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Opposition Leader's Courtyard, Parliament House, Canberra, 26 May 1999: transcript of doorstop intervew [GST; National Sorry Day; Telstra call centres; Online Services]



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

 

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP, OPPOSITION LEADER’S COURTYARD, PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA, 26 MAY 1999

 

E&OE-PROOF ONLY

 

Subjects:  GST, National Sorry Day, Telstra call centres, Online Services

 

BEAZLEY:

 

The Government has spent $17 billion of the surplus on its GST package, sufficient to alarm the Treasury Secretary who was firing warning shots across their bows only a few days ago. The Government has only one idea, and that’s the GST. And on their main policy they are now in free-fall and they do not care where they land. And where they appear to be landing at the moment is on even more of that surplus. I do note that only a few days ago Senator Lees said: ‘Budget surplus should not be used to buy a GST’. The fact is it is already is being used to buy a GST and not one cent more ought to go into it. And whatever happens in these negotiations that ought to be an absolute bottom line.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Beazley, if the talks with the Democrats and the Government fall down and the Government is forced to abandon its GST and instead proposes to widen the wholesale sales tax in line with the report to the Evatt Foundation, what would be the Labor Party’s position on that?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

We don’t think that there is a revenue problem in this country. In case you hadn’t noticed it, if the Government wasn’t doing this GST package we’d be looking at well over $30 billion worth of surpluses over the course of the next few years. When you’re looking at $30 billion worth of surpluses you don’t have a revenue problem. I take the point that Mr Boucher, the former Tax Commissioner, made. We don’t actually have a broke tax system in this country. We might have unfair features to the tax system which need to be dealt with. But expanding the indirect base isn’t going to deal with the issue of unfairness, making people pay their fair share who are evading it now by accountants mechanisms. That would be useful.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Do you think that, again, without a GST, the proposed diesel tax cut, would you support that in any way?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, it is there as part of the compensation package, so called by the Government, associated with a GST. It is part of why they encroach on the surplus already to the tune of $7 billion a year. A question mark has been placed over those particular concessions. But like all other things in this tax package, if you don’t go ahead with the GST the compensation requirement disappears. And what we can then do is get some decent tax reform in place, like supporting families, like encouraging businesses to innovate, like actually producing the sort of Australia, the good egalitarian and productive Australia we need to be.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Do you believe we’ve reached the situation where the Democrats mandate to pass a modified GST no longer stands?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

The Democrats are committed to many things on this GST. Many things, going well beyond food or any assurances that there was not a change in the tax mix. So, those are just their bottom line. There are many other things that they’re committed to in this. And we’ll be watching, of course, like many others very carefully, how all that is handled.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

So, it’s no longer possible for them to deliver the mandate that they went to the election seeking?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Let’s face the truth a bout this. Most Australians, when the Democrats came out and said they had very grave doubts about the tax package, understood that what the Democrats were saying was that they were going to oppose it. That’s what they understood. Whatever the particular lines were, and what we detected in our polling at the time, was there was a dramatic drop in those intending to vote Labor amongst traditional Liberal supporters who hated and feared a GST. And they assumed that they were about to be saved from that by the Democrats. And they in no small measure, by doing that, contributed to the Government’s very, very narrow win. That puts a very special responsibility on it.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Even though their policy was a modified GST?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, it was very vague at the time. But there are lots and lots of bits and pieces to that modification, it wasn’t just food.

 

JOURNALIST :

 

Have you got anything you want to say about the anniversary of Sorry Day?

BEAZLEY:

 

Yes, I do. I put out a press release earlier on which you already have. The first thing is that I want to say about Sorry Day is this: that we had an opportunity two years ago to make national restitution. We had the opportunity on two fronts: a proper Parliamentary apology and then a package got together between the Commonwealth and the States to deal with the very real claims of Aboriginals who have suffered from being dragged out of their family circumstances by very bad policies pursued by Governments at the time. Is said then that we could deal with this the easy way or the hard way. The easy way, the constructive way, the one that would build a sense of unity and reconciliation in our nation, would have been an apology followed by the establishment of that fund. If we didn’t do it that way we’re going to do it the hard way. We’re doing it the hard way now. We’re doing it the hard way with endless tests of this in the courts with all the bitterness that flows from that and the wasted money. The Treasury has estimated hundreds of millions of dollars at risk in their risk assessments and already $6 million has been spent on lawyers instead of Aboriginal needs. I think what we’ve got there is just an ongoing national tragedy and we needn’t have had it.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

What about the proposal to legislate to entrench the reconciliation process.. .next year?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, the reconciliation process is a thing of the human heart. And, I’ve got to say, as far as the human hearts are concerned, we’re a long way from it. And the Government has not helped. And the Government continues not to help in that regard. I’m for things which create opportunities for reconciliation. And I still think it’s open for us to secure that arrangement I talked about two years ago. But I don’t think this Government will do it.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Just on the GST again, do you believe it’s reached the stage now where Meg Lees should do a Brian Harradine and say ‘my Party cannot accept this any further’?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

