Subjects: Sentencing of Dr Yang Hengjun; King Charles; the Prime Minister’s stage three tax cuts lie; the Prime Minister’s lack of leadership and credibility; Labor’s cost of living crisis; the Prime Minister’s broken promise on a $275 cut to your power bills; Labor’s energy policy shambles; negative gearing.
Good afternoon everyone. Thank you very much for coming along today. I’m very pleased to be here with Angus Taylor and also Jane Hume, and there are a couple of comments, obviously, we want to make in relation to the Coalition’s position on tax, but a couple of issues that I wanted to comment on first.
I think all Australians are, frankly, shocked in relation to the sentence that’s been handed down in Beijing to Australian citizen, Dr Yang. We need to call out egregious behaviour, and it’s not just Dr Yang. There are many other freedom fighters and people who are speaking up for civil rights and for human rights who will never see the light of day again. It’s time for our country and for other countries of similar values around the world to be very frank about the human rights abuses that are taking place.
As we know, in relation to Australian citizens in the past, there have been circumstances where natural justice has been denied, where people have been detained beyond the sentence of a court, and there are many issues that we need to deal with, but in relation to Dr Yang, I think most Australians would be shocked and appalled at this sentence, and I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Prime Minister in condemning the situation that Dr Yang finds himself in. Medical assistance obviously needs to be provided as a matter of urgency and I think the President and others would do well to reconsider this matter because I think it not only has a very negative impact personally on Dr Yang, but it also tarnishes the reputation of the People’s Republic of China as well.
I also want to send a clear message to King Charles. I’m sure, again, all Australians would wish him well in his fight against the diagnosis of cancer. As I said this morning, it’s an opportunity, though, for a good message to come – and I know the Palace has been pushing this message as well – but particularly for men who just don’t go to the doctors regularly enough, people busy with their lives, running kids around to school and sport, busy with work, etc. Early diagnosis of many cancers will mean the ability to treat the cancer and for people to increase their chances of survival, and it’s something we should all take very seriously.
As you know, this morning the Coalition Party Room met, and we dealt with what’s been an egregious lie by the Prime Minister. I think, again, Australians have been shocked to know that they’ve got a liar in the Lodge, and they’ve got a Prime Minister who looks the Australian public in the eye and is prepared to lie to them.
He promised on 97 occasions that power prices would come down by $275, he’s never mentioned that figure since the election. He promised on the Voice that he would give the detail to the Australian public, well the election and the vote was last October, the detail’s still not been provided to the Australian public. The Prime Minister deliberately deceived the Australian public on the Voice, deliberately deceived the Australian public in relation to bringing down energy costs, and he’s deceived the public in relation to the tax cuts which he promised on more than 100 occasions. He’s taken the money away, obviously, from the proposed stage three tax cuts which have been legislated, he’s robbed that money and he’s put it into the proposal that he’s got forward on the table at the moment.
Now, as you move around the country, as we all do, the stories of hardship for families, for small businesses, are obvious and in abundance, and there are some tragic stories out there at the moment, of single parent families, of people who are working hard but living in cars, people who are $8,000 a year worse off under this Government, people with a mortgage who are $24,000 a year worse off under this Government, people who are relying on the Prime Minister to make good economic decisions and in two budgets he’s made bad decisions, and the situation has deteriorated for a lot of families. There are very few Australians who could say today that they are better off under Anthony Albanese than they were under the Coalition Government. If you speak to people, economists, business leaders, they are very concerned about the second half of this year as well.
So, the Coalition is not going to stand in the way of providing support to Australians who are doing it tough. The Prime Minister’s made this change for his own political survival. We’re supporting this change – not to support the Prime Minister’s lie, but to support those families who need help now, because Labor has made decisions that have made it much harder for those families. That’s the position that we have adopted as a Party Room. I want to thank Jane and Angus for the work that they’ve done. We will take to the next election a significant tax policy which will reduce taxes for Australian taxpayers, because we know that there is going to be a lot of support needed to help Australian families recover from this period of Labor. They never, ever manage the economy well. They always make decisions that are in the unions’ best interests, in the union leaders’ best interests, in big business’ best interests, but we are the Party, as I’ve repeatedly said, of small business, of family businesses and micro-businesses. We are the Party of the working class. The Labor Party, the modern Labor Party, is the Party of the union boss, not the worker.
