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Wednesday, 24 March 2004
Page: 21855

Senator SHERRY (5:05 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

Firstly, this is the quickest response to an order for the production of documents; we only passed the order earlier today. It is obvious why the response has been so quick—it is an outright refusal by the government to provide the revenue detail of the moneys that were collected from this new measure. The new measure we are discussing relates to tax collection from temporary residents who leave the country and who may voluntarily transfer overseas their superannuation that accrued whilst they were working in Australia, once they leave the country. As a consequence of that transfer, the tax revenue is collected—or is proposed to be collected, more to the point.

What is outrageous about the outright refusal of the Assistant Treasurer, Senator Coonan—presumably on instructions by the Treasurer, Mr Costello—is that the revenue that is claimed will be collected was the major savings component of the Liberal Party's last election commitments. It was listed as a savings measure to raise some $325 million over four years. In the first year it was listed, it was claimed that some $70 million would be raised in the financial year 2002-03.

The government do know what revenue is being collected from this measure. That is clear. But they are refusing to provide the precise figure that was collected in the financial year 2002-03. This is a cover-up. The government are refusing to disclose the revenue that they actually collected from this measure in 2002-03. They have forecast in the budget papers the collection of some $70 million in 2002-03 and some $325 million over the four years of the forward estimates. Why is it a cover-up? It is a cover-up because, on my information, the government cannot collect the money. They cannot collect anywhere near that $70 million in the first year of operation. I am reliably informed by my sources in the superannuation industry that the government would have been lucky to collect $10 million from this measure in the 2002-03 financial year. We do not know the precise figure because the government will not release the figure actually collected.

Why is the figure much lower than the one included in the budget estimates for 2002-03? It is simply because the government cannot collect the revenue. Only the Treasurer, Mr Costello, would claim that you could collect tax from departed residents—and that they would pay voluntarily—when you do not know where they have gone to. The Treasurer, Mr Costello, is claiming that he can collect $325 million over four years when the tax office cannot find a significant proportion of the temporary residents who have left the country. If you cannot find the temporary residents—if you do not know where they have gone—you cannot tell them to voluntarily transfer their superannuation out of the country and then collect the tax revenue, which the Liberal government has claimed it will do. That is the basic flaw in this approach.

This is Alice in Wonderland stuff—to believe that you can collect $325 million in tax revenue when you cannot find the temporary residents, the backpackers and the like, who have left the country to collect the tax. That is the reason why the government will not release the figure of what was actually collected in 2002-03. That is the reason why they are covering this up. They cannot collect the $325 million in tax that they budgeted for in the commitments they made at the last election and put in the forward estimates. There will be a significant shortfall in the revenue to be collected from this measure. That is why the government refuses to release the figures for the year 2002-03.

It is very clear that the government, in covering this up, does not want to admit to a serious mistake that is probably going to cost the budget revenue between $200 million and $250 million over the four years. If I am wrong, I challenge the Treasurer to release the figure of the moneys actually collected in 2002-03. If I am wrong, release the figure. But the Treasurer, through the Assistant Treasurer, is refusing to release the figure because the Treasurer does not want to admit that he has got it wrong. The Treasurer does not want to correct the public record and admit that he cannot collect $325 million in revenue from backpackers and the like who have left the country and who Treasury cannot find to collect the tax. I challenge the government to come clean. I challenge the Treasurer and the Assistant Treasurer to correct the public record and to come clean on the actual revenue collected in 2002-03. If I am wrong then they should produce the figure for the moneys collected. It was supposed to be $70 million. Let us see the figure. Let the Assistant Treasurer and the Treasurer prove that I am wrong in saying that they are going to fall $200 million-odd short on a measure that was used to justify the funding of their election commitments and is now in the budget.

Question agreed to.