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Monday, 25 February 2013
Page: 643

Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (10:01): I rise to speak on the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support Bonus) Bill 2012. This bill seeks to introduce a new tax-free, twice-yearly income support bonus for recipients of certain income support payments. The bill would amend the Social Security Act 1991, the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999, the Farm Household Support Act 1992 and the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to create a new income support payment. The bill comes out of a package which the Prime Minister announced with much fanfare called Spreading the Benefits of the Boom. The boom in question obviously is the mining boom. It was intended that the Spreading the Benefits of the Boom would be paid for by the MRRT, of which there has been a little discussion of late.

The Prime Minister's press release of 8 May last year said:

The Benefits of the Boom package will be funded by re-directing Minerals Resource Rent Tax revenue intended for the company tax cut.

We know what happened. It turned out to be something that we have become quite accustomed to, and that is another policy failure.

The Treasurer, Mr Swan, told us that the bill would raise $2 billion over the 2012-13 financial year. We now know that in its first six months the MRRT raised $126 million. It took a lot of effort and a lot of time to actually find out what the MRRT raised. Until very recently we have had an absolutely farcical situation where the government said that the Australian Taxation Office telling the Treasurer how much money the MRRT was raising would be a breach of the law because it would disclose to the Treasurer the identity or details of an individual taxpayer, being a mining company in this case. We were further told that, if the ATO did give that information to the Treasurer who then released publicly how much money the MRRT raised, he would be breaking the law. That was always completely erroneous because Australian tax law specifically provides for the ATO to have the capacity to give the Treasurer tax information where that is necessary for the Treasurer to discharge his duties. The tax law further provides that the Treasurer can release details of revenue to the public in a circumstance under which it might identify a particular taxpayer where the public interest benefit outweighs privacy considerations. The law is very clear on both those points so it came as no surprise to this side of the chamber when the government finally relented and released the revenue details for the MRRT.

We know why the government were hiding behind the fig leaf of some supposed advice that they could not release the information without breaking the law. It was because of the acute embarrassment that they would experience admitting that this tax, which was intended to raise billions and billions of dollars, had in fact raised little more than $100 million. It was one of the most farcical situations I have ever seen.

I cast my mind back to my days working for a former Treasurer—the last Treasurer to deliver a budget surplus in Australia. I could not imagine him saying to the Australian Taxation Office: 'Don't tell me how much money each and every tax has earned. No, don't tell me. I know you are about to tell me, Mr Tax Commissioner, but please do not tell me. Whatever you do, please do not tell me how much money this tax has raised.' Can you imagine Mr Costello doing that? I do not think so. He would want to know exactly how much money each and every tax raised. It is one of the most farcical things I have ever seen in this place.

Coming a close second was a doorstop that Mr Swan did in Queensland last week just after he returned from his latest international foray. Mr Swan enjoys spending as much time away from Australia as he possibly can these days, for understandable reasons. Mr Deputy President Parry, I would like to read to you what Mr Swan said in relation to the MRRT. He said:

… it just so happens that it's politically inconvenient that in the second half of last year commodity prices crashed and that had a dramatic impact on revenues and that occurred more generally. But these are the facts of life that responsible economic managers take into account.

I just want to read that again. He said:

… it just so happens that it's politically inconvenient … commodity prices crashed … impact on revenues …

Politically inconvenient is the criteria that Mr Swan applies to this tax and to his determination about the policy efficacy of his MRRT. He views it through the prism of politics. He does not say, 'The failure of the MRRT to raise revenue is a failure of forecasting.' He does not say, 'The failure of the MRRT to raise much revenue is a failure of me, the Treasurer, in designing the MRRT.' He does not say that the MRRT's failure to raise significant revenue reflects on the competence of the government of the day. He does not say that the MRRT's failure to raise revenue makes a complete farce of the Spreading the Benefits of the Boom policy package, of which this legislation is a part. He does not say that the failure of the MRRT to raise significant revenue means that the government has spent money, in many cases money that it does not have, in delivering parts of the Spreading the Benefits of the Boom package. He did not say any of those things. He did not make any of those observations, which would have been quite appropriate to make. The only observation he makes is that it is politically inconvenient. It is quite extraordinary that that is the Treasurer's summation of the MRRT policy failure.

This legislation was framed against the backdrop of trying to curry favour through putting particular amounts of money in particular voters' pockets. It was purely driven for electoral politics. It was, I am sure, also driven by a concern that Australians were starting to feel the impacts of the carbon tax on their cost of living. That is the genesis of this particular piece of legislation. It is pure, naked, electoral politics and nothing else. But there is one positive about this piece of legislation that is before us. It does give us the opportunity to reflect on the Spreading the Benefits of the Boom package. It does give us the opportunity to reflect on the minerals resource rent tax and the revenue that it has not raised.

It was curious to note that some on the other side of this chamber spoke about the need to close loopholes in the MRRT. There are not loopholes in the MRRT. The things that are referred to as loopholes in the MRRT are in fact specific design features of the MRRT. They are features designed by Ms Gillard and by Mr Swan. You cannot blame the Australian Treasury or the Australian tax office for this particular piece of work because officials with relevant expertise were excluded from the negotiations. This was done directly between the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and a number of mining companies. You cannot blame the mining companies as, I guess, they saw a pair of suckers come along and thought, 'Well, what's in the best interests of our shareholders?' You cannot blame them.

The people who are meant to be looking out for the public interest are the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. They failed comprehensively to do so. For that reason, and for those I have outlined, the opposition will not be supporting this bill.