Appropriation Bills 21/5/18

May 21, 2018

Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (12:29): We on this side of the House support the appropriation bills in the same way that convention has dictated for nearly 40 years, now. Similarly, and consistent with the convention for these bills, we support the appropriations, but we take this opportunity to point out where we diverge substantially from the path that the government has taken us down with this budget.

It's very clear that those opposite are desperate for the Australian people to forget the cuts and the chaos of the last five years and the four budgets preceding this one. Having spent much of the last week on the central coast of New South Wales; in suburban Melbourne; in Sydney; and in my own community, including with the Leader of the Opposition and our candidate for Forde, Des Hardman, at Logan Hospital; I can assure those opposite that however they might kid themselves that the Australian people have somehow forgotten all of the cuts and chaos which began with that horror budget in 2014—whatever initiatives they come up with in a make-or-break election budget—they have another thing coming. This budget doesn't pass the fairness test. It's like all the other budgets from those opposite in that it fails the fairness test, because it puts big business ahead of battlers in this country. But the budget also fails the responsibility test. We have in this country record and growing debt, despite billions of dollars in new receipts—new taxes and charges—rolling through the door. We have record debt, twice what the government inherited in net debt from Labor, and gross debt that is over a trillion dollars for the first time in our history, despite all that new revenue, despite all these rosy forecasts around wages and despite the temporary spike in revenue which is being delivered to us by the upswing in the global economy.

What those opposite don't really understand when it comes to fairness and responsibility is that no budget which takes money from pensioners and gives it to the big four banks can be considered to be a fair one. No budget which collects an extra $40 billion in charges but still has debt twice what was inherited, including half a trillion dollars in gross debt, can be considered a responsible budget delivered by a responsible government. This budget was designed to be an election budget, and we're very happy. In fact, we on this side of the chamber welcome the opportunity to fight an election not just on the measures contained in this budget but on the dodgy values which underpin what has been proposed by those opposite.

Australians rejected the last four budgets, and I'm confident that they'll reject this one too. They will reject the cuts to hospitals, schools and TAFEs. They'll reject a budget which has a tax on pensioners, including taking away the energy supplement. They'll reject a budget which has record debt despite positive global conditions. They'll reject the budget of those opposite, because it still has these big tax concessions going to those who need them least, and they will still have this big $80 billion plus commitment to give handouts to big foreign multinationals and the big four banks.

But I think Australians will reject this budget and, ultimately, this government because the budget handed down two Tuesdays ago also could not be more out of whack with the nation's priorities. It bears absolutely no resemblance to the nation's values, the values of the people who make this nation strong. That's why I'm confident that Australians will reject what is being proposed by the Treasurer and the Prime Minister. The defining difference in that budget was on tax. The government itself considers tax to be the centrepiece of the budget, and we do too. I think tax really is where the budget battle is joined, because tax is a really clear demonstration in budgets of the competing values of those opposite versus the values that we share with the majority of the Australian people.

What the government are proposing to do with their new income tax cuts is asking the Australian people to vote for tax cuts seven years down the track, after two more elections—tax cuts which overwhelmingly favour the wealthiest in our community. The ANU, NATSEM, the Grattan Institute and others have pointed out over and over again that those tax cuts are deliberately designed to deliver the biggest gains to people who need them least in our community. Obviously we take a dim view of tax cuts seven years down the track when we don't know what the economy will look like and we don't know what the budget will look like, and where those tax cuts will overwhelmingly favour the top end of town. We take a dim view of that.

We also think that the government are in real danger of repeating the mistakes made in the Howard-Costello period when big income tax cuts were built on the back of a temporary spike in revenue. One of the reasons we had 10 years of difficulty with the budget is that we had a structural problem in the budget. In the latter years of Howard and Costello, they gave big tax cuts assuming that the good times with the budget would roll on forever, and of course they didn't with the intervention of the global crisis and other things as well.

So we've seen this movie before and we didn't like how it ended. We don't want to see a sequel of big tax cuts to the top end of town being paid for by a temporary spike in revenue when we don't know how enduring that temporary spike may be. I think it says everything about the approach taken by those opposite. We have said on this side, 'If you split the bills, the income tax legislation, we are prepared to vote for the 1 July tax changes straightaway. If you split out the tax relief for the low- and middle-income earners from the tax relief for the top end of town, we'll pass the 1 July changes immediately.' We've said that repeatedly. The fact that the government are prepared to hold low-income earners hostage to the political games they want to play in here with their trickle-down economics speaks volumes about their real commitment to the workers of this country—people who work and struggle for a living and need and deserve some tax relief. Of course, they won't tell us how much each stage of the tax plan costs. They're asking us to vote for tax cuts seven years down the track—cuts which favour the top end of town—and they won't tell us what each stage of their tax plan costs.

