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- Start of Business
- MINISTERIAL ARRANGEMENTS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Timor Gap Treaty: Interim Arrangements
(Brereton, Laurie, MP, Downer, Alexander, MP)
East and West Timor: Displaced Persons
(Andrews, Kevin, MP, Downer, Alexander, MP)
Business Tax Reform: Trusts
(Crean, Simon, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Business Tax Reform: Capital Gains
(Georgiou, Petro, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Business Tax Reform: Charities
(Crean, Simon, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Rural and Regional Australia: New Apprenticeships Program
(Brough, Mal, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
Republic Referendum: Proposed Model
(Andren, Peter, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Goods and Services Tax: Price Rises
(Bartlett, Kerry, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
- Timor Gap Treaty: Interim Arrangements
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Goods and Services Tax: Site Fees
(Albanese, Anthony, MP, Anthony, Larry, MP)
Employment and Unemployment: Policies
(Billson, Bruce, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Goods and Services Tax: Charitable and Non-Profit Organisations
(Swan, Wayne, MP, Bishop, Bronwyn, MP)
Social Security: Fraud
(May, Margaret, MP, Anthony, Larry, MP)
(Griffin, Alan, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Natural Heritage Trust: Native Environment
(Lindsay, Peter, MP, Tuckey, Wilson, MP)
Health: MRI Scans
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Tourism: Overseas Visitors
(Charles, Bob, MP, Kelly, Jackie, MP)
Health: MRI Scans
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Rural and Regional Australia: Government Support
(Lawler, Tony, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
Health: MRI Scans
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Centenary of the Boer War
(Ronaldson, Michael, MP, Scott, Bruce, MP)
- Goods and Services Tax: Site Fees
- AUDITOR-GENERAL'S REPORTS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- ASSENT TO BILLS
- MAIN COMMITTEE
- MATTERS REFERRED TO MAIN COMMITTEE
- BILLS RETURNED FROM THE SENATE
- APPROPRIATION (SUPPLEMENTARY MEASURES) BILL (No. 1) 1999
- APPROPRIATION (SUPPLEMENTARY MEASURES) BILL (No. 2) 1999
- FURTHER 1998 BUDGET MEASURES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (SOCIAL SECURITY) BILL 1999
- TELECOMMUNICATIONS (INTERCEPTION) AMENDMENT BILL 1999
- DIESEL AND ALTERNATIVE FUELS GRANTS SCHEME (ADMINISTRATION AND COMPLIANCE) BILL 1999
- Melbourne: Western Suburbs
- Australian Citizenship: 50th Anniversary
- Canning Electorate: Road Train Trial
- Health and Medical Research
- Six Billion People Day
- Australian Defence Force: Crocodile 99
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Department of Health and Aged Care: Payments to Organisations
(Bevis, Arch, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Department of Health and Aged Care: Library Services
(Crosio, Janice, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Pensions: Disability Support
(Latham, Mark, MP, Anthony, Larry, MP)
Broadcasting: Advertising Complaints
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Hockey, Joe, MP)
- Department of Health and Aged Care: Payments to Organisations
Tuesday, 12 October 1999
Mr CREAN (5:57 PM) —The Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grants Scheme (Administration and Compliance) Bill 1999 is another botched implementation measure of the GST deal. It is a fascinating piece of legislation as well, because it introduces the notion of conurbations but does not define them, it extends the nightmare on main street that was the GST to a nightmare on highway 1 and it introduces dipsticks as the armoury of the diesel fuel police in ensuring that this measure can be carried out.
The exercise that preceded the Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grants Scheme (Administration and Compliance) Bill 1999 debate was a shameful one. The National Party first of all deceived the bush and then capitulated to the Liberal Party. Then the Democrats capitulated to the Prime Minister, who then dudded the National Party. It was a nice little three-way double deal. As Peter Garrett said, it was a dirty deal done dirt cheap. The then leader of the National Party, Mr Fischer, originally said that he would support a GST only if fuel excise were abolished. But he reneged on that pledge, as the fuel credit scheme that was announced by the government in fact retained fuel excise. This meant no reduction in petrol tax for ordinary motorists and an increase in the city-country price differential—a bad deal for country Australia. But that is only the beginning of it.
