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Steve Fielding speaks to Lateline -

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Steve Fielding speaks to Lateline

Broadcast: 04/09/2008

Reporter: Leigh Sales

Although the Government is blaming the Coalition for its stalled luxury car tax, their support was
never really an option. Instead it was the Family First Senator, Steve Fielding's vote that the
Government allowed to slip through its fingers. Senator Fielding speaks to Lateline about his
decision live from Canberra.

Transcript

LEIGH SALES: Let's go again now to Canberra where we are joined live by Family First Senator Steve
Fielding.

So Steve Fielding, is Lindsay Tanner right? Are you the man who saved the Toorak tractor?

STEVE FIELDING, FAMILY FIRST PARTY: Look, this luxury car tax was not about only luxury cars, it
was also about tool of trade vehicles for farmers and tourism operators, and they were going to get
unfairly hit with a tax hike when they can least afford it. Farmers are doing it tough, tourism
operators are doing it tough. The last thing they want from the Rudd Government is a tax hike.

LEIGH SALES: The Government says it's going to reintroduce the bill. Have you got any flexibility
going into it for a second time around?

STEVE FIELDING: Family First is happy to continue to negotiate with the Rudd Government. They were
the ones that pulled out and pushed the bill through, and Family First made it clear that there are
genuine concerns, and again, this tax that they were trying to put through was going to hit farmers
and tourism operators unfairly by giving them an increase in tax when they can least afford it.

LEIGH SALES: Bob Brown says that you demonstrated your inexperience today by killing off the luxury
car tax before it could be further debated with your "all or nothing" approach to negotiations. How
do you respond to that?

STEVE FIELDING: Look, that's politics to be frank with you. Family First was sitting down with the
Government negotiating with this. The Government found it too hard and decided to try and push the
tax through. And frankly there's no way that Family First could vote for a tax hike to farmers and
to tourism operators. You've got to remember, there already is a luxury car tax that's already in
place. What the Government was trying to do was increase that, and what Family First is saying is,
"You should take care of this unintended consequence".

I don't think the Rudd Government woke up one day and said, "look, how can we increase taxes to
farmers and to tourism operators". I don't think they did that. But it's an unintended consequence
and Family First is standing up for those people, saying, "Look, fix that problem and then bring it
back".

LEIGH SALES: How do you respond to Lindsay Tanner's point though that these sort of luxury cars are
more found in rich suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne than they are on farms?

STEVE FIELDING: This is farcical, we read in the papers this morning, in the press, that the
Government was quite happy to give an exemption for Porsches, for Mercedes, but they weren't
willing to give an exemption to farmers and to tourism operators. That's just ludicrous. And they
were giving that exemption for those types of cars because they were high efficiency. Now that's a
different debate, but why wouldn't you give exemptions for farmers and tourism operators. It's just
crazy.

LEIGH SALES: Give us a bit of a sense of how the Government negotiated with you. How many meetings
were there? Who did them? What did you think of the negotiating techniques?

STEVE FIELDING: Look, at the end of the day we had a number of meetings with officials, also
discussions with the Treasurer. Look, at the end of the day, the Government felt that they could
push this through and I think we had three years of the Howard Government just waking up and
pushing things through the Senate. The whole idea of the Senate is to review things and to pick up
unintended consequences, and quite clearly I don't think the Rudd Government thought that this tax
would probably hit farmers and tourism operators. Now that we've raised that genuine concern on
their behalf, you'd think the Rudd Government would use their massive resource and work out a way
of clearly exempting those types of people from this unfair tax.

LEIGH SALES: There are more key Government bills coming up, let's get your position on where you
stand with those. Will you support the Government's proposed reforms to the Medicare surcharge?

STEVE FIELDING: With the Medicare surcharge, there is certainly a tax win or tax break for high
income families, those earning over $100,000 a year, those families, will get a sizeable tax break
by about $1,200 more in their pocket. That is a good win for them.

You've have to ask yourself, are there any losers in this change to the Medicare levy surcharge.
And the answer is, well, premiums will definitely go up. Private health premiums will definitely go
up. And guess who doesn't get any tax break but gets a higher premium in health premiums? It's
those lower income families, those earning less than $100,000 in income, those families will get a
premium hike on their health insurance, and Family First wants to know how the Government is going
to compensate those families.

LEIGH SALES: So that's your position. If you want to work with the Government, as you're going to
have to, throughout the life of this Senate you're going to have to learn to negotiate. Where is
your wriggle room there?

STEVE FIELDING: Well, to be frank, we haven't learnt to negotiate. We've always been able to
negotiate. It's the Government that has to come to the party; you need two people to come to the
party. So Family First has raised that concern -

LEIGH SALES: True. But you have to be able to compromise as well. You can't simply show up to the
table and say "This is what we want, or we're not voting for it".

STEVE FIELDING: Well, let's look at that tax hike for tourism operators and farmers. The Government
did nothing for them. Absolutely nothing. So how can you negotiate when someone wants to do
absolutely nothing?

Now when it comes to the Medicare levy surcharge, the Government needs to sort of say, "Well okay,
yes, the winners are high income families. The losers are going to be low income families." I would
have thought the Rudd Government would have been trying to do something for the lower income
families.

LEIGH SALES: Okay. What about another very high profile item, the alcopops tax?

STEVE FIELDING: Well look, Family First has been on, addressing this issue of binge drinking for
over a year and a half. And I spoke to the Prime Minister before he was Prime Minister, before the
election and said, "Look, this is a real concern to everyday ordinary Australians and mums and dads
about binge drinking".

And so what the Government's decided to do, to say, "What we can do is we can fix binge drinking by
a tax increase". And actually it's a tax increase on one product. Now what Family First has been
arguing from day one, this is a cultural issue, we need to create in Australia a culture of
responsible drinking, we have four or five mates around a table or whatever, they're having a
drink, and the majority of those people say, "Hey listen, you've had too many".

You know, you've got to get to the stage where we're sort of saying, "Listen, this is not cool
anymore to get drunk". So you need a very big advertising campaign, you need to reinforce that with
those same messages on the alcohol product themselves with labels, and you also need to look at the
advertising of alcohol. And in Australia we currently have a restriction, in Australia, already a
regulation says television alcohol advertising shouldn't be on until 8:30pm at night. But guess
what? There's a loophole, there's an exemption for sports, so all of a sudden alcohol can be
advertised any time of the day.

LEIGH SALES: But if the Government says to you, okay, we're working on a range of other things, but
right now we are putting up this Alcopops tax, do we have your support? What is your answer?

STEVE FIELDING: Well my answer is, where's the evidence? I am happy if the Government came to me
and said, "With this tax increased on one product, hasn't caused substitution to other products,
and the emergency emissions through binge drinking has gone down substantially, and the policing of
violence and effects from alcohol and binge drinking has gone down", that's evidenced based.

But what the Government has woken up one morning say, "Oh, we've got a problem with binge drinking,
we'll just hike up alcopop tax".

STEVE FIELDING: Now that's not what we did with the other issues. When we're facing a cultural
problem like the road toll or the tobacco toll, that wasn't the answer. The answer was it was a
culture issue, and your big advertising campaign, labels on alcohol products, and stop that linking
of sport and alcohol together.

LEIGH SALES: Steve Fielding from Family First, thanks for joining Lateline.

STEVE FIELDING: Thank you.