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Thursday, 13 April 2000
Page: 15985

Mr MARTIN (5:28 PM) —I have been waiting for three days for this. I thought I was going to be bypassed yet again.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Cunningham may be assured that that would never happen.

Mr MARTIN —I know that you would never delay me, Mr Speaker. It is just that unfortunately the government is not quite sure what its program is this evening—what it is going to allow to happen. I will take this opportunity, nevertheless, to make some comments on the bill that we are discussing tonight, the Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No. 11) 1999. As has been pointed out, the opposition has moved an amendment to this bill. The bill itself is actually an omnibus taxation bill covering four separate subject areas. These areas are, firstly, integrity measures concerning alienation of Australian real property by non-residents; secondly, income tax deductions for gifts and extensions of periods of deductibility for certain donations; thirdly, income tax exemption termination for non-resident sportspeople, clubs and associations—an issue that I might have had a bit more interest in in the course of the last parliament as the shadow minister for sport; and, fourthly, technical amendments and corrections of errors in the capital gains tax legislation.

It is the amendment moved by the honourable member for Wills to which I wish to refer some of my comments this evening. In particular, I would like to pick up the issue associated with paragraph (7): `the underlying unfairness and complexity of the new taxation arrangements'. It is to the charities and the not for-profit sector of the economy that I want to make specifically one or two points, which I hope the government will take on board. We are up to Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No. 11) 1999 already. I therefore see no reason why we might not entertain a few more amendments before 1 July so that the unfairness provisions that exist with the Australian tax system may look after those people that are charged with the responsibility of looking after Australians that are in need of some special support.

Last Friday I had the very great privilege to launch, on behalf of the Smith Family in the Illawarra, one of the most ambitious social support projects that the Smith Family has proposed in their eight decades of caring for Australian children. That involved a major expansion of their Learning for Life program, which has the ultimate intention of supporting over 70,000 financially disadvantaged children across urban and regional Australia. Given that it does go to urban and regional Australia, it quite obviously has an appeal to members on the other side, who constantly trumpet their support and concern for rural and regional Australia. So I do hope they give the comments that I am going to raise tonight some genuine consideration.

The Smith Family's Learning for Life program was first established under the banner of Educate in 1988 as a junior secondary education scholarship program for children who might not otherwise be able to afford to complete their education. A decade later, the program has grown to cater for the needs of children across primary, secondary and tertiary education levels. Learning for Life, operated by the Smith Family, provides an opportunity for disadvantaged children to achieve their potential by meeting the basic expenses of their education and providing additional support when they need it. At tertiary level, mentors from the student's chosen field of study offer academic, professional and personal support. Among the growth priorities of the Learning for Life program are its expansion in rural areas and meeting the variety of learning needs. For example, a pilot program called Study Support has trialed telephone based buddy relationships between children with literacy problems and older, more accomplished students. Learning for Life sponsors provide one-on-one support for individual children. One hundred per cent of their donation goes to the child being sponsored. It is interesting that financial support for the Learning for Life program ranges from $204 to $2,000 per annum, depending on the age of the student. At the tertiary level, as I said, a mentor is also provided.

Since 1988, the program has provided assistance to over 15,000 students from disadvantaged families around Australia, and the program currently supports 8,000 primary, secondary and tertiary students from ages four to 29. Currently, Learning for Life is a $6 million a year program. The Smith Family has set a target of $50 million by the year 2004 to run the extended program. This will support some 70,000 primary, secondary and tertiary students across urban and rural Australia, and 500 students are at present looked after from the Wollongong office, which is my immediate concern. Of those 500 students, 190 are in the first years of school, 235 are in junior high school, 65 are in senior years of high school and four are at university. The aim of the Wollongong office is to double the size of the program.

The reason for outlining the statistics is to illustrate the fact that, because of circumstances in Australia at the present time, a large and unfortunately growing proportion of the population still requires support from external organisations like the Smith Family. The Smith Family themselves, in putting forward this program and asking private industry to support this program, are faced with some real dilemmas caused by the GST. The simple fact is that disadvantaged children—and a number of them were at the launch last Friday—would not be able to sustain their continuing attendance at school or in tertiary education were it not for the Smith Family and like organisations. But it is the Smith Family and like organisations that are going to be affected by the GST. The Learning for Life program aims to extend people's opportunities to be able to go to and stay at school. When you think about the cost of putting children through school these days—which goes to things like school uniforms, socks, shoes, books and tuckshop lunches—there is no tax on that at the present time. But there will be a 10 per cent GST.

Charities like the Smith Family are therefore going to be less capable of supporting these people. Their ability to meet a lot of the costs associated with looking after those disadvantaged children to give them a start in life is going to be diminished, because they are going to have to pay tax on this. I make the plea, on behalf of Chris Bevan and all of the people that run the Smith Family in Wollongong—those dedicated individuals, the volunteers and the people in paid work with the Smith Family in Wollongong—and on behalf of charities like the Smith Family throughout Australia, for the government to introduce yet another amendment to the taxation laws bills so that this anomaly can be remedied.

There is a view in the Australian community at the present time that this is an uncaring, unsympathetic government. I know my colleagues on the other side do not like hearing that, and I know probably deep in their heart of hearts they would like to believe that they are not. But when you go to Smith Family launches like this and you see young kids like Kristi, who was there, and others, who tell you of the circumstances of their personal lives and that they could not stay at school if it were not for the Smith family, and then you see that a 10 per cent GST is going to impede the Smith Family's delivery of services to these people, you start to question the integrity of those on the other side and what they have to say. This is an important issue which I will return to shortly. Under pressure from my colleagues, I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.