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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2006

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (19:32): Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, I always appreciate appearing before you. I look forward to going back to your electorate in the lead-up to Christmas. Thank you for your kind permission to let me go there the other day.

I rise to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (Research and Development) Bill 2013. I commend the member for Charlton for his contribution, particularly for his comments about the automotive industry. Surely the result in the electorate of Indi was a comment on the mandate of the then opposition in terms of their policy for the automotive industry. I thought throwing out the shadow minister for industry, the only shadow minister to be thrown out, was a strong statement from the Australian people about the coalition's policy on the automotive industry. I am not going to focus on the automotive industry, but I would as a Queenslander—and with the member for Moncrieff in the chamber—point out the other great innovative industry which is based in Queensland, which is the medical industry. Businesses such as Cook Medical in my electorate are doing great things, as are so many other innovative businesses in the medical area.

Returning to the legislation before us, the Gillard Labor government's A plan for Australian jobs was a response to the report Smarter manufacturing for a smarter Australia. It recognised how things have changed. Chapter 6 of A plan for Australian jobs set out the Gillard government's proposals to help small and medium enterprises to grow and create new jobs. It included the proposal to target SMEs for additional research and development support. It looked at other jurisdictions to show that the R&D spending of small firms is actually more responsive to R&D tax incentives than that of larger firms. Consequently, it stated that very large companies, those with an annual Australian turnover of $20 billion or more—not many companies, obviously—would no longer be entitled to the non-refundable 40 per cent R&D tax offset. As the member for Moncrieff knows, we are the party of small business, so we did what we could to ensure we could support them in terms of having as much innovation as possible.

But, looking at those on the other side of the chamber, obviously this bill represents another broken promise from the coalition government. What they said before the election is different from what they are doing after the election. This measure was previously announced on 17 February by the Labor government, with revenue to fund a targeted jobs package, the Australian Jobs Act. The coalition, back then, before the election, made it very clear in opposition that they were against the changes to the research and development tax incentive. You can look through the Hansard. You can see their speeches. They were very clear. But now, suddenly, in government, the coalition has changed its tune. It is, yet again, an example of the Australian people not getting the government that they voted for and not getting the government that they read the brochures on. Suddenly, after the election, they find it is a different government. It is a doppelganger. It looks a little similar but acts a little bit differently. Australians are quickly realising that this is a pattern of behaviour: start as you intend to finish.

The former, Labor government implemented this plan to assist industries to create more jobs because we cannot go down the low wages route. We cannot compete with Asia and the low wages route. We tried that in 2004 under the Howard government and we saw that the low wages route—such as the $2 jobs at Curtain Call—is not the way forward. We saw a higher skills approach of innovation and selling quality services and quality products around the world. The billion dollar plan was implemented to promote jobs and to promote productivity, which has been steadily on the increase over the last six years. In the quarter when we came to office, productivity was at zero. When you need to do things to improve Australian productivity, what do you do? You invest in high-tech jobs and the tools of the 21st century, like the National Broadband Network. The jobs plan provides assistance for Australian companies to achieve more local work and to increase exports and new business overseas, and supports the growth of SMEs.

During Labor's term in government there were significant achievements, with a focus on employment beyond the resources boom. That is why we have been one of the few lucky countries in the world, with 22 years of uninterrupted growth. It has involved some tough decisions, both by Labor governments and by coalition governments. I should point out that the Howard and Costello government did make a contribution in that time as well.

I am proud to say that as a government we doubled our investment in school education and upgraded facilities at every school. There is still more work to be done in that area. Investing in staff is going to be a big part of that future education story. It was Labor that delivered the skills and training required for the jobs of the future through our $3 billion jobs and skills package. An additional 150,000 students are now attending university, particularly—as I am sure the Nationals would know—people from rural and remote areas, people from the poorer parts of Australia and people from some of the other problem areas, such as Indigenous students, who were under-represented in the past.

Since my election to this place on 24 November 2007, I know that we have been a party that is focused on providing jobs for this nation. Australia benefited from Labor's focus on bringing government, businesses and unions together around the same table rather than on continuing the politics of division. That is what those opposite practise. We are about getting people to the table to talk, to come up with the best way forward and the best way to provide jobs for the future—not about having an 'us and them' mentality. That is the way to build Australia's future—by working together, collaboratively, not by going down those old class lines that some members opposite cling to.

Supporting Australian jobs was our top priority through the global financial crisis, with more than 950,000 jobs created between 2007 and 2013. Look at what happened around the world in that period: 28 million people were added to unemployment queues. That is a cost to society and a cost to families, and decreases the chances of coming out of the austerity budgets that we have seen implemented throughout the world. Those opposite have some fun during question time, but the reality is that our nation is still given a AAA credit rating by all three ratings agencies. That is an albatross that not many treasurers get to have hung around their neck, but it is one that most treasurers around the world would gladly embrace.

