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Thursday, 25 September 1986
Page: 1470

Mr WRIGHT(5.11) —It seems that the National Party and the Liberal Party in Opposition have the greatest of political gall. There is no end to their efforts to cover up what they have done in the past. I assure them, however, that the people of Australia will not forget the record of the Howard-Fraser Government. No matter what Opposition members say here, and no matter how they rant and rave, the Australian people have not forgotten that the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) as Treasurer in the Fraser Government did not have the courage to tackle the problems of the Australian tax system. He can rant and rave about it now, but for the eight years that he had power he did nothing. Instead, he left the country with a top marginal tax rate of 60c in the dollar. It is no wonder that small business, business generally and workers who are earning over $36,000 a year cry out for us to do something about marginal tax rates, and certainly the top tax rate. The Fraser-Howard Government-I stress Howard-did nothing during its term of office. Instead, it encouraged massive tax avoidance and evasion.

We know what was lost to the community. We know also that when this Government tried to recoup the money it was the Liberal and National parties which refused in the Senate to support legislation that would have brought back hundreds of millions of dollars into the nation's tax coffers. That money would have released some of the pressure on the ordinary pay as you earn employee, the individual who pays his tax as he earns it. We have an Opposition that tries to cover its having been part of evasion and avoidance through condoning it. (Quorum formed)

Prior to the quorum being called, Mr Deputy Speaker, I was saying how the Opposition, while it was in government, was responsible for the disillusionment that grew in the minds of electors and taxpayers and for the contempt for the tax system that developed. I heard the Leader of the Opposition talk about double standards and, although it did not relate particularly to these income tax Bills, he talked about the fringe benefits tax and travelling allowances. I am pleased that he raised the issue of travelling allowances because I believe that the people of Australia have a right to know, in view of the attack that he has been mounted on the Treasurer (Mr Keating), whether it is correct that the Deputy Leader of the National Party, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), has been claiming the travelling allowance while he has been living in Canberra with his family. The honourable member for Gwydir has a house in Forrest; yet he lists his principal place of residence as a place called Dunumbral, which is his family property in the north-west of New South Wales. A few minutes ago we heard the Leader of the Opposition talk about double standards and how he would reduce them.

Mr Hicks —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: I ask that you require the honourable member for Capricornia to get back to the Bill before the House.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Blanchard) —I call on the honourable member for Capricornia to continue.

Mr WRIGHT —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Under the Standing Orders it is quite all right to respond to remarks made by those on the other side of the House. The honourable member for Riverina-Darling (Mr Hicks) has been here a few years and he should know them.

Let us get to some truth about these matters. The Opposition has been attacking the Treasurer for days and going on about how he is supposed to be rorting some sort of system. We have had statements from the Leader of the Opposition and undertakings from his shadow Ministry that no one on that side has been doing anything wrong. In a release from the Australian Associated Press the Leader of the Opposition says he has obtained statements from all his shadow ministers that everyone is behaving properly. The honourable member for Gwydir is in the chamber and I ask whether it is correct that he claims the travelling allowance while living with his family in Canberra. Does he declare that his principal residence is his family property in the north-west of New South Wales?

If that is the position, I can understand it and I take no exception to it. If the Treasurer, for example, is called upon to carry out duties in the capital, surely we should not expect him to pay for his rented house out of his normal salary. The editors of the newspapers which have attacked the Treasurer no doubt travel to Melbourne or Sydney to meet as editors or chiefs of staff. Who pays for their board, their units and their motels? Do the individual editors pay for them? Of course not. These expenses are paid for by the employer, and it is only right that the Treasurer should have his costs met too. I think that all the members of the Government agree with the principle, but that is not the issue. We are talking about double standards. The Opposition is accusing one of our Ministers of doing something wrong. As I have said, the honourable member for Gwydir is in the House, and I hope that he speaks in this debate.

Mr Tim Fischer —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: Standing order 76 states:

All imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections on Members shall be considered highly disorderly.

I point out to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the position of the Deputy Leader of the National Party has nothing to do with the situation relating to the Treasurer.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The Chair is very much aware of standing order 76. I do not think that the honourable member for Capricornia has contravened it but he should watch the comments that he makes in relation to the matter he is raising.

Mr WRIGHT —I certainly shall, Mr Deputy Speaker. You will note that I have raised this matter by way of a question, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I have not heard a denial from the other side. There have been many attempts to shut me up. I have had the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Tim Fischer) trying to shut me up by raising a point of order. We had the National Party Whip trying to shut us up but we have not heard the honourable member for Gwydir deny it. Why will he not deny it? Let us find out because that has been the attack. That is what we have heard in the rantings and ravings for the last three days against our Treasurer, the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating). So let us really see who has double standards. Let us go further because the Leader of the Opposition talked about the fringe benefits tax. He talked about how he cannot support it. We know what he has said in the past. I know he is castigating everybody for the stand taken on the fringe benefits tax but not once has he mentioned that during the National Taxation Summit which was held in Canberra from 1 July 1985 to 4 July 1985, the Hon. Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Premier and Treasurer of Queensland, produced this document. Honourable members will notice that there is the crest of the Queensland Parliament and the Government on it. This document is very interesting because in summary the recommendations refer to a single tax rate of 25 per cent. I will mention that later as that has become part of the Income Tax Rates Bill. His third recommendation, as Premier of the conservative State of Queensland is-listen to this-a fringe benefits tax. That is what he says. It is here in black and white. But have honourable members heard the Leader of the Opposition discount it? That is said by the Leader of the Government in Queensland, the Hon. Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen; not only that but he goes on and says-this is in black and white in a government document, produced by that Government and presented to the conference-there will be `a fringe benefits tax on the beneficiary . . .'. The document goes on:

(but with employers to be required to record such benefits on group certificates).

