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Wednesday, 23 May 2018
Page: 4313


Mr BRIAN MITCHELL (Lyons) (12:30): Before I get started on my speech, I will just make reference to the speech by the member for Gilmore. She said a few things which I'd like to address. She said that financial management is a major strength of the coalition. Now, I know they think they believe that, but the facts belie it. Since this government came to power, we've had debt and deficit go through the roof. Apparently we had a debt and deficit emergency when they came to power, but since they've been in power for five years I think debt has doubled to more than half a trillion dollars, and the deficit has tripled. I hardly see that as an example of prudent financial management.

The member for Gilmore also mentioned the virtues, supposedly, of a flat tax. I must take issue with that. I think one of the great things about Australia is that we have a progressive taxation system. The more you earn, the more you pay. The problem with a flat tax is that it means a lot less money for government revenue, and that means a lot less money for hospitals, a lot less money for schools, a lot less money for roads, a lot less money for aged care and a lot less money for child care. All the services and infrastructure that make a cohesive, peaceful, stable society require taxation revenue. A flat tax system—I think the flat-taxers, the flat-earthers, usually like to talk about 20 to 25 per cent as their target—would mean such a massive drop in revenue for this country that we would see social services just drop off the edge.

We would see the wealthy in this country get incredibly wealthier, and they'd be okay. They'd have their private schools, their private hospitals and their private cars to take them wherever they'd like to go. But public transport would fall away; public schools would have less money; and public hospitals would crumble, and we don't want to see that society. We've seen that society in countries overseas where the wealthy are incredibly wealthy and everybody else has to make do, and we don't want to see that here.

Now I'll get to the substance of my speech. Two weeks ago, the Treasurer handed down yet another Liberal budget that looks after the top end of town. It's an economic agenda that includes $7,000-a-year tax cuts for high-income earners, such as everybody in this chamber, but it takes $14 a fortnight from pensioners. It's an economic agenda that gives $17 billion to banks but cuts $17 billion from schools. It's an economic agenda that takes $715 million from Australian hospitals but gives $80 billion—$80 billion!—to corporations and multinationals. The Treasurer and the Prime Minister are desperate to divert attention from the ugly truth of their ugly budget. They point excitedly to the $540 a year that workers will get back as tax relief: 'Look! We're helping the poor people. We care. We do!' But that tax relief will only come if this parliament approves the entire rotten package.

Labor has been up-front. We support the government's first tranche of tax cuts for workers on low and middle incomes. If those tax cuts were separated from the other stages, they would sail through this parliament, and workers would enjoy the benefits immediately. But the government is refusing to separate the Treasury Laws Amendment (Personal Income Tax Plan) Bill 2018. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer are trying to blackmail this parliament: 'Pass the tax cuts for the rich too, or working families will get nothing. Give our friends in boardrooms and mansions a bigger slice of the pie, or we will deny the little people their tiny little sliver of relief. Give politicians and CEOs and lawyers and surgeons $7,000 tax cuts, or the workers won't get their $540.' That is their real agenda. The modest tax cuts for ordinary Australians are the sprat to catch the mackerel. They're just the bait, and it's despicable.

Labor has been seeking answers from the government. What is the total year-on-year cost of its seven-year tax plan? The questions could not be more direct in question time. There is no preamble and no posturing. They are simple, direct questions this Treasurer should be able to answer. And we know that he does know the answers; he just won't give them. He won't tell this parliament and he won't tell the Australian people. The Treasurer and the Prime Minister are refusing to answer. They are refusing to tell this parliament the detail of budget measures that they expect this parliament to approve. They are blind to their own arrogance. It's a government that has broken more promises than it has kept, and it cannot expect to be taken at its word.

A government that promised no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no cuts to pensions and no cuts to the ABC and then broke every single one of those promises cannot be taken at its word. A Prime Minister who came to office as a champion of tackling climate change and of raising the tone of political debate but who now champions the expansion of fossil fuels and who peddles in petty sloganeering cannot be taken at his word. A Treasurer who railed against debt and deficit but who has tripled the deficit and more than doubled the debt to half a trillion dollars cannot be taken at his word. A government built on lies and broken promises cannot be taken at its word. This parliament must see the detail of the cost of those measures that it is expected to vote on. It is common sense.

