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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26635

Senator EGGLESTON (2:08 PM) —My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Robert Hill. Will the minister advise the Senate of how the Howard government's firm commitment to responsible economic management is continuing to deliver benefits to Australians and their families, and is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —This question is what this election is really all about. It is a comparison of what the Howard government has delivered, particularly in economic benefits to all Australians, compared with the previous record of Labor. Let me start with something that we are prepared to boast about on this side of the chamber—that is, the creation of more than 1.3 million new jobs since coming to office. We boast also about having brought down interest rates. I mentioned in the last answer interest rates under Labor: housing interest rates up to 17 per cent. They are now down to the lowest rates in the last 30 years, and consistently low, allowing Australian families the opportunity to not be concerned as they were under Labor.

We made the tough and necessary decisions to deliver seven budget surpluses. That has enabled us to pay some $70 billion of Labor's accumulated debt. That means we are now able to invest more money than ever before in our priority areas of health, education, families and Defence. The economic credentials of the Howard government are on the record and they stand in stark contrast to the abysmal record of the Australian Labor Party. All Australians know that you cannot trust Labor on the economy. You cannot trust Labor on tax. All Australians remember the l-a-w tax cuts.

Senator Mackay shakes her head. She would like to disown the past of Labor but she will not be able to. She remembers that Labor promised tax cuts when they actually increased them. She remembers Labor bumping up taxes on Medicare, cigarettes, wine, cars, car parking, credit unions, friendly societies and light fuel oil, and she remembers fringe benefits tax, departure tax, company tax and wholesale tax not just once but twice. Already today Mr Latham has found it impossible to justify or even explain his new national payroll tax. When asked about it today, he said, `What payroll tax?' Now, we know he would not lie to the Australian people, so he must just be very forgetful.

At least Senator Mackay laughs at that one, because it seemed a good idea at the time to have this new payroll tax. Senator Conroy is looking miserable in the front row, I notice. But today, when put under pressure, Mr Latham said, `What new payroll tax?' He cannot have it both ways. Either he told a porky today—we have heard a lot about that in recent times—or, on his first day of the campaign, he disowned his own policy. He said that Labor's employee entitlements scheme will be funded by a levy of 0.1 per cent of payroll for businesses with more than 20 employees. If it sounds like a payroll tax and it looks like a payroll tax, most Australians will assume it is a payroll tax. But when questioned on it today he said, `I've never heard of that.'

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator HILL —I was just quoting him. It is consistent with the Labor of old. They deny their intention to increase taxes. If they get into government they increase their taxes. In this instance they have the courage to announce a new tax and, immediately under pressure, they deny it, so we all know what would happen if they were elected. (Time expired)

Senator EGGLESTON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister further advise the Senate of other benefits to Australian families of the Howard government's economic policies and would the minister explain why the government will not be adopting alternative policies to the ones he has outlined?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —Because the Howard government have shown that with sound economic management, taking tough decisions but fair decisions, you can actually rein in expenditure, as we did, have budget surplus after budget surplus, repay massive debt that Labor incurred—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, you have had your turn.

Senator HILL —and be able to then make record contributions to health—the highest contributions ever from a federal government—make record contributions to education and substantially increase funding to Defence, which we on this side of the chamber believe is important, without putting up taxes, without pushing up interest rates and without throwing people out of work, we will never stand here as Labor has had to stand and accept an unemployment achievement of, at its height, a million Australians out of work. That is the Labor alternative. Sound economic management on the Howard side, recklessness on the Labor side and a lot of miserable—(Time expired)