Senator Cory Bernardi
Senator Cory Bernardi Photo Parliament of Australia

I can assure you the Australian people cannot afford an additional $37 billion worth of taxes. Families are already struggling. I admit that. I know that. They have high utility bills, brought about, might I add, by inane and stupid government policies—most notably in South Australia where the Weatherill government has adopted Labor’s mantra of having 50 per cent renewable energy targets, which is also the Nick Xenophon Team’s mantra. This has delivered the most expensive and unreliable electricity anywhere in the country and it is going to get worse. Rather than admit it is an inane policy and filled with flaws, their cure for climate change is to get big diesel generators in for the summer so that they can turn them on, stop the blackouts and run diesel generators to make up for the shortfalls in wind and solar power. This is how the theoretical concept of those on the political left—and, unfortunately, often supported by those without too much brainpower on the political right—results in a huge detriment to the people who have to live with these concepts that come out of this place, the groupthink that sometimes emanates from here. No-one can really defend it. In fact, in South Australia, when it comes to electricity, every political party is now saying it is someone else’s fault. They are blaming the feds, they are blaming the states, they are blaming whoever. The Liberal Party in South Australia supported all of these programs, supported blowing up the coal-fired power stations, and they are now saying, ‘It’s got nothing to do with us’. We are on a hiding to nothing when people do not have principles applied to some of the major challenges that we face in our country today.

It is not just about electricity. It is about returning our budget into surplus so that we can pay back the $500 billion worth of debt that has already been accumulated; so that government can stick to its knitting, which is about defence and ensuring that we have reliable and efficient laws in this country; and so that we can assist those who truly require assistance because they are unable to help themselves. That does not mean giving money to dead people, as Mr Rudd did. That does not mean giving money to foreign backers or people who live overseas, as Mr Rudd did. That does not mean borrowing money from future generations and asking them to pay back the largesse that we are enjoying today because we do not want the impact on our lifestyles. The reality is that we are on a trajectory from which there will be no return unless it is arrested very, very soon.

I regret to say that by the time I finish in this place—unless I can grow the Australian Conservatives well past the single parliamentary member it has now and we can actually put a stop to some of this inanity—I suspect we will have $1 trillion worth of net national debt before my term expires in five years’ time. That is a tragedy for our future generations. And yet the only thing we hear from those on the other side, the supposed alternative government and their alliance partner of the Greens, is that we should be putting taxes up, which of course will only shrink the economy over the longer term, and that we should be giving people more money. I am here to say it has got to stop.

The greatest thing we could do in this country would be to cut taxes, to allow people to be responsible for themselves, to have more self-reliance. And for those people who are concerned about capital gains tax exemptions and negative gearing and those principles that have been applied for many, many generations, for those people who want to cut back on those rorts, the greatest you can do it is to remove the tax encouragement and incentives for it. You do that by having lower tax rates. The reason people pursue tax breaks is because they feel they are paying too much tax already. Of course the incentive is diminished if you are paying a fair and reasonable amount of tax. The big problem we have is that not enough people in this country are chipping in with their tax bill: some people because they are living off the system, because this place and the programs that come out of it encourage them to, but many people are pursuing tax schemes, which they are allowed to do entirely legally, because of the punitive rates of tax that are applied. The Australian Conservatives think there is a better way. If you lower taxes, you provide less support to those who have jobs and do not need them. You can provide greater support, or sufficient support, to those who are truly in need, including the unemployed and families. You can rejig the family tax benefit system through the tax system by income splitting or by tax free thresholds. You could reform child care by allowing it to be tax deductible rather than subsidised. You could stamp out the rorts in child care, which shamefully have been allowed to continue for far too long. There are any number of ways we can cut our cloth to fit our purse, and that is very important for our country.

When those on the other side have no solutions about making cuts to the budget, because it might upset one of their focus groups or their special interest groups, the only answers they have is to put taxes up. My response to that is it is short-term thinking; it is thinking that will diminish our competitiveness and our economy. We need to think about cutting the size, scope and reach of government so that we can support those truly in need. That is why Australian Conservatives are happy to support this bill. In many areas it does not go far enough; I think there are many more areas of tax savings we could accommodate. But the government is grasping for the branch that is within reach. That means it is going to save $2.4 billion over the forward estimates.

Additionally, they also withdrew from their previous incarnation of this bill a decision to increase family tax benefit rates to offset in part the phase-out of the FTB supplements. This is a significant change because it saves a further $2.3 billion over the forward estimates period and, over the medium term, arrests a potential $11 billion future expenditure. It is uncomfortable—people do not like it and it is going to affect individuals—but it is simply impossible for us to make the changes that are necessary without impacting individuals.

