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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8674

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (18:24): We can keep going around and around in circles. The agreement is as stated in the letter that I have openly and transparently tabled in the chamber. This letter envisages a process which, within 12 months, would seek to establish a register of foreign ownership of water entitlements. There would be a process of public consultation to make sure that that is done in the right way and in the best way. If we are unsuccessful, what will happen is that the sunset clause envisaged in Senator Whish-Wilson's amendment will come into effect and the legislation will lapse. If we are successful, certain data will be collected and at some point down the track—you do not collect data in order to not even look at it.

What the government is committed to do, once we have collected data through this register, is that we will undertake a review of the treatment of water under the Foreign Investment Review Board framework, given the data that is available to us at that point. It does not pre-empt any finding; it does not pre-empt any decision. In fact, we cannot make judgments on the basis of information that we currently do not have and things we currently do not know. I see Senator Whish-Wilson nodding. I would not be surprised if even Senator Whish-Wilson, who might have some instinct and some aspirations, would say, 'Let's wait for the evidence before we get to the next step.'

I understand the political point that Senator Wong is seeking to make. I saw the gratuitous commentary in relation to policy election commitments. We all remember the infamous line, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead,' and we know what happened after that. Let me just say for the record again that we of course made commitments in relation to funding for health and education to keep a funding envelope in place that was the funding envelope in the period of the forward estimates at the time of the last election. We have done that in health and in education. In fact, during the election campaign, we were being attacked by Labor because we would not commit to Gonski beyond the initial four-year period. Because we stuck to that commitment of not committing to Gonski beyond the original four-year period, we are now being attacked for cutting against some illusory, pie-in-the-sky promise that Labor made on the never-never, mostly in the period beyond the published forward estimates, but I get distracted.

I could also talk about the fact when it comes to the GST Labor is clearly obsessed. They have come to a view about what necessarily will happen. Let me just say that what the government is doing is precisely what we said we would do in the lead-up to the last election. We said before the last election that we would scrub the mining tax and the carbon tax and we have. We said before the last election we would reduce taxes for small business and we have. We said we would initiate a tax reform discussion and consultation process about how the Australian tax system could be further improved and how we can make it more growth friendly into the future to ensure Australia is the most successful we possibly can be, to ensure it is simpler, fairer and more efficient. That process is currently underway. We have not reached a landing point in relation to this.

We did say that there would not be any change to the base of the GST in this first term of a coalition government, that we would engage though in an extensive consultation with the Australian people on how the tax system could be improved and any proposals to improve the tax system would be taken to another election before being implemented so that the Australian people could pass judgment on it. I put our record when it comes to fulfilling election commitments against Labor's 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead' any day. But of course Senator Wong has tempted me here to go well beyond what is in front of us and what is in front of us is the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Legislation Amendment Bill 2015. I think I have clearly articulated the government's position.