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Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Page: 4628


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (11:21): The Tax Laws Amendment (2012 Measures No. 2) Bill 2012 is an important bill and there are at least nine speakers who would like to make a contribution. Of course, that is what this parliament is all about. We as senators come here representing our states, representing the people who have sent us here. These people make representations to us and expect and ask us to make sure that their concerns about this and other bills are raised in the parliament. Indeed, for those listed to speak on this bill—and the voters they represent—regrettably few are going to get the opportunity because, by arrangement between the Greens political party and the Australian Labor Party, this bill is another one of the 36 bills this fortnight that have been guillotined. That is, for those listening to this debate, it has been truncated. The normal arrangements where you debate bills fully have been denied to the parliament by the Greens political party and the Australian Labor Party. It is rather unusual that the Greens should be part of that because in former days they used to complain long and loud when there was any suggestion of curtailment of free speech in this parliament. But now the Greens seem to have had another thought, at the behest no doubt of their left wing colleagues in the Labor Party.

This bill will not be fully debated. This parliament will not do what it is meant to do—that is, to fully assess every particular aspect of a bill. It is not just this bill; there were three previous bills that I was listed to speak on. The passenger movement charge bill had a sum total of 40 minutes for debate in the parliament—a bill that does so much to harm the tourism industry in Far North Queensland, where Senator McLucas comes from and where I come from, the Whitsundays and the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast in my state of Queensland; a bill that will do enormous damage to tourist industries and small businesses, and will impact on the inflow of overseas tourists. Yet what did we have? We had 40 minutes to debate it in this chamber.

Listeners might remember that when Ms Gillard eventually became Prime Minister of this parliament she told everyone this was the new paradigm: 'We are going to have openness and accountability'—that nothing would be done behind backs; everything would be fully explained and fully debated. Here we are in this fortnight alone, because of the Greens and the Labor Party, with 36 bills curtailed, guillotined, so that senators are denied the right to fully address the issues.

I am concerned about these bills because the changes proposed in schedule 1 are not properly directed at phoenix activity, which I will come back to later. This was one of the intentions of the government in introducing this bill. We do not think it properly addresses the issues that the government are trying to address. Further, I believe these measures are broad based; they are not properly targeted. If implemented, they will impose very onerous obligations on company directors that would have those company directors more focused on compliance rather than on performance on behalf of their shareholders and the people whom they represent—the reason that they are directors, which is to try and get a good return for investors.

As my colleague Senator Cormann, the shadow Assistant Treasurer, has mentioned, there are retrospective tax changes here, and the coalition have always had an abhorrence for retrospective tax changes. Senator Cormann mentioned that we could probably support that aspect of the bill if the tax changes were not to be retrospective. We could talk for hours on the evils of retrospective taxation. But I think most senators understand, and indeed most of the Australian public understand, that proper governance requires you to know in advance what you are responsible for, not to actually take a course of action and then find out later that the government has changed the rules some time previously. They are abhorrent and should not be agreed to. Indeed, as Chair of the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, I can say that these retrospective changes are something that the committee is always concerned about and we continually draw to the attention of parliament any retrospective issues.

The one good thing I think you can say about this bill is that it does not now contain the schedule 4 that was originally proposed by the government. The government have withdrawn schedule 4. It was such a dodgy proposal that the Labor Party could not even get their mates in the Greens political party to agree with them on that. As Australians, we can be grateful for small mercies.

As Senator Cormann also pointed out, during consultations with the industry on the exposure draft of the 2010 legislation, industry warned the Treasury and the government that they had not got their costings correct and that the proposed changes would lead to much higher deductions being claimed, which would lead to a reduction in revenue. But this governĀ­ment are so arrogant and so incompetent that they ignored that advice from the industry and went ahead anyhow, and now we find out, thanks to the House Standing Committee on Economics, that if it is not fixed today it is going to cost $6 billion. The government were told about that just two years ago.