Everyone in this country needs to do their bit. I would suggest that those on the top marginal tax rates are already doing their bit by paying nearly half of their income over a certain threshold in tax. Those who as a consequence of this bill are taking haircuts on some of the benefits they may receive will also be doing their bit. But those on the other side of the chamber do not want anyone to feel any pain. They do not want those who are wearing the greatest burden of tax to have any relief from that. They just want to put taxes up and up, thinking that will solve the problem. But it does not solve the problem, and history as a guide demonstrates that.

It is the same wilful ignorance of history that has allowed those on the other side of the chamber to say that our debt problems are temporary, that they are going to be fixed. It is like a magic pudding, a fairytale of economics, and somehow the problems we are creating today are going to be solved at some point in the future. That is exactly how massive problems start—whether it be personal addictions or spendthrift governments, they all begin with making excuses for the little things. ‘I’ll just do this little thing now and it’ll be okay. We’ll fix it up next year.’ The time to fix it is upon us, and the only way that I see it can be fixed is for the major parties to have a responsible and principled handbrake, a responsible and principled conscience on the implications of their decisions for future generations. That conscience has to take effect here in the Senate.

I know we come from different political strands—the Xenophon team, the Hanson team, the Hinch team, the Leyonhjelm team and the Australian Conservatives team—but we have united to say this is an important step forward for our country to save some money. We do not like everything about it, but it does save money. It will assist the government in restoring balance to the budget. It will assist the government in, hopefully, repaying some debt in future years. That is our current crisis. That is our obligation to the people, for whom we are custodians of this country and this economy. It is for our children and their children.

For the people who are suffering today from the high cost of utility bills and taxes—

Senator Farrell interjecting

Senator BERNARDI: I note that Senator Farrell has interjected. Of course, he is the architect of the South Australian Labor government. He is the godfather of the South Australian Labor government. He is the one who gave the blessing for Premier Weatherill to become the premier and indulge in this flight of fancy called green power. They have the highest rate of green power anywhere in this country. But the people of South Australia cannot afford to pay for it because it is intermittent, unreliable and darned expensive. I am suggesting that the South Australian people, when they cannot pay their utility bills, contact Senator Farrell’s office and say, ‘Where is my subsidy?’—just like he is subsidising the wind farms.

Senator Farrell: I have a point of order. Senator Bernardi is completely misleading this house. It was his former mates in the Liberal Party, who sold the Electricity Trust of South Australia, who have caused all of the problems—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sterle ): I hate to do this to you, and you may very well be correct, but there is no point of order, and we will not start debating this.

Senator BERNARDI: Mr Acting Deputy President, I know how difficult it is to stand in the way of a powerful faction boss like Senator Farrell, but congratulations for having the intestinal fortitude to do that! I am surprised that Senator Farrell did not rise on a point of order to say thank you to me. I will leave it to him to explain why he needs to offer me a humbling apology a bit later on.

The reality is that government decisions are what is making the cost of living very difficult for families. That is notwithstanding the fact that some families are struggling through lack of employment opportunities or through personal circumstances. But the environment for employment opportunities is provided by government. The cost of electricity, while not prescribed by government, is influenced by government policymaking, and that is evidenced by the green experiment in South Australia. It is a Petri dish of their failed green dreams and it is a dud. It has not grown some positive culture; it has created a virus that is infecting the whole country. It is now creeping across to Victoria, where they are about to shut down the Hazelwood power station. We are going to have a massive power crisis in this country directly attributable to federal and state government policies. It is time we woke people and governments up to that. I digress, but part of that is to highlight the fact that we need governments to not only live within their means in spending but also ensure that the long-term implications of policy decisions are considered. That is where I think successive governments have failed.

There may be some on the other side who want to defend some of those decisions, but I think morally it is very difficult to do so because we have got, as I said, $500 billion worth of debt already accumulated that none of us in this place have any real hope of paying back. We are actually leaving it for the next generation of workers to pick up the pieces. The answer from those on that side is: ‘Let’s just tax them more.’ That is to ignore the reality of economics, the demographics of our country and the process of immigration, which they sustain as well and which is on an unsustainable path and putting pressure on our infrastructure and our social cohesion. All of these things are intertwined.

Ultimately, we have to take even the most modest of steps to arrest the problems that we are creating. That is why as an Australian Conservative I support this bill, notwithstanding the fact that there are going to be challenges for people who are affected by it. We need to start to deal with the issues that we have created. With that, I commend this bill to the Senate.

Parliament of Australia SPEECH Date Wednesday, 22 March 2017 Source Senate Page 1784 Proof No Questioner Responder Speaker Bernardi, Sen Cory Q