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Monday, 19 March 2018
Page: 1411

Senator KETTER (QueenslandDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:17): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to questions without notice asked by Senator Keneally and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Wong) today relating to taxation and dividend imputation.

It's quite clear that, when Labor puts forward responsible, principled, well-considered proposals for tax reform, the only response from those opposite is hysterical claims which, once again, bring down the quality of our national debate. For those people listening to this session today, there need to be a number of facts put on the table, because one would be forgiven for thinking that the sky was going to fall in relation to Labor's changes to the dividend imputation. It is clear that nothing could be further from the truth. Under Labor's plan, no-one will pay a single cent more in tax, no-one will lose a single cent from their super contributions, no-one will lose a single cent from their pension and no-one will lose a single cent from their share dividends. It's also important to note, for those listening, that none of the changes that Labor is proposing are retrospective. If Labor were elected, they would apply from 1 July 2019 under the announced policy.

I was quite gobsmacked yesterday when I was listening to the Insiders program on the ABC to hear Ms Bishop, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, saying in an offhanded comment that Labor's proposals were going to take away the savings of pensioners. That is just straight out misleading for Australians and causes unnecessary concern out there in the general public. That's what happens when we have Labor putting out principled positions on tax reform, sensible reform that is absolutely necessary. We have a provision in the tax system here that is unaffordable in the longer term. The government know that. They've done work in relation to this issue, but they won't come clean on it.

We know why dividend imputation was brought into existence. It was a Hawke-Keating era measure, but it was Prime Minister Howard and Treasurer Costello who made the changes to the system that have made it unaffordable. Even former Liberal leader John Hewson has talked about the fact that the tax refund aspect doesn't make any sense. We've heard credible commentators making the point that there is a need for change. We've seen a representative from KPMG making a similar comment. We've seen Saul Eslake coming out and talking about the commonsense aspect of this proposal. We know that what we are talking about is well-considered, and it is supported by a number of credible economic commentators.

If you were to listen to those opposite you would think that they were the party defending pensioners. Once again for the benefit of those listening to this broadcast, one just needs to put into context this famed indignation and objection of those opposite to Labor's responsible changes. What have they tried to do? They tried to cut pension indexation, a change that would have meant pensioners would be forced to live on $80 a week less within 10 years. They cut $1 billion from pensioner concessions, meaning pensioners in some states are paying more for things like rates and vehicle registration. I know that pensioners in Queensland are grateful for the work of the Labor government in stepping up to the plate and mitigating the impact of that cut. We've seen their changes to the assets test, which saw nearly 100,000 pensioners kicked off the pension entirely and cut the pension for more than a quarter of a million pensioners. We know the government are increasing the age pension eligibility age to 70—the oldest of comparable countries. This will deny the age pension for 375,000 older Australians over the first four years alone. This is a $3.6 billion hit to the retirement income of Australians.

Pensioners are facing higher power bills and greater out-of-pocket health costs, and yet here we have the government pretending that they are concerned about the impact of this change on pensioners. They are conducting a good old-fashioned scare campaign. The foreign minister made some comments yesterday on Insiders; we've seen the Treasurer coming out with hysterical claims about the impact of these changes—in fact, he's misleading people by saying that many of those who will be impacted are on low taxable incomes. Of course low taxable income means that people can still receive quite a lot in superannuation. This is a responsible reform and needs to be supported.