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Friday, 28 June 2013
Page: 4444


Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (11:27): Another day and another three Labor Party taxation bills which this arrogant government wants to arrogantly push through the Senate with just half an hour of debate. Normally each one of these bills—the Tax Laws Amendment (2013 Measures No. 1) Bill 2013, the Tax Laws Amendment (2013 Measures No. 2) Bill 2013 and the Tax Laws Amendment (2013 Measures No. 3) Bill 2013—would have a substantial debate in its own right, each one of these bills would be subject to the proper scrutiny of the Senate and each one of these bills would be properly fleshed out so that all of us could be in a position to make a considered and well-informed judgement about whether proceeding with it was in our national interest or not. But, while this government may have changed its leader, it is still the same old dysfunctional, divided, chaotic, incompetent and arrogant government as it was before.

Our new Prime Minister has a very bad track record when it comes to tax, because the reckless, wasteful spending and the massive debt and deficits started under the former Prime Minister, now the new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. I think it is worth the Senate's remembering what Prime Minister Rudd was like in his first iteration as Prime Minister of Australia. He promised the Australian people back in 2007 that he would be an economic conservative, that he would be a mini John Howard. He was trying to tell people that it would be safe for them to change from John Howard to him because essentially he would just continue the sensible, sound fiscal management that had occurred for 12 years under the previous government with Prime Minister Howard and Treasurer Costello. But, of course, the wasteful spending got underway immediately. The new taxes got underway immediately. The massive new debt and deficits got underway immediately. That was one of the immediate broken promises from this government in its original iteration.

You have to remember that the Labor Party in 2007 inherited a very strong budget position. They inherited a budget with no government net debt. They inherited a budget with a $20 billion surplus. They inherited a budget with $70 billion worth of Commonwealth net assets. Prime Minister Rudd, in his first iteration as Prime Minister, immediately turned that situation around, delivering $129 billion worth of accumulated deficits on his watch. On Prime Minister Rudd's first watch as Prime Minister, he spent $129 billion more than he raised in revenue. That was despite the best terms of trade in 140 years. That was despite 12 new or increased Labor Party taxes, on Kevin Rudd's first watch.

Remember his first tax grab—the alcopops tax? The alcopops tax was a 70 per cent increase in tax on ready-to-drink beverages that was going to stop binge drinking by young girls, we were told. But that was just the spin. That is the spin we were getting from Prime Minister Rudd then because, while he was telling people that the 70 per cent increase from the alcopops tax was going to stop binge drinking, Treasury on the quiet was assuming that the consumption of alcopops would go up, but all of the revenue estimates from the increase in the alcopops tax were based on an expectation that consumption would actually go up and not down.

We had the increase in the luxury car tax. I well remember listening to then Prime Minister Rudd, the now recycled Prime Minister Rudd, saying that this would be a tax which would hit Maserati drivers, Porsche drivers and Rolls-Royce drivers. He was making the argument, 'Why shouldn't the Rolls-Royce drivers across Australia pay more tax?' But when you look beyond the spin, when you look at the detail, when you look at the facts, what you realise very quickly is that overwhelmingly the increased revenue was expected to come from families across Australia that were buying a new family station wagon. Their rhetoric never reflects what they do in practice, and Prime Minister Rudd has that sort of track record.

Then we had the massive increases in taxes on superannuation which started under Prime Minister Rudd in his first iteration, after he promised in the lead-up to the 2007 election that there would be no changes to superannuation. In his own peculiar language, he put some colour around the promise when he made it. He said they would not make any changes to superannuation—'not one jot, not one tittle.' That was the language used by the then Prime Minister Rudd and the now recycled Prime Minister Rudd.

Then we had increased tax targeting people who take additional responsibility for their own healthcare needs by taking out private health insurance. Again, in the lead-up to the 2007 election, the then leader of the parliamentary Labor Party in opposition, Mr Rudd, promised not to make any changes to private health insurance arrangements. He was not going to make any change to the tax rebate that was a valued incentive for those Australians who take additional responsibility for their own healthcare needs by taking out private health insurance, but on coming into government he broke that promise.

