, to put the question beyond any doubt he should withdraw the bill and bring it back in an appropriate form—such as in the same form of the private member's bill that I presented to this House. He would also need to bring in legislation to increase the superannuation payments from now until 2019 as a separate bill so that there could be no question of the legislation being subject to a challenge in the High Court at some stage. As I said earlier, there is plenty of precedent for this to occur. Other bills have been withdrawn and re-presented to avoid a challenge some time in the future. It would be prudent for the minister to recognise that he has made a mess of it and to bring it back in a form such that the age limit of 75 is abolished altogether, which was the coalition's promise before the election and which remains the coalition promise. The legislation brought in and the tabling speech shows that the intention was never to match the coalition's policy but simply to try and portray the government as doing so without actually removing the discrimination.

Going back to my initial point about the whole package of bills—the package that the coalition has said that it will repeal—the idea that you can tax a nation into prosperity is an idea that will never come to fruition. When you put a greater tax burden on people, you lower prosperity, not heighten it. This legislation was originally designed to raise $11 billion. It will in fact raise only $8 billion and spend $14 billion. That shows that this government has a serious problem in the way that it formulates policy and then tries to put it into place with legislation. This whole package of bills highlights once again that this is neither a competent nor a straightforward government. It says that it has the ability to share prosperity across the land by introducing a new tax. In fact, what that is going to do is disadvantage a very productive sector in the mining industry, which does not deserve to be penalised in this way.