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Wednesday, 28 February 2001
Page: 24601

Mr LEO McLEAY (11:30 AM) —As we have just heard from the member for Gilmore, we are discussing Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2000-2001 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2000-2001 and related legislation. It was interesting to listen to the member for Gilmore, because the government is in a bit of strife at present. When governments are in strife, people start to bring out their lists—the list of things that I should have done, the list of things that I wanted to do, the list of the 10 things I am going to do when I am no longer a member of parliament.

Mr O'Connor —And blame the state governments.

Mr LEO McLEAY —Of course, there is always the list of things that I am going to blame someone else for, because I wanted to get all those things done but, unfortunately, either it rained or the state government would not help or the council would not help or my own government would not help. The one thing we do not hear from the government members in this debate, among all these lists, is the list of broken promises that we have had from John Howard and the current government.

I want to say one thing to the member for Gilmore while the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business is here. She says how terrible it is that the Labor Party have held up the government's unfair dismissal laws in the Senate. Well, I can tell you that we will continue to hold them up because we are not interested in seeing people becoming involved in slave labour—and that is the sort of thing that the current government's unfair dismissal laws are about. They are about giving people the right to sack people without any compensation and without any relation to their position in life.

I would like to mention a couple of things that the government does not want to mention in this debate. Firstly, I would like to mention the GST. I note in Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2000-2001 that $202 million is destined for the Australian Taxation Office. According to the Treasurer's second reading speech, $183 million is for the increased cost of administering the GST, while $20 million is for the implementation of the new business tax. I have to say that the Australian Taxation Office must be the only growth area in the Public Service under this government. I would be interested to learn just how many employees in the tax office are in GST related jobs. I would imagine quite a few, including a range of people such as telephone inquiry staff and senior officers grappling with the complicated GST policy questions. Of course, after we get the government to agree with us on roll-back in the next few days, there will probably be even more people required in the tax office to undo some of the mess that this government has got us into.

The administration of the GST has not proved to be a simple exercise for anyone. I recall my misgivings about the GST prior to its introduction, when we were debating the appropriation bills in June last year. We had all heard the government's propaganda extolling the virtues of the GST. We had also heard the questions that people were raising—people engaged in small business especially were very worried—on talk-back radio, in particular, and in other areas of the media. I recall some of the concerns that I had about the GST that I did not have the opportunity to raise in my speech in June. Unfortunately for people in Australia, those concerns are still valid. What were they? I will give the member for Gilmore my list of some of the failures of this government. These failures all arose from the government's tax funded political propaganda campaign in which they told us, among other things, that we would all be better off under the GST. Did the government mean that they would actually bring in a system under which everyone would pay less tax; that state and Commonwealth revenue combined would be less than it was before the introduction of the GST? Would anyone believe this? And whose pockets has the new tax rifled? Not high income earners—they are doing all right; they benefit most from the tax cuts. Not business—they got a tax cut too, and on top of that they get back as much of the GST as they pay. So who is left? You have guessed it—ordinary people: the low income people, the workers whom the member for Gilmore does not want to save from being sacked, the aged, the deprived, the ordinary person in the street. We have found that these ordinary people have realised that they are being rorted for the benefits of others—and the recent state election results provide ample proof that they have woken up to that. We have seen in the last couple of days in this House that not only are the government taking money out of people's pockets with the GST but they are expecting that pensioners will now take a two per cent reduction in their pension rise that they got after the GST.

The government also said that 11 taxes would be replaced by one. That is no doubt technically correct, but it is not the way that the ordinary taxpayer sees it. The ordinary taxpayer sees it as one tax, income tax, being replaced by two taxes—income tax and the GST. The government told us that the burden of provisional tax was going to be lifted. Tell that to the person who is now under the pay-as-you-go scheme. They still pay the tax, but, instead of it being called provisional tax, it is pay as you go. For those whose pay-as-you-go tax is more than $8,000 it has to be paid in quarterly instalments. That was a really big reform, wasn't it? The government said the GST would simplify and improve life for small businesses. That was one of the great lies of all time. Even Goebbels would not have thought up one that was that big. We all know what has actually happened to many small businesses: many of them closed up on 30 June 2000 because they decided that, despite the assurances of the government and the Australian Taxation Office, the introduction of the GST would be too much of a strain for their business. Others, as we unhappily predicted, have folded under the pressure that is now being felt by small business.

