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Tuesday, 23 October 1984
Page: 2196


Senator ROBERTSON —My question is directed also to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and I refer to the Opposition's taxation policy released yesterday . How will the Opposition's proposal affect the Government's economic policy? Has the Minister made any assessment of how-

Opposition senators interjecting-


Senator ROBERTSON —I am not surprised that there is amusement on the Opposition side of the chamber. We are talking about the Opposition's economic policy; that is enough to amuse anyone. Has the Minister made any assessment as to how workable the Opposition's 'policies' are? Is it true that the Opposition has proposed an inquiry into taxation?


Senator BUTTON —The Government's economic policy will not be affected by the Opposition's announced taxation policy. Indeed, the Government's economic policies of the last 18 months have not been affected by outpourings from the Opposition. That is a very good thing for the country. However, the Government has had the chance to conduct preliminary examinations of the Opposition's taxation policy. I repeat for the benefit of honourable senators that the Government has promised a review of the taxation system. I have mentioned that on one or two other occasions in the Senate in the course of this week. That is being done because there is a need for fundamental reforms. If we are to succeed with the implementation and improvement of the equity of the Australian taxation system, we need to reach a community consensus about the desirable changes. The Government will be conducting a full ranging inquiry for that purpose.

I make the point that the Liberal Party of Australia singularly failed to do that in any of the utterances it made about any policy matters during its period in government. Of course, what we have seen with the announced taxation policy yesterday is a further tinkering with the taxation system. Presumably, if this Opposition were ever elected to government, those things would be imposed on the Australian people without any added discussion. In fact, yesterday we got from the Opposition a policy which was totally unspecific. There were no figures, no adequate costing, no timetables-nothing. All we got were some ideas and wishful thinking in the Opposition's policy-what the Opposition might like to do if budgetary circumstances permitted. Of course, budgetary circumstances would not permit, when we look at the enormous program of expenditure which this Opposition proposes.

What in fact did the Opposition promise yesterday? It promised income tax splitting and some form of indirect taxation. I will look briefly first at the question of income tax splitting. The full cost of that would be $2.2 billion. Even a limitation of incomes to be split at $18,000 would cost $1.5 billion. Of course, the question is how the Opposition would pay for that. We are told that the way the Opposition would pay for it is by introducing a system of indirect taxation. Any other tax proposals would have to be huge in their effects. Even if a $2 billion increase in indirect tax were brought in to pay for that income tax splitting proposal, it would have the effect of raising the average household cost of living by about $8 a week. That would be the imposition on Australian households. Taxpayers would be slugged with a $8 a week tax increase to pay for income splitting. As the Treasurer has already pointed out, that would be of more benefit to higher income earners such as the Treasurer, Mr Howard, Opposition senators and senators on this side of the chamber. Such people would benefit much more than low income earners. The Opposition is not even sure about the indirect tax proposal which it makes because it is going to have an inquiry into one aspect of the taxation system. It is not going to have a comprehensive inquiry as has been advocated by numerous people in the community.


Senator Chaney —Mr President, I raise a point of order. It is a clear provision of the Standing Orders that the Minister shall not debate the question. The Opposition is providing a chance for the Government to debate the question after Question Time. The Leader of the Government is squibbing on the opportunity to take part in that debate. I simply say that if we are going to allow the Leader of the Government in the Senate to turn Question Time into a debate, we should at least allow equal time for the Opposition. This is an absolute absurdity. He is misquoting the Opposition's policy laid down yesterday. He is selectively quoting from it but, most importantly, he is misquoting. It is a pathetic performance from a man who has been inviting a more rational tax debate. It flies in the face of everything he has chided the Opposition about. He should be ruled out of order and sat down.


Senator Button —Mr President-


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Button, do you wish to speak on the point of order ?


Senator Button —Yes, Mr President. Just briefly, I wish to say that I resent the charge of squibbing from Senator Chaney. He can have me on any time he wants. I suggest that we have a meeting at--


Senator Chaney —This is more important than you.


The PRESIDENT —Order! I will rule on the point of order. In accordance with long established practice, there is a bit of elasticity allowed by the Standing Orders at election time. I am allowing a certain amount of elasticity, but I ask Senator Button not to debate the matter too much.


Senator Chaney —Mr President, I raise a point of order. Are you allowing the Senate to be a little pregnant or are you going to apply the Standing Orders?


The PRESIDENT —I call Senator Button.


Senator BUTTON —Mr President, with great respect to your ruling, I say that if there is any elasticity in this chamber it is in the Opposition's fears on its taxation proposals and, indeed, on its election promises. The point I was making is that the question of comprehensive review of the taxation system has been an issue in this Senate for two weeks now. The Opposition is proposing an inquiry into which of three forms of indirect taxation it would introduce. These are the very things it criticised the Government about. I make the point that the arithmetic of the Opposition's proposal does not add up. It is already stuck with a structural deficit problem amounting to $2.5 billion and there is no explanation of how these tax proposals will fit into this proposal. Ultimately the issue the Australian people will have to judge is the credibility of both parties in government in respect of these issues. I mean both parties in Government because I am referring also to the Opposition's record in government. After all, it was the Opposition that in 1977 introduced the fist full of dollars and the dial a tax cut into the Australian political scene. That tax cut was withdrawn five months later. That is the Opposition's credibility on taxation issues. The vast majority of Australian taxpayers-not people receiving incomes at the level we receive-will get a tax cut on 1 November this year of $7 .60 a week. That will not be withdrawn by the Hawke Government, just as other undertakings have not been withdrawn in the course of the period we have been in government.

Opposition senators interjecting-


Senator BUTTON —Mr President, obviously those things are unpalatable to members of the Opposition. I will give them a respite from their pains for a moment.