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Tuesday, 13 November 2018
Page: 7876

Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (13:17): I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Making Sure Every State and Territory Gets Their Fair Share of GST) Bill 2018. Labor supports every state and territory getting their fair share of GST, and Labor supports this legislation. In fact, we called for this legislation. When we announced our position of making the floor which will apply to every state and territory, the former Treasurer, now Prime Minister, said that it was unnecessary and it wasn't needed. But, true to form, the Liberals have backflipped yet again on another Labor position—and we welcome it.

I won't go into great detail about the long history of the GST distribution, but there are a few points that I would like to make. Labor welcomes the fact that the Morrison government have caved to pressure from states to provide legislative guarantee on the GST that no state will be worse off. Unfortunately, there is still no guarantee that Tasmania will not be worse off past 2026-27. This is perhaps one of the most important debates, where any changes could almost certainly damage and harm Tasmania. This ineffective Prime Minister pitted states against one another. He has made GST reform a battle between the states instead of bringing states together. Instead of bringing the country together, this Prime Minister's chaos and division not only wreaks havoc within the government; he would prefer that it did that in the community, too. The Commonwealth government should always be concerned about the long-term financial security of every state, not merely one state or the other that they call home. Tasmania's inept Liberal senators have remained largely weak and ineffective on this issue, and Tasmanians will not forget it. We saw for months how ineffective the Tasmanian Liberals were at the state and federal level in being able to lobby for a better deal for Tasmania over the long term. Again, I remind the Tasmanian Liberal Senate team: Tasmanians won't forget this. They expect you to stand up to your Prime Minister when he's dishing out a raw deal for Tasmania.

The Turnbull-Morrison governments have taken Tasmania for granted in more ways than one, and not merely on the issue of the GST. As Treasurer, Scott Morrison did not deliver one new dollar on infrastructure for Tasmania or one new Public Service job. Mr Morrison and Mr Frydenberg's first plan for the GST distribution would have seen Tasmania lose a reported $248 million, without any protection. After pleas from Labor, the Treasurer rejected a plan to include the legislative guarantee that Labor had been calling for.

Mr Morrison hasn't hidden his real feelings about Tasmania. In fact, he has openly insulted Tasmania and Tasmanians when it comes to their fair share of the GST. Mr Morrison was rightly condemned recently when he described Tasmania as being 'mendicant', essentially calling Tasmanians beggars. That is what this current Prime Minister thinks of Tasmanians. No leader or Prime Minister should openly insult a state or territory. It shows an ineptness in his leadership and, frankly, an arrogance that Australia cannot afford. This comment showed Tasmanians the contempt that Mr Morrison, as Prime Minister of this country, has for Tasmania and, more importantly, for Tasmanians in general. It explains perfectly why I can recall only three times, maybe, over the last five years—as Treasurer and now as Prime Minister—that he has visited my home state.

Any GST formula must be fixed as equitable in its end result. States need certainty over the long term to plan for the future. Politics needs to be taken out of the GST debate to ensure business confidence and confidence within regional communities so that people will stay in Tasmania and are not forced to move to the mainland. Labor makes no apologies for standing up for our state and fighting for the best possible share of the GST revenue. Regional Tasmania is already suffering as a result of this government overseeing growing inequity between cities and regions. Tasmanians need a strong leader to stand up for their interests, not a leader who has, clearly, argued for cutting Tasmania's GST receipts behind closed doors.

In July Mr Scott Morrison promised, as Treasurer, 'No state will be worse off,' under new GST distribution changes, but he has changed his mind on this issue more times than I can count. The government's policy on the GST is only a short-term reform. We know that they have their real plan in the bottom drawer and that it will harm states like my home state of Tasmania in the long term. Let's face it: a leopard never changes his spots. We know that the Prime Minister, even before he came to this place, did nothing about being open and transparent in his business dealings, particularly before he was sacked as the general manager of Tourism Australia. So his track record is not a good record. Tasmanians don't trust him and I don't believe they will change their view of him heading into the next federal election.

The government is only passing the buck to future governments by not guaranteeing funding for Tasmanian hospitals and schools over the 2026-27 commitments. Mr Morrison is the Don Draper of Australian politics, without the talent or the good looks. This Prime Minister is a man who was sacked, as I said, from Tourism Australia, and it has now been revealed why he was moved on. He was appointed by his mates in the Liberal Party, and he was sacked unanimously by the board of Tourism Australia and by the Liberal tourism minister of the day. Not even John Howard was prepared to stand up for him. That's the calibre of the man who has taken the chair in the big office as Prime Minister of this country.

These are serious findings by the Australian National Audit Office. It is not Labor saying these things; it was the Australian National Audit Office. The former Treasurer, and now Prime Minister, oversaw Tourism Australia from 2004 to 2006. Eighteen months into his contract he was sacked, terminated—with very healthy severance pay of $300,000, I might add. This has been revealed in recent days because I think it's important. It goes to the calibre of the man who is the Prime Minister. Tourism Australia and the deals that he did—that information was kept from the board. So, as he has proven to be as Prime Minister, he is not open and transparent. The procurement guidelines were breached, and private companies were engaged on contracts worth $184 million before paperwork was signed and without appropriate value-for-money assessment. That's the calibre—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Polley, please resume your seat. A point of order, Senator Williams?

