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Tuesday, 7 March 2000
Page: 14089

Mr EDWARDS (10:06 PM) —I am very pleased to join this appropriations debate because I want to draw to the attention of the House, and particularly of the government, some issues which are of great importance to people in my electorate. In drawing them to the attention of the government, I want to rely on some letters and articles which have been printed in the paper, because I want the government to know that it is not just coming from me. These issues are coming from true-blue Australians out there in the electorate who are concerned about a number of issues that are confronting them. The first one relates to the care of frail aged in Australia, and I want to quote from the editorial in the West Australian today. The West Australian is a paper which I would judge to be fairly conservative, and I think its editorials over a long period of time have reflected that. Under the heading `Bishop should admit her failings', the West Australian says this:

Federal Aged Care Minister Bronwyn Bishop has tried a range of diversionary tactics to deflect attention from her shortcomings in dealing with the nursing-home issue.

She would be better advised to accept her responsibilities and admit her failings, rather than trying to heap blame on others. It is perfectly obvious that she and her bureaucrats have failed the residents of Melbourne's Riverside Nursing Home.

It is clear that the portfolio is a mess. Mrs Bishop knows—or should—that our parliamentary system has a convention of ministerial responsibility. This means that ministers should accept responsibility for the actions (or lack of them) of their departments.

Ministers are obliged to supervise the work of agencies under their control to ensure that they carry out their responsibilities properly. They are accountable to the electorate for the performance of departments covered by their portfolios.

It might well be that Mrs Bishop's department was lax in responding to complaints about Riverside, including that some residents had been bathed in a kerosene solution to treat scabies. But it iectivelys her job to ensure that the department works eff, and that nursing homes meet acceptable standards of care.

Mrs Bishop has failed to explain why the most effective measure of spot checks has not been used to monitor standards in nursing homes.

Even when the Federal Government finally acted, it did so in an insensitive manner which reflected political expediency rather than care for the welfare of residents. The decision to close the home and abruptly move residents upset some of the frail old people and their loved ones.

It is almost beyond belief that such precipitate action should be taken without consultation with the people who are most affect by it.

WA's Judy Moylan was demoted for ineptitude in dealing with aged care. Prime Minister John Howard must be considering a similar fate for Mrs Bishop.

That is the editorial of the West Australian this morning. In the last Howard government there were several ministers and parliamentary secretaries who were sacked for, I think, travel rorts and, in some cases, conflicts of interest. The Prime Minister thought it was important enough to sack those people for those rorts, but he does not appear to think it is important enough to sack a minister who has mismanaged the care of our frail aged and who has shown a complete lack of interest and responsibility in her portfolio. I wonder what message the Prime Minister thinks that sends to the community of Australia. Is he saying that it is okay to rort the older people of Australia but if you rort your travel claims you are going to be sacked? That is just not appropriate as far as I am concerned, and I think the Prime Minister is going to have to examine the standards that he has set. If he does not sack this minister, I think he is sending a totally inappropriate message to the people of this country.

The other issue I want to deal with relates to the GST. It relates to the GST in a couple of areas. The first one I want to deal with is a letter to the ACCC—a copy of which was sent to me. Under the heading `Re: Dual Pricing/Pre and Post GST' it says:

After the recent ACCC statements regarding dual price ticketing and that clothing prices may not rise by as much as 10% with Big W retail chain we now request a directive as to

· How the ACCC wish us to comply with regards physically remarking (pricing.)

· How should products be remarked, where the removal of Pre GST sales tickets will actually damage the presentation of the goods, thus their sales value.

· When can we start remarking our stock, with a dual price system.

· If the sales prices does not raise by 10% without reducing our Pre GST margin, then advise what the percentage increase would be.

This particular store started in Western Australia and now has some franchise businesses around Australia. Under the heading `Background' they say:

We have eight stores nationally with over 60,000 products which are individually barcoded. Each and every item of clothing we carry in our stores in Sales tax free. We have now set up plans for the dual marking of stock. We must firstly by computer records identify individual stock items, print tickets for these goods, department by department, store by store, then freight them nightly and then have our staff match the new tickets with the existing stock items. We estimate the cost of compliance in reprinting to be approx $5000, freight (air express) to be $1600. Software support costs at $900. The wage costs can only be estimated at around $39,000.

