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Opposition Leader acknowledges the bravery of volunteer and paid emergency workers; and discusses the tax reform package.



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

 

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH HOWARD SATTLER, RADIO 6PR, THURSDAY 3 DECEMBER 1998

 

SATTLER: I’m sure that Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, who joins me now will want to pay his tribute to those volunteers. Good morning, Kim.

 

BEAZLEY: Yes, I do, thanks Howard. And, good morning. I mean, it does in fact take the taste out of me for me talking about anything else when some tragedy like this happens. And our hearts go out to their families. It will be just a terrible time for them just before Christmas, as it is. And you know, this is something we experience very regularly in Australia. There’s an awful coincidence, just yesterday a year ago, the Prime Minister and myself were standing in Parliament paying tribute to two firefighters - volunteer firefighters - who lost their lives near Lithgow in New South Wales.

 

SATTLER: They’re almost very similar circumstances.

 

BEAZLEY: Very similar. And I mean, I know we can say, ‘well, we ought to examine it and see ways in which we can do better’. And of course, we should — we must. But the truth is, we have such a tough continent, such a wild continent when it relates to natural disasters fire, floods, storms ... that we learn from precautions, but the horrors are always likely to happen. And it speaks enormously of the bravery of the people who take on voluntary work. I called some time ago, and I did it again today, a need for us to create in Canberra a national memorial to the volunteers.

 

SATTLER: Absolutely.

 

BEAZLEY: And also, I might say too, to the people who are paid to do these things, who are emergency workers - volunteer and professional —who lose their lives in fire and, of course, you find others lose their lives rescuing people drowning off our coasts. And some lose their lives in floods. So, there’s a whole range of activities that they undertake — the thousands of them who are prepared to participate. And I think we need a memorial to them.

 

SATTLER: Our thanks to them, because they need to be thanked. Because, you know, there’s not one cent in this for them. And they will go anywhere you like to fight fires in their region.

 

BEAZLEY: That’s absolutely right. I am amazed at the willingness. I mean, I guess it says something about Australian people — that we do like a challenge and we do have open-mindedness, because when you look at what you have to do in association with this you can’t exactly say it’s a fascination in life. It’s a burden.

 

SATTLER: I guess the other thing we’ve got to look at here too, and I don’t know the circumstances behind yesterday’s fire, but I would guarantee that a huge proportion of the fires these people fight are deliberately lit. And that is something we’ve all got to look at from the vigilance point of view and also, I think, for the penalties for those people who deliberately light fires.

 

BEAZLEY: I think there’s no doubt about that — none at all. And again, I don’t know whether this was a deliberately lit fire or otherwise. But the fact of the matter is there are often fires that are deliberately lit and the full penalty of the law ought to be brought to bear on the perpetrators.

 

SATTLER: Well, alright Kim. As you say, none of us have much stomach for talking about much else but that today. But we need to, because yesterday the Treasurer was telling us it was an historic day in Parliament. I suppose it was. You’ll say for the worse reason, when they introduce their tax package. Now, they watered it down a bit. They’ve given concession to charities, to used cars, to the health area, education, luxury taxes and something called future contracts. Now, have they watered it down sufficient enough for you to accept parts of it?

 

BEAZLEY: No, they haven’t. And nor do I think they’ve watered it down sufficiently for many other people in the parliamentary process to accept

it.

 

SATTLER: So what about the charities area, Kim?

