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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 491

Mr CLEELAND —Is the Prime Minister aware of recent criticisms of flat tax proposals? Can he inform the House and, in particular, the tax illiterates in the National Party of Australia, of the effect on working families of a 25 per cent flat rate of tax?

Mr HAWKE —Recent criticism--

Mr Ian Cameron —What about--

Mr HAWKE —My straight man is back. Recent criticism of the National Party's 25 per cent flat tax rate has come from none other than the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Spender —Hear, hear!

Mr HAWKE —I notice that one honourable member behind him said `Hear, hear'. I do not think the honourable member for Denison will. He is an exponent--

Mr MacKellar —He is not here.

Mr HAWKE —I know that he is not here, but if he were he would be opposing the Leader of the Opposition because he is in favour of a flat rate tax. I do not know whether the honourable member for Maranoa will interject again, but let us hear what the Leader of the Opposition said about Joh's proposal for a 25 per cent flat tax. I ask honourable members to listen carefully to what the Leader of the Opposition said about Joh's proposal. He said:

It means the 20 per cent at the top, the rich, will get a big tax cut and the other 80 per cent will be left for dead. That is not a tax policy on which I would ever campaign.

That is what the Leader of the Opposition said. I have no quibble at all with the Leader of the Opposition's claim that a flat tax would provide an enormous benefit to the rich at the expense of ordinary Australian working families. He is right. But I have a very severe quibble with the extraordinary double standards exhibited by the Leader of the Opposition. Let us look at what the Leader of the Opposition promises in his tax policies, as far as we can ascertain them. Let us look at how they are loaded in favour of the poor ordinary middle class and against the rich. This is what he would do: He promises to reinstitute the tax free company cars, the deductions for the private school fees and the entertainment allowances-at a cost of $900m. He promises to reinstitute the tax free lunches at a cost of $320m. Most amazingly of all, he promises to abolish the capital gains tax. All those things which he proposes, of course, would restore the tax free privileges to the rich at the expense of the poor and the middle income family in this country. I ask the House to take note, in particular, of the impact of his proposal to abolish the capital gains tax. Let us look at what has happened in the Sydney Stock Exchange alone. Let us look at the Sydney stock market in the period since September 1985. The proposal of the Leader of the Opposition--

Mr Spender —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. I remind you that, despite the latitude which is given to the Prime Minister, the underlying principle in Question Time is that Ministers are required to answer questions and may answer questions only on matters for which they are responsible to parliament. Questions or answers of the kind that go on to Opposition policy statements have been ruled out of order in this House before, as you would know. For example, on 12 October 1977, a question was ruled out of order by the then Speaker in these terms, as reported at page 1893 of Hansard:

I rule the question out of order as it ceases to be in order at the point where it seeks comment on a statement by and a policy of the Leader of the Opposition.

Once the Prime Minister gets into that area in answering a question, once he seeks to comment upon a statement made by the Leader of the Opposition, he is consequently out of order regardless of what latitude may ordinarily be shown to the Prime Minister.

Mr Young —Madam Speaker, on the point of order--

Mr Donald Cameron —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. You do not need assistance from the Minister to help you make up your mind. Sit him down.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the House is commenting on the point of order.

Mr Young —Madam Speaker, it would be beyond belief to have questions to the Prime Minister of the day thus restricted. Any member who has been in this House for any length of time knows that every member of the Opposition and the Government has an opportunity to ask questions of the Prime Minister of the day on matters of public consequence. The honourable member for North Sydney could hardly argue that taxation is not a question of public consequence at the moment.

Mr Sinclair —Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. In the light of the intervention by the Leader of the House, I think it is worth while drawing your attention to page 428 of the House of Representatives Hansard of 19 February 1975, when one of your predecessors, the then Mr Bill Snedden, asked a question of Speaker Cope about the length of an answer of a Prime Minister. Mr Speaker Cope responded:

I will answer this point of order as I have answered similar points of order on previous occasions: The Chair has no jurisdiction over the length of an answer but I ask the Prime Minister, as I have asked Ministers previously, to be as brief as he possibly can.

I suggest, Madam Speaker, that in the light of that ruling and many subsequent rulings, including those of your immediate predecessor, Speaker Jenkins, Prime Ministers as well as Ministers have an obligation, by convention if not otherwise, to keep their answers as brief as possible.

Mr Young —Madam Speaker, on the point of order now raised by the Manager of Opposition Business, I should also point out that questions raised about ministerial answers by the Opposition when I was a member of the Government in 1975 were referred to a committee and the Manager of Opposition Business at the time refused to participate in changing any of the procedures. I should also point out, if we are going to use 1975 as a precedent for doing things, that on 11 November this House carried a motion of no confidence in the newly installed Fraser Government, of which it took no notice.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! In regard to the point of order raised by the honourable member for North Sydney, the Prime Minister was asked to give the House a rundown of what the impact of a flat tax would be if it were implemented. I find him quite in order to do so. In regard to the point of order raised by the Leader of the National Party, again I suggest that the House has recourse to the Procedure Committee. It can, if it wishes, instruct the House that there will be, say, 15 questions in Question Time or request a time limit for Ministers to answer each individual question. Again, I say: The ball is back in your court. You have the Procedure Committee through which you may proceed, and I will leave it at that.

Mr HAWKE —Madam Speaker, I have spoken for a very brief amount of time and I will not be going for much longer. But I want to point out that in regard to the position of the Leader of the Opposition and his intention of abolishing the capital gains tax, the abolition of the capital gains tax would allow $87 billion worth of paper profits on the Sydney stock market alone since September 1985 to escape untaxed. This man poses as the friend of the poor against the rich. He would also repeal the assets test and pay pensions to the millionaires. This is the man who is against the rich and for the poor. That would be a return to the callous days over which he presided when a married pensioner couple with two kids-in the seven years of the previous Government-had their benefits cut by 7 per cent in real terms. That is the friend of the poor!

In addition, he would have a wage freeze and prices going through the roof. In other words, this friend of the poor-the man against the rich-would attack the ordinary people of this country with higher taxes, a wage freeze, higher interest rates and higher prices. The honourable member for Boothby summed it all up in a comment on 28 January. I remind the Leader of the Opposition that when the honourable member for Boothby said what I am going to quote he was not directing his remarks at the Premier of Queensland, he was directing his remarks at the Leader of the Opposition. These were the words of the honourable member for Boothby--

Mr Spender —I take a point of order. The point is very clear and that is that it is not a question of the question being asked but it is a question as to how it is answered. If the Prime Minister diverts himself by quoting from whomever, even somebody outside the House, that is not in accordance with the way in which Standing Orders have been interpreted before. He is not competent to comment on what has been said in an Opposition policy statement or in a statement by the honourable member for Boothby or anyone else. That is clearly borne out by past rulings of Speakers in this House. That is one of the reasons why in the past, I suggest, more questions were answered than is currently the case.

Madam SPEAKER —Certainly there were more questions at some times in the past. I suggest that the Prime Minister conclude.

Mr HAWKE —The honourable member for Boothby, who I understand-despite perhaps the wishes of the honourable member for North Sydney-is still in the House, had this to say of the Leader of the Opposition: `We cannot lubricate an Opposition vehicle with snake oil'. That is the judgment of the Opposition's own members about the snake oil policies being put up. The Leader of the Opposition is not only, as the Premier of Queensland said, a silly little boy; he is a hypocritical little boy.

Madam SPEAKER —The Prime Minister will withdraw the last comment.

Mr HAWKE —I withdraw and say that he is a five bob each way little boy.