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Tuesday, 27 February 2001
Page: 24475

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY (2:59 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation. Would the minister inform the House of any research showing how prices have changed following the introduction of the new tax system? How has this research been conducted, and is this research a reliable source of information for Australian consumers?

Mr HOCKEY (Minister for Financial Services and Regulation) —I thank the member for Dawson for her question and her ongoing interest in consumer issues. As the member for Dawson and other members in the House would be aware, there are three sources of information about prices. There is, of course, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the inflation index; secondly, there is the ACCC and price monitoring; and then there is the Lilley Pricewatch. Only one of the three is not credible, and I will come to that in a moment. The Lilley Pricewatch was released again in January of this year. It was a January survey, and the survey predictably claimed that prices went up in December and January as a result of the GST. A full six months after the introduction of the GST, it is amazing how the prices went up. The member for Lilley was so outraged about this that he said publicly that he was going to write to me and write to the ACCC for an investigation. I want to save the member for Lilley the price of the stamp—although I would have been keen to find out if there was any cash in the envelope!

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr HOCKEY —This is good. Hold it up! Hold it up!

Mr SPEAKER —The minister will resume his seat.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Rankin!

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Oxley!

Mr HOCKEY —I referred the information available to the ACCC, and I received this advice. This is very interesting. Firstly—

Mr Leo McLeay —I will take a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Lyons will apologise.

Mr Adams —Can you explain what I have to apologise for?

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Lyons will apologise to the chair for assuming its authority, or excuse himself from the House.

Mr Adams —I apologise, Mr Speaker.

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There are forms of the House that require a withdrawal if somebody has been abusive in this place. There is no form of the House which requires an apology to be offered. It may well be the case that standing orders ought to be altered to provide for that opportunity, but it is not read that way at all; in which case, there was no standing order that enabled you or entitled you to require the honourable gentleman to rise and apologise, maybe to withdraw. I do not know what it is that he said, but apologise—that is not in it.

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition is, of course, absolutely right. But members ought to have been aware that in the two years that I have occupied the chair there have been occasions when, rather than embarrass members by calling for a withdrawal, I have invited them simply to indicate that what they had said they had said in haste. It was in deference to the member for Lyons as an occupier of the chair and member of the Speakers Panel that I extended that courtesy to him.

Mr Leo McLeay —Mr Speaker, my point of order is particularly on that matter. As you asked the member for Lyons to withdraw and apologise, will you also ask the minister to withdraw and apologise for the remarks that he made, as you know he well should.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Dickson has exercised a courtesy to the chair that I would like other members to exercise and observed that, in fact, because I was both distracted by activities on my left and in conversation with the Clerk, I did not hear what the minister said.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Charlton would know that the minister is not the first person guilty of that.

Mr SPEAKER —I assure the member for Dickson that I will invite the minister to withdraw anything he said that was offensive. Since I do not know what he said, I will check the record and be prepared to report, at least to her, if the withdrawal is not seen to be adequate.

Mr HOCKEY —I asked the ACCC for advice on the—

Mr SPEAKER —The Chief Opposition Whip will resume his seat. I invited the minister to withdraw if he had said something offensive and I indicated that I will check the Hansard record.

Mr HOCKEY —Mr Speaker, if I have said anything offensive, I am happy to withdraw it. I would not like to say anything offensive here.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The minister has the call.

Mr HOCKEY —I referred the information on the Pricewatch from the member for Lilley to the ACCC for advice. The ACCC came back and provided me with three pieces of advice. Firstly, they pointed out that this survey, unlike other surveys, is in fact comparing apples with oranges. It has a smaller product base covering fewer supermarkets. So, on this occasion, it is not statistically credible. Secondly, of the 29 items surveyed, 28 were food items, which indicates a clear bias in the information and that it is not indicative of a usual supermarket trolley. Finally—and this is the clanger because, as the Leader of the Opposition was so helpfully holding up the newspaper before, the member for Lilley was running around saying, `GST pushing food prices up'; that is what he had on his press release—of the 28 items surveyed, 20 are GST free. Hold it up again: 20 are GST free. Of the 28 items in the survey, 20 are GST free—and the member for Lilley claims that the GST is putting up the prices of food! Again, the Labor Party lacks credibility when it comes to the hard yards of policy. Again, the Leader of the Opposition does no policy homework, does no research, and yet the Labor Party was taken seriously on this matter by some journalist. Some journalist actually printed it, when 20 of the 28 items in the survey were actually GST free. Once again, a policy lazy opposition.

Mr Swan —I seek leave to table the survey. Is leave granted?

Mr SPEAKER —Is leave granted?

Mr Reith —No.

Mr SPEAKER —Leave is not granted.

Mr Swan —Gutless. Absolutely gutless.

Government members—Withdraw! Withdraw!

Mr Reith —If I could raise a point of order, Mr Speaker: it is not appropriate for the opposition to abuse government members in an offensive way when all we ask him to do is to burn the thing, not table it.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr McMullan —If I could speak to the point of order, Mr Speaker: the situation is that we cannot have one standard for this side and another standard for theirs. They can't give it—

Mr SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat. The Manager of Opposition Business is well aware that, until in fact I had ruled on that point of order raised by the Leader of the House, there was no point of order raised by him.

Mr McMullan —I was speaking to his point of order.

Mr SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business was implying that for some strange reason I may think that the member for Lilley had acted in an inappropriate way. I felt that the action by both the Leader of the House and the member for Lilley left a little to be desired, and for that reason things should be left exactly as they are.