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Monday, 21 October 2002
Page: 5482

Senator McLUCAS (2:54 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Revenue. Can the minister advise the Senate when the government will announce the terms of its proposed tax on sugar? Is the minister aware of growing opposition to this new tax? Further, is the minister aware that the head of CSR Sugar, Mr Ian McMaster, has told the Herald Sun newspaper that a sugar tax is simply unworkable, regardless of whether it is pitched at consumers or manufacturers? Minister, when will the details of the new tax be revealed?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —I thank Senator McLucas for the question. The package, and of course the tax that forms part of the package, will provide valuable assistance to individuals and to industries at a time of need. I would have thought Senator McLucas, being from Queensland, would be vitally interested in ensuring that an industry that is in some distress does receive the assistance it needs. Of course, the levy is part of a scheme which is intended to secure a profitable future for the sugar industry through initiatives that include farm aggregations, rationalisation of transport and harvesting systems and diversification into alternative crops. The scheme is worth up to $150 million over four years with a large proportion of the package being funded by a levy on domestic sugar sales. Details of the arrangement, so far as I am aware, are yet to be finalised. Given the significant details yet to be resolved, the exact treatment of the scheme is of course not yet clarified.

To be carping on about levies that are necessary parts of packages to assist industries in need is really typical of the constantly critical opposition. The Labor Party claim to be interested in solving problems, but of course there is never any proposal as to how they would be funded. We all know that the Labor Party would do nothing except simply tip the nation back into debt. This government takes a responsible approach to funding its initiatives. It is interesting that Labor did not seem to have any qualms at all about imposing the Medicare levy when it was in government. That was back in 1984; that levy is still with us. This government understands that there are occasions when either industries or programs that are essential parts of providing services to the Australian community need revenue to be raised, and a levy in circumstances where there is part of a package is entirely appropriate. The Labor Party seems to forget of course that they did run up something in the order of $96 billion in debt. Given half the chance, they would do it again—we all know that. This government takes the most responsible approach to any measures that raise revenue, and the levy as part of the sugar package is an entirely responsible measure to assist an industry that deserves some assistance and a measure which I thought Senator McLucas would entirely support.

Senator McLUCAS —Mr President, I have a supplementary question. Can the minister confirm that, since the Howard government won office in 1996, it has imposed a gun tax, a dairy tax and an Ansett tax—it wanted to impose the Timor tax—and it is currently considering introduction of the tourism tax and a tax to fund Australian military action? As the minister representing the highest-taxing Treasurer in Australian history, why won't she tell the Senate when details of the sugar tax will be revealed?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —Thank you for the supplementary question, Senator McLucas. But, once again, it really displays the fact that you have very little grasp of the nature of this levy and very little understanding of what in fact is a high-taxing government and what is not. Have you seen, for instance, the recent OECD survey which puts Australia amongst the lowest taxing nations in the developed world at something like about the sixth lowest taxing nation? I would suggest you check your facts before you make those sorts of suggestions as part of your supplementary question. When details of the levy are available, they will be announced.