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Wednesday, 23 May 2018
Page: 4376

Mr FITZGIBBON (Hunter) (16:44): I rise both to speak to the Treasury Laws Amendment (Personal Income Tax Plan) Bill 2018 and to support the amendment to the second reading motion put forward by the member for McMahon. I've been in this place for a long time—the member for Chifley, who is at the table, would possibly say for too long—but I've never, ever seen inequality in this country take such a front-and-centre position in the economic and public debate in this place.

It's interesting to note that the bill being proposed by the government will not seek to improve inequality in this country but, indeed, make inequality in this country worse. The parliament is being asked to approve a tax package that we really know little about, except for the fact that it's regressive and it's unfair. We know so little because the Treasurer can't, or won't, provide the answers to our questions. We do know a bit about the measures proposed to begin on 1 July next year and we support them. We support them strongly, and that's why we believe that the government should be splitting this bill, allowing us to give quick passage, given the required time line, to the bill so the arrangements which are to come into effect on 1 July 2018 can be passed through the parliament as quickly as is possible. If the government was serious about delivering tax relief to lower and middle-income earners, that's exactly what the government would do, rather than hold members and senators to ransom with the rest of the package and, in doing so, deny low- and middle-income earners some much-deserved and -needed tax relief, after five years under this government. So we are in a position to support phase 1, but phases 2 and 3 of the government's tax package are deserving of far more scrutiny in this place but, more particularly, far more scrutiny in the other place through the usual Senate committee processes. There is no hurry to pass phases 2 and 3, and that's exactly why the government should split the bill. Given the time frames involved and given the opposition's support for phase 1, the government should be declaring today that what it intends to do is split the bill.

I want to say a few things about phases 2 and 3, remembering we are talking about a package worth $13 billion over the forward estimates and, allegedly, some $140 billion over the medium term. That's a lot of money to be reallocating within the budget, and surely, therefore, my submission that more scrutiny should be given and more time should be given is a sound one. We want to make sure that those changes are as efficient and progressive as they possibly can be. Of course we know they are not, and that's what we want to test in the Senate committee process. We also know that NATSEM modelling suggests that these proposals will make our tax system more regressive over time, and that needs to be tested in those Senate committee processes. In other words, it will lead to, as I said, more inequality, not less inequality. Phase 1 is progressive, and it's on that basis, amongst others, that we support it. All the goodies, of course, will go to low- and middle-income earners, and we support that. But the later phases will deliver some $7,225 to higher income earners, while those on between $50,000 and $90,000 will receive about $540 per annum and, worse, those on no more than $30,000 will receive tax relief of no more than $200 per annum.

Let me share with the House how the constituents in my electorate see this debate. Let's be frank with one another: they're not across all the detail. They don't look at these things as closely as we should and need to, and as we do, but they get snippets of what's happening in this place in this debate, and the first point is that they don't differentiate between the corporate tax cuts this government is trying to deliver to the big end of town, including $17 billion to the four big banks, and the personal income tax cuts being proposed in this package. It is an important point because they see them as one, but they're entitled to see them as one because, when you're giving $17 billion to the four big banks and taking $17 billion out of the education system, that by necessity becomes part of the debate.

They sniff the unfairness. They instinctively know that something is wrong here, that this is not a fair package, and it certainly isn't a fair package when looked at in conjunction with what the government is proposing to do on the corporate tax package. They sense the package is not real. They sense that there's a bit of smoke and mirrors in all of this. I'm talking about things I've seen here.

In more than two decades, I've never seen the electorate, the broader community, more concerned about the government's budget deficit. It's become a front-and-centre issue for people. I think the shadow Treasurer might have made a similar point at the Press Club. They would rather not get the tax cut if it's going to push our debt onto our kids and onto future generations. They are really focused on this concern. They have seen our budgetary situation not improve under this government but grow worse under this government, despite all of the rhetoric and promises of another course. So they suspect it's unaffordable. There's no doubt about that. They smile and say: 'What's this mob really about? This all seems a bit ridiculous. How can they provide $60 billion to $80 billion worth of tax cuts to the big corporates and also give tax cuts to individuals but also expect us to believe that they're growing education funding and they're growing health funding in real terms?' It's just not believable, and they do not believe it.

