HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, 8 DECEMBER 2020
As with most Treasury laws amendment bills, Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 6) Bill 2020 contains a number of unrelated schedules. I'll confine my brief remarks today to schedules 1 and 3.
Schedule 1 expands the eligibility of the government's temporary full expensing-of-depreciating-assets measure, which brings in Australian businesses which breach the $5 billion income test because of foreign activities. While Labor supports this, it is important to note that any expensing measure must be judged primarily in terms of its impact on employment. As I mentioned in my remarks relating to the principal bill that came before the House, it is critical that firms be encouraged to make investments in capital which are complementary to their workforce, rather than supplementary.
I am somewhat concerned by a recent report by MIT entitled, The work of the future: building better jobs in an age of intelligent machines, co-authored by David Autor, David Mindell and Elisabeth Reynolds. That report notes of the United States:
‘A series of tax law changes enacted over the last four decades has increasingly skewed the U.S. tax code toward subsidizing machinery purchases rather than investing in labor. Tax policy offers firms an incentive to automate tasks that, absent the distortions of the tax code, they would accomplish with workers. The U.S. should bring its tax code back into balance to align incentives for innovation in skills development, capital formation, and R&D investment.’
The report recommends that the US:
Eliminate accelerated depreciation allowances. When enacted, these were intended to be temporary.
The point that the report makes is that accelerated depreciation measures work best when you're investing in education at the same time as encouraging automation—when you're encouraging upskilling of the workforce in order for workers to become more productive with the additional machinery.
What concerns this side of the House is that the government has dropped the ball on skills, failing to invest in schools and failing to invest in vocational training, and that it has engaged in an old-fashioned Liberal culture war with the universities. Universities have been left out of JobKeeper—the rules for JobKeeper were changed three times to leave universities out—and, at a time when we should be expanding resources to universities, the government is cutting per student funding and making it more expensive for many students to attend university. We've just seen the Australian National University announcing 100 job cuts in science. These are just some of the more than 10,000 job cuts which have occurred across the sector.
We should be expanding higher education, not just for the people who work in that sector but for the value that higher education brings during an economic downturn. When the labour market is bad we should be encouraging people to spend that time out of the labour market improving their skills. In the early nineties recession, this meant an increase in the school-leaving age. Now it should mean ensuring there is a university place available for every student with the smarts to get there. The government simply isn't doing that, and that means I'm doubly concerned about the potential unforeseen impact of the temporary expensing measures.
Schedule 3 removes charitable status from the small number of recalcitrant charities which have failed to sign up to the National Redress Scheme flowing on from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. In speaking about that, let me draw on the report itself, which said of the institutional dimension of abuse:
While the impacts of child sexual abuse in institutional contexts are similar to those of child sexual abuse in other settings, we learned that there are often particular effects when a child is sexually abused in an institution. These include impacts on spirituality and religious involvement, such as a loss of faith or a loss of trust in a religious institution, for those victims sexually abused in such settings. We also heard that distrust and fear of institutions and authority are particular features of the effects of child sexual abuse in an institutional context.
That report told us about the responses of institutions to child sexual abuse and reminded us of the strength of survivors but also of the terrible impacts on those survivors—the re-traumatisation, the ostracism from institutions, the long healing process.
These amendments are part of a move Labor has called for, and the government has supported, on the basis that any charity that puts its own interests ahead of the debt they owe to survivors should not be receiving deductible gift recipient status. Charities that are not signing up to the national redress scheme cannot tough it out. They cannot outlast the survivors. They cannot stick their heads in the sand. If they do not sign up to the national redress scheme, they will not get the tax-deductible status that a charity gets.
The slow pace of redress is weighing on the survivors, and I will move a second reading amendment on these particular issues. But let me conclude my remarks by drawing on a few accounts from residents of the ACT in the context of the royal commission. The first of them are Lars and his brother Willem, and I quote from the report of the royal commission:
Lars migrated from the Netherlands with his family in the 1950s, and they settled in the Australian Capital Territory, where they were befriended by a local Catholic priest.
‘Back in those days, obviously the clergy had a lot of influence, and a lot of respect’, so when Father Dylan began sexually abusing Lars and several of his siblings, they felt that they couldn’t tell their parents.
Lars and his brother Willem came to the royal commission to tell their stories. Willem was particularly affected by the harm that was done to him.
Another victim was Imelda. The report of the royal commission states:
When Imelda was 10, her father took her to stay with a local priest he knew, Father Callaghan. She can’t remember exactly, but thinks she was there for several weeks. Imelda remembers being in bed the first night, when Callaghan got into bed with her. She still remembers what he was wearing and to this day, she does not like blue-striped pyjamas.
When Imelda wrote a letter in the mid-1990s outlining her despite the priest and gave it to a high-ranking member of the Catholic Church, she was under the impression that nothing was done. The report of the royal commission states:
Imelda came to the Royal Commission because ‘I don’t like the fact that it’s a secret and that it hasn’t come out and that he got away with it … I read what you guys are doing, why you’re doing this. It’s to help … It’s to prevent things from happening in the future and so the government can work out new ways of being, you know, wary about these kinds of things.
She just wanted to 'let the world know that this is not okay, and it’s not going to happen anymore'.
To Imelda, Lars and Willem, we recognise the importance of acting upon the report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. In that vein, I move:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:
(1) notes that survivors of institutional child sexual abuse have been waiting too long and are receiving inadequate support while going through the process of seeking redress;
(2) further notes the context of the amendments in the bill to incentivise charities to join the National Redress Scheme or face deregistration; and
(3) calls on the Government to:
(a) put in place an early payment scheme for child sexual abuse survivors who are ill or elderly;
(b) stop indexing prior payment;
(c) increase the maximum payment to $200,000 as recommended by the Royal Commission; and
(d) fix the assessment matrix so it properly recognises the impact of abuse".
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.