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Monday, 24 May 1999
Page: 5143

Senator FAULKNER —Madam President, my question is directed to Senator Kemp, the Assistant Treasurer. Is the minister aware of the Treasurer's speech to the Press Club, where he said, `The proposal by the Australian Democrats yesterday to introduce enormous compliance costs for all supermarkets or bakeries or milk bars is a proposal for nightmare on Main Street'? Didn't the Treasurer also say, `What the Democrats want the government to do, if this were accepted, would be to hire tax inspectors to go around putting thermometers into chickens'? Does the government still stand by the Treasurer's comments regarding the Democrats' proposal to make food GST free? Given that the government was planning to hire between 3,000 and 4,000 extra staff to administer the GST, how many of these staff does the government envisage will be employed to stick thermometers into chickens under the Democrats' proposal, as the Treasurer has claimed?

Senator KEMP (Assistant Treasurer) —What the Treasurer has said many times is how utterly hopeless the Labor Party are on tax reform. The Treasurer is absolutely dead right. When you listen to the hotchpotch that goes under the heading of tax reform for the Labor Party, you have to say that they have learnt nothing since they lost government in 1996.

It is well known that we are having discussions with the Democrats at present. Unlike the Labor Party, the Democrats believe that tax reform is vital for this country. Unlike the Labor Party, the Democrats believe that it is appropriate to sit down with the government and see whether we can look at the various issues they have raised. We will look at those in a constructive manner. The government is determined to proceed with tax reform, unlike the Labor Party, which has set its face against tax reform. Senator Faulkner and his Labor Party colleagues, seeing as they chose not to go to the table, will have to wait for the outcome of the discussions with the Australian Democrats.

Senator FAULKNER —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware that, unlike his humiliating crawling to the Democrats in that answer, in regard to the Democrat proposal for GST-free food the Treasurer himself said, `This is a bird with no feathers that won't fly'? Is GST-free food an idea that will not fly, as the government's Treasurer, Mr Costello, has stated?

Senator KEMP (Assistant Treasurer) —I will just repeat what I gave in my initial answer. Senator Faulkner, you will have to await the outcome of the discussions that we are having with the Democrats. As you chose to set the Labor Party's face against tax reform, Senator Faulkner, you will have to wait. As I said, we are involving ourselves in very constructive discussions with the Democrats.