That is a staggering figure. It is worked out by 40 product groups multiplied by 1.5 people multiplied by 6.5 hours multiplied by eight stores at approximately $12.5 per hour. They go on to say:

Our timetable plan forecasts that to meet the July 1 deadline we needed to start on the 15th of February, to leave at least 3 working days breathing space to overcome unforeseen hurdles. We delayed this due to the uncertainty created by the comments in Parliament then subsequently by your department. Can a written answer be forwarded in a timely manner please.

That letter was dated 18 February. Today I received a copy of a second letter that the same group has sent to the ACCC. It reads:

Subject: waiting for your answer

Dear sirs,

Some weeks ago now we sent both a fax and emailed list of questions which we asked for a timely response. We received a telephone call, however, it was requested that the response be in writing. We have tried everything in our power to ensure that we as a company will comply with the new standards, including forward planning, attending 4 information seminars, internal meetings regarding pricing and compliance etc.

Unfortunately, the standards have not been set in a timely manner. We have rumour and hear say (not law) to go by.

He can say what he likes but until it is written down, debated in both houses and had royal assent, what is it apart from a wish?

As we stated in our letter, we could not wait for the procrastination of the Government.

When we are given instructions or rules we can act. At the moment we are playing a game where the umpires do not have a set of rules and they are making decisions on the fly.

We have been in business for 30 years and we are not used to making decisions on the run.

We have come up with a logistical plan to ensure that we comply by the 1st of July and we have acted.

We did not receive your written response, which demonstrates one of two things or both;

(1) You are unable to respond in a timely manner

(2) You are not sure what response to give, therefore it is better not to respond to the question

This is a family business, one which has generated business outside of Western Australia. They are just one group that I can bring to the attention of the House and of the government that is facing this uncertainty, an uncertainty that is going to cause them a great deal of problems in relation to compliance. They want to do the right thing. They have tried to do the right thing. But they are not getting the sort of support from the ACCC or the government that they should be getting. I do not care whose problem it is but it is about time, in the interests of and fairness to these business people around Australia, that these issues were sorted out. The government ought to start to prioritise these things, and they ought to do it with a sense of urgency.

The other area I want to draw some attention to is caravan parks. I know that there is a day of action planned over here in Canberra next Tuesday. It is very difficult for people from Western Australia to get here, people from Cowan who would like to be here. They have told me that. They have sent me copies of a couple of letters that have gone off to the Prime Minister, and they are quite happy for me to read them into the Hansard so that people in the eastern states know that their brothers and sisters in Western Australia are facing the same sorts of problems and the same sort of uncertainty, and they want to make sure that their voices are heard with those others next Tuesday. This first letter is from Shirley and George Jackson of the Kingsway Tourist Park in Landsdale, a very nice part of the Cowan electorate. They wrote:

Dear Mr Howard,

My wife and I are Aged Pensioners...When it was necessary to move from our home in the country to the metropolitan area for health reasons, we conducted a thorough investigation on what type of home our limited funds would purchase.

We were then concerned that our Police Force was completely unable to prevent home invasions, often by drug-crazed youths who can bash elderly and defenceless residents for ridiculously small amounts of cash or valuables.

We then investigated Park Homes within the safe and secure environs of a Caravan Park.

We found that in this Park, there has never been a robbery or home invasion.

Management patrol the Park during the day and night, no vehicle can pass the boom gates without an electronic pass and we believe that it is indeed a safe place to live, especially for the elderly. I am in my 75th year and this type of safe and secure life is very important in old age. Who knows how my old body would react to a physical beating?

I just want to say that security for aged people is a very big issue, and I think we should bear that in mind when we talk about things like the GST and the impact it is going to have on the group housing within caravan parks. They go on to say:

We listened with interest to your Party's stand on GST during the last election and we were happy to support your efforts to modernise our Tax system, especially when your Candidates pledged that GST would not apply to rental fees for those people who chose to reside permanently in Caravan Parks.

... ... ...

And I hope the minister at the table is listening to this.

