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Tuesday, 4 April 2000
Page: 13303

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL (5:36 PM) —I can understand the minister jumping to his feet and wanting to curtail this debate when one of my colleagues was speaking.

Senator Kemp —We won't stop you, George.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —You certainly won't stop me. It will take much better than you, Rod, to stop me. Others have tried. I can understand you wanting to curtail the debate because every time we get a tax bill into this chamber—and we have a continuous stream of them now on a regular basis coming into this chamber—it provides an opportunity to the opposition to raise serious anomalies in this tax system.

This government started off by putting out a document saying that they would deliver a simpler tax system for Australia and for Australians. It would be understandable. We would get rid of the complexities of the complex tax system we currently have. It would be a simple, straightforward, understandable tax. At last count, the documentation weighed something like 5.1 kilos. We are now continually confronted with a stream of taxation bills coming through the parliament to be dealt with, and I am sure there will be many, many more of them before this sorry saga in our taxation history comes to a conclusion.

Senator Kemp —Which you now support, George.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —I actually support the Western Bulldogs and I hope that we do not have to pay GST on every goal that we beat Carlton by on a regular basis. After watching the game on Saturday, I am sure there would be no GST payable on the food that was being fed to the Western Bulldogs, because it was raw meat! Fed on raw meat as opposed to that highly processed food that you must be feeding the Blues on, which probably is GSTable! Obviously you have the wrong diet for your footballers and you have the wrong tax system for Australians.

The introduction of the A New Tax System (Tax Administration) Bill (No. 1) 2000 provides us with an opportunity to look at some of the issues that are raised in the context of the bill and some of the wider issues that are raised in the context of the taxation system overall. As you rightly said, Madam Acting Deputy President, this bill is fairly wide in its application and therefore allows for a fairly wide discussion of all the issues related to it. That also includes the business tax reform which is in part taken up by this bill relating to the PAYG payments. Yet we have not seen anything of substance on the table in respect of the bills relating to the business tax reform package. They will presumably dribble out into this chamber over time and we will get a look at them bit by bit.

Senator Kemp —Do you support those, George?

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —Yes, of course. We said we support it. We said we supported it on the basis that you honour all the commitments you gave back in November in relation to a series of issues, not the least of which was the issue dealing with contractors. This taxation debate is a bit like a penny arcade. Remember the old penny arcades? If you go to Echuca, Senator Kemp, they have still got one. You can go and have a look at it. You put a penny in—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Knowles) —Senator Campbell, it would be helpful if you addressed your comments to the chair and not directly across the chamber to the minister.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —Through you, Madam Acting Deputy President—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESID-ENT —Not through me; to me.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —If ministers in this government who are responsible for the tax system and its implementation went and had a look at the penny arcade that is in Echuca, they would get a reflection of the way in which they are handling this debate. You put a penny in the machine, you crank the handle and you get the movie frame by frame. You do not get a continuous message, you get it frame by frame—and that is the way in which this government has chosen to deal with the tax package. This tax system is about to come into effect on 1 July. This bill ought have been titled the `tax maladministration system' for the way this government has handled it. It is due to come into effect on 1 July. I got a package of material last week in which there was a video, a CD card, posters and a range of other material. I had a look at them and I must admit that I had difficulty understanding the material that was in it. But I gave them to my father-in-law who is an accountant, and he had trouble understanding the substance of the material that was in it. He said it would take some time for him to comprehend all of the issues that were raised in that material.

We have only got three to four months before this tax system comes into effect. The ATO have put out a number of press releases advertising that they are holding tax seminars on Sky Channel for the small business community, to be screened on 20 March, 18

April, 9 May and 30 May. Isn't that a bit late? Isn't it a bit late for a tax system that is due to commence its effect on 1 July, in terms of business having the opportunity to comprehend and come to grips with the complexities of the issues they are going to have to deal with? In New South Wales, all the broadcasts are due to take place between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., when most small businesses—and they are the ones that are going to be affected by this tax system more substantially than the big businesses—are trying to get their work force to work, trying to get their businesses up and operating, trying to actually earn a quid. Why has the ATO not programmed some of these screenings to occur in the evening, when some of these small business people may have the opportunity to actually watch and find out first hand from the ATO how the tax system will apply?

