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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 3672

Mr ANTHONY SMITH (6:03 PM) —I rise to contribute to the debate on the Federal Financial Relations Amendment (National Health and Hospitals Network) Bill 2010, which sums up so much about those opposite on so many levels. This legislation is defective in many respects, and previous speakers have focused on various aspects of it. In the time available, I want to particularly focus on the fundamental breach within this legislation of the 1999 GST agreement. That says so much about this government’s approach and about what the government believes in.

When the GST passed through this parliament in 1999 for introduction in 2000, the fundamental agreement at that time was that there would not be any change to the GST arrangements in any way, shape or form without the unanimous agreement of the states, and I will come back to that. Back in 1999 when that agreement was reached, shortly after the passage of the legislation, those opposite—including the Minister for Trade, who is at the table, but particularly the member for Griffith—were very opposed to the goods and services tax; they did everything they could to stop it. When they talk about reform over the last 25 years, they airbrush out the years 1999 and 2000. They do not even mention the goods and services tax or the reduction in personal income tax rates that accompanied that important reform.

When the member for Griffith was in this House—at this dispatch box, I suspect—a little over 11 years ago, he was not just opposing the GST but competing with all his colleagues to be the person who opposed it most vigorously. In fact, he almost impersonated Franklin D Roosevelt. You will recall the ‘day of infamy’ with the bombing of Pearl Harbour. This was followed by the ‘day of fundamental injustice’ declared by the member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd, here in this parliament in 1999. Because it was such a historic moment I will say that Wednesday, 30 June 1999 at 11.35 was the time that ‘Fundamental Injustice Day’ was declared. He said:

When the history of this parliament, this nation and this century is written, 30 June 1999 will be recorded as a day of fundamental injustice—an injustice which is real, an injustice which is not simply conjured up by the fleeting rhetoric of politicians. It will be recorded as the day when the social compact that has governed this nation for the last 100 years was torn up. It will be recorded as the day when the nation’s taxation system moved from progressivity to regressivity. It will be recorded as the day when the parliament of the country said to the poor of the country that they could … go and take a running jump.

That was Fundamental Injustice Day, declared by the member for Griffith in 1999. The member for Griffith as Prime Minister never talked about Fundamental Injustice Day with respect to the goods and services tax. In fact, he went from hating the goods and services tax to loving it so much that he wanted to keep it and take some of it back from the states, and that is what this bill, which is a result of his announcement of his so-called reform, seeks to do.

As I said at the outset, the agreement in 1999 was quite clear. It stipulated very clearly that the GST was designed to be a state tax, a tax collected and administered by the federal government but where all of the revenue went to the states to give the states a growth tax, a secure and growing revenue base. That is why clause 44 of the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Reform of Commonwealth-State Financial Relations back in 1999 said the following:

All questions arising in the Ministerial Council will be determined by unanimous agreement unless otherwise specified in this Agreement.

As the shadow Treasurer pointed out a little earlier, in 2008 as Prime Minister the member for Griffith signed another agreement with the states and territories that the GST arrangements would not be changed without unanimous agreement. There is no agreement from Western Australia. Equally to the point, the oppositions in both New South Wales and Victoria, facing elections in March and this Saturday respectively, have indicated that they do not support the arrangements, yet this government is seeking to breach the fundamental agreement which the GST was based upon.

The shadow Treasurer has moved an amendment to set this bill aside and I have seconded that amendment. This legislation, this approach, sums up so much of the chaotic approach to policy from those opposite. It highlights their hypocrisy on so many levels. For those members speaking here now—there are new members, and I am about to be followed by a new member—

Dr Emerson interjecting

Mr ANTHONY SMITH —At least that new member is not in the situation of the minister opposite, who I suspect—because I know the minister opposite quite well—supported the goods and services tax back in 1999 and 2000.

Dr Emerson —You’d better check the Hansard.

Mr ANTHONY SMITH —Well, no matter what he said, I think he probably had his fingers crossed behind his back. But the member for Griffith declaring Fundamental Injustice Day way back then and then going from hating the GST to loving it so much that he wanted to take it back from the states sums up so much about the approach of this government.