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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 2549

Senator McALLISTER (New South WalesDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:27): The journalist Michael Kinsley said that a gaffe is when the politician tells some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say. Well, Peter Costello may no longer be a parliamentary representative for the Liberal Party, but he has said an obvious truth that the government would rather he had not said out loud. They're running all over the shop this afternoon trying to avoid the consequences. What did he say? He told 7.30 that he thinks a priority for the modern Liberal Party ought to be the 'forgotten people', and he defined those as the people who earn more than $200,000 a year. He's worried about the people on six figures, and principally those people on six figures with a '2' at the front of them. He's revealed the truth, actually, about the modern Liberal Party. It's one that they struggle to conceal, but he's belled the cat. They pretend to stand for everyone but, when it really comes down to it, they are irretrievably and entirely for the very, very wealthy. The government cry poor every time they are asked to hand out money to support people on low- and middle-incomes. They cry poor except when it comes to handing out money to their friends.

What about the things the government say we can't afford and the community can't have? We can't have proper investment in schools. We can't have a reasonable investment in public hospitals so that when you go to the emergency department you can get the services you need right away. They're not willing really to contemplate proper tax cuts for low- and middle-income Australians; indeed, until very recently, they were proposing a giant tax hike for people on incomes between $20,000 and $87,000 a year. They say we can't afford to invest in our vocational education system, even though we know that the economy is changing so quickly that people will need to retrain again and again in their careers. They weren't able to properly fund ASIC—the regulator that's supposed to oversee the banking system—to help prevent the financial scandals and crimes that are coming to light, thanks to the royal commission they said was too expensive and would be a waste of money. They say we can't afford to continue an energy supplement for pensioners. That is something they confirmed today in the chamber. They say that we can't afford an age pension, a pension to support Australians who worked all their lives. They say we can't have one of those unless we defer its commencement until the age of 70.

It's really instructive to compare that list with the list of things that the government has demonstrated it is willing to fund, the things it says we can afford within its budget constraint. We can apparently afford tax relief for the banks—big-time tax relief. We can apparently contemplate tax cuts for high-income earners. Unbelievably and in an unprecedented way, it's apparent we can afford a slush fund for coalmines. That's something we can afford; Senator Canavan is extremely enthusiastic about it. We can afford to continue tax arrangements that allow negative gearing and capital gains tax arrangements that support investors in the property sector and penalise first home buyers and people who intend to occupy the homes that they buy. Apparently we can afford $8 billion a year in tax credits for the wealthiest 20 per cent of households, those people who have carefully structured their share portfolios to ensure they benefit from that particular arrangement.

In other words, when it wants to, this government can find money, but it finds money for its friends. That's what Peter Costello was honest enough to say when he spoke about Menzies's 'forgotten people'. It's very clear who he thinks the priority is. He thinks the priority is those people that earn six-figure salaries. It's actually time for the government to admit that it's not really committed to budget repair at all. That's not its objective. The debt and deficit crisis was a talking point and a talking point alone for the former Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, and Prime Minister Turnbull is no different. If this government was serious about the deficit, then they would look at it the way that Labor has. They would not just be talking about slashing services; they would be looking at changes that make the tax system fairer, whilst raising the necessary revenue, the revenue that we need to deliver the services that the community expects.

Question agreed to.