Senator Conroy —Out of touch.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —Totally out of touch with what the small business community are going to go through. But the small business community are not out of touch. The small business community know what they are confronting in terms of this tax system. They know the additional compliance that is going to be put on their shoulders. They know they are going to become the tax collectors for the government from 1 July and, more importantly, they do not like it. They do not like it at all. This is a tax that is universally despised out there in the small business community. The more information that is being put out—and maybe that is the reason why it has been delayed until the last minute—the more information that dribbles out about this tax system, how it will be administered and their involvement in the administration of it, the more they realise that they have been sold the biggest pup in a long, long time in respect of the role that they are going to have to play within it.

The same goes for the ABN. You would think it would be a simple process to apply for a business number. The ATO, again, have put out a press release heralding the fact that there have been one million applications received. But they have not heralded the fact that they have processed only about 75 per cent of them. I have one constituent from the south coast of New South Wales, who got in contact with my office last week, who wrote to the ATO four months ago for an ABN but who still has not received a reply. He has upgraded his accounting software and he has his $200 voucher, but it is useless to him because the supplier has not received his ABN yet. So in fact they cannot, at this stage, utilise the voucher.

I again say to you: my father-in-law has made four applications. He has written to the tax office on four occasions, he tells me, and they have not had the courtesy to even acknowledge receipt of his correspondence. Now I do not know if they have acknowledged receipt of any of the correspondence they have received, but he has not received any acknowledgment that he has written to them. I recall—and I think you may have been there, Senator Conroy—when we questioned staff from the tax office at estimates hearings. They said that they had got the problems all fixed and that there were no more problems. They said that there was a five-day turnaround, that it was all under control and not to worry, the system was working perfectly.

Senator Conroy —Yes, I was there.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —The only place I think the system is working perfectly is in their minds, because it is not working perfectly anywhere else. There is a whole series of examples that one can go to that demonstrate the difficulties that people are confronted with in terms of the GST. My colleague Senator Hogg raised one last night, which was the example of the bakery. He read from a transcript of the Today program of 30 March, where Tracey Grimshaw, the presenter of that program, interviewed a Mr Morgan, who I presume owns a bakery, about the implications for that bakery. I do not want to go through all of the transcript, because Senator Hogg has already put most of it on the record. But there were silly little things, like two buns, one iced—not the ice that Senator Sherry was talking about; I presume this is ice made with caster sugar—

Senator Conroy —Like an Iced Vo Vo.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —That is a very good description, Senator Conroy: like an Iced Vo Vo. But we are talking about icing on the top of the bun. If he puts icing on top of the bun, he has to pay GST. If he provides the bun with raisins in it, he does not have to pay the GST. But, if he puts a glazing on the top of the raisins, he does have to pay GST. That is one example. The transcript then goes on to give the example of a Turkish loaf. Mr Morgan says he was told that, if he put cracked pepper on the Turkish loaf, it was GSTable because it was food and production, and that if he did not put cracked pepper on the Turkish loaf, it was GST free. Then, Tracey Grimshaw asked:

So do you pay GST on the cracked pepper that you buy, or is it food for human consumption by the time you've bought it?

MORGAN: Well I'm at the moment, I'm getting it tax free.

GRIMSHAW: Yes. After July the 1st?

MORGAN: That's right. I don't know. I'm not that good.

Mr Morgan then went on to say, which I think is a pretty telling point for most small businesses:

It gives me something to do at night—

and he is talking about working out the accounts and working out what is GSTable and what is not GSTable—

the late nights to work all the little sums out.

GRIMSHAW: You've invested $15,000 on infrastructure to cope with the GST. Is that going to sort out some of these accountancy problems for you?

MORGAN: It sorts out the retail accountancy problems...we employ a lot of staff, we have a café here as well. It sorts out, to a degree, what's going through...

GRIMSHAW: Well good luck to you. It sounds like a headache but thanks for joining us this morning.