Senator Williams: My point of order is about the subject of discussion. We are talking about GST equalisation and fairness throughout the states, but Senator Polley is using this as a political session to throw mud at the Prime Minister. I think it is unacceptable, and you should bring her back to the topic.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Polley on the point of order.

Senator POLLEY: It is completely relevant to outline the character of the man who is charged with being Prime Minister of this country. It has everything to do with the GST.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Polley, resume your seat. A point of order, Senator Reynolds?

Senator Reynolds: Senator Polley commented that the Prime Minister 'didn't have the good looks of Don Draper', which was clearly a reference to Mad Men. But had I or Senator Williams said that Senator Polley 'didn't have the good looks of Sally Draper', for example, she would have taken great offence at that. While it might be a small point, I think it is a significant point. She commented on the looks of somebody else in this place—in this case, a man. It would not be acceptable the other way around.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: There is no point of order, although I do draw Senator Polley's attention to the subject matter at hand. I remind senators that, while the discussion may be free ranging, all courtesies to people in the other place should be observed. Senator Polley.

Senator POLLEY: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I will continue. The procurement guidelines were breached, and private companies were engaged on contracts worth $184 million before paperwork was signed and without appropriate value-for-money assessments. This now disgraced ex-ad man used to be in charge of Treasury, and he is now the Prime Minister. No wonder he has been so inconsistent on the GST. This is a Prime Minister who is anti accountability and anti transparency. Clearly, he makes decisions on the run. He has thought bubbles without consultation. He actually became Prime Minister this way.

Tasmania relies heavily on the GST, and I will always stand up for my home state. The GST goes to the heart of how you can actually provide, through your governments, to the people of Tasmania. That includes the funding of our hospitals. As my good colleague Senator Urquhart outlined, we have people sleeping on the floor in our accident and emergency departments, in hospital after hospital, because of this government's cuts to hospitals. Our schools have been cut. All of this relates back to the GST. We have the most ageing population. We have a population with, unfortunately, some of the worst chronic diseases in this country. We rely on our portion of the GST. It is irrelevant whether it is a Liberal or Labor state government. We need that money for our residents, for all Tasmanians. So I will of course stand up and call out this Prime Minister for his backflips, his thought bubbles, his lack of consultation, his lack of empathy for those people who can least afford it. I will never apologise for standing up for my home state. That's what I was elected to do. If the Prime Minister and those opposite don't like to have his behaviour called out—it goes to good judgement, because leopards never change their spots—then I will do that. I will take a reprimand any day of the week when it comes to standing up for what I believe all Australians should know and understand about this Prime Minister and this government.

He had another backdown only yesterday, where he cut the funding to Foodbank Australia. Why did he back down? Because he was getting political heat—even from the National Farmers' Federation. That's the calibre of this Prime Minister. He was trying to outscrooge Mr Scrooge on the eve of Christmas. I will never apologise for saying that. Any cuts to the GST revenue will have a devastating impact on service delivery in regional areas of my home state. They have already been struggling under the Abbot/Turnbull/Morrison government and their cuts to education and health, as I outlined earlier. There has been so much division from those opposite. Clearly, we know that they have tried to instil the infighting among themselves into the rest of the nation by pitting one state and territory against another. That's not the Australian way. A Prime Minister should be bringing the country together.

Our hospitals are in crisis. Our schools are already under-resourced after years of Liberal cuts. Today we hear from the Institute of Health and Welfare that Tasmania has a higher prevalence of mental health risk, more than any other state in this country, and needs funding. We had an inquiry that outlined that—that 14-year-old Tasmanian having to wait 18 months to get psychological assistance and counselling. That's not good enough. That comes back to the lack of GST and the cuts made to health by this government. The funding for mental health in Tasmania is the worst of any state. Currently, Tasmania can't provide the national standard of care needed for people suffering a mental illness.

I know that senators in this place have been working very hard through shadow responsibilities to make sure that Australians are aware of the need for more money to go into mental health. I was participating in the community affairs committee hearing in Tasmania. We know only too well that Tasmania needs another 50 psychiatric beds just to meet the national average. Tasmania just can't afford to lose even one dollar of GST.

On this side, Labor is proud of its record on the GST. Tasmania's federal parliamentary Labor Party lobbied all four Liberal senators, calling on them to support this amendment which protected the legislation and our state's GST share, which they ultimately did. But during the whole lead-up to that the Liberal Senate team in Tasmania was silent. It seems that Mr Morrison and the Liberals have finally woken up to these concerns, despite repeatedly saying that they would not support a legislative guarantee.

Labor still has reservations about what may occur post 2026-27 if a coalition government is on the Treasury benches after the next election. Can I say once again, Tasmania cannot afford a deal on GST that would impact on our state's ability to deliver the best possible essential services now and into the future. The community knows that Labor will always stand up and fight for our fair share of GST. We know and the community knows—Tasmanians know—that the Liberals won't, because, as shown by their hatred for Medicare, their DNA is not one that actually cares about everyday Tasmanians or Australians. They can't be trusted with the GST and we know they can't be trusted with the economy.