Parliament is a place on htraE - Speech, House of Representatives


In DC Comics in the 1960s there was a fictional place called htraE which was the home of Bizarro World, a place in which everything was backwards. It feels like we are in Bizarro World today, as we look at a government behaving like an opposition and an opposition behaving like a government.

Over the course of the last five years Labor have been stable under the excellent leadership of Bill Shorten, the member for Maribyrnong, and we have been producing a suite of important economic policies that will take us to the next election as the most policy-focussed opposition in a generation.

We recognise that Australia faces significant challenges. While our unemployment rate is stuck at around 5½ per cent, countries like Germany and the United States have unemployment rates now below four per cent. If we had their unemployment rates, hundreds of thousands more Australians would have jobs.

Australia has a wage problem, with real wages essentially flatlining over the course of the last five years. Productivity growth has continued at a solid clip—not the racing pace of the 1990s, but we've had productivity growth. Yet it hasn't flowed through to workers. Australia has a ‘real wage underhang’ in which workers haven't shared in productivity gains. We have challenges of the diversity of our industries, with the Harvard Atlas of Economic Complexity ranking Australia surprisingly low, in terms of the diversity of what we can do. We need better investment in research and development and skills in order to boost that.

As Jim Chalmers, the member for Rankin has repeatedly pointed out, Australia faces the challenge of government debt. It's rising now at a more rapid pace than it did under the global financial crisis, when Australia took on debt to save 200,000 jobs and tens of thousands of small businesses. There was a time when we needed to take on debt. It is a tribute to the member for Lilley and the Rudd and Gillard governments, the work that was done in order to save the Australian economy from recession a decade ago. Yet now here we are, a decade on from the crisis, and debt per person in gross terms has gone to over $20,000 a person. Even in net terms, every man, woman and child in Australia has next to their name net government debt of more than $14,000.

Labor will support this bill today, we will support the small- and medium-sized business company tax cut. But we'll go further than simply backing in the government. We will show how to pay for it. We'll do that by delaying for a year the introduction of the Australian Investment Guarantee. That is a policy which allows more rapid write-off of assets for firms, large and small, making investments over $20,000. The Australian Investment Guarantee is very good policy. Analysis by Victoria University suggests that it gets three times the bang for buck than a large corporate tax cut delivers. Labor's policy is grounded in the research that's been done overseas, looking at the value of immediate expensing to the US economy. Indeed, those commentators who have looked at the impact of the tax reforms that have passed the US Congress under President Donald Trump suggest that most of the benefit of that comes from the immediate expensing measure.

Labor is committed to the Australian Investment Guarantee just as we are committed to the instant asset write-off for small firms. We've supported the government's reinstatement of that instant asset write-off. But we're willing to defer that Australian Investment Guarantee measure by a year—because we are the party of fiscal responsibility. We are the party that recognises that you can't simply wave your arms around and say that you've got fiscal rules and say that ‘economic growth will cover it all’ in the way that Treasurer Frydenberg has attempted to do.

Labor also has a strong story for supporting small business. I will take the House to a handful of the measures supported by Labor, but not yet supported by the coalition, that will benefit small business. These are measures that have been championed by the member for McMahon and the member for Brand as the newly-appointed shadow minister for small business.

Labor will ensure that independent mechanics have access to the data they need to fix modern cars. They would get that data on commercially fair and reasonable terms in a way that's been recommended by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Most Australian mechanics are independent mechanics, but without getting access to the data they need to fix modern cars they will go to the wall. Labor is committed to giving them access to that data. The coalition is committed to a process which may, some time down the line, produce a result for independent mechanics. It's just not good enough.

Labor is committed to a mandatory code for auto dealers, to assist them with the power imbalance they face with the large multinational manufacturers. We've seen too many instances in which the small and family-owned businesses that sell new cars find themselves over a barrel in their dealing with multinational manufacturers. Again, this is an issue to which the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has given careful scrutiny. It's based on that that I committed Labor, at the conference of the AADA, to a mandatory code that would govern their dealings with multinational manufacturers. I pay tribute to Milton Dick, the member for Oxley, for his championing of the cause of independent auto dealers.

Labor is committed to a mandatory code governing the relationship between dairy farmers and milk processors. We recognise the power imbalance in that situation, most egregiously demonstrated—as the member for Hunter has pointed out—when Murray Goulburn retrospectively asked farmers to pay money back. We're committed to that mandatory code to benefit that sector of the small-business community.

Labor believes that the ACCC should have a market studies power so that, of its own volition, it can use investigatory powers to explore anticompetitive conduct in any industry where it sees small business getting a raw deal.

We're committed to a policy of access to justice in which small businesses could go to the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman and seek a no-adverse-costs order at the outset. Then they'd be able to take on the big end of town, knowing that, if they lost, they'd pay their own legal costs, but they wouldn't have to pay the bill of the sharp-suited QCs on the other side. They wouldn't have to potentially face bankruptcy for taking on the big end of town for anticompetitive conduct. I pay tribute to Michelle Rowland, the member for Greenway, for her work in putting together Labor's access-to-justice policy prior to the last election. It is a policy that enjoys the support of the Senate. The Senate has committed to Labor's access-to-justice policy. If only the government would allow it to be listed in the House, small businesses could get that access-to-justice policy, backed by Kate Carnell, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman.

But the coalition only really have a one-point economic plan for boosting growth in Australia. They are still, in their heart of hearts, committed to a big-business company tax cut—a big-business company tax cut which would send $3 out of every $5 offshore, a big-business company tax cut that would reward the big banks, who are facing a royal commission into their unprecedented scandals, with $17 billion in company tax cuts.

Labor haven't supported that big-business company tax cut, and we will not support that big-business company tax cut. We simply believe the economics don't stack up.

If you needed any more proof that we are in Bizarro World, we are seeing from former Treasurer Costello a critique of the Liberals' approach to tax reform. He said at the 2018 Economic and Social Outlook Conference:

I can promise you anything for 2026. The one thing they know is that they are not going to be in government in 2026.

It may be Bizarro World, but I'm sure many Australians are relieved to hear Peter Costello firmly predicting the demise of the coalition before 2026. I think many Australians would welcome that moment coming even today. If the Prime Minister were to hop in the car, drive down to Government House and call an election, it wouldn't just be those on this side of the House who'd be pleased. Many Australians would say, 'It's about time that this Bizarro World was sent on its way.'

Labor believes that we should close multinational tax loopholes. We're committed to closing the debt deduction loophole that currently sees multinationals able to ship money offshore to foreign subsidiaries. We believe in improving tax transparency by requiring large private firms with over $100 million turnover to be brought within the tax transparency net.

We're committed to a beneficial ownership registry so we can find out who really owns Australian firms. Labor believes that, when it comes to tax havens, if you're doing business in a tax haven, you should have to disclose to shareholders as a material tax risk those dealings.

We believe that, if you want to be tendering for government work over $200,000, you should disclose your country of tax domicile because Australians should know where a company is domiciled if it's attempting to tender for government work. Only Labor can be trusted to get tough on tax havens. Only Labor can be trusted to crack down on multinational profit shifting.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER:  The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.


Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.