It shows again and again that this government simply cannot be trusted with money and they cannot be trusted to keep their promises. We all remember that this government are only in place at the moment because on the eve of the last election Ms Gillard promised the Australian nation solemnly, and what everyone thought was sincerely but which clearly was not, that there would be no carbon tax under a government she led. The people of Australia said: 'We don't want a carbon tax. We know it will destroy the Australian economy. We know it will do absolutely nothing for the environment.' Australians said, 'We know Australia emits less than 1.4 per cent of the world's carbon emissions. We know that China is opening one coal-fired power station every week.' So we know that Australia reducing its 1.4 per cent of world emissions by five per cent by 2020 will not make one iota of difference to the global environment. So Australians sensibly said: 'Good. We don't agree with it.' Neither does the Labor Party, neither does the Liberal Party and neither does the National Party. The Greens political party do agree with this. At least they are honest. They got—what was it?—11 per cent of Australians to agree with them. But the rest of Australians said, 'No carbon tax,' because Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott had both promised there would be no carbon tax. But purely for the purposes of retaining power Ms Gillard breached her solemn commitment to the Australian public and we know that in a couple of days time Australians are going to be burdened with the world's largest and broadest carbon tax—a tax that will do nothing for the global environment.

That is why the people of Australia no longer trust the Labor Party with money. Nor do they trust their word. It matters little these days what Ms Gillard or in fact any member of the Labor Party says. Australians know that you cannot take the word of Australian Labor Party politicians. Whatever they promise, Australians know there is no commitment to the words that come out. Of course, that is reflected in opinion poll after opinion poll. We all say we do not take notice of them, and we do not, but there are so many opinion polls and they cannot all be wrong. The Labor Party vote now sits at around 23 per cent, just a little bit above the Greens political party vote. Surely the Labor Party should understand that they are doing it wrong.

As I said earlier today in another debate, perhaps I am maligning Ms Gillard. Perhaps she was being truthful when she said, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead,' because there is every indication that, come 1 July, she will no longer be leading the Australian government. It will be Mr Crean, Mr Shorten or some fill-in patsy, I might say.

Senator Bernardi: Rudd.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Or Mr Rudd. Actually, I think you are right, Senator Bernardi. It is probably more likely to be Mr Rudd taking over, awaiting the eventual electoral slaughter. My guess, Senator Bernardi, is that Mr Rudd will take over. He will immediately say: 'I made a mistake on the carbon tax. We're not going to introduce it and we will go to an election.' There is my tip. That might at least stop the slaughter that will happen to the Australian Labor Party. It will not change the result of the election, but it may save one or two of the senators opposite who clearly know that they will not be back here after the next election. And why? Because of the Labor Party leader's broken solemn promise and because of the financial mismanagement of this government that I highlight in this particular bill before the chamber.

The government was warned two years ago that the legislation they were then putting in place would lead to a reduction in income, and we now find that that impact was in the order of $6 billion. That is typical of the Labor Party's financial management. You will recall that when the Howard government took office in 1996 there was a $96 billion debt—some of it hidden, I might say—to greet the new Howard government. Over the next 10 years the coalition, through good management and a tightening of the belt, paid off the $96 billion and actually put another $60 billion or $70 billion into the bank—$60 billion in credit. Within three short years the Labor Party turned that $60 billion credit into a $150 billion deficit, rapidly rising towards $250 billion.

Labor's debt is costing Australians $25 million each and every day for interest alone. Can you imagine if we had $25 million every day to build a new hospital, to build a passing lane on the Bruce Highway, to reduce the passenger movement charges that the Labor Party have just increased because of their financial incompetence? Can you imagine what you could do with $25 million every day? That is the $25 million that the Labor Party are spending on interest alone to foreign lenders because of their incompetence in financial management.

That incompetence is clearly demonĀ­strated in the bill before the parliament at the moment. Here is another $6 billion. Who in the Labor Party cares? 'It's only $6 billion—it doesn't cost us.' No-one in the Labor Party has ever had a real job, or very few of them. They have either been union officials or staffers for another politician here or in another place. Most Labor politicians do not understand what business is about. They do not understand what it is like to make your own way, to have to make your books balance, to make sure that your business earns more than it spends. Can you imagine if that applied to the government—that you had to earn more than you spent? Here we are, approaching $250 billion of debt, and the Labor Party, supported by the Greens political party, seem to think that they know what they are doing. This bill proves that they do not. They are correcting past errors. I had a lot more I wanted to say on this but, because of the truncated debate due to the guillotine put in place by Labor and the Greens, I am not going to take my full time because I know my other colleagues desperately want to speak on this bill. So I will conclude there, urging the Senate to vote against this bill for the reasons that have been mentioned.