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Wednesday, 28 February 2001
Page: 24653

Mr CREAN (3:42 PM) —Another day, another backflip, another government backbench revolt and another rolling of the Treasurer. Out of this last couple of days we have got the member for Kennedy challenging the Deputy Prime Minister, we have got the Treasurer rolled again without the courage, even with Labor's support, to stand up to his Prime Minister or even to the member for Dawson and we have the latest backflip on petrol, involving the government adopting more of Labor's roll-back.

This is a Prime Minister who wants the electorate to be grateful that he is now considering some petrol relief—a Prime Minister who for eight months, against Labor's urging, has said that it cannot be done, wanting, as the shoplifter having got caught, to be congratulated for giving back the goods. The sheik of shoplifters is this Prime Minister, a person who has used the petrol bowser and world oil prices to rip people off even further and who wants to be thanked now for being forced to give money back.

Until yesterday, we were told that what Labor was proposing could not be donethat it was unaffordable, that it was irresponsible, that it would wreck the budget. But now we have got the government embracing this very measure. The question we ask today is: why not embrace it fully immediately? Why not adopt Labor's bill now? The bill that the Leader of the Opposition sought to move at 9.30 this morning gives relief to Australian motorists immediately. We would facilitate its passage through the parliament. We would do everything we could to give that relief immediately, because every day that is wasted represents $1½ million being ripped out of the pockets of struggling Australian motorists. So far as this bill is concerned, the clock started ticking on 1 February. That is when we sought to freeze the petrol excise for the February adjustment to give back what the government deceived the Australian public about in terms of its GST adjustment.

Since 1 February—and this is now the end of the month—that excise, that additional tax, that deceitful tax, at $1½ million every day, has taken from the Australian public $42 million, and it keeps rising by $1½ every day. Each day wasted in moving on this sees the rip-off barometer rise. So why wait? Why prolong their humiliation? Just do it! We will facilitate it—after all, it is our policy. So why doesn't the government totally eat the humble pie, embrace the policy and give support to it in this parliament immediately?

For eight months, the government said that this could not be done. I have these quotes from the Prime Minister (sic). In question time, in answer to a question on 2 November 2000 in relation to our asking why he would not give the petrol relief, he said:

If I blew the whole of the budget surplus on a fuel duty cut, I could do nothing for pensioners and interest rates would go up.

Of course, we know he did something for pensioners. He discounted their pension increase in March when he never told them he was going to do it in the election campaign. But it was not enough to hit them once; he dudded them twice. He also promised during the election campaign that everyone over 60 would get a $1,000 savings bonus—and they did not get it. So none of this sanctimony from the Prime Minister saying he can do nothing for pensioners. Why not do what you promised to do for them, the same as you promised in relation to petrol? It was not only that quote—I have many of them here—but another couple will suffice. On Radio 2BL on 31 January this year, the Prime Minister said:

Now, it's impossible from an economic point of view to do both.

That is, petrol price reductions as well as the road funding. I come back to his quote:

That would not be responsible.

At the community breakfast in McEwen—we know how that great little fighter, the member for McEwen, has been ducking and weaving on this issue—he said:

... we couldn't do both so we decided to spend it on roads.

For eight months, this Prime Minister has been in denial. For eight months, he has been accusing Labor—in persisting with the approach that they are now prepared to embrace—saying that Labor would blow the surplus. Only last week, on this later issue of blowing the surplus, they unleashed their secret weapon in New York. Joe Hockey, the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation, is at the table now. Our Minister for Financial Services and Regulation went between New York and Des Moines talking Australia down, saying that if Labor were elected to office we would blow the surplus.

Mr Hockey —Why don't you ask a question?

Mr CREAN —You are not worth it, my friend.

Mr Hockey —Have the guts to ask a question.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)—The minister and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition will cease the over-table conversation.

Mr CREAN —We know who has the guts, my friend. Not only was he over there but we learnt from a newspaper earlier this week that this direction to him was given from the highest level. It was approved by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer that the secret weapon—Blowout Joe—who was so effective in January of last year in trying to explain the GST that they took him off the air this January, would be sent away. They got him out of the country. But here we have the government accusing Labor of blowing the budget and also of driving the dollar down—this from a government that has seen the dollar go from close to 79c to 52c. It even dropped close to 50c. What hypocrisy! Driving the dollar down—is that the standard? You ought to be ashamed of yourselves with what you have achieved.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Deputy Leader of the Opposition, please address your remarks through the chair.

Mr CREAN —I will speak through the chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. Also, this is from a government accusing us of driving the surplus down when we have today's Financial Review saying that the Prime Minister is prepared to sacrifice the surplus. He is quoted:

I'm in the business of winning elections.

