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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1828

Senator IAN MACDONALD (10.34 a.m.) —I intend to make only a brief contribution to this debate on the Training Guarantee (Suspension) Bill to highlight the part regional Australia has played in getting rid of this tax for at least a couple of years, as suggested by the government, or permanently, if Senator Gibson's amendment is carried, as it should be.

  Madam Acting Deputy President, you will recall that prior to the last election the Liberal and National parties proposed that the training guarantee levy should go. At the time, the Australian Labor Party and, I suspect, the Australian Democrats—a faction of the Labor Party—opposed our proposal and said what a marvellous thing the training guarantee levy was. Obviously the Labor Party was driven by the ACTU. It takes all its marching orders from the union movement—the ACTU in particular, and Mr Kelty specifically.

  Mr Kelty chaired the regional task force—some might unkindly refer to it as jobs for the boys, a reward for ensuring that the Labor government was returned at the last election—which also had as members a couple of other fairly well known Labor Party supporters. It is interesting to know that the ACTU and Mr Kelty changed their minds. Suddenly the things that we were saying, and which the Labor Party had so roundly criticised before the election, became acceptable.

  I am not sure whether the ACTU always knew that and simply lied at the last election or whether it was the first time that Mr Kelty and his cohorts in the ACTU had got out around Australia and spoken to business people and workers because suddenly the penny dropped that this training guarantee levy was not doing what the Labor Party always said it would and should do. For the first time, I suspect, they became aware of the enormous imposts on business of the administration of this tax that was new a few years ago.

  Mr Kelty, in his report on regional development—a magnificently produced glossy document costing quite a lot of money—made a recommendation. So many of the recommendations in the Kelty report have been ignored or simply disregarded to a large degree by the government. In this instance, the government at least recognised that Mr Kelty had expressed some concern about the training guarantee levy. Mr Kelty's recommendation was that it be suspended for three years. The government has picked two years. I am not quite sure of the justification for that. As Senator Gibson quite rightly pointed out, it should be abolished altogether, as we proposed before the last election.

  I want to flag to the Senate another aspect of Mr Kelty's report. Because of the influence he has on this government and the Labor Party, it is worth raising here. Mr Kelty is proposing that company tax go up by one per cent to fund some other form of training. I do not think that in this debate or in the government's proposals to date there has been any suggestion of additional taxes to fund training, but one has to be suspicious.

  This government is well known as the high tax government, the big spending government. One must be suspicious, in view of what Mr Kelty has recommended in his report, about just what the government has in mind. I would like Senator Cook to give us an unequivocal rejection of any new taxes in the training area, although I suspect that even if we do get some unequivocal guarantee from Senator Cook, it will not mean anything because this is the government that went to the last election promising no new taxes and criticising our proposal for the removal of the training guarantee levy. Without so much as a blush, it has now changed its mind and acted directly contrary to the promises it made.

  Promises not to increase taxes go out the window immediately an election is over. I suspect it is a waste of my time asking Senator Cook to give any sort of guarantee. Even if he were minded to give one, as we know, we really cannot trust anything any minister in this government says or promises because their promises are broken with impunity as soon as the immediate crisis—the election or whatever it happens to be—is out of the way.

  It is important for the Senate to be aware of Mr Kelty's proposals and to be aware that the ACTU boss thinks that the removal of the training guarantee levy should be accompanied by some form of tax increase. This government has big tax deficits. The events of recent days and weeks show the government's mismanagement of the finances of the country is causing real problems and even real terror in the interest rate area. Interest rates are again forecast to increase, and there is some evidence of that already. It all comes back to the government's irresponsibility in managing the economy and producing budget after budget with receipts not meeting expenditure. In considering this legislation, those points are something of which the Senate should take note.

  I urge the Senate to support Senator Gibson's amendment to completely get rid of this levy. I am not quite sure why it is proposed to suspend it for two years, or three years as Mr Kelty proposes, when it is a good idea to get it off the statute book altogether. I urge the Senate to support Senator Gibson's amendment.