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Wednesday, 23 May 2018
Page: 4295

Mr HILL (Bruce) (11:13): I'd like to be able to explain to the House and my constituents in the electorate of Bruce what impact the government's proposals have on my electorate, who will benefit from the changes proposed to taxation in this country in the Treasury Laws Amendment (Personal Income Tax Plan) Bill 2018, who wins, who loses, how my electorate and community may fare relative to other electorates, and how the various components of this very complex proposal, to be implemented over the next seven years, actually impact on people—and by 'impact' I don't mean inane anecdotes about alleged correspondence from people called Julie, Elizabeth, Bob and Sally; we never hear about any Mohammeds, Vikrams or people from non-English speaking backgrounds in these comparisons I hear from those opposite. I don't mean the inane anecdotes; I mean the grown-up distributional impacts in a longitudinal sense that you might expect if we're debating a bill to spend $140 billion. It seems like a reasonable kind of question, but I can't tell my electorate what this means. Indeed, no member of this parliament can honestly report back to their electorate what it means in terms of impacts for their community vis-a-vis other communities around the country, because it's actually impossible to do so from the information provided to the parliament. The government won't tell us.

The cost to the budget of this bill over the forward estimates is $13 billion, and the cost in the medium term, we're told, is $140 billion, but that's all we know about the impact. They're big numbers—kind of important, I would have thought. Australians, I would think, would expect us to do our jobs as parliamentarians, scrutinising legislation and proposals thoughtfully and looking at the impacts. It's not as if—despite some of the nonsense we heard at the end of the previous member's speech—the mob opposite have done a great job with the budget. The context for this $140 billion is important.

You used to hear about the 'debt and deficit disaster' and the 'debt trucks'. You don't hear much about that anymore. It's funny, because there was a debt and deficit disaster when Labor was in government, according to the now government, but they've made the budget worse, and you don't hear that. We now have the best global economic conditions for over a decade. Yet, despite that, net debt for this coming year is double what it was when the Liberals came to office. Gross debt has now crashed through half a trillion dollars on their watch, for the first time in Australia's history, and will remain well above half a trillion dollars every year for the next decade. Both types of debt, net debt and gross debt, are growing faster under the current government than under the previous Labor government, which had a global financial crisis to contend with.

I have to hand it to those opposite: they do have luck. If you looked back from the time of Federation to now and picked one decade where you'd just go, 'Wow, I'd really want to be in government in that decade,' you would have picked the decade of the Howard government. Our terms of trade were the best they've ever been. Revenue was pouring in faster than you could spend it. They do have luck.

We had a global financial crisis. We sorted that out. We responded to it. Now this government has the best economic conditions in a decade. Yet, despite that, the deficit is 6½ times bigger than it predicted in its first horror budget. We hear a lot about how you've got to live within your means, not much about the means to live, properly funding Medicare or schools, universities or infrastructure, preparing the nation for the future. But it's okay, despite all of this fiscal context, to run in here and try to rush through a bill that spends $140 billion, because the government's in political trouble and the vultures are circling for the Prime Minister.

They've tried everything else. We heard there was going to be adult government. I would have thought that adult government was introducing a tax bill and being able to explain what the cost, year by year, of the different measures would be. That would be grown-up government, to my mind. But not when you're in political trouble. You press the panic button. You rush in and go: 'Tax cuts, everyone! Tax cuts! Trust us. Stick with us for seven years. In seven years, you might get a bigger tax cut.' You'd think that even the worst of the boneheads opposite would agree with that fiscal context and that parliamentarians should be able to consider the detail and the impacts of legislation that shells out $140 billion. But, no, the government are hiding the truth from people, trying to con Australians and blackmail this parliament by rushing through this bill without proper scrutiny.

