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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 3539

Senator HUMPHRIES (3:34 PM) —Question time today presented a cipher of all that this government seems to be doing when it comes to its policy on taxation. Here we have one of the most significant tax measures, worth $3.1 billion, which this government has announced—it came out of the blue; it was not on its agenda before the election—on users of ready-to-drink alcoholic products. The measure was introduced by way of a regulation in April this year. The minister was asked, ‘When will we see the legislation whereby parliament is able to confirm that this tax should be imposed?’ The minister said: ‘I don’t know; I can’t tell you. It’ll happen at some point, and I’ll get back to you about that.’ An hour later, at the end of question time, the minister rises and says he will table the legislation in due course. To me, that indicates the kind of shambolic approach this government has been taking in general to taxation issues and the planning of its budget.

This particular tax is a good example. It was not announced in the lead-up to the last election. Mr Rudd had a plan for Australia—a way of being able to deliver on all sorts of important social changes. He did not mention to Australians that he was going to increase taxation levels on ready-to-drink alcoholic products. And bear in mind that that same committee report that Senator Collins was just quoting from indicated that the majority of people who are consuming these products are not adolescents; they are older Australians who, for the most part, are using these drinks responsibly. This out-of-the-blue burden on these drinkers was not announced at all before the election. Suddenly, in April, a new tax is announced on these products and a measure is put in place to allow it to occur but, in terms of the legislation, we do not see any follow-up that will make that possible.

There is serious concern here about how much money the government will collect before its actions are vindicated by an act of this parliament. This financial year, 2007-08, the government, under this proposal, will collect almost $100 million in tax, without the legislative base for that passing through parliament, with the real possibility that, if the parliament does not endorse this particular measure or endorses it in a different form to the one the government puts forward, we might see the government, possibly, having to refund money to those Australians who paid that tax. It is a bizarre circumstance which, apparently, has not been foreshadowed or adverted to by this government. It is a chaotic approach to budgeting across the board.

So many measures announced in this budget were not foreshadowed to the Australian community before the last election, like the taxes on alcopops and luxury cars, the increase in health insurance rebates and the gutting of the solar panel rebate system. The effect on this city particularly is very concerning. In my community we are seeing the failure of the government to identify areas where, as Senator Conroy put it in question time today, wasteful spending was occurring, which means that the government has moved over to areas where painful and unnecessary cuts are having to be made. So we are seeing cuts to the national institutions based here in Canberra: the National Library, the National Museum, the Australian War Memorial and the National Gallery. Where did that come from? Where were the announcements about that before the last election?

These things are happening because you people have discovered that there is not that much wasteful expenditure that you could easily lop off in order to make these sorts of policy changes in your budget. You are having, as a result, to go back and cut things which are much more important to the Australian people than those things that you previously suggested were there to be cut easily. So we are seeing cuts to the CSIRO and to innovation programs. Commercial Ready is going out the door. We are seeing extra burdens on Australian drinkers. We are seeing, as Senator Fielding suggested today, extra government taxes on petrol. We are seeing all sorts of burdens on the Australian community of which no notice was given before the election in November. This is a very serious turn of events and it indicates the shambolic approach this government takes to taxation. (Time expired)