Where Labor is making every day harder for Australians at the moment, we will do everything we can to make it easier, but it’s going to take time to remedy the situation that’s been created by a bad Government.
Now, I’ll ask Angus to say a few words and then Jane, and then I’m happy to take questions.
Well thanks, Peter. Let me make a couple of comments about the decision made today and the principles behind it.
First and foremost, we are where we are because of Labor’s failures and Labor’s lies. Failures in economic management, which are very clear: an $8,000 hit to the average Australian, substantially more for those with a mortgage, as prices have gone up faster than wages. We’ve seen 12 interest rate increases and a 27 per cent increase in personal income taxes being paid in the last 18 months. This is entirely unprecedented in my lifetime, the lifetime of anyone here, and the practical implication of that is people on the ground are hurting.
I make a point whenever I travel around Australia of going to the local food-banks, and I know some of you have been to some of them with me, and what we are seeing there is people having to go to a food-bank who you would never expect to. People with mortgages, people with families working, because there is no way out of this absolute crisis, and Labor’s failure of economic management which is hurting Australians so much.
Now, the truth is that under those circumstances, getting between those people and what can be done given Labor’s failures, is not something we’re going to do. We’re going to we’re going to stand by those people and make sure they get what they can, but, this is ultimately putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.
The answer here is strong economic management. The answer here is getting industrial relations right, getting competition policy right, aligning immigration policy with housing policy, making sure you’re getting your spending right, not spending another $209 billion –over $20,000 for every Australian household – which is what we’ve seen from Labor.
As I said, we’re also here because of Labor’s lies, and we will be highlighting the risk that Australians face now of more taxes like this: capital gains tax on the family home, fringe benefits tax and Labor’s ambition to put multinationals and big industry super funds in charge of our housing stock. These are the promises that Labor has made, that frankly, no Australian can trust anymore.
We stand as the Party for lower, simpler, fairer taxes. The stage one and two tax reforms that are already in place, are giving Australians now substantial support in dealing with the financial situation they face. Middle Australian households, Australians who are $6 to $7,000 better off than they otherwise would be. In the absence of those changes, they would be in an even more dire situation.
Lastly, we remain absolutely committed to aspirational Australians, hardworking Australians who want to get ahead. Labor is banking on bracket creep. Labor is banking on bracket creep – $28 billion of it, we know from their own Treasury documents. We will take to the next election strong tax reforms, in keeping with the stage three tax cuts, that deal with that insidious thief in the night that is taking money from Australians: personal income tax is up 27 per cent in 18 months, and frankly, Australians are paying a higher price for that. At the next election, you will see strong policies from us on tax reform in line with the principles of the stage three tax cuts. I’ll get Jane to add to that.
Thanks Angus, and thanks, Peter.
It’s extraordinary to think, isn’t it, that only two weeks and one day ago, Anthony Albanese looked Australians in the eye and said: “our plans have not changed, we will deliver the stage three tax cuts.” Then, only two weeks ago today, it was clear he lied. He backflipped on that promise, he broke a promise to the Australian people that he had repeated over 100 times, over 100 times.
At yesterday’s cost of living hearing when we questioned Treasury, it became abundantly clear that Anthony Albanese had circumvented his own Cabinet, his own ERC’s processes, he had broken his own rules. Clearly, he has no faith in his own Cabinet Ministers. Not only that, but he clearly tasked Treasury with the job of finding out how many people in Dunkley would be better off. He failed, however, to ask the basic question of Treasury as to how many Australians would pay more tax under his policy. This is profoundly disappointing, because as Angus said, clearly Anthony Albanese is banking on bracket creep. He is taking money from our future prosperity, from all Australians’ future prosperity, and sucking the aspiration out of our economy.
So, I can guarantee you today that for the next election, the Coalition will have delivered a tax policy that implements lower, simpler, and fairer taxes; that enshrines aspiration back into our economy, back into our tax system. It will be a policy that is fully-costed, that goes through all the right processes, that will deliver on Australians’ security and guarantee essential services, and most importantly, it will be ready to implement the moment we are elected back into government, because we are a Party, we are a Coalition and we will be a Government that says what we mean, that means what we say, and delivers on our promises – unlike the liar in The Lodge.
