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Tuesday, 1 February 1994
Page: 16

Mr DOWNER (3.02 p.m.) —Mr Speaker, I would like to begin by apologising to you for interjecting during the farewell remarks of the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) to the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Dawkins). I wish the honourable member for Fremantle well in his future career, in whatever he may do, but I could not help interjecting because there was such a rich irony in the Prime Minister speaking at all on that occasion. The honourable member for Fremantle has been making it clear to anyone with ears to hear that the reason he resigned as the Treasurer was that he had been dudded by the Prime Minister through the budget process. So the irony of the Prime Minister making remarks of farewell was not lost on me.

  The honourable member for Fremantle, of course, is part and parcel of the debate that we have before us today. Today is the day that the government increases tax on petrol, both leaded and unleaded, and increases the tax on leaded petrol—used disproportionately by low income Australians—by a higher degree than the increase in the tax on unleaded petrol.

  Today is a day of betrayal. At the last election the Australian electorate was told by the Labor Party that if it voted Labor there would be no increases in indirect taxes and no increases in taxation at all. Today is one of those days when taxes go up, particularly the especially sensitive petrol taxes, in total betrayal of the mandate this government was given.

  As I said at question time, it is also a day when the true believers, in particular, are betrayed by a party which is forever pretending to represent the interests of lower income Australians. Throughout its time in government, nearly the last 11 years, it has not only failed to do anything positive for those people but also reduced their living standards and made life harsher for them, as I will explain in a moment.

  What is the extent to which the Labor government is willing to further impoverish low income families? Over the last 11 years it has reduced real wages for the 10 per cent lowest income earners in Australia by five per cent in real terms. It has put one million people out of work. These are people who have disproportionately been from Labor electorates; people who have voted Labor—not all of them but a disproportionate number of them. It has put 400,000 of those people out of work for more than 12 months, creating an underclass in this country which will have long-term consequences—not just economic but also, more importantly, social—for Australia. In the life of this Labor government unemployment has repeatedly come back to hit the people who predominantly have put Labor into office and kept it in office.

  As I said earlier, today is fuel tax day—the day of betrayal. The Labor government increased the fuel tax, again disproportionately hitting low income Australians. As we can see from a survey done by the New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority, the people who are going to pay the highest price for their petrol—that is, those who have cars which use leaded petrol—are people who live in the Labor heartland, those who live in the lower income suburbs of Australia and, in this case, of New South Wales.

  Let us look at some of the suburbs that the New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority believes will suffer the most from this regressive increase in petrol tax. The local government area which takes in Yagoona, Greenacre and Revesby is, interestingly enough, within the federal electorate of Blaxland. In those suburbs 49.5 per cent of registered vehicles use leaded petrol and only 37.4 per cent use unleaded petrol. The people who live in the area of Bankstown, taking in Yagoona, Greenacre and Revesby, are disproportionately attacked by this government and betrayed by this government through higher petrol taxes.

Mr Somlyay —Like Werriwa.

Mr DOWNER —In Campbelltown which, as one of my colleagues interjected, is in the electorate of Werriwa, 61.5 per cent of vehicles use leaded petrol.

Mr Gear —Who won?

Mr DOWNER —Cynically—and he has given the game away—the Assistant Treasurer, the honourable member for Canning, who is at the table, says, `Who won?'. The Labor government betrayed the people. It lied to them. That is what happened. We do not lie. It lied to them by going out and telling them that it would not increase taxes and then it increased petrol taxes.

  Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The honourable member will withdraw that remark.

Mr DOWNER —I withdraw. During the federal election campaign the Labor Party said that an increase in indirect taxes—a change in the tax mix from income tax to indirect taxes—was regressive. Every one of the honourable members opposite ran a scare campaign, saying that the GST was regressive. Why, if the Labor government thinks the GST is regressive, does it happen to think that it is fair to increase taxes on petrol, having promised the Australian public that it would not do so? How come that is fair and how come it is fair to disproportionately hit low income people who use cars which need leaded fuel? The government was re-elected on a fraud—a campaign against regressive taxes.

  The hypocrisy of the Labor Party knows no limits. I say that because not many members of this House were members here back in 1981. Some very distinguished people were here in 1981, but not many of us. In 1981 the now Prime Minister was the shadow minister for something like resources and energy. He made his reputation by attacking the Fraser government for increasing petrol taxes. On 7 April 1981, he said:

Everyone is socked through their pay packets by paying high prices for petrol.

