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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 200


Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (19:04): I was going to thank you, Deputy Speaker, but with that prelude I am not sure if I actually should! But it is a great honour and privilege to be back here for my third term as the member for Hughes. My first duty is to thank the electors of Hughes in southern Sydney and in the areas of south-eastern Liverpool for their trust in me and for giving me the great privilege of coming back again. I would especially like to thank the electors of the suburbs of Kirrawee, Como, Jannali, Oyster Bay, Kareela, Bundeena, Maianbar, Grays Point, Heathcote and Heathcote East that came into the electorate of Hughes in the redistribution.

The very first job, the very first obligation, that we have here as members of this parliament is to make sure that we rein in government spending. It is completely unacceptable that over the next 12 months we have to borrow $100 million every day just to balance the books. We currently have a GDP growth at over three per cent. We have unemployment—yes it is too high, and we are going to get it down lower—with a five in front of it. Under these economic circumstances it is unconscionable for us to continue to borrow $100 million every single day. It is not that we are just doing it this year. We have done that every year since 2007. The first cost to the budget is our interest bill. This year the interest bill that must be paid is $16 billion. The fastest growing area of government expenditure is not our health system, our schools, our roads or our help for kids with disabilities. The fastest growing area of government expenditure that we have is interest payments on government debt. I look around at the things that we desperately need to do and I think about that $16 billion that just goes to pay the interest—the other things that we could do in this country.

We must arrest the rate of growth in government spending and we must go back to living within our means. If we continue to borrow, all we are doing is stealing from future generations. We are going to give them an inheritance of higher levels of taxation and less government services because we in this parliament refused to make the hard decisions. And there will be some hard decisions that will need to be made. I hope that the members of the opposition will work with us on those decisions, rather than, as we saw in the last parliament, going on and whinging and whining, talking about cuts and cruel cuts. We cannot continue on like that at the rate we are going.

One of the things I found during the election campaign, during the debates I had with some of my opponents, was that one of the great misunderstandings or misconceptions of those on the other side, the thing they failed to grasp is that the size of our nation's economic pie is not fixed. We in government cannot create jobs. All we can do is set the conditions in the economy that allow the private sector to get out there, to create wealth and to grow the size of the economic pie. If we do that, if we grow the size of the economic pie, then it means we have more to put in social welfare. It means we have more for schools. It means we have more for hospitals. It means we have more for aged care. So that should our other priority—to grow the size of the economic pie.

We often say we need innovation, but how do we get innovation? The simple way to get innovation is to set the economic circumstances so that people in the private sector, in every line of business that they are in, can take risks and experiment—can experiment with new ideas, with new methods of production, new methods of distribution. We know that most of those new ideas will not succeed, but it is those small numbers that do succeed, it is that small fraction of risks and experimentation that do succeed, that drive the economy. That is what gets the growth going, that is what creates wealth in this economy. That is why I was so supportive of the policy we had to lower the rate of corporate tax.

At first blush, and this is what the Labor Party ran on during the election, if you lower the rate of corporate tax it looks like you are simply giving a tax break to big business. We heard that during the campaign. The opposition leader, when he was running around the country, said this was a $50 billion tax break for big business. But look at our nation's history and at what has happened when we have lowered the rate of corporate tax over the last two decades. If we go back to 1987, the corporate tax rate in this country was 49 per cent. We have gradually lowered that over the years, down to 30 per cent. So you would think that if we have gone from 49 per cent to 30 per cent—if you follow the opposition's logic, we have given up at least 50 per cent or more of the taxation revenue of this nation. But if you look at the numbers, this is what has actually happened: almost every single time that we have lowered the rate of tax we have not got less revenue, we have got more. And we have got more not only in gross terms, but also as a percentage of GDP.

In fact, look at the numbers. In 1986-87, company tax, as a rate of GDP in this country, was 2.4 per cent. It was raising $6.7 billion. If we fast forward to 2007-08, as a percentage of GDP—even though we had lowered it from 49 per cent down to 30 per cent in that big tax cut—we ended up doubling the rate of company tax that we achieved. We went from 2.4 to 5½ per cent of GDP as company tax being paid into the Treasury. In actual dollar terms, it was a 1,000 per cent increase, a tenfold increase—that is, in 1986-87 it was $6.7 billion of corporate tax that we received when the tax rate was 49 per cent; in 2007-08, it was $64.7 billion.

This is not a prediction of the future, but I believe that if we lower the rate of company tax, as we set out during the election campaign, it will not cost the budget a single cent. If history holds and we lower that rate of corporate tax—we encourage investment, we encourage risk-taking, we encourage experimentation in the economy—then we will get a bigger economic pie and we will have more for social welfare, we will have more for hospitals, we will have more for aged care. We will be able to do all of the things that count as a government.

