MPI on the Budget

11 May 2017

DR CHALMERS (Rankin) (15:25): For this side of the House, fairness is not something that you learn from Crosby Textor. It is not something that you just say. It is not something that you just repeat over and over again in the hope that somebody will believe what you are saying. It is not a slogan. It is not something to try and get you through your internal political problems or to try and pump up a Newspoll. On this side of the House, fairness is something that we believe; on this side of the House, fairness is something that we cherish; and on this side of the House, fairness is something that we fight for.

We are witnessing the pitiful political existence that those opposite live and that they go through, where they have spent all week pretending to be something that they are not. We heard more of that today, with the usual over-rehearsed and poll-driven lines about fairness, security, opportunity and better days ahead. But what we really know—and, more importantly, what the Australian people understand—is that when this Prime Minister says 'fairness' he means a tax cut for the top end of town and a tax hike for people who work and people who struggle.

The government are desperate for us and the Australian community to believe that somehow they have changed and had some kind of big conversion and that all of a sudden they have learned that Australians cherish that fair go as much as we do on this side of the House. But for as long as that big tax cut for people on the highest incomes and that big company tax cut for multinational corporations are in the budget, as they are, we know everything we need to know about this budget and about this government and how they always preference the top end of town over people who work and struggle in this country. They have said over and over again that budgets are about choices, and we agree: budgets are about choices. In this budget, this Prime Minister, this Treasurer and all of these people have chosen millionaires and multinationals over people who work and struggle in this country.

The good news is that I think Australians see through this faux fairness thing that the government is trying to push. I think that Australians understand, when they read about this budget and hear about this budget, that it has the tax cut for the top end of town and for multinationals and it has the tax hike for battlers. But they also understand that this budget contains cuts for schools, cuts to universities, cuts to training, cuts to pensions with the removal of the energy supplement, and all of these sorts of things that make this such an unfair budget.

They also know that, when there is $21 billion in new taxes in this budget, that is the price that they are being asked to pay for four years of debt and deficit blowouts and four years of division, dysfunction and incompetence on that side of the House. That is the price that Australians are being asked to pay—that big tax bill—but the people who are excluded from that effort are the people at the top end—people who earn more than $180,000 a year. Millionaires get $16,400 a year in a tax cut. Australians know that the multinational corporations are excluded from this; they get a tax cut too, and I will come back to that tax cut in a minute. They know that it is the battlers in this country, the people who battle, who are being asked to carry the can.

We heard from the Prime Minister and the Treasurer four different explanations today for how much this company tax cut costs. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer jumped up and had us all wondering who the third stooge was. When they gave these four different answers, they tried to pretend that they were all to different questions, but they were to one question, and the Australian people deserved an answer to this question: how much is the ordinary Australian worker being slugged for this tax cut the government want to give to multinational corporations? Finally we have an answer: over 10 years, the government want to give a $65 billion tax cut to multinationals at the same time as they want people who earn 30, 40 or 50 grand a year to pay more tax. This is the Prime Minister's definition of fairness. Only a Prime Minister as out of touch as this one could possibly think that that is a fair outcome and describe this budget as fair.

When Bill Shorten stands at this dispatch box tonight—and we are looking forward to the speech that the Leader of the Opposition will be giving—he will propose to extend that deficit levy, and I think that is only fair. If you want to talk about fairness, fairness means not allowing millionaires to pay less tax while this Prime Minister asks workers to pay more tax. That $21 billion in extra taxes announced from that dispatch box on Tuesday night would not be necessary were it not for the mess that this mob has made of the budget. The deficit for the coming year is 10 times bigger under the current Treasurer than it was predicted in the Liberals' first budget under Joe Hockey for the coming year. The deficit for the coming year was $2.8 billion; now it is $29.4 billion. The current Treasurer has done the impossible and made Joe Hockey look like a genius.

Those opposite do not like to talk about the other facts that are in the budget. These facts were not in the budget speech; they were not in the budget papers, just like the $65 billion figure that we learned about today for the company tax cut. The deficit for the year that we are in, that is about to finish, has more than tripled. Net debt has blown out by over $100 billion for that year. Gross debt will hit $725 billion in the 10-year horizon of this budget.

Last night when the finance minister was on the Andrew Bolt program he was asked six times: what is the gross debt number? He would not answer that very simple question. You would think the finance minister would be prepared to answer that. I will read out only two of those answers. Bolt said: 'I am after the figure that you would have in your mind as to what that figure would be.' Cormann said: 'Well, what I am saying to you is that we are working to keep gross debt as low as possible.' Bolt said: 'I do not doubt it; I am just after the figure. I do not know why it is a secret. I would like the figure, that is all.' Cormann said: 'The Treasurer has made the administrative judgement that he has made.' That was his answer to the question, what does gross debt reach at the end of the 10-year period? We finally learned today from the Treasurer that there is three-quarters of a trillion dollars in gross debt. That has never happened in the history of this country. This is record gross debt under this mob, who like to claim that they are the superior economic managers. We are talking about three-quarters of a trillion dollars in gross debt.

The finance minister obviously was too ashamed of this record to even mention the gross debt figure. It is good now that the Treasurer has put that on the public record. We already knew, of course; we watch these things very closely. That is a mountain of debt and there is a whole range of other figures in the budget which trouble us greatly. When it comes to net debt, we will have record net debt for the next three years. All of these figures, including the interest bill on the debt, are extraordinarily high.

Before Crosby and Textor told them to start talking about fairness, they used to talk all the time about 'jobs and growth'. The inconvenient thing about that of course is that in this budget all the key measures for jobs and growth have been downgraded, so we have GDP growth downgraded, wages growth downgraded. The Treasurer has the nerve to say 'I have been listening to people who are worried about their wages'. The wages are at record lows. The wages number in this budget has been downgraded. All of these key figures are worse now than in the budget just last year. I think perhaps the most damning number in the budget is the one that says on the government's own figures that they expect there to be almost 100,000 fewer jobs in our economy over the forward estimates than they expected just one year ago. And they have got the nerve to stand up and talk about jobs and growth while they quietly downgrade their expectations for jobs and growth.

As the member for Jagajaga says—and the member for Jagajaga is always right—they have just changed their slogan, just like the 'jobs and growth' slogan was a total sham from beginning to end. They tried to perpetrate that whole fraud on the Australian people that they were for jobs and growth when we had record underemployment. We have got unemployment as high as it was in the GFC. Everyone over here knows these key indicators, because they are the people-facing part of the economy. These numbers measure the parts of the economy that people feel—underemployment, wages, unemployment and all of these sorts of things. But as the member for Jagajaga said, 'jobs and growth' was just a slogan, and we know that 'fairness and opportunity' is just a slogan as well. We know it is just something that Crosby and Textor typed out and handed to them. To the Prime Minister's great surprise, he learned that the Australian people care about fairness and they care about opportunity. But this 'fairness and opportunity' slogan is just as big a sham. It is just as big a hoax. It is just as big a con as the slogan it replaced, that 'jobs and growth' slogan.

The Australian people want a budget where fairness is more than a slogan. The Australian people do not just want budgets about fairness; they want this parliament to believe what it says about fairness, like we do on this side of the House. That means better schools. It means access to university. It means decent training. Australians want a budget where fairness is more than a slogan. That is what we on this side of the House will deliver, and we will hear more about that from the Leader of the Opposition tonight.