Turnbull Government's economic failures

08 August 2017

Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (15:32): Since the parliament last met, we have had revelations that some of the members of the other place were citizens of another country, but we also had from the Treasurer, with his comments about inequality, that he is a citizen of another planet! When the Treasurer tried to pretend we don't have an inequality problem in this country, we had his 'poor people don't drive cars' moment.

If the Treasurer were not so spectacularly out of touch, he might have noticed that more and more Australians are getting more and more frustrated that, no matter how hard they work, they just can't get ahead. If they, on that side of the House, were not so consumed by internal rivalries and division, they might have noticed that wages growth is at record lows; labour's share of national income is at record lows; and there is record high underemployment, precarious work, insecure work and inequality on the march. If they got out and about more and talked to real people rather than just being on the phone to each other organising another leadership coup; if they got out and about like we have been, they would understand that more and more Australians feel that the rules of the economy are written to benefit somebody else at their expense—and they're right.

We want to rewrite the rules of the economy to accord with our values that growth is strongest when we grow together; if you work hard, you should be rewarded for it; and, if you fall behind or fall down, we will be there to help you up. Our policy on trusts—and I pay tribute to the member for McMahon and the member for Fenner and all of the colleagues in our team—is part of a larger purpose: to deal with the inequality which is a threat to inclusive growth in this country, a threat to social cohesion, to living standards and to the broader economy. Instead of acknowledging this, they make excuses for inequality, and they make it worse with their tax cuts for the top end and their pay cuts for weekend workers. They're so negative. They've got no ability to provide the economic leadership that they promised. They're so bereft of good policies that they're reduced to just taking pot shots at Labor's ideas. The only difference—it has occurred to me—between the Liberal Party today and Statler and Waldorf, those two grumpy whingers above the stage in The Muppets, is that at least Statler and Waldorf were on speaking terms with each other. That is the only difference between the Liberals and those two muppets.

We're not deterred or distracted by the division or dysfunction of those opposite. Ours is a pretty simple and commonsense proposal, not especially radical, building on the changes that John Howard made in 1980 and taking up the proposals made by Peter Costello and Joe Hockey before they dingoed it in recent years. We start by recognising that the budget is a mess, the tax system is unfair and inequality is growing in this country. With those challenges, it makes absolutely no sense to give the biggest tax concessions to those who need them least.

Instead of engaging with the policy, we get the same old scare campaign from those opposite. We found out in the last few weeks what happens when the Treasurer invites everybody to a scare campaign and nobody shows up. They say on that side that we have to choose between dealing with inequality or growing the economy, and that the only way to grow this economy is to become less equal. The OECD, the IMF and others have said the exact opposite. I don't know about my colleagues here, but I'm inclined to take the OECD and the IMF's word for it over this Treasurer. Those on that side say dealing with trusts will damage growth, as if growth in this country depends on letting two per cent of taxpayers choose whether or not they want to pay tax. They say that increasing taxes will hurt the economy. They've forgotten the $21 billion of new taxes in their budget. They say this is about the politics of envy or class war, that tired absurdity that pretends that the only way to maintain cohesion is to maintain tax breaks for those who need them least, pay less for people to work on weekends or give tax cuts to the top end rather than tax cuts to the bottom.

Theirs is a recipe for more division and more damage to the economy, the budget and our society. Ours is a plan to start to heal those divisions, not exacerbate them. We want to resolve the class war in this country, not prolong it, by making the rules of the economy fairer. We understand that growth comes from people having money to spend and invest and it comes from deploying public money to where it can do the most good. We understand that we won't get the growth we need in this country unless we grow together, pay people fairly and invest in people so they have the skills and the opportunities they need to genuinely get ahead. That is our reason for being here. That's why we're providing the economic leadership that those opposite, with all their division and dysfunction, are unwilling and unable to provide.