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Thursday, 23 March 1961

Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) .- I will support the foreshadowed Opposition amendment seeking a refund of the additional tax that was paid during the operation of the increased sales tax on motor cars. The honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson) mentioned that the Government had promised, on the imposition of this increased taxation in November last, that it would be only a temporary measure. He now applauds the Government's action in removing the increased tax, but at the same time chides those people who were, in his words, silly enough to go and buy cars during that period. Of course, back in 1956 this Government increased sales tax on passenger cars not by 10 per cent., but from 16f per cent, to 30 per cent, and called it a temporary increase which would be removed as soon as possible.

The Government said in November last year that the tax increase it was about to impose was only a temporary measure. So, can one be surprised that people in the community expected that it would be removed in a matter of a few months, having regard to the previous experience when the tax was increased from 1 6f per cent, to 30 per cent., the rate which, although temporary, is allowed to continue even under the present bill? It is unfortunate that over a period of 92 days about 50,000 or 60,000 people were caught by the vicious increase in the sales tax. When you come to think about it, imagine paying 40 per cent, sales tax on anything! With that impost, a person who bought a car worth £1,000 - I am talking about the price before taxation - had to pay another £400 to this Government. That is what these unfortunate 50,000 or 60.000 persons had to do while the rate of sales tax on motor cars was 40 per cent. Now, members of the Government are applauding themselves for reducing the rate of sales tax from 40 to 30 per cent.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) reminded the House to-day that during the Second World War, in a period of our greatest trials and tribulations, the rate of sales tax never reached the level that this Government has set. Certainly it was nothing like 40 per cent. I do not know whether the honorable member for Sturt was really serious when he chided members of the Labour Party with going around and encouraging people to defy the Government by buying motor cars which carried 40 per cent, sales tax. He said that was done to spite the Government. ls that a reasonable proposition?

I know that many members of this House received some very strongly worded letters from constituents about the Government's imposition of the higher sales tax on motor cars. Now the additional impost which was introduced without any warning has been just as hastily repealed. Only a few weeks before the panic measures were introduced last November, members of the Government were saying that everything in the garden was lovely. They said that the economy was moving along smoothly. They did not foreshadow any of the economic measures they introduced soon after, including the increase in the sales tax on motor vehicles.

I clearly recall the night when the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) announced the economic measures in November. They had been conceived so hastily that the Treasurer hardly had time to get a copy of the proposals into the hands of the Leader of the Opposition before he announced them in this House, although normally it is customary to extend such a courtesy to the Leader of the Opposition. That is an indication of the haste with which the Government flung these measures at the people. They were ill-considered and illprepared. Then, on the eve of his departure overseas and almost with, contempt for the people, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) slung a little bone to the mob at his heel. He said, " The Government will repeal the additional 10 per cent, sales tax as from to-morrow ".

That is the sort of thing that the Government puts before us as a considered, serious, economic measure. In that context, the Government asks the Australian people to accept day-by-day changes in economic policy allegedly in the pursuit of its economic goals. Of course, your economic goals generally are so vague and generalized that it would be possible to pretend that you were pursuing them no matter what policies you put before the Australian people. You talk about the development of Australia but never define the plan of development or give any specifications. You do not co-ordinate development with your objective of immigration. You do not co-ordinate it with any plan to house the Australian people. You remove yourselves from any consideration of education for the people you are bringing into the country, or the increased educational facilities that might be necessary in the pursuit of a genuine policy of national development. None of these things are specified or co-ordinated. You phrase your objective of full employment in such vague terms that it is no wonder you have to make day-by-day adjustments even to reach a state of full employment.

Even with this day-by-day, fits-and-starts, stop-and-go policy, it has been impossible for the Government in this great continent, rich in resources and with only 10,000,000 people, to give the security of full employment to the people. Last night, the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) appealed to the Government to note that while unemployment is not very great now, the next six or seven weeks could be highly dangerous to the jobs of many thousands of people. If you will not accept this warning from the Opposition, you should accept it from one of your own members. This appeal was not made by the Labour Party or the newspapers but by supporters of the Government. The statement was made by one of your own back-benchers who is thought by his colleagues to be well informed. He said that you were virtually mad to abolish import restrictions.

The problems from which you are trying to rescue the Australian people are the problems you yourselves created. You created them by your precipitate abolition of almost all import restrictions only twelve months ago. You created the problem and now you applaud yourselves for the drastic measures you have introduced to rectify the situation. You have endangered the employment of all these people. In my electorate, hundreds of home units which have been built with the encouragement of the Government are standing empty. Nobody can buy them because credit is not available. You ask the Australian people to be enthusiastic about a government which is allegedly pursuing the goal of prosperity in that context!

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