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Wednesday, 9 February 2005
Page: 70

Senator BOLKUS (2:21 PM) —My question is to Senator Ian Macdonald, the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation. I refer him to yesterday’s answer in which he asserted how proud he was of the Commonwealth government’s response to the tragic bushfires on the Eyre Peninsula in my state of South Australia. Is it the case that many of those bushfire affected farmers in receipt of relief grants will, in some cases, be forced to pay income tax on those grants of up to $9,000?

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —I will obtain some information for Senator Bolkus on that particular issue. I imagine it is probably more a question for the Treasurer.

Senator Sherry interjecting—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I do know a lot about taxation, but I think these issues on taxation policy would probably be a matter for the Treasurer. Let me in a broader sense indicate to you that most government grants—and government grants that I have dealt with in my previous portfolio of regional services and in the current portfolio of fisheries and forestry—are taxable.

Senator Chris Evans —They are for the benefit of the National Party!

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Anything but.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Minister, ignore the interjections.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Any grants that are made by any department in which I have any involvement are done principally on the basis of recommendations from independent committees of community people. Generally speaking—and I can say this in relation to the recent Western Australian forestry grants and other grants I have been involved with—the grants are taxable in the hands of recipients as income. The sugar initiatives—the sugar encouragement grants—are taxable in the hands of recipients. I only know this because the forms that go out with them quite clearly state that. They do state, ‘Get your own taxation advice,’ because we do not presume to tell grant recipients—

Senator Abetz —You get raffle ticket advice, Nick.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —what their particular taxation situation is. We indicate that it is our belief that they should get independent taxation advice. As Senator Abetz rightly says, we do not presume to give those opposite advice on how you run a raffle that I do not think ever was. Senator Wong, we are still waiting to see who actually won the raffle, and that is something we would be very curious about. I am sure it was not Senator Bolkus.

Senator, your question also highlights that the government are very keen to help those who have suffered as a result of the bushfires. We as a government understand the difficulties that occur at times like that. We do make every effort to help out. I am not committing the government to any particular support program at this stage, but I can say that across all avenues of government we are looking at ways that various programs could be adjusted to help those who are quite obviously suffering as a result of the bushfires. This is a very serious problem. These natural disasters occur through no fault of the landowners themselves. We as a government want to try and help. We want to work with the state governments where appropriate to try and help those who are involved. We will continue to do that. As for the technical question, I will see if either my department or perhaps Treasury want to give a more definitive answer. If they do, I will report back to you.

Senator BOLKUS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer to the minister’s effusive offers of help. Can the minister confirm in this context that the Commonwealth has not agreed to requests for assistance from the South Australian government to help the bushfire affected communities to recover? I refer specifically to the request from the state government to the Commonwealth for it to match the $6 million costs incurred by the South Australian government. Also, why is the Commonwealth billing South Australia some $60,000 per week for the Army Reserve currently assisting on the Eyre Peninsula? Did the Commonwealth demand a $100 million indemnity from the South Australian government before providing this Army Reserve assistance? Minister, why is the government taxing South Australian government assistance and not matching it?

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) —Senator, again you are asking me a question about the defence department. We have a most fabulous defence minister in Senator Hill. In fact, Senator Hill just indicated to me that the indemnity is being waived. I am also told—and have read media reports—that the Premier of South Australia is very happy with the response from our Prime Minister on that particular issue. Senator Bolkus, this seems to be a typical Labor Party approach. I would hope that you might have learnt the lesson that you should not just raise these figments of your imagination and put them down as government initiatives. You should make sure your facts are correct. Senator, time does not allow me—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator IAN MACDONALD —to go into the detail of the supplementary question, but I will get answers for you to all of those particulars and let you have them, as I have done in the past.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I remind senators that shouting across the chamber is disorderly. I also remind senators to address their remarks through the chair.