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Thursday, 12 November 1998
Page: 240

Senator HARRADINE (11:38 AM) —Poor Senator Brown. He can't help himself. He is constantly reflecting on the bona fides of parliamentary colleagues. He did it to the Leader of the Democrats, Senator Lees, and he has again done it to me. If he wants his colleagues to have any regard whatsoever to what he says or, indeed, to his credibility, the least that he can do is acknowledge the goodwill and good faith of colleagues and not presume the worst. It behoves the Senate to deal with these matters on their merits and not bring to them the sorts of prejudices we have heard from Senator Brown.

In respect of the native title legislation, Senator Brown's contribution to that debate showed that he knew very little about the whole issue of native title. Have a look at it. Read through what he said during that debate. I must admit that there were not too many people who knew the ramifications of the native title legislation, let alone the common law rights of indigenous Australians. The outcome of that debate was an honourable, fair, just and workable outcome. What Senator Brown clearly wanted was a stalemate, where indigenous Australians were not able to access their rights—let `em go. Don't get a workable solution.

Are you suggesting that the Queensland government's proposal that was passed last night—I don't suppose you knew that it was passed last night, but I am continuously updating myself on what is happening as a result of the legislation—is not going to mean a better, more rapid, more just application of principles so that the indigenous people can get their rights quicker than they would have otherwise? Is that what you are saying?

Senator Margetts —Yep. Rights.

Senator HARRADINE —Oh, really? I don't know how many other people would say it. That is not what the Labor Party is saying.

Senator Margetts —I know.

Senator HARRADINE —Oh, you know. Did you know that it passed last night through the Legislative Assembly of Queensland?

Senator Brown —Of course we did. Where is the goodwill you are talking about, Brian?

Senator HARRADINE —Well, if you did know you wouldn't have said what you said.

Senator Margetts —I also know what they are doing in Western Australia.

Senator HARRADINE —Yes, and I know what they are doing in Western Australia, too. I am sure that that matter, which is currently being debated in the Legislative Council, will show the Court government that they couldn't get away with what they were proposing to get away with. Even if they tried to get away with what they were trying to get away with it wouldn't have been accepted in this chamber. The Northern Territory proposition is absolutely laughable. I should imagine that the relevant minister in the government would certainly not tick what the Northern Territory has tried to do.

Bear in mind that these procedures were put in place by the Senate and the parliament in general. Let me just say this in respect of statements that have been made about what the government might or might not hope for if this measure is debated by 30 June. The government has no reason to believe that it would be better off having this legislation voted upon in the Senate before 30 June as against after 30 June. I have said nothing publicly or privately to the government which would indicate that to it. In fact, everybody knows that I have had a view about the GST for many years that such a proposal would be regressive. Even before this election I have indicated that I oppose a GST on the basic necessities of life where that discriminates against those least able to pay. That is pretty clear.

Then I heard what Senator Brown said: `Why not leave this until after 1 July when the senators who were elected at the last election take their place?' He is falling into the same trap of the argument on mandate. Are you saying that that is the mandate? They are saying that is a mandate. You are saying it is a mandate. Do not bring it in until after 1 July because we do not have a mandate for it. You are falling into the government's trap. We are not saying that the government has a mandate for this. What we are doing is proposing to exercise our rights and our duties to form the functions which we as a Senate should perform. Those functions are particularly functions of review of legislation that the government brings before us.

But surely it is the executive government's right to bring legislation before us. Whether or not they think they have a mandate for it, they have a right to bring legislation before the parliament. They have a right to do so whenever they choose. But we also have a right—indeed, a duty—to examine that legislation or the policies behind that legislation and to do so in a thorough manner. The amendment moved by the Leader of the Democrats, Senator Lees, is one which I believe would provide the Senate with an opportunity of thoroughly examining the issues relating to the tax reform package, including the GST. I am pleased that the Democrats took on board some suggestions that I made, and I referred to a couple of them. I think it is important to deal not only with the issue of food but also with the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, shelter and essential services. I think it is important to examine the effect of taxing those basic necessities of life.

For some considerable time I have been seeking papers from Treasury, as have Senator Lees and Senator Margetts. We were given the no treatment by Treasury mainly. I have been seeking that information for some considerable time. Besides the assumptions, calculations, predictions, estimates and modelling which underpin the government proposals for taxation reform, I am pleased to see that Senator Lees has included the economic theories that may well be behind those matters. Because they would be very revealing I am sure.

I am a bit disappointed that the amendment differs somewhat from the proposal by Senator Lees which is in the Notice Paper—namely, that it is reducing the number of committees from seven to four. I would like to make a comment on the effect that the GST and the whole of the package are going to have on the states and their finances. This is a very important matter. The state premiers are very concerned about the issue, and they are meeting this afternoon and tomorrow here in Canberra. The original proposal states:

The effects of the Government's taxation reform legislation proposals on state and local government administration, including:

. . . . . . . . .

(d) the implications for future federal-state financial relations of not extending the GST to the necessities of life . . . and any adjustments to the proposed arrangements which would be required to federal-state financial relations . . .

I am particularly interested in whether the proposal really discriminated against or between the states. I am glad it is there, but the problem with reducing the inquiry to four committees is that the Finance and Public Administration References Committee will not get a guernsey to look at these particular areas for which it has expertise. Again, at some stage I hope that the Finance and Public Administration References Committee will be the committee that will deal with the matters that were proposed originally by Senator Lees in the notice of motion that appears in yesterday's Notice Paper .

Also, I believe it would be quite desirable for the rural and regional affairs committee to deal with that particular area because of its expertise; there are a number of terms of reference that would be better dealt with there. I also think it is very, very important for the legal and constitutional affairs committee to look at the matters which were originally in the document put forward by Senator Lees—and I quote:

The effects of the taxation reform legislation proposals on legal and constitutional matters, including:

(a) the constitutionality of the proposed mechanism for future changes to the GST, including whether such changes would present a significant hurdle to future increases, or reductions if deemed necessary to stimulate the economy . . .

That is relevant because of what is happening in Japan at the present moment.

I do express a bit of disappointment that the full resources of the Senate committee system, that all of the Senate committees, are not going to be brought to bear to focus on this matter so as to provide the Senate with reports and to consider the submissions from the public. Nevertheless, in order to not waste time, I propose to support the amendment that has been moved by Senator Lees.