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Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Page: 361


Senator LUDWIG (Queensland) (18:54): I rise to speak on the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Repeal Day) Bill 2014. Despite what Senator Seselja tried to infer, the opposition does support this provision. During the second reading speech in the other place, we indicated our support for this bill. This bill is divided into schedules 1 to 4, which deal with a range of matters. Schedule 1 deals with the repeal of the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 provisions requiring employers to report superannuation contributions on pay slips. The purpose of schedule 1 is to amend the SI(S) Act to repeal the provision and to report actual superannuation contributions paid on pay slips. Under part 29B of the SI(S) Act, employers are required to include on an employee's pay slip information about superannuation contributions as prescribed by the regulation. That is a point I want to come back to.

What I think Senator Seselja inferred was that the government is repealing a piece of legislation that is a burden on employers. Well, the catch here of course is that this provision was introduced by Labor and it was intended to commence from 1 July 2013. The measure did require employers to disclose when superannuation payments were actually made in a pay period, for all the sensible reasons—to ensure that employees were aware that they were being paid their superannuation. The concern is always that if a company goes into liquidation, if a company fails to pay its superannuation contributions, then at some point an employee, if they are not aware, will find out that they may in fact have missed out on a substantial amount of superannuation; it may have disappeared, and they may not be able to regain that amount easily. But in this instance it was a matter that was intended to provide an early warning that superannuation payments were not being paid. However, this provision has not applied in practice, as the enabling legislation has not been made. So we do have a hollow argument by Senator Seselja when he says he is removing the burden; the burden was never there in the first place. But we will move on from that small point; I am sure he would have corrected it had he been aware of it.

The draft legislation for the SI(S) Act pay slip reporting requirements was released by the Treasury for comment back in August 2014, so no changes were being made. In general the superannuation industry and accounting groups originally supported the pay slip reporting requirements when they were being considered for introduction. The ACCI has changed its position—I suspect it has been nudged by the government to close ranks on this issue or to at least not be discordant on the issue—and supports the repeal of these provisions as proposed in schedule 1. They argue—not as they argued originally—that the superannuation pay slip reporting regulations proved to be more complex in terms of creating confusion as to compliance obligations.

Another argument was that the introduction of pay slip reporting requirements would involve significant compliance costs. I do not for one minute accept that proposition. Nonetheless, existing arrangements under the Fair Work Act continue to operate. I have been assured on the concerns that I would otherwise have raised, whilst the government remains vigilant in the area of the Fair Work Act. I am not entirely confident of that, but there is good legislation in place to ensure that those requirements are met. For example, in terms of what reporting is actually provided to employees, the current Fair Work Act provisions give employers the choice of including either contributions actually made, which would be identical to the policy intended to be facilitated by the SI(S) Act provisions, or the amount of contributions the employer is liable to make. I will not go through the Fair Work Act provisions, but, in short, it is what I would regard as reasonably equivalent, and provides certainty that employees will have that information available to them.

For those employers already reporting the contributions they make on the payslips, the proposed SI(S) Act arrangements essentially match the reporting they currently provide. So, ultimately, the employers are meeting these obligations; they are meeting the spirit of the regulations through the Fair Work Act. As to the argument that it is a glad day and we can all cheer about the repeal of legislation, I think Senator Seselja's enthusiasm is a little bit misplaced. These are necessary as a consequence of what has already occurred.

The schedule 2 amendments are designed to simplify taxation laws by amending the Taxation Administration Act 1953 and a number of other acts so the requirements for the provision of information for the administration of taxation and superannuation laws are centrally located. Federal Labor again supports the measures aimed at the consolidation and repeal of redundant laws. It does make, with no shadow of a doubt, statute laws clearer, shorter and more accessible, and has real practical benefits for those who work with the law such as legal practitioners, courts, parliament and, of course, government, and for those who need to be able to access it, including those citizens and businesses that we speak of.

Schedule 3 has amendments to the Financial Sector (Shareholdings) Act. I will not go through the detail of that, other than to say that removing the requirements for a person to be subject to the provisions of the act where they do not have a stake in a financial sector company and their associates may be seen to increase their own stake in that company above 15 per cent is a laudable aim and should be supported. This amendment may lead to the unintended consequence of a person with no stake in a financial sector company gaining control of that company through their associates' stakes. This, however, is, I think, a small matter. There is, however, legislation to deal with that particular situation in the act. But it would have been easier for it to have been brought to the Treasurer's attention before action was taken. But we will continue to provide our support for this legislation, notwithstanding that it maybe missed a couple of points or was a little sloppy in bringing this forward in a consolidated way.

Schedule 4 rewrites provisions for the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 and the Taxation Administration Act 1953 to unify the definition of 'Australia' for income tax purposes. One of the areas that this government seems to crow about is the repeal day provisions. Yet these are, in truth, tidy-up provisions. They should be doing them as a matter of course. They should be doing them as a good government as they go through, rather than trying to put them under the rubric of a sudden 'repeal day'. That typifies what this government is. We have already heard the government say that—how can I phrase it?—good government would start from yesterday. I can only conclude from a statement like that that it must have been bad government prior to that. That seems to be the only position that you could adopt if you argue that good government started yesterday.

I think the repeal provision of this Treasury legislation is a good piece of legislation, but it is telling of the government. It is telling in this way: it is about spring-cleaning. And you can see in the eyes of the Liberals that they are keen to do a bit of spring-cleaning themselves. They have their broom in hand and they want to clean out their leader. That is what they want to do. And you can see it when their Prime Minister stands up in question time and answers questions. Those behind him are not watching him. They seem to have their eyes riveted on Mr Turnbull to see what he is doing. That seems to be the circumstance.

