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Monday, 19 March 2018
Page: 1438


Senator PATERSON (Victoria) (16:53): They say that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. I think we can say with great confidence that this matter of public importance today was definitely designed by a committee. It would have been fascinating to have been a fly on the wall in the Labor tactics committee meeting this morning. I'm assuming that perhaps Senator Farrell, after a devastating loss in his home state of South Australia on the weekend, having learned his lesson that the environmental policies pursued by the Weatherill government came at a great political cost to the Labor Party and having no doubt recognised the detrimental effect that his ideological embrace of renewable energy has had on household budgets, came into the meeting and said: 'Guys, we have to talk about the cost of living. Can we make sure that's the MPI today.' Perhaps it was Senator Pratt from WA, passionate environmentalist that she is, who said: 'No, no, no, no. We shouldn't be talking about the cost of living. We have to talk about climate change. That's what the people of Australia want to hear from us.' Maybe it was Senator Carr, devoted union man that he is, who said: 'No. We should be talking about the wages and conditions of Australian workers.' Probably, it would have been Senator Collins herself who said: 'No. I'm on the education committee; I'm passionate about schools. Why can't we make an MPI today about education?' Clearly, they couldn't agree. So instead of making the difficult decision of picking just one topic for the MPI today they said: 'Why not have four?' It's like the ad for Old El Paso: 'Por que no los dos?' I apologise for my ineffective pronunciation.

That's why today we have an MPI covering four issues. It's a 37-word motion, as I counted. The English teachers of Australia are calling out for a full stop in there somewhere. Reading out the MPI is liable to make one run out of breath.

I faced a dilemma myself when thinking about my contribution to this debate: which of its many and varied issues would I choose to make a contribution on? I couldn't go past the cost-of-living pressures, because it has been particularly galling to hear the Labor Party come into this chamber today, one week after announcing a plan to smash the household budgets of retirees, and talk about the cost-of-living pressures that Australians face. I will make one political observation before I get to the substance of the policy. I have been very bemused in the last 24 hours to hear it said by some of those opposite and by some of their allies and friends in the media that the Batman by-election victory for the Labor Party is vindication of their policy to abolish dividend imputation. I have to say that I don't think that the Labor Party retaining a seat that it has held for 100 years, more or less—against the most shambolic and hopeless Greens campaign that we've seen in their recent attempts to take that seat—is exactly an endorsement of their policy. I'm not sure that Batman, regarded as the most left-wing seat in the country, could be taken to be representative of the rest of Australia, and I suspect that had that by-election been held somewhere else in Australia, perhaps in the suburbs of my home state of Victoria or any other state in this country, the result might have been different. No doubt it would have been different, given the absolutely insane nature of this policy.

Let's be honest about the political strategy being employed by the opposition and Mr Bill Shorten. He is clearly setting out to raise revenue through new and higher taxes from groups in the community who he thinks are unsympathetic—who he may not have sympathy for, who the Labor Party might not have sympathy for. For example, he has identified people who own investment properties and said, 'We'll take some money from you.' He has looked at companies and thought, 'They're not very popular. We'll take some money from them.' He's looked at people who operate family trusts and thought, 'We'll take some money from you;' at people on high incomes: 'We'll take some more from you;' and now, finally, at pensioners and self-funded retirees: 'We'll take some money from you, as well.' What he plans to do with this money he takes from groups in the community that he thinks are unpopular is spend it in ways that are more politically beneficial for him. He's going to spend it in populist ways. He's going to hand it out to groups in the community who might be more open to voting Labor. That is clearly the political strategy here.

We shouldn't pretend that this is a policy that has been carefully thought through or has been carefully designed. We shouldn't pretend that this is a policy that is trying to respond to genuine public policy issues. It is a smash-and-grab raid for the money saved by many retirees to provide for their own retirement so they're not reliant on the pension or are less reliant on the pension in their old age. Mr Shorten wants to come and take it so he can give it to others in the community who he thinks are more likely to vote for him.

It's a $59 billion tax hit, yet another of the many tax hits announced by Mr Shorten since the last election, now totalling more than $200 billion. It will mean less money in the pockets of more than one million Australians, especially retirees and pensioners on low incomes. As we have now discovered from ATO tax statistics, more than half of the franking credit refunds were paid to individuals who are over the age of 65. Of the individuals who receive a franking credit refunds, 97 per cent have an income below $87,000. I wouldn't have thought that Mr Shorten or the Labor Party would regard people with an income below $87,000 as being in any way, shape or form rich or wealthy people, yet these are the people that he is going after in order to raise revenue to give to others.

More than half of all the refunded franking credits are paid to individuals with a taxable income below the $18,200 tax-free threshold. That means people whose income is so low that they don't pay any income tax at all, and yet Mr Shorten wants to take a franking credit away from them. It will impact about 40 per cent of self-managed super funds, which affects 370,000 member accounts and retirement savings for 3.5 million super fund accounts. You would have heard the contribution from the member for Hume earlier in which she identified one of the beneficiaries of this policy being the industry super movement, and she would know; she's been in the belly of the beast. This is not only a blatant tax grab; in my view, this shows that the Labor Party are guilty of lying to the Australian public. The ALP's own website still suggests that an earlier $15 billion tax hike on retirement savings is the final and only change that Labor will make to tax treatment of superannuation.

This is a really important point: there are people who have planned for their retirement carefully over many years who are now in retirement and there is not much that they can do to change the plans that they put in place years ago. We in this place, on both sides—on all angles of this chamber—have put the rules in place for their retirement and they've planned accordingly. Many of these people are too old to go back to work. They don't have options to restructure their finances, and some of them have very modest means. But the rug has been well and truly pulled out from underneath them with no way for them to respond. It will mean a very real loss of income and I suspect—going back to the motion today—it will have a severe impact on the cost of living for many of these people. I urge the Labor Party to reconsider what I think has already been proven to be a disastrous policy.