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Tuesday, 27 March 2001
Page: 25748

Mr SNOWDON (6:13 PM) —I will comment on the previous speaker's remarks shortly in some detail. I am glad he said in his concluding remarks that this exercise was about decreasing the taxation take for petrol. You had better stay and listen, Comrade, because what you will discover is that the taxation take for petrol has dramatically increased as a result of decisions taken by your government and the GST—as he walks out the door. The bottom line is that the Australian community is sick and tired and fed up to the back teeth with the lies, dishonesty and deceit coming from this government in relation to petrol, as well as in relation to beer. In relation to that beer question, I refer to quotes read by the shadow minister, Simon Crean, this afternoon. He referred to the pre-election commitment of the government that the price of ordinary beer would not rise by more than the general price level forecast at the time—namely, 1.9 per cent.

While the ANTS package referred only to packaged beer, the Prime Minister made a general commitment several times during the election campaign. He said the on John Laws program, as was said this afternoon, on 23 September 1998, `There'll be no more than a 1.9 per cent rise in ordinary beer.' Sometimes things get difficult in this place. Sometimes the message gets confused. But that is a pretty simple message, isn't it: there'll be no more than a 1.9 per cent rise in the price of ordinary beer. Prime Minister, you are a liar, because you know, I know, every publican and hotelier and every club in Australia knows that the price of beer has gone up by 10 per cent or more.

Mr Brough —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. You can tolerate some things, but this is unparliamentary language, calling the Prime Minister a liar. I ask that the member withdraw unreservedly. At no stage in this place has that language ever been allowable.

Mr SNOWDON —I am happy to withdraw, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the purpose of the exercise. He has told a gross untruth. No-one is fooled by it. It is the lie by any other name. If the member for Longman does not want to describe it as a lie, call it a mistruth, an untruth, an act of dishonesty, gross hypocrisy and dishonesty by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer—and he is advocating it in the parliament this afternoon. He will go back to his electorate and say there have been no lies told by this government. But a lie was told. It was said that the price of beer would not rise by more than 1.9 per cent. The facts are different. In my electorate, the price of a beer in a pub or club has gone up by over 10 per cent. I ask the member for Longman to subtract 1.9 from 10, tell me the difference and tell me that the Prime Minister was not telling a lie.

I want to mention those people in the pubs and clubs around the Northern Territory and the community.

Mr Brough —You aren't mentioning fuel, are you? It is a fuel bill but you don't want to mention that.

Mr SNOWDON —Sit and hold your breath. They have a unique place in regional communities. The new tax system has dramatic social implications for the institutions in the country town known as the pub, club, the RSL, the local footy club, the cricket club and so on. I know it and you should know it. These pubs and clubs in country towns and communities perform a vital service in providing much-needed social and recreational facilities. They provide sporting facilities for the youth in the community. They provide a focal point for community discussion. They provide support for members in need. Without them, there would be even greater demand for government services. Even the member for Longman should appreciate that. I mention those community pubs and clubs because the feedback I am getting from some club managers and presidents in the Northern Territory is that the first quarter of this year has been the quietest for years. For the sake of the member for Longman, the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and every one of the cheerleaders on the other side of this House, I will quote what one manager said:

The bottom line is that this new tax system, both directly through taxes on beer and wine and indirectly by leaving the average punter with less in his or her pocket at the end of the week, is resulting in lower turnover across the bar and in restaurants and bistros attached to pubs and clubs doing less trade.

Those clubs have done it hard in recent years. Videos, computer games and pay TV, changing employment opportunities and the drift to the cities have meant that the competition for entertainment in regional communities has never been keener. Club committees have had to work harder to attract sponsorship and be more creative with the proverbial chook raffles. The silver spoon types on the other side of this place would not know what a chook raffle was, but I have wandered around pubs and flogged meat trays over the years to raise money for sporting organisations and clubs and I know how hard it is to get the jerseys for the footy team, to pay the association fees, to get the netball team skirted out, and to take on the 1,001 other liabilities that these clubs and pubs take on in the name of community service.

Clubs now find it hard to approach local businesses in their town because they too are doing it tough. Last week I travelled around the Northern Territory with some shadow ministers, and it was writ large that the economy in Katherine, Tennant Creek and other parts of regional Northern Territory has stopped dead. Small business is doing it hard. They do not have the money to sponsor these organisations. Since the government increased excise on beer, sales across the bar at community based clubs have decreased. Basically, many punters can no longer afford to have a beer. The social beer or glass of wine after a game of footy, tennis or cricket is fast becoming a thing of the past. A family counter meal on Friday or Saturday night is becoming a less regular occurrence. Talk to any club manager, president or treasurer and they will tell you that 1 July 2000 was a dark day in the history of sporting and social clubs around Australia. These institutions across the country do much to give our country towns their soul, unique local history and distinct local character. They provide contact between generations of young and old. One only has to look at the popularity of the TV soap A Country Practice some years ago, with Cookie, Bob and Esme, these characters that we all know and some actually loved—or should I say we all have to put up with—to know how much Australians appreciate their local sporting or social club.

There is a danger that club life as we know it in smaller communities and those small community pubs will go the same way as the post office, the bank and small local businesses. It is not a simple question of beer and wine sales; if anything, they have remained constant. Bar sales are down—that is clear—but takeaway sales have increased. People are seeking out cheaper alternatives. Social drinkers, rather than go to the pub or down to the club, stay at home with a sixpack quickly purchased with the weekly shopping. Where is the community spirit in that activity? Clubs, to survive, are increasingly turning to gaming for income. What does the Prime Minister say about that? This development, I feel, is more dangerous than alcohol abuse in many of our small communities. It is very clear that in relation to this issue of beer the population of Australia have been absolutely deceived, let down yet again by the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and his other ministers.

