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Tuesday, 20 April 1999
Page: 3850


Senator GIBSON —My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Alston. The vast majority of Australians agree that Australia's outdated and unfair taxation system is in need of urgent reform. What is the government doing to improve the living standards for all Australians and to reduce the tax burden on Australian families? Is the minister aware of any alternative proposals and what would be the impact on the Australian economy if this opportunity for much-needed reform is lost?


Senator ALSTON (Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —The fact is, of course, that the vast majority of Australians do agree that Australia's outdated and unfair taxation system is in need of urgent reform.


Senator Robert Ray —How do you know?


Senator ALSTON —You could not get a better example. Here is someone who professes to read the numbers and spends all his time looking at election results. He knows every stat and he knows that he beat Senator Cook for deputy leader about 10 years ago by 90 to 30. Yet, he still does not accept the result of the last election. In other words, he does not accept that Australians voted against Labor because they totally ignored the middle ground. He simply says that this must have been based on skewed polling. In other words, Senator Ray wants to indulge his obsession, hatred and resentment for anyone who happens to have provided successful advice to the government.

What Senator Ray is also doing in the process is totally ignoring the lessons from the last election. The lesson is this: without reform, the average wage earner will be paying 43 cents of tax on every additional dollar they earn. What is worse, after next year the average earner will be paying 47 cents in the dollar on every extra dollar they earn. In other words, there is no incentive: quite the opposite.

If Senator Ray does not understand that ordinary Australian families revolted against the current arrangements and saw Labor as offering no alternative at all, just look at what people like Mark Latham have had to say—that poverty cannot be overcome simply by handing out welfare cheques. The way you address these issues is by providing incentives and taxation reductions to focus on the middle ground. A lot of gratuitous advice was provided by Senator Ray's colleagues through the media in the wake of the last election result saying that they had not listened to middle Australia. I am appalled to think that Senator Ray discounts all that as somehow a concoction of Mark Textor. I presume you inspired the knee-jerk reaction.

Senator Gibson has, quite rightly, drawn attention to the absolute chasm that exists between the approaches of the two parties. I am delighted to know that Labor has not changed one iota. In other words, it is not accepting the advice of those who want it to be forward looking, progressive and reformist. It is accepting the advice of those who want to pursue the politics of envy, those who somehow believe that you can defend the current system. We do not think you can. We are absolutely confident that the average Australian did not accept the current system either.


Senator Carr —Politics of privilege over there.


Senator ALSTON —I see, if 81 per cent of people are better off as a result of the change in the system. It is a pretty funny sort of privilege, isn't it? Your idea of privilege is to look after a few union mates. That is what privilege is about for you. They deliver you your place in the parliament, so you get up and parrot their prejudices.

We are not interested in the politics of the past. We are interested in the fact that, with $13 billion in tax cuts, the ordinary family will be $40 to $50 a week better off after the impact of the GST. That is what it is all about. The battle lines are drawn. You clearly have learnt nothing. We are very confident and relaxed, thank you very much, in the strategy that is being pursued, and we do want to deliver the goods to ordinary Australians. You clearly do not. You want to ignore all the advice that you have been getting to date. The more times that we have people like Martin Ferguson saying that work for the dole is not relevant to getting a job, the happier we will be.