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Wednesday, 20 June 2018
Page: 3390

Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (10:37): These tax cuts are saying to Australians that whatever government might be providing for you at the moment is more than you need. Whatever you receive at the moment, whether it be an education in a public school, treatment in a public hospital, using public transport or, indeed, some sort of family assistance payment, it's too much. You're already getting too much, because what the Treasury Laws Amendment (Personal Income Tax Plan) Bill 2018 does is strip away vital public revenue from those essential services.

This bill, more than most of the other bills that come through this place, is going to help determine what sort of country we want to create. We've got some big choices ahead of us: we can choose to continue down the path of the Liberal and National parties to a dog-eat-dog world where everyone's in it for themselves and we shrink public services, or we can create a different sort of world, where we collectively come together, understand that we're in this together, invest in our people and ensure that no person languishes for months on a waiting list and that every young child gets access to the best possible education they can get—a world where we have publicly owned infrastructure that provides all of the vital services that people need and where we have a strong social safety net so that no-one's left behind. That's the sort of future we can create. It's not a utopian dream; it's actually within our grasp here. It's just about the choices that we make in this chamber.

We've been told by politicians of all stripes for more than a decade that Australia can't afford to do these things—that we can't afford to increase Newstart, tackle climate change or protect the threatened species that exist in this continent and are disappearing at an alarming rate. In fact, we're going to do worse; we're going to cut the jobs of the people responsible for looking after the precious biodiversity in this island continent of ours. And we're now hearing a debate where the premise seems to be, 'My tax cut's bigger than your tax cut.' Some $144 billion is going to be taken out of public services. We're told that the reason for this change is to address bracket creep, yet wages are at an all-time low. This bill's not about bracket creep. It's about shrinking the size of government and the public services that follow from that, and it's about making sure that people who need a little bit of help don't get that help.

We've got some choices ahead of us. We know that healthcare costs are increasing. We know that our education system needs more support. We know that our infrastructure is failing. We can afford to invest in all of those things. We could have a world-class public health system so that no person in this country languishes on a public waiting list. We could make sure that every child in the country gets access to a world-class education and, indeed, that those people who choose to send their child to a public school don't have to spend a cent out of their own pocket. We could build cities and regions that create no net pollution. We could preserve our planet for future generations to enjoy while they prosper. We can start restoring our environment, rather than destroying it.

And at the heart of this debate is a lie. We're told that income taxes are too high, but the reality is very, very different. Australia is, by all indicators, a low-taxing country. When you consider our total tax take as a proportion of GDP compared to other similar OECD countries, we do very well. We're a low-taxing country. Yet we're told again that we have to reduce taxes, and the consequences of that are alarming. Our Public Service is already so badly decimated that it can't answer the phone when you call to find out why it's cancelled your pension or a family assistance payment. Past governments have spent the last two decades privatising government. We've got big corporates enjoying all of the upsides and everyday people getting stuck with all of the downsides. You only need to look at the announcement today from Telstra. Do you remember when Telstra was privatised? 'Better services. People will be looked after. We're going to save money.' There are 8,000 people today who don't know how they're going to be able to put food on their table. Yet we've got no-one in this place who's got the political courage to stand up and say: 'We don't need tax cuts. We need investment in services. We need to look after people. We need to raise Newstart. We need to start protecting our environment.' No-one has had the courage to stand up and do that apart from my colleagues in the Greens, and I want to thank each and every one of them for it.

These are financially reckless tax cuts. They're going to punch a $23 billion hole in the budget annually. If you look at stage 3 alone, they're going to grow by 12 per cent each year. It's completely unsustainable. We can't afford it. We know what the costs are. And we all know that, when it comes to issues like global warming, housing, student debt or work security, it's not going to be the people in this chamber who are going to have to deal with those issues; it's going to be the generations that come after us. It's going to be young people today who are going to be lumbered with the costs of this decision that we make in this chamber. We know that these tax cuts are a prescription for turbocharging inequality in Australia. When stage 3 kicks in, someone on the minimum wage will be paying the same rate as a bank executive or a politician. That's not a progressive tax system. It's taking us down the US route.

And, of course, like the Turnbull cabinet itself, the big winners are men, and women get a few scraps, with less than one-third of the top-end tax cuts. We've seen some analysis today from Professor Miranda Stewart at ANU, who has added more evidence of just how discriminatory against women these tax cuts are. You have to be working full time to get the benefit, yet 45 per cent of women work part time. For men, it's only 16 per cent. And 61 per cent of women caring for a child under the age of five are working part time, while for men it's only eight per cent. If you look at the interaction between these tax cuts and the new childcare payment starting next month, the research shows that a mother wanting to work a few extra days would get to keep just $4,000 if she earnt $27,000 in additional income. If you're a young mother not earning a high wage, you face an effective marginal tax rate of between 85 per cent and 95 per cent. Professor Stewart's conclusion is that we'd be better off investing the tax cut money into universal child care. Now there's a ripping idea which benefits women so they can live the lives they want to lead and doesn't hand out tax cuts which largely benefit men.

