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Thursday, 25 November 1999
Page: 12696

Mr BROUGH —My question is addressed to the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation. Minister, will you inform the House how Australia's small shareholders will benefit from the government's new business taxation system?

Mr Crean —Tell them about the Sunday lunch in London, Joe!

Mr HOCKEY (Financial Services and Regulation) —You were shopping in Marks and Spencers.

Mr Crean interjecting

Mr HOCKEY —How was Harrods?

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and I warn the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation. I am tired of this across-the-table exchange.

Mr HOCKEY —I thank the member for Longman for his question. The member for Longman, and importantly the people of Caboolture, would be aware of how significant share ownership is for improving the general wealth of Australia. As I understand it, the Bank of Queensland was recently very heavily oversubscribed. The people of Queensland are very keen to invest in shares.

After the passage of the Ralph taxation initiatives yesterday, 80 per cent of Australians will pay no more than 15 per cent in capital gains tax as a result of those initiatives. In fact, super funds, which are accessible to 91 per cent of working Australians, have had their taxation reduced from 15 per cent to 10 per cent as well. That brings Australia into line with a whole range of other countries, but most importantly it reduces the complexity and compliance costs for small business and particularly for small investors in Australian shares.

It is an opportune moment to remind the House that share ownership in Australia is continuing to grow. Since 1995, 2.8 million Australians have become direct Australian share owners for the first time. That has come about for two particular reasons: firstly, the privatisation programs undertaken by various governments around Australia and, secondly, demutualisation of insurance companies. They have provided the shares. So now nearly 44 per cent of all Australians directly own shares, which is more than six million people.

Some people in this House do not think that is enough. I noted the comments of the member for Werriwa during the course of the debate on business taxation yesterday. He, having for the last 3½ years been trying to drag the Labor Party kicking and screaming to the right, has now decided to try to pull them to the left on taxation.

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This has absolutely nothing to do with the question that was asked of him, which was to explain the government's legislative proposals.

Mr SPEAKER —I was clearly waiting for the quote to see whether it had relevance to the question that had been asked. It is difficult to rule prior to knowing what the member for Werriwa had said.

Mr HOCKEY —This was in the debate on business taxation yesterday in the House. I quote the member for Werriwa:

This parliament should be enacting a first share owners scheme to bring all Australians into the virtues of a share owner democracy . . .

We all agree, but we are intrigued that, when this parliament had legislation before it with the most accessible and affordable first-time share owners scheme in it—and that was the sale of the second tranche of Telstra—the Labor Party and the member for Werriwa voted against it. On the one hand, the member for Werriwa comes in here and says there should be in operation a share owners scheme for all consumers, and on the other hand he votes against the sale of Telstra.

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. With regard to standing order 145, now that we have heard the quote and the examples that have been drawn from it, it is clearly not relevant to the question that was asked.

Mr SPEAKER —I reassure the Manager of Opposition Business that if the minister is not relevant to the question asked, at the instruction of the chair he will resume his seat. But it is not hard to imagine how he may be drawing a parallel between share ownership and investors and business tax reform. That is why I have allowed him to continue.

Mr HOCKEY —I am helping them in this situation, Mr Speaker. From now on, share ownership in Australia will be more affordable and more accessible than ever before because of the initiatives of abolishing stamp duty on the transfer of shares, starting 1 July 2001, lower transaction costs as a result of the Wallis initiatives, greater competition in the provision of share ownership services, halving capital gains tax and scrip for scrip takeover relief. Share ownership in Australia has never been more accessible for everyday Australians.