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Wednesday, 13 May 1987
Page: 3083

Mr ROBERT BROWN —My question is directed to the Minister for Health. In view of some quite outrageous claims which have been made by Opposition spokesmen on the Australia Card and the quite dramatic change in the personal attitudes of some of them towards the card, will the Minister advise the House why the Government remains committed to the Australia Card as a weapon against fraud on the public revenue? Further, has the Government assessed the impact which the adoption of the Australia Card proposal would have on the black economy?

Mr Tim Fischer —On a point of order, Madam Speaker: I draw your attention to standing order 144 (c) and (d) which provides that questions should not contain inferences of imputations. I put to you, Madam Speaker, that the terminology of the honourable member for Charlton, `outrageous claims' and the comments which flowed immediately after that, are in fact out of order.

Mr ROBERT BROWN —Madam Speaker, the point of order is clearly quite frivolous. Could I--

Madam SPEAKER —Order! Would the honourable member repeat the question.

Mr ROBERT BROWN —The question was: Will the Minister advise the House why the Government remains committed to the Australia Card as a weapon against fraud on the public revenue? Further, has the Government assessed the impact which the adoption of the Australia Card proposal would have on the black economy? I am seeking a factual response to that question, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER —The question is in order. I call the Minister for Health.

Mr Spender —On a further point of order, Madam Speaker and it is a very simple one: It has become the practice in this House for Labor members to ask questions about the future. We are all interested in the future, but when a Minister is asked to tell us what effect a particular policy will have on, say, the black economy over the next five years, or whatever it may be, clearly that is asking a hypothetical question, and on that basis it should be ruled out of order.

Madam SPEAKER —The question was quite in order.

Mr Young —Madam Speaker, on the point of order: Honourable members on this side of the House cannot apologise for being interested in the welfare of the Australian people in the future. We thought that it was one of our responsibilities. We are very sorry--

Madam SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order. I point out to the House that very many points of order are raised during Question Time, but at the same time many standing orders are being broken at Question Time. There is a fairly wide selectivity about which standing orders are being adhered to. I suggest that all honourable members have a good look at the Standing Orders. I also remind honourable members that interjections are out of order.

Dr BLEWETT —I thank the honourable member for Charlton for his question. Let me deal immediately with the present. This Government remains committed to the Australia Card for the single reason that it remains the single most effective and potent weapon against welfare fraud, tax fraud and illegal immigration. I stress the word `single', because this one weapon will be usable in all those three fields. I point out that my colleague the Minister for Social Security has made major advances in dealing with welfare fraud, but both he and his officers increasingly recognise that their task would be much facilitated by an effective identification system. My colleague the Treasurer knows full well that the weapon that he needs above all others-and this is supported by the Commissioner for Taxation-in dealing with taxation fraud is an effective Australia Card. Equally, my colleague the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs recognises the usefulness of such a weapon in that field. With this one act we can deal with the fraud against the public revenue across the board in those areas.

I say quite frankly to members of the Opposition that all their whinging about social security expenditure, about illegal immigration, and about taxation fraud, will not be taken seriously by the Australian people when they deny the government the single most effective weapon against those problems, when it denies the Government the nearly $900m a year that could be saved from tax frauds and welfare cheats.

As to the second part of the question, the Government has examined and assessed the Australia Card in relation to the black economy. We have always made the point that it would have only an indirect effect on the black economy; that is, as moneys from the black economy moved into financial institutions we would be given a much more effective weapon in relation to the money trail. Eric Risstrom, of the Australian Taxpayers Association, pointed out yesterday that his Association's estimate of that black market economy is some $7 billion. He went on to say:

I believe that perhaps half of that money can be caught through the Australia Card and I have still got faith that one day the Liberals will see the light and vote for it, but without the Australia Card, I think, as the vote went against the Australia Card, I believe that particularly the Opposition and the Democrats gave a green light to the cash economy, saying, you know: `Go your hardest, we are not going to chase you with the best weapon that we could have'.

I endorse the arguments put forward by Mr Risstrom, but I do not share his expectation that the Opposition is likely at this stage to change its mind, because its agenda is dominated by the white shoe brigade and the pin-striped hucksters, and the last thing that they are interested in is an equal and fair taxation system.