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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 5272


Senator FIELDING (Leader of the Family First Party) (9:00 PM) —I rise to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (Luxury Car Tax) Bill 2008 and related bills. The government has agreed to Family First’s common-sense demands to exempt farmers and tourism operators from the increased car tax. Last fortnight Family First was concerned that the car tax would unfairly hit farmers and tourism operators. We have now been able to get that exemption for those people, and that makes a lot of sense. Family First has been able to successfully negotiate with the government, and the government has agreed to concessions worth $40 million over four years. Vehicles purchased by farmers and tourism operators are tools of trade. Some other businesses already get full exemptions for their vehicles from the car tax, so farmers and tourism operators should also not be slugged with the extra tax. They are already struggling with high petrol prices, the impact of the drought and the strong Australian dollar. Farmers and tourism operators can only claim depreciation and GST input tax credits up to the $57,180 car tax threshold. These tax breaks do not cover the extra tax.

The amendments negotiated with the government provide refunds to farmers and tourism operators so they can claim back the extra eight per cent car tax from the Australian Taxation Office once they have purchased their four-wheel-drive vehicle. The amendments allow claims of up to $3,000 per year for primary producers and $3,000 per year for tourism operators. The tourism industry is heavily dependent on the eight-seater Toyota LandCruiser and similar four-wheel-drive vehicles. The extra tax would have unfairly hit small tourism operators in regional Australia as they need their four-wheel-drive vehicles. Farmers are also dependent on heavy-duty four-wheel-drive vehicles, like the LandCruiser, which offer reliability and safety in regional and remote areas, especially on poorly maintained roads. Family First has had a lot of emails and phone calls from farmers and tourism operators to support this initiative. The Australian Tourism Export Council pointed out:

... that the tourism industry basically runs on the eight-seater diesel LandCruiser.

The council also said:

The cost impact is hitting a range of small businesses in regional Australia such as four-wheel-drive tour operators in rural Australia.

The majority of tourism businesses in Australia are small family operated concerns. One regional tour operator made a special trip to my office in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago to tell my staff how important his four-wheel-drive was to his business. He does outback tourism and he said that he needs a reliable car to make sure he does not break down in the middle of nowhere; it is essential as a tool for his work. Another regional tour operator wrote to me saying how important his four-wheel-drive is to his business. He said:

We have exceptional working relationships with all the property owners, in South Australia, who have 4WD tracks on their properties. They have taken the decision to encourage tourism based on the drought and continuing poor returns from what was once their core business, farming.

All of us also tend to travel at least twice the average 14000 kms that city folk do and most of that is on dirt roads and/or over quite long distances.

The Victorian Farmers Federation President, Simon Ramsay, supports the amendments as common sense. He said:

... our industry there is a dependence on transport and obviously given the localities and isolated areas not only within the state of Victoria, but nationwide, is dependent on large robust vehicles …

In Queensland AgForce Chief Executive, Brett de Hyer, said that four-wheel-drives are not a luxury item for farmers. He said:

Many farmers in Queensland (particularly in far western and northern areas) regularly travel hundreds of kilometres to their nearest town for essential supplies, health care and children’s schooling, and they need a vehicle that can handle those conditions—it is a necessity, not a luxury.

The South Australian Farmers Federation has also given its endorsement, with spokesman Peter White saying that he is happy with the changes ‘now that farmers are being looked after’. Last Wednesday I had an email from a farmer in Western Australia who said:

We are one of those farmers you were talking about. Farming in almost any area of the country is under siege. Right from the central midlands of Tasmania to here in the wheatbelt of WA markets, price squeeze, inputs, no infrastructure all take their toll. We do need a 4WD just for safe driving out here.

They are an essential item in our toolkit both on the farm to get about and to drive the vast distances we need to, to do any tasks at all.

Family First is not here to frustrate the government of the day, whether it is this one or the previous one. We are not elected to government but we are elected to vote and to look at issues on their merits. We have put forward constructive concerns to the government to take care of unintended consequences—I do not think they have ever set out to hit farmers and tourism operators—and that is what we have done. I urge all senators to back Family First’s amendments.

Question put:

That these bills be now read a second time.