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Monday, 14 March 2005
Page: 40

Senator CROSSIN (3:16 PM) —I think the answers to today’s questions clearly show that this government has no long-term plan when it comes to handling the economic future of this country. It seriously misled voters as it went to the last election and now, as the problems unravel before it, it seems to be jumping at shadows. It cannot decide whether it wants to split Telstra up or not split Telstra up. It cannot decide whether to invest it in shares or not invest it in shares. Now we have a report from the OECD that claims that Australia is one of only two countries to have seen the income tax burden increase between 1996 and 2004. You have to wonder what on earth Australia has in common with Iceland, particularly considering that I come from the tropics in the Northern Territory and from the town which has just escaped the atrocities of cyclone Ingrid in the last 24 hours. Apparently, along with Iceland, we are one of only two countries whose tax burden has increased since 1996.

The catchcry from members of the government these days seems to be to make it up, mislead the public or deny you ever said it in the first place. There is no acceptance that, in fact, they got it wrong and they made a wrong call. A classic case is the example highlighted by Senator Sherry today. We have a minister who has vehemently suggested that the OECD’s definition of the income tax burden does include payroll tax. Clearly the OECD says it does not. Then the minister suggested that the OECD figures did not include any of the family tax benefits or policies that the government has launched in the last year or so. The OECD, in fact, says that the increase in the average tax burden in Australia is partly explained by the shift of some payments from the tax system to the Department of Family and Community Services. If I had to choose between relying on the words of Senator Minchin and on the report from the OECD, I know which one I would back in terms of reliability and honesty.

This government has squandered a once in a generation opportunity to make lasting changes that could take Australia’s prosperity to the next level. We had the Intergenerational report of some years ago. We have had no long-term plan and no sustainable vision from this government about where it believes it ought to send this country in the next 10 years and how it is going to get there. It has no plan to address the skills crisis, other than to increase the skilled migration numbers and to set up 24 technical colleges around the country, which we know, to all intents and purposes, will simply duplicate what is happening out there. It is a total waste of money and a total waste of effort to drag 300 kids out of senior secondary classes when in fact we will not see any person graduate from those technical colleges until 2010. The skills shortage is chronic and that investment is needed now. That money should be invested here and now into boosting the trade requirements of our businesses and the skills required by this nation. Money needs to be injected into the growth funds of TAFE and training providers to ensure that there are additional hours and places right here and now, not by 2010.

The infrastructure bottlenecks are really acting as a brake on Australia’s future growth and prosperity. This government has created an economy that is driven by unsustainable debt-fuelled consumption, not by exports and sustained productivity growth. We know that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer are dangerously indifferent to this spiralling foreign debt and trade debt which makes Australia’s economy more vulnerable. We had a $66 billion hole punched into the bottom line during last year’s election campaign when we saw short-term political fixes rather than measures to address the long-term risks to our economy. This government, as we now know—and history will record this fact—is the highest taxing government ever. It places the biggest ever tax burden on Australian families. It does nothing to overcome the tax- and welfare-trap debacle. It has done nothing to overcome spiralling wages in this country. In fact, it now wants to even attack the minimum wage and how that is ascertained. There are great challenges and serious risks ahead for the economy of this country. What we do not need are people like Senator Nick Minchin who say one thing on the one hand and deny an international report such as that produced by the OECD on the other hand. (Time expired)