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Wednesday, 9 December 1998
Page: 1706

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (1:17 PM) —The member for Reid made some comments that I thought were a little over the top. He said that the government was looking to guarantee that juniors should have the lowest possible wages. That is a false presentation of what the government is trying to do in relation to youth wages. What we are trying to do is get young people jobs. I think one of the important factors of this government's tax reform package is that it is tailored to provide jobs and it is tailored to do something that, at the moment, the opposition in this place does not seem to want to do.

Another point the member for Reid raised was in relation to the poor. I represent the electorate of Blair and I wonder, really, whether members opposite know many of the poor people in this country. Many of them are on farms. I was reading an article just the other day which said that in the last year the average income on a farm was $2,000. I do not know whether it was average, but it was income across a large proportion of the farming sector. It was $2,000 a year, which I think is absolutely pitiful. It is something that leaves the country in a very debilitated state, and it is something that I think we should be addressing. But to talk about poor people and say that this tax reform package is not going to help them is quite hollow.

Another point I would like to address is that the member for Reid claimed there was a government agenda to get local communities to foot the bill. I think that when it comes to this tax reform package, entirely the opposite is the case. What we are setting out to do through this tax reform package is to give all the income, all the revenue, that is generated by the government's goods and services tax to the states—to give that money down there where the services are being provided.

There is something that members opposite might like to recall. The former Prime Minister of Australia, Bob Hawke, just before he was stabbed by his successor, indicated that he wanted to renegotiate a better condition between the Commonwealth and the states—a new position that would ensure that the states had better financial viability and more capacity to deliver the services that Australians all need. Through this tax reform package we are delivering that up—we are following through on that in a financial sense, and I think the opposition should be giving us credit for doing something that they abjectly failed to do.

As the new member for Blair, I have a certain perspective on this tax legislation that is unique. Since the day I arrived in this place, members from both sides have commented on my, fortunately, successful efforts to defeat the leader of the One Nation party. I can say without hesitation or contradiction that this tax reform package did more to defeat the former member for Oxley when she ran for the seat of Blair than any other point of debate in the recent poll. Contributions such as those made by the Minister for Defence, John Moore, the Minister for Employment Services, Tony Abbott, and even the Reverend Tim Costello were significant, but, in the minds of voters in Blair, it was tax that mattered.

The need for tax reform galvanised Australians at the recent poll. In the seat of Blair I attended a total of three community forums. All were well attended and all were dominated from beginning to end by the topic of tax reform. In the same way that in the state campaign the former Queensland government found itself transfixed by questions about One Nation, so in the federal election the One Nation party found itself transfixed by questions of tax.

Now that the threat posed by One Nation has diminished, members might like to think that One Nation's eccentric views on tax are largely irrelevant. That is not the case. The need for tax reform is a driving force behind many of those disaffected elements that joined together to form One Nation in the first place. Taxes and red tape are creating too much of a burden for small business. These are the taxes fervently supported by the Labor Party—taxes that contain so many traps and inconsistencies that they baffle the average shopkeeper or garage mechanic, just as on occasions we all are baffled.

In 1993 the Australian Labor Party took advantage of the anger about the mess that our tax system has become. They successfully painted the changes proposed by the then opposition as adding to the burden of tax, when in hindsight, quite clearly, the opposite was true. Australians were taken along for the ride by the former Prime Minister Mr Keating and the man who huffed and puffed his way through a speech on this topic this morning, the present Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley.

The opposition have tried to follow in the footsteps of their mentor, Paul Keating, but on this occasion the Australian people are having none of it. Labor is getting a good reception from the converted, and that is why Labor did so well at the recent poll in shoring up its vote in its traditionally safe seats. But for the average Australian their scare tactics are worth nothing. At the recent poll in Blair, their GST scare tactics were not worth the many thousands of pieces of scrap paper they were printed on. There are three letters the people remembered at this election. They were not GST; they were l-a-w.

In the electorate of Blair, the same community forums that waded carefully through question after question on the government's tax reform package completely ignored the hollow tax proposals being offered by the opposition. The only comment offered on those occasions was loud condemnation of the ALP's proposal for a retrospective capital gains tax. I felt sorry for my Labor colleague on the campaign trail. Virginia Clarke is a very nice person, but in the tax debate she had about as much credibility as Christopher Skase at a creditors' meeting.

There is no doubt that Australians want a better tax system. At the recent election, they made a clear decision about who was best to deliver it. In Blair, One Nation's crazy easytax scheme—the idea that revenue could be raised by taking two per cent of every transaction—had more credibility than the hollow and negative views of the ALP. That is not to say that, to the people in the elector ate, the former member for Oxley was a credible authority who could be trusted on tax. The simple fact was that in every town hall, in every room where tax was discussed, people had a very strong idea who it was that they could not trust. They could not trust Labor. They wanted reform. They were naturally scared off the coalition's package by the sheer volume of propaganda being directed at it, but, when it came to the crunch, they just could not stomach another round of Labor lies about tax.

So the tax debate in my electorate revolved around a fair dinkum assessment of the coalition's proposal compared with the compendium of nonsense presented by One Nation. It was a lay-down misere. They listened to the One Nation leader—but a two per cent tax on every dollar you put into the church collection plate? A tax that would allow a millionaire to go on a snow skiing holiday to New Zealand each time he had a million to bank and still dodge his tax liabilities? It was the absolute death of them.

I thank the Treasurer and the coalition for providing the long awaited ammunition to do the job. We need to pass this legislation to show Australians that there is a much better way to administer the gathering of revenue in this country. Importantly, this tax has a long-term perspective that will enable the Commonwealth government and, importantly, the states to project a long-term trend in revenue growth many years into the future.

Members opposite have sat around a budget table. They know that, under the existing system as it applies in this country, when they are looking to draw up their budget—or when a state government is looking to draw up its budget—the first thing that happens is that they set out to cut. They set out to cut things because the only way revenue can be raised under the existing system is to introduce new hidden taxes. The reason why we have to do that is that revenue is falling—revenue that we get into the system is reducing every year, and so we cut to overcome it. When that fails, what do we do? We set about finding ourselves some new hidden sources of revenue that can be used to prop up the situation, and that is what the Labor Party is proposing— that we stay with this rear-vision mirror view of running the economy; that we drive backwards in our car, looking in the rear-vision mirror. And that is the way we run the economy of this country, Mr Speaker? It is a joke. How can you come up with a system that provides for the future needs of this country when you are looking to the past all the time?

During the election campaign, the former industries minister John Moore made the point that, given the increase in revenue that will be generated over time by the tax proposals of the government, we could, for example, eliminate payroll tax in Queensland. Queensland is a low tax state and it deserves credit for the effort it has gone to to keep low taxes but we could, over time, move to eliminate taxes in that state still further. That is something that we should all look forward to with relish.

On the other hand, if it were something that was a priority of the government of the day, we could improve health services or teacher numbers. All those things are ahead of us because we have, under this proposal, a tax system in which tax revenue will grow as the economy grows. I think that is a very important objective for us to have. We should get away from the situation in which we are driving backwards down the street—looking at our own navel instead of looking at what the country needs.

In closing, I would like to say something on a lighter note on the question of easytax. I noted in some research I got from the library that in 1967 eight countries applied a type of easytax. None of them do any more. It was all done as a result of wartime revenue raising, and it was—without doubt, according to this briefing—a complete dud.