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Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Page: 4641

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (12:17): I rise to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (2012 Measures No. 2) Bill 2012 and the Pay As You Go Withholding Non-compliance Tax Bill 2012 and state from the outset that the opposition is opposed to these bills, with good reason, which I will get to in a moment. I would like to pick up on a point made by Senator Sinodinos in his excellent contribution. Senator Sinodinos pointed out that Australia's competitive edge is being eroded and that our new competitors are more likely to be in Asia and in parts of Africa, rather than in Europe. Unfortunately, this government seems intent on taking Australia down the European path, the social democratic experiment, where an increasing number of people are absolutely dependent upon handouts from government.

The entitlement mentality is meant to keep people dependent upon government so that government can exercise influence and power in areas where people like me and most of us on the coalition side think it is inappropriate to do so. We see that in any number of government programs, with cash splashes and billions of dollars being squandered in a number of areas. It is almost a case of legislate first and think later. These bills are indicative of the history of the last two governments, the first led by Mr Kevin Rudd and the recent one led by Ms Julia Gillard. We have a history of programs that have failed, have been ill-conceived and whose consequences have not even been considered. Had they been considered, the government would have accepted some amendments. They would have accepted at face value and in good faith statements by the minor parties, the Independents and, indeed, those on the coalition benches who are intent on ensuring that Australian taxpayers get value for money and that they get productive and worthwhile policy initiatives, rather than cooked up, half-baked schemes which have not been completely thought through.

There is a list of them, including the Computers in School program. We were told that a computer was the toolbox for the 21st century. Those computers in schools do not have the appropriate software or have not been installed properly, and some people are still waiting for them. We could go to the Building the Education Revolution, which was trumpeted as bringing schools up to 21st century standards. The problem with that is that schools which were apparently brought up 21st century standards were later closed down. Libraries were built for schools with one student. Thousands of millions of dollars were wasted and some have dubbed this the 'builders' enrichment revolution' because that is exactly what it did. It transferred huge amounts of money into uneconomic, unviable and uncompetitive projects. We are still, as a nation, dealing with the debt legacy from that one program in which approx­imately $8 billion to $10 billion are estimated to have been wasted. That is a small part of this country's debt.

When I look around I see schoolchildren up in the gallery who are wide-eyed and optimistic about their future. The unfortunate thing is that in just four years of this government we have gained $150 billion worth of debt. We have seen our net position deteriorate from a $70 billion net surplus of assets into $150 billion worth of debt.

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting

Senator BERNARDI: Senator Collins says it is not the end of the world—

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting

Senator BERNARDI: She said it is the end of the world, being sarcastic—

Government senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Boyce ): Senators on my right, please stop interjecting. Senator Bernardi, please continue.

Senator Bilyk interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Bilyk, please!

Senator BERNARDI: Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President; I appreciate you putting an end to the squawking from the other side of the chamber. It demonstrates once again that empty vessels do make the most noise, because very few on that side of chamber understand anything about debt. If you go back through 100 years of federation, you would struggle to find a single Labor government that has paid back any debt or has left office with less debt than when it came in.

Labor's track record speaks for itself: the people on the other side of the chamber, this government, are used to living off other people's money, whether as politicians or as union bosses, with people rorting the system and with allegations of people using prostitutes and going out to highfaluting dinners—all on other people's money. That is the mindset that Labor are imbued with. They are inculcated with the notion of living off other people's money. It is an absolute disgrace. Where are the earners? Where are the people who are actually producing worthwhile things in our community? They are not found in the Labor Party, because their sense of entitlement is endemic. That is what the government is seeking to encourage amongst the populace—a sense of entitlement. I think that is absolutely wrong.

We could continue with their failed programs, of which these bills are another example. We could talk about pink batts, which cost $1 billion to roll out and burnt down some houses. There were poorly trained installers. It was ill considered. Another billion dollars was spent to remove the batts, and people lost their lives as a result—as I said, we had houses burn down. The minister responsible still sits in the cabinet; can you believe it? He still sits in the cabinet because they are too scared to remove him. They know he knows where all the skeletons are buried, so they will not do it.