I do believe that that’s what should have been said at the outset. That when Andrew Murray said the GST was dead after he had heard Brian Harradine’s comments, that would have been a useful point at which to do that. But they’ve chosen to be in play. And whilst they’re in play then absolutely everything, of course, that they do and agree to will come under scrutiny vis a vis their past undertakings and promises on this. And, as far as the Government is concerned, what we’ve at least heard is likely to have been happening over the last few days ought to cause genuine alarm for many Australians. The Government has only got one policy so it seems, and that’s the policy for the GST. And they’ll spend anything to get that GST in place. Now, there are many needs confronting this nation: needs in education, needs in health, needs for security for our elderly. We have got to start addressing those needs. We are going backwards on all those fronts here in this nation now. And to be spending poultices and poultices of public funds on getting up a Government obsession to put in place a damaging tax like the GST, I mean, we are a long way from sensible public policy in this country now.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

So, is Meg Lees betraying her members and supporters if she continues to negotiate at this point?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

I am not going to be the keeper of Meg Lees relationship with her supporters. I will simply draw attention to the undertakings they’ve made and the very sensible statements they made most recently, which was the Government ought not to spend the surplus buying a GST. That’s just one of the many commitments, undertakings, views that the Democrats have expressed to the electorate. What I say in addition is this: look, even members of the elite are coming to the conclusion that this is not such a good idea, this GST, that it’s far more complex than people originally understood and that the changes to it are going to make it even more complex. What a good idea it would be to heed the warnings that are coming out of Europe effectively now, as the Europeans try to mitigate the damaging effects of the GST on their economies, not to put ourselves in the same boat.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

So, is it too late for the Democrats not to become the bastards?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, I tell you what, people will be putting a very big question mark over that Democrat slogan if absolutely every single element of what the Democrats said was important to see in this package was not in fact achieved. But I think that we’ve reached a different position now. We’ve got a much better understanding of the GST and how absolutely irrelevant it is for the needs of this nation to real tax reform. I think the time has come to put the Government out of its misery.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

So, are members of your Parliamentary Party expressing this message to Senator Lees and her Deputy?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, we are campaigning actively on this GST issue around the country. We have detected a real change in public sentiment over the course of the last few weeks. It started with a testimony of that individual from the Treasury, Greg Smith, when he pointed out that compensation was bogus. And it has since built up as small business have sat down, as they do at this time of the year, and started to go through with their accountants what it actually means to them in massive, massive bureaucratic entanglement. And, as a result of that, from these two sources, there is beginning to be a real groundswell of hostility to the GST - active. And active basically among people who are traditional Liberal Party supporters

 

JOURNALIST:

 

But you haven’t sought....

 

BEAZLEY:

 

... .we will constantly talk. We’re available for conversations at any point of time with anyone who wants to talk to us about tax changes.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

To Senator Lees and her Deputy?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

For Senator Lees, her Deputy, anyone else in the Democrats who feels like chatting to us, we’re very happy to do it.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

. . .approached...?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

We’re always happy to talk to them. We’ve had discussions with them about the prospect of a meeting. And we’ll just wait and see what happens.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

They have to come to you?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

No, we’ll go anywhere to advocate an opposition to the goods and services tax.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

So, you’ve had discussions with both Senator Lees and her Deputy?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Not today we haven’t.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

No, but in recent days?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

I haven’t had those discussions. But I know that our...

 

JOURNALIST:

 

But people in your Party have?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Peter Cook is talking to them all the time. And our Senators are talking to them all the time about the taxation issues that they confront. What I hope they’ll do is that they’ll just take that way out that their official spokesman on Treasury matters saw just after Senator Harradine sat down a week or so ago and bring an end to this. There’s been a massive outpouring of public support for that action and all Parties should take note of it.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Just on the question of Telstra, what do you make of reports that it’s delayed announcing plans to close down several call centres until after the Senate votes on the privatisation?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

One of the things that Senator Harradine learned with the last Telstra vote was that any undertakings that are given you last about a week after the particular vote has gone through. That is what he learned last time. I think that amongst the minor parties in the Senate, as we put them in play on yet another issue, we’ve got them in play on three issues at the moment: the issues related to Telstra, voluntary student unionism and this tax package, that they are now.. .we note that they’re much more sceptical about Government undertakings than they were before. They’ve been lied to in the past and they’re now pretty confident they’ll be lied to again. And whatever is being offered, either from Telstra, or the Government as far as this privatisation initiative of theirs is concerned, comes in with a much greater handicap than when they last put it forward.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Mr Beazley, your Party voted in the Senate today against measures to censure the Internet content. Why vote against things that will stop kids from watching pornography?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

No, we put down a series of amendments which would have affected the Bill in a way which would have made it practical. That would have achieved all those outcomes. And then we put on to it a three year sunset clause to oblige the Parliament to reconsider it in the light of technological changes subsequently. We think there needs to be restrictions in those areas and they need to broadly reflect the restrictions that are there for broadcast product. And that’s what our amendments were devoted to achieving within the context of what is technically feasible as far as the Internet is concerned and domestic production for the Internet is concerned. Without that three year sunset clause we were reluctant to pass the Bill and voted it accordingly. But you can see what our opinions are in the amendments that we moved.

 

ends

 

 

lk  1999-05-28  11:25