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Thursday, 18 February 1999
Page: 3163

Mr BARTLETT (11:17 AM) —It has been quite amusing sitting here listening to the rantings of the member for Wills and, before him, the member for Hotham. Particularly amusing were the comments of the member for Wills about Labor's supposed intention to do something about bank fees and charges. I remind those opposite that for 13 years Labor had the opportunity to do something about bank fees and charges. Did they do it in year one? No. Did they do it in year 2? No. Did they do it in year 3? No. Did they do it in year 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 or 13? No. One week before the 1996 election the then Treasurer, Ralph Willis, came out with a press release saying that if they were re-elected in their 14th year they would do something about bank fees and charges. It is the old Labor line: `We couldn't do it in year one, we couldn't do it in year 2, we couldn't do it in any of our 13 years, but give us another go in our 14th year and maybe we'll get around to doing something about it.'

This morning's rantings by those opposite are typical. We had from the member for Wills the same tired, hypocritical line about the supposed 10 per cent tax on everything. The member for Wills failed to mention Labor's 12 per cent hidden tax, Labor's 22 per cent hidden tax, Labor's 32 per cent hidden tax, Labor's 37 per cent hidden tax, Labor's 41 per cent hidden tax or Labor's 45 five percent hidden tax. If the rantings of the member for Wills were amusing, the member for Hotham who spoke before him really takes the cake. I was particularly interested when the member for Hotham had the gall to mention fiscal responsibility. The member for Hotham mentioning fiscal responsibility! He was a member of the frontbench of the former government that in its last five years blew out Commonwealth government debt from $30 billion to $97 billion, a government that more than trebled Commonwealth government debt in its last five years, a government that left us with a $10 billion deficit that this government has already, in the last two years, turned into a surplus.

The member for Hotham also had the gall to talk about interest rates. His government gave us the highest interest rates we had had for decades, home loan rates up to 18 per cent and small business loan rates close to 25 per cent. In just one term this government, the coalition government, has delivered the lowest interest rates in 30 years. Home loan rates are at about 6½ per cent, saving the average home buyer $300 a month, and business rates are down to less than 10 per cent.

The member for Hotham had to the gall to talk about inflation when Labor's inflation over its 13 years averaged 5.2 per cent. This government has already, in the last three years, brought inflation down to an average of one per cent. I could go on. Under Labor real wage growth averaged 0.5 per cent. Under the coalition it has already averaged 2½ per cent. Under Labor for 13 years unemployment averaged 8.7 per cent. Under this government unemployment is already down to 7.5 per cent. Under Labor for 13 years productivity growth averaged 1.5 per cent. Under the coalition it is already averaging three per cent.

When it comes to managing the economy, when it comes to reducing unemployment, when it comes to jobs growth, when it comes to reducing interest rates, when it comes to getting inflation down, when it comes to strong GDP growth, when it comes to good productivity growth and when it comes to ensuring real wage growth the coalition has the runs on the board. Labor was out for a duck. They were in the dressing-room pacing up and down, ranting and raving, trying to tell us that they knew better how to run the economy. We have the runs on the board. They were out for a duck because they could not keep their eyes on the ball.

This bill before the House is an essential part of this government's tax reform package; an essential part of tax reform which will continue this strong economic management, which will continue strong GDP growth, which will continue employment growth, which will continue to put downward pressure on interest rates, which will continue to give our exporters a fair go and a competitive edge and which will continue to give our families and our workers a fairer tax system that they need and that they deserve. It is this government's determination to provide an equitable, efficient, transparent and workable tax system—something that we did not see under 13 years of Labor and something that Labor is trying to prevent us introducing.

This bill ensures protection for consumers. It is part of the government's commitment to introducing a tax package which will ensure that consumers in this country, buyers of goods and services, are adequately protected and are not affected unduly by the tax changes. This measure is in addition to the other benefits that this tax package will introduce: benefits that will reduce marginal tax rates significantly so that 80 per cent of Australian workers will be on marginal tax rates of 30 per cent or less; measures which will bring about income tax cuts of $13 billion for Australian workers; tax reforms which remove some of the many tax loopholes that Labor wants to keep, that will remove many of the anomalies at the interface between welfare and work.

These tax reforms will remove Labor's hidden wholesale sales tax that has rates of 12 per cent, 22 per cent, 32 per cent, 37 per cent, 41 per cent and 45 per cent that they do not want you to know about. This tax package will reduce compliance costs for small business. It will remove totally that iniquitous provisional tax, remove the PPS tax, remove the RPS tax, and will give small business a fair go. This tax package will remove the unfair competitive disadvantage that importers have over Australian producers and it will give a fair go to our export industries.

This bill ensures that prices are controlled. It ensures that consumers are protected, that any price rises as a result of the introduction of these tax changes will be limited and that the removal of the 12 per cent, the 22 per cent, the 32 per cent and the 45 per cent indirect taxes will actually have a downward pressure on prices.

This bill commits $27 million to the ACCC to monitor prices over the next three years, starting in July this year. It gives the ACCC the power to monitor prices. It gives them the power to ensure that there are no excess price increases and to ensure that appropriate price reductions occur because of the removal of Labor's hidden wholesale sales tax. It gives the ACCC power to issue notices to corporations specifying maximum prices which can be charged and it gives the ACCC, significantly, powers to impose fines for breaches of those instructions—fines of up to $500,000 for non-corporations and up to $10 million for corporations. The government is serious about protecting consumers. The government is serious about introducing a fair, workable and transparent tax system. The government is taking no chances here. The government is absolutely committed to delivering a fair system.

