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Wednesday, 7 June 2000
Page: 14794

Senator McGAURAN (12:05 PM) —Any council that goes around saying, as Senator Forshaw has just led us to believe, that it is going to be hit hard by this GST is utterly misleading its ratepayers and ought to front before the ACCC with a few of the others, like Woolworths, who have attempted to mislead. Of all the sectors of society, local government will benefit the most from the introduction of this tax package as a whole. Senator Gibbs spent 19 minutes of her speech, which was patronisingly praised by Senator Forshaw when he knows the truth of the matter, running down this government's tax package and its effect on local government. It was all wrong, of course. Then she spent the last minute, for those who were listening on broadcast, saying, `But we don't oppose this bill.' What empty rhetoric. If you do oppose it, what are you going to put up in its place? The benefits of this bill are actually supported by the New South Wales Treasurer, Mr Egan, a Labor Party Treasurer no less. He issued a statement totally undercutting everything you have said, Senator Forshaw, as you scuttle out of this chamber. The Treasurer of the New South Wales government, a well known Labor government, said himself that local government stands to benefit greatly from the introduction of the goods and services tax.

It is pretty simple arithmetic: $25 billion or thereabouts will be collected in respect of the GST and that full amount goes back to the states. It is more than they are receiving at the moment and it is attached to growth—to retail spending, predominantly. The states will have more to distribute amongst local government. Local government know that. The Treasurer of New South Wales, Mr Egan, knows that. Those on the other side are about the only ones who do not know that. I would say Senator Forshaw knows that, because his whole speech at least admits to being a political speech, whereas Senator Gibbs has been totally and intellectually misled. Senator Forshaw has not been misled because he is an old political player from way back. He mentions the South Sydney Council. He said it was an attack by Ian Macdonald because there is a forthcoming election. That may well be true, because we wish to alert the ratepayers of the deceit of the South Sydney Council. You never mentioned what that deceit was, nor did you deny what that deceit was. They issued a statement to their ratepayers that they will be worse off with the GST—that the rates will be GSTed. That is utterly untrue. The South Sydney Inner City News said:

Financial officers from the South Sydney and neighbouring councils fought long and hard to limit the impact on ratepayers and residents of the Howard GST—

intimating, and no doubt saying publicly, that there will be GST on rates. When the package was first announced, rates were GST exempt. This is a falsehood by the South Sydney Council. What a bunch of misleading—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Knowles) —Senator Mackay, you have done nothing but interject right throughout the last 40 minutes.

Senator Mackay —Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I am speaking, Senator Mackay. I would ask you to refrain from constant interjection.

Senator Mackay —Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. There were continual interjections from Senator Abetz previously. I notice you did not pull him up, so I would ask you to be equal in relation to your rulings.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order, Senator Mackay, and you know it.

Senator McGAURAN —Now that we have seen Senator Mackay enter the debate, disorderly as it was, I should take up Senator Forshaw's comments in regard to the rural and regional estimates committee, which I happen to be on. That would have to be the most banal committee any senator could have the misfortune to be on. When Senators Mackay, Forshaw and O'Brien enter the room, it goes for a day longer than any other estimates committee. There is not one strike. Name one strike. At least Senator Ray and Senator Faulkner get the odd strike—the curtains in the Prime Minister's office or some little run in the Telegraph, which always loves to run those little banal issues. But let me tell you, Senator Mackay, you have not had a strike. Nor has Senator O'Brien. Nor has Senator Forshaw. Your questions go nowhere but they go for a very, very long time. Is it any wonder Senator Macdonald's patience is tested like a saint's? The man in fact does reply, but how many times—I am sorry I do not have the Hansard here—does a man have to reply to the same question? You know that. When he put the question to you, `Well, what's your policy?' you said, `We're not announcing any policies until we are in government,' which is in direct contradiction to Senator Sherry. At least he gave us some hope there would be policy. Some 18 months ago he told us, `There'll be policy at the Hobart conference coming up in a couple of weeks.' I thought, `Well, I'll sit and wait for the Hobart conference.' That has just been put aside now, because Senator Mackay tells us on the record, `No policies until we are elected.' Senator Mackay, you will never get elected under that, but it is pretty dumb logic, nevertheless. I urge you to maintain that thought.

Senator McGAURAN —That is an indication of the dumbing down of this committee, Senator Forshaw. Senator Macdonald cannot take any more of the dumbness of this committee. It is the most banal committee—

Senator Forshaw —Maybe they should get you off it, then.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Forshaw, this is not a football match.

Senator McGAURAN —I feel I make one of the better contributions of the committee.

Senator Forshaw —Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Throughout the last five or 10 minutes, Senator McGauran has been directing his remarks directly at me. I have to confess I fell to the temptation and responded. But maybe he should be required to address his remarks through the chair.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —It would be helpful if Senator McGauran did address his remarks to the chair but it would be equally helpful if opposition senators did not treat this place as a football match and keep screaming out.

Senator McGAURAN —Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I will henceforth direct my comment through you. Back to the central issue, local government. As I said, of all the sectors of society which on balance will benefit from this legislation, local government will benefit the most. As you scuttle out of the chamber, Madam Acting Deputy President, through you—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I am not scuttling out of the chamber.

Senator McGAURAN —I admit I lapse in concentration. Back to the issue. Local government will benefit from the tax reform through removal of the embedded wholesale sales tax. We are going to keep drumming that in. I know you have heard it a thousand times through this debate, which is coming to its end now. It is becoming contradictory for you. It is becoming highly political. It is becoming absurd for you. We only have another two weeks of parliament for this debate and then we will see. After 1 July, let us see. You are banking so much on this because there is nothing for you on the other side of 1 July. In regard to local government, the wholesale sales tax will be abolished. There is no greater payer of wholesale sales tax than local government itself. On all its transport costs there will be huge savings. General rates, such as water, drainage, sewerage and compulsory rubbish will be exempt. I should pick Senator Gibbs up on that. She said rubbish would be GSTed. Rubbish is not GSTed; it is GST exempt. Fines and penalties and so on will be GST free. All in all, in conclusion I would have to say that local government is a great beneficiary of the whole tax package, as are their ratepayers.