The government promised a whole package of measures on diesel which it has reneged on. This House recently dealt with legislation where the government was trying to renege on a deal cut with the Democrats to get the GST through. The Prime Minister used the diesel fuel rebate in the forestry industry as a bargaining chip in order to fool the Democrats. He promised to cut the diesel fuel rebate to foresters to secure Democrat support for the GST, and now he has reneged on that deal. This legislation is one more step in the government ratting on the promises it made to the road transport industry.
The former Leader of the National Party promised that he would resign if he did not deliver the full diesel promise. The deal done with the Democrats ensured that he did not deliver on that promise. He has since resigned for different reasons, but the truth is that, if he were true to his word, he should have done it anyway. The current Leader of the National Party also promised that he would resign if the deal was not delivered. He has not resigned, but he has reneged on the deal as well. This Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grant Scheme came about because the deal with the Democrats was unconstitutional. The deal was so bad that it was against the Constitution—it was against the Constitution to divide the nation into city and country regions and to impose differential tax regimes. That is how the government originally wanted to do it, but they could not.
So we are left with this uncertainty surrounding the grant scheme. The government could not do what they wanted to do through the tax mechanism because of the differentiation between rural and city, so they came up with this scheme. It is the second piece of legislation concerning the diesel grant scheme. The first piece was introduced at 9.30 one night and debated at 9.30 the following morning. That in itself was an absolute disgrace because Labor and the public should have been entitled to have the opportunity to dissect that bill and fully understand it before it was dealt with in the House. Because of the confusion surrounding the scheme, the government could not give us details on it at the time. This is what happens when you rush things through—when you rush through what has been a deal done on the run to secure a GST at any cost.
We remember Tim Fischer, the then Leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister, saying to us, when we asked about the further detail, `Wait, it is all going to be explained in the explanatory memorandum.' He said that everything would be revealed therein. We waited for the explanatory memorandum and it revealed that the government did not know what the scheme that they had agreed to was actually all about. The government wanted us to pass that legislation and then wait for months until they worked out how it was to be applied through administrative arrangements. The truth is that we have been cooperative as an opposition, and we want to try to end the confusion for the road transport industry. On that basis, we reluctantly agreed to that approach, flawed as it was.
Tonight we have before us the next piece of legislation, which is supposed to deal with these administrative issues—the issues that they said would be cleared up later. But what do we find? We find that this legislation still does not end the confusion. Rather, it defers yet again the issue of the boundaries between the city and the country—the so-called urban conurbation boundary lines. The definition of those boundaries is critical because journeys by vehicles, by trucks, wholly within the conurbation do not get the grant—they do not get the concession that now has to be given in a grant form. If they cross any part of the conurbation, they can qualify for the whole of the grant. If you understand that point, you understand that the definition of the conurbation is actually critical. Without it, the scheme is meaningless. Yet now the second piece of legislation is before us and we still do not have the definition of those boundaries. What incompetence—deals done on the run and still total uncertainty.
Apart from the difficulty in the definition—which we say is critical and which we say, without it, is a meaningless proposal—it gets worse because the new scheme imposes a huge new compliance burden on transport operators. It involves more paperwork, more record keeping requirements, more expense in seeking professional advisers to navigate through the red tape and the potential for penalties if people make mistakes. So not only do the small transport businesses have to contend with the GST compliance nightmare and all of the compliance burden that that entails—which the Treasurer himself coined as the nightmare on main street—but these businesses get the double whammy because they get the next instalment: a nightmare on highway 1.
Since June, Labor has been asking: what are the areas that qualify for the grant and what are the areas that do not? We have had many examples raised in this House—questions about where people can locate their transport operations to take advantage of the scheme by operating just outside of the conurbation and coming into the capital city. We are constantly told that it will be explained soon. However, each time that has occurred, we find nothing but continued silence and a continued inability to answer from the government.
