Mr Acting Deputy President, welcome to Groundhog Day! We spoke in the chamber earlier this year on the bill to repeal the minerals resource rent tax. Like with the carbon bills that we have debated again and again and will debate again this week, we are back to debate legislation on the minerals resource rent tax again. This time the bill before us, the Minerals Resource Rent Tax Repeal and Other Measures Bill 2013 [No. 2], may well pass with the support of Mr Palmer’s friends in this place—although if those opposite try and double-deal with him again who knows what might happen. Those opposite need to start dealing with the crossbenchers honestly and with some respect.
As I said in my contribution earlier this year, those opposite claimed they would be a ‘no surprises’ government. What a joke, because this government are nothing but surprises. Australians are waking up to a new surprise every day. Unfortunately, those opposite are trying to fool all of the people all of the time; the Australian people are sick to death of it. I have never seen so much anger in the community over a budget as I have with the budget the government have just delivered. The people of Australia are stunned, absolutely stunned, that this government could try to pass changes that are so fundamentally against Australian values, and they are still in shock that the government want to utterly abolish the principle of universal health care for all, which has underpinned this nation for 30 years.
But the Australian people are not fooled by this government. They are waking up to this government trying to abolish the schoolkids bonus by stealth in this bill, costing the average family $15,000 over the period of their children’s schooling. 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 because of this bill. Regional communities are waking up to the fact that they have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in funding through the abolition of the Regional Infrastructure Fund and the Regional Development Australia Fund. And the Australian people have woken up to Mr Abbott’s plan to abolish the low-income super tax contribution but keep generous tax concessions for high-income earners. Most Australian people have angrily spoken out against it.
The Prime Minister and those who sit on the opposite side of this chamber were not upfront with the Australian people. They did not explain to the Australian people that when they said ‘axe the tax’ they actually meant ‘cut your retirement savings, hurt small businesses, make it harder to pay for your children’s education and let rural and regional communities fall into disrepair’. I know that it is not as catchy, but it certainly is a lot more honest. But as they like three-word sound bites, the Liberal-National government could have found some to honestly campaign with to convey their intentions to the Australian people. ‘Tax the sick’ could have been one. They could also have used ‘business tax increase’, ‘no new uniforms’, or ‘help rich miners’. ‘Let regions rot’ would have been another accurate three-word catchphrase for this government. I am wondering why the government did not campaign using any of these three-word slogans. Of course they knew if they actually took the time to explain their policies deliberately targeting those Australians who are least well-off then no-one would have voted them in.
Many Australians feel that they were duped by those opposite, that they were not given the full story. This government has put forward policies that the people of Australia are vehemently opposed to. Some may have been mentioned in the fine print, but they certainly did not appear in the TV ads or in the fliers that appeared in people’s letterboxes. Others were not mentioned at all. No radio ad was targeted to people over 50 on Newstart saying the income support bonus for them would be cut. No Liberal doorknocker stood on a family’s doorstep to tell them that there was going to be a $7 GP tax increase. No TV ads said the schoolkids bonus would be axed and it would not even reinstate the education tax refund, which it replaced. No fridge magnets were sent to the 2.7 million small businesses to tell them that the instant asset write-off would be reduced by 80 per cent. Perhaps the three-word slogan it 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 builds up their retirement savings, helping the whole of Australian society. It takes an extraordinary lack of vision to not see that regional Australia is in need of infrastructure to drive growth, especially in the economies of rural communities, and to improve the quality of life of people in these communities. And it takes an extraordinary lack of vision to not see that ensuring that parents can afford the required books, stationery, computer equipment and uniforms result in better educational outcomes for their children and higher productivity for society as a whole.
The explanatory memorandum to this bill outlines 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. Then why is the axed money being counted in the financial impact of this bill? What a disingenuous stunt by those opposite. We have already seen the axing of the Regional Development Australia Fund and the purpose of the Regional Development Australia Fund—the RDAF—is to support regional areas of Australia with infrastructure needs.
I am really disappointed that the Nationals are once again supporting cuts to regional Australia. Despite what they say, the Nationals are not standing up for rural Australia—
Senator Nash: Rubbish!
Senator BILYK: because they are supporting a GP tax that will disproportionately affect rural Australia.
Senator Nash: Absolute rubbish!
Senator BILYK: They are supporting a fuel tax that will disproportionately affect Australia.
Senator Nash interjecting—
Senator BILYK: They are supporting a paid parental leave scheme that will disproportionately affect rural Australia.
Senator Nash interjecting—
Senator BILYK: I thought, Senator Nash, that you would have fought harder for the communities you claim to represent. It was ironic that it was the Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss, who revealed the government will not fund projects in round 5 of the Regional Development Australia Fund, which 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. And I have spoken previously in this place about the projects that have been axed by the Liberals and the Nationals.
Senator Nash: Fifty billion dollars is not a cut!
Senator BILYK: You should listen to this, Senator Nash. These include projects at St Helens, Geilston Bay, Devonport, the central coast municipality, Triabunna, Glenorchy, 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, and it is disappointing that those opposite are continuing to hack away, axing projects without any support.