It was Prime Minister Rudd in his original iteration who initiated Labor's failed mining tax. Yes, he had a then trusted sidekick by his side, former Treasurer Swan. But it was then Prime Minister Rudd in his first iteration who went out with a tax which was so bad that he lost his job over it. Here we go again: the Labor Party is now recycling it.

Why is it that under then Prime Minister Rudd there were so many new taxes? Why is it that under then Prime Minister Rudd the government were not able to balance the books even though they had the best terms of trade in 140 years, even though they inherited a very strong budget position from the previous government and even though they had introduced 12 new or increased taxes? The reason they could not balance the books was that they wasted too much money.

Remember Mr Rudd's efforts in his first iteration as Prime Minister when he sought to stimulate the economy by sending $900 cheques to dead people? He sought to stimulate the economy by forcing people to put pink batts into their roofs and, after 50 per cent of the money had been allocated, he spent the next 50 per cent of the money taking the batts out of roofs because houses started burning down. Remember all of the waste and mismanagement with all of the money that was thrown at the overpriced school halls under Mr Rudd, the now recycled Labor Prime Minister, in his first iteration as Labor Prime Minister—waste and mismanagement everywhere?

Of course that is why the Labor government, whether under Mr Rudd, Ms Gillard or the recycled Mr Rudd, are not able to live within their means. They have to come up with one new tax grab after the other. They have to ram them through with their partners in crime, the Australian Greens political party, in order to create some sort of semblance that they are trying to get back onto a proper, more responsible track. Of course, in every budget they promise that they are on their way back to a surplus. They promise that the surplus is there in the distance somewhere and say, 'We've got our pathway to get there,' but, as you get closer to it, the budget position keeps on deteriorating.

I listened to some comments yesterday where Prime Minister Rudd was trying to perpetuate the dishonest myth of a $70 billion black hole in the coalition's budget figures. Let me just say: there is no $70 billion coalition black hole, but there is a $220 billion black hole that we can all see in the budget papers under the Rudd-Gillard governments. After six years of Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments, there is a $220 billion budget black hole and it is growing.

If you look at every budget from budget to budget, you can see that whatever we are promised at budget time is thrown overboard by Christmas. Whatever numbers we are promised at budget time are no longer worth the paper they are written on, probably before Christmas, and usually just before Christmas is when they fess up to it, when they think nobody is watching and everybody is focused on other things.

Just look at Labor's track record since the last election. In the lead-up to the last election, the former Treasurer quite dishonestly sought to make people believe that in 2011-12 the budget deficit would be just $10 billion. He provided this economic update to pre-empt the Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook, which is released by the secretaries of Treasury and Finance once the election has been called. So he promised that the deficit in 2011-12 would be just $10 billion. Guess what: 2011-12 is the final year for which we have a final budget outcome. I am sure, Madam Acting Deputy President, that you would be as astonished as I was to realise that the actual deficit for 2011-12 was $43.7 billion in the final budget outcome. That is a budget deterioration in just one financial year of more than $30 billion.

Of course, in 2012-13 we are on track for a budget deterioration from what was promised at budget time to what is emerging at the end of the financial year of $20 billion. We have had a budget deterioration from what was promised to what is being delivered of more than $50 billion under Labor for just two years. This is a situation which started under Prime Minister Rudd in his original iteration, which continued and accelerated under Prime Minister Gillard and which will only get worse under Prime Minister Rudd recycled.

The only way we are going to get our finances back under control, the only way we are going to get our budget back under control, is by achieving a change of government at election time, whenever that might be. Let me just note here that there was much wrong with government under Prime Minister Gillard. There was much uncertainty, much chaos, much dysfunction, much division and much incompetence. But at least the Australian people had some certainty about when the election would be. Now Prime Minister Rudd, recycled, has even taken that certainty away from the Australian people. He did not even want people to have any certainty in relation to the election date.

So here we are: another day, another three Labor Party tax bills which the government wants to ram through the parliament. These are not insignificant issues. In fact, on one of the bills, the government has now totally rolled over to the coalition perspective on it. It is in relation to the changes to the Tax Agent Services Act, where the government wants to bring financial advisers into the framework of the Tax Agent Services Act. The government wanted to ram this through the House of Representatives a couple of weeks ago. It wanted to ram it through the House of Representatives without even having an inquiry. Only because the Independents on this occasion agreed with our view that that was completely inappropriate, completely outrageous, were we able to enforce an inquiry. There would not have been an inquiry and there would not have been any amendments if we had not been able to convince the Independents in the House of Representatives to do the right thing on this occasion. And what has happened since? The government totally rolled over—totally, 100 per cent, rolled over—by adopting our position when it comes to the changes to the Tax Agent Services Act.

