BILLS;Minerals Resource Rent Tax Repeal and Other Measures Bill 2013;Second Reading – 18 Mar 2014

I am pleased to rise tonight to speak on the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Repeal and Other Measures Bill 2013. Those opposite claimed they would be a no-surprise government, but what a joke, because Australian families are waking up to this government and its surprises. They are waking up to a new surprise every day. They are waking up to this government trying to abolish the schoolkids bonus in this bill, costing the average family $15,000 over the period of their children’s schooling. They are waking up to the attacks by stealth, such as abolishing the low-income super contribution but keeping generous tax concessions for high-income earners. They are waking up to the fact that they will be thousands and thousands of dollars worse off as they cut the superannuation guarantee increase. Small-business owners are waking up to the fact that they will be thousands of dollars worse off as the instant asset write-off is slashed from $5,000 to $1,000. And regional communities are waking up to the fact that they will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in funding through the abolition of the Regional Infrastructure Fund and the Regional Development Australia Fund.

The Prime Minister and those who sit on the opposite side of this chamber did not explain to the Australian people that when they said ‘axe the tax’ they actually meant ‘cut your retirement savings, hurt small business, make it harder to pay for your children’s education and let rural and regional communities fall into disrepair’, but that is what they actually meant. I know that is not as catchy—it is not a three-word sound bite—but it is a lot more honest. As they like the three-word sound bites, the Liberal-National government could have found some to honestly campaign on to convey their intentions to the Australian people. ‘Cut the super’ could be one. They could have used ‘business tax increase’, ‘no new uniforms’ or ‘help rich miners’. ‘Let regions rot’ would have been another accurate three-word catchphrase of the government.

I am wondering why the government did not campaign on any of those. They knew that, if they actually took the time to explain that their policies deliberately targeted the Australians who are the least well off, no-one would have voted them in. Those opposite will say that they mentioned them in passing, but they certainly did not appear in the TV ads or in the flyers that appeared in people’s letterboxes. No Liberal door-knocker knocked on a family’s door to tell them that the schoolkids bonus would be axed and that they would not even reinstate the education tax refund which it replaced. No radio ad was targeted to the 2.7 million small businesses to tell them that the instant asset write-off would be reduced by 80 per cent, and no fridge magnets were handed out saying that the income support bonus for people over 50 on Newstart would be cut.

Perhaps the three-word slogan they should have campaigned on was ‘lack of vision’, because it takes an extraordinary lack of vision to not see that helping those on the lowest incomes build up their retirement savings helps the whole of Australian society. It takes an extraordinary lack of vision to not see that ensuring that parents can afford the required books, stationery, computer equipment and uniforms results in better educational outcomes for the child and higher productivity for society in general. It takes an extraordinary lack of vision to not see that regional Australia is in need of infrastructure to drive growth in the economies of rural communities and improve the quality of life of people in those communities.

The explanatory memorandum to this bill gives the financial impact of discontinuing the Regional Infrastructure Fund and the Regional Development Australia Fund. It also explains that no legislative changes are required to discontinue the Regional Infrastructure Fund and the Regional Development Australia Fund. We have already seen the axing of the Regional Development Australia Fund. The purpose of the Regional Development Australia Fund, RDAF, is to support regional areas of Australia with infrastructure needs.

I am disappointed that the Nationals are once again supporting cuts to regional Australia. You would think they would have fought harder for the communities they claim to represent. I know that they got a win over GrainCorp last year, but are they going to fight any other battles for regional Australia? It is absolutely ironic that it was the Nationals’ leader and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss who revealed that the government will not fund projects in round 5 of regional development. These projects were worth about $3 million to my home state of Tasmania. Even when the minister responsible for regional Australia is the Leader of the Nationals they still cut investment in infrastructure in regional Australia.

Some of the projects that have been axed by the Liberals and the Nationals in Tasmania include: $112,500 for a new interactive playground on the foreshore at St Helens; $150,000 for three separate new playgrounds in the Central Coast municipality; $109,200 for a sports training venue at Geilston Bay; $89,000 for a new water slide at the Devonport Aquatic Centre; $61,500 for a new boat-launching facility at Triabunna; $96,200 for a lawn bowls development at Glenorchy; and $135,000 for a walking track between Ranelagh and Huonville. These are all projects that would have improved the quality of life for people in these and surrounding communities, created jobs and improved fitness and general welfare. These are projects supported by the local governments in these regions. So it is disappointing that those opposite are just continuing to hack away, axing projects without thought.

