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Tuesday, 24 November 2015
Page: 8763


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (15:08): I too rise to take note of answers and to address some of the remarks by fearmongering Senator Sterle. I thought the WA preselection had been done, but clearly it has not. Again he is peddling the 'fact' that this government somehow is asserting that it is going to increase the GST by five per cent. He states that it has discussed the issues in the paper, asserting that it is a big conspiracy of the Liberal states—the Liberal-Nationals states, I might say. The sad fact of it, Senator Sterle—through you, Mr Deputy President—is that it just is not the Liberal states. In my own home state of Victoria, Premier Andrews knows and admitted last week that he has taken his opposition—the 'never, never' opposition—to the GST off the table because he is faced with the reality of running a very, very complex state where the interplay between our taxation system, the GST payment and indeed the cost of running state schools, hospitals, infrastructure et cetera at a state level is incredibly burdensome. He recognises that it is holding us back, and that is exactly what is occurring.

The ALP wanted this year to be the idea of big ideas. I wonder how that is going for you. On this side of the Senate we are not afraid of ideas. In fact, we welcome open debate and discussion around a variety of ideas about how to make our nation the very, very best it can be and how we can ensure that Australia is very well positioned to take advantage of all the opportunities that the 21st century can and will provide us if we rid ourselves of the burden of a complex and outdated taxation system interwoven with the complexities of our federation.

Our government is the best friend that the worker of Australia has ever had. That is because we on this side of the Senate want to grow our economy, to increase job security, to increase job growth. We are backing our potential; we are backing our latent capacity and our creativity, and we are doing it through a variety of means. We have signed off three trade agreements in recent times which mean thousands of jobs for Australians—thousands of jobs, particularly in regional Australia. We are rolling out a $50 billion national infrastructure plan. We are getting spending under control. And what I think is so exciting is that we are putting innovation at the centre of our economic plan. Science is recognised and encouraged and supported to be all it can be and should be to drive our economy and our nation forward into the 21st century. That is exciting stuff. We have some of the best scientists in the world around our country, and our government is the one that is prepared to back their innovation, back their creativity, put money on the table and support them to give us the technology that we need to go forward.

We do know that we have a bit of a productivity problem going on in this country. It has been masked by fantastic commodity prices over the last 10 years, but the sad fact is that we know it and you know it. We have a productivity problem. If we do not get that under control, we are all going to pay the price. In agriculture, for instance, the only way we are going to get any increase in productivity—it is well recognised—is through transformative technology. That means that we have to back our scientists. We have to back technological rollout and infrastructure in the regions so that our farmers can be as productive as they can. It is our government that by putting science at the heart, by doing a research review so that we can restructure and re-examine the way we fund research going forward in this country, will be backing our intellectual capital and our productive and economic future.

The reality is—and you do not like to admit it—that confidence is up. It is up because, unlike you, we are taking a holistic look at tax reform. Poor Ken Henry, constrained with caveat after caveat on what he could look at and what he could not look at! We understand that the relationship between our federation and tax reform in this country is complex. It is only common sense to look at it holistically, and that is exactly what we are going to do, unlike poor Ken Henry. He made 138 recommendations. Those that were implemented were bungled. It is a very, very sad fact. That is why in March last year he called for tax reform as an imperative, and that is exactly what we are doing.

I wish the Labor Party would back our attempts to do this and not be afraid of ideas. If Bill Shorten wants to put them on the table—and this is supposed to be your year of big ideas—let us have the conversation. We are not afraid of ideas. We are not afraid of putting them on the table. We are not afraid of discussion and debate, because that is what we are good at, and that is what we all should be doing in our national interest. (Time expired)