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Australian Electoral Commission, Rockingham, WA, 12 October 1998: transcript of doorstop interview [Cheryl Kernot; Mark Latham; Capital Gains Tax]



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP, AUSTRALIAN ELECTORAL

COMMISSION, ROCKINGHAM, WA, 12 OCTOBER 1998

 

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

 

Subjects: GST, Cheryl Kernot, Mark Latham, Capital Gains Tax

 

BEAZLEY:

 

John Howard described this election as a referendum on a Goods and Services tax. There is a provision in the Australian Constitution which says to carry a referendum you require a majority in the majority of states and a majority of the votes overall. In this election the Labor Party polled, in two party preferred terms, fifty one and a half per cent overall. It polled a majority in four of our six states. This has been an excellent result for the Australian Labor Party and a clear indication to Mr Howard that the community does not want his Goods and Services tax. That is a view that the Labor Party will honour. We will work very hard over the course of the next few months and years to ensure, as far as we can, as far as we are capable, that that Goods and Services tax does not come into place. That is what the majority of the Australian people want. Mr Howard says that this election was a mandate election, in which case he should not be bringing the Goods and Services tax before us until the new Senate is put in place. This is the old Senate which is operating until the middle of this year.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

So, are you saying that anyone who didn’t vote for the Coalition did so because they didn’t want a GST?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Every single poll that I have seen, every single anecdotal piece of evidence, and now the actual real practical evidence of the voting outcome indicates that folk did not want a Goods and Services tax.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

...different if food hadn’t been included in the GST?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

I think that you’ve got to recollect last time when the GST was before the Australian people they voted against it and it did not include food. You’ve got to understand that what a GST does is extraordinarily damaging to the ordinary average Australian small business. And it’s the tax on services, as much as a tax on food, which raises the equity concerns and the concerns for the average Australian family. I might say this too: John Howard is going to spend his time over the course of the next year and a half focussed on his tax package. At the very best, his tax package is irrelevant to the economic needs of the nation at this time. He is complacent about the economic circumstances in which this country finds itself. That is clear from what he had to say during the course of last week. And it is of a piece with Peter Costello’s statement, eighteen months ago now, that it would be scarcely measurable the Asian impact on the Australian economy. Well, it’s not scarcely measurable, it’s massively measurable and he is focussed on a tax package which will not help as far as the Australian response to it is concerned.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Beazley, is it a nonsense to say that you’ve somehow got a victory out of this? If it was a Grand Slam tennis final your opponent might win more games than you but once you win three sets you’re the winner.

 

BEAZLEY:

 

John Howard has won this election. There’s no question about that. But he’s won it with the lowest vote to win an election that any of us can actually recollect. The Labor Party governed in three election campaigns after 1984 with a smaller percentage of the vote than we got in this one. I mean, the fact of the matter is, his candidates have had that advantage of incumbency. And when your opponents have to win 27 seats in order to win incumbency is everything in the last 9 seats and that’s exactly what....

 

JOURNALIST:

 

...right to introduce the GST irrespective of how he won?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

He has a right to govern well. And a government has a right to introduce anything that they like. But we as an opposition have a duty to follow through on the commitments that we made to the Australian electorate during the election campaign - and we will.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

But if he has no mandate to introduce a GST, he has no mandate to do anything at all. He may as well sit there for three years and not....

 

BEAZLEY:

 

He is entitled to put forward any piece of legislation that he wants. And he can claim for that legislation the merits of the arguments associated with that legislation. He can claim no more for it than that. And we will argue the merits of that legislation in the House and in the Senate.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

When will Caucus meet?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Caucus will meet next week and we’ll determine our front bench. Basically, all seats should be concluded by Friday this week, so we determined that Caucus should not meet until it was all completed.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

If we do get a GST should it be refundable for tourists?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

We should not get a GST. A GST will be damaging to our interests. I noticed yesterday Mr Costello said that he’d have a GST in place in time for the Olympics. Fancy having the tax policy of this nation determined by a two week sporting event, no matter how important that sporting event may be.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Should it be refundable for tourists?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

It is not going to be refundable for tourists, said Mr Costello. And the consequence of it not being refundable for tourists, of course, will be massive damage to the Australian tourism industry. In other countries they do make it refundable for tourists, so Australians going to the UK, or Italy, or whatever, get their GST, or VAT refunded to them. That is not to be the case, according to Mr Costello, here and the Australian tourism industry will the poorer for it.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

And would it be damaging also to the Olympics?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, Michael Knight, the Olympics Minister, has come out and made quite clear it’s $110 million cost being imposed. Because what all small businesses ought to comprehend is this: they may assign contracts with others over the course of the last year or so but most contracts will be subject to review once the GST is in: a GST will be imposed on them. That is what’s going to happen to them. And many are going to be very much -because very few people operate on margins as high as 10 per cent - many are going to be severely economically damaged by that.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Will you be talking to Senator Harradine and Senator Colston about how they’ll go, how they’ll approach the Senate if they do get to the Senate before those new members get there?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

