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Monday, 2 May 2016
Page: 3955


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (12:40): Today Westpac posted a $3.9 billion profit. What is the response from the Liberals? To come in here, introduce an urgent bill and call an election during budget week to say, 'Let's give the billionaires more tax cuts.' In the face of pressures on government revenue, which means less money available for schools and hospitals, the government's response is to turn around to the big banks and the likes of Gina Rinehart and say: 'You deserve a tax cut. How are we going to fund it? We'll just continue to rip $80 billion, out of schools and hospitals, that we are seeing enshrined in this bill.'

This budget has all the hallmarks of being a budget for the billionaires where there is not enough money for schools and hospitals but, apparently, we can find enough to give a tax cut to Gina Rinehart and the big banks. It is no wonder that they want to call an election early, and it is no wonder that the government has brought everyone back here for an early budget, to call an election during this week and to minimise the amount of scrutiny that the parliament is going to be able to put on the budget, because they know that they are ridiculously out of step with where the Australian people are at now.

This is not the time for company tax cuts. This is a time for asking big business and multinationals in Australia to pay their fair share of tax. For some companies, they will be looking at this saying: 'The Liberals want to offer us a tax cut. It probably doesn't matter to us because we pay zero tax at the moment anyway.' Let's not start talking about how we can offer tax cuts to big business; let's ask them, first, to pay their fair share of existing tax. Once we have done that, then, we should have a debate about how we are going to spend it.

Now is also not the right time to be offering tax cuts to people on above-average incomes. Taxpayers earning above $180,000 a year, as a result of the figures contained in this bill and the budget that we are going to see tomorrow, are going to get a tax cut of a couple of per cent when the so-called deficit levy comes off. You are going to benefit if you are earning above $180,000. People like politicians—people like me—are going to benefit, while the burden is going to fall on others.

Now is also not the time to be offering personal income tax cuts to the top 25 per cent of income earners, which is what the Treasurer is out proposing to do today. He says, 'Of course you're on an average income if you earn $80,000.' He may not have spoken to the Australian Bureau of Statistics recently, because what they tell us is that it is only the top 25 per cent of income earners who earn $80,000 or above—not everyone works full-time and not everyone has two wage earners in their household. The government comes here pretending that they are offering something to average income earners in this budget when, in fact, they are talking about the top 25 per cent.

Of course, there is the thing about changing the tax rate to deal with the problem of so-called bracket creep. The thing about changing the tax rate is that the benefit flows up to everyone else as well, so people on $200,000 who get an additional benefit as well as getting a two per cent tax cut from this government are also, potentially, going to get a tax cut from them by dealing with bracket creep. Even with these changes only applying to the top 25 per cent of income owners, for someone on about $85,000, you are talking about a tax break of $5 a week. You are talking about $5 a week by changing the marginal tax rate.

If you asked people, 'Would you rather that the top 25 per cent of society get a tax break, potentially in the order of $5 a week if they are on $85,000, so that they can buy an extra half a sandwich at an expensive cafe or would you rather that public schools are well funded and that the hospital down the road from you in your city or country town is well funded so that if you or your family get sick there are nurses, doctors and other staff available there to look after you or them?', I know what most of them would say.

Instead of coming here with this bill, the government should have paid attention to a recent poll that showed 64 per cent of Australians would rather not have a few dollars a week extra in tax cuts if they knew the money was going to health care or if they knew it meant Australia would remain a place where, when you get sick, you get looked after no matter your bank balance or income or if they knew that money was going to be used to make sure Australia does not become like the United States where there is a two-tiered health system, one for the rich and one for everyone else. And the United States spends about three times as much money on health care as us. I will stand corrected, but that is my understanding. They spend about three times as much money on health care as us as a share of GDP and yet they get worse outcomes. Sixty-four per cent of Australians said, 'We would rather have a strong health care system and a strong education system in this country, even if it means paying a little more tax.'

That is the debate we should be having—not how we can have a race to the bottom on tax in this budget but how we can stop the tax cut arms race. If this budget and this election turn into a tax cut arms race, that will mean less money that is available to spend on schools and hospitals. You only have two choices then. We have seen this government choose both of them. You only have two choices if there is less money. One is that you put up the cost of going to the doctor by having a GP fee or you cut the amount that you get from Medicare. So what appears as a tax cut is actually just illusory because what they give you with the one hand they take away with the other.