Crowey, why don’t we start with you?
I appreciate it. One of the options on bracket creep, the idea’s been around for a long time, it’s to index the threshold so that this, what you call the ‘thief in the night’, would actually not have an effect over the longer term. Do you think that there’s an argument for indexing the thresholds in that way?
Well, of course there’s an argument for it, but the difficulty is it’s hard to have a sensible discussion in our country on tax reform. I’ve said in two Budget In Reply speeches, and I made it very clear to the Government that we want to be in Opposition in the same vein that Howard was; to support sensible, but tough measures to reform the system – whether it’s in the NDIS, whether it’s in aged care, whether it’s in the tax system – that frankly is easier for a Labor Government to do. There will be winners and losers, but there will be long term benefit for all and most importantly for our country. The Government hasn’t taken us up on that offer.
To Bill Shorten’s credit, he came to see me in relation to the NDIS, to have the discussion prior to his announcement with the Premiers, and there was at least some attempt to leverage off our goodwill to provide for that outcome. I just don’t think the Prime Minister is anywhere near a Bob Hawke or a Paul Keating, and I think that’s the problem.
See this decision, let’s be frank about it, right? And just be honest in relation to the facts before us. The Prime Minister made this decision with Dunkley in mind. The Treasurer is all over the shop on his story. The Prime Minister’s saying that we should vote against it. The Treasurer says we should vote for this package because he wants a wedge in the run up to March 2nd in Dunkley. He hasn’t taken a decision which he believes is in our country’s long term interests, he hasn’t taken a decision which he thinks is going to address some of the aspects of the tax system, which are most egregious and are a damp cloth across the economy.
We are prepared to have the discussion about tax reform, to adopt a bipartisan position, where not everybody at one end of the scale or the other is the winner, but where it’s going to provide long term incentive.
We’ve got a huge productivity problem in our country. The Government’s done nothing about it. Home ownership; we’re almost at the second year mark of this Government, nothing has been done in relation to home ownership. Industrial relations has been a priority for the Government, but to the detriment of business, but to the benefit of the union bosses, and no doubt at the behest of the union bosses.
So yes, I mean there are many worthy considerations that are in our country’s best interests, but you need a willing Government to sit down with a willing Opposition, and we’re certainly in that category.
A two-part question. In the immediate term, will you try and amend this package? ‘Go through the motions’ if you like and put amendments up to Labor’s changes? And in the longer term, Mr Taylor and Senator Hume, the plan you’ll take the next election, obviously it’s going to be dependent on budget circumstances and stuff, but will your target be that 37 per cent bracket – either lift the threshold or abolish it. Will that be the focus?
Well, we’ve got a budget coming up, obviously only a few months away. It’s clear to all that the Government’s going to try and do something in the negative gearing space. The Prime Minister refused to rule out a change of tax arrangements in relation to the family home, and we’ll wait to see what they say and what revenue they generate, what expenses they’ve got in the budget.
They’ll see that there’s some political gain for them, again, which is the driving force. It won’t be to address bracket creep, it won’t be to support aspiration, it won’t be to support those workers who are working an extra shift and losing one in $2.00, and our policy will be economically responsible – as is always the want of a Liberal oppositional Government – and we’ll have more to say in relation to the different aspects of it in the run up to the next election.
Just on amendments, Mr Dutton?
Well, on amendments, we’ve got some amendments to make, but we’ll declare those in the Chamber I think at the right time.
Just to follow on what Phil said, Mr Taylor mentioned that they will be in line with the stage three tax cuts, that leaves you the option of raising the top tax bracket to $200,000, or eliminating that 37 per cent bracket. Do you have a preference of those two here? Or do you see those as being part and parcel and part of a larger package?
Well Charles, we’ll make our announcement in due course, but the fact is that we saw merit in stage three because we delivered tax savings of about $200 billion in stage one and two, and there was significant change to the tax system required. I mean, every economic commentator would say the same thing and doesn’t dispute that.
