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Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Page: 4375

Senator IAN MACDONALD (11:10 AM) —I join with my colleagues in opposing the Tax Laws Amendment (Luxury Car Tax) Bill 2008 and related bills before the chamber at the present time. Previous speakers from this side have raised in very precise and persuasive ways arguments on why this latest tax grab from a high-taxing Labor government should be opposed.

In my contribution I want to concentrate on the impact that this tax will have, yet again, on the bush in Australia. Labor we all know is renowned for being a high-taxing government. I have just come out of an inquiry looking at state government financial management. That inquiry shows that all of the state governments, as well currently held by Labor, are governments that believe they know best what to do with our money. They want to tax the money so they can spend it on ideas that have originated in the capital cities, in the union movement and in the backrooms of the Labor organisations. You only have to look back from Whitlam to Hawke to Keating to understand that Labor are simply incompetent financial managers and cannot be trusted with money.

In this last budget Labor hugely increased the tax take from the Australian public. That in itself puts the obvious lie to Labor’s claim that they had to address a perceived inflationary problem. The real inflationary problem, of course, was that both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer kept talking up an inflation problem when really it was not there. But having criticised former governments for having an impact on inflation they then brought in this hugely inflationary budget which substantially increased taxes. We remember that the last time Labor was in power they left government with a $96 billion debt costing the Australian public almost $10 billion a year simply in interest payments. It took Peter Costello and John Howard almost nine years to pay off Labor’s $96 billion debt. That demonstrates—and we must keep reminding the Australian public—that Labor simply cannot be trusted with money. That alone is one reason why this particular tax bill should be opposed.

I am concerned about the impact this bill will have on country and regional Australia and on small businesses that operate in the northern and more remote parts of Australia. If the Labor government need a bit more money, I wonder why they do not tax the real luxury items like Rolex watches or jewellery—the sorts of things that wealthy prime ministers and millionaire environment ministers might spend their money on. They are the luxury goods that people in the city tend to be more interested in. People in the country these days cannot of course afford jewellery or Rolex watches, but they do have to have, of necessity, four-wheel-drive passenger vehicles.

What I want to highlight in this debate is that this bill is simply another attack by the Labor government on small business and people in country Australia. Labor is already, in its short term in office, clearly showing its antirural bias: the Regional Partnerships program and the Growing Regions program have gone, with no new money until next year—perhaps—at the earliest; the Agriculture Advancing Australia program was axed; Farmbis and Farm Help have gone; there have been cuts to rural health services, regional arts programs and rural financial counselling services; and it has cancelled the Optus-Elders broadband joint venture, which might have given us decent broadband in rural and regional Australia, which is so essential these days.

On top of that we have this tax, which impacts more heavily on rural and regional Australians than it does on those living in the city. The bill, I would submit, should be renamed. Rather than the Tax Law Amendment (Luxury Car Tax) Bill, it should be called the ‘tax law amendment (stuff the bush) bill’. That is what it seems that this bill has the effect of doing. I am concerned at these impacts on rural and regional Australia.

We saw in the paper the other day that the rural town of Coleambally was offering to sell itself completely because of the inefficiency of the Labor government in dealing with the water problem. That shows that that small country town has absolutely no confidence in the Labor government and what it might do for rural and regional Australia.

Up in my area in the state of Queensland the little town of Aramac was being promoted only a couple of months ago by the Queensland Labor government as a good place to live. They have an interesting land sale arrangement. But part of the advertising for this small town of Aramac was that they had good health facilities and a hospital. The Queensland state Labor government just last week shut the Aramac hospital down. It is a country town. There are not many votes there, so who cares about the health needs of people in small country towns like Aramac!

Senator Brandis —What about Cloncurry?

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Indeed, Senator Brandis. You and I were there talking to the medical profession in Cloncurry just a couple of weeks ago. We understand these problems. We realised again that, if it were not for private industry, the bustling mining town—it is only a small country town, but it is a bustling mining town—of Cloncurry would be without adequate health services if you left it to a Labor state government.

Why would anyone expect any better from this Labor government when you look at the ministers—good men, no doubt—who are in charge of everything rural and regional in Australia? We have Mr Albanese, a union official in days gone by from the bush areas next to the Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport! The agriculture minister—a minister who we hoped might have had some empathy with the bush—represents the adjoining seat in the leafy, bushy suburbs adjacent to Kingsford Smith Airport! The Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Northern Australia, someone who supposedly has carriage of all things good for the bush from the Labor government, comes from the leafy suburbs of Perth. His background is not in the bush; it is in running the Labor Party. That certainly does not give one any understanding of the needs and requirements of rural and regional Australia—that part of Australia which, I might say, produces more than 30 per cent of Australia’s export earnings.

As Senator Brandis adverted to, a couple of weeks ago I—and Senator Brandis joined me for some of it—spent 10 days driving 4,000 kilometres around north-west Queensland. As the opposition spokesman for Northern Australia, I like to get out there and talk to people on the ground.

While I was up in Normanton, Karumba and Mount Isa, they were all rather excited in those areas because Mr Gary Gray was going to come in and make things good for the bush a few days after I was there. He popped in—flew in in his chartered aircraft—spent a few hours talking to a few people and could not get out of the place quickly enough. He left them with no real confidence as to what might happen in the future. He said to them, as I have been saying for many years, that the Office of Northern Australia, established with such fanfare by Labor following the election, was more of a coordination unit—downgrading their expectations. What it really is is an office of the department of regional services rebadged as the Office of Northern Australia. Northern Australians will not be fooled by this, although they and I were hoping that Mr Gray was coming to the north-west of Queensland with some good news. Regrettably, we were all disappointed.

