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Tuesday, 6 June 2000
Page: 17080

Mr CREAN (2:36 PM) —My question again is to the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation. Is the minister aware that New South Wales employers face a 12.4 per cent increase in their WorkCover compensation premiums from 1 July 2000 due to his government's GST package? Is he aware that the ACCC said the 12.4 per cent rise was justified if the whole tax package was taken into account, but insisted on the rise being broken into two parts to pretend that 10 per cent was not being breached? Minister, does this mean it is okay to raise prices by more than 10 per cent due to your tax package just so long as you hide it?

Mr HOCKEY (Minister for Financial Services and Regulation) —I know that the member for Hotham just made a deliberate misrepresentation to the parliament.

Mr SPEAKER —The minister is aware that there are forms of the House for making such a claim and question time is not one of them. If he wishes to pursue that beyond question time, then clearly the House will consider his request. It is not appropriate for him to make that accusation at this time.

Mr HOCKEY —In a letter from David Cousins—

Mr Crean —Withdraw!

Mr SPEAKER —It is not appropriate for the minister to have claimed that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has deliberately misled the parliament unless he proposes to do so by a substantive motion.

Mr HOCKEY —I am happy to withdraw and state that he very liberally misused the truth in this circumstance. I am in possession of a letter from the ACCC—

Mr Leo McLeay —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The minister is supposed to withdraw unequivocally, not to say he will withdraw it and then say, `He has deliberately done this.'

Mr SPEAKER —The minister has withdrawn the statement he made.

Mr Cox —Mr Speaker, I rise on the point of order. You usually require members to withdraw unreservedly and I do not think that was an unreserved withdrawal.

Mr SPEAKER —I have ruled on this matter. The minister has in fact indicated that the statement he made about the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was one that he did not want to stand and he has withdrawn it.

Mr HOCKEY —It is very important that the House understand the background to the announcement by the WorkCover Authority last Friday. The first point to note is the political background to the assertion made by WorkCover. WorkCover is chaired by the Hon. Joe Reardon.

Mr Fahey —Say no more.

Mr HOCKEY —Joe Reardon is a nice guy. Joe Reardon is not a bad guy. But he is the guy who puts his hand up whenever the Labor Party is throwing a hospital pass. He is the person who says—

Mr O'Keefe —Mr Speaker, I rise to take a point of order under standing order 76 relating to personal reflections. Having had time to consider your comments about the point of order relating to what the minister said about the member for Hotham, he did withdraw what he said but he then went on to say that the member had misused the truth. I regard that as a personal reflection and it is highly disorderly under standing order 76.

Mr SPEAKER —I ruled on this matter some time ago and my ruling stands. The minister has the call.

Mr HOCKEY —The current chair of the WorkCover Authority—a former minister in the Whitlam government, a former chair of the Sydney Airport Community Forum just after Laurie Brereton opened up the third runway, and now he has been given the job of chair of the WorkCover Authority—came out with a statement on Friday claiming that they had the permission of the ACCC to increase prices all due, in the words of the member for Hotham, to the GST. That is totally incorrect. This political argument is closely linked with the fortunes of John Della Bosca, who also came out on Friday making misrepresentations about the impact of the GST on WorkCover.

The fundamental point about this is that the WorkCover Authority in New South Wales has a black hole. Members on this side of the House are familiar with the history of the Labor Party with black holes. In this case there is a black hole of between $2 billion and $4 billion in the WorkCover Authority of New South Wales—$2 billion to $4 billion. So what a surprise that the WorkCover Authority of New South Wales should claim to increase prices as a result of the GST. Apart from a letter I previously mentioned that the ACCC had sent to the WorkCover Authority, I quote from a media release by the ACCC of last Friday. It states:

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has not approved an increase in WorkCover NSW premiums by more than 10 per cent as a result of The New Tax System.

“The increase of 12.4 per cent announced by WorkCover NSW is due to other factors, as well as The New Tax System changes” ...

And, for the benefit of the member for Hotham, it states:

... Section 75AU(2)(c) relates to price changes caused by other factors such as suppliers' costs, supply and demand conditions and any other relevant matter ...

Mr Crean —Including the tax system—including.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has asked his question.

Mr HOCKEY —If the member for Hotham has a problem with the provision of section 75AU of the Trade Practices Act, why didn't he say it during the debate in this House on that provision? Why didn't he say during the debate that he had a problem with suppliers' costs in section 75AU? It never came up because the member for Hotham is enjoying taking an opportunistic stand in relation to these matters long after the debate has been finalised in this House. I call on the member for Hotham to be honest with the Australian people.

Mr Crean —I seek leave to table an extract from the ACCC's letter to WorkCover justifying the 12.4 per cent due to the government's tax package.

Mr SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. Is leave granted?

Leave not granted.