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Tuesday, 22 June 1999
Page: 7016

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (4:54 PM) —The amendment moved by the member for Lilley to the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Bill 1999 consists of three points, two of which are falsehoods and the other of which is an absolute insult to public servants. The amendment says that there is an attempt to administer family payments in such a way as to deny access by families to the payments by incorporating such things as `virtual offices'. To talk about public servants being unable to do two things at once is quite disgusting, and I think it is a bit retrograde—even taking account of the member for Lilley's well known viewpoint on those matters. The fact is that his whole address was full of lies, damn lies and plenty of statistics.

The government, as a result of its move on the new tax package, is going to give the states a growth tax. Every cent from the goods and services tax will be going direct to state governments for schools and hospitals, direct to police, direct to the needy. It is not going into the wasted kinds of retrograde programs that were pioneered by people like the member for Lilley, such as Working Nation and things of that ilk. Those programs did not progress us very far at all.

I come from Blair in Queensland. In that state, thanks to One Nation, we have a Labor government. I do not know what the member for Lilley fears about the priorities of the Queensland government, but if anything is going to happen to impact on that money going direct to schools, to hospitals, to all those programs that support families in our state of Queensland, then he ought explain what it is. Is the Queensland government not going to support those programs? Is there a hidden agenda that they have whereby they are going to go further into debt, whereby they are going to have to pay off something that we do not already know about. It is quite an insult.

The member for Lilley is also living in the past. He criticises the Family Assistance Office. As I said, they can do two things at once: they can talk and chew gum at the same time. Under the Labor Party we had a whole lot of public servants whose job it was to talk; we had another whole lot whose job it was to chew gum. That was the kind of thing that they did. Only in the 1990s would the Labor Party continue down this path and continue to go against the very well known principles of multiskilling. Years ago when I was at the ABC we got into multiskilling. It has been happening all over the Public Service. People in the Public Service are capable of talking and chewing gum at once, and I think that the member for Lilley ought to endorse them in their efforts.

Labor gave Australia interest rates of 20 per cent. For families, for people who are struggling to make ends meet, to pay off mortgages—he spoke about the fact that they do have mortgages to pay off—interest rates as high as 20 per cent do not help. Hundreds of dollars every week are now in the pockets of average families because the coalition government is in power and because people voted them to be there, not the Labor Party. People were jacked off with 20 per cent interest rates. That was a ridiculous kind of situation to put them in.

This is a government that is proposing more take-home pay for families, having more money in your pocket, more discretionary spending. That is good stuff, that is the kind of thing that people like to hear. What do they get from the Labor Party? The Labor Party want to give them less money in their pockets. They want to charge 22 per cent on things like cornflakes and dog food. Those are things that people buy every day. Those are important things. If you want to continue with this dunger of a tax system that we have got now, then good on you. But I think most Australians are well and truly shot of it and they are glad to see the back of it.

The member for Lilley spoke about a study of Canada. In Australia the Senate did the biggest study of the GST. I think it was the biggest Senate study that there has ever been. And what happened at the end of it? The Democrats came and supported the government's position. They negotiated with the government and reached a solution that was going to be effective for Australians. That is what I call a good outcome from a sensible study into the impact of a goods and services tax.

The bills before the House—the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Bill 1999 and the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Consequential and Related Measures) Bill (No. 2) 1999 —get down to the nuts and bolts of this reform. This is a huge area of government activity. In 1998, 3.4 million children benefited from Commonwealth family allowances. The big reform that is being undertaken in this process is the simplification of the Australian tax system. This system covers everything from income tax to family allowances. Australians understood that at the election. They wanted a simpler system, and that is why they voted for this government.

The opposition stands for red tape. It wants people bound up in a wholesale sales tax net that has multiple rates—and we have been through them: 12 to 22 per cent, 32 per cent, 37 per cent, 41 per cent and 47 per cent. The same applies in this bill; it is about simplification. If you want to make a choice between the government and the opposition, it will be a choice between the opposition's 12 different systems of family assistance and our total of three.

Under these two bills, the new Family Assistance Office will deliver family tax benefit, child-care benefit, maternity allowance and maternity immunisation allowance. The Family Assistance Office will form part of the duties of all Australian Taxation Offices, all Centrelink offices and all Medicare offices—and I am sure that they all are up to it.

When it comes to making a claim for family tax benefit, a primary carer will be able to do so in one of several ways: they can lodge a claim with the Family Assistance Office, for example through Centrelink, for fortnightly payments; or claim a lump sum payment at the end of the year through the taxation system, either through the primary carer's tax return or their partner's tax return. Families will have a further option to reduce their or their partner's tax instalment deductions during the year in anticipation of their end of year family tax benefit lump sum entitlement.

In the area of child-care, families will be able to claim their child-care benefit for formal care in approved child-care services in one of several ways. It can be done either as instalment payments paid directly to their nominated child-care service; that will enable the service to reduce the fees that the family will pay, and current arrangements under which child-care assistance advance payments are made to child-care services will be preserved for child-care benefit purposes. Alternatively, it can be claimed as a lump sum after the end of the financial year from the Family Assistance Office. Child-care benefit for informal care will be claimed as a lump sum for a period of care of up to 12 months and paid via the Family Assistance Office. Child-care benefit will not be delivered through the tax system because of the complexity of the information parents would need to retain to be able to correctly assess their entitlement.

When it comes to the maternity allowance and the maternity immunisation allowance, families will be able to claim single one-off payments under those two categories from the Family Assistance Office, through Centrelink. Like the child-care benefit, those two benefits will not be delivered through the tax system.

The coalition wants to cut red tape; that is what we are about. We want to assist businesses and families. For 13 years Labor's goal was to tie people down and make them dependent on welfare and to tie them up in red tape. It tied down businesses, and it still has the unfair dismissal legislation as something it continually hankers after. The coalition is just the opposite. Everyone wants a simplified tax system and less red tape, particularly when it comes to the basics of family assistance.

Back at election time, the Labor Party could not get the message. In 1998 even the One Nation Party wanted a single low rate of tax on goods and services. That party did not recognise it, but it was proposing a goods and services tax of some sort. So, while the dogs are barking about the need for simplification, a new tax system, a simplified system of support for families, the Labor Party has cloth ears.

Families and the institution of marriage deserve greater support from the government. The marriage rate in Australia has decreased since 1987 by 6.5 per cent; divorce rates over the same period have climbed by 29.1 per cent. These are issues I think we should bear in mind and take cognisance of, and we should set about taking some of the red tape burden off these people—and I am pleased to see that this is what the government, of which I am a backbencher, is proceeding to do.

There are plenty of examples of simplification in the new tax system proposed by the government. We have the pay-as-you-go system for small business where we replace 11 existing systems with one. Among those systems that are being replaced are very burdensome things like PAYE, PPS, provisional tax, RPS and company instalments. Currently, businesses are making up to 32 separate payments in a year—some in advance. Now they will make one return 21 days after the end of every quarter in arrears. Those are things I think the public out there need to hear about. They certainly need to hear about the advantages that will be achieved by proceeding down this path of providing people with a simplified family allowance system.

Madam Deputy Speaker Kelly, in closing I would mention a group of people very close to your own heart, just as they are very close to mine—families in rural areas in 1996 were recorded as representing one in seven of all families in Australia, and this would still be the case. Their limited access to the sorts of services that governments provide, particularly state governments, is a big issue. We need to provide those services to those families in rural areas and, in order to do that, we need a system that gives more dollars to, and in support of, the state systems.