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Tuesday, 11 April 1961

Mr DUTHIE (Wilmot) .- Mr. Chairman,the honorable member for Mcpherson (Mr. Barnes) has accused the Opposition of putting very indequate arguments in support of its case. Apparently, he was sound asleep in his seat in the chamber when the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) addressed the committee a little while ago and outlined the constructive methods by which Labour would have tackled the problem. The Government, however, has not even remotely looked like adopting one of our suggestions.

I am quite certain that the Government has lost its way. It is just like a man fumbling about in the dark for a light switch. But the light switch will not be turned on until this Government has been removed from the treasury bench and a government with vision and understanding of the country's problems is put into office. The Ministers in this Government live in ivory towers, even if they do not live in ivory palaces. The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) is not even present now to hear what is being said. We noticed at question time to-day even the Prime Minister's lack of a grip on the country's problems. He could not even answer the questions that were put to him. That is most unlike the Prime Minister, who found himself unable even to fob off a question with some sarcastic remark. Obviously, the Government has lost its way and, in respect of this issue, has taken the wrong turning.

The sales tax on motor cars affords a glorious example of its blind stumbling. It went down the wrong road a considerable distance and then suddenly realized that it had gone the wrong way. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in a dramatic announcement made just before he went overseas, left the Treasurer and every other Minister stranded when he said, " We are going to remove the additional 10 per cent, of the sales tax on motor cars ". That announcement was one of the greatest shocks that this country has ever received. Only the day before, in Melbourne, the Treasurer had been stating all the reasons for which the Government had increased the sales tax, like the true advocate of Government policy that he is. Then, within 24 hours, the Prime Minister reversed the whole thing and the Treasurer's argument fell like a pack of cards about his ears.

Where is this Government going? The increase of the sales tax was a horrible mistake. Indeed, I suggest that £3,800,000 has been taken out of the pockets of purchasers of motor cars in Australia under false pretences. That is why we ask the Government to refund the additional tax that was collected. The increase was not decent, in the first place. It constituted an unjust tax. I recall vividly the fanfare of trumpets that sounded throughout this country when the measure authorizing the increase was being considered by the Parliament. When the bill reached another place, it seemed in danger of defeat, Mr. Chairman. What happened? A track was worn from the Prime Minister's office to the offices of Senator Wood and Senator Wright. They seemed likely to dig their toes in, as we say, and reject the bill in defiance of the Government. I visited the gallery of the Senate to hear Senator Wood speak at the secondreading stage of the bill in that chamber. 1 have never heard a more sincere speech than that in my life. He said the very things that we on this side said in this chamber when we had the bill before us and voted against it. Indeed, Senator Wood said, " 1 do not care what happens to me; I shall vote against this measure because it is unjust ". He stuck to his guns, and he won the admiration of very many people throughout Australia.

One would have thought that that bill would have transformed the Australian scene from darkness to light - from night to day - there was so much fuss about it. Yet, only 98 days after its date of operation, the Government suddenly decided to wipe it off the statute-book. The whole thing was a horrible mistake, and the people who were caught up by it ought to be refunded the money they paid under false pretences in respect of the additional sales tax. All that this Government shows to the country to-day in its administration is indecision, uncertainty and insecurity. The business world is completely uncertain about the future. Business people cannot make longterm plans while the Menzies Government is in office because its changes of policy are so frequent.

During the 98 days for which the tax increase operated, 54,000 cars were bought, Mr. Chairman. Did not the Government want the purchasers to buy those cars? Was that the reason for the increase of the sales tax? Had the buyers refused to purchase these cars, the motor industry would have had to close down almost entirely and not only 6,000 workers but a great many more would have been put off. If the people who in fact bought the 54,000 motor cars were not supposed to buy them, who was to buy them? The Government gave no direction at all. It just introduced a blanket measure which hit everybody. It hit the needy and those who urgently required cars just as much as it hit those who were not so urgently in need of them. All were lumped together. The purchasers of the 54,000 cars must have required them urgently to buy them at such expense in the circumstances. The Government claims that' a great deal of the spending on motor cars is unnecessary, spendthrift and wasteful. But I remind the Government at this stage that it was its own administration that a few years ago encouraged the motor car industry to expand. We well recall the various measures that were introduced in this Parliament to boost the motor industry - an industry which I have heard the Treasurer and the Prime Minister describe as magnificent.

Mr Anderson - What measures?

Mr DUTHIE - I shall tell the honorable member. First, the Government encouraged the motor industry to expand when it made the double taxation agreement which was worth £50,000,000 or £60,000,000 to overseas investors in Australia. Most of this money was spent in the motor industry as a result of a deliberate act of this Government. That was its first measure designed to encourage this great industry to expand. Secondly, the Government increased depreciation allowances from 3.8 per cent, to 7 per cent, of the gross national product. In terms of money, this meant an increase from £100,000,000 to £475,000,000 in depreciation allowances. Thirdly, the Government, by reducing company tax by ls. in the £1 in 1958, further encouraged the motor industry to expand. All these measures were designed, in effect, to give a blood transfusion to this great industry. But, just when it was getting on its feet, one might say, the Government imposed the vicious increase of the sales tax in order to hamper the industry again. As a result, about 6,000 workers were added to the ranks of the unemployed.

From every stand-point, the increase was scandalous. I hope that the people will not forget it in December of this year. What is the use of criticizing the Prime Minister now? I appeal to those people who are greatly concerned about this matter to carry their protest right through to the ballot-box, as was done in 1949. If they do that, they will show that they mean what they now say. And let us not be fooled by these newspaper editorials that we read. I tell my constituents and the various Labour supporters to whom I talk that the newspaper proprietors will vote for the Government parties on 9th December next just as they have done so many times before. They will not take their protest right through to the ballot-box, despite their editorials.

The Treasurer says that there is no precedent for such a refund as the Opposition suggests. What about the scandalous Ansett-A.N.A. deal which was discussed in this Parliament a couple of years ago? That involved the refund of hundreds of thousands of pounds by a deliberate act of this Parliament. Yet the Treasurer says that there is no precedent for refunding £3,800,000 to those unfortunate persons who were forced to pay it.

The words used by the Treasurer in speaking of this sales tax measure are like all his words. They do not seem to have any sting in them. The Treasurer has lost his punch. He is on the defensive all the time. At question time in this Parliament day after day he is on the defensive, and now it seems that he speaks in defensive tones all the time. The speech he made to-day was of the same defensive kind. However, we will keep him, and his Government, on the defensive until, after the next election, we have a new government in Canberra, which we sorely need for the sake of the economy.

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