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Thursday, 21 June 2018
Page: 19

Senator STORER (South Australia) (11:25): I'd like to seek leave to speak on this motion.

The CHAIR: Leave is granted for five minutes.

Senator STORER: The Senate is the house of review. Our job is to thoroughly scrutinise each and every bill brought before us. These motions moved by the government to limit debate on the Personal Income Tax Plan, the biggest tax cuts in Australia's history, should not meet with majority support, and it goes against the principles of accountability and transparency, which are of paramount importance. This was clearly the platform on which the Nick Xenophon Team ran at the last federal election. It was the central part of their philosophy, and I believe that Centre Alliance today should be abiding by that by allowing the Senate yesterday and today to adequately discuss and debate these measures.

They are very significant measures which have significant implications for future debt, deficit considerations and services. They should not be taken lightly. That's why I put forward a revision to the whole plan to pass stage 1 of the plan, which I saw as reasonable and appropriate, providing tax relief to low- and middle-income earners, and then to look at further changes to tax relief when appropriate given that the Secretary to the Treasury himself noted that there are significant error bands in forward estimates beyond three or four more years further. So I did support yesterday the Senate setting aside stage 3 of the personal tax plan, and that would have left $40 billion or so set aside in the future. Should the economy and international economic circumstances make that round of tax cuts affordable, we could do so then. But that is in 2024, which is two elections—six years—away.

Then stage 2 would cost $80 billion, twice as much as stage 3, and it would still be two elections before it would be brought about. Some crossbenchers are suggesting that, with economic circumstances, these changes would be easily wound back, but that's not the lesson that we've learnt from the 2007 tax cuts, which proved unaffordable in the wake of the global financial crisis but were locked in. It's made the task of returning the budget to balance impossible at least for the last decade. The alternative that may come will be to slash services like health and education. That was tried and it proved unpalatable to the public and ultimately to the Liberal government.

The government presently is struggling to find the money to pay for the level of services that the public has come to expect. It plays down the risks of enacting the entire package in one hit, even though Treasury itself acknowledges the error bands, as I've mentioned before. The recent 24 hours has seen geopolitical trade tremors that may well pass, but they are a salutary reminder of just how quickly times can change. The Reserve Bank is clearly worried about the prospects of investment. Financial markets are concerned that a return to protectionism would mean less trade. Either development would have a marked effect on the Australian economy and on revenue, making reducing debt and returning the budget to balance even more difficult. Cuts to education and health would be inevitable, with fewer teachers and nurses in South Australia and uncertainty about the infrastructure plans, in terms of roads and bridges, upon which the budget just passed. The Greens have put forward that for every dollar of tax cuts received by South Australia the state would lose $1.40 for spending on essential services, and that hardly sounds like a good deal. So, as I have argued before, such an uncertain economic environment demands that the Senate rethink yesterday's and today's decisions regarding the pushing forward on the whole bill. This is what the Centre Alliance said they wanted yesterday in terms of removing stage 3, so I do not believe we should vote for this bill. At present, it should be considered in an orderly fashion.