Federal Labor would like to see a bit of spring-cleaning on the other side—extending to the Abbott government's policies and leadership. It is time for the broomstick to turn a bit inward after their repeal of this legislation, to sweep away some of the cobwebs of chaos, speculation and dysfunction which have clearly taken hold of the manor. It seems that the repeal of a redundant leader like Mr Tony Abbott is on the cards. His leadership since 7 September 2013 has been marked by the relentless pursuit of inequality and unfairness, against those least able to defend themselves. He is a leader who is out of touch. There has been a litany of lies from this government, which is addicted to breaking promises and being ineffective.

And let me provide some practical examples of this, because I know that there are some on the other side who would doubt it. Mr Abbott said in his address to the National Press Club shortly before his election:

My aim is to lead a no surprises, no excuses government that says what it means and does what it says.

Sixteen months later, do we have that? Well, let us look at this example. As at 10 February 2015, the Abbott government is still unable to pass the 2014 budget measures. It promised to lead a strong, stable, accountable government. That promise was broken on 9 February 2015. Within 17 months, Mr Tony Abbott has faced his first leadership spill. Quite extraordinary—17 months in! How is this strong? Where is the stability? Where is the accountability? They are absent. He has dumped his signature policy on paid parental leave. That was abandoned on 2 February 2015, after months of back-pedalling. This was a signature policy that suddenly got swept back. I heard on the radio, as this policy was going out the back door, that small business and business in general were wondering what was going to happen to the 1.5 per cent tax—does it still apply, does it not apply, does it get swept out with the paid parental leave, and was this a government that was going to continue to mislead? No credibility can be sheeted home to this government.

On 26 January we saw firsthand just how out of touch Mr Tony Abbott is when he awarded a knighthood to Prince Philip—but I will not say any more about that; quite frankly, enough has been said. It was bizarre when he reintroduced knights and dames—I do not have a description after that. It was beyond bizarre—I am short of a word to describe it. On 30 August 2013 Mr Abbott promised that they were not in the business of cutting health. That promise was broken. On 12 January 2015 the Abbott government undermined Medicare by slashing the amount doctors get for consultations—and not even telling them. It was a surprise, unlike what he promised before the election—a no-surprises government. Let me say that slashing the amount of money that doctors get for consultations was a big surprise to those in the medical fraternity. On the same day he announced a freeze to the annual increases to the Medicare schedule. Again, this is supposed to be a no-surprises government. Let me redefine what 'no surprises' means—it means 'at any time I will do what I like, when I like, how I like and I will call it no surprises and you will believe it. There was $57 billion worth of cuts to hospitals, including $600 million from dental health care. We were not told of that before the election and it was not discussed during 17 months—it was just another jack-in-the-box policy surprise from this government.

By 15 December 2014 the federal budget had blown out to $40.4 billion, compared to the $29.9 billion deficit predicted by the Treasurer, Mr Joe Hockey, in May 2014. Talking about Mr Joe Hockey, with deficits being predicted by this government I wonder whether he is also going to get a bit of a spring-clean from those who sit opposite. I am not going to make predictions. We can only watch the chaos of this government unfold. On 11 December Mr Turnbull imposed a $900 tax on new homes connecting to the NBN, breaking the 14 March 2013 election promise of no new taxes under an Abbott government. If those opposite are considering swapping Mr Abbott for Mr Turnbull, they should be aware that he also breaks promises and misleads so be very, very careful. On 2 September 2014 the Abbott government killed the low-income super contribution payment and the superannuation guarantee, which aimed to boost the retirement savings of 3.6 million workers who earn $37,000 a year or less. I can only say shame on the government for that. This has not been a good, stable government. No wonder the statement was made yesterday that they would start the journey of being a good government. That does not wipe away the things that they have already done, and the public will not be misled by that statement. They will not start you afresh. This is not a reset of the clock. All of these things that I am outlining are matters that you have already dealt with, and you have already demonstrated your credentials to the Australian public.

On 13 May 2014 the Abbott government slashed $240 million over four years to community programs that support poor, sick or disadvantaged people. On the same day, the government cut $25 million over four years—a quarter of the total funding—to community legal centres that provide legal support to those who are most in need. On 6 December 2013 Mr Tony Abbott promised there would be no cuts to education. What a phenomenal mislead that was. There were to be no cuts to education and no cuts to health. We now know that they were totally broken promises because those areas have been cut. The Abbott government's deregulation of university fees will mean $100,000 degrees for students seeking a higher education in Australia.

This is a government that is now in the weeds, concentrating on Treasury repeal legislation. Where are their signature policies, where are their big statements, where are they managing government in a way that gives confidence to the Australian people? This is not a government that is doing any of that. This is a government in chaos; this is a government that is confused—and a little dazed too, I suspect, after the last two days. Can it concentrate on the bigger picture? No. We are now talking about repeals that are a bit hollow. They might be repeals that are necessary, but they should not be trumpeted—they should be just an ordinary part of the government's day-to-day work. Mr Abbott said that 'a serious country deserves an adult government.' This government has not demonstrated that it is a serious government one little bit. What has this government done? Mr Abbott has been in the chair of his new government, with a new agenda, for a couple of days, and what are they doing? There is silence. It is business as usual. Do not be fooled, Australia.