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Wednesday, 17 October 1984
Page: 1895

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(8.07) —Mr Acting Deputy President, I seek leave to make a statement about the matters raised.

Senator Elstob —I should knock that back.

Leave granted.

Senator CHANEY —I appreciate this opportunity and I thank Senator Elstob for restraining his very natural inclinations in this matter. I listened with very great interest to the comments made by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) and my thoughts were taken back to his speech in the Senate yesterday when I thought he did his bit, to use his words from Question Time today, to 'debase the coinage of Australian politics' in the debate on taxation. Quite apart from taking the extraordinary stance that he has repeated here tonight-that his Government is going into an election saying nothing about its attitude to taxation; it is a government without any preconception about the form of tax system that it might like to lumber the Australian people with, which is an extraordinary stance for a government that is supposedly responsible -he also indulged in a bit of John Howard bashing which sat ill with his plea this morning that we should deal with these matters in a more sensible way and debate the issues more sensibly. I remind the Senate that yesterday he laid about with what he knows to be a quite fictitious point--

Senator Button —Mr Acting Deputy President, I made a personal explanation relating to a particular matter-a Press statement issued by Senator Chaney this afternoon. That Press statement arose quite explicitly in its own terms from an answer which I gave in the Senate at question time today. If Senator Chaney wants to canvass what he describes as John Howard bashing because I happened to quote the former Treasurer's views on capital gains tax, that is for another time and place. It has nothing to do with the personal explanation which I made.

Senator CHANEY —Mr Acting Deputy President, in the same way that Senator Grimes yesterday, following a personal explanation by Senator Teague, sought leave to make a statement and proceeded to debate the issues, I sought leave to make a statement. I did not seek leave to make a statement on any particular narrow grounds. I will get to the question and the personal explanation--

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Collard) —Senator Chaney sought leave to make a statement. He was granted leave by this chamber. Senator Chaney, you recognise the broadness of your remarks, and I ask you to attend to that.

Senator CHANEY —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I have just a couple of other points to make about that and then I will get on to Senator Button's personal explanation about the question today. Senator Button used the $9.6 billion figure which he knows to be a fiction and which he knows is based on estimates which his Government was not prepared to release this year because of the unreliable nature of the statistics. He also sought to attribute to John Howard views which were contained in a paper which was prepared at the request of the Parliamentary Library, the research service which services this Parliament, and which, as I said in debate yesterday, was a paper commissioned by the Library as part of a project sponsored jointly by the Centre of Policy Studies and the Australian Tax Research Foundation on the implications of a change in the tax mix towards indirect tax. As in the answer to the question today, Senator Button again chided the Opposition for not being prepared to debate these issues in the way that he thought appropriate. I simply say that I thought that Senator Button's contribution to the debate yesterday had all the defects about which he complained.

We have a situation-Senator Button faced a question today on this situation-in which this Government is refusing to disclose to the Australian people its stance on a series of issues which are of concern to the electorate. The question that was addressed to Senator Button touched on the issue of taxes on capital, a matter which is of interest and concern to many Australians. It touched upon the Government's intentions with respect to national Aboriginal land rights legislation, a matter on which there have been diverse and divers statements from the Government, with the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) switching direction yesterday in the Northern Territory and totally reversing a point of view that he put just two weeks ago. I raised the issue of interest rates on housing loans and small overdrafts, on which we did not get a answer from Senator Button this morning, and I raised at least one other issue of concern on which this Government is simply not prepared to come clean.

Senator Grimes —On a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President: You said that Senator Chaney sought leave to make a statement, and therefore--

Senator Kilgariff —Like Senator Button.

Senator Grimes —No, Senator Button made a personal explanation.

Senator Peter Rae —Wide ranging!

Senator Grimes —I remind the Senate that Senator Chaney, as Hansard will show, said 'I wish to make a statement on the same subject'-the same subject as Senator Button. The letter of the Standing Orders of this place may enable Senator Chaney to make a statement as broad and as wide-in fact, a full speech- as he is doing. However, I just point out, as the Deputy President has pointed out on several occasions, that if the capacity to seek leave to make a statement is abused repeatedly in this way, honourable senators on both sides of the chamber will get a bit fed up with it and will start refusing leave, in the way in which Senator Chaney refused leave to Senator Elstob yesterday before he even heard what Senator Elstob had to say. I just point out that Senator Chaney is now talking about Aboriginal land rights and all sorts of things which had nothing to do with Senator Button's statement-as well as the pompous little lectures that Senator Chaney gives us; but we have to put up with those all the time.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Collard) —There is no point of order. Senator Chaney sought leave to make a statement and was granted leave by this chamber.

