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Thursday, 13 September 2018
Page: 48


Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (13:53): I'll just make a quick contribution to the debate on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Black Economy Taskforce Measures No. 1) Bill 2018. I always say that life's about fairness. This bill is about clamping down on tax cheats and the black economy. As you know, Madam Deputy President, there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. I've always been of the opinion that, while ever you've got cash in the country, you'll have tax evasion. If you're handing around $50 notes, $20 notes—whatever—and paying people by cash, of course people avoid tax. However, when they do spend it, at least the GST is paid and the states will benefit from that.

But this bill is about the saving of $132 million over the forward estimates—perhaps not a lot of money in the face of a $450 billion budget, but every bit helps. It is about fairness. As Senator Hume said, everyone paying their fair share of tax, their proper share of tax as they should pay, is fair. If they don't pay those taxes, of course, as you go right across the black economy, it leaves a hole in the budget. What happens then? Government debt grows. They've got to cut spending, and those important finances provided by the taxpayer, via the government, are for aged-care facilities, for our defence, for our child support, for our day-care support, supporting working mums and dads—in most cases working mums—and the many, many services that are provided out of Canberra right throughout our nation and of course overseas. So, the more that is cheated, the less that can be done and the more the budget is under pressure.

We all know in this place that the budget has to come back to the black. We can't go on borrowing for ages. We should have had it back in the black a lot earlier, but the Senate blocked many of those savings. If we'd listened to those opposite, Mr Wayne Swan, the Treasurer for the Labor government, was going to have it in the black well and truly by now. Of course, black print is something you rarely ever see at the bottom of a Labor government's budget.

Getting the budget back in the black is most important, and every bit contributes, whether it be increasing revenue through catching the tax cheats, cutting spending or, as we have done, growing the economy, growing the GDP, hence growing the tax take for Canberra. As we head towards $560 billion of gross debt, of course that does include the HECS debt. What's the HECS debt? Forty-odd billion dollars? Amazing. When I went to university, you either paid your way or you got a scholarship. I was lucky to get a scholarship, but I didn't stay for long in tertiary education, because I thought I'd spent enough of my life with my nose in a book and I didn't really want to spend much more, so it was back to the bush, shearing sheep, driving trucks and farming, which I thoroughly enjoyed—perhaps another mistake I made in my life!

The more you cheat the tax system, the more others have to fill the gap, the others being the honest taxpayers, the honest businesses, the PAYG workers—the working Australians who are paying their tax. So, as I said, whenever you have cash in a society, you always have a form of tax cheating. That is just a fact of life. There are plenty of examples. A pensioner may have a tradie come in to fix their lights—to do some electrical work, to do some building, or to fix something. Of course, the $50 notes come out. Does that tradie declare it? Of course he or she doesn't. But when they hand the money to their wife or to whoever, or when they spend it themselves, that's when it comes back to Canberra in the form of GST, which is handed to the states, also increasing the profits of those businesses where they've spent it, whether it be a holiday resort or a motel, or down at the pub or at the bottle shop or wherever. Those businesses are then paying tax, so it does eventually come back here. But to allow people to simply get away with tax evasion is not fair. It is not right.

This bill—which I know my colleague Senator Seselja will have more to say about in his summary—is about catching the tax cheats and stopping the black market and the black economy. It's about seeing that the money does come into Canberra and is distributed properly throughout Australia, providing services, and that it is distributed to the states and even to local government. Through the financial assistance grants and the Road to Recovery grants, money goes out of Canberra to our local governments—vital money, I might add, especially for fixing our roads. All sides of governments for many years now have continued these grants. I know John Anderson played a big part in getting those policies in place, and I'm glad to see they've been continued. Money is going out to regional areas to help fix roads. Many of us still drive on dirt roads. I know that, to those in the cities, dirt roads are something strange. However, this bill will help close the gap. It will bring fairness across the tax system that will see the people who make money pay their fair share of tax—as they should—and then Canberra can carry out its services and do what it has to do in respect of governing Australia.

I commend the legislation. As I said, Senator Seselja will have more to say in his winding-up remarks on this bill. Let's hope this bill does pass. I see no reason why those opposite would oppose it. Senator Marshall, I'm sure you won't be opposing it.

Senator Marshall: I'll have to take advice on that!

Senator WILLIAMS: I can see that by your reaction! I commend the bill and look forward to it getting passed with support around the chamber.