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Wednesday, 12 September 1973
Page: 865


Mr COATES (Denison) - When this debate was adjourned last night I had reached the stage of highlighting some of the less prominent parts of the Budget. I described them as less spectacular but nevertheless important. I think in a way that they are spectacular as well and ought to be seen as such. I had reached the point of referring to another earmarked grant to the States provided for the first time, that is, the $3m for a program of traffic management and improvements at locations with poor accident records. I mentioned that I am very pleased about this grant because it will allow urgent action to be taken at points of poor road safety without the funds having to be found out of general public works expenditure. That was the position in the past, and it inevitably meant that such action was slow and had to be fitted in with genera! road works. This measure in the Budget is a marvellous initiative. A very gratifying innovation is the allocation of $2m to supplement and expand existing legal aid schemes in the States.

Last night and today I have deliberately concentrated on the smaller amounts of expenditure provided for in the Budget just to show how many new initiatives are being taken by this Government in a lot of smaller but highly important ways. I have not, of course, given an exhaustive list of these less spectacular commitments but it does illustrate the extent to which this Government is implementing its election pledges. Last night I also touched on the fact that this is the Budget of a party which believes in what it does. It does not shy away from unpalatable decisions just because they will be criticised. We believe there should not be anomalies or hidden subsidies. One example of this is the abolition of the sales tax exemption on non-alcoholic carbonated beverages containing 5 per cent Australian fruit juice. One might expect that I as the member for a Tasmanian electorate might be upset about this decision because it will affect the apple industry in my State. However, I believe it was a correct decision. As the Treasurer (Mr Crean) stated, the Government is ready to provide funds for industry reconstruction if necessary. I was not even aware that this sales tax exemption existed until the Coombs task force report brought it to light. I wonder whether there were many people who were aware of it. It was a very much disguised form of assistance. Assistance to the fruit growing industry might very well be justified but it should not be hidden as this assistance was. The background to the concession goes back 40 years and for most of that time beverages consisting wholly or principally of Australian fruit juice have been exempt from sales tax. This is fair enough if it is thought that sales tax concessions are the best way of providing assistance to the fruit industry.

In 1957 the exemption was expanded to cover non-alcoholic carbonated beverages containing as little as 5 per cent of Australian fruit juice. As it turned out, the concession is mainly for the benefit of the soft drink manufacturers who use apple juice as an ingredient just to get the sales tax exemption. The inclusion of 5 per cent of apple juice contributes nothing to the drinks; apparently it lowers their quality. It is included in ginger beer, cola and other non-fruit drinks. To me this is nothing more than a prostitution of good Tasmanian apples. Even if it is said that only the lower quality fruit is used in this way, I would still say it is a degrading misuse of the fruit which should be used in its own right and for its own quality rather than as a poor substitute for water only because the user is bought off with a tax concession. It is no different from the Government buying the apple juice and dumping it in the ocean. This would in fact be cheaper for the Government. A fraction of the money would be better used in promoting the consumption of pure apple juice and encouraging its supply through, say, school tuck shops instead of the soft drinks now sold which are of no real benefit either to the diet or to the teeth. Only a fraction of the $25m cost of the sales tax exemption has found its way to the apple grower. Instead it has been a bonanza for the soft drink industry. This is indeed a classic case of a policy that should have been abandoned.

There are many other examples of long standing policies which are no longer justifiable that the Coombs task force revealed. One minor one which has not been acted on, but which I hope will be, is the concessional rate of duty on plug tobacco sold to Aborigines. This particular disguised expenditure costs only $31,000 a year but there are very good reasons for abolishing it. It began in 1935 ostensibly to help the tobacco industry and depends on 2 requirements, firstly, that the tobacco is of low quality and, secondly, that it is supplied to Aborigines. The Coombs task force report states in relation to this aspect:

The concession appears to be a relic of an entirely different and, it might be hoped, vanished - or at any rate, vanishing - age. On the one hand it has about it an air of paternalism which appears to be entirely out of keeping with the approach of the present Government to Aborigines' problems: on the other hand it involves the provision to Aborigines on 'subsidised' terms of a clearly inferior product.

The various other forms of financial and other assistance now being provided to Aborigines render the concession as unnecessary as it is offensive.

There seem to be no good grounds for retaining the concession and good grounds - largely unrelated to the small saving that would be involved - for abolishing it.

The honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) interjected a moment ago that the concession ought to go because it is not being used. There is still S3 1,000 a year being spent on it so it is being used to some extent. But even if none is used that is still no reason for such an offensive law to be on the statute book. It is another classic case of a policy which should have gone years ago. This and other revelations have entirely justified the Coombs task force investigation into the continuing expenditure policies of the previous ' Government. Such reviews will continue to be necessary whatever government is in power in order to update the whole system of government and ensure that policies, whether they cost money or not, do not become so entrenched that they disappear from view and are forgotten while nevertheless continuing. I conclude by returning to the Budget itself. I would have liked to have seen more provided for in the Budget, of course; not different things but more. Inevitably we cannot do all that we would like to do at once. But it is a responsible Budget - moderate yet innovative - setting the stage for greater things in the future.

Debate (on motion by Mr Fairbairn) adjourned.







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