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Former Keating Government Minister describes the attack on the Howard government's tax package as pathetic.

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MARK COLVIN: Indicating cracks in the Opposition stand, the former Keating Government Minister, Gary Johns, today described the social welfare lobby’s attack on the tax package as pathetic.  He joins us on the line to speak to Matt Peacock.


MATT PEACOCK: Gary Johns, they’re strong words you’re using.  ACOSS and the others ‘can’t see past their own bibs’?


GARY JOHNS:  Yes.  I’ve been listening to ABC radio all day, with the Catholics telling us that people in the nursing homes might be 98 cents a week out of pocket.  I mean, for goodness sake, it’s not serious.  These people, the welfare lobby have to understand that this GST and the entire tax package could give them a decent stable base for taxing taxpayers, which is the base of money used to pay for the welfare lobby’s constituents.  And they’re worried about two bob here and there which ….


MATT PEACOCK: I think what they were saying, in fact, was that they’d only end up with 98 cent after these tax concessions, so-called.


GARY JOHNS: But an intelligent way to operate here is to say:  Look, we’ll accept the need for a new tax system, because the present one is leaking like a sieve, but in order to buy, if you like, our acceptance, when it gets to the Senate we want a firm hand in negotiations so that if there’s any change in assumptions or the projections are wrong or the calculations are incorrect, all of that sort of stuff can be worked out at the door of the Senate, not now.  Now they need to accept the need for change and then the negotiations over the last few dollars here or there ought to take place after the election at the Senate door.  And you’re only talking tens of millions of dollars there, not the entire package of some 15 or 20 billion dollars.


MATT PEACOCK: But isn’t the point made by ACOSS that it’s always accepted the need for change but it says that this tax package is fundamentally flawed because it takes more from the poor than it does from the rich.


GARY JOHNS: Well, they’re wrong.  It gives more to the poor than it gives to the rich.  However, why not put themselves, place themselves in a position … I’m talking about dealing with this, not killing the goose that lays the golden egg.  For God’s sake get the system in so you have a more stable broad base to your revenue, and then, when we’ve had a look at the new growth figures six months down the track or the changed circumstances of particular groups or whatever, you can then begin to make calculations at the time.  And you know as well as I how difficult this will be to get through the Senate without most people being happy about the calculations.  But the most people being happy bit can’t take place for many, many months yet, so there’s plenty of time to work through the detail.


MATT PEACOCK: So ACOSS is wrong, the ACTU presumably is wrong.  As a former Keating Government Minister, where does this leave you with the Labor Party’s position?


GARY JOHNS: Well, I’m batting for the Australian economy.  You run on to the field with one side or the other - that’s not my concern.  I want to see Australia have a mature tax base so that the Labor side of life can look after the poor, if you like, and the Liberal side of life can look after business.  They actually can both win if ….


MATT PEACOCK: And in this debate, presumably you’re coming down firmly on the side of the Howard Government tax package?


GARY JOHNS: I’m coming down firmly on the side of the Howard Government tax package because it’s the sort of package that Labor will have to introduce at some stage in the future.  Any honest, decent government would.


MATT PEACOCK: Gary Johns, thanks for joining us.


MARK COLVIN: He was talking to Matt Peacock.