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Tuesday, 26 March 1985
Page: 785

Senator MacGIBBON —Did the Minister representing the Prime Minister see the comments by the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Mr Dolan, that the Prime Minister and the union movement may have bitten off more than they could chew in the tax reform debate?

Senator Cook —Make it sensible.

Senator MacGIBBON —I could not get down to the honourable senator's level. Since the Government must have the support of the union movement to hold and implement the findings of the tax summit, and considering the Prime Minister's views in Ottawa on the tax summit that his Government is not in the business of committing political suicide on this or any other issues, I ask: Is the Government unequivocally determined to hold this summit, which now has the sole purpose of legitimising further tax increases, or is the Government wobbly on this issue too?

Senator BUTTON —Again, I will ignore the speech not only because this is Question Time but also because the speech had very low intellectual content. I am aware of the comments made by Mr Dolan and I take them for what they are worth. A lot of people have made comments of a similar kind. If one embarks on any significant changes in this country and sees that those changes are, as far as possible, accomplished in the open, in an atmosphere of free discussion, inevitably one will get that sort of comment and criticism. Whether it comes from newspapers, Mr Dolan or honourable senators does not matter very much as one gives it the same sort of weight. The Prime Minister said in Ottawa, in answer to a question about the tax summit, that this Government was not in the business of committing political suicide, and I assure honourable senators that that is correct. It is a view that I substantially share.

Senator Peter Rae —Are you going to withdraw the assets test?

Senator BUTTON —The assets test was there at the last election. Of course, the Government could do what Senator Peter Rae has been doing in the last 12 months, and what other honourable senators opposite have been doing, and ignore the major issues facing this country and go around collecting a grab-bag of constituencies which are concerned about particular vested interests which they have. That is one way one could probably do reasonably well in politics. After all, the Australian Democrats have been pretty good at that. One can do well in that style of politics, but if one is addressing major issues which are a matter of common consensus-and the taxation review is a major issue-then, of course, there will be difficulties along the way. When that taxation review is accomplished, we will be judged on how we have done it. We are prepared to face that risk and I suppose we are very much comforted by the fact that, at the same time as the electorate judges us, it will be judging the Opposition as well. That will make it much easier for us. Returning to the nub of Senator MacGibbon's question, yes, the process of consultation, including the summit, will proceed.