We also have the abject failure of this policy of 'legislate first, think later', which is responsible for the armada of illegal vessels that have been hitting the shores of this country. It is an extraordinary indictment of this government that, under the Howard government, one, maybe two, maybe three boats would have arrived here in a year; we were told each boat was a policy failure. We have now had 194 boats since Ms Gillard became Prime Minister. We should have a birthday cake for Ms Gillard with 194 candles to celebrate her two years as Prime Minister of this country. It is an absolute disgrace. There are thousands of people dying at sea because of the poor policies of this government, but those opposite refuse to admit it.

We can go on to the minerals resource rent tax, which Senator Sinodinos also touched on. It was cobbled together by a small group who are all infected with groupthink; I do not think there is any question about that—

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting

Senator BERNARDI: Madam Acting Deputy President, I am not sure if you can hear the screeching from Senator Collins, but it is really quite disturbing and it grates. I am sure people—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Just ignore the interjections, Senator Bernardi.

Senator BERNARDI: I hope the people listening to the broadcast cannot hear the sort of vile abuse that I am receiving from Senator Collins. As I was saying, the minerals resource rent tax was concocted by a tiny group of people all infected with groupthink, where they pat each other on the back and tell each other what a great job they are doing. But of course they had not thought through the implications of the MRRT.

The examples continue with the National Broadband Network. We know that Senator Conroy—who has been in the same portfolio for some time and has very little to show for it—called for tenders for a national broadband network and did not receive any. As I recall, Telstra put in a one-page thing, which was a question about whether it was a tender or not. That was for a $6 billion rollout, as I recall, but I stand to be corrected. But, when nothing satisfactory came through, rather than accept the fact that $6 billion should be the limit, as was intended, Senator Conroy took an envelope and hopped on a plane with then Prime Minister Rudd. Mr Rudd was really, at the time, refusing to talk to any of his cabinet ministers. But Senator Conroy managed to lock him into a plane for a while and, together, they wrote up a $50 billion deal on the back of the envelope. Together they wrote up $50 billion of expenditure that the government is undertaking off the balance sheet, without a cost-benefit analysis, without a business case. It is an absolute disgrace. And they defended that, saying that it would bring us into the 21st century, just like they said about computers in schools, which was botched and a failure; just like they said about the Building the Education Revolution, which was botched, full of rorts and a failure; just like they said pink batts would; and just like they said green energy schemes and all those sorts of things would.

They also said that they would sort out illegal arrivals. They also said the minerals resource rent tax would pay for superannuation for all Australians. It will not. They do not understand. Superannuation is paid for by business employers. I made this point yesterday, which caused all sorts of consternation, because those opposite do not like to be mugged by reality; they do not like what they hear.

These bills continue this 'legislate first, think later' process. It is no way to run a government. It is no way to run a business. It is no way for a family to manage their own finances or to approach a particular problem. The ramifications of this are flowing right through our economy. As Senator Sinodinos said, we now have an increase in sovereign risk in this country causing a level of concern in international investors that I cannot previously recall in my lifetime. When I was a member of the financial advisory profession, I recall people saying they enjoyed the certainty, the security and the commonsense outlook that the Howard government provided. They felt they could invest in this country with a reasonable degree of trust that the economic outlook and policy directions would continue into the future. That was reinforced, might I add, when Mr Kevin Rudd—who was then pretending to be an economic conservative, in 2007—said there was not a sliver of light, not a cigarette paper, between the economic approach of the Howard government and that of the Rudd government. Well, we know that was simply not true, just like when Ms Gillard opened her mouth—you cannot believe anything that comes out of it—only a few days before the last election and said, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' If that does not go down as one of the three great election campaign falsehoods in the history of this country, I do not know what would. It is right up there with 'the cheque is in the mail'. That is the sort of stuff we hear from the Labor Party. But the problem is that no-one believes what this government says, because they know the credibility of the Prime Minister is in absolute tatters.

That lack of credibility is further evidenced by the way these bills have been managed. The government cooked together these bills, which we are opposed to, and, on the eve of the debate, moments before the debate was to continue, it withdrew one of the important schedules, schedule 4—the doubling of the final withholding tax on managed investment trusts. I mentioned earlier the sovereign risk attached to this country. If people are going to invest significant amounts of money, they want to have reasonable confidence that the legislative environment and the general approach—'the vibe', if you like, in the words of The Castle—is going to be maintained going forward.