The Prime Minister, through this minister at the table, accuses Labor of blowing the surplus when that is exactly what they will do to try to hold on, shoddily, to office. `Shoddily' I say, because they have broken so many promises in relation to the GST. Nothing they have said about it has borne fruit. People are not better off as a result of this; they consider themselves worse off. Pensioners are not better off. Petrol went up as a result of the GST and ordinary beer rose more than 1.9 per cent. It is not a simple new tax. All of these things were said. The last saving grace is that the Prime Minister said during the election: if you don't believe it is good for you, at least believe it is good for the economy. The GST has mugged the Australian economy. That is why our economy was growing more slowly in Australia even before the recession signals started to come from the US. The GST mugged this Australian economy, and all of the indicators point to the fact that the downturn began post July. Yesterday, the Treasurer, when he was talking in here about how corporate profits went up in the last quarter, forgot to mention the previous quarter which the Statistician revised. The previous quarter—the first after the GST had been introduced—showed that corporate profits were revised down even further, the lowest since 1991. Some achievement, this great new tax, this great new benefit for the nation!

What we have out of all of this mess is the Treasurer of the country floundering in the wake of the backflips: rolled on BAS, rolled on petrol and rolled on trusts. We used to hear him taunt this side of the House by saying, `We never hear them mention rrroll-back.' He got that cute little `r', that cute little lilt, into the roll-back. The fact of the matter is that the Treasurer has been rolled over. Whilst we are talking `r' words, what the Treasurer should do is resign because he failed to honour a commitment he made to this parliament and to the opposition, a commitment in writing that he would introduce his tax legislation, his trust legislation, in full and on time. Not only has he been rolled by his backbench on this; he has been rolled by no less than De-Anne Kelly. This is the great Treasurer who can stand up to all comers—rolled by the National Party. But it is not for the first time, is it? We ought to be thankful for these people: if they had operated sooner we might have been able to save the $45,000 on the image makers for the Treasurer because at least these roll-overs of him have taken the smirk off his face.

Dr Martin —Well, until today!

Mr CREAN —Until today; until he thought he could slip in here and fudge the figures again. Rolled, yes, but the problems are still not fixed. BAS is still a mess. We saw the Treasurer today clutch on to some survey, I think of 300 people, in a desperate effort to say people were now satisfied with it. He is still refusing, on the petrol issue, to acknowledge the extent of the petrol tax windfall. In terms of trusts, he is revising down the budget impact faster than the dollar fell under his stewardship. If he revises that figure down any further, he will be wanting you to believe that it is actually contributing to budget revenues rather than detracting from them.

On the petrol windfall and on petrol tax, I come back to two things that the government must do. If it is to give relief, it must immediately support Labor's bill because that will give the petrol tax cut as soon as possible—and people need it because they are hurting. They are having to pay too much for their petrol, and you know it, Mr Deputy Speaker. They have been calling out for relief and they can be given it now. We know that that can be afforded, because the Prime Minister has admitted that the effect of world oil prices on the petroleum resource rent tax enables at least the freezing of the February petrol excise to be afforded. But we believe there is more there by way of the windfalls. That is why we want the government—and we call upon it again today—to release the detail on the extent of the windfall. There are four sources of this government's windfall from petrol tax. First, the government chose to cut excise by only 6.7c a litre, when the GST put the price up by 8.2c a litre. That is 1½ c a litre not budgeted for that they have been ripping off Australian motorists. Second, as the price increases above the 90c strike rate at the pump, the amount of GST collected increases above that 8.2c a litre. That is a second windfall. Third, the fuel excise is indexed to inflation. Inflation from the GST has increased excise in February, and increases in fuel costs feed into higher inflation. That in turn goes into higher excise. The GST and the increase in world oil prices have already generated this third windfall—excise windfall. Fourth, the oil price will directly increase the revenue to the petroleum resource rent tax, the PRRT. We have the Prime Minister admitting that that is half a billion dollars. It is interesting to note that, today, the Automobile Association of Australia puts that figure at over $1 billion.

There we have it: four windfalls that we want the answer to because we want the government to come clean, stop denying the problems and stop trying to hide it. `Tax on a tax is okay,' this government says now, when it promised it would not happen. Labor has said we will act now. That is why we have introduced this bill; that is why we want it debated. But we want to go further than that and establish the full extent of the windfall and look at options for returning the windfall. That is why we have the Peter Cook committee continuing; that is why we will continue to put pressure on this government. Australian motorists deserve relief. Support our bill; give it to them immediately. (Time expired)

Opposition member—Hogwash Hockey!

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)—Order! The member who said that will return to his seat.

Mr Hockey —It was the member for Lilley.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —We will ignore it this time because nobody has the guts to own up.