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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 128

Mr BEAZLEY (3:19 PM) —I would not have bothered opening this debate with some reference to the last election if it were not for the absurd triumphalism of the government during question time about that election result and the extraordinary arrogance and rigidity with which they have approached a pretty firm verdict of the Australian people on their proposition during the last election campaign. The government have to explain, as they tell the Australian people that they have to consider nothing from the Senate—they do not need any inquiries, they can take Mal Colston's vote, they can put three-week reporting dates on things like the Vos committee and they can ignore any efforts made by the St Vincent de Paul Society or anybody else to approach them on these matters—why somehow or other they feel vindicated by the verdict of the Australian people. Given the government's arrogance and rigidity, I had better say something about the verdict of the Australian people, who set the record straight.

This government, having come into office after 13 years and having enjoyed more than a two-thirds majority over their predecessor in the parliament, found themselves with a larger swing against them than there was against their predecessor at that previous election. They found themselves with the largest number of seats won by an opposition party ever in that situation. In the Senate—after either intentionally or unintentionally misleading the Australian people as to the constitutional arrangements—they managed, where they had previously enjoyed an unprecedented level of support for any governing party, a result for anti-GST parties of 62 per cent. This was after one of the minor parties specifically said, `You do have an option out there. You don't have to vote for Labor. You can vote for the government in the lower house if you wish to and then vote for one of the anti-GST parties in the Senate.'

This is a party that says, `We can dismiss the opposition and we can dismiss the attitudes of everybody else on the GST. We are right. We know everything. We have presented absolutely accurately to the Australian people what we wanted them to vote on. We do not have to listen to a thing.'

This is the first debate in this parliament since the government announced some of the detail associated with its GST—18 months in which people were allegedly invited to express an opinion on tax reform, to which the government has had no response whatsoever but to go to the polls.

The Auditor-General, who is calling them for a lot these days, drew attention to the fact that, while he could not find their election material illegal, he found it `unprecedented'. He found it unprecedented both as to amounts and as to proximity to the election campaign—$17 million of taxpayers' funds spent on Liberal Party advertising. Remember this: the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party campaign director have said we had a seven-week election campaign, not a five-week one. What does that mean—$17 million dollars extra of party political funding? A $17 million campaign which did not once mention the word `GST'—$17 million and the GST was Banquo's ghost at the feast as far as their tax package was concerned.

Since that point in time—and having gone through the most monumental flogging that a government has had for some considerable time and managing to secure itself in office with a minority of the people's votes—the arrogance of this government, if anything, has increased. It has increased since the election campaign. They were pretty darn arrogant after the last one and I suppose they had something to be arrogant about. They at least had two-thirds of the seats in this place and a majority of the Australian people behind them. They have now had all these unprecedented records achieved against them and their arrogance has actually increased. If ever there was a demonstration of complete mindlessness, that one is it.

I wonder if an extraordinary record might not have been achieved last time if the Prime Minister had bothered to say to the Australian people that, as far as Senator Mal Colston was concerned, the undertakings he gave last year when he was trying to scuttle out from underneath the consequences of the government's inducements to Senator Colston to change sides in the Senate—which had been tumbled to by the Australian people; that piece of arrogance got them into trouble—were now inoperative. I wonder what would have happened if he had told them that these statements were now inoperative:

What I am announcing this morning is a very clear message to the people of Australia that until this matter is cleared up we are not going to accept Senator Colston's vote.

He went on:

We won't accept his vote. Now if that means the government has a tougher time getting legislation through the Senate, so be it.

If he had announced that he regarded those undertakings as inoperative—along with the rest of his standards—during the course of the election campaign, I wonder whether those extra few thousand votes, which made all the difference between a majority and a minority in this House, might not have been there. I think they might have been there if that latest piece of chicanery and arrogance had been presented to the Australian people before the election rather than after it.

The government was so confident in the value of what it had to say about the GST that it concealed its campaign behind a plethora of sporting events for four weeks, allowing a degree of public focus for about one week only. It is of passing interest that in the one state, Western Australia, where sporting interest declined dramatically—as a Western Australian, I know and share the sentiment of fellow Western Australians that if a Western Australian team is not in it we are not interested in the national competition—they actually focused on the details of the tax package for four weeks instead of one. As a result, there was a seven per cent swing against the government and a dramatic reversal in their political fortunes. This is the state in which there is traditionally the lowest social base in Australia for the Labor Party. Forty-eight per cent of the folk who live in Melbourne and Sydney come from a bluecollar background. That figure in Western Australia is 23 per cent. For the Labor Party to be polling—in two-party preferred terms, after a four week analysis of the GST rather than a one week analysis of the GST—over 50 per cent after the floggings we have taken in Western Australia over the years was truly remarkable and reflected the one piece of detailed analysis of a particular tax package that had been put forward.

