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Thursday, 25 August 1983
Page: 283

Mr DOBIE —Is the Prime Minister aware of a letter from his electorate office sent to people in his electorate of Wills which referred to increasing the tax on beer. Is he aware--

Mr Hawke —Increasing the tax on-

Mr DOBIE —Beer, ale, lager.

Mr Hawke —I have forgotten what it is like.

Mr DOBIE —I can understand that the Prime Minister might have forgotten what it was like.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I ask the honourable member to repeat the question. I have not heard it.

Mr DOBIE —Is the Prime Minister aware of a letter from his electorate office sent to people in his electorate of Wills which referred to increasing the tax on beer? Is he aware that the letter stated that the Australian Labor Party completely opposed any increase in this tax? Does that letter also state that tax on items such as beer, tobacco products and petrol took a much larger proportion of the incomes of low and middle income earners than from others? Does the letter also state that such taxes should be reduced? Bearing in mind what the Prime Minister actually did in this year's Budget, does he still agree with what he said in the letter? If not, why does the letter bear his signature?

Mr HAWKE —I have to confess that I have forgotten about beer and its price. I could not say what it costs now. I can say that it used to cost a fair bit. I assume that the honourable member is really not trying to go to the question of what I think should be the price of beer or its level of consumption but is much rather concerned with the question of principle of the place of indirect tax in the whole revenue base. I thank him for giving me the opportunity of saying what has been done by this Government in its Budget in regard to indirect taxes. The simple point, of course, is that this Budget does not impose large increases in indirect taxes.

Mr Shipton —Oh!

Mr HAWKE —Wait a minute; the honourable member will hear what I have to say. There has been an increase of 3c a packet in the price of cigarettes, another commodity with which I am not personally familiar, an increase of 3c a bottle, as I understand it, in the price of beer and an increase of 2c a litre in the price of petrol. I suggest that in the circumstances these increases cannot be regarded as excessive.

Mr Groom —What was in your letter?

Mr HAWKE —I will come to the letter; let there be no worry about that. The honourable member must possess himself with patience. The only discretionary increase was in regard to petrol. The rest of the increases in this area represent a rationalisation of indirect taxes. What has been done in regard to the indexation of excise does not represent any increase in real terms. The simple facts are, as the Treasurer pointed out in his excellent Budget Speech--

Mr Shipton —Did you write the letter? Tell us the truth.

Mr HAWKE —Mr Speaker, I can understand the concern of honourable members opposite. Their traditional constituency has deserted them, as evidenced by the reaction on the stock exchanges of Australia yesterday to the Budget of the Treasurer. They are grasping hopelessly at non-existent straws. The simple fact is that, as the Treasurer pointed out, in the last decade the share of excise to the general revenue has declined from 13 per cent to 7 per cent. This Government has done what the previous Treasurer wanted to do but did not have the courage to do; that is, to take specific steps to ensure that this erosion of the excise base by inflation would be brought to a halt. It does not represent any discretionary increase or any real increase in the important area of the revenue .

Mr Speaker, the time will come at some stage during the debate on this Budget when these people opposite, who are so unthinkingly now directing criticisms to the excellence of this Budget, will have to face up to a question. The question they will have to face up to is this: In terms of getting the Budget deficit down to less than $7 billion, what revenue measures that this Treasurer brought in would they have abandoned and what services to the Australian community contained in this excellent Budget would they have cut? In particular, when the shadow Treasurer is speaking he may have to explain to his colleague sitting on his immediate left what he would have done about the Burdekin Dam, which he said he would have put into the other hotch potch of measures. It certainly was a statement that he will have to explain in Queensland over the next two or three weeks. I conclude by saying that not only we on this side of the House but also the whole of Australia will be looking forward eagerly to the Opposition telling us how they would get the deficit down to $7 billion. Of course I wrote the letter. It is an excellent letter. This Budget is not inconsistent with the principles expressed therein.