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Tuesday, 27 March 2001
Page: 25699

Mr CREAN (2:13 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to the government's claim that Labor's social obligation fund will force up bank fees for ordinary Australians. Isn't it the case that your GST, according to your preferred modeller, Chris Murphy, imposed a cost of $430 million on banking? Isn't it also true that you, through the ACCC, allowed the banks to recover these GST costs through higher fees? If it is okay for customers to pay $430 million in higher fees for your GST, what is wrong with setting up a fund that gives Australians a decent level of banking service?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —In reply to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, there are a number of things that are true about the new tax system. One of the things that is true is that the financial institutions duty—which is a burden on many people: many consumers, many financial institutions, many ordinary Australians—will be completely abolished on 1 July this year. It is also true that, as a result of the other reforms that have been introduced—and, typically, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition seeks to focus his question on one particular aspect of taxation reform instead of giving proper credit to the aggregate impact of taxation reform—when you look at the aggregate impact of taxation reform, you will find that the average Australian is better off. The average Australian is better off because of personal income tax reform. The average Australian is better off as a result of the other changes that have been implemented.

Importantly, what the opposition have to explain—if they are going to impose, under their charter, additional obligations on the banks and are justifying the imposition of those obligations on the banks—is whether they are going to be able to guarantee that those obligations will not be passed on by the banks to the Australian public.

Mr HOWARD —I invite the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to have a look at the reaction of the Australian public today to the proposal of the opposition. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is putting forward a proposition that additional obligations should be placed on the banks. Those obligations, if they are costly, will be passed on to banking customers. That is what will result from what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and his party are proposing. We are seeing a latter day conversion by the Australian Labor Party to concern and compassion for the customers of Australian banks. When the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition were senior ministers in the Keating government, neither of them gave a damn about the interests of banking customers. You were perfectly prepared to sidle up with the chief executives of every trading bank in Australia. You were perfectly prepared to share their cigars and go around reassuring them just how big banking profits were under a Labor government. You had no interest in banking customers. You presided over astronomically high interest rates, you have stolen a policy from the Australian Bank Association, and you expect the Australian public to believe that you really care about their interests.