Transport operators have the right to be able to plan their businesses with certainty. This government is not giving them that certainty. They have a right to expect that governments set out the rules simply and with adequate time to prepare for them. It is now more than four months since the dirty deal was struck with the Democrats, yet we still do not have the detail of the scheme—even though it is a scheme that the government has costed down to the last million dollars. How can the government do that, unless it has an idea of what these boundaries are?
Either the government know exactly where the boundaries are between those that get the grant and those that are discriminated against and they are not going to tell anyone, or they still do not have any idea of what they have agreed with the Democrats and they have just made up the figures. Either they are hiding the truth from the Australian people because they are worried about what a nightmare they are going to impose on the transport industry or they have no idea, in which case how can they seriously depend upon the rigour of the figures associated with the Prime Minister's press release? It is for these reasons that I move the second reading amendment which has been circulated in my name:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House condemns the Government for:
(1) continuing the uncertainty in the transport industry by not releasing the details of the boundaries of urban conurbations for the purposes of the Diesel and Alternative Fuels Grants Scheme (the Scheme);
(2) not disclosing, prior to the last election, the new powers being proposed for the Commissioner of Taxation to stop, detain and search vehicles;
(3) imposing a complex new layer of administration on transport operators in connection with the Scheme, in addition to the new compliance burden associated with the Goods and Services Tax; and
(4) its failure to disclose the basis of its claims that the programs agreed with the Democrats will counter the greenhouse gas increasing effects of the Scheme."
Since June, in this House, we have asked repeated questions about how the nightmare will work. We never get any answers. All of the transport operators who live and work around urban centres have a right to know whether they will qualify, yet they are being kept in the dark. There is important new information in this bill but, as usual, there are more questions posed than answered.
There are the record keeping requirements, for example. These impose the new red tape for the grants. If you fail to satisfy the provisions of clause 18, you do not qualify for any grant. We now know that, but what we do not know is what you have to do to satisfy the clause. As usual, in this legislation the detail is not specified but is deferred to a determination not yet issued by the tax commissioner. So we do not know what the record keeping requirements are in order for people to qualify for the grants. On top of that, we still do not know which journeys will qualify for the grant.
But there are new provisions which are complete. These are the new powers of the diesel police. These are the new powers that transport operators will now face. This bill allows virtually unlimited access to premises. It creates an offence if people do not comply exactly. But that is not all. This bill also creates new powers for the tax commissioner to stop vehicles and to search them. So this is legislation that sets up the diesel police.
First of all, we have the GST police. They are armed with the thermometers, going around the food stalls determining, when food goes from hot to cold, whether or not the GST applies. Now we are equipping the diesel police with the dipstick. There they will be, out on the pillbox on the border of the conurbation, dipstick in pocket, stopping the vehicle, sticking in this dipstick to work out how much the vehicle has used coming across the border. Not only will they have dipsticks but they will have the power to search and seize. You would have to be a dipstick to introduce this proposal—that is the truth of it. This is absolute madness. This is what happens when you cobble together something on the run.
Truck drivers in Australia will now face unprecedented intrusion in their businesses—indeed, in their personal affairs. You can just imagine the truck driver who has been on a long haul. He arrives home later than normal. The wife is at the door. `Hello, dear. Why are you so late?' He says, `The tax commissioner was there on the highway. He jumped out of the pillbox and ordered my truck to be stopped and searched. I've just experienced the nightmare on highway 1—one of many. For the last few hours, they've tried hard to work out what needs to be done. This is what Labor warned would happen and the government said wouldn't.' The wife then looks behind him and says, `You've brought someone home for dinner.' He says, `Well, not exactly, but since the tax commissioner believes that there are some documents here relating to the diesel grants scheme he has decided to enter the home and stay here for "a reasonable time".' The tax commissioner can do that because clause 47 of the bill enables him to. By the way, he does not just visit for a reasonable time. According to clause 47(2)(d), he has a right to inspect, examine, count, measure, weigh, gauge, test or analyse any such goods or other property on those premises to that end and, to that end, take samples.
