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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12807


Mr BEAZLEY —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, will you confirm that charities are currently being forced to sign contracts to receive financial assistance from the GST start-up office which contain a clause requiring them to `favourably acknowledge the contribution of the Commonwealth to the organisation in any correspondence, public announcement, advertising material or other material'. How can people receiving this sort of material be assured that they are not hearing a view instructed by financial reward—your financial reward, underwritten by the taxpayer? Isn't this just your own hypocritical version of cash for comment?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —The answer is that I can neither confirm nor deny that because I am not aware of the details of any document that may or may not be asked of charities. Indeed, it would be quite unreasonable and impractical to imagine that every single piece of paper that emanates from the Commonwealth Public Service should have first been run past the Prime Minister. In the light of what the Leader of the Opposition has asked me, I will naturally take the opportunity to investigate what he has put to me. But his question allows me to make a couple of points along the way. It allows me to make the observation that there are quite a number of benefits out of the taxation reform proposals of the government for charities in Australia—in particular, the removal of many of the embedded costs which are attendant upon the operation of the wholesale sales tax system. I would also remind the House of the very considerable concessions that from the very beginning have been made in relation to the operation of charities and also further changes that have been made, such as the establishment of a very effective consultative mechanism and procedure. I believe that, when the new taxation system comes into operation, there will be enormous national economic benefits. The new arrangements will also be seen to have very greatly benefited the operation of many of the voluntary organisations in the Australian community.

As the Leader of the Opposition has raised the issue of interface between the government and the voluntary sector, I take this opportunity to inform the House that I had the oppor tunity during last week to chair the first meeting of the government's Business and Community Partnership initiative. This is a group with representatives of the major charities of Australia, such as the representative of Mission Australia, the representative of the Wesley Mission in Sydney—I think one of the largest charities in Australia—and some very senior members of the Australian business community. It is an organisation that was established by the government to promote the notion of a social coalition within the Australian community. The social coalition takes the view that the government's responsibility to provide a safety net must remain absolutely unambiguously there. Any suggestion that this government is about withdrawing the social security safety net is wrong. Any suggestion that we are in the business of shifting burdens in economic responsibilities onto the charities of Australia is wrong. It is our goal to build a great social coalition in this country. It is our goal to bring together the resources of the government, the resources of the private sector, the resources of individuals and, importantly, the resources of the Australian business community.

There are many business men and women in Australia who already give very generously to the less fortunate in our community. My challenge to the business community of Australia is not so much that business should give more but more businesses should give. What needs to happen in Australia is that the example of those very generous business leaders who give a lot should be followed by many others in the business community. But I want to make it absolutely clear that it is no part of the government's social coalition to reduce by one dollar the value of the social security safety net in this country.