Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 9 August 2021
Page: 4346


Senator WALSH (Victoria) (11:24): [by video link] I'm very pleased to join the chamber today to speak on the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Amendment (Waiver of Debt and Act of Grace Payments) Bill 2019. This amendment is necessary for no other reason than we cannot trust this government when it comes to using public money. The Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act was introduced by Labor because we understand the trust and responsibility that comes with government. We understand the trust and responsibility that is expected of those in government when using precious public money, public money that is hard earned by the people of Australia; public money that should be used to benefit all Australians to make their lives easier, healthier and safer; public money that should not be used for winning marginal seats and that should not be used for giving mates cushy jobs; public money that should not be used for boosting the private profits of multinationals in dodgy tenders. This amendment will improve the level of transparency and accountability when it comes to discretionary decisions by the finance minister on the granting of debt waivers and act of grace payments. Discretionary decisions made by the minister include waivers to the tax office or Centrelink for debts of over $100,000. These discretionary decisions are made when the finance minister considers that recovering the debt would be inequitable or cause ongoing financial hardship and that other debt treatment options are inappropriate. This will require the finance department to disclose these decisions in its annual report. Currently there is no such requirement to disclose these decisions at all.

This greater transparency has been proven necessary due to the actions of the Morrison government. The last eight years of this government have shown that it is addicted to rorting public money for its own benefit: the car park rorts, the sports rorts, the jobs for mates. It seems clear at this point that at the 2019 election the government never wanted the job of serving the people of Australia; they were focused on serving themselves and supporting their mates. You wonder if the finance minister would apply the same level of scrutiny and interrogation to the tax debt of a Liberal Party donor as they subjected thousands of ordinary people to under robodebt. We know the answer, especially when it comes to public money: it's one rule if you're a Liberal Party mate and another if you're an ordinary working person. We saw it in how they treated big businesses who were overpaid millions of in JobKeeper—but don't worry! It's okay! You can pay it back if you want to. Meanwhile, a single mother of false robodebt had to prove through a complex and hostile process that they were not overpaid. There was certainly no consideration of the inequity or financial hardship caused by the unlawful collection of over $720 million from over 400,000 victims of the robodebt scheme. We know that this government is not on the side of working people, and that's why we in the Labor Party must ensure every decision made by the government, especially when it comes to public money, is disclosed.

The car park rorts scandal showed that this government no longer even pretends to care about the rules. This was a grant process specifically designed only to benefit the top 20 marginal Liberal seats of local Liberal MPs and duty senators. There was over $600 million in public funds, with 87 per cent of it going to Liberal seats or seats that they wanted to win, and projects that did not meet the eligibility criteria were approved—overruled by the minister and funded. There was no fairness, there was no transparency and there was absolutely no shame from this government, and the Australian people are absolutely sick of it. They've lost all trust in this government, and that's why we need important rules for government to follow, like this private senators' bill that is being introduced today.

The Australian people are sick of the rorts. They deserve so much better from this government. They deserve a government that knows what it means when they're given the responsibility and the trust of spending public money, a government that knows that public money comes from the hard work of millions of Australians. It has been handed over in the trust that it will be used appropriately, that it will be used to build a fair and prosperous country for everyone, not just for people who the Liberal government wants to favour, not just for people who might be the beneficiary of a project, not just for people who live in a marginal seat that the Liberal Party wants to target at an election. This is money that should go to improving our schools; that should go to our hospitals; that should go into plans to grow good, secure jobs in our country—things that would change the lives of millions of Australians for the better.

Labor knows this and that's why we're introducing these changes. We know what is expected of us. This is why we are leaving absolutely no stone unturned. It's why we're making sure every decision by this government needs to be disclosed. They have shown over and over again that they do not deserve the trust of the Australian people and that's why we're here to hold them to account. We are here to make sure that their decisions are reviewed. We are here to make sure that their decisions are disclosed. We are here to make sure there is appropriate scrutiny on all of the decisions that this government makes with trusted public funds.

This bill is one of many steps that Labor is taking to improve transparency and accountability of this government. We have also introduced an anti-rorting bill designed to increase scrutiny around the awarding and funding of grants programs. Labor has also committed to establish a powerful, transparent and independent national anti-corruption commission. It is a complete disgrace that this government has not moved to establish a national anti-corruption commission. It is a complete disgrace that we are still waiting for the Morrison government to introduce—over 2½ years since they promised to do it and after eight years of government, government where we have seen that over and over again they have lost the trust of the public. They've lost the trust of the public when it comes to the spending of public money. They've lost the trust of the public when it comes to accountability. They've lost the trust of the public when it comes to transparency. We know that this government will look for any opportunity to use public money as if it were Liberal Party money. They have shown us that time and time again.

The Morrison government has lost the public's trust. It has to be held to account on all of its decisions. There has never been a more important time to increase scrutiny of this government's decisions. This bill will shine a light on the discretionary decisions of the finance minister on debt waivers and grace and favour payments, decisions that include debt waivers for individuals of over $100,000. When ministers are able to provide this level of discretionary financial assistance it's only right and it's only fair that the Australian people know when those decisions are being made. If our bill is successful these are decisions that will be required to be reported on. They will be reported on and there for all to see, reported on and there for all to see whether it meets the test of trust that the Australian people have, whether it meets the test known as the 'pub test' in this country. We know that this government has been failing to meet the pub test when it comes to the expenditure of public funds. Whether it's sports rorts, car park rorts or jobs for mates, this government requires a much higher level of scrutiny, transparency and accountability and that is what we are seeking to deliver today.

The people of Australia should be able to trust that when their public money is being spent it is being spent in their interests, not in the interests of a Liberal Party that wants to win a marginal seat, not on a project that the Liberal Party thinks will help them do better with a local community, with a local electorate. The Australian people deserve transparency. They deserve accountability. They deserve to be able to trust their government, but they can't, and that's why we need much stronger measures, like the measures proposed today. The people of Australia have to be able to trust that the hard-earned money that they hand over in their taxes is being spent for the public good, not in the interests of marginal-seat MPs, not in the interests of Liberal Party donors and not in the interests of the Prime Minister and his wishes to be re-elected.

The Morrison government have insulted the trust of the Australian people. They've shown time and time again in their decisions that they're not on the side of ordinary working people. They're not on the side of everyday Australians. They're not on the side of people who go out and work hard every day and pay their taxes. They are actually in it for themselves. That is the truth of what we have seen from the Morrison government. If there's public money available, they'll spend it on car park rorts. They'll spend it on sports rorts. They'll channel it into marginal-seat projects that they think give them electoral advantage but that are not for the community's advantage and not for the public good.

That is why we need to see measures like the measures proposed today—greater accountability and greater reporting. That is the scrutiny that now needs to be applied to the Morrison government. The government have turned their backs on the needs of ordinary Australians. They've blatantly used public money for their own political benefit, and they don't even seem mildly ashamed of this. Instead, they've spent the last eight years perfecting their technique, doing it better and better each time, first with the $100 million sports rorts scandal and then with the $660 million car parks scandal.

Labor will not let this waste of public money continue. It is said that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and this government really needs disinfectant applied to it. If sunlight is the best disinfectant, when it comes to the decisions of this grubby government, Labor will continue to shine a light on every single dodgy decision that this government makes. This is a government that has lost public trust. This is a government that has shown that it is prepared to use public funds and spend them in its own interest rather than in the broader interests of the community. That's why I commend this bill to the Senate.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Chandler ): The question is that the bill be read a second time.