What a lovely little piece of administration this is. This is all about putting the diesel dipstick into place. We have got such a complicated system that, firstly, we do not know what the boundaries are and, secondly, we have the diesel police not just with the dipstick but with a search warrant going in and occupying the house and undertaking all of this investigation. But don't worry about that, this is all part of this brave new world the Treasurer has talked about—you do not have to cook him dinner; you just let him run through the house and check and assess what he wants. The government is providing itself with all these new powers. It is imposing new requirements on transport operators, but it has not addressed any of the confusion it has caused with the deal done with the Democrats.
Why did the Democrats insist upon this as part of the overall dirty deal? They claim that their motivation was the environment. Let us have a brief look at the achievement on that. In essence, we had the Treasurer admitting that this was done because the Democrats:
. . . wanted to keep fumes and emissions down in capital cities, large cities and large conurbations. That is the agreement that we have reached to protect rural and regional Australia, help the trucking industry and reduce diesel excise.
That is what he said on 31 May when he was explaining this deal in amongst the thermometers in chooks, the packets of salad and all of the other crazy things that came out of this deal.
But, if that is what the Democrats sought to achieve, did they? They had an expert adviser, a Dr Clive Hamilton, from the Australia Institute advising them on this and other environmental issues. He was their expert to help them through their considerations, their negotiations, their deliberations with the government on the GST. What did he do? He examined what the government was offering the Democrats—this incomplete legislation we now have before the House—and advised them against it because it was a nonsense proposal in terms of protecting the environment and then he resigned when he saw that the Democrats were committed to it.
Dr Hamilton is a man of integrity and he refused to be associated with this dud deal. He knew that the Democrats were getting conned by the government, and he tried to warn them. But they did not listen. They did not care. They were going to shaft the community with the GST and shaft the urban environment as well. Their theory was: don't give the subsidy in the city because it will encourage diesel and air pollution. You might say on the face of it that is a worthy objective, but under the scheme the operator can still get it in the city so long as they travel outside the conurbation. No wonder Dr Hamilton resigned. These are dills who negotiated this deal, either unwittingly or prepared to be conned.
The fact that the truck operators would also face an administrative nightmare did not worry the Democrats either. So they did not succeed in their objective, which was supposed to be environmentally driven. In the process, they have imposed an administrative and compliance nightmare on diesel truck operators operating in the transport industry on top of the compliance nightmare that they have given them with the GST and the deal done on the GST. They were naive and they were gullible, but this is just the sort of people that the Prime Minister likes to prey on, and we have seen many examples of that.
But the truth of it is that the Australian transport industry is now having to bear the cost of these compromises. It is the industry that is going to have to deal with these nightmares, this confusion and this intrusion. As well as copping the paperwork and uncertainty, they now face unprecedented government powers. This is not what they expected when the government told them that they were going to introduce this brave new taxation world. They were told that this would be a simpler system. They were told that this would be a system that would give them benefits. This is not a simpler system and this does not give them benefits. The qualification in terms of the grant involves significant paperwork, significant policing and uncertainty about the boundaries in which they can qualify.
It is against that background that I have moved the second reading amendment. We believe that this is another example which highlights the haste that was undertaken in trying to implement and secure this deal. There are many of those examples, and we have used the House each time we have had the legislation before us. There have already been significant amendments to the original GST bills, and there are more to come. And there will continue to be more to come. This is not a simpler system. This bill before us today indicates the complexity that is going to be associated with this new tax regime.
This is something that the transport operators are going to have to come to grips with between now and when it is implemented in the middle of next year, but it is something they have not been given any assistance, any encouragement and any clarification on by the government. We will continue to expose the deficiencies in the government's legislation. We will continue to use the forms of the House to try to ensure that these problems do in some way get mitigated, but the fundamental point is that this is a bad deal for the transport industry, just as the GST was a bad deal for the Australian public.
We will have many more opportunities to highlight the deficiencies, but the Australian public should be very wary of what is in store for them. At the moment the government believe this is off the agenda—that they have got the deal through, it has been passed and legislation is coming forward and people will be happy as it gets implemented. They will not be happy with the implementation, because once they understand what it involves, how it impacts upon them and how it adversely impacts upon them they will have a very different view to the government's of the benefits of this legislation.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. D.H. Adams) —Is the amendment seconded?
Mr Emerson —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak at a later time.