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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2081

Senator CHANEY —My question, which is to the Minister for Finance, refers to the answer he gave to Senator McKiernan on 28 April. He said that the distillate used on farms was excise free. He continued:

For the first time ever in 1985 this Government entirely reduced excise on fuel.

I remind the Minister that when he was challenged by Senator Messner, who said `that is not so', he claimed that it was. Has the Minister had a chance to check the matter again? Will he now admit that the 1985 decision was taken more than two years after the Hawke Government imposed extra costs on farmers by increasing the excise on diesel and freezing the rebate at the 1983 level? Will he also admit that, until 1983, the rebate was the same amount per litre as the excise collected? In other words, does he now concede that the Hawke Government's action in 1985 did nothing other than restore the level of rebate to that which had applied before the 1983 Budget decision imposed an added burden on farmers?

Senator WALSH —The level of rebate in 1985 was higher than the level the rebate had been previously for at least two different reasons. Yesterday, I quoted from the 1982 Budget Papers which said that the exemption from excise of diesel fuel for all off-road use would be abolished. I also said that I believed-I said that I would check it out-that the legal mechanisms for the completion of the rebate had not been put through by the previous Government. A check has revealed that they had been put through by the previous Government; I was wrong about that. As to subsequent changes, when this Government came to office it was appalled to discover, on receipt of Treasury advice, that the country was facing a $9.6 billion prospective deficit in 1983-84.

Senator Chaney —Mr President, on a point of order: It is quite clear that the Minister, having just admitted that he misled the Senate on 28 April, is now proceeding to debate an entirely different subject on which there has been considerable debate in this place and where the Minister has been shown to have also misled the Senate. One has only to examine the Forward Estimates, look at the number of cuts made and at the discretionary increases to expenditure in 1983, to see that the Minister's claim that he is about to debate is absolute rubbish. Mr President, I ask you to call the Minister to order. If he had any decency at all he would apologise to the Senate for his inaccuracies over the past few days.

The PRESIDENT —On an earlier occasion I had the opportunity of requesting honourable senators, when they ask a question, and Ministers, when they reply, to make their questions and answers brief. I think the Minister is tending to debate this issue outside the area that he was asked about. I ask him to return to the question.

Senator WALSH —I submit that I was on the question because Senator Chaney referred to subsequent changes, and there were some subsequent changes. The reasons for that is that when we got into government we discovered that we were facing a prospective Budget deficit of $9.6 billion which had been calculated by the Treasury in the week before the 1983 election. The Treasury Secretary, who at the time was John Stone, went along to the then Government and said: `Are we going to publish this figure? The electorate, I suppose, is entitled to know this'. What was John Stone told? He said: `No, give the electorate the mushroom treatment. Sit on it, suppress it, go out and tell the mugs that the $9 1/2 billion is $6 billion'.

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I rise on the same point of order--

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister is debating the question. I ask the Minister to return to the question that he was asked.

Senator WALSH —I have finished.