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Tuesday, 11 April 1961

Mr BIRD (Batman) .- I support the amendment. I am surprised that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Osborne) has given such a short reply. It is true that earlier this afternoon we had some sort of an apology from the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) as to why he did not contemplate the action now proposed by the Opposition. During the eleven years I have been a member of the Parliament I have never listened to a weaker explanation than that given by the Government on this occasion. It is quite apparent that the Treasurer was feeling thoroughly discomforted, because he realized that he was the architect of the Government's present position. After three months and three or four days it was realized that a gross injustice had been perpetrated on a section of the Australian public and on a section of Australian industry. There is not the slightest doubt that the Government realized it had committed a cardinal mistake and decided to rectify it as early as possible. The Labour Party has no objection to the rectification of the mistake, but there is no reason why the people who were the victims of the mistake should be deprived of about £85 per person as the result of the Government backing the wrong horse on this occasion.

The Treasurer, in his apology, stated that there had been sales tax increases before, and that when the rate had been reduced no refund was made to the people who paid the increase. That is perfectly true, but honorable members should not forget that in the ordinary course of events sales tax alterations are made only as Budget proposals. I have no recollection since I have been a member of the Parliament of a government coming in half way through a financial year and reducing a sales tax implemented under the preceding Budget. That has never been done before, and therefore it is useless for the Treasurer to say that a refund of sales tax has never been given. Never before, after only three months, has a sales tax been reduced; and that, in itself, is a condemnation of this legislation in the eyes of everybody, including members of the Government.

The Government's attitude to-day is one of sheer obstinacy. It refuses to acknowledge that it made a mistake. Apparently it thinks that it has never been guilty of making a mistake, but it did make a mistake and it has not the courage to admit this publicly. The Government made a grave public mistake because after only three months it decided to rectify the position and introduced amending legislation.

We have been told that it would be against the precedents of the past to accept our suggestion. Are we always to be bound by the precedents of the past? Have we to accept every decision of the Government because it is following a procedure that was adopted 50 years ago and has never been departed from? Must we allow the dead practices of the past to dictate our actions in the year 1961? A decision made by the Parliament in 1907, 1927 or 1937 is not necessarily good enough for this Parliament in 1961. After all, conditions change and the point of view of the public and of the Commonwealth change. I am never impressed when any one in this chamber tells me that you cannot do this or you cannot do that because it has never been done before. Good gracious me, this is supposed to be a progressive Parliament! We are here to legislate for the current generation. That being so, we must always be ready to cut across the precedents and practices of the past and we must always be prepared to implement something that has not been implemented before. It is idle for any one to say that because something was not done in the past it cannot be done now. Any one who speaks like that must be stamped as a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary.

The diminution in sales of motor vehicles was not brought about by the increase in the sales tax. If a person wants to buy a motor car an additional £80 will not make much difference because he is determined to get the car and 80 or 90 per cent, of sales are made on a credit time-payment basis. There is not the slightest doubt that the decrease in the sales of motor cars was brought about by the credit squeeze. The Government knows this and the Treasurer had to admit it this afternoon when he said that the legislation now before us was introduced because the Government had decided to use other methods in the future. One of the other methods, of course, is the continuation of the credit squeeze because the Government realizes that by the credit squeeze it is achieving the objectives that it set out to achieve in November last year when it increased the sales tax. I am satisfied that the increased sales tax had very little effect upon the sale of motor cars.

In his weak-kneed apology to-day the Treasurer told us that it would not be practicable to refund the additional sales tax. Good gracious me, does he not know that he is dealing with business firms which are efficient and which keep complete records of sales of motor cars? When a firm sells a motor car it obtains the name and address of the purchaser and many other details. Any person buying a motor car is asked 101 questions - at least I always am when I buy a car - and this information is filed away and used later. Two or three years after purchasing a car a salesman calls upon you to try to sell you a new one. He tells you that the latest model has many improvements on the car that you bought two or three years previously. It would be merely a matter of office administration, and in two or three months 99.9 per cent, of the people who paid the additional sales tax could have it refunded to them. To claim that it would not be a practical act of administration to refund the money is merely begging the issue.

The Government knows that it made a mistake. It is in a very deep hole because it has been reprimanded by friend and foe alike, and the least that it says about the matter the better. The Minister for Repatriation merely stated that the Opposition's suggestion was not acceptable to the Government and resumed his seat. He is bound by Government policy, but he should have shown a little consideration to the committee and explained in detail why the Government is not prepared to accept the very fair suggestion that has been made by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports.

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