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Wednesday, 31 May 2000
Page: 16712

Mr HAWKER (NaN:00:00) —Having listened to the honourable member for Rankin, I found it extraordinary the way he spent the whole of his speech knocking this change, this tax reform. Anyone would think, listening to what he had to say, that he is totally opposed to tax reform. Talk about misleading! That must be one of the most misleading efforts I have ever seen. As we all know, come 1 July, guess what? The Labor Party is adopting a policy of supporting tax reform with a GST. I find it staggering that a member can come into this chamber and spend the whole time talking about how totally opposed he is to something, knowing that if the Labor Party were to win an election it would keep the GST. Talk about misleading. That must be the ultimate in misleading the House and in hypocrisy. The honourable member ought to have a long, hard think about the sorts of things he is saying.

He went on to make some more very misleading statements. He said that the Prime Minister and other ministers have identified the levels of savings that families can make. He then added a rider: `just as long as you do not spend anything'. What a load of nonsense! That is not the criterion at all. That is complete and utter nonsense.

He knows, as we all do, that those savings have been identified on the basis of normal, average household expenditure. That really is misleading, and one would have expected better from someone of his standing. He then talks about some of the issues in a comprehensive document that was, before the last election, put to all electors. I do not think you have ever seen a government put so much detail in front of people before an election, or be as prepared to be so open. I find it quite extraordinary for him to turn around and say that this is not telling people what is going on, especially when it is compared with what the Labor Party had in their platform—which was negligible. We ought to compare that with the performance of the Labor Party before the 1993 election. It was not just an election manifesto; it was the famous l-a-w law tax cuts. Labor said, `We cannot mislead you; we have made a law.' And guess what: after the election not only did the l-a-w tax cuts disappear but in came all these other indirect taxes that apparently Labor thought were so good— increases in sales tax, increases in excise on fuel and so on.

I want to try to help the honourable member a little, too. He was going on about this question of the GST being hidden. I do not think he can have it both ways. I do not know where he has been living—perhaps in some sort of a cocoon. The Labor Party have been complaining about everyone being told about this GST and about the money spent—those figures are misleading too, but I will come to that in a minute—but they then turn around and say it is hidden. You cannot have it both ways, fellas. Either you admit that the government's campaign to inform all Australians about this tax reform is in fact being heard and is therefore being effective, or you come back to this argument of its being hidden and, therefore, apparently we are not doing enough. You complain about the money that has been spent, but then you say we are not doing enough. I find it all most confusing, and I think maybe that is the problem in the Labor Party right now.

Then we hear something about high tax. Of course, the honourable member, like all his colleagues over there, has great difficulty in recognising the fact that part of tax reform is all about getting lower income tax. I think that they ought to be a little more honest with Australians and say that tax reform does bring very substantial tax cuts—in fact, as the Treasurer has pointed out, the biggest tax cuts we have ever seen in Australia. We then had the question of the publicity campaign, about which the honourable member seems again to be trying to mislead people into believing that all of the funding is going into some advertising campaign. The Treasurer made it very clear in an answer in the House yesterday that, of the so-called $360 million that the Labor Party was trying to identify, $200 million is for assistance to community organisations to help them with their compliance as part of that campaign; $200 million goes to the GST Start-up Assistance Office, of which $150 million is directly delivered to organisations. The Treasurer named a few of those organisations: the National Catholic Education Commission, ATSIC, all sorts of industry organisations and so on. It is also important to note that the Labor Party somehow have lumped $100 million into this figure, which was not a yearly cost at all; it was a four-year program. Apparently that has been added together and thrown in. Whichever way you look at it, when the word `misleading' is being thrown around this chamber, the honourable member and some of his colleagues ought to go and have a good look in the mirror.

I find the amendment that has been put forward to the Sales Tax (Customs) (Industrial Safety Equipment) Bill 2000 quite extraordinary. The member for Wills has put forward an amendment which says in part that the House:

... condemns the government for its mismanagement of the sales tax regime;

When you look at this bill, what is it about? It is all about something that occurred with two Federal Court decisions that held that an exemption which was broadened in 1992 could potentially lead to some major refunds. In other words, this is correcting legislation that was brought in in 1992. Guess who was in government? It was the Labor Party. So here we are trying to correct a mistake that was due to Federal Court decisions on legislation brought in by the Labor Party. And here is the Labor Party condemning the government for its mismanagement. It cannot have it both ways. Again, I find the whole approach of the Labor Party quite extraordinary. It is a bit like kicking an own goal because it is its legislation that is being corrected.

