BILLS; Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2017-2018, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2017-2018; Second Reading

February 13, 2018

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (18:57): I too would like to participate in this debate, but I would like to draw some attention to what I see as shortcomings within this government. One thing I've learnt since viewing the activities of the Turnbull government is that we should pay attention not to what they say but to what they do. And I think there's a clear measure of that when you look at what this government has done. Bear in mind, this is the government of Work Choices—that was their origin; that was their commitment. They wanted to reduce the workers' ability in respect to wage rises; they wanted employers to pay people below award rates of pay. It's in their DNA.

None of this has changed. Work Choices moved to lower the standard of living, and this government continues to do that. They certainly have made a move to cut the standard of living of pensioners, those on disability support, the unemployed, young people. And now they want us to believe that they've changed; that they've turned over a new leaf, as it were. It wasn't that long ago that this mob opposite were banging on about how what we need is budget repair. That's putting it mildly. They talked about a budget emergency or a deficit disaster. They pounded on about that before the last election. But what do we see now? Under this government's watch, the deficit is blowing out and the debt has now crashed through the half-trillion dollar mark.

This is a government of misplaced priorities, with a signature policy of handing out $65 billion to multinationals and big business. This policy is all inspired by the government's misconceived views about trickle-down economics. I'll tell you what: that wasn't one of the terms in any of the economics books I had to read when I was studying. But they have placed all their faith in that—that the more we give the top end of town, the more they'll pass it on. As I said last week, pigs might fly. Yet this is their signature policy with which they want to take the Australian community under their wing, saying, 'Trust us; this'll be all okay.'

Well, as I say, don't listen to what they say; look at what they do. At this time we have unemployment and casualisation at an all-time high. We have stagnant living standards. We have a diminished number of apprenticeships. We have a housing affordability crisis. And the only plan the government has is, quite frankly, to make it hard for families who are battling already. Just a piece of advice for those opposite: if you can't afford to give, straight out, business $65 billion, simply don't do it. But don't do it at the expense of the most vulnerable Australians. That's not what government is about. This is not Robin Hood taking from the rich and giving to the poor. From what they're doing, they misread that book; they're taking from the poor to reward the rich. The government's approach is unfair and ill considered. The type of growth they are targeting is not the right type of growth that this country needs. And it is unaffordable, particularly at a time when this government has the budget in a big mess.

Since this government's economic plan was first introduced, we have talked about the extremely minimal impact that these proposed tax cuts for big business will have. We are talking about giving $65 billion to the top end of town—the top corporates and the multinationals. But the economists have reminded us that it will have negligible economic benefit. As a matter of fact, they have modelled this. It has a benefit of one per cent over the next 20 years—that's to say, in terms of wages, a $2 a day increase in the wages per person in 20 years time. That's what they're basing all this on. No wonder they want to move to cut pensions or make it more difficult for pensions and why they want to move on family tax benefits, and why they are moving on universities and on schools. This is all to pay for this unfunded $65 billion tax cut to big business.

The Treasurer's economic modelling certainly is a one-trick pony. He expects that, if he can give away this money, we are going to see miraculous results within the community. As I say, he believes—as I presume those opposite, if they are shaking their heads, do too—that the more we give the top end of town, the more they're going to feel obliged to expend that in higher wages for their employees. I just don't think the world works that way. This is the same trickle-down approach that has dominated, quite frankly, the last three budgets delivered by the Treasurer.

I've found a comment by a person who I know is friends of people on both sides of this parliament, and I am referring to Father Frank Brennan. He is the CEO of Catholic Social Services. He succinctly summarised this position that the government's wedded to, about their tax cuts. He said:

Our tax and transfer system is critical to ensuring a fairer Australia … Placing the burden of budget repair on those who can least afford it, while providing tax cuts to the wealthy and businesses, is wrong morally and economically.

We agree with that. If Father Frank is making comments like that, he is sure as hell talking to those on the other side and making sure that they understand that.