The other alternative is that you just stop spending on these things at all. We have also seen that from this government. We have seen funding for schools and hospitals pulled out to the tune of $80 billion a year. We have also seen critical things pulled out like funding for legal services that look after people who are responding to the ads we are seeing on television about who might be at risk of domestic violence. We have seen this government cut their funding. We have seen this government cut funding to Aboriginal legal services. We have seen this government cut funding right across the board. That is what happens when you have a tax cut arms race.

I would hope that the opposition does not take the bait from the government and join in a tax cut arms race, because otherwise where will it stop? If every election becomes about who can offer the most in tax cuts, it will mean whoever comes along next will have less money to spend on the kinds of social services that people in Australia expect and deserve.

There is a distinction between keeping the ordinary machinery of government going, which is what supply bills are about—and that is what we are debating now—and, on the other hand, how we deal with the budget. The Greens will block unfair budget measures. The Greens will not support tax cuts in this budget while our schools and hospitals are struggling to find the money that they need. People can be assured that the harsh and unfair impacts of this budget that require separate legislation to this bill we are dealing with at the moment will be blocked in the next parliament if people vote for the Greens in enough numbers.

The closer that we get to the election, the more attention will turn to the Senate because the Treasurer has said, 'I am not going to try to legislate any of this before the election is called.' That may be as soon as this Friday. That means it will be coming up in the next parliament. We are sending a clear warning shot to this government, saying, 'If you are re-elected, don't expect to get this through the Senate by relying on us because we will stand up to you.' We will not support these measures, because we the Greens know that to have a caring society and to make society more equal you need to fund social services, and that means taxes. We are unafraid to go to this election as a party that will not support tax cuts. I hope that Labor joins us. I hope when people are thinking about where they will vote in the Senate they have a look at some of the other people who are standing and ask, 'If I vote for them, are they going to side with a re-elected Liberal government if that is what happens and give big companies and the rich a tax break?'

Increasingly, people are going to have to make a clear choice. They understand that. This budget and this election should be about what kind of society we want and whether we want to be able to talk proudly about Australia as a place where everybody gets good-quality education and good-quality health care no matter how much they earn. We want to be able to talk proudly about Australia as a country that is grasping the opportunities of the 21st century. This government have said this budget is going to be a new plan, but it is straight out of the old Liberal playbook. There are tax cuts for billionaires while they are asking everyone else to do more and they are turning a blind eye to the biggest issue of our time, which is how to deal with climate change.

We have an opportunity in this budget, in this bill and in this election to say, 'Why not start this task of so-called budget repair at the top rather than at the bottom? Why not ask the likes of Gina Rinehart to pay the same for her diesel as everyone else pays for their petrol by getting rid of the unfair tax rebate for wealthy miners who frankly do not need it? Instead of propping up the fossil fuel sector, let's put that couple of billion dollars a year into building more solar plants and more wind farms around this country. Let's make Australia a renewable energy superpower.' Those are the kinds of debates we should be having. That is exactly what this election should be about.

Someone in the government must have a great sense of humour because they started running ads during budget week supposedly about terror but which could be about Scott Morrison's first budget speech. They are saying, 'If it doesn't add up, speak up.' Whoever decided to do that has a great sense of humour!

What is absolutely clear is that this government is going to take a leaf out of the old Liberal playbook and say, 'Tax cuts for the wealthy, and we're going to try and scare everyone else into voting for us by running terror ads on television.' Let's stop that; we have had enough of elections being about a race to the bottom, when they should be about reaching the stars. This budget and this election should be better. This budget in this election should be about setting Australia up as a new renewable energy superpower, which is the envy of the world and which makes Australia a place people want to come to because they know that in Australia people are looked after, no matter how much money they have or where they have come from. That is the kind of country most people want; it is the kind of debate they want to see. All indications are that these supply bills are going to enable the government to run to an early election, hiding their budget because it is the budget for the billionaires. The Greens will stand up to this government.