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Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Page: 2281


Mr BOWEN (McMahon) (15:14): There are actually only five sitting days left before the Treasurer will deliver the 2018 federal budget—and that's if the budget date doesn't change without the Treasurer knowing it again, but, working on the published schedule, that is the case. Australians would hope and expect that their government brings down a budget which helps them with their concerns. In my experience, Australians are very understanding. They don't expect miracles from government. Australians don't expect the government to fix all their problems. Australians don't expect the government to wave a magic wand and improve their lives overnight. But Australians expect a government which understands their problems and tries to help them deal with the challenges in their lives, not make things harder for them. Australians want a government that's dealing with low wages growth and with concerns about job insecurity, casualisation and rising inequality in Australia. They want a government that actually gets these things and knows that there are policies that can be put in place which make a contribution to helping.

This government has got answers and it's got policies which no doubt we'll see again in the federal budget. They've got an answer on low wages growth: that is, to stand aside and let people who work on the weekend have a wages cut. That's the policy of this government. That's their answer to low wages growth: to actually reduce people's wages. And it gets worse. Their other answer to people on low and middle incomes who are worrying about where the wages growth is going to come from and how they're going to make ends meet to match their cost-of-living increases is that they want a tax rise for them. Anybody who earns more than $21,000 and less than $87,000 will get a tax rise if the Treasurer gets his way. That's what the Treasurer thinks: they don't pay enough. He wants more.

But the government have more answers for the Australian people about these challenges. They say they've got a plan. It's a great plan! What they're going to do is give a $65 billion tax cut to big business, and don't worry: it's going to trickle down to you. It's going to trickle down to people on low wages. They say that's their answer to wages growth, and they talk about the United States, because they say it's a good idea because President Trump's done it. That's the government opposite. They say it'll lead to increased wages because it has in America. That's what they say. The Treasurer says it and the Minister for Finance says it.

Let's just take a few moments of the House's time to look at that argument. They talk about Walmart—not famous as a best-practice employer—and say they've increased their minimum wage from $9 to $11. The government will tell you it is because of United States tax cuts. I wonder if the government also therefore says the tax cuts are responsible for Walmart laying off 10,000 workers at the same time. That's what is happening in America as we speak. Target had already increased their minimum wage to $11 before the tax cut had come into place, and many analysts say that Walmart would have struggled to get people to come and work for them with Target paying more. Kimberly-Clark, at the same time in the United States, is in the process of sacking 13 per cent of its workforce. Those tax cuts are working great for jobs and growth, aren't they?

That's the best that this government can come up with: an attempt to see it trickle down through osmosis, hope and prayer that somehow this will create jobs and growth. There is no requirement on businesses to increase wages and no requirement on businesses to invest. There is no obligation on businesses for them to get the tax cut—no, just a straight blank cheque and, 'Please, it would be great if you invested some of this; we don't want you to give it to share buybacks, but you can if you want to.' That's what's happening in the United States: more and more share buybacks as a result of the tax cuts.

The Treasurer's great myth, which he was perpetuating a few moments ago at the dispatch box, is that he tells us it's all paid for because it's in the budget. It's a great revelation the Treasurer gave us at question time—that it's in the budget! Of course it's in the budget; it's his budget and his policy. But just because you write something in the budget doesn't mean it's paid for. He argues that the NDIS wasn't funded. It was in the budget. He argues that the Gonski funding package wasn't funded. It was in the budget too. If the Treasurer applies his own logic, his argument collapses on other matters. The fact of the matter is that the corporate tax cut is unfunded and the budget would be $65 billion better off if they didn't proceed. That's the fact of the matter.

Then, of course, as I said before, we have personal income tax. Personal income tax is, of course, something we hear about a lot. The Treasurer said just late last year that it was their intention to provide income tax relief wherever and whenever possible. Well, they are providing income tax relief—I give them that—wherever and whenever possible for people who earn more than $180,000. That's all they're doing. If you earn $21,000, the government don't believe in personal income tax relief; they believe in a personal income tax rise of $300 a year for a moderate-income earner. Seven million Australians will pay more tax under this government compared to the policies of the Labor Party.

We saw some modelling, some analysis—and I use that term extremely lightly—that the government was referring to about Labor policies which was conducted not by the PBO but by the PMO, the Prime Minister's office. It was conducted not even by the Treasurer's office but by the Prime Minister's office. This so-called analysis conveniently ignored the fact that the Labor Party believes in lower taxes for people on low and middle incomes.

This is a government that does not believe in lower tax; it believes in different tax. They don't believe in shrinking tax; they believe in changing tax. They make a big point about increasing the tax threshold from $80,000 to $87,000. They say that was their 'great big tax cut'. Well, the fact of the matter is that if you earn $85,000, when you take into account that tax cut and the Medicare levy increase, you are worse off by $200 a year. Those people will say to the government: 'Next time, please don't bother helping. Thanks very much for the tax cut: we're $200 a year worse off because of the two successive budgets! Next time you have a bright idea, please keep it to yourself.'

This is a Treasurer for whom consistency is not a strong point. He has argued for an increase in the GST. He has argued for state income taxes—that was a doozy! He's argued for swingeing income tax cuts at the same time as arguing for an income tax rise if you earn between $21,000 and $87,000. But the one thing he is consistent on is that people in the top tax bracket deserve a tax cut, that big business should get a tax cut, but people on low incomes should get a tax rise. We do not agree and we will oppose the government on all those measures—because we have a different set of values.

As I said at the outset, the Australian people expect their government to understand their concerns—not to conduct miracles, not to wave a magic wand, but to understand their concerns and try and deal with them. Under this government, the Australian people know that the real value of their pay packet is going backwards. The cost of things like electricity and private health insurance is skyrocketing. We have a housing affordability crisis and plummeting home ownership, particularly for young people. We have household debt at record levels—the highest in the OECD—and we have record unemployment and job insecurity. 'Weighing up all the policy options, what could we do to deal with these things?' the cabinet say as they sit around thinking of new policies. They say, 'We will give big business $65 billion and we hope and pray that they will invest it and increase wages'—when all the evidence and experience from overseas suggests that may very well be a forlorn hope.

We need to ensure that our 26 years of uninterrupted economic growth continues—that is the responsibility of this House. But it needs to continue fairly. We need to see that growth shared across our community and shared across the country. We need to see the people in the regions benefiting from that growth. As my friend the member for Rankin pointed out last week, the people of Townsville believe in economic growth, they deserve economic growth, and our plan is to deliver a much bigger dividend for them than any $65 billion corporate tax cut ever will. People in the regions deserve a youth unemployment rate that is not above 20 per cent. The people of Australia's regions deserve to know that their children can get jobs. I'll tell you what, a $65 billion tax cut isn't going to do that, a $65 billion tax cut isn't going to deliver on those hopes and aspirations. What a $65 billion tax cut for big business will do is see shareholders, many of whom are overseas, better off, with no obligation for them to invest in this country, no obligation for them to make a decision to create jobs or increase wages, just a cheque from Malcolm Turnbull.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Coulton ): Order! The member for McMahon will refer to members by their correct title.

Mr BOWEN: A cheque from the Prime Minister. I'll tell you damn straight, we have a different idea, we have different plans. We won't go along with their $65 billion tax cuts for big business, we won't go along with their tax rise for low- and middle-income earners and we won't go along with seeing penalty rates cut. We will stand against them at every opportunity.