I am not sure how rusted on those opposite are to this. We would like to think that they will take this to the next election, because those of us who spent a bit of time in our electorates over Christmas know that this is totally unpopular. People get what's occurring here. People get that the government are making cuts that affect families and hardworking people all to further their tax cuts for business. At the same time, the government want to take $17 billion from our schools, $2.2 billion from our universities and almost $650 million from vocational education through our TAFE system—and all of this when we are moving from crisis to crisis in health. In that environment, is it worth giving the top end of town $65 billion? By the way, in the last 12 months, the top end of town has averaged a 20 per cent profit. Does that trickle down anywhere? Wages growth has flatlined, so it hasn't trickled down too far.

I will just highlight some of the ramifications of these cuts. I have spoken a number of times about our schools. I would expect that all members here would, from time to time, visit their schools and their principals to get an idea of how they are going and get an understanding of the practical ramifications of the cuts that the government is now making. In my electorate, under the cuts that the government proposes, our schools will lose $24.8 million in funding. In my discussions with the Western Sydney University last week, they told me that the government's proposed cuts, which they are instituting through the freeze on Commonwealth funding grants, in this year alone will amount to $5.7 million. The university told me that they are going to have to take a lot of their focus away from business and, for example, their start-up incubator.

All the things that the Prime Minister once said were essential for growth in Western Sydney are going to be ratcheted back because of these cuts. These cuts are unfair and are painful for communities such as Western Sydney. This just goes to prove that the government can't be trusted when it comes to the most important investments for our nation. An investment in education is an investment in our future. We need to have the best and brightest if we are going to compete in the world. But that is lost on this government. You don't make cuts to institutions that are responsible for developing skills and training and all those things that we are going to need in an advanced economy to be able compete with the rest of the world—but the government is slashing those institutions.

We see this same sentiment reflected in the government's health policy, where the government failed to reverse their unfair 2020 Medicare freeze. They are effectively asking Australians to pay more for their health care than they should be paying. Over the next four years this amounts to a cut of about $2.2 billion from Medicare, and that is in addition to the savings already banked by the government. The Turnbull government has been cutting Medicare and threatening bulk-billing. I would just remind the House that this is the same bunch that, when they had half a chance, wanted to move to privatise parts of Medicare—and now they want us to believe that they've changed their position. The fact is that the Prime Minister cares only about his own political health, not about the health of those in our community.

The government claim that we have an NDIS emergency and, in a rather cynical way, they are now pretending that there is only one way to address this—through a good old-fashioned tax hike for low-income earners. They want to tax the seven million Australians earning less than $87,000. They say, 'This is the only way we can do it, yet we still want to hand out $65 billion to the top end of town.' What does it mean for the real workers out there? The average household income in my electorate is just a tad over $65,000. For a worker on $55,000, it means that they will be paying an extra $270 a year, and someone on $80,000 a year will be paying around $400 extra tax a year. This is all happening when we know that the corporate profit level is running at around 20 per cent—average profits at 20 per cent over the last 12 months. Yet they still want to think that the only way ahead for our economy is to give big business a bigger slice of the pie, a bigger tax cut, in the belief that it will trickle down to everybody else. While they're doing that, as I said earlier, wages growth has largely flatlined. It's at a record low. Currently it's at 1.9 per cent. That's not the environment in which you want to go out and reward big business that's already making big profits. They're not distributing that to their workers; otherwise it wouldn't be running at 1.9 per cent, as it is now.

Our families are facing rising electricity costs and significant unemployment; 1.1 million Australians are experiencing underemployment. And this government has nothing better to offer than a $65 billion corporate tax cut. When you've got stagnant wage growth and rising inequity, on a background that's already felt the wrath of antiworker legislation passed by this government, no wonder this is a government that did not lift a finger to stop the slashing of penalty rates that now affects 700,000 Australian workers. By the way, these are some of the most low-paid Australian workers, and it's going to cost them up to $77 per week.

We need a government that actually understands community and puts community first. Clearly that's not what this government's doing. This government fails to see the real value of people's pay packets going down and electricity and private health care skyrocketing. We are in a housing affordability crisis, with household debt at record levels. We have high unemployment and job insecurity and a government that is wagering our futures on trickle-down economics.