Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 22 October 2002
Page: 5592


Senator CONROY (3:06 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer (Senator Coonan) and the Minister for Finance and Administration (Senator Minchin) to questions without notice asked by Senators Webber, Kirk and Conroy today relating to taxation, to household debt and to remuneration for chief executive officers.

This is a government that is obsessed, as it proved once again today, with looking after its mates at the big end of town. This has been going on now for 6½ years and nothing changes. We heard an answer today that was deliberately designed to mislead the Australian public. They set out to try and not answer the question—a specific question about corporate excess in this country, relating to the sorts of payments in the millions being made to those who are fired and made redundant in corporate Australia, contrasted with the position of the Ansett workers and the Prime Minister's statement that an acceptable community standard for redundancy pay is only eight weeks pay. Did the Prime Minister, or anyone in this government, have anything to say about the millions of dollars paid to the corporate executives who failed and who have been got rid of? There was not a word in answer. Four minutes and another follow-up minute provided an opportunity for the minister to discuss some of the concerns that affect ordinary Australians today.

The Minister for Finance and Administration wanted to try again to obscure the facts about the level of household debt in this country. Many Australians are struggling under record levels of debt. Household debt is now at a record high of $597 billion; that is, an average of $81,000 per household. That is a staggering number. What is the government's response? It says, `Don't you worry about that; it will be okay.' The Governor of the Reserve Bank does not think it is going to be okay. The Governor of the Reserve Bank has issued a number of warnings about the level of household debt. What does the minister try to say? The minister tries to say, `Don't you worry because, if you look at the assets that are held out there in the community and you match them against the debt, it is really okay.' What the minister does not want to tell you, though, is that the assets are not held by the people who have the debt. Funnily enough, most of the assets that are held are at the top end of the market, in the higher income brackets, and most of the debt that is held is at the lower end of the market. But if you just pretend, obscure and pull that little confidence trick you might just get away with proving that there is no problem in this country.

My colleague Mr Alan Griffin in the other place and I have been calling on the government for some time to work with all the state governments to amend the uniform consumer credit code to require that a credit card provider cannot write to ordinary Australians and say, `Congratulations, you have won first prize; here is an increase in your credit card limit.' That is all we want this government to do—to get on board and try to stop the debt binge that is going on in this country. We are not saying that people cannot write and ask for an increase in their credit card limit if they want it—there is no problem with that. But we have to put a stop to the banks writing to ordinary Australians and saying, `Your limit has gone from $3,000 to $7,000,' without receiving any expression of interest from them that they would like that. What happens is that everyone starts to build up to the limit again. That is bad practice, the Reserve Bank is concerned about it, and many people in the Australian community are concerned about it. All that this government has to do is to work with the state governments to ban the practice and say, `You can't do it any more. You can say to people, “Would you like an increase? Write to us and tell us.” Just stop this unsolicited cold-calling and increasing of credit card limits. It has to stop.'

Yet again, the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer tries to mislead the chamber. She pulls out some dodgy OECD figures, which fundamentally are supplied by Treasury. Those figures have shown that this is the highest taxing, highest spending government in Australia's history. The only reason that the government gets away with comments about how that is not the case is that the GST—a tax that funnily enough was voted on by those on the other side and us in this chamber—is a Commonwealth tax. Because it gives figures that show that it is the highest taxing, highest spending government in Australian history, what does it do? It says, `The GST isn't really a Commonwealth tax.' It is just Enron style accounting. It is just shonky fiddling of the books. We all voted in this chamber—each senator on the other side voted on the bill that introduced the GST. None of the states voted on it; it passed through this chamber. They cannot keep trying to pretend otherwise. The OECD study has blown the whistle—(Time expired)