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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 701

Senator MAGUIRE —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I refer to a question I asked last Thursday in which I cited a statement by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Peacock, indicating that the Liberal and National Party Opposition would review the dependent spouse rebate in respect of income tax to determine whether the rebate should be means tested. I ask the Minister today whether he has now seen a further statement by Mr Peacock on the dependent spouse rebate. If so, what is the Minister's response to that statement?

Senator WALSH —Firstly, I have seen the transcript of Mr Peacock's appearance on the Sunday television program on 10 March when he responded to a question from Robert Haupt about a paper which had been circulated and which advocated the means testing of the dependent spouse rebate. Robert Haupt asked Mr Peacock:

. . . where do you stand now?

Mr Peacock replied:

Yes. In fact we see some merit here.

He went on to say:

. . . I'm not surprised, in fact a number of us indicated not only when we were in Government but also in the first year that we were in Opposition that we would favour an examination in this arena.

Mr Peacock is reported in the Adelaide News of last Friday as follows:

And the Federal Opposition Leader, Mr Peacock, today lashed the proposal, claiming that cutting the benefit from up to a million families would be deeply damaging.

I do not know from that statement whether Mr Peacock had second thoughts about what he had said on the Sunday program, because he has had second thoughts about many things that he said on the Sunday program after the Sydney faction of the Liberal Party led by Mr Howard, the sort of pretender to the throne, went to work on him in the following week. If that is the case, it is bad enough when the various factions in the Liberal Party, principally the Melbourne faction and the Sydney faction, contradict each other on issues such as capital gains taxes and a wages policy: It would be sad if Mr Peacock is contradicting himself as well as being contradicted by the pretender to the Liberal Party throne and leader of the Sydney faction, Mr Howard. It would be most disturbing if the Leader of the Liberal Party should contradict himself. It would lead one to question what sort of a policy maker he would be if he ever got the chance to be a policy maker.

Alternatively, it is possible that Mr Peacock was misled by a highly inaccurate report published in the Australian newspaper of that date, to which Senator Maguire's question and my answer referred, and a similar report published in the Daily Telegraph. I believe it is no coincidence that both of those newspapers have a common ownership and a long-standing record of irresponsible reporting and irresponsible comment. The report in the Australian contained many factual errors, the most significant of which was the allegation that the Government was contemplating withdrawing the spouse rebate benefit from one million families, which is the approximate number of total recipients of the spouse rebate. Indeed, Mr Peacock may have been misled by the publication in the Murdoch Press of fiction masquerading as news reporting. It is a matter of some concern to me, and it ought to be a matter of some concern to every responsible citizen of Australia, that that particular Press has made a habit of publishing fiction as news reporting for a number of years. It is a very serious threat to responsible and decent government in this country that a major media organisation such as News Ltd should continue to behave in that way.