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Monday, 9 November 2015
Page: 7958

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (Victoria) (15:15): On the same matter, and reflecting on question time today, one has to ponder, despite the reset that has occurred with the change of leadership for the Liberal-National Party government: what has changed? We will all recall Mr Abbott in the lead-up to the last election assuring us that there would be no cuts to the pension, no cuts to health, no cuts to education and a unity ticket on Gonski. We all, of course, know what happened, subsequently, in government. With that background and history, we are, we hope, a bit wiser when we look at the assurances we are now receiving about Mr Turnbull's plans. Those of us who have a healthy scepticism about a debate about a GST, and those of us who watched what occurred with respect to the introduction of the current GST, have every basis for that scepticism.

What did the Minister for Finance, Senator Cormann, tell us today? He told us it will be 'at some point in time'. Later on he told us that a white paper will be released before the next election. Seriously! How long is this government going to stay in this 'discovery phase', to use Senator Cormann's words? How long are we going to be exploring a hypothetical? How long are we going to be looking at these options? Today, he hid behind the states and territories when pinned down on the question of whether they were exploring the option of a GST revenue fully offset by personal income tax cuts. He sought to avoid answering that question and, ultimately, hid behind the states and territories when he was pinned on that point. The reason for that is what Senator Bernardi or Senator Macdonald would do were they here in this debate, and to an extent, even Senator Seselja, although I note that he did not get to talking about the tax impost on the lower income quintiles of our community. He did not get to that point when he was talking about concerns about the overall tax take, but I am sure he has similar concerns. This is why Senator Bernardi uses the term 'gouging'. This is the element that came out in the NATSEM modelling which I commend ACOSS for introducing into this pseudodebate so early in the piece, because they too have serious concerns about a GST.

We have in this parliament closely examined how the GST works—frankly, to death. We have looked closely at this option before. We know the implications. It was no surprise to me that the NATSEM report shows that the increase in the GST to fund a five percentage point reduction in all tax rates would reduce the progressivity of the tax system even more than raising the GST alone. This is what people are attempting to hide behind here. This is, essentially, like a reverse Robin Hood—this is what Malcolm Turnbull is being here. What we are talking about is taking from the lower income quartiles to 'incentivise' high-income earners. Which senators here remember 'incentivation'? I am sure Senator Conroy does. Wasn't that Mr Howard? Incentivation was the argument behind the GST, and that is why I am so sceptical when I follow Senator Seselja when he says, 'I don't like a GST, but I'm open to a discussion, but I am concerned about the top personal income tax rates.' Well, I am far more concerned about changes to our overall tax system—so let's move beyond saying that we are only talking about the GST—that will reduce its progressivity. That is the problem with the GST, and that is the problem with any tax mix that has that effect. When we start with the rhetoric that we need to incentivise and the like, that is all code for exactly that issue.

Looking at today's discussion and the time frames that we are told are before us in relation to Mr Turnbull's plans here, one is led to wonder: when will this government walk the talk? We know that Mr Abbott did not and we know what happened to him. How long until we can bring Mr Turnbull to walk the talk? (Time expired)