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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12809

Mr SWAN —My question without notice is directed to the Prime Minister. Is it true that under this contract which we have just retrieved from the GST start-up web site, a charity would have material it has written about the GST censored by the government and funding instalments frozen if the government judges the material to be politically unacceptable? Prime Minister, why are you making desperately needed GST financial assistance to the charities conditional on them toeing the government's line on the GST? Isn't it is bad enough hitting charities with the GST without embroiling them in your own version of cash for comments? Isn't your social coalition just about social coercion?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I can only repeat and say to the honourable member for Lilley that I have not seen the document. I will have a look at it. Because of the searching cross-examination to which I am subjected in question time, I will not have time to read the entire document before the end of question time, but I undertake to have a very careful look at it afterwards, and if there is anything in it that is inappropriate it will not be repeated. We are not in the business of engaging in any intimidatory tactics towards charity.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr HOWARD —But by the same token, you over there should not be in the business of deliberately trying to scare vulnerable people. We now know the policy of the Leader of the Opposition for the next election and that is to hope and pray that something goes wrong with the GST, because he has got nothing else. He has not got a policy feather to bless himself with except the vain hope that a policy the Australian people supported at the last election is going to fall over. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that that is a bankrupt approach for the new millennium. I say to the Leader of the Opposition, you ought to find something a little better than that. You ought to in fact summon the courage—or is it something else—necessary to present some alternative to the Australian people.

I repeat what I said earlier to the honourable member for Lilley: the charity sector in this country occupies an honoured role as far as this government is concerned. We have increased provision for charities in the four years that we have been in government. We have embraced the advice of charities. We do not treat charities in this country any longer as having a role confined entirely to what they do extremely well, and that is dispensing human compassion. In the face of opposition from Labor people, we have been prepared to involve the charities in policy formulation in this country. We have been prepared to involve the Salvation Army in giving advice on drug policy. We have been prepared to involve other great charities in giving advice on youth homelessness. In other words, we treat them seriously; we do not simply rely on their generosity and human decency.

Mr Beazley —What garbage!

Mr HOWARD —The Leader of the Opposition is getting very excited, because he is aware that many of his Labor colleagues around Australia have sneered at the fact that we have used senior charitable people in order to give policy advice.

Mr Beazley —I take a point of order, Mr Speaker. It goes to relevance. The question asked was very specifically about a document which he now says he knows nothing about and will give some detailed consideration to. He is abusing it and going into an absolute plethora of nonsense about the consultation with charities that we engaged in. The only difference now is their tax collection. That is all.

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition has made his point and will resume his seat. The Prime Minister's response is entirely relevant to the question. Has he concluded his answer?