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Tuesday, 9 September 2003
Page: 14615

Senator SHERRY (2:36 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan. Will the minister confirm that, 14 months after its introduction, only about $15 million of the Liberals' new tax on superannuation—the so-called backpacker tax on departing temporary residents—has been collected out of the $325 million budgeted for?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —As the Senate will be aware, what the government has in fact introduced, and it has been passed in this place, is a measure to allow those who are departing permanently to access their superannuation. Of course, departing temporary residents have the option of leaving their money here if they want to. Temporary residents seeking the prompt return of superannuation have, I am informed, been flocking to the new ATO web site at a rate of more than 13,000 a week. That is a sharp jump in demand from the 1,300 a week who were using the site in April, and it is directly attributable to the launch of the online application system for the measure in mid-April. Since the launch of the online application system, 1,593 electronic applications have been received. The ATO has also recently written to certain recent departees, where appropriate address information is available, to advise them of the measure.

So the ATO is currently engaged in both a domestic and overseas advertising campaign to raise awareness of the measure. It only commenced on 1 July 2002 and, in those circumstances, details of what has been paid out are not available at this time. It is not due, and the data is not available in relation to revenue, until 31 October this year. The details of the revenue generated by the measure obviously will be available in due course, but the measure has only been in operation since 1 July 2002. I am delighted to tell the Senate of the interest from overseas residents and those who may have eligibility and who are making contact with the Australian Taxation Office in order to take up this measure.

I am always pleased when the Labor Party takes some interest in the tax system and, more particularly, in superannuation. It is certainly novel to be asked some questions about it when we never see any policy at all from the Labor Party about superannuation. We certainly see nothing about tax unless it is all about sticking it up the taxpayer, putting up taxes and hurting ordinary Australians.

Senator SHERRY —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. They may be flocking to the Internet site but they are not paying the tax. Why won't the minister confirm that only $15 million out of $325 million has been collected from this tax? Won't it take 22 years, rather than the four years claimed, to collect this revenue? How will the government make up the likely $250 million shortfall in tax collection from the backpacker tax to fund its superannuation deal, which she outlined earlier to the Senate?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —If I were the Labor Party, I would not be too worried about any shortfall that the government might have in any policy, because the Labor Party do not have one. The government have budgeted for departing residents to be able to access their superannuation, as indeed they should. The measures started in July last year, and obviously it is important in those circumstances that the advertising campaign kicks in. When the data becomes available, it will be discussed. It is simply another example of the Labor Party, who are a total policy vacuum, trying to find some hole in any policy at all because they have an absolute dearth of their own.