We said that it was unreasonable to impose a massive change in regulatory arrangements on financial advisers by putting them into the tax agent services regime from 1 July 2013 with less than a week—with just two or three days to go now—before that would have come into effect. We said that there should be an extension in the implementation date to 1 July 2014. We said that there should be an extension to the current exemption for financial advisers from the Tax Agent Services Act. We said that there needed to be some clarification around the scope of financial tax advice in the legislation. We said a whole range of other things. The government adopted, holus-bolus, all of our recommendations, but it would never have come to this. This bill would never have been improved if the government had got its way in ramming things through the House of Representatives the way it is trying to ram things through the Senate.

The problem is that that is okay for schedules 3 and 4 of the original Tax Laws Amendment (2013 Measures No. 2) Bill 2013, but there was no proper inquiry in relation to schedule 5. Schedule 5 is an extraordinary schedule. It essentially seeks to increase the level of disclosure of tax arrangements in relation to individual corporate taxpayers. The genesis of this is politics. The genesis of this is that former Treasurer Wayne Swan was so embarrassed about the failure of his complex and bad mining tax, which everybody knew had not raised any meaningful revenue, and he was so desperate to keep the revenue figure in relation to the mining tax secret that he tried to hide behind the confidentiality provisions of our tax laws.

The truth of the matter—and everybody in the Treasurer's office knows that this is true—is that there was nothing and there is nothing in the tax laws now that prevented the Treasurer from releasing information about mining tax revenue collections in aggregate at that time. Indeed, the Senate passed an order of the Senate ordering the Commissioner of Taxation to release that information, and the tax commissioner was about to provide that information to the Senate and indeed eventually did provide that information to the Senate. The only reason Wayne Swan eventually went public was to fess up that the mining tax, which he had predicted would raise $4 billion this financial year in net revenue, had raised just $126 million in gross revenue over its first two quarters. He went out because he could. When he was trying to run this line that somehow he was stopped by confidentiality provisions in our tax laws, that was just an excuse. He wanted people to believe that he could come up with a new tax, he could make predictions on how much it could raise and he could spend all of the money that he thought it would raise. But then, when the tax had actually come into effect, he was not able to tell people whether it had, in fact, raised what he had predicted it would raise.

That was always a ridiculous proposition. This suggestion, that he would go to jail if somebody told him what the information was, was just completely ludicrous. But this bill—the changes in schedule 5 of the Tax Laws Amendment (2013 Measures No. 2) Bill 2013—is essentially his effort to keep that illusion of that excuse alive, by going completely overboard in terms of making changes that are not required for taxpayer confidentiality arrangements or tax disclosure arrangements in relation to individual corporate taxpayers, because he wanted to continue to keep that illusion of his excuse alive.

Quite frankly, if Mr Rudd and Mr Bowen wanted to demonstrate that there had been any change in direction under the current government, they should have immediately pulled this very bad, very outrageous, inadequately scrutinised and inadequately thought-through tax bill—which imposes excessive and inappropriate disclosure arrangements on individual taxpayers in relation to individual taxpayer information. But I suspect that they are so distracted with all of the other Labor Party shenanigans and so focused on trying to stay on top of the civil war that rages inside the Labor Party that they probably have not had time to turn their minds to Tax Laws Amendment (2013 Measures No. 2) Bill 2013 in the Senate—which is a real shame, because this is bad legislation. It is against our national interests. It is ill thought out. It was 100 per cent political. It was all about a bad Treasurer trying to cover his backside. Our economy is going to be worse off for it.

The fact that this debate is now about to come to a close and we have only 10 minutes left to talk about all of the measures in these bills is just completely inappropriate. But it just shows that the Labor Party may change their leader but they have not changed direction. They are still the same chaotic, dysfunctional, divided, incompetent and arrogant Labor Party that they were before. (Time expired)