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Queensland: Treasurer, accused of misleading Parliament over the use of incorrect figures in answer to a question about tax reform, claims she was testing the Opposition

MARK COLVIN: The Queensland Treasurer, Joan Sheldon, is in very hot water tonight because of a joke that only she thought funny. She is being accused of misleading Parliament over the use of incorrect figures in answer to a question about tax reform. Mrs Sheldon told the House on three separate occasions that wage earners in the $30,000 to $33,000 a year bracket were currently being taxed at the top rate, 49 cents in the dollar. Bizarrely, the Queensland Treasurer said afterwards, that she knew the real rate was 34 cents in the dollar but she had just wanted to get a rise out of the Opposition. Gerald Tooth's report begins with the voice of Joan Sheldon.

EXTRACT

JOAN SHELDON: I would think that all your Labor supporters-well, there's not many of them-but all the Labor Members over there, Mr Speaker, would want to support and get rid of a system in which we have a PAYE tax base which clocks in at the highest income tax level for people earning between $30,000 and $33,000. So you believe that income earners between $30,000 and $33,000 should have to pay 49 cents in the dollar tax? That's what they are currently paying.

GERALD TOOTH: Joan Sheldon in Queensland Parliament today. Her figures were wrong, and later, outside the House in a conversation with ABC parliamentary reporter, Kim Landers, Mrs Sheldon said she knew they were wrong at the time. She said her reasons for her actions were to test the Labor Opposition, a test that she says it failed because no one picked up the deception at the time. MrsSheldon said she was just trying to get a rise out of her Labor colleagues.

Later, her private secretary, Paul Turner, laughed off the incident as a joke. The Opposition, however, isn't laughing. Shadow Treasurer, David Hamill, raised the matter with the Speaker of the House and asked for it to be referred to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee.

DAVID HAMILL: It's a pretty sad state of affairs when the Treasurer of Queensland makes erroneous claims about taxation in answer to a question on taxation in the Parliament.

GERALD TOOTH: Joan Sheldon told an ABC journalist earlier that she put in that wrong figure deliberately to test the Opposition, and you failed the test.

DAVID HAMILL: Well, we know only too well that the claims that she made on this and several other matters were erroneous. It was also a case that a number of Members of the Opposition had already received warnings from the Speaker in relation to interjecting on the Treasurer, and the situation was that it could have been a case of the Treasurer, again, just making a mistake which she could have later corrected. She hasn't corrected it and now she will pay for her failure to tell the truth in the Parliament.

GERALD TOOTH: Well, she said to the ABC journalist that in using those figures, she knew they were wrong, but she just thought she'd throw it at the Opposition. What's your response to that?

DAVID HAMILL: Well, Ministers, whether the Treasurer, the Premier or any other, are required to answer truthfully questions in the Parliament, and it's certainly not good enough for the Treasurer to be so arrogant to think that she can say what she likes in answer to questions, knowing the information that she has given is in fact wrong.

GERALD TOOTH: Should she resign?

DAVID HAMILL: She should apologise to the Parliament. She should withdraw the statement she has made and make the corrections. If she doesn't do that then what she has done is tantamount to the same sort of issues that would lead to a want of confidence in her as a Minister.

GERALD TOOTH: David Hamill. Joan Sheldon is yet to make any response other than to interject in the House in an attempt to ridicule David Hamill for not knowing her figures were wrong at the time of her answer.

MARK COLVIN: Gerald Tooth.