The former Labor government’s $6 billion Regional Infrastructure Fund, RIF, was to invest in nation-building projects to build productive economic capacity so that we can sustainably grow our economy with low inflation in the years to come. The RIF would have meant more investment in rail, roads, ports and other critical economic infrastructure to support the workforce and jobs in regional and mining communities. It is disgraceful that the Nationals sit over there and will not stand up for regional communities.

I am utterly surprised that the legislation to cut the schoolkids bonus is in this bill today. What a sneaky, underhanded trick. Generally, when you put together a bill it contains only things that are relevant to the issues to hand. You do not just shove random provisions into the bill. The schoolkids bonus is not, and should not be seen to be, relevant to this bill. It was enacted in the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment (Schoolkids Bonus Budget Measures) Bill 2012, not in the Mineral Resource Rent Tax Bill. It was never to be funded by the MRRT and linking it this way is a shameless way to axe it. If you want to scrap the schoolkids bonus, why not present it to this place as the Schoolkids Bonus Repeal Bill 2013? That at least would be open and honest rather than hiding it in the MRRT repeal bill.

The schoolkids bonus delivers parents some extra help to meet the large costs associated with sending their children to school. It comes automatically to eligible parents just when they need it to buy uniforms, school books, laptops or tablets, stationery and other things that children need. Those opposite are including it in this bill, simply to make the financial impact of this bill look artificially better than what it actually is. It is why discontinuing the RDAF and Regional Infrastructure funding is included too. It is pretty disingenuous.

When the schoolkids bonus was introduced, those opposite opposed it because they claimed it was not specifically targeted to education. They called it a ‘cash splash’ and they did not trust Australian families to spend it on the educational needs of their children. They said the education tax refund was a better way despite the fact millions of families were not getting their full entitlement, mainly because receipts got misplaced throughout the year. Now the Liberal-National government are scrapping the schoolkids bonus and not even reintroducing the education tax refund. Those opposite not only supported the education tax refund, but promised to increase it if elected at the 2010 election. But now they are scrapping the measure that replaced it and, as I said, not replacing it with anything. They scream blue murder over placing a cap of $2,000 per person on work-related self-education expenses for highly paid professionals, but do not provide anything—not a cent—of education tax concessions for primary schoolchildren. They do not really care about supporting Australian families. They do not care about supporting the education of Australian children, as their recent double backflip on education showed.

It is utterly amazing that in debating this bill today they are giving billions of dollars of tax breaks for mining companies, while at the same time they are getting rid of tax breaks on super for those earning under $37,000 and getting rid of all support to meet children’s education costs. Where are your standards—giving billions of dollars of tax breaks for mining companies, while at the same time getting rid of tax breaks for small businesses? This tells you something, I think, about the priorities of this government: help those that bankroll the Liberal-National party and to hell with the rest; help your mates in the mining sector, and your former mates like Mr Palmer down in the House, and tread on everyone else!

We on this side of the chamber believe that a profits-based tax on profits from the minerals sector—minerals which belong to the Australian people—is a good reform. It is about ensuring Australians get a fair return for their resources. The minerals resource rent tax applies only when miners are making extraordinary, incredible profits during those times in the cycle—and, yes, they do come and go—when prices are booming. According to your own financial impact statement in the bill’s explanatory memorandum—your numbers, not ours—this bill will give big miners a $3.3 billion tax cut over the forward estimates.

 Senator Gallacher: How much?

 Senator BILYK: A $3.3 billion cut over the forward estimates. And you want to scrap it and you want to make people on $37,000 or less pay more tax on their super? I do not understand that logic. To add insult to injury, while cutting the low-income super contribution to millions of Australians, including 2.1 million Australian women, the Liberals and Nationals are boosting the super for 16,000 people who have over $2 million in super balances. I think that says a lot.

A significant percentage of the women affected by the abolition of the low-income super contribution, the LISC, are mothers working part-time while looking after young children. This is exactly the time in a woman’s career when an additional $500 a year going into superannuation would be of most benefit for building savings for her retirement. Industry Super Australia estimates that, when combined with the proposed delay in increasing the super guarantee to 12 per cent, the removal of the LISC will reduce national savings by $53 billion by 2021-22. As everyone listening would know, some of the major investors in Australian infrastructure are superannuation funds. This thoughtless attack on low-income earners is not only hurting the lowest paid Australian workers but also thoughtlessly sabotaging Australia’s capacity to build infrastructure into the future. The lack of vision of those opposite is startling.

