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Tuesday, 18 June 1996
Page: 1691


Senator SHERRY (Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate)(3.15 p.m.) —Let us just go, firstly, to the Treasurer's press release of 11 June, where he said:

The removal of the wholesale sales tax exemption for general purpose road vehicles purchased or leased by Commonwealth, state and local governments is to have immediate effect. Effective from 3.15 p.m. AEST—

in fact, to the second, seven days ago. Then we have the follow-up press release which narrows down the removal of the tax exemption. It says:

Wholesale sales tax will apply to general purpose road vehicles provided wholly or partly for private use as part of remuneration by Commonwealth, state, territory and local governments to take effect from 11 June 1996.

The original announcement was made on 11 June, albeit narrowed down on the Friday, after the fracas that occurred at the Premiers Conference. The announcement by the government was made on 11 June to take effect from 11 June. As I said a moment ago, the seven days was up one minute ago.

As Senator Faulkner has pointed out, the amendments to the sales tax, passed on 29 June 1995, make it very clear that they refer to the period within seven days of the minister making the statement. Now we would argue that it should be the original statement, not just because it was the first statement made but also because that is the date on which the announcement was to take effect, which was reconfirmed on the Friday.

Senator Short was asked two questions on this matter today. As usual, he could not answer the two questions that were put to him about this very specific sales tax matter. He then got further advice from his office, obviously, and he supplemented his so-called answers to the two questions at the end of question time. But he has still clearly got it wrong. The date of announcement of the sales tax exemption removals was 11 June—slightly more than seven days ago. It is very clear.

The then opposition voted for this measure some two years ago. Senator Short himself voted for the measure. They are now trapped by a measure of their own making. What they have done by failing to abide by that seven-day notice period and the various qualifications in the amendment that they supported is make an illegal announcement about a sales tax change.


Senator Short —That is nonsense.


Senator SHERRY —The sales tax change was announced last Tuesday; it was to take effect from last Tuesday.


Senator Short —You cannot interpret the act.


Senator SHERRY —Well, Senator Short, you read the act here. There is a whole range of criteria that you fail to meet as a government. At least two newspapers are circulating in the states and territories details of what the bill will contain and how and when its provisions will apply. Where are all these details warning that the bill is subject to enactment by both houses?


Senator Bob Collins —Ask some of the big accountancy firms what they think about this, Jim.


Senator SHERRY —We had an accountancy firm in here today talking to one of my advisers and raising these sorts of issues and raising the point that your government bureaucracy and the minister's office—not just your office, but the Treasurer's office—do not have any idea about the details of the provisions that were announced last Tuesday.


Senator Short —Are you saying that the tax commissioner is wrong?


Senator SHERRY —You have to provide the precise details by 3.15 p.m. today, and you have failed to do that. Yesterday in question time, Senator Short, you were asked five or six questions relating to the outcome of the Premiers Conference. The first question related to this sales tax issue. In yesterday's Hansard on page 1582, Senator Short, in answer to a question relating to sales tax applying to privately plated vehicles, you said:

As from 11 June 1996, where those vehicles are wholly or partly included in the remuneration package of the employee. That is quite clear. It has been clearly stated in the outcome of the conference.

The critical issue is the original announcement, the original intention and the original date on which the announcement was made, which was last Tuesday, 11 June. You reaffirmed this yesterday, Senator Short, in one of your very few answers to questions we asked yesterday. If we look through them, we are not surprised that this government has been incompetent. We are not surprised that you have acted illegally when we look at the answers you fail to give to questions. (Time expired)