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Wednesday, 28 March 2001
Page: 25889


Mrs HULL (4:16 PM) —The topic of this matter of public importance is: `The government's policy atrophy, resulting in the botched implementation of a range of measures, including the GST and business tax reform.' The Oxford Dictionary describes `atrophy' as `wasting away through undernourishment, ageing, or lack of use; emaciation'. I can really understand why the member for Hotham has used the word `atrophy', as it perfectly describes the opposition's attempts to begin to develop policy.

Let us look at the real policy of a real government. On 1 July 2000, every taxpayer received an income tax cut, and 80 per cent of Australians, some who were on the top rate of 43 per cent, now pay a top rate of income tax no higher than 30 per cent. The government introduced $12 billion in tax cuts by providing assistance worth more than $2.4 billion per year to around two million families and by providing a wealth of assistance to people on social security, to self-funded retirees and to pensioners.

As an integral part of the new system, every taxpayer received personal income tax cuts from 1 July 2000, unlike the promised Keating l-a-w tax cuts in 1993. Did they deliver those promised tax cuts? No, indeed they did not. The 13 years of Labor government saw excise on fuel increase from 6c to 34c a litre. Labor also linked the excise increases to indexation, and they saw it as their very own cash cow. We have fixed Labor's cash cow. The Howard-Anderson government has abolished this indexation. `You can run but you can't hide' is a famous cry used constantly in the House by the opposition.

We are giving the assistance that is required to adapt to this tax reform, the assistance that was never given to business or to consumers when Labor introduced their paper warfare when they were in government. We currently have 2,500 field officers providing one-on-one assistance to businesses and, as of last Friday, 23 March 2001, 399,599 field advisory visits had been requested, of which over 396,004 have been conducted. We currently have 30 GST signpost officers and a few vacancies are yet to be filled, providing one-on-one assistance to hundreds of small businesses in rural, regional and remote Australia.

When we wanted to provide benefits to all Australians the Labor Party voted against increases in family allowance, increased assistance for single income families, increased assistance for families with children, a changing Commonwealth-state tax treatment, a great tax for states, increases for pensions and income tax cuts for all Australians. Families had their benefits increased as part of the largest overhaul of family assistance ever, without one vote being cast by the Labor Party. The opposition opposed every family benefit that was brought into this House—no increase for assistance for any family. What of the Australian dream of owning your own home? When did the Labor government ever give assistance to those people dreaming of owning their own home? What have the Howard-Anderson government done? They have given all first home owners $14,000 to build a new home and $7,000 to buy an established one—many a dream fulfilled.

We have heard today comments on the GST but not one mention of the states which are the recipients of the GST benefits. Every dollar raised by the goods and services tax is paid to the state and territory governments. All of those additional taxes are putting money into schools, hospitals, police and the roads of the future. In fact, everybody in this House should note that the GST pays for the police on your streets back home at this very minute.

It was also interesting to hear the member for Hotham speak of country Australia. Yes, we do remember when he was the minister for primary industries. How could we forget! We do not forget. People in country Australia would be interested in the views of the Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, that he expressed in the Bulletin. Asked about the difficulties of having former trade union bosses getting the support of the bush, Mr Beazley said:

It's not going to be difficult. They actually like Crean and Ferguson. They remember Crean when he was primary industries Minister ... Ferguson when he was ACTU president made a specialty of bush workers—

A specialty indeed! They dished our country people up on a plate in order that they would be consumed and then Crean and Ferguson licked the plate clean and washed them down with copious quantities of Brazilian concentrate. Yes, we will never forget the member for Hotham, Simon Crean, and Ferguson. How could we forget when Simon Crean was the minister for primary industries?

Today we have heard much of the famous Beazley beast, roll-back. Let us look at some of the responses to roll-back. Professor Peter Dixon of the Monash University Centre for Policy Studies has been heard to say this in an interview on ABC radio's Australia Talks Back:

Interviewer:

"But the GST, Peter is now a reality. Is it feasible for Labor to roll it back?"

Professor Dixon:

"I don't think so ... "

" ... If you're going to have a GST, you should have a very broad-based GST and as simple a GST as possible. Equity issues I think are much better handled through the tax transfer system, through income taxes, through the progressive income tax system and through transfers."

These are the thoughts of a very astute man. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, described Professor Peter Dixon as `one of the pre-eminent economic modellers of this nation'. That was in Hansard on 9 February 1999. Simon Crean has described him `as a world renowned independent expert'. That is from a Crean press release on 3 February 1999. I will quote some other comments on roll-back. The President of the Small Business Council of the ACTU said:

The last thing they want is, after all the effort and hard work they have put into it, to have a rollback and have more changes. We don't want any more changes.

That was on WIN TV news. The Executive Director of the Australian Retailers Association said:

The ARA do not want any more exemptions.

I don't think anyone would be really impressed with having to gear up for a new GST. We'd like them to explain what they're proposing but we can't see any way you can fiddle with the GST that would make it less complex.

That was in the Age on 13 July 2000. The Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry said:

Today it's one thing, tomorrow its something else, and continued exemptions only serve to undermine and narrow the tax base.

That was in the Age on 13 July 2000. The Business Council of Australia's Executive Director, quoted in the Age on 13 July 2000, said:

Anything that would add to the complexity, adds to the compliance burden would in our view be a regrettable development.

Make no mistake: Beazley's beast—roll-back—means mayhem. Australians should not and will not be deceived. What you will get with Labor's roll-back will result in a GST in disguise—don't you worry—or, alternatively, a GST in drag.

This government has listened and it has acted on the issues. The business activity statement, or BAS, saw some businesses having some difficulties. We did not say sorry, as the member for Griffith has spoken about, and then do nothing. We listened and we acted. Sorry means nothing without actions. This government has listened and has acted on the issues, because the BAS has seen some difficulties for some businesses.

The details have now been finalised for the simplification of the BAS, as announced on 22 February 2001. These changes apply to businesses which currently report and pay GST quarterly and have a turnover of less than $20 million. These businesses can choose to do one of the following: first, continue to pay and report—that is business as usual and no change; second, pay GST and report less information quarterly and complete an annual return—for those of you who are hard of understanding, that means report with less information; or, third, pay a quarterly amount worked out by the Taxation Office and provide an annual reconciliation. This would mean fewer hassles with an annual return. In addition, from the fourth reporting quarter—that is April to June 2001—there will be a new BAS form that will be easier to read and fill out.

This is a government who listens; this is a government who delivers. The member for Hotham has spoken today of backflips by this government. That is one thing the Australian people will never have to worry about: the Labor Party will not have to backflip on policy because they have no policy to backflip on. Labor policy is just like this blank piece of paper, although I do have a spot—a blot on all Australians. That is Labor policy: a spot, a blot on a blank piece of paper.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The discussion has concluded.