It is Labor that cares about regional infrastructure. The former Labor government’s $6 billion Regional Infrastructure Fund—or RIF—was to invest in nation building projects to build productive economic capacity so that we can sustainably grow of 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. And it is disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful, that the Nationals will just sit there and not stand up for regional communities. Those opposite have definitely got their priorities wrong. You should be governing in the interests of the Australian people, not friends in big business. It is utterly amazing that, in debating this bill today, they are giving billions of dollars of tax breaks to mining companies while, at the same time, wanting to get rid of tax breaks on superannuation for those earning under $37,000 and getting rid of all support to meet children’s education costs. They give billions of dollars of tax breaks for mining companies while at the same time getting rid of tax breaks for small businesses. So much for the party of small business. This tells you something about the priorities of this government. Help those who bankroll the Liberal National Party and ignore the rest. Help your mates in the mining sector and tread on everybody else. Unlike those who are acting in the self-interest of a small minority, we on this side of the chamber believe that a profits based tax on minerals sectors—minerals which belong to the Australian people—is a good reform. It is about ensuring Australians get a fair return for their resources. I do not know why those opposite have such a problem with the minerals resource rent tax as it applies only when miners are making extraordinary and incredible profits.
We know that cycles go through booms and troughs, and this tax applies when things 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 dollar tax cut over the forward estimates. Gee, what a budget emergency we must have when you are giving such a big tax break to mining industry! It would seem like your budget emergency is a giant furphy. And to add insult to injury, while cutting the low income super contributions 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 am glad to hear public statements that the Palmer senators will not be supporting the cut to the low income super contribution, the LISC.
But I will speak on the LISC for the benefit of other senators in this place. A significant percentage of the women that would have been affected by the abolition of the LISC are mothers working part-time while looking after young children. This is exactly the time in women’s careers where an additional $500 a year going into superannuation would be of most benefit for building savings towards their 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. And, as everyone listening would know, one of the major investors in Australian infrastructure is superannuation funds.
This thoughtless attack on low-income earners is not only hurting the lowest paid Australian workers; it is also thoughtlessly sabotaging Australia’s capacity to build infrastructure into the future. It is typical, I must say, of this heartless, visionless Abbott government. The lack of vision of those opposite is somewhat startling. Once again the surprising inclusion of cuts to the schoolkids bonus is in this bill today. I have spoken to I do not know how many people about this issue, and everyone I have spoken to is opposed to this. Parents, teachers, and those dreaded unions that those on the other side are so hung up about that represent teachers and other school workers, are opposed to this measure.
Generally when you put together a bill, it contains only things that are relevant to the issues at hand. You do not just shove random provisions into the bill. What a sneaky, underhanded trick. The schoolkids bonus is not and should never be seen to be relevant to this bill. Never! It was enacted in the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment (Schoolkids Bonus Budget Measures) Bill 2012 and not in the Minerals Resources Rent Tax Bill 2011. It was never to be funded by the MRRT and linking it in this way is a shameless way to axe it.
Senator Jacinta Collins: It is fraud.
Senator BILYK: You are right Senator Collins; it is complete fraud. If you want to scrap the schoolkids bonus, why not present it to this place as the ‘Schoolkids Bonus Repeal Bill 2014’. At least that would be open and honest rather than sneakily hiding it in the MRRT repeal bill.
The schoolkids bonus delivers parents some extra help to meet the large costs associated with sending a child to school. It is paid automatically to eligible parents just when they need it to buy uniforms, school books, laptops or tablets, stationery and any other things that their children might need for school. 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 are 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 that millions of families were not getting their full entitlements as receipts often got misplaced throughout the year. Now the Liberal-National government are scrapping the schoolkids bonus and not even reintroducing the education tax refund. And, although they supported the education tax refund and promised to increase it if elected at the 2010 election, no, they are just scrapping it. Scrapping the whole measure! Scrapping the measure that replaced it and replacing it with nothing—zilch!
They do not care about supporting Australian families at all. They do not care about supporting the education of Australian children as their recent double backflip on education shows. We know those opposite hate those on Newstart payments—a number of the previous speakers have already mentioned this. As well as attacking the young with the draconian new measures to create high levels of homelessness for those under the age of 30, this bill would also abolish the income support bonus, a tax-free payment 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. This is just another cruel attack on people on Newstart from those opposite. That is what this government is about—attacking those that they think won’t hit back. But I believe they will and I believe that the Australian people have had enough.
This bill shows just how little those opposite care about small business as well. 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. Often the interests of big businesses and small businesses do not align, but 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. The Abbott government is uniting Australia through hatred of its policies.
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 that the ‘timing needed is right now’.
Those opposite believe the purpose of being in government is to overturn everything the previous government did. Well, guess what? It isn’t; it is to lead in the interests of the Australian people, not big business mates. Those opposite got elected on those wonderful three-word slogans!
Senator Cash interjecting—
Senator BILYK: 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 called repeal of the mineral resource rent tax means they 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—
Senator Cash interjecting—
Senator BILYK: Maybe if you were quiet and listened you might learn something on that side.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Back ): Order! Quiet on my right.
Senator BILYK: The senators opposite need to explain to 2.1 million working women why there is going to be a tax hike on their superannuation if the LISC changes are passed. Those opposite need to explain to the people who receive the income support bonus why the Liberal-National government is taking it away just when they need their car fixed or their fridge replaced. These people cannot just be brushed aside. The only three-word slogan that the Australian people want to hear now is ‘one-term Tony’.