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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 26906

Mr NAIRN (4:51 PM) —I am very pleased to speak in support of the Compensation (Japanese Internment) Bill 2001 and related bills. Being a member of parliament, it is always gratifying to feel that you are involved in something that provides assistance to a needy part of your constituency. Certainly these four bills address that, and it is very satisfying to be part of a government that has been able to get to a position where it can provide that additional assistance to a number of groups of people in our communities who thoroughly deserve it.

I find the attack from the ALP on these bills quite staggering. I think it has to do with guilt. I think that there is a huge amount of guilt on the Labor side of politics at the moment, because a number of people on the opposition benches in this parliament were part of the previous Labor administration which went through a number of years when inflation ran at a very high level. On average over the 13-year period, inflation ran at over five per cent. It was five per cent year after year after year. We all saw the emotion of slightly higher inflation last year during the transitional phase of the new tax system, but it was still only up around the lower levels of the inflation that occurred during many of the years of the Labor administration. At times, inflation under Labor was running at eight and nine per cent, but it averaged five per cent a year—year after year after year. Some of these people were part of that. Many of them were also part of the administration that went to an election in 1993 and said: `No new taxes at all and we will also give you a tax break. This is how we'll prove that we'll give it to you—we'll actually put it into legislation.' Then, after the 1993 election, not only did they renege on actually implementing it so that the tax breaks did not come but they actually increased taxes substantially, particularly in the wholesale sales tax area where wholesale sales taxes went from 10 per cent to 12 per cent, 20 per cent to 22 per cent and 30 per cent to 32 per cent.

The people who were hurt most in the situation of constant high inflation plus this big increase in tax after the 1993 election were people on fixed incomes and low incomes, pensioners and self-funded retirees. How much compensation did Labor give at the time? Not a red cent—not a single cent. They did not even talk about compensation; they did not even debate whether there should be some compensation for that group who were affected. What we are seeing now is this pouring out of guilt from the Labor Party because they know, when they think back to those years, how tough it was for that group of people, coping with those additional taxes and the high inflation where costs were going up constantly, and they gave them absolutely nothing.

Having been able to put the economy back into shape over the last few years, we are now able to give those groups a bit of help, and the Labor Party cannot handle it because they are seeing us do something that they would have dearly loved to have done themselves. The reason back in 1993-94 that they did not give any compensation to those groups was that they were broke. Look at the deficits they were running each year—between $10 billion and $17 billion each year, year after year, for five years. So they could not do it. They sold some assets and used that money in the budget to basically buy the groceries, and they were still short of money and had to go out and borrow. They were absolutely broke, so there was no way that they could give compensation to those people.

The member for Shortland, who has just spoken, was not part of that administration but she would know full well what occurred. For her to talk with such passion now about $300 being a pittance, if $300 in her terms is a pittance, what was no compensation back in 1993-94? A hell of a lot less than a pittance. Older Australians and self-funded retirees can remember quite clearly what happened then and can see quite clearly what has been happening under this administration: the fact that we have been able to put the economy in a position to be able to reward some of those groups in need. One of those groups is the pensioners, whereby full and part pensioners will receive a $300 tax-free bonus in the coming weeks, if the legislation passes this week. They deserve to have that assistance. They are people that have fixed incomes, who rely upon the pension and who rely upon government assistance. So this will come as great assistance to them.

Similarly, with the bill for the self-funded retirees, I do not want to labour the point but I think that we should labour the point that those self-funded retirees back in 1996 when we came into government were paying tax on every dollar above $5,400 that they earned. Many self-funded retirees had similar incomes to pensioners and, purely and simply because they had been responsible and had saved for their retirement, were penalised by having to pay tax. We addressed that immediately we got into government, even though we were faced with a very difficult budget situation because of the debt left behind. But we knew that that having occurred was an absolute injustice, so we addressed that immediately and made sure that those self-funded retirees were not treated badly and that they were treated in a similar fashion to pensioners.

We have gone that step further now. In the future, if we are going to have a system that really can afford to look after people in real need, we need to make sure that we are providing plenty of incentive for people to be self-funded. Back in those days in 1996, where was the incentive to be self-funded if you paid tax on every dollar over $5,400? There was a huge incentive in fact to be irresponsible, spend your savings and then go on the pension—because you were better off. There was no incentive at all. If we are going to make sure that we have got plenty in the future for people who really do need assistance, we have to continue to provide an incentive for people to be self-funded. This particular measure does that by increasing the tax-free threshold for a single, retired self-funded person to $20,000 and for a couple to $32,600-odd. There is also the additional assistance to expand the seniors health care card. Once again, that will be of great assistance to those people. The $300 grant to pensioners covers all age pensioners and war pensioners. Similarly, the tax-free threshold applies to all categories of people who are retired beyond retirement age and earning an income up to $20,000 for a single person and $32,600 for a couple.

The other bill that I would like to briefly mention is the Compensation (Japanese Internment) Bill 2001. The previous speaker, the member for Shortland, said that she supported the bill, but she asked why the government took so long to bring it in. She was not part of the previous Labor government, but I am sure she knows enough about Labor politics or politics in general to realise that her side of politics were in government for 13 years and they did not seem to be able to get around to this at all.

Mr NAIRN —A number of governments did not, as the member for Cunningham says. But the Labor Party were in government for the previous 13 years before the coalition came to government in 1996 and they did not talk about this and they did not do anything about it, so it is a bit trite for her to stand up in here and say, `Why did you take so long?' when her side of politics had 13 years to do something about it and did not. We have now done something about it. We have done so also because we have been responsible managers of the economy over the last five years and we have been able to put our government in a situation where we can look at a number of these sorts of areas. You would always like to give assistance to a whole variety of people, but you have to live within your means. The previous Labor government did not live within their means and therefore could not do the things that we can do now.

I will finish on the last point that the member for Shortland went on about, that these are just measures to buy votes. If she wants to look at budgets to buy votes, she should look at the five budgets that the Labor Party brought down in their last five years. Buying votes is when you go out and borrow money to have expenditure—often irresponsible expenditure—all over the place. The budget this year is another one of the few budgets, and in the last couple of years they have been coalition ones, where we have been able to reduce taxes—that means reduce the burden on our community—but still have a surplus. We have been extremely responsible in that sense, so we have been able to put in place these things that are of great assistance to those groups that deserve them and need them.