Next week, I and a number of colleagues will be travelling to the north-west of Western Australia and to the Northern Territory to talk to people to try to understand their problems and to look at the opportunities that there are in Northern Australia and indeed in rural and regional Australia. In my 10 days driving over 4,000 kilometres in those remote areas, much of it on unsealed gravel roads—and I suggest that the ministers and indeed most of the senators on the other side of this chamber would not know what an unsealed dirt or gravel road was—I saw four-wheel-drive vehicles all the time.

They are not luxury vehicles. They are not purchased because people like the kudos or reputation of driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle. They are used in Northern Australia and in country and rural and regional Australia because they are essential vehicles. Very often the roads are such—and I have mentioned the gravel and dirt roads—that you need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get through the bulldust or, when it rains, through the mud and slush. You cannot do that in a Holden or Falcon or a Ghia—

Senator Heffernan —Or a Rolls-Royce!

Senator IAN MACDONALD —or a Rolls-Royce, indeed, that many in the cities would have. But these are essential vehicles. I have to declare an interest here of course. I was driving a Nissan Patrol vehicle on this 4,000-kilometre journey, and it is one of the vehicles that will cost $1,000 to $1,500 more should this bill become law.

If people out in those areas want to take their kids to the doctor—that is, if they are able to do it; if the kid happens fortuitously to be sick on the fortnight that the flying doctor happens to be coming into town—then they cannot get there very often in a Holden or some other ordinary vehicle. They need a four-wheel-drive vehicle, the sort of vehicle that the Labor Party is calling a ‘luxury’ vehicle. If you drive on those roads anywhere after 4.30 pm and you do not have a bulbar, it is almost tantamount to thinking about committing suicide. The wildlife in those areas at dusk is a danger and the way to keep yourself, your family and all those you love safe is to get a vehicle that does have some protection against wildlife on the roads and against the holes in the dirt roads. These vehicles in those parts of the world are not a luxury; they are essential.

I am told that there were about 30,000 four-wheel-drives sold in the year 2007. They comprised not just the Nissan Patrol, which I have mentioned, but the Toyota LandCruiser, a vehicle that is synonymous with the Australian bush. They also included other four-wheel-drives by other car manufacturers—the Mitsubishi Pajero, the Ford Territory, the Toyota Prado, as well as the LandCruiser and the Nissan Patrol. These are the sorts of vehicles you see out in country Australia. These are the sorts of vehicles that this particular bill will attack.

I appreciate that commercial vehicles are not part of the tax—they have been previously exempted—but many of the vehicles that you see out in these areas are passenger vehicles that families particularly—and, I might say, mothers—use to take their children to school and to the doctor, and to get around. So there were 30,000 sold in 2007. If they were all subject to the luxury car tax, that would provide something like $50 million of the $130 million the government hopes to grab as a tax this year, and I would venture to say that a large proportion of those 30,000 four-wheel-drive vehicles are vehicles purchased by those Australians who do not live in the capital cities.

Again, this Labor government—typical of all Labor governments—is attacking country people. While I was out driving around in the north-west, I saw that Mr Rudd announced for the hardworking public servants who live in Canberra an increase of $1,400 a week in their pay packets. The Labor government, whilst urging restraint everywhere else, gives the top public servants an increase of $1,400 in their pay packets. How do we pay for that, one might ask? Perhaps we get those silly buggers that live out in the bush to pay an extra $1,200 to $1,500 for their four-wheel-drive motor vehicles! That would give them the money to enable them to pay senior public servants in Canberra an extra $1,400 a week. You have got to ask yourself: what does this say about this high-taxing Labor government?

I ask of the Greens: why do they hate the bush? They have some influence here in what bills are allowed through the parliament and what are not. I read in the paper that they have done a deal with the government on imported vehicles that have less fuel efficiency. I do not know the details of that; I can only go on what is written in the paper. I see Senator Milne is sitting there and perhaps she will be able to tell us what deal she has done with the Labor Party yet again. I ask Senator Milne: why could you not have done the same sort of deal for people who live in the country, people who live 4,000 and 5,000 kilometres from the capital city? These are people who only get a doctor once a fortnight when the flying doctor comes in, people who drive on gravel roads, people whose hospitals are shut down by state Labor governments. These are people who provide the wealth for our country, the food that we eat, the clothes that we wear and the minerals that make Australia such a prosperous country at the moment. Why don’t we help them? So I ask the Greens: if you are going to do a deal with this dealing government, why not help people from rural and regional Australia? Why not help those who labour away in the more remote areas under difficult circumstances? Why didn’t you help them rather than looking after the privileged who might live in the leafy suburbs of the capital cities and drive these fuel-efficient vehicles? If you take the fuel-efficient vehicles out where I have been in the last couple of weeks they would probably rattle apart in a small period of time. But no, this government—and it seems the Greens—are not interested in country people—in those who must have four-wheel-drive vehicles as an essential part of their lives. This government—with, it seems, the support of the Greens—is going to tax them again so that the privileged people in the city can have a better life.