I recall seeing on television in May last year the owner of a small country store already in despair about the complicated system, the additional paperwork, the expensive installation of new systems for which they got a whole $200 from the government and about the bureaucratic requirements of the ATO. When the complaints were relayed to the tax experts on television, their response was: the store owner should consult her professional financial adviser. Is that what we have come to in this country—that a small country store owner cannot conduct their business without a professional tax adviser? So much for the government saying that the GST was going to help small business. I would not be surprised if, just as there has been an expansion in certain areas of the tax office necessitated by the GST, there has been a similar growth in the financial advising industry—all adding cost burdens to small business.

Everyone is aware that, instead of lodging a tax return once a year, small businesses have already had to lodge two returns in the current financial year. Given the difficulties faced by many in business in meeting government demands, the government has reluctantly been forced to revisit the requirement for four returns a year. The government did not want to admit that there was a need to revise the system but has been forced to come, kicking and screaming, to the table. We saw the Treasurer on television saying that it was his idea to revise the system—that he had been kicking and screaming to get it done. There has certainly not been too much volume in the screaming, and I have not seen anyone hurt by the kicking. The Treasurer was kicking and screaming all right—he was kicking and screaming to stop any changes being made to the system.

Everyone in this House knows that there is a massive tug-of-war going on at present between the Treasurer and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is desperate to spend like a drunken sailor to get the government out of their trouble with all the lists of the things they wanted to do or they thought they would do—lists of broken promises. The Treasurer is trying to save the bottom line for the government. We heard this government say in the last parliament that Australia had to go through a terrible lot of pain. In the last parliament we saw the government rip the guts out of the welfare system. What was that for? It was to build up a surplus, they said. In the next six months we are going to see this government run that surplus down to zero. What is the government going to do that for? They are going to do that so that their members, who will get up in this debate and talk about the lists of the things they wanted to do and the things that they cannot do—

Mr O'Connor —They want to save their mangy necks.

Mr LEO McLEAY —What my colleague said is absolutely right. The government is going to spend the whole surplus so that the member who is going to speak next can save his neck. The trouble for the government is that it is too late. Its members could stand on street corners now handing out hundred dollar bills, and people would put those bills up to the light because they would be sure they were forgeries. What people know about this government is that their promises do not matter one whit. The Prime Minister told us that he was going to be a person who would stand against the tide, who would stand for fiscal rectitude. The Queensland election wrecked fiscal rectitude for him. It will not be too long before the government starts running hand-in-hand with One Nation.

The government also told us during the campaign for the GST that prices would not go up much at all after 1 July. We had our suspicions about that and we said a lot about it. We particularly talked about petrol. The government said that petrol prices would not rise. They came around with all sorts of complicated formulas and schemes to try to prop up petrol prices in the country so that there would not be a differentiation between country prices and city prices. We saw the Nationals running around the country telling people that petrol prices were not going up. The problem was that people were standing there at the petrol bowser seeing that it cost them $40 to fill the Commodore last week and that it was costing them $45 or $50 to fill it this week. The electorate is furious about that.

Petrol prices are the metaphor for this government. People know that the government lied to them about petrol prices. People know that the government is making nearly half a billion dollars a year windfall profit out of petrol prices and the GST. People know that that is the truth, and every government member who gets up here and lies about it day after day knows that it is the truth as well. The fact of the matter is that the government has taken 1.7c a litre more out of people for petrol tax with the GST in it than it should have. The infamous GST spike in petrol has nothing to do with international oil prices whatsoever.

The truth is that the government has an option. We told the government what that option was at the beginning of this month. On 1 February this year the Leader of the Opposition introduced a bill into this parliament to take the GST spike out. He proposed a bill to give relief to people from the GST effect of petrol. Every day that the government puts off picking up that proposal, it gouges $1.3 million out of motorists' pockets. It does not matter how much the member for Moreton gets up here and spouts about that—every day that the clock is ticking, the government gouges another $1.3 million out of motorists that it is not entitled to.

This morning the Leader of the Opposition came in once again and tried to get the House to agree to his legislation to give back to people the money that has been gouged from them by the GST on petrol. Government members are running around their electorate saying, `We are going to give you relief.' The Prime Minister in the Telegraph today is reported as saying that he has heard the message. The trouble is that he and the Treasurer might have heard the message, but they are going to take their time—at $1.3 million a day—and make sure that motorists pay as much as they can.