Senator CHANEY —Mr Acting Deputy President, I am dealing with the question that was specifically put to Senator Button. I am dealing with that question and the answers which Senator Button gave or refused to give. In fact, he gave one answer-and he is quite right; I was very pleased that he chose to at least answer one part of the question. The fact of the matter, Mr Acting Deputy President, is that the points of order which are being taken simply reflect the Government's sensitivity to the fact that it is trying to bury issues, that it is trying not to answer questions and that it does not like being put in a position in which its intentions might become apparent.

One element, one quarter of my question to Senator Button today, related to a matter which had been raised at Question Time over a period of weeks-the Government's intentions with respect to taxes on capital, be it a capital gains tax, a wealth tax or any form of tax on capital. The Government has clearly been desperately trying to avoid taking a position. Senator Button has been saying ' Of course, you know my personal view', and I think that he agrees that he is personally in favour of a capital gains tax. He has told us tonight that he is not in favour of the other forms of tax on capital to which I have referred.

Senator Button —I did not say that at all.

Senator CHANEY —The honourable senator is not saying that. Good.

Senator Button —I have expressed no view on that. This is the third misrepresentation.

Senator CHANEY —Senator Button has no view on that. I wish to refer precisely to what Senator Button said in answer to the question. I remind the Senate that his answer to the question followed lectures to the Opposition on the fact that it ought to be prepared to debate these matters properly and that these matters ought to be carefully considered. In response to Senator Button, I would say that the Government is under an obligation, if it is serious about having a debate on these matters, to give us its views, so that those views can be debated, and it should not hide behind some inquiry which is to be held at some future time so that it does not have to declare its views. This is the most specious, illogical and dishonest approach to an election that can be imagined. Senator Button answered the question today with some irritation. Senator Button does not often get irritated or, if he does, he does not often show it. Today he showed it. Perhaps that is why he came out with a little more than he wanted to say and why he is now trying to clamber back. He said:

I have answered the questions about capital gains taxes, wealth taxes and death duties in this Senate on numerous occasions.

I interpolate to say that the truth of the matter is that he has not answered the questions which have been put to him on numerous occasions. He went on to say:

I told Senator Chaney as recently as yesterday, if he can remember back that far, that this Government was committed to a review of the taxation system.

Here are the critical words:

Any responsible government that tackles a review of the taxation system, which the Opposition parties did not do in seven years of government, has to have questions of capital gains tax, wealth tax and death duties on the agenda.

Those were his words:

Any responsible government that tackles a review of the taxation system, which the Opposition parties did not do in seven years of government, has to have questions of capital gains tax, wealth tax and death duties on the agenda.

In my Press release I said:

Capital gains taxes, wealth taxes and death duties are now officially on the Hawke Government's agenda for changes to the tax system.

At the same time as I made that Press release available I also made available copies of the precise words used by the honourable senator. There was no attempt in any way to mislead. I think that his words speak for themselves. I am sure that other independent commentators will have read his words in exactly the same way as I have. At last a Minister in this government has at least come to the point where he admits that on the agenda for the Government's review are all of these taxes. The Government is trying to scamper out from under because an election is around the corner, but the reality is that they are there. This has been Senator Button's day for making a contribution to a bit of honest debate on these economic issues. I am told that in Melbourne this morning Senator Button said in answer to a question:

I think the economic recovery will continue in the somewhat patchy way it has into 1985 and probably into 1986 . . . as has been said in the context of this congress already, that the Government will have very significant budgetary problems in 1985 . . .

We have been making those points in here and we have been told by Government speakers that it is a lot of rubbish. I am delighted to find at last that Senator Button has come clean and has been prepared to admit that there are these difficulties. I am very pleased--

Senator Button —Mr Acting Deputy President, do you still make the same ruling as you made earlier that the subject of Senator Chaney's statement is the same as my personal explanation?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Collard) —My understanding was that Senator Chaney's--

Senator Button —It does not bother me. He can go on with his scrappy report.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —My understanding was that Senator Chaney sought leave to make a statement. He was granted leave by the chamber.

Senator Button —So you say that he is at large on any issue?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Under the Standing Orders, yes, he is, but I ask Senator Chaney, in the spirit in which leave was given, to confine his remarks.

Senator CHANEY —Mr Acting Deputy President, I have almost completed my remarks. I simply say that I think it is quite ludicrous for this Government to expect to go to the Australian people in an election which it has called nearly 18 months ahead of time and not be prepared to tell the Australian people where it stands on a series of significant issues, irrespective of whether they are in respect of taxation, Aboriginal land or any other matter. I can only say that I for one am grateful to the Leader of the Government in the Senate for the fact that for a few brief moments he has been prepared to come clean on these matters. I welcome that. I am sorry that he was forced, by whatever circumstances-I do not know-to come in here and to try to retrieve his words uttered so recently in this place.