Bills - Productivity Commission Amendment (Addressing Inequality) Bill 2017 - Second Reading

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (10:47): Listening to this debate, and particularly the previous two speakers, with their socialist rhetoric, brings to my mind some maxims that were first mentioned in the 19th century by the philosopher Reverend Bottger, sometimes attributed to Abraham Lincoln and elaborated upon by Winston Churchill. I think it is always important to remind ourselves of those 10 maxims, which are as important and evident now as they were when they were first uttered. I notice some schoolchildren in the gallery. I love to see them here. It is good to see them watching parliament in action in the cause of democracy. They too might be interested in these 10 maxims. I am going to repeat them because they are so germane to the debate we are having today. The first one is: you cannot strengthen the week by weakening the strong. Winston Churchill elaborated on that by saying you cannot make the poor rich by making the rich poorer. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot help little men by tearing down big men. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot help keep the poor by destroying the pitch. You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn. You cannot build character and courage by destroying men's initiative and independence. And you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.

Those maxims are self-evident, and they are what made America great, a little before Australia was made great by people following those principles. They are a series of thoughts that I was delighted to hear our newest senator, Senator Gichuhi, mention, not in those words but in the themes that she addressed yesterday in her maiden speech to this chamber. Of course, they are the principles upon which the Liberal Party of Australia is based. It is a tenet of the party that I belong to that you must look after those who are disadvantaged and those who are not as fortunate as we are. Through the majority of the Commonwealth, when we have had Liberal governments, those principles have been put in place.

This Productivity Commission Amendment (Addressing Inequality) Bill 2017 is a private member's bill from a Labor senator, and I congratulate Senator McAllister for bringing forward for debate a sensible policy proposal—not one that I necessarily agree with, but I appreciate the fact that it is an attempt to have a sensible policy discussion in this place and does not, as with many of Senator McAllister's colleagues, simply to make some very base political point or attack members of the Senate who are not members of their party. So I am pleased that this debate is before us. I should point out to Senator McAllister that the Intergenerational report, which she mentioned both in her second reading speech and in the explanatory memorandum, is produced not by the Parliamentary Budget Office, as she said, but by the Treasury. I do not think that error in your second reading speech makes a great deal of difference to the bill before us, but it is important to make sure we all understand these things.

The Labor Party want the Productivity Commission to do another investigation and another report. If you have plenty of money and plenty of time, that is sometimes a useful way to go. Rather than doing reports, investigations or studies, the Turnbull government is actually addressing inequality with policies to boost economic growth that generates greater employment and income for hardworking Australians whilst targeting assistance to those who need it most. Again quoting our newest senator, Senator Gichuhi, yesterday in her first speech, the best form of welfare is a job. The best form of welfare is a job, and that is what our government are attempting to do.

The previous, Labor speaker, Senator Lines, mentioned that the current government has presided over record unemployment. Clearly, the previous speaker has not been here long. I am proud to say I have been here 27 years and am currently the longest serving parliamentarian, and I have seen it all before. I happened to be here when, under the Keating Labor government, unemployment across Australia was at almost 13 per cent. Youth unemployment in the Keating years across Australia was upwards of 35 per cent. Yet Labor speakers come in here and try to suggest with non-factual comments that unemployment under this government is at record levels. It clearly is not. I can tell you, though, Mr Acting Deputy President Bernardi, that it is at record levels in the city where I have my office, the city of Townsville. We are, regrettably, a state with a Labor government which has done little on the economy. In fact, it has done little on anything. It is adopting the principle that if you do not make a decision and you do not do anything, then you are not going to offend anyone, so your chances of getting re-elected at the next election are better, because you have not put anyone off side. More than that, they have employed another 12,000 public servants, most of whom are not needed in Queensland but who, I guess, are grateful for their job and will show their gratitude in the upcoming state election in Queensland.

But in my home city of Townsville, unfortunately, unemployment is at very high levels. Why? Because of the mining downturn and because the state government, who control the local economy, have done nothing. The federal government has tried to help in Townsville, with commitments to the Eastern Access Rail Corridor project, to the Townsville Stadium, to the ring road around Townsville, to beef roads and to regional roads. The money from the Commonwealth for dams and for water studies has really flooded into the north, but, unfortunately, whilst the Commonwealth government provides the money, with the way our Constitution is set out, the work has to be done by the state government, who own the roads and who own the rivers. We, federally, can only provide the money, and we have done that. Regrettably, the state government have not used that money for the benefit of the people of North Queensland.

Credit where credit is due, I will give the Labor Premier of Queensland credit for staring down the opponents in her own party, including her Deputy Premier, by—reluctantly, I think—eventually supporting the Adani project to build a long railway line in Queensland to go from the central Queensland coalfields to the Abbot Point port near Bowen. For young people who might have heard of this debate, can I say to you: please do not believe the rhetoric of the Greens and GetUp, who tell you that opening a coalmine about 500 or 600 kilometres inland, behind the Great Dividing Range, is somehow going to destroy the Great Barrier Reef. I live on the Great Barrier Reef. All of the people of that part of Queensland, who are represented by members of the Liberal-National Party—not of the Labor Party—know that the reef is carefully managed. It has ups and downs, but, generally speaking, it is a resilient organism that will continue to flourish, because it is well managed by, principally, the federal government, in conjunction with the Queensland government.