The truth is, as one of their colleagues said once, that, as sure as night follows day, within the next few months—hopefully for motorists, within the next few weeks—the government will end up having to do what the Leader of the Opposition's bill proposes to do. That is the reality. They know it, we know it, everybody knows it. But every day the Treasurer can hold out means another $1.3 million they gouge from Australian motorists. Surely it is time the government realised that the talk has to stop and action has to start. Over the next six months, in an attempt to prop themselves up, the government will just spend and spend and spend. For every day that they put off the decision they have to make about petrol, $1.3 million is gouged from the pockets of Australian motorists.

But there are other things that the government, in the attempt to win the election, has made bad policy decisions about. One of those, of course, is dear to your heart and mine, Madam Deputy Speaker Crosio— Badgerys Creek airport. Badgerys Creek airport, whether you want to know about the aviation arguments for or against it—is an example of the massive price that this government will pay to try and save a seat. The only reason the government made the decision about Badgerys Creek airport was to save the member for Lindsay. Nothing, of course, will save the member for Lindsay, but the government thinks that putting off this decision for 10 years will save her. The reality is that the government is out there with the member for Lindsay saying, `We've killed Badgerys Creek airport.' But if the government were serious about killing Badgerys Creek airport, they would have the site up for sale. But they have not got the site up for sale! It is another one of these sleights of hand. It is like them telling the pensioners, `We really haven't taken two per cent off your pension. We told you in the fine print somewhere we were going to do it and you didn't read it.'

Badgerys Creek airport—just like what they are going to have to do with the petrol tax—will come, but the member for Lindsay will get out there and slip-slide around and say, `Oh no, it's never going to be built.' But, if it is not going to be built, they ought to sell the site. But they have got no intention of selling the site. They have come up with this lunatic idea of turning Bankstown Airport into a regional airport, all these Nats that look like Libs—all the gumboot Liberals up and down the New South Wales coast. At least the parliamentary secretary at the table, the member for Fisher, had the good sense to get out of the Nats and join the Libs. When he first came into this parliament, he was a Nat—he was one of Mr Sinclair's soldiers. He was scared stiff by the `Joh for Canberra' campaign and he was going to get Sinclair onto Joh's bandwagon. But when he came back here at the next election, he came back as a genuine Liberal.

The trouble is that the people who run the National Party—the leadership of the National Party—are all genuine Liberals. Even their own side say it. Mr Causley said it in the paper the other day. He said: `Everyone out there in the electorate thinks I am a Liberal.' They all think the Minister for Trade is a Liberal as well—he is just not as well educated as John Anderson. Yesterday, even the Liberals turned on the poor leader of the National Party: they made him sit like a dummy, gagged. For the first time in the 21 years that I have been in this parliament, I saw a deputy prime minister gagged. He sat there with the opposition asking him questions; first off, he could not answer the question. But they just wanted to prove to everybody that he really was a Liberal, because the people he flicked all the questions to were all Liberals. One question to him was about housing for aged veterans. The poor old veterans' affairs minister is a Nat but the Deputy Prime Minister did not even ask him to answer the question. He got Mrs Bishop to answer the question for him—another Liberal.

Mr Slipper —And she did a very good job!

Mr LEO McLEAY —Well, she did a far better job than the leader of the National Party would have done, and that is why you got out of the National Party, sport! You are, at least, smart. The rest of them have got to get out somehow or other between now and the election because, if they do not get out of the National Party between now and the next election—unlike you, who got smart and got back in here—they will be out for good. There will one National left—not One Nation, one National left. As the member for Gilmore was saying, they will be making lists of the things they should have done before they got wiped out. But the one list that will not be a long list after the next election will be the list of National Party members in the parliament. That will be a very short list.

We have seen the National Party sell out the people of northern New South Wales and country New South Wales with this proposal about Bankstown airport. It is just a sham. People who come to Sydney from the bush to do business want to be able to come down in the day, fly into Mascot airport, go and do their business and fly home. Remember, who is the minister for transport in charge of aviation who is supposed to be looking after these people? It is the member for Gwydir, the most far-flung electorate in New South Wales, the leader of the National Party—that Liberal in gumboots. The leader of the National Party's answer for country voters who want to come down to Sydney to do business is, `Well, you can't fly into Sydney airport. You've got to go out to Bankstown. And if you want to go overseas, well then you've got to go out to Bankstown and catch the train back to Mascot.' It is a shemozzle. What has this been done for? Why have these country commuters been sold out? They have been sold out for the member for Lindsay—for the minister for sport—a real Liberal. Sold out by these crypto Liberals in the National party for other Liberals.

The National Party does not stand for country people any more; its ministers will not battle for country people any more, and Katter and Causley and Kelly all stand up on television every day and every night and tell you that the National Party are really Libs. (Time expired)