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Thursday, 4 April 2019
Page: 14969

Mr THISTLETHWAITE (Kingsford Smith) (18:51): by leave—This inquiry has been a farce from the outset. The usual role of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics is to scrutinise government legislation and to hear the views of the Australian public and offer amendments to the House of Representatives. But, because this government is devoid of any economic policies or economic plan of its own, it decided to look into an opposition policy. That's fine, but the manner in which the government, the Treasurer and the coalition members of this committee have run this inquiry is an unprecedented abuse of parliamentary process and committee processes and undermines the standing of the economics committee in the community.

The procedure that the chair established when this inquiry started was for his own website to be set up to take submissions. His website had an official look; it had a coat of arms and it said that it was authorised by the Chair of the Standing Committee on Economics. But then it had articles on that website attacking the Labor Party, our policy and Kerryn Phelps. If you put a submission in to the House of Representatives economics committee through that website, it was a pre-filled-out submission. All you had to do was add your name, and that was a submission to the House of Representatives Economics Committee. This means that roughly a thousand of the submissions to this inquiry were written by the chair, the member for Goldstein. They weren't written by members of the Australian public; they were written by the chair! And then, as a condition of submitting your views to the inquiry, you were asked to tick a box to say that you would sign a Liberal Party petition against Labor's policy—an unprecedented abuse of parliamentary process.

Then we found out that the website was partially funded by Wilson Asset Management, a company that has a vested interest in ensuring that Labor's policy does not get up. We then found out that Geoff Wilson, the principal of Wilson Asset Management, colluded with the chair about establishing the inquiry and the dates and venues at which it occurred to make sure that they could get some of their investors, who had a vested interest in seeing this policy go down, to turn up to the hearings. And the hearings just happened to coincide with investor meetings of Wilson Asset Management. Then, after the first hearing of this inquiry and after Wilson Asset Management had appeared before the committee, we found out that the member for Goldstein, the chair of the inquiry, has shares in Wilson Asset Management. The member for Goldstein, the chair of this inquiry, has a vested interest, a financial interest, in seeing this policy go down.

Mr Tim Wilson interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Hogan ): Member for Goldstein!

Mr THISTLETHWAITE: What a disgraceful abuse of parliamentary privilege by the member for Goldstein!

When the hearings began, they treated the hearings of the committee like a Liberal Party branch meeting. When we went to the hearings, there were Liberal Party election posters at the front of the venues. When we were in Queensland, the member for Fisher gave evidence to the committee and then encouraged members of the crowd to sign up to the Liberal-National Party. After the members of the crowd had all stopped laughing, he went around the room handing out Liberal Party membership forms. Mr Deputy Speaker, I might remind you that this was an official hearing of the House of Representatives economics committee.

In the ultimate insult to the integrity of the House of Representatives economics committee, the member for Mackellar over there held a fundraiser after one of the hearings, and guess who he invited to speak? It was the member for Goldstein!

Mr Falinski: My Deputy Speaker, on a point of order: he has misled the House. His statement is not true. I did not hold a fundraiser after a hearing. He is misleading the House and he should withdraw and apologise for that remark. It is unparliamentary and he knows better.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Mackellar has made his point of order. For the smoothness of the House, I ask the member for Kingsford Smith to withdraw.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Thank you.

Mr THISTLETHWAITE: Because of the behaviour of LNP members, naturally many members of the public were outraged. They were outraged at the conduct of the government members on the House of Representatives economics committee and the abuse of taxpayers' dollars. So many members of the public wrote to the committee. They sent emails and letters expressing their disgust at the procedure of the House of Representatives economics committee. Two of them were former members of the House of Representatives. We had a meeting of the House of Representatives economics committee a month ago and I moved a motion that, in the interests of transparency and accountability, the letters from members of the public be published, that the letters be put on the website of the committee. The committee voted, and the committee voted for all. Obviously, Labor and Greens members voted in support of publishing the letters and the coalition members voted against it. The chair used his casting vote to deny publication of those letters. So much for freedom, boys; so much for transparency and accountability. The chair, in one of the hearings, said:

... many of you know that I'm quite hardline on defending free speech and I won't back down ...

Hollow words.

Labor's policy is fiscally responsible. It's an approach to ensuring that you are closing tax loopholes that overwhelmingly benefit the well-off in this country so we deal with the structural challenges that the budget is facing—namely, the ageing of the population. As the population ages, the need for health and aged-care services increases. We have 120,000 Australians on a waiting list for aged-care places in this country.

Mr Falinski interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Mackellar is warned!

Mr THISTLETHWAITE: We've had a Medicare rebate freeze for the last six years. We've had cuts to hospitals and cuts to school funding. If we're going to ensure that the budget is sustainable and that we can fund those services into the future, we need to make responsible savings. That's what Labor's policy does. When this policy was introduced by the Howard government, it cost the budget $500 million. It now costs $5.8 billion. It's more than we spend on Australian public schools, it is unsustainable, and we're giving tax handouts to people who don't pay tax in this country. Labor is saying that, if we're elected, we will end that policy.

The PBO analysis of our policy is quite illuminating because it looks at who receives cash refunds for dividend imputation in this country. Fifty per cent of all excess imputation credits refunded to SMSFs accrued to the wealthiest 10 per cent of SMSFs, by fund balance, which had in excess of $2.4 million in the balance of the fund. Eighty-two per cent of those funds had balances of more than $1.04 million. These are not people who are struggling. That is why Labor is doing this—because the claims that this policy targets the poor are not suggested and not supported by the facts. And, of course, Labor guarantee that pensioners won't be affected by this particular policy.

This policy of refunding franking credits also promotes risk and inhibits investment in Australian companies. We all know that it distorts investment decisions. We heard from many who said that they were advised by their accountant or their financial adviser not to look for where the best companies were investing, their research and innovation, their development proposals or their growth into the future but just to look for the companies that have fully franked dividends and will return a guaranteed income funded by the Australian taxpayer. It inhibits growth in the stock exchange, and it's one of the reasons why many start-up businesses in Australia have to go overseas to try and find capital. They can't get it here in Australia because we have a lazy investment market on the back of this policy.

Many people who gave evidence at this inquiry said that they only invested in the banks and Telstra because of the fully franked dividends that they received at the end of every year. If you're in the retirement phase of your lifestyle, being fully invested in five or six different companies is not a wise investment strategy. It's certainly not encouraging diversification.

The other myth that was propelled by the government around this is that it is a tax. It's simply not a tax at all. We're asking people who don't pay any income tax in a particular year to refund those franking credit refunds that they've been receiving. It's not retrospective. It was announced last year to give people the opportunity to digest the policy and, importantly, to get financial advice from their accountants or their financial advisers. It is not a withholding tax. It's a good policy, and Labor backs it to the hilt.