Can honourable members imagine that? We talk about section 26 (e). We talk about the rorts and the rigging that goes on, and here is the Premier of Queensland saying this. I might say that I have tried to raise this issue before. It has been put in many Press releases by the Leader of the Opposition in Queensland, Neville Warburton, and by me in Queensland, but for some reason the newspapers have not run it. They have left this passage out of all the releases we have put out. Let the Leader of the Opposition in this House explain his attitude to this. Does he now disagree with the Premier of Queensland? Does he disagree with the idea put forward by the National Party Government in that State? Does the Leader of the National Party agree with this, because we have heard him talk about his attitude to the fringe benefits tax? Do we have some conflict here? Do we have a State National Party Government promoting one thing and the Federal National Party promoting something else? Let us hear about the double standards and the conflict and the two types of views, because we have it here in black and white.

I have said before that this Opposition, when in government, was a government of double standards. This is the Opposition which, when in government, placed an intolerable tax burden on the majority of honest Australians. I notice when the Leader of the Opposition was speaking he made some comparisons of what it was like under the Liberal-National Party Government and what it has been like under the Hawke Government. Let us put the facts on the record. Back under the Howard Government an employee earning $16,380 paid an average tax of 21.6 per cent. So that meant that if he was earning that sort of money he would pay $67.99 in tax per week. Under the Hawke Government, with its proposals, as honourable members will appreciate, in stages 2 and 3 which are now being implemented by this legislation, a person earning $16,380 will pay 17.7 per cent average tax. That is a drop of $12.30 a week. Let us look at an employee earning $18,221. Under the Howard Government the average tax was 22.5c in the dollar. So that person paid $78.61 every week. Under the Hawke Government that would be 18.8 per cent, a drop of $12.67 a week. We must appreciate that this is what happened under the Howard-Fraser Government, but let us keep calling it the Howard Government so people will remember. A nurse was paying 22.8 per cent average tax under that Government. Under the Hawke Government that is down to 19.2 per cent, a saving of $12.81. A teacher on $23,000 a year under the Howard Government paid an average tax of 27.4 per cent. Under the Hawke Government that person pays 23.8 per cent. Managers on $30,000, whom the Opposition say they represent, under the Howard Government paid 31 per cent or 31c for every dollar they earned. Under the Hawke Government they would pay 26.7c in the dollar.

It is important that people start to appreciate just what we are doing. Yet we find that this is the Opposition that says that it does not want any of the changes we are putting forward. In fact it will cast them out lock, stock and barrel. But what is it putting in instead? It is talking about bringing in a flat tax system. It talks about double standards. We heard the Leader of the National Party say that he wanted to introduce a flat tax of 20 per cent. But what did Mr Howard say? I will quote from a report on him in the Canberra Times.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Blanchard) —Order! I remind the honourable member that he should refer to the Leader of the Opposition by his title of Leader of the Opposition.

Mr WRIGHT —I refer to the comments made by the Leader of the Opposition, on 5 February 1981 in the Canberra Times. He referred to this whole concept of a flat tax and said:

Eighty per cent of Australian workers would be forced on to a higher tax scale if the National Party's flat tax proposal was introduced.

He went on to say that the 20 per cent flat tax rate suggested by the Nationals would cause a shortfall of $7 billion in government revenue in the first year. Now we find that the Leader of the Opposition is supporting the concept of a flat tax. We wonder from day to day what the Opposition is going to come forward with next. We also note that it does not understand what is really taking place here. In Rockhampton on the weekend the New Right talked about changes in the tax rate. Its members were arguing about the changes, quite unaware of what this Government is already doing in that area. They are totally unaware that in 1984 we had already changed the 30 per cent marginal tax rate and brought it down to 25 per cent. We are also now changing the total tax system. Why are we doing this? We are doing it to give that incentive, to give people the reason to work harder, to increase productivity. That is what we are about, yet the likes of Prue Acton and Paul Terry standing up and calling for changes in the tax system do not know what is going on. I ask the Treasurer please to put together a package and send it to Prue Acton, to Paul Terry, to Maurice Binsted and to a few of these others so that they can start to understand what we are about.

Let the people understand too because there is some confusion, I tell honourable members and Mr Deputy Speaker, as to what really takes place. I was at a place called Moranbah recently and a teacher came up to me and said that she was paying 60c in the dollar in tax. She presented me with her group certificate, which showed that she had earned $24,700 for the year. I looked at the group certificate and saw that the tax she had paid was $6,300. I said `What is the percentage?' and she said `25 per cent' and swallowed it. She did not really understand that there is an average tax system. People do not understand today what the Hawke Labor Government is doing. They do not understand the tax system. There has been confusion amongst the people as they do not understand the difference between an average tax and a marginal tax rate. But let them appreciate just what we are doing. The marginal tax rate of 30 per cent will drop to 29 per cent; the marginal tax rates of 46 per cent and 43 per cent will, by July next year, go down to 40 per cent; those on 48 per cent will go right down to 40 per cent also in July next year; and the top marginal tax rate, the one that hurts a lot of people in my own area, such as the coal miners and others, will drop from 60 per cent to 49 per cent. We are addressing the problems and we do not have the double standard that the Opposition has.

Let me conclude, because my time is going. Let the Opposition tell us about the double standards which we have heard today. Let the honourable member for Gwydir now come out and tell us about his travel allowance. Let him respond to this Parliament as to what he has really been doing in claiming for his travel allowance when he has a principal place of residence in the northern part of New South Wales.