I do notice a certain amount of embarrassment on the part of the Treasurer about that election campaign. In the same way as the GST was Banquo's ghost at the feast during the election campaign, the Treasurer had a walk-on cameo role as the court jester. It was a pathetic campaign that led many of us to suspect that the Treasurer was deliberately seeking to distance himself from the Prime Minister. He was like a small boy in this campaign, as he tripped out across the road saying, `Aha, Labor Party figures'—whack, over he went on the banana skin as the electorate moved on. He staggered up and said, `No, no, I really do have something valuable to say, don't worry about it,' and raced around the corner after the electorate—whack, straight into a light pole he went as he got into a debate with the previous shadow treasury spokesman on this side of the House. He went under yet again and then disappeared to a purely court jester's role. It was a worthless contribution.

Since then, he has been bullying and behaving like an arrogant buffoon as he has backslid on one position after another. His continuing demand that there be no realistic inquiry into his tax package does not display confidence in the figures. I do not know what set of figures he has tabled in this place, but I do know this: if a government does not bother tabling the figures before question time then you know those figures are not all that hot. That is a standard rule of thumb. Everybody ought to know that. It applies to any government, us included. If a government does not bother tabling something before question time, you know they have got some doubts.

And well they might have some doubts, because they cannot escape certain evaluations as far as this GST is concerned. We are going to have a great deal to say about the GST in the future. We are going to have a great deal to say about its efficiency as a tax, the fact that it is now routinely evaded in Europe, and that it is seen as an old-fashioned and ineffective way of sustaining the tax base of a government. What we are going to have in the two major taxes of this country is interlocking evasion, as you have between the VATs and income tax system in Europe. You are going to have interlocking evasion here.

But, unlike Europe, where there are all sorts of social insurance schemes that are complied with, we are going to have the basic taxation system of this nation non-complied with after these particular propositions are through. We will be saying a bit about that as it proceeds, but not here. What we are going to do here is just discuss a couple of elements of it—that is, the basic unfairness of it.

There is no question that pensioners in this country were deceived, deeply and deliberately, by the government in its compensation package. The government knows full well this: if the CPI adjustments associated with the pension do not bring the pension to 25 per cent of male average weekly earnings, ever since the Labor Party was in office—and it has continued under them—there is an automatic adjustment of the pension to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. They know that; they know that fully. But did they adjust their compensation package to make the GST component compensation a package that went in place with a separate layer to that automatic 25 per cent adjustment? No, they did not. By not doing so, they placed pensioners in this country in this position: the government's own budget papers show that they would have enjoyed, in the year 2000, when this comes into place, on the government's own figuring—budgeting allowed for it—$340 effectively in compensation for the year. They will get $400. Every full pensioner understands that it is $1.15 a week compensation for the GST.

That is just one low income group betrayed by this government. The second is the rest of the community. We now go to the government's own figures: not any figures they have concealed; figures they have released. That was their assessment. The normal income position of a family in this country is to be earning a bit over $30,000, with a number of kids. The government demonstrated, from their own figures—not from household expenditure surveys or anything else, but from their own figures—a 30c a week per child compensation arrangement.

There is not a single family in this country who does not comprehend what that means. The government has cobbled together all their extraordinary calculations, based on a CPI adjustment with harvesters in it, so that pensioners and others can look at the machinery/equipment element of the CPI and acquire something like that. When they do their shopping, if they buy, along with the apples and pears, a combine harvester, they are sweet. They'll be right; there won't be any problem there. They will come out of that looking pretty good. But if all that they do is buy apples and pears and have a haircut while they are down there, they are dog meat as far as this situation is concerned, having regard to the calculations that are made of the situation in which they find themselves after the government's confessed package is put into place.

The point is this: the vast bulk of Australian families, if the government is right, will now just stagger over the line on compensation. This does not apply to me, to anyone in this chamber, to the Treasurer or to any of the people whom the Treasurer spends most of his time with. There is, for high income earners, substantial compensation. Every member of this House can be confident that they will be adequately compensated for the introduction of a GST. But, for an ordinary working Australian family on average weekly earnings, they know this: they might just be compensated, but they will not be when that GST rises and they will not be if the government's calculation of a 1.9 per cent price effect is wrong. They will not be, in any case, if they are actually living in a normal Australian family. They will find themselves now carrying all the tax burden in this country—the income tax burden and the tax burden that comes from the implementation of the GST.

In these circumstances, I think that you are obliged to let the Australian people have a closer look at it. I think your arrogant triumphalism is out of place. I think your systematic misleading of the Australian people ought to be deprecated. I think your unwillingness to engage in a debate except under a smokescreen over your tax package is a pretty fair indication of just how fair you think it is. (Time expired)