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Wednesday, 9 December 1998
Page: 1753

Mr HOLLIS (4:47 PM) —As usual, that was a fascinating speech from the member for Boothby about the ALP. I was quite puzzled. He spent most of his speech talking about the ALP, and that indicates the poverty of ideas on that side of the House. You do not have to worry about the ALP. If I were you, I would be more concerned about my own party on that side and its paucity of ideas. Those on that side come in here with the same old arguments parroted out each time, over and over again. If we were going to have an interesting debate on this, one would think there would be a few new ideas thrown in.

The GST bills before the House are supposed to herald, as we were all told during the last election campaign, the most fundamental tax change since Federation. If this is so, one would have thought that, given the significance of the tax changes being proposed, the government would have allowed an equally significant period in which to have the package fully debated.

We are all here talking with a limited amount of time, and many people are not even going to get the opportunity to speak in this debate. We have been allocated less than 18 hours—and this is from the government that was going to lift the debating and other standards in this chamber. Here, by their own admission, we have the most fundamental change to the taxation system since Federation being rammed through the House, with very many members of the House not even being given the opportunity to speak and with 18 hours to debate a huge shift in the tax burden from the rich to the poor, from business to the workers.

The package of bills will not even come into effect until the year 2000. What therefore is the rush in trying to hammer through this package? We are not permitted to have an open period of debate. Once the package of bills gets punted through this place, it will go before the Senate and a series of Senate committees. The Senate will not even begin consideration of the package until 19 April 1999, so why the rush through this chamber?

I can recall the tantrums expressed by some of my colleagues opposite when the Labor government proposed a shift in Australia's identity with the republic. Many of them were afraid that one morning they might wake up to find the Australia they had known completely changed, just by changing the head of state. But Labor never came into this place and dropped a second reading speech, introduced a whole package of bills and then allocated a remarkably short period of time in which to address such an important issue. No; the debate is still taking place, both in this place and in the wider community, as it properly should; but less than 18 hours of debate is totally unacceptable for a package of bills that will affect every Australian, no matter what their age, for the next generation.

I do not like to say it, but the Leader of the House should be ensuring that if necessary this place sits again next week so that the debate on the package can continue. There has been much talk about the government's so-called mandate on the GST. Ever since 1996, we seem to have been infested with this endless talk of mandate. The Prime Minister said in this place on 15 September 1987:

. . . when people vote at an election they do not vote on only one issue. The mandate theory of politics from the point of view of proper analysis has always been absolutely phoney.

It would appear that there is a little more considered thought given to such matters when one sits on the opposition benches! I remember that the Labor Party had a mandate in 1975, but the then opposition did whatever it could—and the present Prime Minister was part of that effort—to deny the Whitlam government its mandate.

I have a mandate from the people of Throsby to oppose and vote against the package of bills. On 3 October 1998, after weeks of campaigning, over 42,000 people voted for me and the Labor Party. The Liberal candidate obtained just over 11,000 votes. When the two-party preferred vote is included, I obtained 49,877 votes or 73 per cent, and my Liberal opponent obtained 18,768 votes or just 27 per cent. By that reckoning, I have a mandate to oppose and vote against the GST, and this I will do. All of my colleagues on this side also have the same mandate.

During the election campaign I used to hold street stalls at the local Pinkies Market at Warrawong each Saturday morning. My campaign team also held street stalls around the Throsby electorate each Saturday morning. We got the same message from people as they walked out of corner stores with their newspapers, a carton of milk, fruit and vegetables and bread on those Saturday mornings. They did not like the GST. They did not want a GST and they still do not want a GST. The people whom I found were most angry with the GST were those who had escaped this insidious tax from their original homeland. I lost count of the number of people who told me they saw the way the GST operated in the UK and how it just kept going up. I lost count of the number who said to me, `We know all about the GST, Colin.'

The government is saying that we do not need to debate the GST because the issue has been around for 20 years. The debate has been around for 20 years, but the views of the Australian people have never wavered. Australians are no mugs when it comes to the hip pocket. Australians know that if this GST is passed, the Treasurer's hand will be in their pocket forever. Everything that is used and everything that is bought will be hit by a 10 per cent new tax. I am convinced that some people still do not realise that services are going to attract a 10 per cent tax. Every haircut, dentist visit, bus ride, train journey, movie ticket, sporting event and wedding ceremony—if it is a civil wedding ceremony—will be taxed at 10 per cent.

Australians are aware that the GST is unfair and regressive. They are aware that the more you have, the more you will retain under a GST but the less you have, the more you will be forced to give away. It is simple logic that the low and middle income earners in Australia spend a larger proportion of their wage and salary on the basic necessities of life. The government knows that this is true and the modelling that it consistently refuses to release to the public confirms that this is true.

The government appears to forget that we sat on the other side of this place for almost 14 years. We know where the files are and what the computer modelling shows on the GST. Australians also know that the rate of the GST will increase. We are not convinced that the GST can or will be locked in at a 10 per cent rate forever. Australians need only look overseas for the evidence. Particularly people who come here from the United Kingdom and other European countries endlessly reminded me of this fact during the campaign.

In the OECD, 21 out of 23 countries have increased the rate of the GST from what it was when the GST was first introduced. Denmark introduced it at 10 per cent; it is now a huge 25 per cent. Similarly, it has increased in New Zealand and in the United Kingdom. The government has put up a ridiculous proposition that it can manage what no other country in the OECD—bar only three countries—with a GST has been able to achieve. The government will seek to lock in the GST rate at 10 per cent by legislation and, if it is to be changed, it will require the agreement of all Australian premiers and the parliaments. As they say about state premiers, they will let nothing stand between them and a bucket of money.

We are told that the income tax on the worker will be reduced and that their personal income tax liability will be reduced. I believe that income tax rates could be reduced in the initial period for a couple of years but then they will be increased. Personal income tax will be increased and there will be a GST to boot.

As we are under time constraints I will draw my comments to a close. The only other thing I will say is that the government is obviously scared to have a proper debate on this GST. I keep faith with what the people of Throsby voted for me to do in October: I oppose this GST and the package that comes with it.

Debate (on motion by Mr Andrews) adjourned.