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Wednesday, 21 August 2002
Page: 3472

Senator KNOWLES (3:29 PM) —Mr Deputy President, firstly I congratulate you on being elected to the position of Deputy President. I wish to comment on the issue on which Senator Bishop has just concluded. I find it quite amazing that the Labor Party are now criticising a system which is far more generous than one ever even contemplated under 13 years of Labor. It is a system that relies on people informing the department about their incomes. I find it equally amazing that the Labor Party would somehow suggest that those who receive a benefit from their fellow taxpayers to which they are not entitled should somehow be entitled to just pocket it and walk away. I think that is pretty unfair, and I would have thought that the old, traditional Labor Party would have equally believed that that was unfair, that someone who got a benefit to which they were not entitled should not be allowed to keep it at the expense of another taxpayer. That is what this is all about.

There have been examples quoted this week, and in various sections of the media and so forth, about people having to repay certain amounts out of their tax. Once again, if the Labor Party believe that asking people to repay something which they have been illegally given, at the end of the day, is unfair, then I suggest that they put up an alternative proposal. Because if they are saying that all the taxpayers can fork out money to anyone who wishes to make an estimate of their income, whether it be right or wrong, with that person not given any compulsion to repay the money that they have been given to which they are not entitled, then that is a new lead in politics today.

I would like to know what alternative the Labor Party has to this system. It is interesting—I have looked at some cases, and I was looking at some cases with Senator Vanstone only yesterday morning, where some people had estimated to Centrelink that they were going to earn $30,000 a year. Therefore, they were given virtually the maximum amount of family tax benefit. Later on, at pretty close to the year, they adjusted their estimated income and I think it went up to the mid-seventies—from $30,000 to the mid-seventies and they did not know? Come on, really! Then, of course, when the tax return was put in, this person, who had estimated an income of $30,000, had in fact earned $85,000. You can imagine the family tax benefit that that individual had received and now they were grizzling that because they had earned $85,000 they had to pay back the overpayment that was based on their estimate. I think anyone in their right mind would say that that overpayment should be reclaimed.

Equally, there are many people out there who are on marginal incomes who reduce the amount that they give to the department in the hope that they will get the maximum benefit. Those people should not now be surprised that, after quite some time of this being in place, they will be forced to repay if they are not giving accurate estimates. So they should not just go and spend money if they know that it is likely that they will have to repay. But, unfortunately, the people in the cases that the Labor Party consistently quote seem to think that this is some sort of lottery win at the expense of other taxpayers and that they can just go and splash it up against the wall and never be held accountable for it.

There is no such thing as a lottery win at the expense of your fellow taxpayers and fellow Australians, and there should not be any expectation by the Labor Party that that should be so. I am horrified, Mr Deputy President, to hear day after day that the Labor Party believes people should be able to keep other taxpayers' money to which they are not entitled.

Senator McLucas —You gave it to them.

Senator KNOWLES —It is interesting—I hear an interjection which says, `You gave it to them.' Yes, it was given to them based on that individual's estimate of their income. If they give an incorrect estimate, then you cannot blame the other taxpayers and other Australians. Therefore, it is reliant on those people who have got something to which they are not entitled not to bleed from fellow Australians. They owe it back to their fellow Australians so that that money can be given to those most in need. Mr Deputy President, I would be very interested to hear what alternative the Labor Party has for dealing with those overpayments that were based on individuals stating their income.