Of course, the Treasurer's been deceptive in selling the benefits of this tax cut to senators and the public: $82,000 isn't the normal wage; it's the average salary of a full-time working bloke. The median wage of all Australians is around $54,000. Under even stage 1 of this tax cut, you can be a family with a combined income of just under $250,000 and you'll get a tax cut. The benchmark that the government's using, of a regular worker on 82 grand, is only a quarter of the workforce. Three-quarters of the workforce earn less than that. This plan's too focused on wealthy Australians. It does nothing for ordinary people. I reckon that if the majority of Australians—by definition, those earning less than $54,001, so, anyone under the median wage—knew they were getting nothing in exchange for having their local schools and hospitals completely gutted, people in this place might reconsider. Let me be clear about that: there will be a few dollars a week in the pocket of somebody who's a childcare worker, a nurse or a teacher and, under stage 3 of this plan, an extra $7,000 for CEOs, politicians and bank executives.

This bill does nothing to address the concerns of the most vulnerable people in our community. People on Newstart or on a pension get nothing out of this bill—not a cent. If you're somebody who can't afford to take out private health insurance to jump a queue and you're languishing on a waiting list for a year to have your hip replaced, you get nothing out of this; in fact, you'll be waiting for longer, because every cent of this money that's spent on giving out a big tax cut is a cent not spent on cutting waiting lists. If you're somebody languishing in an emergency department for half a day to be seen, you get nothing out of this tax cut; in fact, you'll be waiting for longer. If you're a family who sends their child to a public school and are noticing that those out-of-pocket costs are growing each year, they will continue to grow, at a faster rate, because every cent that goes into the pocket of somebody on a high income is a cent that's not invested in our public schools. It does nothing for mums re-entering the workforce for one or two days a week. It does nothing for a carer who is looking after their elderly parents and can just fit in a few days a week of work. It does nothing for the lowest 40 per cent, but this bill does everything for the investment banker, for the politician, for the CEO and for the partner in a law firm helping their clients to avoid paying taxes.

We've got choices to make. If we want to have tax reform in this country, let's start talking about the real problems that we face. We don't have a tax system; we have a tax avoidance system. Let's start talking about the tax reform that's necessary to close those loopholes that mean the wealthiest Australians and corporations aren't paying their fair share at the moment. Let's introduce a Buffett rule which says to people, 'It doesn't matter whether you've got the fanciest accountants and lawyers in the world; you will be paying a minimum of 30 per cent tax on every cent over $300,000.' Let's look at reforming our tax system. Let's have a PRRT that means that those oil and gas companies, who are currently ripping out Australian resources and not paying a cent of tax on them, start paying for Australian resources, for the things that we all own. Let's make sure that miners who are not paying a cent of excise on the diesel that they use start paying that. If it's good enough for every Australian in the country when they go to the bowser to have to pay a diesel excise, why isn't it good enough for our mining companies? Let's do something about multinational tax avoidance. Let's stop the practice of those big companies lending themselves money from offshore tax havens. Let's make sure we close that loophole by introducing worldwide gearing ratios. There's so much that we could be doing right now to close the loopholes to ensure that the wealthiest Australians, those corporations that aren't paying their fair share right now, pay their fair share, and we wouldn't be having a debate about stripping money away from our schools and our hospitals.

We in the Greens believe unashamedly that now is not the time for income tax cuts. We believe that a decent society is founded on how we look after the most vulnerable people, those people who are struggling, which is why we've made a strong case for increasing Newstart. And we've heard nothing from the government or, indeed, from the Labor Party on that. We don't need a review into Newstart; we need to increase it. Let's make sure that as a nation that is losing biodiversity at a rate greater than almost any other nation on earth we start putting into practice some of the things that we know can help us protect our iconic Australian animals.

We oppose this retrograde package in its entirety because we believe this is going to fundamentally reshape Australian society. This is a nation founded on the notion of egalitarianism, of a fair go, and there's nothing fair about this tax package. When economic inequality is already at dire levels, this is a prescription for turbocharging inequality in Australia. It will leave our schools, our hospitals and our public infrastructure to wither on the vine and it will make Australia a less equal society. It's not a future for this country that I want to see. It's not a future for this country that my colleagues want to see. That's why when this bill comes before this Senate we will be opposing each and every element of it.