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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 7971


Mr HOCKEY (2:46 PM) —I only have eyes for you, Mr Speaker.


The SPEAKER —Now I am worried!


Mr HOCKEY —You should be!


Mr Crean —You must have become really attracted to those gorillas on Kilimanjaro.


The SPEAKER —The Minister for Trade!

Honourable members interjecting—


Mr HOCKEY —It is very thin air up there, I can tell you. I salute the member for Hotham for that interjection. I hope it is properly recorded.


The SPEAKER —I hope it’s not!


Mr HOCKEY —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to recent comments by the Minister for Health and Ageing regarding tax increases to pay for the future of Australia’s health system, when she said:

… it is something that we have to include in the mature debate about how we fund health care.

Given that the government is now running deficit budgets and is now borrowing record levels of money, Prime Minister, what taxes will need to be increased to pay for the minister’s health plan?


Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I sense a theme emerging on the part of those opposite. It has been prosecuted with subtlety, it has been prosecuted with finesse, it has been prosecuted with the back handle of an axe. I say to those opposite, when it comes to the future of tax reform: in response to the business community and the 2020 Summit last year, in response to the representations of the Business Council of Australia and many other peak industry groups, the government believes that the right thing to do is to have a root-and-branch review of the tax system. That is why we have commissioned the Secretary to the Treasury to do so. Furthermore, I say to the shadow Treasurer, the member for North Sydney: when it comes to the future of health and hospital reform—I assume he has read the report produced by Commissioner Bennett—one of the recommendations which was put forward by the commission relates to an increase in the Medicare levy. Therefore, I would say to those opposite, before they go into ‘ha-ha’ mode—‘Here is a possible discussion about a further tax’—that the commission is quite upfront about the fact that there is one possible way of funding a future approach to the reform of dental care and their particular proposal for denticare. I say to those opposite, as they engage in a fear campaign on debt and deficit, a fear campaign on tax, a fear campaign on health and hospitals, a fear campaign on industrial relations, a fear campaign on climate change and a fear campaign on employment, that what the Australian public would like is a mature national discussion about the options which lie before us.


Mr Hockey —Put it on the table!


Mr RUDD —He interjects, ‘Put it on the table’—like the Ergas review, the one which was put out there in April 2008—but my attention has been drawn to a further proposal on tax reform, which was the subject of some discussion a year or two ago between the member for Higgins and the member for Wentworth. It is this thing here, called Taxation reform in Australia: some alternatives and indicative costings. But here is a really interesting interview—


Mr Hockey —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I asked the Prime Minister about his own health minister’s statement and asked him to engage in a mature debate and put on the table those tax increases the Prime Minister wants.


The SPEAKER —I will listen carefully to the response of the Prime Minister.


Mr RUDD —We are talking about tax options for the country’s future. Our approach is clear-cut. We have the Secretary to the Treasury working through these things. Those opposite said last year that the approach was clear-cut; it is just that it has disappeared—that is, the Ergas review. Absent the Ergas review, we are left with the Turnbull proposals of 29 August 2005. In a great interview between Karl Stefanovic, of the Today program, and the then Treasurer about the status of this particular set of tax reforms as proposed by the member for Wentworth—


Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order: because of your admonition last week that the opposition ask specific questions that do not invite debate, the shadow Treasurer has asked a very specific question about comments from the Minister for Health and Ageing about tax. If the Prime Minister does not wish to answer those specific questions, he should sit down. He is not being relevant to the question that was asked now.


The SPEAKER —The member for Sturt will resume his seat. The Prime Minister is responding to the question. I will listen carefully to his contribution.


Mr RUDD —The member for Sturt would be fully aware that questions containing health policy and possible taxation sources to fund future reform were canvassed earlier in my answer to the question. I say to the honourable member: Karl Stefanovic asked the then Treasurer about tax policy, and he said:

Alright, Malcolm Turnbull came up with a tax plan as you know, as you are fully aware, what did you make of that plan?

The Treasurer then said:

Well, he didn’t actually have a plan…


Mr Hockey —Mr Speaker, on a point of order: he is the Prime Minister of this country. His health minister has flagged new taxes. I asked the Prime Minister to be honest and real with the Australian people and come up with the alternative.


The SPEAKER —The member for North Sydney will resume his seat. The point of order is not an opportunity for him to debate the question. The question related to tax reform and the health system and mentioned the deficit. The Prime Minister has the call.


Mr RUDD —The then Treasurer said, ‘Well, he’—that is, the member for Wentworth—‘didn’t actually have a plan.’ Stefanovic said, ‘Well, he had a model.’ The Treasurer then said, ‘He had, in fact, 280 or so.’ Then he went on to say: ‘I am sure if you didn’t like one, there were another 279 that you could take a look at … The point is when you actually have a tax plan you do you actually have to come up with an alternative.’ Well said, Member for Higgins. The member for Higgins also contributed to the debate today, I am advised, in relation to this matter, so there is no—


The SPEAKER —The member for North Sydney has a further point of order?


Mr Hockey —Yes, Mr Speaker. The point of order is relevance. The Prime Minister was asked about the minister for health’s comments on tax. I ask the Prime Minister to be real with the Australian people and answer the question.


The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister will relate his material to the question.


Mr RUDD —The point of the reference to the member for Wentworth’s then contribution to Australia’s national debate on tax reform and the absent debate since he has become shadow Treasurer, as Ergas did its disappearing act, is that, if we are going to have a mature national conversation about tax reform, we are going to put our ideas out there in due season—that is why we have the Secretary to the Treasury at work—and I would assume that those opposite would do so as well. But, instead, what we had on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme last week was them standing up time and time again saying they could not support the legislation we put forward, because they had an alternative view. When asked what their alternative view was, they could not find one or agree on one. Frankly, the nation deserves better.