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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21488

Mr SWAN (3:11 PM) —My question without notice is directed to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, why has the government opposed a simple amendment in the Senate to give Australian families the choice of paying back family payment debts in instalments rather than having their tax returns stripped without warning? Prime Minister, when your rules entitle at least 453 families with incomes in excess of $100,000 a year to the option of receiving family tax benefit A, why will you not give battling families with debts they cannot avoid some choice in how they repay them?

The SPEAKER —Before I recognise the Prime Minister, let me remind the member for Lilley, as I did yesterday, that his remarks in reference to the Prime Minister ought never to have included the word `you'. They should have been addressed through the chair—for example: `Why hasn't the Prime Minister?'

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —The member for Lilley's question is posited on the proposition that there is something new or particularly penal or especially associated with the present government in the notion that, if a taxpayer owes the government something by way of refund, it should not be recouped if there is a credit in that taxpayer's taxation return. I remind the member for Lilley that the government that he sat in and supported in this House between 1993 and 1996 employed the very tactic that he now condemns, and there is absolutely nothing remarkable, unfair or especially penal about a situation where, if you owe the government something and the government owes you something, you appropriately set the two off against each other. There is nothing unfair about that. You can dress it up with emotive and colourful language such as `stripping taxation returns', but the reality is that if a taxpayer is entitled to a taxation refund of $1,000 and the taxpayer owes the government $500 because of an overpayment of a family benefit—and bear in mind that the family benefit legislation is cast as part of the taxation system—it is not, in my view, unreasonable to set the $500 off against the $1,000. That was the approach that was adopted by Labor when it was in government. We did not oppose it then, to my recollection, and I think the Labor Party is being utterly and completely hypocritical and opportunistic in doing so now.