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Shadow Treasurer discusses GST and the arts, bank fees, Peter Reith, exchange rate.

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Simon Crean - Shadow Treasurer

Interview with Virginia Trioli

Subjects: GST And The Arts, Bank Fees, Peter Reith, Australian Dollar

Transcript - ABC 774 Melbourne - 19 October 2000

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TRIOLI: And now joining me this afternoon, the Federal Shadow Treasurer, Simon Crean. Good afternoon, Mr Crean.

CREAN: Good afternoon, Virginia.

TRIOLI: I understand you have a bit of problem with our performing arts groups tickets being GST-exempt.

CREAN: Well, only that this is a strange form of rollback. I would have thought that a Government that ridicules rollback when Labor talks of it, then, when it announces its own, gets its priorities wrong...

TRIOLI: Why are their priorities so wrong?

CREAN: Well, I think their priorities are wrong because I think that there are issues of GST impact particularly on low and middle income families that would rate higher than opera tickets.

TRIOLI: Can I just pick you up on one point there, though, Mr Crean. It doesn't seem to me to be an example of rollback, because these performing arts groups had already been classified as 'not for profit' organisations. So they're simply getting the same exemption than any other 'not for profit' organisation would get.

CREAN: Well, it is rollback if it was collected in the first instance because they believed the law said it was to be collected. And then they've found out from a tax ruling that it isn't. That's a government that doesn't know how its own tax applies. When the private ruling comes through, they have to return what John Howard said they should have collected.

TRIOLI: You'd prefer to see GST on tickets for theatre, even including small theatre companies around here in Melbourne?

CREAN: Well, I suppose it goes to the question of fairness. Everyone, of course, wants to get their exemption from GST. But how fair is it in circumstances in which ordinary mums and dads who send their kids off to the pictures have to pay the GST - but not when it comes to the performing arts. Now, if you're going to exempt one, where does the exemption stop? And if, in fact, there is going to be exemption, what are the order of priorities for addressing that exemption.

Now, we've argued that the GST needs to be made fairer. That's in essence what rollback is about. The Government has ridiculed that approach, but is now being forced into this messy rollback solution. All we're saying is we believe it's got its priorities wrong.

TRIOLI: Can I ask you what the Federal Opposition's view would be on this issue, in particular on GST applying to tickets for, well let's take your wider example, cinema tickets as well as theatre?

CREAN: Well, what we're saying is that there are a whole lot of competing demands as to where the rollback should apply. And we'll be announcing our precise response to that in advance of the next election. Because we have to make the judgement as to where it's fairest to apply that rollback. And we have to do it in the knowledge of what the budget can afford.

TRIOLI: Moving on to other issues, Simon Crean. The Federal Police are re-opening their investigation into the telecard use of Mr Peter Reith. The Opposition, of course, has been very strong in pushing for a further investigation and also for Mr Reith to stand down. You're not in danger of pushing this too far or, indeed, of opening your Members to similar scrutiny?

CREAN: Well, let the cards fall where they do in terms of our own Members, if in fact they're in trouble. I don't think that we can make exemptions in this. But let's go to the issue of what Peter Reith has been saying. Every time he's opened his mouth, he's dug himself deeper into a hole. He's got contradictory statements, and we've now had the Solicitor-General say that he was only asked to give a report, not to investigate, and only report on information that he was given. The real question is, what information was he given? And it was revealing in the statement that he released yesterday that he said that the Federal Police investigations were 522 question and answers long. Why can't we see what those questions and answers involved? Why can't we see the full report of the Director of Public Prosecutions? Because that is information that the public deserves to know.

TRIOLI: Yes, but we're dealing here also and, in particular, you are, as people who are hoping to win Government…in the realm of public opinion…and there's a strong sense now that, given that Mr Reith has paid the money, he's paid the $50 000, he's apologised and accepted responsibility, that pushing it any further is just taking it too far. And that's a risk that the Opposition runs in pushing it, isn't it?

CREAN: Well, it's always a judgement. But let's understand that I don't think he has accepted responsibility. In fact, part of his difficulty is he's been dragged kicking and screaming to the circumstances in which he's repaid the money, but doesn't believe he should. Now, the simple facts are this misuse totalling $50 000 would not have happened had he not breached the requirements of his card being issued. That is, giving it to his son or giving it to anyone else and giving them the pin number. He was clear in his own mind that that shouldn't be done. He did it. And that cost the taxpayer $50 000.

He's now tried to shift the blame as to who's responsible for that. But there's only one person responsible and that's Peter Reith. And what we're seeing is continuing differences of interpretation and opinion and the only way we'll get to the bottom of that is for a full and open investigation. Release the Director of Public Prosecutors report in the first instance and, in the meantime, pending that inquiry, the Minister should stand aside.

TRIOLI: You're the Federal Shadow Treasurer, of course, Simon Crean. The Australian dollar has hit another new low today. I think the last time I looked it was 51.8 cents. To what do you put this new low?

CREAN: It's to the fact that the Government has failed to invest properly in the nation's future and to convince the rest of the world that we are serious about becoming a new economy.

TRIOLI: Isn't it more that the $US is just so strong?

CREAN: But it's not just the $US. I mean, we've depreciated against just about every other currency. Peter Costello...

TRIOLI: There's many European currencies that we've not depreciated against at all.

CREAN: That's not right.

TRIOLI: It is right. Against the French franc and the Italian lira, we're still at reasonably decent levels.

CREAN: Listen, we have depreciated against just about every other currency. And, in fact, the other day in the Parliament I asked the question where we had fallen to 150th out of 160 in the currency stakes. This notion that it's just the US is a nonsense.

But let me come back to the point because this is the question that you're asking about. If Australia is not sending a signal that it's serious about investing in its future, why should the rest of the world invest in us? If we're not prepared to take the opportunity and demonstrate that we're on the path to becoming a new economy, to take advantage of the technology and the information base to lift our productivity, if we're not prepared to invest there, why should the rest of the world. And that's …. that's why they're not prepared to buy the dollar. That's why they want to sell it.

TRIOLI: Simon Crean, thanks for your time this afternoon.


Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.