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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 26901

Mr EMERSON (4:22 PM) —Last night's budget and today's question time demonstrate in the clearest possible terms that this government will say anything and do anything to save its political bacon. It also demonstrates that what the Prime Minister and the Treasurer give with one hand they take back with the other. Nowhere was that more starkly demonstrated than in the figures provided in the budget last night on income tax which show that the tax cuts, which were much lauded, provided last year have already vanished—been gobbled up by the rising prices caused by the GST and gobbled up by bigger income tax receipts just one year later.

The reason that the government will say and do anything to save its political bacon is clearly demonstrated by this fact: tens of thousands of retirees, who today believe that they will get the benefits announced in the budget last night, will in fact get nothing. My colleague the member for Lilley has already demonstrated that tens of thousands of retirees will in fact get nothing, yet the media today talks about the golden oldies and how all these retirees are going to benefit. But they are being tricked again. This government is being tricky again. These tricky leopards never change their spots. It is pretty clear that they have a very bad track record of being tricky, saying anything and doing anything to get elected, because they did that before the last election, again misleading older Australians with statements such as these from the Prime Minister:

You get a $1,000 savings bonus for all people over the age of 60.

He said that on Perth radio on 25 August in 1998. He also said, on Brisbane radio on 18 August 1998:

... for every person 60 and over there will be a savings bonus—a one-off tax free payment of $1,000 in relation to any investment income that you might have ...

I repeat: he said `for every person 60 and over.' We know that thousands and thousands of people 60 and over missed out altogether; many got $1 and certainly very few got the full $1,000 that the Prime Minister told people that they would be getting. Similarly, with the four per cent pension rise—the much lauded four per cent pension rise—they did not say that they were going to claw two per cent of that back. In the document Tax reform: not a new tax, a new tax system of 23 August 1998, it says that `social security and veterans pensions will be boosted by 4 per cent'. Similar statements were made by the Prime Minister. What the government is really saying is that you need to read the fine print: `You must read the fine print because that's a qualification on what we say. And if you don't read the fine print, it's a fair cop because we've tricked you.'

The fact is that the government hopes that retirees—who in fact will get nothing out of the announcements last night—will not realise this, that they will not read the fine print until after the election, at which point they hope to be able to say, `Ha, ha, we tricked you. We won the election. You should have read the fine print.'

It is a fact, though the Prime Minister has sought not to answer this particular part of the question, that retiring politicians, as a result of the budget announcements of last night, will get a pensioner card and they will get a $17.20 a quarter telephone allowance. Why should retiring government members be able to get a pensioner card and a phone allowance? This is the Prime Minister's idea of fairness. This is his idea of need—that retiring government members should be able to get these benefits, yet age pensioners are supposed to be thankful that they will get $300 of the $1,000 that the Prime Minister promised them before the last election. Without qualification, he said, `Every Australian will get $1,000.' Now these pensioners are supposed to say, `Oh well, that's okay. You promised $1,000. We're very grateful that we're going to get $300, and now we're going to vote for you.' It is yet another in a litany of broken promises on the part of this government. How can that possibly be fair, that a retiring politician gets a pensioner card and a phone allowance, yet pensioners will only get $300 of the $1,000 that they were promised?

This is a government that is very unfair indeed. It has acquiesced to tax avoidance at the big end of town. Remember when the government said, `Look, we're going to have another look at the entity taxation regime, at family trusts. We're going to have another look at that because we might have got the exposure draft a little bit wrong, but what we're going to do, absolutely certainly, is make sure that there's no rorting there, make sure that there's no tax avoidance.' Well, on page 39 of Budget Measures 2001-02—that is, Budget Paper No. 2—they have actually costed what they are doing in relation to family trusts, the entity regime. It is a cost of $1,125 million over four years. That is the extent of the abandonment of any pretence at doing anything about tax avoidance through the use of trusts. It was all pretty well anticipated by Access Economics in their Budget Monitor, released just the other day. In that document, Access Economics says:

In 2001-02, the expected addition to revenue from ATO challenges to aggressive tax planning schemes is now threatened by rapid back-peddling (with a high concentration of individuals benefiting from these schemes lucky enough to live in marginal electorates).

What they are saying and what is the truth is that this government is for the big end of town. It is to make the rich get richer. The poor are getting squeezed and the middle are getting squeezed as a result of these policies, yet here is the government saying, `Oh, but this time you must believe us. We are really looking after older Australians.' But older Australians will realise that many of them, if not most, will miss out on these benefits that were announced last night, and they are going to be very angry over the next few days when they come to realise that they will miss out. This is a government that will say anything and do anything to get re-elected. It is a government that gives with one hand and takes with the other. It is a government that has already put into the budget the sale of Telstra. Make no mistake—this government is going to sell Telstra. That is an unqualified, unconditional commitment in the budget because it is in the budget—the figures are there.

It is about time this tricky government came clean. It is about time they showed a bit of fairness. I finish my remarks with relation to the measures contained in the legislation before us today about prisoners of war. Of course we support the measures in relation to Australians who were interned in Japanese prisoner of war camps. But there were many Australian soldiers who were also in prisoner of war camps in Italy and in Germany. My father was one of those. He died in 1978, and so there is no suggestion that there was any entitlement in relation to my father, because he has died. A 60-year commemoration was held just the other day for people who were captured in Crete and taken to POW camps. My father was one of those. Surely, for those people who are still alive, on the basis of fairness you would think that the government would have said that they too are deserving of this payment. But no; yet again they are setting one group against another, just as they do more generally when they say, `All right; we're going to look after you, but we're not going to look after them.' Why set Australian against Australian? Why have this warped sense of equity, where you look after one group and then say to another, `No; you're not entitled to get anything'?

As people come to realise the full impact of this budget and the full extent of the trickery in this budget, it will unravel on this government. There is no doubt on earth about that. People will be even angrier at a government that has been described by its own people, by Shane Stone, as mean, tricky and out of touch. This budget demonstrates once and for all that the government has learnt nothing from the Shane Stone memorandum and that it is indeed mean, tricky and out of touch and will say and do anything to save its political bacon.