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Thursday, 25 March 2004
Page: 21959

Senator WONG (2:49 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer. Does the minister recall that yesterday she confirmed that the government had decided, in addition to legislation already passed to preserve access to salary sacrifice arrangements in state public hospitals, to provide similar legislative protection for the salary sacrifice arrangements currently enjoyed by officers of ambulance and country fire services? What was the basis of the government's decision to protect salary sacrifice arrangements of employees of public hospitals and ambulance and country fire services? Does the minister believe that, as a general matter of principle, taxpayers in like circumstances should receive the same tax treatment?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —What I was attempting to describe yesterday that might have escaped Senator Wong was the fact that the Tax Laws Amendment (2004 Measures No. 1) Bill 2004 includes changes to the law that will require charities, including public benevolent institutions, to be endorsed by the Commissioner of Taxation in order to access all relevant tax concessions. In dealing with the effect of the changes on bodies controlled by states and territories, I went on to describe how the changes protect the charitable status of these entities. I also went on to say that certain government bodies may qualify for status as a deductible gift recipient and so be able to receive tax-deductible donations and access GST concessions as a gift deductible entity.

The Treasurer has recently announced that the government will amend the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to ensure that bodies coordinating fire and emergency service organisations in states and territories are able to receive tax-deductible gifts. The Taxation Office has recently confirmed that the individual volunteer fire brigades are able to be endorsed to receive tax-deductible gifts. In addition, the government has recently legislated, as Senator Wong correctly says, to allow all public hospitals to receive the $17,000 capped fringe benefits tax exemption even when they do not qualify as a public benevolent institution and has announced its intention to extend this concession to public ambulance services from 1 April 2004.

I also pointed out that the changes to the government status of certain bodies can be a decision that a state government makes, and if states want to run these bodies then the bodies become government entities and, as the law has not changed, they are no longer public benevolent institutions and in those circumstances are not entitled to some of the special tax concessions that PBI charities receive. As I said yesterday, certain matters that do deserve consideration have been brought to the government's attention. Some rationalisation of this approach may be necessary. As with all matters to do with tax policy, where there are some ongoing matters under consideration it is entirely appropriate that I provide general information to the Senate. As to why one would make some distinction when there are currently other matters under consideration, I do not think it is appropriate that I give a running commentary on those negotiations.

Senator WONG —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Rather than giving us a running commentary, can the minister answer this: will the government now extend the same protection of salary sacrifice arrangements to low-paid carers in disability service organisations?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —I said in response to Senator Wong's question, and I do mean it, that certain matters are under consideration. I do not think it is appropriate that these kinds of commitments are given during question time. They are a matter of detailed policy that affect a broad range of people who are rightly concerned that the government takes into account their points of view and comes to a considered view before making an announcement.