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Speech on Special Recreational Vessels Amendment Bill

On Tuesday 28 March 2023, I made a speech in Federal Parliament on the Labor Government extending the tax breaks for billionaires' superyachts through their Special Recreational Vessels Amendment Bill 2023. You can watch the speech here or read the full transcript below.

E WATSON-BROWN: Why does this government seem to want to keep rolling out the red carpet for billionaires? Seriously. Today we're being presented by the Labor government with the Special Recreational Vessels Amendment Bill 2023, which will extend, for two whole years, coalition legislation to allow superyachts owned by international billionaires to charter in Australian waters and circumvent having to pay customs taxes. I'm sorry, but, frankly, I find it absolutely bizarre that it's even being considered. Let me just quickly explain what a superyacht actually is, which might make it a little bit clearer just how bizarre the bill is. A superyacht is a luxury vessel greater than 24 metres in length and with a capacity of fewer than 12 overnight passengers. These things get as big as 180 metres long for a mere 12 overnight passengers. To say that these are floating five-star hotels doesn't even begin to describe it. What's the price of these things? A standard 100-metre superyacht will set you back a cool A$400 million.

An honourable member: It's not a tinnie!

E WATSON-BROWN: It's not a tinnie! To own one of these things you've got to be a billionaire. Let's take a look at some of the superyacht owners that this tax exemption would benefit: Jeff Bezos, net worth $121 billion and a superyacht owner; Larry Page, Google founder, tech tycoon and superyacht owner, with a net worth of $93 billion; Carlos Slim Helu, Mexican telecommunications tycoon and proud superyacht owner, with a net worth of $88 billion; Mukesh Ambani, Indian fossil fuel mogul and superyacht owner, with a net worth of $80 billion; and Roman Abramovich, a Russian billionaire tycoon, who has a superyacht that's 163 metres long, with not two or three but nine decks—the top deck hosts two helipads and a garage, naturally—and a 16-metre swimming pool that can be converted into a dance floor. Needless to say, these are floating environmental disasters, every single one of them. A superyacht consumes an enormous amount of petrol, producing 7,020 tonnes of CO2 per year per yacht. They've been found to be the primary source of pollution by the billionaire class the world over.

They're also absolute nightmares for workers' rights. Superyacht crew in Australia aren't covered by unions, and allegations of exploitation and harassment are rife. The private superyachts often force their staff to sign non-disclosure agreements. What happens on the superyacht stays on the superyacht, evidently. So, when a billionaire brings their tax-exempt, climate-destroying, workers'-rights-wrecking luxury superyacht into Australian waters, who can afford to charter it? That's an interesting question, and I did a bit of googling. It turns out that the cost of chartering the Mischief, a humble 54-metre superyacht, is $82,500 a night—for 12 people, mind you—or $495,000 a week. That's half a million bucks for a week on this thing. That's an Australian owned superyacht. For the international ones that are coming, you can't even google and book with your credit card; you've got to know the right people, and the price tag would be in the millions. Who can afford to rent a superyacht in Australia? Billionaires.

This Labor and Liberal bill gives tax exemptions for international billionaires to bring their superyachts into Australian waters to rent to our own homegrown billionaires. And, wouldn't you know, these local billionaires are the very same people who are receiving $9,000 a year in stage 3 tax cuts from this Labor government. The Australian recently published Australia's rich list: Harry Triguboff, property mogul, who's worth $23.6 billion, up $3 billion from last year; Ivan Glasenberg, mining magnate, who's worth $12.4 billion, also up $3 billion from last year; Lang Walker, of Walker group infamy, who's worth $6 billion, up $1 billion from last year. Then, of course, there's Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart, who are worth $20.4 billion and $30 billion, respectively, and who famously already own their own superyachts and are being rewarded by the Queensland Labor government's Superyacht Strategy, which, by the way, is all about facilitating billionaires bringing their superyachts to Brisbane for the 2032 Olympic Games.

It's these sorts of people who are receiving that $9,000 tax cut from the government in their stage 3 tax cuts and it's these sorts of people who you'll find on the luxury superyachts that Labor are giving a tax break to in this bill. Everyday people across this country would be absolutely furious to hear that, while their rents and mortgages have skyrocketed, while the cost of groceries has jumped 10 per cent and while they're struggling to pay for petrol to get their kids to school, the Labor government, with the support of the Liberals, is giving a tax break for billionaires to cruise around on 160-metre nine-deck superyachts.

It also strikes me as a very dark irony that the two major parties, Labor and the Liberals, who are in lockstep on turning back boats of refugees fleeing war and persecution, are rolling out the red carpet with tax breaks for billionaires to bring their superyachts into Australian waters. You're stopping the wrong boats.

The Labor government should simply allow this Morrison-era policy to die a natural death in June this year, as it was meant to, rather than keep it going for another two years. They'll claim it's about tourism, but that's not tourism. Tourism is a working family heading up to Cairns for a holiday, to be alive in the sunshine for a week or two, and supporting the local establishments in the area. This bill is facilitating billionaire excess.

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