Nearly one million Australians work in manufacturing. Our economies have transformed through some tough policies of the Hawke and Keating governments. Lowering tariffs brought challenges, particularly for the Labor faithful. But those tough decisions of the Hawke and Keating governments also set us up for the future. There are pressures on manufacturing. The most significant that any sensible economist would see would be the high Australian dollar and increasing international competition, which puts pressure on Australian jobs—more so than any price on pollution, which might influence some power bills that some businesses get.

It creates innovation when businesses understand that the world will always be carbon constrained, that the markets of the future will always operate in a carbon constrained world. I can see that it will not be that long before there are barriers put up if products are not green. Under our price on pollution, Australian businesses got the inside running. The political agenda of those opposite does not recognise that. Obviously, they are not as worried about the future. They are not as worried about Gold Coast beaches becoming shark nets as the beaches move further and further inland. But most sensible people are worried.

The coalition were not supportive of the jobs package, but they have now decided to implement our plan. We have seen the benefits of this package. Our focus as the Labor Party is always on making sure people have the dignity of a job. Job Services Australia has found work for around 1.5 million Australians since it commenced in 2009. We are also proud of our work in Disability Employment Services, which has resulted in a 46 per cent increase in the number of disabled people being helped into a job. Some of the services in my electorate talk about how, when people with disabilities obtain a job, they can be some of the best employees because they are often particularly focused on the job that they have rather than on things that can be distractions for other employees.

Our job plan included an investment in skills and training, including through TAFEs. Sadly, Liberal state governments do not have a proud record when it comes to TAFEs. In my home state of Queensland, we see a commitment to close down 40 per cent of TAFE campuses. I have three TAFE campuses in my electorate and some of them are already in the crosshairs. They are going to be stripped of their assets, and TAFE campuses are going to be opened up for use by private, for-profit providers. The education minister announced a 40 per cent reduction in the number of Queensland TAFE campuses. TAFE has a number of unique responsibilities, providing libraries, student counselling services and other support services that private suppliers just do not provide. I have seen this.

The Labor government's commitment was to give every senior high school student in Australia access to a trades training centre. This would have given them access to industry standard equipment and vocational education, offering a quality pathway into a trade or vocation and helping to address national skills shortages in traditional trades and emerging industries. Obviously, there is much more work to be done.

In my electorate in Queensland, sadly, unemployment has been a growing issue, not just because of the 14,000 or so public servants sacked by the Newman government; unemployment continues to rise. I have a big swathe of manufacturing through my electorate, including things like Cook Medical and major companies that service the mining industry. Those major companies have been under threat as those industries move from construction to production.

Since the implementation of the research and development tax incentives, thousands more firms are investing in themselves than was the case before. With Labor's plan we saw increased investment in clean technologies. I am particularly concerned about the direct action policy of those opposite because, under Labor, most of the low-hanging fruit when it comes to responding to climate change has already been picked. Most industries have already done their bit to change behaviours. Most industries that can have put solar panels on their roofs, have changed their light bulbs and have changed their production techniques. They have made investments in clean technologies. But this homeless waif of a policy called direct action, which no-one will own, is not going to deliver the savings that we need to meet the targets.

On the weekend, the Minister for the Environment was able to misrepresent the data that came out about decreased emissions. He bundled together the sections of the Australian economy that do not have a carbon price and said that emissions in industries such as the farming sector had increased. When you open up new mines the methane emissions increase. He bundled all those kinds of things together and said, 'You can see Labor's policy has not worked,' whereas, in reality, if he had looked at the bits of industry that had had a price put on carbon, he would have found that their innovation was plain to see and that their emissions had gone down significantly.

The growth of clean energy investment drives increases in jobs, investment and trade—particularly in the jobs for the future: the jobs for my children and grandchildren. Clean energy industries deliver both economic and environmental benefits, and their growth is driven by the fact that they are more efficient, more profitable and more sustainable enterprises.

The bill before the House today is a clear example of this government's being unable to clearly outline to the Australian public its true intentions. Again, this is not the government that they said, before the election, they were going to be. Before the election those on the other side of the chamber said one thing; now they are doing another. First they told us they would honour the Better Schools Plan agreements, but they did—not a back-flip; that would put them back in the same spot—a volte-face.

The Treasurer stated that the government at the time had become 'unpredictable on tax policy', but the government is now adopting the publically-accepted policy announced by the Labor government. This government is not what the Australian people voted for.