Saying that, one of the things that was very disappointing during the election campaign was the Medicare scare campaign. The lie—I know that may be an unparliamentary word, but it was a lie to say that the government was going to privatise Medicare. It is not so bad that it was a lie—that is the cut and thrust of election campaigns: one side says one thing, the other side counters it with something else and people make up their own mind—but what was particularly objectionable about the Medicare privatisation lie was the use of false documents through texts on people's mobile phones. This is something that our electoral laws simply have not caught up with. To send a text message to someone's phone that creates the perception that it has come from some official government source, that should be fraud. That should not be permitted in our democracy. And to see members of the Labor Party come into this chamber today and to laugh about it—'Ha, ha, ha. We've tricked you; we've tricked the public. We conned them. We hoodwinked them. We got them to change their vote because we sent out false and fraudulent documents'—is a black spot on our democracy. I hope, during the course of this parliament—this has happened, it is an event in the past. But for the sake of our democracy, we cannot allow a repeat of it. Otherwise, at the next election, what is to prevent the major parties or the minor parties from sending out millions of text messages that have at the top 'Centrelink' and creating the perception that people's Centrelink benefits would be cut, or a message from the immigration department that says your visa will be cut if you vote in a certain way or a message from the taxation department that says your taxes will be cut if you vote in a certain way? We must say this was a black mark on our democracy and we need to fix our electoral system to ensure that, if any political party is sending out a text message, it is absolutely crystal clear that it is not being sent from some official source.

How we would deal with same-sex marriage was another issue during the election campaign. We went to the election campaign with a clear and concise policy that if the coalition was successful, if we were returned to the government benches, we would hold a plebiscite and give every person in Australia a say. The opposition had another policy. They wanted to have the parliament vote on it. Those were the policies that were taken to the election. The opposition lost the election. The Labor Party and the Greens lost the election. The coalition have been returned to the government benches albeit by a small minority. If election commitments mean anything in this country, it is incumbent upon the opposition not to block the plebiscite in the Senate. To do so would say to people that the opposition are snubbing their noses at election results and election commitments. I hope that in the coming weeks the Labor Party will see sense. If they really want to have same-sex marriage as quickly as we can, let the coalition put to the people the policy that was voted on at the election. Let us do it. Let us have that plebiscite. Let us have that vote. Let the Australian people have their say on this issue.

Another issue I would like to bring up is 18C. I know it is controversial. The Prime Minister said today that this government does not have any intention to change 18C. Perhaps one of the reasons is that the numbers in the Senate make it clear that it would be almost impossible to get a change through. The member for Watson, in question time today—and I am paraphrasing him—asked: 'With these changes, what words are you trying to allow to be said that cannot be said now?' The question was ruled out of order. But I will give him the answer: it is what the student from the Queensland University of Technology said. I will read it to you.

Mr Perrett interjecting

Mr CRAIG KELLY: The member for Moreton may be interested to tell me whether he thinks this is acceptable in our society. This is what the young student said: 'Just got kicked out of the unsigned indigenous computer room. QUT is stopping segregation with segregation.' Do you think speech like that should be allowed in this country, or do you think government censorship should clamp down and that poor kid should be dragged through the courts facing a $250,000 fine? Do you support that? I am interested to know whether you support it—a simple yes or no. Do you support that outcome—that someone can be dragged through the courts of this country for merely saying that? We should be able to have a debate in this country about that issue. The issue is: should we have segregated rooms in our universities? Should the colour of your skin or your racial background determine whether you can go into a room or not? I think not. This is a terrible idea. It is against the interests of integration, harmony and racial tolerance to have separate rooms. That should be debated, but the effect of 18C is actually to stop that from being debated. And to have university kids being shaken down—

Ms Butler interjecting

Mr CRAIG KELLY: I hear the member over there interject 'Rubbish!' Do you understand? Have you read the circumstances of this case? Do you know what happened to these kids? Do you actually support that? I am interested to know. Are you happy to see a student who has merely said these words being dragged before the courts and sued for $250,000? Is that what you are defending? You are defending it. What a sad example we have! It is typical of the Labor Party. They do not trust Australians with free speech.

Brendan O'Neill is not from the political right. In an article he wrote in The Australian the other week, he argued that supporting 18C is the very opposite of anti-racism. He said:

The truth is anti-racists should be at the front of the fight against 18C—for the simple reason that if you want to defeat racism, as I do, then you must insist racists have full freedom of speech so we can see and know their ideology, and confront it before the public. Leftie rads who love 18C’s suppression of racist speech are failing in their first duty as anti-racists: to shine a light on racism and do battle with it in the full glare of public life.

