Treasurer Scott Morrison has warned of a new divide between “the taxed and taxed-nots”, saying Australia has a generation growing up expecting Government handouts.
In an address to a Bloomberg function in Sydney, Mr Morrison also cautioned against “renewed protectionism”, citing the more than $3 trillion worth of foreign investment currently in Australia.
He used his address to warn against complacency amid Australia’s ongoing economic success, saying there was currently a generation which has never experienced a recession.
“A generation has grown up in an environment where receiving payments from the Government is not seen as the reserve of the disadvantaged, but a common and expected component of their income over their entire life cycle, and not inconsistent with self-reliance,” he said.
“On current settings, more Australians today are likely to go through their entire lives without ever paying tax than for generations and more Australians are likely today to be net beneficiaries of the Government than contributors — never paying more tax than they receive in government payments.
“There is a new divide — the taxed and the taxed-nots.”
Welfare, health services areas where ‘sustainable measures’ could be introduced
Mr Morrison also warned that Government debt could grow to $1 trillion within a decade if the budget is not repaired.
He used his address — which comes less than a week before the Coalition plans to table an omnibus bill for more than $6.5 billion in budget savings — to again urge the Opposition to back the measures.
“We are asking Labor to vote for measures they have already said and indicated they support,” he said.
“But this cannot be the end of the process.
“We expect their support for other revenue measures such as tobacco excise, which will follow. But we also expect them to engage on expenditure savings they have habitually blocked.
“Ratings agencies have all warned that they want to see budget measures passed or this will increase the risk of a rating downgrade.
“They have expressed serious doubt about whether this Parliament will be up to the task.”
Mr Morrison cited the need to rein in spending, highlighting welfare and health services as areas where more sustainable measures could be introduced.
He warned against being cynical of such economic challenges, saying “I do not want my kids to know what a recession is like”.
“I recognise that in the absence of a ‘recession we have to have’, or the threat of ‘becoming a banana republic’, achieving necessary change will be more frustrating and more difficult,” he said.
“But it is no less necessary, and achieving it this way is far better than the alternative.”
‘We cannot pull the doona over our head’
Mr Morrison also used his address to highlight the need for foreign investment, saying it “creates jobs, drives growth, and always has”.
“There is more than $3 trillion worth of foreign investment in Australia today, with an annual inflow of around $200 billion,” he said.
“In 2015, our global export volume trade, including our tourism and international educations sectors, delivered around $363 billion to our economy and accounted for around 19 per cent of our GDP and around 1.3 per cent of annual growth.
“We cannot pull the doona over our head by taking false comfort in renewed protectionism. Rather than secure our economic future, it will cost it.”
His comments follow the election of an expanded upper house crossbench dominated by senators from One Nation and the Nick Xenophon Team.
Senator Pauline Hanson has warned against foreign investment, telling reporters that “a lot of Australians feel that Asians are buying up prime agricultural land”.
Senator Nick Xenophon has also declared he will fight free trade agreements in this term of Parliament to protect South Australia’s steel industry.
Together, their voting blocs account for seven of the 20 crossbenchers — including nine Greens — with the Coalition needing the support of nine crossbenchers to pass legislation.
The influence of the crossbench was raised following Mr Morrison’s decision to block the sale of the New South Wales electricity provider Ausgrid to foreign parties, but the Treasurer denied there was any connection.
When pressed on the issue today, he said his decision did not result in mixed messages to foreign investors.
Morrison says Labor’s ‘careless’ approach a risk
A defence of Australia’s banking and financial services sector also featured in Mr Morrison’s address.
He told attendees that the sector must be strengthened instead of taken for granted, citing Labor’s push for a royal commission.
“Labor’s careless approach and cynical politics on this issue is a genuine risk to broader confidence in our banking and financial system which can only weaken the system,” he said.
“Rather than engage in cynical politics, the Government understands the importance of our banking and financial system and has been working to strengthen the system for borrowers, depositors and shareholders alike.”
But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said a royal commission into the banking sector remained Labor’s “first priority”.
Mr Shorten said the Government’s response to responding to the sector was “the equivalent of flogging the banks with a wet lettuce leaf”.
“We want a banking royal commission,” he said.
“The Government will do anything it can to avoid it.”
Mr Shorten also criticised the Treasurer’s comments regarding debt, saying Mr Morrison was “quick to blame everybody else” for the Government’s problems.
“Australians don’t want a whinger as Treasurer, Australians want a doer as Treasurer,” he said.
He also cited Labor’s pitch for compromise on superannuation changes, announced on Wednesday at the National Press Club.