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Monday, 7 December 1998
Page: 1522

Mr HARDGRAVE (8:47 PM) —The Australian Labor Party are desperate on this matter of taxation reform—for a number of reasons. In their arguments to date in the debate we are having on these important bills, they are trying to ignite some sort of cheap class warfare on one hand, and they are trying to complete the chronicle of absolute lies that they offered during the recent federal election campaign on the other. In some sort of weird and wonderful way they are trying to hold some sort of faith with their supporters by carrying through the lies they uttered to try to get votes in the 3 October election and by repeating them in this place.

They have shown that they do not understand the federation of states, the fact that our constitution clearly defines a role for each state parliament as well as for the chambers in this place, and that there are 13 separate chambers in this country that would have to agree to an increase in a goods and services tax. Once it is introduced, an increase in the rate could come only if 13 chambers were to agree to that measure.

The only people talking about a GST increasing at some point in time are the Australian Labor Party. They get up day after day asking questions about increasing the tax. So we now know. Their secret agenda is exposed. If at some stage in the future those opposite form government in this country you know that one of the first things they are going to do is what they always do—in typical Australian Labor Party style, they will increase tax.

The debate to date has shown very clearly yet again that we know exactly what the Labor Party are against but we have yet to find out what they stand for. As I said in my opening comments, they are absolutely desperate to defeat this measure. They will not defeat it here in the House of Representatives but over in the Senate they want to use every means possible to try to delay and defeat it, because they know all too clearly that their carefully woven web of lies during the 3 October election campaign will be exposed, once the government's tax reform measures are in place. They know that the reforms that the government are putting forward in these bills before us today were supported overwhelmingly by younger Australians who, in particular, wanted to see an end to the ramshackle old system of tax collection that Labor left us before the 1996 election.

So they know that, once it is in place, this new taxation system—which the government have proposed and put before the people of Australia to get their permission to propose it in this place—will prove an absolute disaster for the Australian Labor Party's electoral prospects in the future. They know for a fact that an entire generation of voters will be affected by the fact that they were misled by Labor in such great measure in the lead-up to the last election. They know that there will be an entire generation of Australians who will pass on to their children—and I dare say will also influence their parents and their grand parents—that Labor are not interested in good policy but simply in perpetuating scare and lie tactics. They do not mind if they hurt the innocent by some of the utterings they are offering here and some of the nonsense they offered during the election campaign. They do not mind if they pick on older Australians—anything to get a vote. If you listen to those opposite, you would swear that the sky is falling in, that parts of people's anatomies are going to be lopped off as a result of the taxation reform agenda the government are proposing here.

Yet the central premise of what the government have on their agenda is to help Australia, to help Australians. This is good policy that is going to be good for this country, not only because it is going to set up our exporters and our small business sector in such a way that jobs will be created and markets will be realised as our prices and the competitive nature of the goods we produce improve, but also because it will help each individual Australian.

The government have set out to put forward to the people of Australia a very clear-cut agenda. I know that I received an absolute mandate from the people in my electorate, as did a majority of members in this place receive a mandate from the people in their electorate, to push forward with the government's reform agenda that was clearly stated for all to consider. Despite all the efforts of those opposite and their henchmen in the electorate of Moreton and the absolute nonsense and deliberate hurt they inflicted upon constituents of mine to try and get a vote, I am here today to support the government's agenda.

This is the most comprehensive reform of the Australian taxation system in the history of the federation of this wonderful country. It is timely that we are proposing such reforms in the face of a new millennium—a new century. Yes, we are going to hear a lot of talk about the new century and the new millennium over this 39th Parliament. But this government that is now in place is prepared to face the prospect of turning our back on the old in order to bring about the good new.

Our current outdated, inefficient tax system—the tax system which those members opposite are prepared to support and prepared to hurt people in the process of supporting—has to go. We have to see a reform of Commonwealth-state financial relations. We do not want to see a continuation of the year in year out uncertainty as governments from the states come here, cap in hand, attempting to get a certain lick of money here or a lick of money there. We want to make sure that income tax for families and average wage earners is fairer. We want to reintroduce incentive for people who want to go out and earn a little bit more. This is all part of the plan that was put to the people, and the people in my electorate and the people in the majority of electorates in this country endorsed that plan. The word `mandate' has been used a lot in this debate, and there is no doubt that the government has one, because the people of Australia gave it one.

The Australian Labor Party cannot handle the fact that this government actually took a proposal to the people of Australia. This government took the people inside the confidence of the government's plans, gave them a ton of detail and asked them to approve the detail. The Labor Party cannot stand the fact that today this place is debating a matter that the government has put forward in fulfilment of what we said we would do; unlike 1993 when those opposite were sitting on this side of the chamber as the government and Prime Minister Keating said, `Don't you worry about that,' in the words of a famous Queenslander, `if we are returned, you are going to get tax cuts and there will be no GST.' But, instead, what did they do? The Australian Labor Party came back into power in the 1993 election and up went wholesale sales taxes.

Wholesale sales taxes are taxes that the Australian Labor Party loves because they can increase them by the stroke of a pen in some dark room somewhere around the corridors—in one of the big offices in this building. They are taxes that do not have to come into this chamber for approval as have these tax measures today. We are not doing anything that we said we would not do. We are doing exactly what we proposed. We have proved it. We put the policy forward and the people of Australia approved it for us. Our aim is to make our country far more productive and far more competitive than it currently is. We want to help our exporters. We want to deliver more jobs. We want to increase the standard of living of all Australians.

