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Wednesday, 29 November 2000
Page: 20125


Senator MARK BISHOP (2:32 PM) —My question is to the Assistant Treasurer, Senator Kemp. Can the Assistant Treasurer confirm that the GST advertising and promotional budget for the current financial year has almost doubled from $30 million to $58 million? Can he also confirm that total costs for the introduction of the GST—that is, for advertising, promotion and education—have blown out from $433 million to $616 million? Is it true that this massive increase is largely due to the tripling of the number of inquiries to GST call centres, reflecting the rising level of concern in the business community about their new role as de facto tax collectors for the Howard government?


Senator KEMP (Assistant Treasurer) —In relation to the first part of the question, you raised some specific figures. I will check those figures and provide you with the precise details. The advertising campaign has been a very important part of making sure that people are aware of the new tax system. They are aware of where they can contact people to get answers to questions, which has been a very important part of the introduction of the new tax system. I think this has gone particularly well. The new tax system has been a massive change for the community, and it is one which Australia needed and which the community at large have long believed to be in the interests of Australia. I think that is why it is a sad thing that the Labor Party adopted a very negative approach to the whole issue of tax reform. Only in recent months have they changed their minds completely and decided they will support the GST. If there is an inglorious role in the whole issue of tax reform, it is not in the area of the implementation of tax reform, it is not in the area of the advertising of tax reform, and it is not in the education program; it is in the behaviour of the Labor Party in relation to tax reform.

As the Treasurer pointed out, the Labor Party have a position that the GST is so bad that the Labor Party are prepared to keep it. I think a lot of people in the community are probably very confused about the Labor Party's position on the GST. Senator Bishop, I urge you and your colleagues to get out and explain precisely what the Labor Party's position is in relation to the GST and the areas of roll-back you are talking about. As you know, roll-back is not a very popular policy out there in the wider community. I think you have a lot of selling to do on that issue.

Let me make a couple of comments in relation to the new tax system. We were pleased that the sun did rise on 1 July, quite in contrast to what the Labor Party were claiming earlier in the piece. Certainly a big challenge has been the filing of the first quarterly BASs. My understanding is that the compliance levels have been very high, and this was reported at the estimates committee of the Senate. A very large number of people—I think some 50 per cent—filled out their BAS statements themselves.

This advertising campaign has been very important to inform people about the new tax system and the compliance arrangements. It has been very important to make sure that they have access to the information they need in order to properly comply. I think it has been a huge challenge—it has been a very big challenge for the government, and it has been a very big challenge for the tax office—but I think it has gone particularly well. There are issues that people in the community have raised with us, and we always look very closely at constructive comments and suggestions. The advertising program and the education program were very important to make sure that people are aware of their obligations under the new tax system. In seeking to explain their own particular position on the tax system and particularly their position on roll-back, I urge the Labor Party to get out there into the wider community and be prepared to debate these issues. (Time expired)


Senator MARK BISHOP —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the Assistant Treasurer inform the Senate when the last dollar will be spent on advertising the GST?


Senator KEMP (Assistant Treasurer) —Let me make the point that we will always make sure that people are properly informed about the new tax system. We do surveys in relation to the understanding people have of the new tax system, and we will be guided by those surveys to make sure that people do have the information they need. If this requires some advertising, it will be carried out. This has been a very important program, in part because of the misinformation that the Labor Party has tried to convey to the wider community. The biggest element of the misinformation was that the Labor Party did not support the GST, which it has now changed its mind on. (Time expired)