The other major concern with this bill’s removal of the LISC is that it is an example of a retrospective tax measure—a fact confirmed by the Parliamentary Budget Office’s checking of the coalition’s election costings. Low-income earners entered the 2013-14 financial year on the understanding that they would be refunded their superannuation tax. Now we are part way through the financial year and the government wants to slug low-income earners while giving generous tax breaks to those on high incomes. There is something wrong in a system where working Australians on average wages are providing excessive support to people with millions in their superannuation account. It is utterly ridiculous and unjust. Those on the other side bemoan income being transferred in our society. In this case it is being transferred from those on low incomes to those on high incomes and, quite frankly, it stinks. Talk about wrong priorities.

The bill would also abolish the income support bonus, a tax-free payment which came into effect earlier this year to help people prepare for unexpected living costs such as medical expenses or car repairs. If the proposed abolition is successful, around 1.1 million low-income Australians, primarily people receiving Newstart or youth allowance, will lose the payment. The income support bonus is an income-tax-exempt, indexed, non-means-tested payment made twice every year to eligible social security recipients. It was introduced in early 2013 ‘in recognition of the fact that the current rates of income support allowance payments are manifestly inadequate’. The bonus provides $210 a year to single recipients and $350 a year to most couples where both partners are eligible. The bonus is paid in instalments in March and September each year and is vital for people receiving income support to make ends meet. ACOSS were concerned at the axing of this payment and noted in their submission to the Senate economics committee inquiry:

… 57% of Parenting Payment recipients and 28% of Newstart Allowance recipients could not afford to pay utility bills on time compared with 12% of all Australians. Over 40% of both groups could not afford dental treatment when needed.

That is what this government is about: attacking those that it thinks will not hit back.

This bill also attacks small businesses and reduces their ability to survive. This bill will increase taxes on up to 2.7 million small businesses and close the loss carry-back scheme, taking away tax breaks for up to 110,000 businesses. The coalition’s plan to remove these small business investment incentives has united big and small business in opposition, with both the Australian Industry Group and the Council of Small Business of Australia speaking out against the removal. Even the coalition’s friends in the Australian Industry Group do not support the provision that would reduce the small business asset write-off threshold. In evidence given to the Senate economics committee’s inquiry into this bill, Dr Burn, from the Ai Group, stated that the existing arrangement provides a very important boost to a company’s cash flow ‘at a time when they need it most and at a time when it is going to be most critical in ensuring the survival of that business’. He also informed the committee that the Australian economy faced a ‘large gap in investment, particularly outside the mining sector’. He stated that the proposal to remove the instant write-off facility for small business would have a material effect on them and ‘decrease investment at the time it is needed most’. In his view, waiting for the tax review in these cases is ‘poor timing’ and the ‘timing needed is right now’. You do not have to cut off your nose to spite your face.

This bill also has extremely negative effects on geothermal energy exploration. Under current arrangements, geothermal energy exploration and prospecting expenditure is deductible in the income year that the asset is first used or expenditure is incurred. Under the new legislation, this expenditure would not be immediately deductible. The Australia Institute observed that this measure ‘seems to contradict the intention behind Direct Action’. It argued in evidence to the inquiry:

If this measure is repealed geothermal exploration will not have the same incentives as any ordinary explorer looking for fossil fuels will get. If anything the playing field should be tilted in favour of geothermal energy exploration.

The Australia Institute suggested that this decision should not go ahead or, if it does, that the measure should be replaced with measures to boost the attraction of investment in geothermal. It is utter madness to discontinue this measure without the government advancing viable alternatives to encourage geothermal energy exploration.

I would just like to remind those opposite that they do not have to try and destroy everything the previous government has done. Government does not involve just indiscriminately attacking all the changes that have come before. Those opposite got elected on three-word slogans. Now they have to realise that governing is about more than three-word slogans, glib sound bites and relentless negativity. Now they have to explain to the Australian people why a bill on repeal of the mineral resource rent tax means people are going to lose their schoolkids bonus. Now they have to explain to 2.7 million small businesses why they are getting a tax hike. The senators opposite need to explain to 2.1 million working women why there is going to be a tax hike on their superannuation. Those opposite need to explain to the people who receive the income support bonus why the Liberal-National government are taking it away, just when these people need their car fixed or their fridge replaced. These people cannot just be brushed aside, and I doubt that three-word slogans are going to cut it. The Australian people are hearing nothing but three-word slogans from this Liberal-National government, and they are hearing one in particular. It is a slogan which is evident in every act of this government, and it is this: Abbott doesn’t care.