Mr Howard, my wife and I spent the bulk of our finances to purchase a two-bedroom house in this Park.

It has lounge, kitchen, dining area, two bedrooms, laundry, shower, WC, full width front verandah, half width back verandah. It has a Lysaght Steel roof that is fixed into the ground with steel uprights.

Our home is not a caravan, it is a standard home, it is for the sole use of my wife and I and is most definitely not available for part-time rental and thus is not a commercial property.

... ... ...

... the inescapable point that has truly upset my wife and I is that we have been lied to. We were assured both during the last election and since, that residents who occupy accommodation in a caravan park or holiday village on a permanent basis will not have to pay GST on their site fees.

We are simple and honest people and when a promise is made on your behalf, we believe that such a promise will be honoured by you and your Party.

We just cannot afford additional expenses and even though we expect that your promise to increase Pensions will be honoured, such an increase is to cover general items that will increase in price.

Mr Howard, we still believe that a man's word is his bond and we must ask if your Ministers were authorised to make promises that people in our circumstances would not have GST charged and, if this is so, ask that you take action to keep this promise.

A Park resident stressed the absolute farce of this decision by stating that he could legally rent a riverside mansion without paying GST, but pensioners who have chosen to live in a secure environment to try to avoid robberies and bashings, must be financially punished for taking that action.

In all honesty Mr Howard, do you think that this action is fair?

Well I hope these people get an answer to that letter because I think it is a fair ask. The second letter is from Tom and Beryl Taylor in the Lakelands Village at Gnangara, also a lovely part of the electorate of Cowan.

We are permanent residents in a solely park home village (this means that there are no caravans at Lakelands Village at all) and like thousands of others, chose this form of housing because of its relaxed, community-based lifestyle and because we could afford it (in other words we try to live within our means). We own our own home and pay rent for the site on which it stands.

We are concerned that we will have to pay GST on half of our rent. Tenants who rent in residential areas will not. This means that those of us who rent sites in park home villages will remain financially worse off—worse off than pensioners who rent homes in the suburbs GST free, as they will receive the same compensation package as us. In addition to people receiving pensions, many residents in this and similar parks are self funded retirees and others on low incomes. The imposition of this tax on the rent will make life extremely difficult for all. Here in WA we pay a higher than normal rate for our electricity and are denied the government concession for this outlay, unlike the pensioners living in the residential areas.

The government states that owners of park home villages and also the caravan parks where there are many permanent residents, both in caravans and park homes, are being given a choice between two options—to charge GST and receive input tax credits, or not to charge GST and receive no input tax credits. Given such a choice most operators would prefer to receive tax credits which would not be passed on to us...From our perspective the government is more concerned about the operators of parks than it is about the people who provide the operators with their incomes.

We feel we have been treated most unfairly by the government and trust that you will give consideration to our concerns as we and so many many others will have a real struggle to survive in the future. We have no other option but to stay where we are and cut back on the necessity of life, our food.

As I said, that was signed by Tom and Beryl Taylor. I have used these letters and the quotes from the West Australian to endeavour to get through the wall that the government has thrown up—a wall from behind which they refuse to listen or show any real concern or compassion for people like the constituents I have identified here tonight.

I do not think the government should be afraid to make changes. If they consider that these people are being treated unfairly, then in my view they have a duty to make changes, particularly if—as the minister at the table, Mr Anthony, knows—certain assurances and promises were made that people living in park homes and caravan parks would not be subject to the GST. There is a real concern and a real sense of disappointment on the part of many people who feel they have been misled. I do ask the government to take note of the very genuine concerns that many people right across Australia have.

In conclusion, I want to compliment the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence on the lunch that they held today for the East Timor veterans. I thought it was a great gesture and one which those troops richly deserved. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the speeches that were made, and I particularly enjoyed the speech made by the Commander of the INTERFET forces. I think the atmosphere that was generated today is something that those veterans will carry with them for the rest of their lives. I hope that the statements that were made today about the need for governments and countries to stand behind their veterans will be remembered by this government when it comes time to deal with the very real health issues of Vietnam veterans and their children.

Debate (on motion by Mr Sciacca) adjourned.