What really rubs salt in the wound for a lot of working people in this country is that the government have taken this approach to their tax cuts at the same time as they are proposing an $80 billion tax cut for multinationals and the big banks. Again, $80 billion is an estimate. We think it might be more than that. We've asked the Treasurer and the Prime Minister in this place, from the dispatch box, repeatedly, 'How much does the company tax cut cost the Australian people? and they've been unwilling or unable to tell us how much that costs. That really rubs salt in the wound for a lot of working people. They know that there's a big tax cut being delivered to those who need it least at the same time as those opposite are holding them hostage to political games here and in the Senate. Of the $80 billion or so, it's estimated that something like $17 billion will go to just four companies in this country, the four big banks. When you consider the revelations about the rorts and rip-offs that are coming out of the royal commission, the idea that the Turnbull government want to give a $17 billion tax cut to those four big banks really beggars belief. It says it all, really, about the warped priorities of those opposite. The member for Barton and all of us on this side of the House want to see the victims of the rorts and rip-offs compensated. Bizarrely, those opposite want to see the perpetrators compensated for the dodgy behaviour being uncovered in the royal commission.

With them at every step of the way is the One Nation party, who have indicated that they will vote for a big tax cut for foreign multinationals and the big banks at the same time as our friends in the Greens have said that they won't support tax relief for low- and middle-income earners. What that tells us is that, right around the country, if the people of Australia, the workers of Australia, want their interests served by this parliament, they are going to need a Labor government, not One Nation or the Greens. Only Labor have the interests of working people at heart. That's where our bigger, fairer tax cut for 10 million Australian workers really comes from: our belief that the first port of call when it comes to tax relief should be the people who work and struggle in this country—the people on low- and middle-incomes. They should be the first port of all. That's why we've devoted a substantial amount of money to proper tax relief for 10 million Australian workers.

That's not our only alternative tax policy. We've also got the Australian investment guarantee, which doesn't spray $80 billion around overseas which goes to executive pay, share buybacks and puffed up dividends. Our tax plan for business ensures that the investment onshore, and that's obviously good for jobs and investment here in this country obviously.

So our tax reform plan has a bigger, fairer tax cut for 10 million workers, an Australian investment guarantee to ensure that companies invest onshore and we don't see the benefits flow overseas and, of course, the closing down of a lot of the loopholes which are costing the budget billions of dollars and flowing overwhelmingly to those who need them least. So we've got a substantial tax reform plan.

Our tax reform plan is really how we fund that which we truly value as a society. By making these difficult decisions elsewhere in the budget, we can give that tax relief for working people. We can restore cuts to hospitals. We can found MRIs in places right around Australia so that people can get the scans that they need to get their treatment on track. We can restore the cuts to schools. We can invest in TAFEs after years of the hollowing out of TAFEs and apprenticeships. We can get the VET system back on track as well.

This budget was framed in the best global economic conditions for a decade. A hundred and twenty economies were growing around the world. The IMF and others, including our own Reserve Bank, were pointing to the fact that the global economy really was in remarkable nick compared to where it was over the last little while. Because of that, the Treasurer had $40 billion of extra taxes and charges show up on his doorstep. He would like credit for that, but I don't think he can take credit for growth in 120 economies around the world. All of this extra money has just shown up. It's been a long time since we've had these sorts of revenue upgrades. But still, despite that, we've got those cuts to hospitals, schools and TAFEs. We've still got record debt. We've still got a deficit this year which is more than six times bigger than it was in Joe Hockey's budget in 2014. We've still got a tiny surplus in 2019-20 which relies on one thing only, and that's the bringing forward of tobacco tax. We've still got all of these things going on. The budget is not in the condition it should be in when you consider these global economic conditions. And why is that? It is because we've got these big tax concessions which are eating up and a bigger and bigger share of the budget and going to those who need them least, and we've got a government which proposes to shovel another $80 billion in the direction of multinationals and the big banks.

On this side of the House we take our responsibilities as the alternative government very seriously. We don't just point out the substantial and obvious flaws in the budget of those opposite. We propose an alternative. We put forwarded costed alternatives. We take courageous decisions in tax. We set out what we'll do if the Australian people hand us the keys to the government. We will be fairer than those opposite—that's not hard—but we'll be more responsible as well. We will make room for different choices. We will put the budget on a more sustainable footing. As Chris Bowen, the shadow Treasurer, the member for McMahon, said last week at the National Press Club, we've got a set of fiscal objective and fiscal principles which indicate to the Australian people just how responsible we are prepared to be with their money, whether it be tax reform or the paying down of debt right across the budget. We take our responsibilities very seriously. We do want to make room not just for our priorities as a Labor Party and as a Labor government; more importantly than that, we want to make room for the nation's priorities, which are to give ourselves the best chance to properly care after our sick, our frail and our aged; to give this country a proper opportunity to educate our young people; and to make sure that our taxes are as fair as possible.

Instead of this warped version of trickle-down economics that we've had for five budgets now in five years, we can satisfy the three objectives that really matter when it comes to managing the economy: economic growth which is inclusive, work that is rewarded and a decent social safety net for those left behind or those at risk of being left behind. That's how we realign economic policy in this country with the values and aspirations of the people. That's how we exercise power on their behalf and not on behalf of the millionaires and multinationals which those opposite prioritise again and again and again in their budgets.