I have diverted a fraction from saying that the Queensland Premier, against opposition from within her own party, did in fact supports the Adani railway and mine project, which will also, as an adjunct, help the South Australian steel industry, because all of the steel for the railway will be sourced from Whyalla. That project will provide real jobs, will provide some sustenance to small businesses who are struggling in that area and will, consequently, help with the equity of those who are less fortunate in the North Queensland region at the moment.

The previous speaker also made some reference to the abolition of penalty rates on 1 July. Somehow this is the fault of the Turnbull government, even though it was a decision made by the Fair Work Commission, whose members are principally ex-union workers and ex-union bosses appointed by the Labor Party.

Senator Seselja: Under a Labor piece of legislation.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Under a Labor piece of legislation—that is quite right, Senator Seselja. This independent commission, made up of mates of Senator Cameron who his government appointed to the job, took evidence and looked at it all. They understood the facts and figures, and they—not the Turnbull government—made a decision to adjust penalty rates for Saturday and Sunday work. Why? It is because the evidence clearly showed that penalty rates discourage employment opportunities. I know, without a study by the Productivity Commission or the Fair Work Commission or anyone else, just from my contact with my constituents, that there are so many small businesses who will not open on Saturday and Sunday because they cannot afford to pay the penalty rates. They cannot afford to compete in wages, because they have to pay huge penalty rates, whereas the big chains—like Maccas, Kentucky Fried and those fast-food chains; Myers and David Jones; Woolworths and Coles—thanks to a union deal, do not have to pay those same rates.

Why? It is because Mr Shorten, when he was a union leader, did these deals with that sector of the industry and said, 'You don't have to pay these huge penalty rates,' but the small businessmen, the mums and dads trying to compete with these multinational chains, 'Sorry you've got to pay these prohibitive penalty rates,' which means that most of them do not open. With a more realistic approach to penalty rates these small businesses, the mums and dads, will say, 'Yes, we will open on Saturday and Sunday, because we can afford to employ people.' That means more people will be employed, and that sort of thing will address the critical unemployment situation in my home city of Townsville. Fortunately, this is not shared by most of the rest of Australia at the present time, but it will make a difference there and right across Australia.

As I said before, it is my party's vision—it is in our DNA and it is certainly in the DNA of coalition governments federally—to look after those who cannot look after themselves, the more disadvantaged in our society. I will give just one example: the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I concede this originated in the term of the Labor government, but it was a proposal that was fully supported by the then opposition, which was our party, something you do not see today in this parliament. Anything that comes to this parliament, whether it be good, bad or indifferent, is automatically opposed by Labor and the Greens, just because we brought it forward. The Liberal Party in opposition thought that the NDIS was a good idea. It is part, as I say, of our DNA to look after those not as advantaged as the rest of us.

It was a good idea, but at the time we warned, 'Is this being paid for?' As I mentioned before in one of those important maxims, 'You can't keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.' That is what Labor governments do all the time. That is what they did with the NDIS. That is what they do with everything: 'Yeah, good idea, it will get a few votes: let's promise we'll have a national disability insurance scheme. How's it going to be paid for? Don't worry about that; let's get the credit for setting this up and we'll worry about that later.' Of course, the Labor Party never provided money for the NDIS. It has been left to this government to actually fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

We are asking Australians to contribute, with the Medicare levy to be increased by half a percentage point from two to 2.5 per cent of taxable income. This means that one-fifth of the revenue raised by the Medicare levy, along with underspends within NDIS, will be directed to an NDIS savings fund to ensure that this good scheme can continue and be fully funded into the future—a proposition, an arrangement that the Labor Party had neither the wit nor the courage nor the understanding to introduce.

This is a measure because we do have those hated rich people that Senator Lines spoke about. Fortunately they are rich, because 2.5 per cent of their income will mean a huge boost to looking after those who need the NDIS. I repeat that maxim: you cannot establish sound security—social security in this instance—on borrowed money. Because we do have people who earn a lot, they contribute more—and thank goodness we do have them.

Similarly, this government understands inequality in education. That is why Senator Birmingham is bringing in a scheme that is equal across the board. It makes sure that people, no matter which category they are in, have money to be properly educated. As a state school veteran—all my school years were at a state school; I could not afford to go to university; I did my tertiary studies externally—I understand how important it is that all students should be helped by the federal government and the state governments. People say to me: why is the federal government giving Catholic and private schools so much money and state schools so little? The reason is that the state governments in our Federation give the state schools all the money and the Catholic and private schools very little at all. So what the Commonwealth has always done, since the Menzies days, is try and equalise that. We do not care where kids go to school; as long as they are getting a good education, they should all be treated relatively equally.

Across the board, coalition governments, since time immemorial, have tried to lessen the inequalities within Australia by sensible policies that work and that do achieve results;. That is why every serious social reform, and indeed environmental reform, that has ever come before the Australian parliament has been a product of Liberal governments over the decades.

Back to List