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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 1327

Senator LINES (Western Australia) (16:36): You would be forgiven for thinking the song I Don't Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats might be the PM's favourite song—it is certainly a song that has become synonymous with the kinds of gaffes that he seems to make on Mondays that then continue for the rest of the week. Last Monday's I Don't Like Mondays gaffe was on the capital gains tax. Was it in, out, off or on the table? The Prime Minister said in the parliament last Monday:

… increasing capital gains tax is no part of our thinking …

That is what he said last Monday. But, as we all know now, within hours of making that statement it was not the backbenchers this time but the Prime Minister's own office in damage control telling journalists, 'Oh no; the government is still considering the capital gains tax.' Then, if we were in any doubt about what was being considered—what was on or off the table, in or out—that was confirmed later when the talking points on the capital gains tax were leaked from the Prime Minister's office, saying capital gains tax is still being considered. I do not know how you can have your own office contradicting what you say. You would think that if they went into damage control they might back the Prime Minister in, but they did not. They came out and contradicted their own boss. That is extraordinary.

Again, thinking of the Boomtown Rats and I Don't Like Mondays, Monday this week has not got off to a very good start either, because today in the news we had the Prime Minister's own department voting down their enterprise bargaining agreement. Why are they doing that? They have done it overwhelmingly, not once but twice. Twice now they have voted it down, because the public servants in that department, the Prime Minister's department, just like Australian voters, can smell a rat. They have certainly smelt a rat on what is fair and what is not. The agreement that has been voted down seeks to take their rights away, which is what the Turnbull government wants to do to ordinary Australians—make life harder. That is what they are doing, so public servants in the Prime Minister's own department, this Monday, have said, 'We do not like that deal and we voted it down.'

The Turnbull government usually demonises the CPSU—'It's all the union's fault.' We have not heard that yet, but it is very difficult to do that when it is your own department that has voted the agreement down. When the Prime Minister walks through that department maybe he scurries through with his head down, when significant numbers—I think 68 per cent—voted that agreement down. It has been universally knocked off by the PM's own department, so I doubt that we will hear the usual union sledging that goes on that somehow it is the CPSU's fault when in fact, today, public servants in the Prime Minister's own department have voted it down.

That is another bad start to the week. Certainly the Prime Minister's department, those hardworking public servants, like Australian voters, are just looking for a fair deal. They want to see a government that proposes fairness in their system, but that is not going to happen with this government, because it is only interested in the big end of town, not ordinary, hardworking Australians.

Then we have that debacle by the poor old Treasurer, who now, I think, is missing in action. He has not said much out in public recently. There was that appalling National Press Club speech, almost on the eve of his budget, when he should have had a clear idea of what he was going to say, what was on the table and off the table, what was being considered and what was not; except that a few days before that, because of public pressure and pressure from the Labor Party, the GST was finally ruled off the table by Malcolm Turnbull. Remember that day: the Prime Minister said the GST was off the table, then we had one of his own ministers, Senator Cash, saying that actually it was on the table. Again we have a cabinet minister and the boss, the Prime Minister, saying completely different things.

I think the only group you can believe, whether you like their policies are not, are the backbench, because when they say things it seems to work. We seem to have reviews of the Safe Schools programs; we seem to have all sorts of things happening when the backbench speak. I think the Turnbull government is being ruled by the backbench, so let us see what the backbench are saying about tax policy, because that will give us a much clearer idea of what is in and what is out, what is on the table and what is off the table, from the backbench. The backbench is out there today, and I think they were out there even last week, agitating around negative gearing. We know some of the backbenchers, like many of us in this place, have negatively geared properties. I put on the public record last week that that includes me, but I think Labor's policy on negative gearing is a good one. It is a sound one. But what you will hear from those opposite is just a trashing of that policy. They are trying to scaremonger. Despite the Prime Minister saying that three-word slogans were out and we would now have considered debate and somehow consult with the Australian people—the Australian people like Labor's policy on negative gearing, which grandfathers existing properties and looks at new properties into the future, despite what you will hear from those opposite, because they have never, ever let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Mr Morrison, the Treasurer, has now been left with just looking at far more modest measures. That is really how he has to define his budget. When the backbench have finished within, I am sure it will be even more modest, because the backbench, as I understand them, do not want any change, so I doubt that we will have any change, because they are the ones who are accurate.

Mr Turnbull has made many comments. He had that wonderful desire to do something about bracket creep. We have not heard the backbench talk about bracket creep, so I am not quite sure the view of the Turnbull government is, but certainly he was immediately contradicted by the finance minister, who said that bracket creep, apparently, was not the problem that it used to be. Yet it was a signature part of the Treasurer's rhetoric in his conversations until and even at the National Press Club, where I think he mentioned bracket creep, although I would be happy to be corrected.

Senator Gallagher: Two weeks is a long time.

Senator LINES: Thank you, Senator Gallagher—two weeks is a long time, but I think we can rely on information from the backbench. That is where policies are going. Certainly, the Treasurer has said that investor tax concessions were being looked at very carefully. He said he would not do anything crazy. That is relief—I guess we would all think that was a good thing. So no crazy things, although I am not quite sure what his definition of crazy is, because their first budget after being elected was crazy. That, along with three-word slogans, brought down the Prime Minister.

But again, it is very confusing because apparently we brought down the Prime Minister because he was not really doing the job; yet when we look at the new Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, he seems to be just lining up with the old policies. I am not quite sure why we changed Prime Minister, because we have got a new Prime Minister who up until last week did not use three-word slogans but he tried that last week in the parliament and failed dismally. He tried to invoke his inner Mr Tony Abbott and it did not really work for him that well, even though he still supports all of those policies. I am not quite sure even where we are up to with the old three-word slogans.

Apparently, the Treasurer said that there were excessive excesses with the GST, and now today we have seen the Prime Minister and the Treasurer not being able to name any. Goodness me, this is shocking. This is tax policy led by the backbench and the media. There is no clear, coherent plan. Those in the know are now saying the only party that has got coherent policy out there around tax is Labor—of course, we have. But we have been our consulting; we have got good policy on the table. (Time expired)