In 1983, when Labor came to power, how much tax was there on petrol? How genuine were these concerns by the honourable member for Blaxland, subsequently the Prime Minister? In 1983, when Labor came to power, the federal government collected 6.15c per litre in petrol tax—just over 6c per litre in petrol tax. In February, 1994—this will change later in the year—the government is collecting 31.75c per litre for leaded fuel and 30.75c per litre for unleaded fuel.

  For all the baying and berating of the Fraser government about increasing taxes on petrol and for all the humbug about the regressive nature of indirect taxes, this government in its time in office has increased tax on unleaded petrol, the cheap one for the rich in the leafy suburbs of the north shore. For those people there has been a 500 per cent increase in tax on petrol during the life of this tax and spend government. For the Aussie battlers, the people who for the great confection of Australian history the government pretends to represent, the government has increased tax on petrol by 515 per cent. And that is not the end of it. It is all going up again on 1 August and it will just keep going up again and again.

  What do these figures mean in a more personal sense? These increases in petrol tax since the budget mean that people who use unleaded petrol will be $1.60 a week worse off because of the government's broken promise. The battlers who are using leaded petrol in their cars will be $2 a week worse off. Low income earners will be $2.80 a week worse off as a result of the sum total of all of the increases in petrol tax announced in the budget. I heard the minister for sports rorts this morning on ABC radio—

  Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The honourable member should use the appropriate title.

Mr DOWNER —She is the minister for sports rorts; we all know that.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will withdraw.

Mr DOWNER —I heard the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories (Mrs Kelly) this morning, soon to be replaced by Carmen Lawrence—

Dr Hewson —Brian Howe is moving aside.

Mr DOWNER —He will be replaced by her as the deputy leader of the party. That is why the Prime Minister is listening much more these days to Bizet than to the composers he so much favoured in the past. Bizet wrote the opera Carmen. I just thought I would fill those opposite in on that. I could see them looking totally blank. Their expressions were just blank. They wondered what was going on.

  That Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories said on the radio this morning that low income taxpayers—she forgot to mention those who do not pay any tax at all—are going to get $2.88 a week compensation in the tax rebate to compensate for tax increases in the budget. They are; that is true. People earning less than $5,401 a year do not get anything because they do not qualify for a tax rebate. They get nothing and they are the people with the lowest incomes. They pay $2 a week more for their petrol but get nothing to compensate for that.

  What do those who receive compensation get? They pay $2 a week more for their petrol and get $2.88 a week in tax rebate. So one might put it, I have to say, dishonestly, as the minister did this morning, that these people are slightly better off. What has she forgotten to do? She conveniently forgot to tell her electors here in Canberra and throughout the rest of Australia that there are increases in sales tax as well. That will apply to almost everything they buy—their toothbrushes, toothpaste, washing detergent and some of their foodstuffs. Taxes on those are going up as well so, despite the rebate, these people will be worse off.

  As I said in question time, the fact is that since 1983 Labor has added $10.24 a week to the petrol bill of those users of leaded petrol in tax alone. That is $532 a year. Others in this debate will speak about the impact of this decision on our industries, but I make the simple point that the increase in petrol tax on 1 February will cost Australian industries $65 million a year: $26.8 million a year to farmers; $6.9 million a year to miners; $9 million to the forestry industry; and $23 million to the food processing sector. These industries have already been hit by higher petrol taxes in the budget. On top of that, there will now be an additional tax grabbing burden.

  In the end, what will all this money be spent on? Reflect upon 1983 where, for every $1 collected in fuel excise, a bit over 60c was spent on roads. Remember that today, for every $1 that is collected in fuel excise, this government spends 12c on roads. This is not a measure designed to raise funds for improved roads or, by the way, to improve the health of Australians; this is quite simply and very cynically a measure designed to rake in more money for a voraciously greedy Labor government which has no plans for economic management short of taxing and spending. There is a cyclical upturn under way in this country—we warmly welcome it; we all encourage and welcome a cyclical upturn in this economy—but those opposite are doing everything they can to threaten it by continually increasing taxes.

  The Treasurer (Mr Willis) ought to come back into this House along with his revised estimates and announce that he will abandon the increases in tax that were announced at the time of the last election. Not only were those tax increases a betrayal of the electorate—and they still are—but also they will reduce our potential to make great strides from the cyclical upturn in the economy. We do not want this to be another phase in a boom-bust cycle. Those opposite seem to be determined to achieve that by pounding on the taxes and reducing the living standards of the people whom they claim to represent. (Time expired)