This is the first part of a package of measures that will bring about this new tax system by 1 July 2000. It will provide a modern, broad based low-rate goods and services tax. That is the central hallmark of the way the system will work. But hand in hand with that, up to 10 taxes that the Australian Labor Party seem to dearly love will go. Hand in hand with that will be massive personal income tax cuts, and an increase in the tax-free threshold which will mean that low income earners will automatically get the benefit of additional money without having to pay tax on it. But at the heart of what the government's measures are about is empowering the average Australian—which again is something that those opposite do not like, as can be seen by the union boss oriented tantrums that they throw in here from time to time. They do not like the idea of individuals actually having some control over their own destiny. They do not like the idea of empowerment.

The real problem we have in this country is the complexity of the taxation system, and all those opposite talk about is trying to make it even more complex. The complexity of the system is felt by average Australians. It cannot be underestimated how annoyed average Australians are about the complexity of the system that the Australian Labor Party want to hold on to. The problem is that if people cannot feel confident in the sum total of the tax acts that make up this country's system, and if they cannot cope with all the changes and the unbelievable complexities, they simply will find ways and means to get around the system. They will turn their back on the system. They have no faith in the law if it is bad law. Consumers at other levels simply turn their back on a product that does not meet their particular levels of satisfaction—and that is true of our taxation system.

I would ask those opposite to reconsider their position. This government was elected to do what we are currently doing. If those opposite are so confident that what we have proposed is so bad for Australia, let these bills pass not only the House of Representatives but also the Senate. By the time the next election comes around in late 2001, if those opposite are right and the system is so bad, people will vote us out. Labor might then be able to do what they want to do; that is, increase the GST.

But, no, they do not want these bills to get up. They do not want them to see the light of day because they know very well that the people of Australia will be very happy with what the government has proposed. If this bill passes, Labor will be exposed as the charlatans they are and the con merchants they were during the last election campaign. People want this current government to do more than just simply add to what the previous failed Labor governments have done. People actually want something new. People want to be empowered. They want to make a contribution to this nation by building up their businesses, by being good citizens. When they pay tax they want to know what they are paying for. They want to understand the systems that are involved. People do not mind paying their fair share of tax.

The current tax system—which Labor has had more than a little bit to do with over the past two decades—seems to be keyed more towards helping a lot of people at the big end of town with their trusts and all sorts of interesting arrangements. But there does not seem to be a lot of assistance for the average Australian. Those opposite keep talking about the average Australian and the average worker. I am not sure how many of them have actually tripped over one in recent months. Certainly the election campaign should have flushed a few of them out and got them out to meet people. If they had actually spoken to average Australians, people would have said, `Let's get a fairer and simpler and more easily understood taxation system.'

The taxation system in this country cannot be underestimated for the impact that it has not just on economic wellbeing but also on the social fabric of this nation, because the tax system can either create envy or dispel it. It can create or destroy jobs. It can promote or suppress growth. It can create or put completely under strain social justice. It can create opportunities for those who want to work hard, but it can also discourage effort. A number of people have said to me that they would like to work overtime, but the current tax system—the one Labor wants to defend at all costs—is all about discouraging people who want to work harder and earn extra in overtime, because people on about 1.4 times average weekly earnings start to pay the top rate of tax. It is a system that has got to go. If those opposite were fair dinkum in caring about the workers and battlers of this country they would support the package of bills before the House.

We no longer need a taxation system which seems to be more about maintaining the system and the bureaucracy that runs it than getting good outcomes from it for the average Australian. We need to make sure that people are able to make a fair and equitable contribution to the running of this nation. We need a law that has universal support, a law that is fair and easily understood. Otherwise, if it is not easily understood, if it is not easily adhered to or easily respected by those it is supposed to govern, of course it is a law that is destined to be broken.

We can make tax laws in this country more transparent. Nothing can be more transparent and more easily understood than a standard rate of tax across a wide range of goods and services in this country. It is no longer fair to burden those who produce things—goods—ahead of those who provide services. It is no longer realistic. This is 1998. I remind members of the Labor Party opposite, and those who may be listening in to this debate, that they should search inside their hearts and realise the workers they claim to represent—it may be more folklore than fact—are going to be in far more secure jobs as a result of the businesses they work for having this sort of taxation system in place.

The taxation reforms proposed by this government are good for Australia; they are good for average Australians. They will be good for people in my electorate. I am pleased that the majority of people in the electorate of Moreton saw through the phoney campaign and the outrageous claims that were made in my electorate by those opposite and their henchmen. We have such an unfair, complex and outdated taxation system, yet it is constantly being defended by those opposite. We need a system that no longer delivers the worst possible result, especially to low income earners, to self-funded retirees and to pensioners, along with the small business sector. They are the sorts of people for whom this government is prepared to champion this cause.

We are in favour of heading towards the new millennium with a modern taxation system, something that will have a positive impact on the social fabric of this nation. I ask those opposite to reconsider their simple opposition for opposition's sake mantra that they seem to constantly chant in debates in this place.