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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 417

Senator COLSTON —I direct my question to the Minister for Finance and Minister representing the Treasurer. Has the Minister noticed comments by the Queensland Premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, that he would tax union funds if he were in office federally-an unlikely event? Is it a fact that union funds are in reality the funds of individual union members and does this comment by the Premier indicate that his assertions about reducing tax are highly selective?

Senator WALSH —I have seen the article in question. Sir Joh was quoted as saying:

Unions drag in $300 million from the public purse each year. It's about time their unlimited funds were taxed.

That's one of the first things we'll be doing when we get down there.

Who `we' is I am not too sure. Let us look at the $300m figure. I do not know where Sir Joh got it from, but he certainly did not get it from the Treasurer's statement on tax expenditures put out in October 1986. The 1984-85 estimate is that individual taxpayers deducted $350m for union fees and subscriptions to professional organisations. That is a deduction from taxable income of that order which would suggest a figure very much closer to $100m as a cost to the public in revenue forgone rather than the $350m that Sir Joh suggested.

It is true that trade unions and registered associations of employers and employees enjoy a global exemption for all their income and that the members of those organisations usually are allowed to deduct the fee from their individual taxable incomes. If Sir Joh just did not fabricate the figure he presumably intends to remove-as well as the labour unions which he has in his sights-the tax deductibility for contributions or subscriptions to registered associations of employers and employees. This, of course, would include professional organisations such as the Australian Society of Accountants, the Australian Medical Association, and employer organisations such as the Confederation of Australian Industry and presumably even the Australian Federation of Employers. I do not know what Andrew Hay would think of that, any more than I know what Mr McLachlan, for example, would think of the proposition, because that would mean that the individual members of the affiliated organisations-for example of the National Farmers Federation such as the Primary Industry Association of Western Australia which receives subscription income in the order of $1m-who provide those subscriptions would no longer be able to claim the deduction in personal taxable income if Sir Joh's policy were, in fact, implemented.