Now, the Prime Minister’s taken the money from stage three and applied it to his own policy because he wants a political dividend before Dunkley. That’s the decision he’s made. He’s trashed his reputation by doing it, and I think he’s completely and utterly written off his chances of the Australian public taking him seriously, and the finer detail of our policy will be announced toward the election.
Mr Dutton, in saying that the Prime Minister is making this political decision for short-term gain in Dunkley, possibly the next election, aren’t you doing exactly the same thing? His challenge is that if you were to hold to principle on your policy, you’d be voting against it and you’d be going to the next election with a promise to reinstate it. But aren’t you making the same sort of pragmatic political decision that he is ahead of Dunkley and the next election, by abandoning, effectively, the Coalition’s position on stage three?
No, and I’ll tell you why, for a couple of reasons.
One is that if you implement stage three now, in addition to what the Prime Minister’s done – and we’ve looked at all of those options – you need to find about $9 billion a year, which is no easy task. There are savings that we can identify from Government waste. In administered programs for example, leaving the program funding intact to one side, the Government’s spending about $92 billion a year. They’ve increased by 10,000, the number of public servants here in Canberra. There are ways in which you can provide some savings, and that’s work that we need to continue.
The second point is you can’t redesign a tax package within a fortnight from Opposition. The PBO doesn’t turn around costings that quickly, and there are elements of stage three which become redundant because you end up conferring an $804 benefit on higher income earners when you couple it with the proposal from the Prime Minister, and so you then need to claw that money back to make a no win, no loss scenario for those people. So those design features don’t happen in two weeks, and I think we’d be reckless to come to you today with a policy that’s not costed, and that runs to $9 billion a year. I don’t think we could credibly say that we’re in a position to put forward that modified package today.
But we’re not saying that we’re walking away from the principles, not saying that we believe that bracket creep is not an issue, not saying that families at the moment who are living in the Prime Minister’s electorate on $140-or-$180,000 – those people aren’t rich and they’re not doing it easy at the moment – and I don’t like the Prime Minister’s preferred method of dividing the country and taking from one to give to the other. I actually think it’s bad policy, and I think it’s bad for the country. It’s exactly what he did in the Voice debate – pitch one Australian against the other – and I don’t believe that that’s something we should see from our Prime Minister.
Mr Dutton, can I just follow up on Dr Yang – your comments at the start of the press conference – would you like to see the Government consider any further, stronger action, including in relation to diplomats in Australia or in China? What else do you think needs to happen if there is no response from the President in relation to this?
Well, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister obviously will be deciding what the best steps are to take. That’ll be on advice, that’ll be on advice from the Agencies and I would be happy to have a private conversation with the Prime Minister to see what proposals he would have. I suspect there would be instinctively bipartisan support for sensible steps or measures that the Government might reasonably put in place.
Mr Taylor and Senator Hume have been very critical of the way the Government’s approached these changes. You’re ramping up this rhetoric about the ‘broken promise’, but isn’t this…
You don’t dispute there’s a broken promise though, do you?
…isn’t this shift though, that you’re now making in supporting the new policy, an acknowledgement that Labor’s policy is superior to the original stage three tax cuts? Or do you still think stage three was the better policy to go ahead with at the moment?
I mean what gives it away is that it’s stage three, and there was stage one and two before it. Now, as Angus rightly pointed out before, people are paying 27 per cent more tax now than they were when Mr Albanese was elected, because of the LMITO, because of stage one and stage two. It was a calibrated package. So yes, of course, it’s a better position. The reason that we’re not stepping away from those principles is because we believe that that reform is required within the system.
If the Prime Minister had any long-term vision for our country, and wasn’t just dictated to by his own political survival – if you don’t think Bill Shorten’s on the march or that Jim Chalmers is positioning at the moment, then I’d really question the political read of where things are within the Caucus. The Prime Minister has done this for his own political survival. There’s a huge dividend for him in his judgement in Dunkley. He may be right, we’ll find out on March 2nd.
I actually think the people of Dunkley are smarter than the Prime Minister when it comes to this issue. I think they can see through him and I think he’s transparent in terms of his crass political approach, which is going to sacrifice the long term reform that’s needed in the system. But we’re not going to stand in the way of tax cuts for people who are in need of it at the moment because of the bad decisions that Labor’s made.
