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Wednesday, 27 March 1985
Page: 999

Mr HOWARD —by leave-The Opposition generally welcomes the statement made by the Treasurer (Mr Keating) which is a further step along the path of providing more information to the Parliament and to the public about taxation expenditure. He has responded, on behalf of the Government, in a positive way to the recommendations of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure chaired by the former member for Hume, Mr Lusher.

It will be recalled that the process of providing more information on tax expenditures commenced, I think, in the 1981 Budget, and that process has continued in subsequent Budgets with more and more information being made available. It is clearly in the public interest that what amounts in many cases to expenditure through the taxation system and the conferring of benefits and privileges through the taxation system that might otherwise be conferred through the expenditure side of the Budget be fully detailed for public and parliamentary scrutiny.

The only qualification I make is that we ought to recognise that there are two categories of tax expenditures. There are those that can in a quite bona fide manner be described as expenditures through the taxation system. Then there are those, such as the dependent spouse rebate, that cannot properly be regarded as an expenditure through the taxation system but rather are a recognition of the very simple fact that it costs more to support two people than it does one. Some of the ideologues in some of the more radical feminist groups in our community might be made a little more conscious of that. I find the proposition advanced by people such as Senator Ryan and a few others that the dependent spouse rebate should be means tested the equivalent of advocating that the $4,500 tax-free threshold should be means tested. I think that both propositions are equally absurd. I think that this simply draws attention to the fact that we ought not be too theoretically zealous in looking at this question of tax expenditures and that we ought to recognise that some of the technical tax expenditures in our system are not really disguised expenditures in the proper sense of the word but rather recognise a few fundamental realities such as the fairly obvious one that it costs more to support two people than one and that the spouse rebate is not some kind of middle class welfare rip-off, as it is described by some of the more radical feminist groups in our community.