How can people invest in managed investment trusts in this country when, having been promised a 7½ per cent taxation regime by Prime Minister Rudd, the Rudd successor is now proposing to put it up to 15 per cent? I am pleased it has been withdrawn, but that is not the point—the intention was for it to happen like this in the first place. The government did not think through the implications of this. It is unfortunate that it is the Greens who are the conscience of the government, but on this occasion I do commend the Greens—and that is a very rare thing for me to do—for putting their foot down and stopping this government from making an even bigger mistake in addressing these issues.

The government have withdrawn what they claim was a very important schedule—a schedule which, of course, was going to put up taxes. We know that this government love putting up taxes, because they cannot manage expenditure restraint. They have not been able to manage expenditure restraint at all. Instead of cutting its cloth to fit its purse, or the taxpayers' purse, they just likes to put taxes up and then hand out charity or entitlements or benefits to people they deem worthy. The problem is: that is not sustainable.

As I said at the start of my address, this is about the Europeanisation of Australia—making us more like Europe, where more people are dependent on government handouts. We have whole industries—the Greens' renewable energy industry, green power and those sorts of things—that are dependent on government subsidies in order to remain competitive and grow or even to be remotely competitive. That is why this government, with their intransigence and their swallowing of the extreme agenda on carbon dioxide and all the related misinformation about it, has done a disservice to Australia.

We know the carbon tax comes in on 1 July and we know there will be cost implications for families and businesses. We know that every business will be subject to the carbon tax in some shape or form, because electricity will be going up. There will be some one-off compensatory payments for those under certain income thresholds. But we know that this tax is going to continue and continue. Every time your local retailer turns on his fridge, every time your partner turns on the vacuum cleaner or every time they turn on the light, you will be hit with higher and higher taxes.

That is why there is a stark difference between the way the coalition approaches and manages government expenditure and the way this government does. We want to live within our means. We want to make sure that the Australian people have savings for a rainy day, not debt. That is why I am pleased that schedule 4 of this bill has been withdrawn. I am delighted because—whether it is the managed investment trust industry, local businesses, individuals or families—we cannot afford higher taxes in this country. That is the upshot. If we want to be competitive and if we want to continue to have a safe and stable democratic environment so that we can remain an attractive nation for investment, we need to have consistency, we need to make sure that our tax and industrial relations regimes are competitive and we need to make sure there is reasonable certainty about our future approach. That is the essence of the problem we face.

There is no certainty about the future approach of this government. They are just leaping from one crisis to another. They have no strategic agenda, though I did read today that yesterday in the caucus room Ms Gillard said she had a plan and put up a PowerPoint presentation. According to one right wag, some people tuned out as soon as the PowerPoint came on and so did not hear what the plan was.

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting

I am sure people like Senator Collins were paying very close attention to what the plan is, and that is probably why she is so cranky today and interjecting so vociferously. They know the plan—it is about the Gillard government clinging to power and doing whatever it takes to do so. I guess that those on the other side who have children and a semblance of an interest in the future of this country would be tearing their hair out, going: 'Oh, my goodness, what are we doing to the Australian nation? How long will it take for our legacy of dysfunction and hopelessness to be addressed so we can get this country back on an even keel?'

The Australian people clearly want to make sure that Australia does get back onto an even keel and onto a path of relative stability—one with opportunity, hope and reward for those who are prepared to invest in this country, rather than for those who seek to live off the proceeds of others. That, unfortunately, is what this government does. It is not about the people of Australia; it is about them clinging to the Treasury benches for as long as possible and doing whatever it takes to stay there. Former Senator Graham Richardson said that 'whatever it takes' is an appropriate approach to government. I do not believe that. I think there has to be some principle attached to what governments do. In conclusion, I think it is reprehensible for a government to impose retrospective tax penalties or a retrospective tax regime on Australians who have sought to comply with the law as it then stood. It is reprehensible. I condemn that approach being taken by any parliament, not just this one. I think it is wrong. If people are complying with a law at a particular point in time, they are entitled to the benefit of the doubt. Any decently minded person would have to stand against the imposition of retrospective tax changes such as those proposed in these bills. They are another example that this government seeks to legislate first and think about the consequences later. It is unfortunate that it is incumbent upon the opposition to do the thinking for this government, but what is worse is that the government refuses even to allow debate on so many important matters through its pernicious and rotten guillotining of these debates. (Time expired)