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Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Page: 8497

Mr CLARE (7:35 PM) —I think there is one thing that the member for Ryan will not be telling his electorate—that is, this evening in the Senate the coalition voted against changes to the Medicare surcharge levy and a $1,200 tax cut for people who are doing it tough. It will be an enormous disappointment to the people in my electorate, in the electorate of the member for Longman and, I suspect, in the electorate of the member for Ryan. This is something that would have given relief to thousands of people. For some young families, it would have meant a tax cut of up to $1,200. That is a lot of money. To give you an idea of how much money this is, it is about double the benefit that was received from a cut in interest rates only a few weeks ago. If you have an average sized mortgage, a cut in interest rates of 25 basis points would put $50 back in your wallet or purse. If the opposition had done the responsible thing, if they had been in touch with the people they say they represent, they would have voted the right way in the Senate this evening and given people a $1,200 tax cut. But they did not do that.

Mr Sullivan interjecting

Mr CLARE —There have been a lot of mistakes made over the last few days, and I do not want to be critical of people who make mistakes because we all make mistakes; we are all human. The problem is not that the shadow Treasurer did not know what the cash rate was. I think the problem is that she did not know the consequences of 10 consecutive increases in the cash rate and the problem that has brought for the people in my electorate and for people all across the country.

Mr Sullivan interjecting

Mr CLARE —Member for Longman, 10,000 people lost their homes last year. They understand what 10 increases in the cash rate means, and they certainly understand the problem that that creates.

The plagiarism gaffe is another example along a similar line. I do not criticise the shadow Treasurer for being caught red-handed. The problem is not that she chose to steal someone else’s work; the problem is that she did not fess up when she was caught. She did not admit that she had made a mistake or apologise for it. She blamed her staff. The lesson is: do not cover up. The cover-up is always worse than the original offence.

If you do not know anything about tax or tax policy then it is probably best not to talk about withholding tax. In her first speech as shadow Treasurer, she said:

This is a government that says it wants to promote Australia as a financial services hub and then reduces withholding tax for foreigners.

As if that is a bad idea! I thought that cutting withholding tax would be a good thing if you wanted to set up Australia as a financial services hub.

We received a report overnight from the IMF that had some interesting information about our economy. It identified the productivity constraints in Australia that the Reserve Bank had identified on 20 occasions and the problems that those have created for our economy. It also made the point that the fiscal policy that this government has implemented is providing the flexibility that the Reserve Bank needs to do its job—the necessary flexibility to take pressure off interest rates and off the people whom we represent and want to help out.

The IMF report also showed that, if there were anywhere you wanted to be in a global financial crisis, it would be Australia. No-one is immune to this crisis, and it would be foolhardy to think otherwise. There is a saying that, when Wall Street sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. Wall Street is pretty sick at the moment. Peter Costello was talking about this on Lateline last night. He made the astute point that the global financial crisis is a symptom of regulatory failure. No-one is immune to this, but we are better placed than most to deal with it. Our big four banks have AA credit ratings. Our financial services regulation model is the envy of many countries. Our strong budget surplus will provide ballast to help us weather this financial storm.

The IMF report also talked about the support that a prudent fiscal policy will provide to monetary policy. This will make it easier for the Reserve Bank to lower rates and take pressure off working families. In these uncertain times, we need to create budget certainty; that is the responsible thing to do.

People can forgive mistakes. We can forgive someone the mistake of not knowing the cash rate. We can forgive someone for reading the Wall Street Journal when they have nothing else to say. We can forgive someone for not knowing that cutting withholding tax is actually a good thing. But what we cannot forgive is the impact of irresponsible behaviour, and we saw irresponsible behaviour from the coalition tonight in the Senate. Their kicking a hole in the surplus will make it harder for the Reserve Bank to cut rates. Their voting against the Medicare surcharge levy reforms will deny young families in my electorate and all across the country the chance of a $1,200 tax cut. Thousands of people in my electorate will be bitterly disappointed with the decision taken by the opposition in the other place. It just shows how out of touch they are. (Time expired)