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Wednesday, 8 November 2000
Page: 19404

Senator HOGG (2:11 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, representing the Prime Minister. What advice does the Prime Minister have for Mr Russell Wise, a chartered accountant, who has stated:

I am here at 6 a.m. and finish at 10 p.m. Clients who thought they could do their BAS themselves have found they cannot, and they have rung me in a panic, wanting me to finish it off for them. I think the necessity for detail is far too complex.

Is this just another example of the new simplified tax system, having small business ring accountants like Mr Wise in a panic because they cannot complete the new simplified BAS? Just what advice does the Prime Minister have for accountants such as Mr Wise and their frustrated, panicking clients?

Senator HILL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —The best that this Australian Labor Party can do is argue about the fine print on forms. What a pathetic indictment of an opposition that has now had four years to think about turning itself into a constructive alternative. It is not surprising that this opposition concentrates on such minutiae, because otherwise it would have to focus on the big issues. It would have to start considering what it might put forward as an alternative tax policy for this country. All we have heard so far from the ALP is that it favours roll-back, whatever roll-back might be. We assume that, because it now supports the goods and services tax, it is in some way slightly withdrawing that tax and putting up income taxes to fill the gap. We assume that because the Australian Labor Party is not prepared to come clean with the Australian people. We suspect it is not prepared to come clean with the Australian people because it really has no idea what it intends to put at the next election. It has no idea what it would intend to implement if it ever came to government again.

Therefore, all the Australian people can do is look to Labor's record. What was Labor's record when it was last in government? Labor's record was: you put all taxes up. Not only that, but you also said you were going to put them down at the same time as you were putting them up. You put up excise. You put up wholesale sales tax. You put up taxes on wine. You introduced new taxes on leaded fuel. Any tax you could find you increased. That is what Labor did. It even invented an l-a-w tax cut, which it then reneged upon, costing the Australian people a lot of money. So that is presumably what Labor is about, because that is what it was about when it was last in government.

What would that cost taxpayers? When Labor put up the wholesale sales tax in August 1993 and July 1995, in the year 1995-96 that cost taxpayers $1,207 million. The following year it cost taxpayers an additional $1.345 billion. When they increased petrol excise—they like to forget that—in August 1993, again in February 1994 and again in August 1994, the following year that cost Australian taxpayers $1.46 billion, and the year after that it cost Australian taxpayers $1.53 billion. While the Labor Party concentrate on the fine print of forms, the people of Australia can only reflect upon what they are hiding. What they are hiding, presumably, is the alternative of the past—increased taxes, higher taxes. Don't wrestle with the big challenges of reform in the taxation system; whenever you have a problem, put up taxes and interest rates, borrow more, build up debt, throw Australians out of work and then claim you have never had it so good—that is what the Australian Labor Party are about. I say to the honourable senator: is start thinking about the big issues. Accept that Labor did not have the courage to implement tax reform, but it is never too late to start—after four years of thinking about it, it is just about time for Labor to start now.

Senator HOGG —I have a supplementary question, Madam President. The minister failed to answer any part of my question whatsoever, in particular: just what advice does the Prime Minister have for accountants, such as Mr Wise, and their frustrated, panicking clients? Further, is having accountants such as Mr Wise working 16 hours a day just another example of Mr Howard having cut small business red tape by 50 per cent? When will the Prime Minister honour his promise to cut small business red tape in half?

Senator HILL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —This government took the tough decisions on tax reform that all sensible, objective Australians knew were necessary. Even the Labor Party knew they were necessary, but they never had the courage to do it. They did not have the courage to do it; this government has done it. It is a tax package that puts Australia in good stead for strong economic growth over the long term—growth that has been delivered already by the Howard government; growth that is continuing to be delivered. But rather than acknowledge Labor's failure in not grappling with the big issues, all this honourable senator can do is come in here and argue about the fine print. It is not surprising that some people have difficulty with new forms. We regret that people have difficulty with new forms, but the Australian people and, in particular, small business—because they are a lot smarter than the Labor party acknowledge—will soon get on top of the forms and will get the benefits of this tax reform package. (Time expired)