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Wednesday, 28 June 2000
Page: 18492

Mr HORNE (5:54 PM) —In typical fashion, we can see how disorganised the government of Australia really is. I rise to speak to this legislation today because we have a Prime Minister who loves to tell the people of Australia that his never ever tax, his beloved GST, has been debased and the argument has been confused by the mischievous actions of the Australian Labor Party. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a government that does not need any assistance whatsoever to confuse the Australian people. Whether it be statements on petrol pricing or whether it be what will be affected by the GST and what will not, right from day one this government has gone from blunder to blunder. Without doubt, the position of the government on rent has been at worst a deliberate lie and at best ambiguous and misleading.

The people of Australia were given many promises by John Howard at the last election. We find out now that many of them were non-core promises and a few were core promises. But the promise that rent would not be affected by the GST was accepted as a core promise by many Australians, who now find that they were deceived. Members on the other side cannot cry `foul'. We have two ministers on record as saying that this tax on rent would not be levied, and they were wrong. Admittedly, those ministers were both National Party ministers—Mark Vaile and Larry Anthony—and therefore not necessarily privy to the machinations of the government. From the government response to their demands, it appears they were not privy to those decision making processes.

Then, only two weeks ago, we had that famous National Party conference at Tweed Heads, where a unanimous motion by the National Party conference called on the Prime Minister to overturn the tax on residents in manufactured home estates. How long did it last? It lasted about 24 hours, and then we saw it disappear forever from the coalition promise list. We had the member for Page, who has left the House now, tell the House that the Prime Minister should be congratulated for refusing to remove the impost. We had a statement from Senator Ross Lightfoot that, I would suggest, rivals Marie Antoinette's `Let them eat cake' statement for insensitivity. He said:

These people are lucky. They are no more special than anyone else. It might be an incentive for them to get houses.

That just about sums up the arrogance and the ignorance of this government. The very point is that we are talking about houses. In many cases, tens of thousands of cases, we are talking about very substantial houses. Sure, the estate may be called a caravan park. I have them in the electorate I represent, and they are called caravan parks. But try to take your caravan in there for the Christmas holidays. You will not be allowed. They do not have facilities. We are talking about homes that have been pre-constructed, they arrive on the back of a number of trucks, they are assembled, they are constructed on concrete or brick piers, they are fully plumbed, they are connected to electricity, they have verandahs around them, they have concrete footpaths, and they have gardens and garages adjacent to them.

The thing that is different about these homes is that the owners rent the land; they do not own the land. That is the difference. They own the whole of the home and all the fittings in it. They are very proud of it, and for many of these people it is the first home they have ever owned. It is their choice. They chose to live that lifestyle. Many of them are older people. They have chosen to live that lifestyle because the homes are modern and the maintenance is less, and they live in a community where they have a very good network of friends. They realise they are aging and there are days when they might not want to get out of bed. They can assist each other if there is a chore or some shopping to be done. That is the sort of network that exists in these places. And they were promised by John Howard at the last election that there would be no increase in their rent. How wrong they were.

It was brought up by the Nationals at their conference and they then rolled over. But the government has made a change. They have convinced the National Party that these residents will be better off paying a 5.5 per cent GST, and the National Party have accepted it.

That tells you something else about the GST. If the Prime Minister was able to convince the National Party members, who voted exclusively to get the GST removed from this rent, by telling them, `Well, actually, because of the complexity of the GST, these people—they don't know it yet—are going to be better off paying 5.5 per cent,' it makes you wonder how the rest of us are going to fare. Are we all going to be better off paying 5.5 per cent?

Ms Hall —What a worry!

Mr HORNE —It is a major worry. The argument must have been very compelling because all the National Party members have said, `Hey, we did a great thing. You're going to be better off now. You're still paying the 5.5 per cent, but you're better off.' Sure, there was an increase in rent assistance of 10 per cent, but the survey that I have done shows that only about one in four of these people will get rent assistance at all. Many of them do not get it. One in four will get it, but for many there will be no difference. What does that do? It exaggerates the difference that was already there, but for 75 per cent it will make no difference at all. For those who will get it, it means a difference of about 16c a day.

I have been running this issue for well over 12 months in the electorate of Paterson, because there are between 3,000 and 4,000 people there who live in this environment. It is a major concern to them. I certainly resent the member for Page saying that it is scaremongering. Nothing could be more a case of scaremongering than a government promising there would be no rent increase at all under the GST, and tenants suddenly finding out that there will be a 5½ per cent increase. Many of them are pensioners, and many of them are on fixed incomes. They know that, at the end of a pension fortnight, there is nothing left in kitty. If they are going to pay 5½ per cent more, they know that, to pay that 5½ per cent, something else has to go.

It is all right to talk about the compensation measures. The compensation measures are there because of the increased costs that these people will experience with the GST. According to the government's promises, rent was not one of those things that would increase, and now it is. They also know that rent is one of their major costs, and it is going up by 5½ per cent. That is the scaremongering. That did not come from this side of the House. That is a statement of fact that has been inflicted upon these people by the Howard government and its new tax system. There are 160,000 people around Australia who resent that this was a non-core promise. They resent the fact that, after next Saturday, they will be worse off—they will have less disposable income.

I will say one thing in conclusion. We have been lobbying this issue with all of the housing estates in the electorate of Paterson, and I have found 10 home estates that will not be charging the GST. I congratulate those owners. They are trying to be fair—by not putting a GST on their rents, they are trying to ensure that the GST will have a minimal effect on their tenants. I advise the government that I will be monitoring what happens in those places because, according to the government, if the estates do not charge the GST, the residents will be worse off. It will be very interesting to visit these places over the coming weeks and to find out exactly how much worse off they are by not paying the GST, compared with those where the GST has been levied. I look forward to the opportunity to report back to the parliament when we come back in August, or at a later stage, on how they have been affected.

Mr Deputy Speaker, that is my contribution to this argument. That is my contribution to this debate which really should not have taken place at all if the government had respected the needs of the needy and honoured the promises it made at the last election. Unfortunately, they have done neither.