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Thursday, 23 September 1999
Page: 10436


Mr NEVILLE (5:45 PM) —Political parties of both persuasions have seen the awarding of fringe benefits by employers as a legitimate area for the application of taxation. While some might argue that at times it is a little heavy-handed in respect of, say, the use of motor vehicles and parking arrangements, it is nevertheless applied fairly and equitably. As all members are aware, the government has mandated that fringe benefits received appear on group certificates. Let me make it perfectly clear, though sadly it is misunderstood in parts of the community: this in no way affects the recipient's tax liability—in no way. However, if a person is on, say, $50,000 a year and receives a $10,000 fringe benefit, he or she is living at a $60,000 level of income or lifestyle; or if the benefit is, say, $20,000, a $70,000 lifestyle. In circumstances such as this, it is hardly fair or just that the recipient should receive social security or family benefits means tested at the lower level. To allow that to occur would be a corruption of the system.

Nevertheless, the government has recently accepted that members of the military forces should not have to declare certain areas of fringe benefits—in fact, about 70 per cent of their fringe benefits entitlements—and notable amongst these is housing. The argument is—and I accept the argument—that they serve in remote and sometimes basic conditions; that they are liable to transfer at short notice; and they must serve where they are sent, having no choice in the matter. I for one—as I am sure all honourable members would—accept that this is fair and just; that they should have this exemption on their group certificates.

But, Mr Speaker, spare a thought for teachers, police and others in public service who deliver health, education and other services while serving in distant, remote and sometimes deprived areas of Australia. It is my appeal that they too be exempt from the group certificate declaration, especially in respect of housing.

I received a letter from Ray Johnston in my electorate. In that letter he said:

My wife and I choose to be a one-income family as we are raising five young children. We currently receive family allowance payments. I am in subsidised housing through the nature of my work. Under these rule changes, any benefit in receiving this housing assistance—which is because I have chosen to serve the people in a country area of my state —will largely be negated by the drop in family payments.

Then, on the basis of an article by Robert Garran in the Australian of 21 and 22 July, he goes on to argue that this:

. . . does not show military personnel to be in a unique situation but rather to be in similar circumstances to teachers, police, nurses and others who work for the public good, often in localities not of their choosing. It would be unjust for the exemption not to apply to other Commonwealth or State Public Servants besides defence personnel.

I have a great deal of sympathy for that view. I for one am not suggesting for a minute—especially in the circumstances of this current week—that we should in any way not ameliorate the benefits for military personnel, nor do I suggest that they are not entitled to that exemption of 70 per cent of their fringe benefits being removed from their group certificates.

But I would argue that we need people like doctors, nurses and teachers continuing to go to country areas, and especially nurses, teachers and police—we are already having trouble in attracting doctors. What a dreadful thing it will be for regional Australia if we cannot get teachers, nurses and policemen to go to these areas because we have not thought this matter completely through to its logical end. I make an appeal tonight that those people be exempt from having to show housing, in particular, on their group certificates. (Time expired)