Just to follow up on that, if the original stage three was better than what’s on the table now, in your view, why are you supporting this rework in the Parliament, and how best do we describe your position now? Is it to support the original or this model?
David, we have stage three there which we’d fully funded. The Government has taken – the Government’s elected, they’ve got the numbers in the Parliament, they can make whatever decision they want – they’ve taken the money from stage three tax cuts and they’ve applied it to their own policy. We can’t reverse that from Opposition, and we wouldn’t seek to reverse it in Government. The tax cuts are there and we don’t want to deny Australians tax cuts because people are hurting, because of this Government, because of this Prime Minister.
Do we walk away from the principles of stage three? Absolutely not. We believe there’s a requirement for reform in the system, so we’re not going to stand in the way of tax cuts being delivered, and we’ll have more to say in relation to our own policy in due course.
So is it your intention with the tax package that you’ll take to the next election, that it will be targeted toward the Australians who are worse off under Labor’s version of stage three compared to the original? Or would you still be looking to spread it to the low and middle income earners that obviously benefitted from one and two, and now three?
Well Clare, there are different options that are available to us, and again, it will depend on the fiscal position at the time. So, what will the Government do in the upcoming budget? What new taxes will they introduce? I’m worried for families in Dunkley and elsewhere who are working hard to provide for their own retirement, when you’ve got a Government that has implemented already – I mean, they’re showing the hand already, right?
They’ve got a tax in superannuation on unrealised capital gains, they’ve now said that they’re going to scrap the stage three – which was carefully calibrated for the reasons I outlined – they’re flying the kite of negative gearing, we don’t know what they’ll do in relation to capital gains tax, the Prime Minister refuses to rule out changing the tax arrangements on the family home. He’s not going to do any of this before the Dunkley by-election, of course, and he stood before you in the Press Club saying that if the circumstances change, he’ll abolish this measure anyway. Right?
So, we’ll make our announcement in relation to tax in the run up to the election. We’ll do it responsibly, it’ll be properly costed and funded, and it’ll be put out in a way that’s to the benefit of Australians and to our economy more generally.
A couple of Parliament’s ago, when people were hot to trot on negative gearing, there were people in your team – who are still in Parliament actually – were saying that they were worried about the fact that young first home buyers, or who wanted to be first home buyers, were up against deep pocketed investors. Would you support any kerbing of negative gearing, as opposed to the abolition of negative gearing? If it simply puts a cap on the taxpayer largesse that goes to investors?
No, no, and the reason is that unless you’re proposing to cap the number of homes that a corporate entity can hold within that entity, then what is your problem with an individual owning property? Is it one property valued at $500,000 or $5 million – depending on where you live in the country. There are many families who have got two or three kids who want to buy a – you know, an Italian family that owned a small shop that bought the freehold in the 1960s, has been passed down to the third generation – it might be worth $5 million now or more – they might have a cash flow to support Labor’s new taxes, I don’t know, but I don’t want to pitch one Australian against the other.
If the Prime Minister’s view, as it was at the last budget, that you can put tax incentives for foreign real estate investment trusts to come into the Australian market and own literally thousands of homes and get deductibility for that investment – in fact, incentivise that investment – why do you stop Australian taxpayers who are aspirational from owning their own homes or owning homes that people can rent?
I think we should be very careful about where Labor’s going here. I don’t think they’ve got anything else in mind other than political gain and wealth redistribution. The Liberal Party is not going to stand by and watch them trash what has been a very successful investment model in our country.
Now, as I said before, they’re bringing in, last year some 500,000 people. The housing stock is not keeping up with the number of arrivals – so the Government has compounded the problem as they do each year – and I think we’ve got a lot of work as a country to do, but we are not going to stand by and watch some quasi death tax applied, or some wealth redistribution model, when all you’ll see is the void filled by corporate entities at the top end of town, or spivs from… I mean merchant bankers, hear a lot from merchant bankers and all the dodgy projects they’re involved in and money they make out of renewable energy, and other investments that they make that are never declared to the people. This would be the latest opportunity for them, I suspect. I just don’t see why you would rob people who sacrifice a lot to provide for their own futures and their own retirements, and their grandchildren, etc. etc. I don’t see why Labor wants to kill off aspiration.
