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Wednesday, 5 December 1973

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - in reply- I am sure that everyone has listened with interest, including Senator Kane, to the debate that has taken place tonight on the motion for the adjournment. I do not intend to add to what Senator Poyser said concerning the remarks made by Senator Webster about Senator McLaren and Senator Gietzelt. I think they have replied adequately. Surely if any jury had been listening to the case it would say that there was in fact no case to answer.

Let me come to Senator Little's complaint. Senator Little has been complaining for trie last week or fortnight about an answer provided by my colleague, the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), to a question which Senator Little had placed on the notice paper on 2 1 November. I say in fairness that I can understand, having been in Opposition and having experienced some answers given by other Ministers, some concern on the part of Senator Little or other honourable senators for having read to them by way of a reply a reply that a Minister had given to a question of a similar nature in another place.

Senator Lillicocomplained of the same sort of thing to my colleague, Senator Murphy, on 29 November and Senator Murphy said that he had a good deal of sympathy with what Senator Lillico was putting, that when in Opposition he had felt the same way himself when he sometimes asked a question and the reply referred to a Hansard, especially a Hansard of another place, that some better arrangement than that ought to be made and that even if it meant some repetition he, Senator Murphy, thought it would be more satisfactory if a definitive reply were to be given rather then simply a reference to some other document. I say to Senator Little that I merely adopt the words of Senator Murphy in that regard. But let us have a look at what Senator Little asked by way of a question on notice on 2 1 November. Senator Little asked:

Does the Minister's statement, which appeared on page 32 1 9 of the House of Representatives Hansard of 13 November 1973, that three out of four families, including those in which there is a working wife, would find the Government's proposed national health scheme cheaper than at present, take into account the extra taxation to be paid if -

I emphasise the word 'if- the proposed rate of 1.3S per cent is itself not deductible from personal income?

With great respect to the honourable senator it is a very ambiguous and, to say the least, hypothetical question. The Minister for Social Security gave the answer about which the honourable senator complains. I gave that reply to the honourable senator on 28 November- exactly one week after he had placed it on the notice paper. That night Senator Little raised the matter by way of discussion on the adjournment debate- a week ago. With respect might 1 say that after a good deal of tedious repetition in that debate I pointed out that in addition to the document provided in the answer by my colleague the Minister for Social Security, namely the 'Income Distribution 1968-69' publication put out by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, I referred the honourable senator to page 67 and also pages 7, 64, 65, 71 and 72 of the White Paper entitled 'Australian Health Insurance Program' as tabled by me on behalf of my colleague the Minister for Social Security in this place on 17 November. If the honourable senator chooses to peruse some of those pages I think he will find, if I read his question correctly, the answers to the questions. First of all, I assume that what Senator Little is asking in his original question is whether Mr Hayden, in claiming that three out of four families, including those in which there is a working wife, would be better off under the Government's proposed health scheme, had taken into account that the 1.35 per cent levy would not be allowable as a taxation deduction. If the honourable senator refers to some of the pages to which I have alluded he will find the answer is in the affirmative. For a start I refer to pages 68, paragraph 7.6 which states:

The administrative mechanics of assessment, collection and accounting for the health insurance levy have yet to be finalised but in most respects it is expected that the legislation will follow the general recommendations of the Planning Committee. However, in regard to collection procedures, the Government believes that recipients of wages and salaries should constantly be made aware of the amounts of their regular deductions which are earmarked as contributions for health insurance. Accordingly the legislation will provide for income tax and the health insurance levy to be notified to employees as separate items by employers and the Taxation Office.

Surely it is set out quite clearly there that there will be a separate accounting to the wage and salary earning by way of income tax on the one hand and by the way of health insurance deductions on the other hand.

Senator Little - How does that convey whether it is tax deductible?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Surely it does. One then goes to page 7 1 where it states:

Receipts from the 1.33 per cent levy on taxable income are estimated at $360m . . .

As I said during the adjournment debate on 28 November there is a gross taxable income assessed by the Commissioner of Taxation and it is found on the group certificate of the worker. After that is accounted for there are then allowable deductions such as deductions for dependents, for rates-

Senator Wright - It is part of the tax, is it not?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is 1.35 per cent of taxable income.

Senator Laucke - Would that be tax deductible?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -On taxable income.

Senator Wright - One has to make other deductions from gross income before one gets the taxable income.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -That is right.

Senator Wright - Then you apply 1.35 per cent, or whatever it is. That is a subtraction. But is it a deduction from taxable income?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -The honourable senator has answered the question obviously to the satisfaction of Senator Little. How can we allow as a taxable deduction something that has not been assessed until the taxation deductions are taken into account?

Senator Little - That is right. That is implied.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -That is the whole situation. It is as simple as that.

Senator Little - The Minister will find that my subsequent questions asked whether it will be allowed in a subsequent year.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -The honourable senator is given an answer to one question and then he bobs up with another question. He wants to know what will be allowable in a subsequent year. The Government has not yet met to consider its budgetary policy for the next financial year.

Senator Little - Why was I not given that answer?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am giving Senator Little that answer now. He bobs up like a cork on the ocean. He is given one answer. He is not satisfied with it. He comes back on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate. He then asks another question at question time. Let us compare his first question, which I have already read, with his second question. He asked:

Is the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security now in a position to inform the Australian people whether a compulsory payment of 1.3S per cent of taxable income proposed to finance the Health Insurance Bill 1 973 will itself be tax deductible?

I am prepared to admit that the honourable senator has reason to complain about the manner in which my colleague might have set out or amplified his answer. But having regard to what I said in the adjournment debate last Wednesday and the comments on the pages I have pointed out- only some of which I have quoted from- I think that the answer is beyond doubt. But then the honourable senator goes on to ask:

Are any other insurance commitments entered into to provide cover for private ward treatment in hospitals to be a deduction from income for tax assessment?

He asks one question; he gets an answer. He is not satisfied and he asks that question again, and on top of that he puts another question, and so it goes on and on and on. Now we have this latest situation in which this Senate started sitting at 1 1.30 a.m. and apart from the luncheon adjournment and the dinner adjournment I personally have been in this Chamber every second of every minute of every hour that the Senate has sat, and he has the audacity to ask me whether I know whether a radio journalist rang a person on the staff of the Minister for Social Security and had a conversation and if so, what were the terms of that conversation. Frankly, I can tell the honourable senator that I do not know whether a radio journalist-

Senator Little - You were informed earlier this day that we had such an answer. Surely you would have been interested in verifying it in view of what you said before.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Surely the honourable senator does not expect me to provide answers to those questions. I can certainly tell the honourable senator that I do not intend to pry and spy on some radio journalist or on any person on Mr Hayden 's staff. I do not know who rang him and whether there was a conversation. If there was I do not know what was said. What is more, I do not intend to find out. If the honourable senator-

Senator Little - I will ask you a question at question time tomorrow.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -The honourable senator can ask me at question time tomorrow and I tell him now that I will tell him to put the question on notice. I do not personally intend to find out. I am not a pimp; I am not an informer; I am not a phone tapper; I am not a dobber. If Senator Little wants to ask Mr Norman Banks to ring up someone on Mr Hayden 's staff that is Senator Little 's business.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 12.18 a.m. (Thursday)

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