We always do this. But we’re not seeking part ownership of this GST. We are opposing it lock, stock and barrel. We don’t regard a GST that excludes food as acceptable. We regard a GST - period - as unacceptable. And we see far more problems with it than simply the equity issues imposed by food, important though those are.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

With your front bench, you’re obviously waiting at least one result and possibly some others. What are your thoughts on how, say, the seat of Dickson is going at the moment?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, we’re a bit behind. There’ll be quite a few votes to count between now and Friday. But we just keep our fingers crossed for Cheryl. Cheryl made a massive contribution to the Labor Party during the course of this campaign. And in making a massive contribution she obviously disadvantaged herself in her own constituency. Well, we’re very grateful for what she’s done for all our marginal seat candidates. She’s helped enormously and I just hope very much that she is able to fall across the line next Friday.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

If she does will she go on to the front bench?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Absolutely. If she is in the Caucus she will be on the front bench.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mark Latham won’t be there. What are your thoughts on what he has to say?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

I haven’t changed my opinion on Mark Latham one bit. I see Mark Latham as one of a substantial number of potential leadership aspirants of the Labor Party with legitimate claims. He’s a very intelligent, very able person. It is true that membership of the front bench is constraining. We have a structure of front benches, really since the 1960s, which see people focussed on one particular aspect of government policy, and with an obligation to take the fight to the Government....for somebody whose interests are broad, that is a great restraint. For somebody who is as young and whose interests are as broad as Mark’s it’s obviously a very difficult constraint for him to operate with. So, he’s decided not to go to the front bench and I wish him well on what is going to be a very long political career on his part and with his efforts to pursue those broad interests of his over the course of the next few years.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

But what’s your reaction to his criticism of you?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

It’s fine as far as I’m concerned. I obviously don’t agree with it but he’s entitled to his view and he’s entitled to expand his views within the Labor Party.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Will Simon Crean become your deputy?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

I’m very hopeful that that will be the case. I expressed a view some time ago, now, a week or so ago, that I understood that Simon was intending to run for the Deputy Leader’s position and I expressed a view then that it would be a very acceptable outcome to me. He’s got to, of course, go through Caucus. As far as I’m aware there aren’t any other candidates for that position at the moment.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mark Latham also said that Gareth Evans said that he refused to a llow any consultation on the [tax] package, saying it was on the way to the printers. Is that true?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

We had a very broad based group of people looking at our various packages, representative of a very wide variety of both spending and non spending portfolios, as with the Government, with a degree of privacy in those considerations. And I don’t think there were terribly many people with problems with that outcome.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Is it the case that Mr Latham first read the policy in the car to the launch? That seemed to be what he was saying the other day.

 

BEAZLEY:

 

No, the tax....I don’t think Mark said that, frankly. Mark I don’t think said that. And the tax policy was presented both to the front bench and to the Caucus before the election.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

And your capital gains tax has been widely criticised. Do you see that as a mistake?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

I don’t think it had an impact on the election campaign, at least our polling says that that is the case. Nevertheless, it was obviously open to demonisation. There was a degree of push poling done by the Liberal Party in which they alleged that the capital gains tax was going to be imposed on family homes: which was an out and out lie. That was never going to be the case. However, given our experience with the demonisation of it and given the fact that it raised so little money and so unobtrusive was it, it’s not worth pursuing. We’re dropping it.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

And what about NSW Labor? Did they let you down?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, I wonder, you know, if we’d won 36 seats what we could have done. But I do think that that’s all blessedly behind us. If people are going to have a bit of a fall out the best time to have it is the week after the election and it seems to have washed through the system, and that’s a good thing.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

What do you say about the talent base now? You’ve obviously got more members to choose from?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

The talent base is now fabulous. We are going to have a very largely renewed Caucus. We’re going to have a much younger Caucus. And we’re going to have a much more female Caucus as a result, not only of the seats that we’ve won, but also of the replacements of retiring Members of Parliament. We’re going to have a very live-wire operation to confront the Government in the new Parliament. And to present our case for the next election campaign. And I’m looking forward enormously to that. Of course, I’ve met all those candidates at different points of time around the traps in the last couple of years and have had a chance to look at the quality of them. And the quality is very good indeed.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

...capital gains tax?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Our polling indicated that the capital gains tax issue did not show up as a significant factor. However, it was quite obviously open to demonisation, and also to some quite deceitful push polling when suggestions were made that perhaps it would apply to the family home. And in those set of circumstances, and given the fact that it was so unobtrusive it raised so little money, it’s obviously not worthwhile our pursuing, so we intend now to drop that.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

So, you admit it was a mistake? Do you think it was a mistake?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Given the way in which it was utilised, you’d have to say it didn’t help us in the campaign, so we’re dropping it.

 

Ends

 

 

 

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