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Wednesday, 9 December 1998
Page: 1684

Dr THEOPHANOUS (11:35 AM) —The previous speaker said that the Labor Party does not want to discuss these bills. That is a bit rich coming from a govern ment that has moved a motion to guillotine these measures and which has not allowed enough time for discussion of the matters in the House of Representatives.

Mr Hockey —Get on with the bill.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —It is a bit rich coming from a government which has refused to subject these bills to real parliamentary scrutiny.

Mr Hockey interjecting

Dr THEOPHANOUS —If you were really serious and you had respect for members of the House of Representatives, you should have referred these bills to a joint select committee of both houses of parliament. Instead, an inquiry by Senate committees was forced down your throat, which is disrespectful to the House of Representatives. In the final analysis, you had to accept the inquiry by the Senate committees, anyway. So why didn't you agree to set up a joint select committee to consider this very important, critical issue?

Mr Hockey interjecting

Dr THEOPHANOUS —You did not do that at all. Once the inquiry by the Senate committees was established, the Treasurer said, `I don't care what they have to say; this is going to go through in its entirety.' Well, we've got news for you: you have got Buckley's chance of getting this nonsensical legislation through in its entirety. In fact, Joe, you have got more chance of becoming Prime Minister than you have of getting these bills through unamended.

The reality is that we could have discussed these matters in the House of Representatives committee system and in the chamber. We have not had that opportunity. And now you are going to ram these bills through the House of Representatives and leave it up to the Senate committees to inquire into them. The Treasurer said, `It doesn't matter what the Senate committees discover or what they say; we're going to push them through whether you like it or not.' Well, that is not how democracy operates in this country and that is not how the parliamentary system operates. Let me tell you this: if you think there is not any problem with these bills, you do not know what you are talking about because the reality is that there are very serious social justice issues in these bills. First, there is the imposition of a GST on food.

Mr Hockey —Yes.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Yes, it is a great idea, isn't it?

Mr Hockey —What about the tax cuts?

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Look, you have had your go. They are very keen to mention all the countries which have had a GST, but they do not mention the fact that there are very few countries that have a GST on fresh food. The fact is that by imposing a GST on fresh food, a fundamental item of life, and on clothing—another fundamental necessity—as Senator Harradine has said you are skewing the whole thing against the poor. And this bill, in the way it has been constructed in relation to the GST on food and on other such items, is an anti social justice measure. Let me tell you: you will not get a GST on food.

Mr Hockey —Why not?

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Because it will not pass this parliament, that is why not. It may pass this House, but it will not pass the Senate.

Mr Hockey —What about the tax cuts?

Dr THEOPHANOUS —You talk about the tax cuts. I will come to the tax cuts in a minute. You did not even give people the opportunity to talk about different elements of your construction. You arrogantly believe that only your model, and no other model, is possible in terms of tax reform. That has been your approach and you will go down because of that approach. There are many people in this chamber who know a lot about these matters, who have been around for many years and are able to discuss these issues, and they have not been consulted. That includes senators and members of this House. The minister talks about tax cuts. The minister ought to be ashamed about the way these tax cuts have been constructed.

Mr Hockey —Why?

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Why, he says. Have you looked at what the poor get in this package?

Mr Hockey —They get a great deal.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —They get a great deal, he says. Do the poor not need to eat? Do the poor not need to drink? Do they not need clothes, do they not need the essentials of life? Yet you have the cheek to give a whopping big tax cut to the rich—a huge tax cut to the rich—and you give a pittance to the poor. You say, `Of course, the rich need it more because they earn more.' What rubbish, what outrageous proposals. No government other than an extreme right-wing government would have put this forward. This is Thatcherism in Australia. The fact is that you are attacking the poor of this country—

Government members interjecting

Dr THEOPHANOUS —They are all interrupting because they know what I am saying is true. Why didn't you give a tax cut that was fair to all people instead of skewing it so much to the upper middle classes and the wealthy? The fact is that you wanted to use this bill and the introduction of the GST as a form of redistribution of wealth in this country.

Mr Hockey —That's rubbish.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —This is rubbish, is it? Why don't you consult the Australian Council of Social Service about this and see what they think about it? They don't think what I am saying is rubbish. Why don't you consult the Brotherhood of St Laurence? Why don't you consult the Catholic Social Welfare Commission? Why don't you consult all the other organisations? They are all saying that the tax cuts, because of the way you have drafted them, are completely unjust and against the poor. They are a basis for redistribution of wealth.

Mr Hockey —Rubbish.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Rubbish? We will see what happens to this country in a few years if you get your way. But you will not get your way because, unless you are prepared to substantially amend your package, it will not pass the Senate. The Labor Party will vote against the whole thing and the Democrats and other groups will not support a socially unjust proposal. They will support the Labor Party in insisting on this point.

Mr Hockey interjecting

Dr THEOPHANOUS —I have been constantly interrupted by this minister throughout. I have not been able to get a sentence in. Why is he so sensitive? I will tell you why he is so sensitive: it is because he is an ideologue. All this is ideology. This is the New Thatcherism in Australia, the attempt to impose a regime that is totally unfair on the people of Australia. As I said at the beginning, we could have had a very sensible discussion of these issues through a proper parliamentary committee of both houses. We could have had a sensible discussion of the questions of tax reform where there was give and take. Instead of that, what have we got? We have this arrogant idea that only what is in this package is good and that any attempt to exempt food, for example, is to be rejected.

Mr Hockey —We had an election on it.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —I will tell you about the election. The election was very interesting, wasn't it? How many people voted for parties that were against the GST in your form? In the form that you put it forward, how many people in Australia voted for parties against it? Close to 60 per cent. What was your primary vote?

Mr Hockey —Rubbish.

Dr THEOPHANOUS —Rubbish, he says. It was barely above 40 per cent. The fact is the rest of the Australian people voted in their first preference for parties that were against your model: against the GST on food and against the redistribution of wealth in terms of the kinds of tax cuts that you were proposing. You should go back and restructure this package, think about it and talk to us and the other parties. That is the sort of thing you should be doing. Instead, what are you doing? You are simply being dogmatic and trying to ram this through. If you are going to be like that, we are going to vote against it here and we are going to vote against it in the Senate. We will go on the record as being opposed to this foolish strategy, which has been one of the worst thought-out forms of tax reform we have ever seen in this country.