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Wednesday, 29 September 1999
Page: 9181


Senator BROWN (4:47 PM) —I will conclude my remarks on the Appropriation (Supplementary Measures) Bill (No. 1) 1999 from before lunch. I just want to return to the subject of the GST package, which went through the Senate with the support of the Democrats. There are a couple of matters that I may raise in the committee stage but I would like to foreshadow them so that some answers may be forthcoming.

The first is the business of the adjustment assistance being given by the government to businesses preparing for the GST. There have been reports in various financial journals and elsewhere that some $500 million will be available to help for-profit businesses as they make this adjustment to the GST. But nowhere can I find any government commitment to giving specific assistance to the not-for-profit organisations. In other words, the government is saying, `If you are in a business to make a profit—if you are in private enterprise—we will help you out but if you are a charitable organisation or a sporting or other community based organisation we are putting you second.'

I am not saying the government is not going to help out; that is what I would like to know about in the committee stage. The Democrats, including Senator Woodley, have made quite a feature of the need to support the not-for-profit organisations, including charities, in this major adjustment and therefore, I would have thought, would have been ensuring that the government would be, right at the outset, jumping in to make sure that community organisations are assisted to adjust to the GST and everything that comes with it—a major matter for many charitable and community organisations right across Australia.

I predict that quite a number of these will go to the wall—they will fold—over the GST. I want to say here and now to the government and to the Democrats that you have a responsibility to help these amateur organisations or professional non-profit organisations to meet the quite extraordinary demands that the GST will place upon those organisations. Remember that many of them involve large numbers of volunteers. I know that they will have to be sizeable organisations if they are going to really be in the business of restructuring according to the GST, but that is a major structural and financial burden for non-profit organisations, from surf lifesaving and little athletics through to scouts clubs and charitable organisations, big and small. There are thousands of these organisations across the country who do not know what the impact on them is going to be.

What is more, if you want to seek information from the tax office and you are a business, a profit business, you can get it. But if you are not-for-profit, you cannot. If you seek to get such information, you are told that it is coming down the line and will be available later this year. That is not good enough. These organisations need that assistance; they need to know where they stand, they need to know what the GST means for them, they need to be able to adjust now, because, after all, for example, they are going to be paying taxes on membership fees collected now that extend into the next financial year. They need to know how to do that and they need to be ready for it.

Finally, I turn to the business of forests. Senator Lees, you will remember, Mr Acting Deputy President, made a commitment that the diesel fuel rebate would not apply to off-road uses as far as the forest industries were concerned. This was part of the environmental offset. Now we find that the government is moving to give that concession to the logging industry which is marauding our forests, not least the woodchip industry, which is in the business of bringing down forests all over this country.

In the 60 seconds I have left, I ask the Democrats to bring that pressure they have on the Howard government to stick to that commitment. I suspect what we are going to get is the government and Labor putting through a late measure—Mr Wilson Tuckey, the minister, has called for it—to extend this diesel fuel rebate largesse to the woodchippers, who are marauding forests right across this country. The Democrats alone can stop that happening. It was a commitment they made. They should see that it does not happen.