In my view, oppositions in a Westminster parliamentary system such as ours have two critical primary functions above all else. One is to properly scrutinise on behalf of the people we represent and on behalf of all Australians, doing our job as an opposition. Yes, we'd rather be over there. You change the country for the better through being in government—or at least we would. But your job as an opposition is to properly scrutinise what those people sitting over there, the government, put forward. You can't do that if you don't have the information. The other responsibility of an opposition, of course, is to propose alternatives so that, when we come to an election, there's a clear, costed, credible alternative for people to choose. I'm proud of the job we're doing on both fronts.

But we do need the information to do our job. You have to provide the information to the parliament, if you have any respect for the institution, so both sides can do their jobs. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer are unable, unwilling or deliberately hiding the facts and the figures. They simply will not admit the cost, year by year, of each of the measures. We asked them in question time—no answers. Senators have asked the Treasury this week for this information: a year-by-year breakdown of the tranches' individual components. We've also asked for a breakdown of the impact by gender and by electorate and for other important information so we can do our job.

The government, when you look at it, is a complete farce—there's one silly stunt after another. This is not adult government. What have you got to hide? What possible reasons could there be for not providing this information which is entirely normal and reasonable. It could be that you don't have it. This could be a big call—I'm going to say something nice—but, even I don't believe you're so incompetent that you'd rush in here trying to spend $140 billion—

A government member interjecting

Mr HILL: No, no, I mean that, I do. But, actually, as a safety net: I do not believe the Treasury is so incompetent that they wouldn't have briefed you with the detail at least. So you've got it somewhere. We have to believe you have this somewhere. It might be in the dispatch box over there. Maybe it's in a filing cabinet, who knows? The Prime Minister might be hiding it under the mattress at home. The other possibility is you're just unwilling, obstinate and disrespectful and it's another one of your silly tactics and stunts: 'We'll get Labor to vote against the tax cut bill. That'll be good on TV. We won't tell them what's in it—we'll just get them to vote—and then we'll say, "They don't like tax cuts."' That's entirely possible, and it's part of the political tactic. But my belief is you're deliberately hiding the information, because if the detail comes out then the tax plan will be exposed for the con that it appears to be.

This is the government's latest plan, and the word 'latest' is important. We can't forget that until a few weeks ago the government's personal tax plan was to increase taxes on everyone earning between about $21,000 and $180,000. Indeed, in the last budget the only people in the country to get a tax cut were those earning over $180,000. They've had quite a few tax plans. They were going to jack up the GST. That didn't last long. Then there was that brilliant moment of state based income taxes. That was good. They went in 1942; let's bring them back. There are company tax cuts of $80 billion. I know, I said the number '80'. It's a number the Prime Minister just cannot bring himself to say in here. What's the cost of the company tax cuts, legislated and unlegislated, over the 10 years? We think the answer is 80 when you glue it together, but the Prime Minister just can't bring himself to say it—80 seems to be the hardest word. This is the latest tax plan; we'll see how long it lasts. We'll have to count them in dog years for them to have any credibility in a temporal sense, really.

So on 1 July, apparently, this bill will see the introduction of a low- and middle-income tax offset—a non-refundable tax offset—of up to $530 a year for taxpayers earning up to $125,000 and an increase in the top threshold of the 32.5 per cent personal income tax bracket from $87,000 to $90,000. We're good with that—a bipartisan moment, hurrah! Let's do it. We could split this bill and vote on it today. Lock it in, Eddie. Give us certainty. We've been upfront from the start, since budget night, when you announced this. We said, 'Yep, we'll back that. Bring the legislation in and we'll vote on it and move on. It's costed, it's clear, it's fair, it's affordable and it's in the forward estimates. We can understand what we're dealing with.' The government could do that today.

As for the rest of the plan—a plan that costs $13 billion over four years and $140 billion over the medium term and that has a whole lot of complex measures—we want to examine it. As I said, that's our scrutiny role. The alternative, of course, is putting forward alternatives for people to choose from. We've said—Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, said in the budget reply speech—that Labor will deliver bigger, better and fairer tax cuts. If we're doing three-word slogans, that's our three-word slogan. You had 'lower, fairer, simpler'—we'll touch on 'fairer' in a moment. We will deliver bigger, better, fairer tax cuts for $10 million working Australians. In this instance, size does matter. The difference is clear, and Australians can decide what to do with it.