I point out the comparison between this government's honesty and determination in this matter compared with Labor's dishonesty and deceit after the 1993 election. Straight after that election, despite campaigning against indirect taxes, they added two per cent to every indirect tax in the country. The 10 per cent rate went up to 12 per cent. The 20 per cent rate went up to 22 per cent. The 33 per cent rate went up to 35 per cent. And what did they do in terms of compensation? Nothing. What did they do to ensure that that did not flow through to prices? Nothing. They did nothing to protect consumers. They snuck in those extra taxes with no compensation and no protection. What did they give us instead? Instead of giving any protection, they took away their promised l-a-w tax cuts. That is typical of Labor's deceit and Labor's track record on the whole issue of taxation.

This bill is part of an essential tax reform measure which will provide $13 billion in income tax cuts to Australians, which will simplify the indirect tax base, which will remove 10 of Labor's hidden indirect taxes—a tax reform which will deliver fairness, simplicity, transparency, efficiency and incentive to Australian workers.

I am appalled, as most Australians are, at the obstructionism by Labor and at the obstructionism by the Democrats in the Senate, at their refusal to allow us to introduce a tax system that we took to the electorate, and a tax system that will bring about these much needed changes in Australia. And I am not the only one. I suggest that those opposite might like to look at yesterday's comments in the media about their obstructionism. The Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, for instance, says this about the obstructionism by Labor and the Democrats in the Senate. Yesterday's editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald said:

Tax reform, including the introduction of a broad-based goods and services tax (GST), was a central plank of the Government's 1998 election campaign platform. Voters knew the options and decided in favour of the Government's package. For the Democrats to obstruct a vote on the tax reform legislation—

and can I add, for Labor to obstruct a vote on the tax reform legislation—

until after July 1 is nothing more than an attempt to impose the tyranny of the minority on the popularly elected government of the day.

This is the Sydney Morning Herald speaking about the dishonest tyranny of obstruction by the Democrats, aided and abetted by the Labor Party in the Senate. This editorial went on to say:

Most academic economists, both major parties, all States, business groups and even the welfare lobby agree that a fundamental overhaul of the tax system is overdue. Delaying it now will make it even less likely to be achieved after July 1.

The editorial then went on to say:

Has he—

Mr Beazley—

forgotten that he lost the last election? It is time for the Opposition and the Democrats to stop insulting the electorate and for the Senate to wind up its inquiry and allow the tax reform package to be passed.

I think that editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald says it all about Labor's and the Democrats' obstruction. I add a comment that was in the Financial Review yesterday from Angela Ryan, the Director, Taxation, of the Australian Society of Certified Practising Accountants. This comment is about the impact that such a delay might have on small business. Angela Ryan talks about the submission that their association made to the Senate inquiry. She said:

We made it plain in our submission and in evidence presented to the Senate Committee that there needs to be a smooth and orderly transition to the GST—

A smooth and orderly transition; that is what this government wants. That is what the Democrats and the Labor Party are opposed to. Angela Ryan goes on to say:

This requires that the GST Bills attain passage according to the announced timetable of June 30, 1999, to allow business to prepare for the GST.

. . . . . . . . .

If that transition is elongated because of a delay in the passage of the legislation, this could literally mean the difference between survival and bankruptcy for many businesses.

I repeat: the difference between survival and bankruptcy for many businesses. She goes on to say:

It is critical that passage of the legislation occurs as soon as possible to allow for 12 months between the passing of the legislation and its implementation—an absolute minimum based on overseas experience.

She concludes by saying:

In short, it is essential for the survival of many businesses that the GST receives passage by June 30, and that the tax take effect from July 1, 2000.

She says it is essential for the survival of many businesses. It is an indictment of Labor and the Democrats that they do not care about the survival of small business. They are willing to pursue their own hypocritical, political, obstructionist agenda which jeopardises the survival of small businesses in this country, and which therefore jeopardises the job opportunities of thousands, and possibly tens of thousands, of Australians. It is shameful for Labor and the Democrats to take this approach which will so jeopardise small business and job opportunities.

Labor's approach, and the approach of the Democrats, is pure, superficial, hypocritical point scoring. If they were concerned about taxpayers in this country, they would want to allow a tax cut package which would deliver $13 billion to Australian workers. They would want to stand aside from those hidden taxes, oncosts and burdens that so impede our exporters and small businesses. They would want to stand aside and allow us to change those indirect taxes that are such a burden on ordinary Australian families.

This tax package which the coalition is putting forward is the only way ahead for this country. It will address the problem of a shrinking tax base. It will address the problem of ordinary income earners being pushed into higher and higher income tax brackets. It will address the burdens on small business. It will promote GDP growth and jobs growth. It is the only answer for a stable, secure economy.

The coalition government has the runs on the board when it comes to managing the economy. The coalition government wants to get on with the job of managing the economy for the good of all Australians. It is time that Labor and the Democrats stood aside, listened to the will of the Australian people and let us get on with the job.