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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 254

Senator COOK —I direct a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Has the Minister had his attention drawn to the puny efforts of the Opposition, and in particular its economically illiterate leader, Mr Peacock, to beat up an issue out of taxation levels under the Hawke Labor Government? Can the Minister provide the Senate with details of tax levels under this Government, and tax levels under this Government in comparison with tax levels under the failed Fraser Government?

Senator WALSH —Yes, Mr President; oddly enough, I can. The facts are that this year on the Budget estimates gross pay-as-you-earn tax will provide 46 1/2 per cent of total tax. In the last year of the Fraser Government gross PAYE tax provided 51 per cent of total tax. This year, excluding the Medicare levy, which of course is not a tax per se but a mechanism for the conversion of what was previously private expenditure into a Budget outlay, the total tax is 24.7 per cent of gross domestic product. In the last year of the Fraser-Howard regime- that is, Mr Howard's last Budget-it was 25 per cent, a higher proportion of GDP under the last Budget introduced by the discredited former Treasurer than it is under the latest Budget presented by the Labor Government.

Senator Chaney —Why do you exclude the Medicare levy? That is thoroughly dishonest.

Senator WALSH —I have already given the reason for excluding Medicare. That is not a tax per se, but a mechanism for converting what was previously private expenditure into a Budget outlay. I would have thought that Senator Chaney, who is one of the more intelligent members of the official Opposition, would have the capacity to understand that point.

On the general question of taxation, the Opposition on that as well as so many other things does not seem to have got its act together. I have had my attention drawn to a statement made to the National Press Club by the discredited former Treasurer on 12 April this year. He said: 'That is, faced with a choice between reducing the deficit to a more acceptable level, or a tax cut, I believe it to be in the longer term economic interests of Australia that the deficit be reduced'. Four months ago the discredited former Treasurer, the present shadow Treasurer and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party was saying that there should not be any tax cut at all. He was saying four months ago there should be no tax cuts and that the deficit should be reduced by a commensurate amount. That is an opinion with which some people may legitimately agree, but that same Opposition, through its official spokesman and discredited former financial representative in the Parliament, said that there should not be a tax cut but, instead, a reduction in the deficit. This Government did not accept that view. This Government chose to apply a significant tax cut of more than $2 billion in a full financial year, for a number of very good reasons which I do not propose to go into at this stage. The Government is now being condemned by the discredited former Government because the tax cut shoult have been bigger.

Senator Peter Rae —Mr President, I take a point of order. It is contrary to the Standing Orders to be tediously repetitive and the phrases 'discredited former Treasurer' and 'discredited former Government' in the answer have now been used eight times as part of the Minister's answer. It is tedious repetition and should be disallowed.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. At the same time I would ask the Minister not to debate the answer.

Senator WALSH —Certainly, Mr President. It may or may not be tedious, and I do not intend to pass judgment on that, but it is certainly embarrassing to the former Government.

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I take a point of order. Immediately you directed the Minister not to debate the question, he rose and used words which can only be described as debating the question. I suggest that he is ignoring your ruling and that his attention should be called to your original ruling and he be told to answer the question.

The PRESIDENT —I ask the Minister to restrict his remarks to giving an answer to the question, which, if one bears in mind the question that was asked, gives him a pretty wide frame.

Senator WALSH —It was an excellently phrased question, if I may say so, Mr President. The real point is that the Opposition in this as in so many other areas does not seem to know what it is for and what it is against. Four months ago it was for no tax cuts at all but supported a reduction in the deficit in lieu of a tax cut. Now, if any credence at all is to be placed on any of the things the Opposition or its representatives say, the present Opposition believes that there should have been a larger tax cut than the Government decided upon. Some people might care to advance a legitimate argument for that as well, but the real point is that in this as in so many other areas the Opposition has not got its act together. It does not know what it is for or against. I was hoping that Senator Chaney or Senator Peter Rae might clarify the point and let us all know what the Opposition is for and what it is against rather than shifting and changing in accordance with the requirements of perceived political expediency.

Senator Chaney —Mr President, the Minister addressed a question to me and I would like him to know that we are against the 8 per cent real increase in expenditure last year and we are against the 6 per cent increase in expenditure this year and the consequent high taxes.

Senator COOK —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Minister in his answer referred to the fact that there were several reasons why the Government would give a tax cut but declined to give any reasons. Would he please enumerate some reasons?

The PRESIDENT —Order! I suggest that that is not a supplementary question.