Labor's tax refund for working Australians increases the tax cuts currently being offered under the government's tax offset proposal. As I said, we'll support the measures that begin on 1 July this year, and a Labor government will deliver bigger tax cuts from 1 July 2019, and they'll be permanent, so that anyone earning less than $125,000 a year will get a bigger tax cut under Labor than under the Liberals. Indeed, more than four million people will be better off by $398 a year compared to the Liberals. Our proposal has been costed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office and our policy has a budget impact of $5.8 billion over the forward estimates. It's affordable. It's the latest in Labor's series of reforms to tax and proposals which we've outlined. You could never accuse us of being a small-target opposition or of not doing our job of putting forward policy. You might not agree with it—we hear a load of nonsense; indeed, we see deliberate mistruths in the newsletters sent to electors by those opposite—but you couldn't accuse us of not putting forward an alternative plan.

There are a range of problems with the government's tax plans. We know that. We haven't been given the full picture by the government—they simply won't tell us—but it is possible now, from a lot of the advice we've commissioned and the independent external analysis that's been published in the days and weeks since the budget, to start to figure out a lot of stuff from it.

Let's have a look at the word 'fairness'. We say ours is fairer; they say theirs is fairer. The government MPs keep saying: 'It's fair, it's fair. Trust us, we're Liberals. It's fair, it's fair.' What does fairness look like to a Liberal? It's a sit-down, shock-horror moment: early indications are, from the independent commentators and analysis that has been done, that once the government's three-stage package is in place it will deliver larger benefits to those on higher incomes. I know, right? Shocking! From the mob who brought a two per cent tax cut for people earning over $180,000, $80 billion for multinationals and big companies, and company tax cuts, who would have thought? When the government's plan is fully implemented, a worker on $42,000 in this country will be on exactly the same tax rate as an executive earning $200,000. This is in a country that has a proud tradition of egalitarianism, fairness and proper funding of public services—that those who can afford to pay the most contribute a bit more towards our society.

The Grattan Institute has said that once the three-stage plan is complete $15 billion of the annual $25 billion cost to the plan will result from collecting less tax from the top 20 per cent of income earners. To be fair, the proposed tax offset for low- and middle-income earners in 2018-19 is progressive. More money goes to lower-income earners—we'd vote for that. But by 2024-25 the tax cuts mean that higher-income earners gain $7,225 a year, while those earning $50,000 to $90,000 gain $540 a year and those earning $30,000 gain $200 a year. It's not just income; it's also the gender impact. They won't tell us what the gender impact of this is, but the Australia Institute has done some analysis in the last week or so and concluded that two-thirds of the benefit of the government's proposed tax changes go to men, because men dominate the ranks of high-income earners. For every $1 in tax cuts for women, men get $2. Is that fair or unfair? Well, when you've only got about 20 per cent of your parliamentary representation being women, and last weekend you knocked off a woman in Queensland, the member for Ryan, treated shamefully—I think that means that, going into the next election, the LNP in Queensland will have two out of 21 held seats contested by women—I suppose that's a better outcome, isn't it? You would probably think that is fair.

At a time when the government should be locking in strong surpluses, devoting more of this revenue towards structural budget repair to protect the nation from further shocks and repairing the balance sheet post GFC as we enter into uncertain economic times, they've chosen to chuck $140 billion at a tax plan that they won't release the details for. Overwhelmingly, we know from independent analysis that more of the benefit will go to high-income earners, and we're being asked to just wave this through. Well, to my mind, that's not what parliamentarians should be doing. It's not what an opposition's job of scrutiny should be. If the House is not able to deal with this—funnily enough, we don't have the numbers in the House—then I hope that the Senate will be able to pull this to pieces and figure out what the real impact is, because none of us are able to honestly report to our electorates.