Labor's budget reply speech outlined a bigger, better and fairer tax system that benefits 10 million everyday Australians. Labor's plan nearly doubles the tax relief for the vast majority of wage earners. Labor can afford this because we are not backing the billions for banks and corporations. We think the top end of town is doing nicely already. They can look after themselves. They don't need our help. But we know that working Australians—the supermarket tellers and medical receptionists; the nurses, teachers and teachers aides; the mechanics, office workers, bus drivers and baristas; the people in this gallery; the parents of the schoolchildren who come to this parliament—are finding it tough to make ends meet. We are not talking about making it easier to afford a summer trip to France; we are talking about making it easier to afford the kids' school camp to Queensland. We are not making it easier to buy your second, third, fifth or 10th investment property; we are going to make it easier to buy a home to live in. Labor is supporting the government's tax measures that come into effect from 1 July this year, but we obviously believe they do not go far enough. A Labor government would permanently expand this element of the government's agenda so that anyone earning under $125,000 a year will receive an even bigger tax cut. Under Labor, more than four million Australians will be another $400 a year better off. It proves the lie of this government that says Labor is the bigger-taxing party in government. The vast majority of Australians will be better off—they will pay less tax—under Labor.

In my electorate of Lyons, the median weekly income is $981 a week, well below the national and even the Tasmanian average. Less than 10 per cent of my constituents earn more than $90,000 a year. The vast majority of people in Lyons will have more money in their pockets under Labor. That is an absolute fact. Labor can deliver these bigger, better and fairer tax cuts to working Australians because we are not backing billions in giveaways for banks and corporations. That means we can also reinvest in vital community services like health and education, which the Liberals have cut. Labor will put back the $17 billion into schools that the Liberals cut. We know that $17 billion invested in our kids is a better investment than giving $17 billion to the banks. Labor will invest more in health and hospitals, including an extra $30 million in Tasmania's hospitals, which are suffering under the Hodgman Liberal state government. Labor will invest more in TAFE after this government, in this budget, ripped $270 million out of TAFE. We will fund 100,000 places to ensure that our kids have the skills to fill the jobs that this century requires. We will invest more in apprenticeships and even require that one in 10 jobs on Commonwealth projects be filled by an apprentice. We know that there are 130,000 fewer apprentices since this government came to power. It's a shameful record, at a time when we are importing so many skills from overseas, that so many young people have been denied a place in trades training.

These are stark differences—and there will be stark differences at the next election. People have a real choice. The Liberals have their failed, trickle-down economics, 'look after the top end of town' and 'make the rich richer' philosophy. It's failed. They've tried it overseas. The US has had it in place since Reagan's time. You cut the taxes for the top end of town and somehow believe that the money will be invested and will make its way down to the workers one day. It hasn't happened. They've been trying it for 40 years—it has failed. There is living proof. The once great American middle class has been rent asunder. It's gone. The American dream that we all once aspired to—mum and dad, the suburban house and the car in the drive—is all gone. In America you are struggling or you're rich. There's no in-between. People are struggling to afford their health care or they're captive in their employment because that's where their private health insurance is. This is the sort of model these people want to bring to this country.

I know there was irony there when Donald Horne called his book The Lucky Country, but we have taken that slogan on—'the lucky country'. It's a great country. It didn't just happen by accident. This country enjoys the stability and the prosperity that it does because of the sacrifice and the decisions made by previous members of this parliament. It was no accident. It didn't just happen by magic. Laws and policies made by this parliament, to protect trade unions and the right to protest and to bring in fair work provisions, the eight-hour day, the weekend and penalty rates, are what made this country great. By making life affordable for people at the bottom end, that is what generates economic activity. I'm no great fan of Henry Ford. He was a nasty fascist, but one thing he did understand was business. He knew that, if he was going to make a whole pile of cars, the best way for him to sell more cars was to make sure that his workers could afford to buy them. Ford made sure that workers in his factories could afford to buy the products he was making. It's basic business. You empower the people at the bottom—you give them enough economic power—and that's where you generate your economic activity from. The more you casualise, the more you contract out and the more you make people insecure at the bottom, the less they're going buy and the less economic activity they're going to generate. They're going to hold onto their money—'I'm not sure I've got a shift next week; I'll hold onto what little cash I've got. I'm not sure I'll be able to afford the rent, so I better squirrel it away.' When you have confidence, secure wages and secure work, that's when you go out and purchase and generate economic activity, and that's when you create jobs.

At the next election, there's a choice between the failed trickle-down philosophy of this government and those opposite, and Labor, with bigger, better and fairer tax cuts for the vast majority of people in this country. The top end are going to miss out—hand on heart. If you're in the gallery and you're super-rich, sorry, you're getting no tax cuts under Labor. But if you're a working person on a wage under $125,000, you're going to be better off. Labor understands that economic activity is generated from the bottom up. We know that. There's been 25 or 26 years of uninterrupted economic growth in this country, thanks to those on this side of the House—and we look forward to making things even better when we get on the other side of the House. Thank you.