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Tuesday, 19 August 2003
Page: 18823

Mr NAIRN (2:39 PM) —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Would the Treasurer update the House on the steps the government has taken to ensure that Australia continues to enjoy low tax levels? Is the Treasurer aware of any alternative policy approaches?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Eden-Monaro for his question. As he would know, this government abolished wholesale sales tax, financial institutions duty, bed tax and stamp duty on shares and introduced GST. We cut petrol excise—and for the trucking industry we cut it to 20c a litre from 44c at the time. We reduced income taxes, halved capital gains, reduced company tax and gave rollover relief to small business. As a consequence, we have made Australia a pretty competitive place to do business. As I informed the House yesterday, on the IMD world competitiveness scale, Australia was considered to be the second most competitive business environment of countries of 20 million people or more around the world.

Last night on the ABC Lateline program, Mr Greg Combet—I believe he is Secretary of the ACTU—was explaining to Tony Jones his criticism of the government's tax policy. Essentially the ACTU criticism of the government's tax policy is that Australia is a low-taxing jurisdiction. But halfway through the interview Tony Jones reminded Mr Combet that Labor's attack on the government is that it is a high-taxing government. So Mr Combet was last night reconciling the Labor attack on the coalition being a high-taxing government with the ACTU campaign to expose Australia as a low-taxing jurisdiction. When the ABC advertises its comedy programming, it ought to include Lateline in the future. Last night Tony Jones said this—

Mr COSTELLO —It was actually last night on Lateline. Tony Jones said to Greg Combet—and remember that this is the industrial wing of the Labor Party, the ACTU, which owns 50 per cent of the votes at the national convention:

Yet, the first line of your tax sheet says OEC data says Australia is a low tax country.

Is that the case?

GREG COMBET: Well, relative to the other OECD countries, that's the case.

TONY JONES: According to your document, relative to all the other OECD countries and, indeed, the average is six points higher on the percentage scale.

GREG COMBET: And that's quite right.

... ... ...

TONY JONES: But isn't this document more or less pointing out that Australia is a very low tax country by comparison to other OECD countries, and therefore it would be possible, in fact, to raise taxes here and still be in conformity with other OECD countries?

GREG COMBET: Well, it is a statement of fact that relative to other OECD countries, Australia is not a highly taxing country.

... ... ...

TONY JONES: I raise it because this is in your facts sheet about tax and I'm just trying to get to the point here of what you mean by saying Australia is a low taxing country relative to other OECD countries.

It seems to be suggesting we could have higher taxes here.

GREG COMBET: Well, we're stating the facts.

So what are the facts? The ACTU knows what the facts are: Australia is a low-taxing jurisdiction by the standards of the developed world. From the OECD table, I think the United States and Korea and not too many others are actually lower. The reason the ACTU is raising this is that the ACTU believes taxes should be higher. We know that the overwhelming majority of the Labor backbench also believe that taxes should be higher; the Australian candidate survey at the last election established this. So why do we have this nonsense from the frontbench of the Australian Labor Party attacking the government for being too high taxing when we know that the Australian Labor Party believes taxes should go higher and the ACTU believes that the tax take is too low?

The ex-ACTU president, the now member for Hotham, will be going to the ACTU congress and, presumably, when he gets there he will be telling the ACTU, `No, Australia is not a low-tax jurisdiction; it's a high-tax jurisdiction.' Presumably, when he gets there he will be saying, `Labor's policy is not to increase taxes but to cut them,' and, presumably, he will be naming those areas where Labor proposes to cut taxes. We await.

One of the things that has always intrigued me, as we have been raising the question of stamp duty in the parliament over recent days, is why no member of the ALP has ever joined us in criticising state governments for having stamp duty that is too high.

Mr Gavan O'Connor —We're too busy criticising the GST on the stamp duty.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER —The Treasurer has the call. The Treasurer will respond to the question.

Mr COSTELLO —I was intrigued—I had to be told, and I was told—to find that Labor has a shadow minister for housing. Whilst the shadow Treasurer has been announcing increased grants for people buying houses in Sydney, it turns out that Labor's spokesman on housing has not been announcing anything at all. Labor has a shadow minister for housing who apparently has not been consulted about the shadow Treasurer's policy. It would not be the case that Labor's shadow minister for housing would come from an area which is going to be penalised because it is only Sydney that is getting a $12,000 grant? What about the people of Geelong?

Labor has a shadow minister for housing who represents Geelong. Let him go to the people of Geelong and explain why if you live in Geelong your grant is $7,000 but if you live in Sydney it is $12,000. Talk about a local member looking after the local area! The intriguing thing here is that, although the shadow Treasurer has announced the increase in the first home owners grant, it has not been endorsed nor has a word been uttered about it by the shadow minister for housing. Rather intriguing. But why is it that nobody in the Labor Party has ever criticised the state governments for high stamp duty? The answer came today in the Herald Sun, which said:

Victoria's peak union boss yesterday called for—

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order: the juvenile minister has been going for more than seven minutes now—

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will come to his point of order immediately. Your point of order is?

Mr Latham —an answer of duration well outside the bounds that you set when you first occupied the chair.

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat. The Treasurer has the call. There is no point of order, as every member of the House knows.

Mr COSTELLO —So why is it that no member of the Labor Party has criticised the state governments for their stamp duty policies? The answer came today in the Herald Sun. Listen to this:

Victoria's peak union boss yesterday called for state government taxes, including stamp duty, to be increased ...

... ... ...

“The Government does need to raise taxes such as payroll tax, gambling tax and stamp duty for some buyers ...

That was Leigh Hubbard, `Brother Hubbard'. Old Brother Hubbard went to the cupboard to find the ALP a bone. But when he got there, the cupboard was bare and the poor ALP had none!

Mr Gavan O'Connor —Mr Speaker—

The SPEAKER —The member for Corio will resume his seat. The member for Corio is protected by standing order 55, as are all other members.