[inaudible] merchant bankers today, Mr Dutton?
To what do you refer?
Would you care to respond to one of those former merchant bankers today?
I think there’s two behind him, so you know.
These are the good ones, right? Here they are in public service.
Are you referring to ‘Nemesis’, are you? Last night on the ABC, Andrew? You didn’t want to say the brand, I presume. Maybe it’s too soon.
Well look, I would say this; I think I’ve demonstrated…no, I’ll put it more politely. I think I’ve proven in the past that I’m able to deal with one liar at a time. And, we’re now dealing with the Prime Minister who has lied straight to the Australian public. And I don’t think Australians will reward that. That’s my sense.
Are you a thug as Malcolm Turnbull has said?
Have you found me to be a thug? I think some of the narrative is, sort of, retrofitting a particular purpose. In this job, it’d be very difficult to go on the program – as I was asked to do – and give a true account of the actions of some individuals. But maybe at some stage I’ll give an account of the true character of some individuals, but I of course, champion every former leader of my great Party, and I’ll continue to do that into the future as well.
On the tax policy, while you don’t want to give details or haven’t got details now, just on tax principles, you’ve talked about the principle of stage three, but do you believe that one of the problems of the present tax system is that it is oriented too much towards income tax, and that it should be re-skewed to put more emphasis on indirect taxes?
Well, I think the economists will tell you that, but it’s a question of…
Do you believe that?
Well, I think it’s for the Prime Minister, or for the elected Government to be able to put forward proposals.
But in principle do you believe that?
Well in principle, I think we’ve got an ageing population like most Western democracies, we’ve got an overreliance on the income tax system. Nobody’s proposing to increase the GST, or to introduce other taxes, but have an honest discussion about tax.
The great issue that Kevin Rudd rightly raised at the time is the blame game between the states and territories on the one hand and the Commonwealth on the other. That issue has never been resolved, and all of the problems of disparity and taxing and expenditure still remain to this very day.
The inefficiencies in the system mean that billions of dollars are wasted each year in transfers between the Commonwealth and States and backwards and forwards each year, but again, if you’ve got a Prime Minister of the ilk of Hawke or Howard, or Keating, or in Malcolm Turnbull’s case, if he had have decided to take up some reform, Peter Costello as Treasurer – I just don’t think the Prime Minister is in that category of leader, and I think he’s after short term political hits, but he’s causing near-term damage to Australian families and long term damage to our economy.
You’ve suggested reinstating stage three at a cost of $9 billion a year is too expensive, could I please ask what scale of tax reform does the Coalition think is affordable on top of this package? And will you make the same commitment to have a fully costed policy to your support for the nuclear industry?
Well, I think I’ve answered all of those questions in relation to tax.
In relation to nuclear, this is a debate that’s going to continue to go on because many of the Australian families we’ve been speaking about today are facing exponential costs in their household budget, including on energy. We know that electricity and gas is up by almost 30 per cent. The Prime Minister promised to reduce it by $275.
We have to have a proper debate, a sensible, mature debate in our country about how we firm up the renewables in the system. Having renewables in the system is great, but there’s no sense pretending that the battery can store anything beyond an hour at the moment. No sense pretending that green hydrogen is alive and an option for some of the high intensive, energy intensive industries. It’s not. All we’re doing is losing the jobs to an overseas market, and we’re reimporting the product at a higher cost, both to the environment and to people’s hip pockets. You see it in the construction industry and elsewhere.
If we want to add value and we want to increase productivity in our country, we need to have a competitive energy pricing structure. At the moment, when you’re speaking to manufacturers, they’re going to the United States where they do have nuclear power. They’re paying a third of the cost that they are in our market.
Australia will be the only G20 nation that doesn’t have or hasn’t committed to nuclear for the purposes of domestic consumption. We’re not the 1960s talking about a model of what happened in those decades. This is the year 2024. The latest technology is phenomenal. It provides zero emissions ability to firm up renewables, and Chris Bowen’s off trying to build 28,000km of new poles and wires. It’s a nonsense. So there’s a lot of work for us to do, and I’m sure we’ll be able to do that.
We’ll see you all soon. Thank you very much.