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Tuesday, 2 October 1984
Page: 1381


Mr RONALD EDWARDS(8.53) —It is very pleasing at this time of the day to be back on economic matters in the Parliament. I know that the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) who has just sat down was pleased to be discussing economic matters. I am sure that we on this side are, too. The only point that one ought to make at this stage is that it has been a matter of considerable concern in the community that, over the last couple of week, so much of the time of the Parliament has been wasted on allegations, smears and spurious argument. It is good to be talking about something of substance to the Australian community rather than these more headline grabbing but, at the same time, relatively peripheral matters in terms of the concerns of the Australian community. That is why this Government takes a great deal of pleasure in relation to its tax policy. I need to take up a couple of points about which the honourable member for Bennelong spoke. He said that there was some doubt as to where we were heading with respect to tax policy. I would have thought that two things were very clear in that respect: In terms of consumers, we are doing something as far as tax policies are concerned. I will talk about that in a moment. In other words, we are reducing the burden of taxation on consumers and in terms of business, we have made some reforms with respect to taxation policy. So quite clearly we have intentions to reform the tax system. If we look at the Budget and at the enabling legislation with respect to the Budget we see quite clearly that we are setting about reforming the tax system. I acknowledge that these are measures that have some support from the Opposition. They are measures that are due as far as the Australian community is concerned and we take them very seriously.

I noted that the honourable member for Bennelong also spent a lot of time talking about next year's Budget. I think that he, as well as others opposite, recognise that this year's Budget has been successful. In many senses it is an almost forgone conclusion that the Budget has been received well by the financial community and by the electorate generally. I acknowledge that, when members of the Opposition are talking about economic matters, much of the time they are speculating about the future rather than dealing with the present. The present circumstances are that we have given tax cuts in the Budget. We have also made some reforms with respect to the impact of the taxation system on business. I will talk about those later.

There is one issue that I wanted to address very briefly, that is, the removal of the bank accounts debits tax from school parents and citizens associations and other support groups. I know that many honourable members in this chamber are pleased with that amendment to the tax system. This measure, which was introduced by the previous Government, put an unnecessary burden on parents and citizens associations and parents and friends associations. It meant that they were paying what amounted to a charge on their accounts when they were voluntary organisations supporting schools. I am pleased that, in this legislation, the Government is moving towards removing those provisions as they applied to parents and citizens associations and parents and friends associations. It will be a significant burden to be lifted from those organisations.

I wish to mention one other thing that I think underpins the entire approach to taxation that the Opposition has missed. This is one of the reasons why, towards the end of the period of the former government a great deal of anger developed in the community. I think the honourable member for Bennelong recognised this. Unfortunately he was not able to generate enough support from within the Government to move quickly enough. There was anger that a great deal of inequity was developing in terms of the Australian tax system. People were avoiding paying tax and they were doing so quite deliberately. I say to the honourable member for Bennelong that, when he talks about the question of the burden of proof and the reversal of that onus of proof, he has to remember there were people in the community who set out deliberately to defraud the tax system. They set out to defraud it when the honourable member was Treasurer. They set out to defraud it in all sorts of circumstances. We are not laying the blame entirely at his feet but we have to remember as a community that, if we are going to ask pay-as-you-earn taxpayers to pay tax-and we are-we also have to remember the responsibility of others to pay tax.

One of the problems that the previous Government ran into was that a great deal of anger was generated in the community because of the fact that it was seen as being too slow in dealing with this question of tax avoidance and evasion. What we are tying to do with respect to these tax measures is to say, quite seriously : 'We have a prices and incomes accord. Part of that prices and incomes accord is to deal with the question of wage indexation and the effective development of a number of social policy goals. But the other part of our prices and incomes accord is to introduce some degree of fairness and equity into the tax system'. That is what we are about. That is what this legislation is about. It has to be constantly before this community and this chamber that, when we talk about the question of offences and penalties in relation to taxation, there were people in the community, and still are people in the community, who sought deliberately to defraud the tax system. It is very difficult to ask those who are honestly paying tax to accept that mutely and at the same time for us to spend a lot of time being terribly concerned about people who are defrauding the tax system. So I remind members of the Opposition that, when they talk about issues of penalties and tax avoidance, they have to be clear that there are people who do not have any choice with respect to paying tax. We have a responsibility to be concerned about them as well. We are on their side. We were so concerned that we reduced taxes in the Budget. That is another point to make. In fact, a substantial number of taxpayers will have a reduction in the burden of taxation imposed upon them. (Quorum formed)

It is no wonder that members of the Opposition chose to call a quorum, because their record in tax administration is sloppy indeed. The honourable member for McPherson (Mr White) has to face the reality that the previous Government, when it was tossed out-he would have sought to be part of that government-was a very slack government when it came to tax administration. The Australian electorate was very dissatisfied with the previous Government. I also remind the honourable member for McPherson that his Treasurer was discredited by the Australian people on the $9.6 billion deficit. It is little wonder that Opposition members have to interrupt this debate. The facts do not sit very well with honourable members opposite. We and the Australian community recognise that. Honourable members opposite did not prosecute tax avoidance and evasion; they hid it away and let it persist under a very negligent Treasurer and a very negligent Attorney- General. It is no wonder that honourable members opposite chose to interrupt this debate when we are trying to get something going. The only tactic of Opposition members is to smear and to malign people.

As soon as we talk about something substantial in economic terms honourable members opposite start to quake at the knees. No wonder, history is all against them. Opposition members are absolute economic vandals. Their performance was disgraceful. It is little wonder that they want to disrupt this sort of debate. That is all right because they will be tested very soon by the Australian community in the same way they were in March 1983 and they will be found wanting . The Australian community knows it and this side knows it.

I want to mention two other points. This Government is increasing the depreciation allowance on new buildings from 2.5 per cent to 4 per cent, which means that business investment will be stimulated. Business will be able to write off buildings in 25 years compared with 40 years. That will be a great stimulus to investment. Where companies are operating as groups, they will be able to set off losses within one section of a company against profits in another. That will also enable investment to take place in the corporate sector. In regard to mining exploration, one of the major amendments in this legislation is to enable businesses to set off losses incurred in mineral exploration against profits in other divisions of companies. They are three major provisions that will have a major stimulating effect on the business sector of the economy. Opposition members know that. The other major provision is the tax cuts for consumers which will lead to even further economic recovery. I have already mentioned the removal of the bank account debit tax. That is a major move as far as we are concerned as it will help parents and citizens and parents and friends organisations. We are honouring that commitment.

Time is against me, but I will close by saying: When Opposition members opposite ask us to tell them what we are going to do we know that they will distort it in the same way that we find them distorting arguments about immigration, the assets test, lump sum taxation and certainly about matters involving the judiciary. They cannot be trusted. Is it little wonder that we do not bring them into our confidence? We do bring members of the Australian community into our confidence because at least we know we can trust them, whereas they know that they cannot trust the Opposition.