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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 26854

Mr SNOWDON (12:14 PM) —Firstly, let me compliment the initiative to pay POWs and civilian detainees from the Pacific theatre $25,000. I join with my colleague the member for Cowan in his comments about the tardiness of this response and the fact that it should have been addressed many years ago by previous governments—that is, governments of both political persuasions. So I am pleased to be able to support it.

I think it is worth acknowledging by those of my generation whose parents or relatives—in my case my father and his brothers—served in the Pacific theatre that many of their colleagues never came back. It is interesting and tragic to note that, of the 22,000 Australians who were captured in the Pacific war, 36 per cent or 8,031 of them died in captivity. Perhaps the centenary of our Federation is an appropriate time to remember the contribution that these Australians made for us 60 years ago.

As the member for Cowan pointed out, we should also be wanting to recollect that no less a sacrifice was made by other Australians in the European theatre and around the Mediterranean, yet this legislation does not acknowledge them. This will cause a division which need not be caused in the ranks of returned service men and women and returned prisoners of war. What is the purpose of this artificial division? A large number of Australians, members of the AIF, were captured in North Africa, 2,000-plus were captured in Greece and 3,100-plus were captured in Crete. Why are they of less value in terms of recognition for their service as prisoners of war than those who served in the Pacific theatre? We do not need this artificial division.

I ask the government to reconsider its position and extend this generous offer, this generous payment, to all ex-POWs and civilian internees regardless of where they were imprisoned or interned. That would seem to me to be something which the Australian community would say was fair and reasonable and also warranted. I say to the government that this needs to be taken further. I also note the comment made by the member for Cowan on the question of deeming: whether or not this payment will attract tax at some point during its life in the hands of its recipients. It ought not at any point attract tax. Whether it is invested in a bank or anywhere else, it should be free from taxation. If someone goes out and spends it today, that is a choice. They also have the choice of investing it, and we should not see them penalised because they make that choice.

I also want to make comment about other aspects of this legislation, and specifically the $300 payment, this bonus which, as the shadow minister has pointed out, is too little and too late. For pensioners and for all Australians, the GST is not a one-off tax; as the shadow minister said, it is a life sentence. Its impact upon Australians of all levels is greater or smaller depending where you live. I welcome the fact that the government is now repudiating the absurd $1,000 which was never delivered to the people it promised it would deliver it to, and that now it is gratuitously giving back $300. We welcome this, but it does not go far enough. If you live in the electorate of the Northern Territory, you know for a start that you have higher costs of living than people living in other parts of Australia. In February 1999 I had cause to make comment about this fact as it affected people living in remote parts of the Northern Territory. Imagine yourself, Madam Deputy Speaker, as a pensioner living in north-east Arnhem Land. At that time a vegetable basket of goods that cost an average of $100 in capital cities across Australia cost $212 in north-east Arnhem Land. The GST, of course, is a regressive tax, so the more things cost you the more tax you pay. So people living in outlying areas in regional Australia, where costs are higher, pay more GST than other Australians. It follows, does it not, logically and inevitably, that if you are a pensioner living in these parts of Australia you are paying more tax as a result of the GST than your counterparts who live elsewhere in Australia. This is a con. Welcome as it is, it goes no way towards addressing the long-term impacts of the GST on the lives of pensioners, regardless of where they live, and most particularly on the lives of those people living in remote and regional areas, where the costs of living are so much higher than they are for people living elsewhere in Australia. I just make that observation.

It is instructive for me to see people in this place representing electorates in Sydney and Melbourne raising it as a grave concern that the price of fuel is approaching a dollar. They rightly say that this impacts upon the quality of life of people living in our community, particularly pensioners and other low income earners. A dollar! Just imagine what its impact is when the price of fuel is $1.80 or $2 a litre, which is the case in some parts of Northern Australia.

There is nothing in this budget to alleviate the stupendous costs that the GST imposes on these Australians. This one-off $300 is welcome but it is a momentary cause of some euphoria. When people get the $300 in the mail, it will be used—there is no question about that—but it will go no way to paying the compensation that is required for the negative impacts of this horrific, regressive tax on people who live in remote and rural Australia and who are pensioners and low income earners.

I recall that when the government came to power it said that it was going to defend the battlers. It has not defended the battlers in my electorate—it has crucified them. It has not defended the pensioners in my electorate—it has crucified them. It said that it was going to introduce a fair tax. It is not a fair tax. It creates division and alienation. It is a direct result of policies brought forward by the government—by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. We are seeing the top end of town being rewarded and the poorer in Australia—the strugglers and the battlers—being penalised. It is not a fair tax. Whilst I welcome the recognition by the government, partial though it is, through the proposals before us this morning, of the negative impacts of the GST, it has a long way to go. And if it thinks that in regional Australia these measures are going to turn around the negative sentiment towards the government and the GST, it is sadly mistaken.