Dr Chris Back - Liberal Senator for Western Australia

MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE - Budget

May 10, 2017

I am delighted to take this opportunity to comment on the federal government's activities in tackling cost-of-living challenges. Senator Siewert quite rightly identified the stress that is so evident now across so much of the community. So wouldn't it be amazing if the $15 billion a year that we are borrowing overseas just to pay the interest on an accumulated debt was actually available to go back into the economy to support so many of the areas that others in this debate this evening have highlighted as being essential areas?

It is a simple fact that the electors of Australia have got what they wanted. That is what democracy is all about. The voters of Australia voted for the Senate that we have got. We have seen our opponents on the other side three times in the last parliament knock back no less than $15 billion of savings that they themselves had identified. They were savings that they identified leading up to 2013, and three times in this Senate chamber in the last parliament they refused to accept them. As the finance minister said today, we have now had knocked back some $15 billion of savings that could have been there in the budget and could have been available—in addition to the $15 billion I just mentioned that is now being borrowed overseas just to pay interest—to support those essential areas that have been the subject of discussion today.

In question time today the Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate asked a question of the Attorney-General, accusing him of levelling a tax against people who earn $21,000 a year. I did my figures during question time. The first $18,000 of the $21,000 is tax free. A person earning $21,000 in this country pays $500 per annum tax. And, if they had no other deductions, the 0.5 per cent that would be the levy in two years time would equate to $2.50 each year. It would equate to $2.50 a year. That would be that person's contribution to support the NDIS, which will require funding in two years time. To put that into perspective for people, it is less than the cost of a Mars bar at Aussie's, because that is $2.90. So $2.50 a year would be the contribution by that hypothetical person raised by Senator Gallagher.

But it is my view, which I hold very, very strongly and will never depart from, that the best way to ensure affordability for a family—for the honour and integrity of, and for opportunity and a future for that family—is a job. And we know very well that the largest employer group in the nation is small business. It is not big business; it is not government; it is small business. The engine room is small business. Millions of people are employed in small business, not just in the cities but in rural and regional Australia, and not just in the highly skilled jobs but in the semiskilled and unskilled jobs. And this government, I am very proud to say, is driving down the tax rate to 25c in the dollar and preserving the $20,000 write-offs that have become so essential for small business.

Yes, I agree completely with Senator Siewert: in our own home state of Western Australia, we are definitely seeing an enormous amount of strain. Maybe some of those people who have been earning $250,000 a year on the mines have been living well beyond their means; maybe they should have been continuing to live on the $100,000-plus a year that would have been their normal salary.

But I say this: the people of Australia have voted. This is the Senate they wanted. And now they must live with that outcome.

Treasurer Morrison and Prime Minister Turnbull and finance minister Cormann quite rightly took the position that we still need to grow this economy. Isn't it interesting that, in the last two or three weeks, surveys were conducted that found that 65 per cent of Australians said that they wanted expenditure to be contained. Senator Seselja knows, as Senator Fawcett knows, that the biggest single cost centre in our budget is welfare. The same 65 per cent who said they wanted expenditure contained also wanted no interruption to welfare spending. You cannot have it all ways.

So we see tax relief for small business, which we know is now driving, and will continue to drive, towards job opportunities and training opportunities. We saw some of the decisions made last night in the budget by the Treasurer to further encourage employment of apprentices. Only in the last few days we have been talking about the opportunities for naval shipbuilding—of the offshore patrol vessels, the frigates et cetera—across southern Australia. Apprenticeships are flowing and will flow. There will be employment opportunities and training in that shipbuilding industry.

In our own home state of Western Australia, the first floating LNG platform, Shell's Prelude, will be in our waters soon. It will provide an enormous opportunity for skills and skills development for 30 or 40 years into the future.

Comment has been made in this place on housing availability. Senator Hume made mention of the increase of $370 for those organisations which service the homeless. Our own state of Western Australia, as Senator Reynolds knows, has this wonderful state-government-supported program called Keystart, starting young families into their own homes. It provides deposit relief. An interesting statistic is that the level of bad debts is 0.3 of one per cent—less than a quarter of the bad debt rate in the commercial banking sector. Indeed, once they are in their own homes, Keystart's clients typically move their debts over to commercial banks. That is the sort of area I want to see us move further into.

Senator Singh spoke about housing affordability. In Melbourne and Sydney the prices might have gone through the roof, but there are plenty of spots in rural and regional Australia, and in our own home state of Western Australia, where they have not. We have got historically low interest rates. We have got a situation where debt is now 190 per cent of disposable income. We cannot sustain that over time.

I commend the Treasurer for his decisions. I commend the government. And I commend this to the Senate.

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