 

BEAZLEY: Well, what they’ve done, of course, in watering it down is increase a huge amount of anomalies. They say, ‘well, provided you’re selling something for less than 50 per cent of the market price, then you won’t attract a GST’. How do you determine that? Is it the market price of secondhand goods? Is it the market price of the original cost of the good? I mean, what is the rule and regulation associated with that? No guidance. And then, you know, you’ve got some operations around Australia associated with St Vincent de Paul, for example, and a whole range of other charitable organisations. They receive clothing. Some of this clothing they do the buttons up and resell. And that technically may come within — we don’t know for sure — may come within that 50 per cent ambit. But if they convert it, and they do a nice trade in this, convert it into industrial rags, then they will be charged a GST on it. So you’re going to find a whole range of these anomalies emerge. For example, if you go to a greater public school and in the way in which they look after you, you’re found to have a weakness in mathematics and you take a school tutor for after hours school tutoring, then you don’t have a GST applied to that service. If, on the other hand, you happen to be a kid in a state school, or for that matter, a private school that’s not one of those greater public schools and you develop a weakness in mathematics, and there are thousands of parents throughout the country who will attest to the fact that they’ll often bring at different stages of the kids life a tutor in, you do pay a GST on that. So what we discover as we go through this is more and more anomalies associated with it. Now, they got themselves a little bit of good press yesterday.

 

SATTLER: Well, they did have a good day yesterday, didn’t they?

 

BEAZLEY: They did. And I might say some of the good day that they had was at the expense of a lot of hard yards made by the Labor Party in our thirteen years in office. But I leave that to one side. But the issue in relation to their tax, people sort of said, ‘oh well, things are okay, it’s all cleared up’. But when you actually get down to the inwardness of the thing it looks very different. And we also have the first signs of a bit of a crack in the business solidarity. For example, they said, ‘oh, look, we’ve fixed up the housing situation’. But the Housing Industry Association came out today and said, ‘hang on, that compensation isn’t enough’. They said, ‘we’ve fixed up cars’. But the car industry people said, ‘no, you haven’t fixed up cars’. And then they said, Well, we’ve got an uncomplicated tax’. And a number of people are coming out now and saying, this isn’t as complicated as you think. It’s almost as complicated as what it replaced. For that reason it’s a great ... than what it replaced, because these are the criticisms that essentially support us. And they don’t want to admit they’re wrong. So you’ve now got a very complicated tax and a very unfair tax. And next week, we are going to see these sixteen bills gagged through Parliament and sent off to the Senate, even though the Senate won’t start debating until April next year.

 

SATTLER: Alright. But talking about the Senate, it would appear to me - and I talked with Andrew Murray of the Democrats yesterday — that they are starting to warm to parts of this package. Of course, they’re still hanging out about food. But, you get the impression that they’re more and more prepared to accept it. What do you think?

 

BEAZLEY: Well, the Democrats have always been there for part ownership of the GST. I think an awful lot of people voted for the Democrats in the last election assuming they perhaps weren’t, and they put some check on the Government. Well, that remains to be demonstrated over the course of the next six months or so. Look, we think that if this tax goes in you’ll never get it out of the system. That’s been the experience in Europe ... it becomes a tax, which is regularly evaded and more than a bit of a problem. But once it’s in it’s in. Trying to deconstruct it would be well near impossible.

 

SATTLER: So if you won the next election, you wouldn’t turn the whole thing upside down again?

 

BEAZLEY: Well, we’d have to have a look at the tax. But I said this plainly and frequently during the course of the election campaign, and it’s why we’re fighting it so hard now. But the practical realities are that once you put something like this in place it’s almost impossible to get rid of. We do not believe it should be there. We don’t think that it is the essence of the ... that ought to take place in this country. But after you’ve made all the adjustments to all the state budgets, as a result of this, and all the state taxation arrangements, you’ve abolished the existing list of taxes and you’ve cut a certain amount of income tax, how do you go about unscrambling the egg?

 

SATTLER: So, there’s every chance a Labor Government in three years’ time might start presiding over Australia with a goods and services tax?

 

BEAZLEY: Not if we can do anything about it, at all. And it’s the reason why ... you know, we’re getting a lot of criticism of being so rigid on this. But, we are rigid on this because we know the dangers of this tax and the longevity of it once it’s in.

 

SATTLER: Thanks, Kim. Thanks for your time today and thanks for your words for the volunteers.

 

BEAZLEY: Terrific. Thanks, Howard.