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Monday, 26 March 2001
Page: 25626

Mr MURPHY (5:58 PM) —Australia is a large, geographically expansive country that relies heavily on petrol for transport. Access to transport is critical for an equitable distribution to jobs, families and social circles. Transport fuel is not a commodity to be lightly tampered with, let alone double taxed thanks to the government's GST. Yet this government, with full knowledge, systematically imposed a double tax regime on transport fuel—it taxes fuel both directly and indirectly. Further, these two taxes compound each other, causing a multiplier effect on the absolute price—a price which consumers of petrol, whether wealthy or poor, whether high or low income earners, must foot the bill for. That is why I say it is indiscriminate.

It is a tax regime that is heartless. It is also uncharitable in the true sense of the word. Charity is defined as `bearing another's burden'. A tax regime's social impact must balance efficiency of revenue collection with ultimate burden impacts. The government learnt this lessen recently in one of the most humiliating backdowns seen by the Australian public over the contemptible regime of business activity statements. The BAS in its original form represented the extremes this government will go in the utilitarian ethic of compelling self-assessment and self-reporting to substitute taxation officer assessments to such an extent that it was a crushing burden that the vast majority of Australian taxpayers simply could not cope with. The BAS is a living example of what happens when the government goes too far in its driven categorical imperative of utilitarianism. It has again done so today.

The government seeks to cut costs by the divestment of Customs responsibilities in the collection of excise to the ATO. It further seeks to impose double taxation effects in the GST excise spiral. As the Hon. Simon Crean has noted, this government makes fanfare about the money they give to the Australian public whilst not disclosing how much money they are taking from us. In this case, the fuel tax GST excise regime is taking more money from us but paying for less. Gap analysis shows we are getting a diminished standard of public service accountability in the critical area of border protection by conveniently redefining excise collection as merely a revenue collection function of a government agency, which it is not. The bill itself is uncontentious enough in isolation. The issue is what broader policy and other administrative changes have been made to create a new regime which is providing less service, taxing Australians more, and in an indiscriminate way, and causing exposure to future public revenue and border protection violations in the future.

On the subject of the GST, since the Western Australian and Queensland state elections and the federal by-election in Ryan the government has gone into denial mode about the impact of the GST on ordinary Australians. The government is so relaxed and comfortable, all it can offer by way of explanation of the horrendous result for the government in Ryan is to crow that Newspoll got it wrong. Of course I am referring to Newspoll's prediction that there would be a 16 per cent swing to Labor when it turned out to be 9.7 per cent. I remind the government that the 9.7 per cent swing to Labor, nine days ago, comes on top of a 7.4 per cent swing to Labor in Ryan just 2½ years ago in the 1998 federal election. That is what the people in Ryan—indeed Australia—think of the GST.

The government are so relaxed and comfortable that last week they were taking comfort in the recent BRW survey of the big end of town that the big end of town prefers a coalition government—surprise, surprise! Senator Nick Minchin is so relaxed and comfortable that in his interview with Laurie Oakes on the Sunday program yesterday he said that Labor had had an ordinary week. If we have had an ordinary week, I put it to the House tonight that the government has had a shocker. It is sobering for the government, if they read Glenn Milne's column in the `Opinion' section on page 13 of the Australian of Monday, 19 March, where he concludes:

But the Prime Minister hasn't yet heard the worst news out of Ryan. That's because it's contained in Labor confidential internal polling. That showed that voters in Ryan still supported the GST.

Normally that might be good news. But if Ryan voters still back the GST and can give the government 10 per cent kicking imagine what they're going to do in a marginal seat where voters hate the GST.

We know what people think of the GST in seats outside of Ryan, which was once the safest Liberal seat in Queensland, where they are kicking the coalition to death and they are not even listening. If they are still relaxed and comfortable, they could turn to Laura Tingle's article on page 2 of Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald where she says:

In a speech in Tokyo yesterday, the Reserve's deputy governor, Dr Stephen Grenville, aggressively rebutted the Prime Minister's suggestion that the central bank was partly to blame for the downturn in the December quarter through its decision to raise interest rates in May and August last year.

... ... ...

... Dr Grenville said the bank believed the GST not only hurt the construction sector but also business confidence.

Quite plainly, he was referring to the slowdown in the economy and the forecasts of many economic pundits who are foreshadowing a recession in this country. Yet once again the government is in denial mode, not accepting the impact, particularly on small business, of the GST. It gets better. Yesterday in the Sun-Herald there was a terrific article entitled `$7 basket case'. I notice the member for Dickson is sitting at the table. She would be very interested in this because she has spoken to me on many occasions about the impact of the GST on small business people, pensioners, and particularly self-funded retirees and people on lower incomes, in her electorate. I will read out what the researchers—namely, Fia Cumming and Daniel Dasey—came up with. They said, inter alia:

Recent election results in Ryan, Western Australia and Queensland and opinion polls show that voters do not like the GST. Many hate it.

And if any of Howard's advisers want to know why, they only have to pop around to their local supermarket.

The price of a trolley of groceries has risen sharply under the GST.

While prices initially dropped, a typical family shopping trip is about $7 more expensive than a year ago. And taxpayers predict the bill will continue to grow.

We compiled a trolley-load of about 60 items based on the same categories used to calculate the consumer price index and featuring the country's top-selling brands.

The survey showed that last March, groceries including meat, vegetables, cereal products, dairy goods, snacks, household products and personal care items cost $178.07.

The same goods purchased in September—when the GST had just come into effect—would have cost $173.16, a cut of almost $5. But by last week a new trend was emerging.

The same goods had shot up to $185.46, more than $11 dearer than in September and nearly $7 more than a year ago.

A significant portion of the rise reflected flood-affected vegetable prices, but many other consumer goods had risen as well.

Ray Regan from peak taxation group the National Tax & Accountants Association ... said he believed the rise in supermarket prices was nationwide.

He said major supermarkets had initially absorbed GST price rises to avoid losing customers and were gradually recouping their losses.

Clearly, the GST is not accepted by the people of Australia. The government will be flogged at the next election. (Time expired)