They are thinking about the things that the government is making savings from to fund the tax cuts. I've already made the point about Gonski: $17 billion gone. They want their kids to have the very best of education. They don't want their kids to miss out on an education because the Prime Minister felt a need to provide big tax cuts to the big end of town. They're thinking about child care and the way this government has mismanaged child care and preschools in particular. They're thinking about aged care. They heard the government say on budget night that it was going to create more community care packages, only to find out a day later that, to pay for it, it's going to take it from our aged-care institutions. What sort of priority is that?

These are the things that they're picking up on. They are thinking about their children, not just in education, not just in child care and not just in university. They're worried about home ownership, about how their kids are going to be able to afford to take out a mortgage. They're worried about how they're going to secure a job, because they know that, if you don't have a first-class education from the early years right through to an apprenticeship, a traineeship or university, whatever might be the choice, it's going to become increasingly difficult in the 21st century to secure a job. We have to take our children up that learning curve to something higher because jobs are going to be more complex and more difficult—more rewarding, I hope, but more difficult—and my electorate know that education standards have to improve over time. They are thinking about the cost of university and whether their children are ever going to be able to afford it, given this government's plans with higher education fees et cetera.

And, of course, there is one part of our economy that seems to still capture the imagination and create concern in our community, and that is what's happening in our manufacturing sector. While it is partly a myth that our manufacturing sector is in crisis—and I say that because many don't see what is happening at the more complex and technical end of manufacturing; it's not visible or tangible to many people—they are seeing what's happening in meat processing and in our dairy-processing sector and the impact of both of those on our farmers, including our dairy farmers. They're looking at what's happening in wood processing. The fact is that in meat processing, milk processing and wood processing we have gone substantially backwards in this country. These are sectors that have traditionally supplied medium-skilled jobs, and we still need those medium-skilled job positions. Just today, the Australian Agricultural Company sadly, after only three years of operation, mothballed its new abattoir, worth $100 million or more, 50 kilometres outside Darwin. This is a government not providing any strategic guidance to industry.

We need a red meat industry plan in this country which challenges some of the difficulties these businesses face, whether they be workforce, energy costs—the list is very long—quarantine inspection costs or markets. At the moment, because of our poor relationship with the Chinese, our products are being blocked out of that country. This is a government whose ministers stand at the dispatch box every day trying to claim absolute credit for three trade agreements with China, South Korea and Japan, agreements which, generally speaking, we began in government. I'm happy for them to take all the credit—they'll continue to try to get away with that—but what about taking some responsibility for the other side of the equation, our inability to access those markets, notwithstanding the signing of those free trade agreements, because of the non-technical barriers, the health protocols that haven't been established and secured, and now just the complete blockage coming as a result of the way this government has mismanaged our relationship with China? So these are the things my constituents are thinking about.

In the Hunter region more generally—and it's good to have the member for Paterson in the chamber for this address—do you know what the Hunter region got in infrastructure terms?

Opposition members interjecting

Mr FITZGIBBON: I thank the member for Chifley. I thank the member for Paterson. It was not $500 million, not $100 million, not $50 million and not even a million; it was zero. All of us in our electorates have significant and worthy projects. In my own electorate, for example, there is the Glendale interchange, the Muswellbrook Bypass, the Singleton Bypass and a link between Cessnock and the Hunter Expressway. The list is very long, but we received zero. Do you know what happened when we were in government for six years? We built the Hunter Expressway, $1.6 billion. We built the third rail track so we get our coal to port more quickly and more efficiently. We rebuilt our primary schools. We put in place the classrooms and other facilities that they so desperately needed. I had kids sitting on the floor in the halls of some of my public schools. We invested heavily. We invested more in our hospitals. We created more GPs. We gave money over to help the GPs to upgrade their surgeries. We put boom gates on our dangerous railway level crossings. The list just goes on and on and on. But, since this government came to office, the money has just dried up. In five years, there has been no money for the Singleton Bypass, no money for the Muswellbrook Bypass and no money for the Glendale interchange—just nothing.

So, when my constituents look at this tax package, they also think about that. They are asking themselves why they are being punished for voting for the Labor Party. That's the question they're asking: 'Why are we being punished? We're not getting any infrastructure, our pensions are being cut, it's getting more expensive to go to the doctor, our kids are having their funding cut in their schools, and we've lost the agreement on our preschools.' They wonder what is going on. No wonder this government is so unpopular in my electorate. They are doing the wrong thing by our people in the Hunter region. They should hang their collective heads in shame. It's a terrible way to treat communities no matter where they are geographically located and no matter how they vote.