As has been pointed out, these are technical bills, and they do in fact correct what might have been a major hole in the revenue, due to the Federal Court decisions, had these amendments not come through. There could have been refunded up to $2 billion had these changes not occurred. The bills will ensure that from 5 October last year only goods which are of a kind used mainly for industrial safety purposes will qualify for the exemption from sales tax. So it is a fairly straightforward amendment to correct the sales tax legislation. Obviously, it has a fairly limited life because of the changes that will be occurring to sales tax—other than the retrospective question. So the amendment moved by the member for Wills does seem to be quite extraordinary.

I would like to come back to this question of tax reform. Some of the members of the Labor Party have gone to extraordinary lengths in their speeches to try to convince the Australian public that somehow it is all dreadful; it is all so terrible. They are doing everything to say, `This is bad news and we should not be having it,' et cetera. Yet they have two major problems—and many others, probably—as I see it. I have touched on one, and that is this extraordinary problem that the Labor Party have that, if they were ever elected to government, they would keep it. It is hypocritical and misleading—or whatever word you want to use—to the nth degree when you have an opposition that are telling you that everything is so bad that they want to keep it.

The second point is that they have a real problem with their leader, Mr Beazley. When Labor thought it was a good idea to bring in a goods and services tax, guess what? The Leader of the Opposition was actually in favour of it. If we go back to the time Paul Keating was pushing for real tax reform—and he must be green with envy now, seeing that it is happening and he could not do it—we find that Mr Beazley was interviewed on ABC television in June 1985. I would like to quote what the Leader of the Opposition then said:

I, like all Cabinet ministers, support the thrust of the option that is being presented. I think it is capable of being implemented equitably.

That was Kim Beazley in June 1985. Not only that: just to make sure no one was under any misapprehension as to what his views were, he also said something similar at the Press Club that month. This is the Leader of the Opposition in June 1985:

There are very few such societies which operate with a tax system so heavily dependent on income tax as we do and very few which don't have a substantial component of their tax system reliant on broadly based consumption taxes.

Apparently in 1985 he thought it was all right; now he is telling us it is all terrible. But, as we already know, his real problem is that if Labor were ever to be elected, he would keep it. So where do the Labor Party really stand on this? Are they going to finally have the decency and be man enough to say, `We think the government has actually got it right and is doing something very well.'? When they sit there and complain about what the Democrats have done, they have to remind themselves that it only happened because Labor were trying to oppose it in the parliament. They were so opposed that they want it now.

I conclude by again talking about what the Leader of the Opposition is reported to have believed. Paul Kelly recounts in his book The End of Certainty:

Keating emerged victorious with cabinet endorsement of his tax option as the preferred government position. It was an extraordinary event. Only Hawke, Gareth Evans, Kim Beazley and Susan Ryan supported Keating's position. It was carried against the numbers.

Well, isn't that extraordinary! He was not only prepared to speak about it; he was actually prepared to fight against the numbers in cabinet to make sure that the GST proposal got up. And yet now we have a Leader of the Opposition who just seems to be so wishy-washy that he spends most of his time trying to convince people that he is opposed to something; yet he really happens to think it is not a bad idea and if he had the chance to ever use it in government he would certainly keep it.

I come back to the question of the amendments. I find it quite extraordinary that the opposition are trying to criticise something that the government is doing which, due to Federal Court decisions, is required to rectify some legislation that was introduced into the parliament by the Labor Party in 1992. Therefore, I think that the sensible thing the opposition could do is withdraw these amendments and let us get on with it. By 1 July, sales tax will be condemned to the history books, and the vast majority of Australians, including the members of the opposition, will breathe a huge sigh of relief and say that these reforms are well worth it. The benefits, particularly with the massive income tax cuts, are going to mean Australia is indeed a much better and really competitive nation as we move into the 21st century.

Amendment negatived.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.