That is just one example of the sort of confusion and complexity this tax system is creating within the community generally in terms of how individuals will interface, particularly people who are running small businesses, with the tax system—what will be their role, how will they manage it, what do they have to pay tax on and what do they not have to pay tax on? I think that, in a lot of situations, it is really going to be `suck it and see' on the way through.

There is a range of other issues that we can go to that only reinforce this complexity issue. Take the example of the caravan parks. The caravan parks are the classic confusion. Not only were the people who live in caravan parks confused and not only were the proprietors of caravan parks confused; members of the government were confused as to how the tax will apply to caravan parks. The Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile, prior to the 1998 election promised residents of caravan parks that they would be GST free. He made that promise to them. He was obviously wrong. He must have consulted everybody under the Treasurer. But he got it wrong, and he got it wrong in a big way.

What about the federal member for Richmond, Larry Anthony—isn't he in trouble at the next election? That is one of the reasons why I was up at Richmond a few weeks ago, when Senator Coonan also happened to be there. I do not know why Senator Coonan was there—probably trying to rescue Larry Anthony. But it was a wasted trip and a waste of time because he has gone. There are 6,649 permanent caravan park residents in the electorate of Richmond. There is not one of them who is going to vote for this government at the next election. I spoke to several of them on that weekend. One of them, I might add, who led the delegation and who was a long-standing National Party supporter of some 30 years said to me, pleaded with me, `Get us some material. Get us some leaflets up and I will personally distribute them to the 6,649 Labor voters who live in caravan parks in the electorate of Richmond, come the next election.'

The Minister for Community Services, the member for Richmond, will not go near the place. Every time they ring his office, he is missing. He is in Canberra. They ring Canberra and he is in Richmond. They ring Richmond and they are told, `He is out doing his job; he is not available.' He cannot be found. He is getting a reputation a bit like Senator Heffernan, the ghost that walks.

Senator Conroy —The ghost that stalks.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —I am not so sure he does that.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —He is young enough; you never know these days. Certainly he is becoming known as the grey ghost in the electorate, because he cannot be found, he is never available, and he certainly does not know what he is talking about in terms of the subject. But there was some honesty in the government on this issue, and it came from the member for Gilmore, Joanna Gash. She would be struggling to hold her seat, too, come the next election, but at least she is more honest. She realises the difficulty she is in, and she was distancing herself from this government. She said it was a discriminatory tax on where you live. She said it was a stuff-up. There is no other explanation. She put it plainly on the table.

The most humiliating thing of all was when the Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, said the tax would be reviewed and reconsidered, and, within a matter of hours, he had to back down—humiliated by the Treasurer, who said there would be no reconsideration at all. There is a range of other examples—the auto industry, for example. The Prime Minister said during the 1998 election campaign that the price of cars would drop by 8.8 per cent. Two months ago, at Senate estimates, the minister responsible for the industry actually admitted that the price of cars may fall but that they would be dearer after 1 July. We are still trying to work out the mathematics of that little gem, but what he said is true. He was actually honest about the position. Then, within a matter of days, Senator Kemp, in response to a question in this chamber, reverted to what the Prime Minister said prior to the election—that cars, after 1 July, would be 8.8 per cent cheaper. We are used to the sorts of answers we get from Senator Kemp in this chamber, so we did not put too much store in what he said—in the same way we did not put too much store in what the Prime Minister said prior to the election. After all, if you look at the Prime Minister's statements from 1995 on, there is a litany of broken promises all the way through—promises that became non-core promises that became broken promises that suddenly just fell off the end of the table. The greatest one of all was the `never, ever' statement: `We will never, ever introduce a goods and services tax.' That is what the Prime Minister said prior to the 1996 election: `never, ever'.

Let me tell you, Senator Kemp, that the Australian public at the next election will say to the Prime Minister: `You will never, ever do it to us again'. That is, if his own front bench does not get him first. That is if the Treasurer, with the plotting and the planning that is going on behind the scenes, does not get him first. That is if the coup is not in place before the next election.(Time expired)