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Wednesday, 9 December 1998
Page: 1766

Mr WAKELIN (7:50 PM) —It seems to have escaped the attention of our political opponents that on 3 October the Australian people actually voted the Howard government back into government. We won by a very clear majority. We now have this equivocation and this chasing of rabbits down burrows to justify Labor's loss and the reason they cannot support a new tax system. It is not only me who says that. Let us look at the reason the Australian people did not support the Labor Party on 3 October. Let us look at what they thought of Labor's tax promises. Terry McCrann, business writer at the Herald Sun , said:

If you vote for Labor on October 3, you will be voting for higher taxes.

I know that the people at the steelworks at Whyalla understood that very clearly. That is why in the town of Whyalla—not a town you normally would expect to vote for me—I had a positive vote.

You would, I guess, expect the New South Wales Farmers Association to support the government's package, not that they are always supportive of everything the government does. But in this case, with the emphasis on exports, they did. They were quoted on 27 August as being `very supportive of the government package'. Let us look at what the Queensland Council of Social Services said. They said:

There's very little in there for families who don't have anyone in the work force. We are disappointed that this package has not gone far enough in terms of reforming the tax system.

And so it goes on with many other remarks condemning Labor's tax package. I could quote many people who supported the coalition's tax reform plan, but perhaps the most outstanding quote is by former Labor minister Gary Johns.

Mr Laurie Ferguson interjecting

Mr WAKELIN —He is one of your own—you can't run away from that. On 20 August 1998, Gary Johns said:

I'm coming down firmly on the side of the Howard government tax package because it is the sort of package that Labor will have to introduce at some stage in the future. Any honest, decent government would.

That is really what Paul Keating was about back in the eighties when, as Treasurer, he decided to do something decent for Australia. But the vested interests beat him.

The great thing about the coalition is that, although we lost the election in 1993 as a result of a very dishonest campaign, we took this proposal to the last election and we won. Surely we now have the right to expect the Senate and this House to pass this legislation.

Tonight we have heard a lot about social equity. We have heard a lot about how people cannot afford housing and rent, and other such matters. But how short are the memories of our opponents? A very short time ago in this country interest rates were at 15 per cent when people wanted to buy a house. That was when Labor was in government. The rate is currently between six and seven per cent, making houses as affordable as they have been over the last two generations, I would suggest. As far as the issue of social equity is concerned, I do not think there is a greater social equity issue than the opportunity to be employed. Access to the opportunity to defeat poverty comes from the opportunity to have a job. If you think the current tax system will maximise those opportunities, then I do not think there is very much hope for the Australian Labor Party. We have to face up to the fact, as Gary Johns did, that we need a new tax regime in this country to give Australians the opportunity to invest, create and employ.

We could go on at great length about the various components of this package which have been canvassed here over the last few hours. But let me remind the House that we have a plan for Australia: 10 of Labor's hidden taxes will be scrapped; we will have cheaper fuel; there will be less paperwork and less red tape; there will be removal of indirect taxes on inputs; income tax cuts for all; provisional tax will be replaced with a new, fairer pay-as-you-go system; there will be significant cashflow increase for business; there will be more capital gains tax relief and overall we will have a stronger Australian economy.

I come to the issue of the Senate. This government has had almost three years of a very successful economic record which is well and truly on the board for all to see. Let us have a look at the record of the Senate, that obstructionist other place which, for those in opposition, has to carve out a place for itself in the sun. Let us look at what the Democrats propose. They said in the election campaign that they would probably support a new tax system. Now they are demanding, along with the opposition, a whole series of obstructive Senate committee hearings. Let us look at what the Democrats are saying about the exemption of food. They say they want food exempted from the GST but they expect there will be an increased compliance cost for some retail businesses.

To offset this effect they say, `We propose a modest collection reimbursement scheme where small businesses required to exempt food will be paid an amount equal to 0.2 per cent of the retail turnover, and for large businesses 0.1 per cent of retail turnover, to offset the higher collection fees.' What a remarkable thing to say. On the one hand they say they support tax reform and then in the same breath they say, `but we want to reimburse business'. They want to give small business a couple of hundred dollars per year for the extra book work and they want to give the bigger companies millions of dollars for the extra administration costs. This is the whole point of a new tax system.

If we look at our current tax system, we remember that we have seven wholesale sales tax rates. Remember that in 1936 the Income Tax Act had 120 pages. Now it has 3,300 pages and has doubled in size over the last seven years. Yet the Democrats' contribution is to say, `We will give small business a couple of hundred dollars to administer the exemption on food.'

Like the previous government speakers, particularly the member for Indi, I request, demand, and I think we have every right to expect this House to support this legislation. The Senate needs to have a good hard look at it and to do the right thing for Australia. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.