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Wednesday, 28 March 2018
Page: 2417

Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (15:05): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Wong today relating to proposed company tax cuts.

At the outset, I say that today we confirmed, again, the extent of the persistent and wilful misleading by the government about the so-called benefits of their $65 billion tax cut for big business. I want to emphasise that this debate for Labor has never been about whether or not we recognise the contribution that business makes to the economy, and neither has this debate been about any less recognition of the importance of growing the national economy, which is so crucial to the standard of living we all enjoy. Recall that it was Labor governments which engaged in the economic reforms that have enabled the extraordinary, unbroken period of economic growth to the benefit of the nation. We also understand business needs the right policy settings to grow and prosper, but it's not a one-way street.

The taxes paid by companies, and, indeed, all Australians, are what fund the education and training system for the workers they employ. Those taxes are what build the infrastructure that business needs to do business and to get its products to the world. In this country, unlike many others, it is those taxes, not business, that pay for the health care of their workforce and that have given Australia amongst the best health outcomes in the world.

Remember the famous quote:

Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.

That is why it's been so disappointing to discover that so many in the business community are simply not prepared to be a part of this grand bargain. It is so disappointing to know that, when asked to sign a letter from the Business Council of Australia pledging that in return for the $65 billion in tax cuts they would increase wages, big business said no. When asked if, in return for the $65 billion in tax cuts, they would create more Australian jobs in the cities, suburbs, towns and bush, what did they say? No. When asked if, in return for those $65 billion in tax cuts, they would commit to paying their tax, they said no. In return for the $65 billion in tax cuts this government is proposing, we have big business refusing to commit to higher wages, refusing to commit to new jobs and refusing to even commit to paying their tax—a pretty extraordinary and a pretty disappointing response from business. I've got to say, I find it pretty disappointing on a personal level. I've always been one of the people on this side of the chamber who has sought to engage with the business community. I've worked with them in government and in opposition. But when those in the business community, who are urging this chamber and the Australian people to support this level of tax cut, are not prepared to live up to their side of the bargain in return for these tax cuts, they tell us all something quite important about the extent to which they are prepared to contribute to the national interest.

Even worse than the behaviour of business here has been the behaviour of this Prime Minister and his government. Frankly, their dishonesty and deceit in their case for the tax cut has been exposed. Time after time we have been assured this tax cut will drive up wages, create jobs and lead to business paying more tax. Remember that argument? I think it's the Laffer Curve argument. But we know it's not true, and that has been confirmed again today. There has never been any basis for making these claims. We shouldn't be surprised about this.

Remember the deceit that has surrounded this tax cut from day one? Remember in 2016 when this PM couldn't even tell Australians how much this tax cut would cost? Two days later we had to drag out of Treasury officials, I think in estimates, that it would cost $50 billion, and we now know, a year later, that the cost is $65 billion. I think Australians deserve more. They deserve a lot more than a government that's prepared to wilfully mislead them about the effect over the next decade of the single biggest handout plan by either side of politics. The honesty should begin now. It should begin today with the government abandoning the tax cut, recognising and admitting its argument is flawed and that the tax cut is unaffordable. That is why Labor says no at a time when the government has sent debt soaring above half a trillion dollars, has cut funding to schools and hospitals, and is hiking tax on middle Australia. Remember that: hiking tax on middle Australia. Our priority cannot be a $65 billion handout to Australia's powerful corporations. (Time expired)