Those of us who support changes to 18C do so because we want to defeat racism. We want to bring it out in the open. We believe free speech is the best antidote we have to defeat racist sentiments. I hope the Labor Party have a rethink on this rather than going around with a scare campaign saying Australians are ready to attack other Australians if we make any changes to 18C. I believe Australians are better than that. I believe we can have these debates with good sense and respect for each other. I believe that is better for the Australian public.

Another issue I would like to raise in the remaining time is the nonsense argument about a bank royal commission. A royal commission will achieve zero, apart from becoming a lawyers' picnic. There are issues that we can address in this parliament—some of the problems we have in our banking sector—without having a royal commission. One of them is acting on the penalty fee issue after the recent High Court case. The High Court case has basically found that late payments for credit cards of $35 are not a penalty, and are lawful. I believe that the High Court, in that 4-1 split decision, extended the law beyond where the parliament would want to be. In this parliament we can act, and we can set in legislation what penalty terms actually are, in relation to late payment of bank fees. I believe the High Court has extended that far too often in the bank's favour. The court said in that particular case that, for someone that was running a business, a $35 late payment fee on the credit card was not in terrorem, or in fear. But for a single mother or an aged pensioner with a credit card limit of a couple of hundred dollars that may have a $20 monthly payment fee, who could not make that payment fee because they had some illness in the family or some other emergency, a $35 late payment fee is in terrorem. That is something this parliament should deal with.

Another issue I would like to raise is the Moorebank Intermodal, in my electorate—something that I have spoken about many a time in this parliament, particularly about how it is a white elephant. It is a waste of a very valuable piece of land, a waste of a resource, and it is a cost to the taxpayer of several hundred million dollars because of this failed plan. For a while, I did not think I had much support in this. But just a few weeks ago, one of the proponents of the Moorebank Intermodal, the Aurizon company, have dumped their shares—I think they agree with me. They sold out. They could see that the writing was on the wall that this project was not going to be a goer. And I would hope that the other shareholders look at the Aurizon decision and see that this project is just not going to be a goer, and it is going to cost the taxpayer money. If we needed Intermodal in Sydney to distribute goods, the ideal place for it would be either out at Eastern Creek or at Badgerys Creek airport. Let's use the savings that we could have at Moorebank, and put that into the infrastructure to get Badgerys Creek, with all the transport links up and running.

Another other issue that I have some concerns about, and one of our particular policies, is the cigarette tax. I would like to precede this by saying that I am a fanatical anti-smoker. I would like to see cigarette consumption in this nation at zero. I would like to see those large cigarette companies run out of town, and their share price not worth the paper that it is written on. But I am a realist, and my great concern is that if we raise the retail price in this country—and this is a bipartisan policy—to $40 for a packet of cigarettes when the wholesale price of lawfully made cigarettes throughout Asia is around one dollar, we risk turbocharging the black market, and all the criminal activity that goes along with it. So I am pleased to see in the coalition's policy that we have put an extra $7 million into resourcing our policing agencies on this black market. But I fear that that may not be enough, and I fear that we may see an increased amount of crime because of that policy. It was only last week that we saw a kidnapping and stabbing of a tobacco executive, related to that issue.

The other thing that I am proud that the coalition government did during the election campaign was some of the solar grants that we were able to give. I was pleased that the solar grants I was able to allocate went to places that were not connected to the grid. One of those was a grant to Garie Surf Lifesaving Club. For those that do not know it, Garie Beach is in the Royal National Park south of Sydney—one of the most spectacular, naturally beautiful pieces of real estate that you would ever want to see, with a magnificent surf club, a magnificent facility. And I am very pleased that the grant that we were able to give them—especially as they are not connected to the electricity grid—will enable them to increase the facilities in their particular area. But, saying that, I must admit that I have some concerns with some of the other subsidies that we have been giving to the solar industry and how they are working out, and the cost to the economy. There is a Grattan report titled Sundown Sunrise: How Australia can finally get solar power right. In the overview it says:

… the cost of solar PV take-up has outweighed the benefits by almost $10 billion.

By the time the subsidies finally run out, households and businesses that have not installed solar PV will have spent more than $14 billion subsidising households that have. Australia could have reduced emissions for much less money. Governments have created a policy mess that should never be repeated.

Whatever we are doing with the issue of climate change, it is our obligation to ensure that that does not push up electricity prices in this country. We have already seen a very, very substantial increase in electricity prices over the last decade, which has caused enormous harm to many families. We have seen record numbers of families have their electricity cut off. We have seen businesses relocate their manufacturing to overseas because of the high cost of power in this country. Whatever we do, there should be a full cost-benefit analysis, and we make sure—