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Monday, 20 June 1994
Page: 1691

Senator HILL —I refer the Minister representing the Prime Minister to the growing calls from within the government and the parliamentary Labor Party for new and increased taxes, including calls for a new wealth tax by the Minister for Justice, Mr Kerr; a new death tax—the return of death duties—by the honourable member for Fraser, Mr John Langmore; and increased taxes by Victorian Senator Kim Carr and senior New South Wales Senator Bruce Childs, as an alternative to further privatisation. Given the government's promises before the last election that there would be no new taxes, does the government categorically rule out the introduction of new tax measures? What action has been taken by the Prime Minister to discipline Minister Kerr for his contribution to the increasingly confused message being given to the business community on the government's taxation policy?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The government has no intention whatsoever of diverting from the fiscal path that we have mapped out and identified in the course of recent budgets, which will, in fact, enable us to meet the basic fiscal objective that we have: to reduce the deficit to around one per cent of GDP by 1996-97. We believe we are perfectly able to meet that target within the framework of existing fiscal mechanisms without any need to supplement or vary them in any way. Moreover, given the expected growth of the economy and the fact that all the risks at the moment seem to be on the upside rather than the downside so far as that growth figure is concerned, there may well be a great deal of further flexibility in terms of being able to meet that target with even more comfort than we believe so at the moment.

  So, whatever the outcome of the democratic processes that are at work within the Labor Party, for which we make no apology—we are that kind of party, we always have been and we have been very effective in government over a very long period as a result of the lively policy debate that has always occurred within our ranks—we believe there is no reason at this stage to make any assumption at all that the outcome on the various areas where the government has committed itself to privatisation will be changed in any way. But, even in the event that there were to be some modifications of that particular program as a result of party democratic processes, which I for one certainly would not concede at this stage, nonetheless, it is still perfectly possible for us to reach those fiscal targets without going down any of the taxation increases paths that have been referred to by the Leader of the Opposition.

Senator HILL —Mr Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. I asked the minister whether he was prepared to categorically rule out any new tax measures. I would hardly think that that was an answer that did so, so I will give him a further opportunity to do so. In view of the government's record of misleading the Australian people before on taxes, I particularly ask: does the minister not recognise that the government is giving a confusing message to the business community when, on the one hand, Minister Kerr—a minister in his government—is coming out and calling publicly for the introduction of a new wealth tax and, on the other hand, the minister is coming into this place saying that it is hardly necessary? Will the minister clarify, for the purpose of the Australian business community, exactly what are the government's intentions in relation to increased taxation?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have got nothing to add to what I said, except to say that the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate by that question is keeping intact his perfect record of not making an impression on any soft cushion on which he sits.