I want to go to the question of fuel, as the member for Longman has implored me to do. I am pleased that what I will be able to demonstrate here is that the communities I represent—that is, the people of the Northern Territory—pay the highest prices for fuel in Australia and now pay the highest tax on fuel in Australia. I say this to the member for Longman and I note that the member for La Trobe was here earlier: this is about falling taxation. I note with some glee the `confidential Excise Tax (Amendment) Bill document' prepared for your party room colleagues. On page 2 there is a table of unleaded petrol and diesel excise rates. This table tells us with great relish what the excise rate was on 30 June 2000—44.137c a litre—what it was on 1 August, what it was on 1 February and what it was on 2 March. On 2 March it was 38.143c per litre, which applies to every litre of fuel sold around Australia.

When the Deputy Prime Minister trotted into my electorate like the Lone Ranger prior to the last election, with his akubra slunk over his forehead, saying that the price of fuel would not rise as a result of the GST, he too told a massive untruth, a fib, a porky. It has been repeated time and time again by members opposite and, I might say, supported by the Northern Territory government. When the Prime Minister visited the Tiwi islands a month or so ago, he happened to pass a petrol pump where the price of fuel was $1.80 per litre. When this was pointed out to the Prime Minister, this was his response—as reported in a Northern Territory News article at the time:

It's not something that can be specifically related to policy decisions of my government.

We all know that petrol prices have a range of influences, not the least of which is the falling Australian dollar that is the direct result of the mismanagement of the Australian economy by the Treasurer, the Prime Minister and those other people in the government. We all know that petrol prices have to do with the price of crude. But could you tell me, Mr Deputy Speaker, why it is that the people at Nguiu on Bathurst Island should have to pay not only the 38.143c per litre but also above 10c as a result of the GST? This is `less taxation on the price of fuel', so we are led to believe.

When the Northern Territory Leader of the Opposition, Clare Martin, last month questioned the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory on this issue in the Legislative Assembly, Chief Minister Denis Burke said:

The effect of the GST on fuel prices is a fact of life.

I wonder if the member for Longman supports that proposition that the effect of the GST on fuel prices is a fact of life. It is a fact that Territorians pay more in Alice Springs, in Tennant Creek, in Katherine, in Darwin, and pay even more at every community in the Northern Territory, than elsewhere in Australia. But Denis Burke, and clearly the member for Longman, the Treasurer and the Prime Minister, cannot see this fact—they cannot see the difference in costs as a result of people living in regional and remote Australia as opposed to Bennelong or Kooyong. Denis Burke subsequently said:

I stand by my statement I said and that is that the federal government no is not responsible for the increase in fuel prices.

He is also telling lies, because the disproportionate burden that people who live in regional Australia have to bear as a result of the GST on fuel—how they pay substantially more tax on every litre of fuel than do their counterparts who live in the capital cities—is very clear. The Prime Minister, the member opposite and the Treasurer may deny it, but it is a fact of life.

The Treasurer may be interested to know that in Hawthorn today the price of fuel at a Shell service station was 91.3c per litre. On this, his constituents pay 8.48c GST and the total tax with the excise is 46.68c. In my electorate at Yuendumu, an Aboriginal community some 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, the price of fuel is $1.35 per litre. On this, my constituents pay 12.2c GST per litre and that is a total tax of 50.41c. There is a difference of approximately 4c between the tax paid by the people of Yuendumu and that paid by the people of Hawthorn. Are you trying to tell me that the people at Yuendumu do not pay more tax as a result of the GST? Are you telling me that the people of Nguiu, who have to pay 10c a litre as GST, are not paying more tax than other Australians as a result of the GST on their fuel? The only people you are fooling are yourselves. Every motorist who travels around regional and remote Australia understands the impact of the price of fuel at the bowser. I have here a list of prices of fuel at the bowser and I can tell you how the prices range in my electorate. Today in Darwin it is $1.01 a litre, in Nguiu it is $1.80 and the price varies in between. Are you telling me that the difference in tax paid by each of these communities is not the direct responsibility of the federal government? Of course it is. People are not fooled by it, and no motorist in the Northern Territory is fooled by it. The only people who are fooled by it are the member for Longman and his colleagues on the coalition benches.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I realise we are closely confronting the dinner break so I will come back after dinner to finish my remarks.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. D.G.H. Adams)—I point out to the honourable member that he may finish his remarks.

Mr SNOWDON —Thank you so much. I want to mention a couple of other things that relate to the way in which the GST has impacted on the Northern Territory. It is not only on fuel where the Northern Territory Chief Minister has very clearly indicated his strong support for the GST; he is on the public record as saying this:

The Northern Territory government support the GST because it's good for Territorians.

Yesterday the headline in the Northern Territory News was `Exodus: 2100 Leave Territory' and the article reported a net migration loss as a result of a range of things. However, this is what the chief minister said about people moving out of the Northern Territory: he dismissed opposition claims that his government's policies have led to an exodus of people from the Territory. An article reported:

Denis Burke says a downturn in construction may have contributed to the figures.

Yes, it has, Denis. There has been a 70 per cent reduction in approvals for residential dwellings in Darwin as opposed to last year. What was the main event that caused that reduction in dwelling approvals? We all know what it was and it did impact on the construction industry: it was the GST. The Northern Territory government was warned about this prior to the federal election; the Northern Territory government was warned about this prior to 1 July last year; yet the Northern Territory government has continued to support the proposition that somehow the GST is good for the community.

We had the laughable situation in question time this afternoon when the Prime Minister said—words to the effect—that Australians are better off under the GST. Which Australians are better off under the GST: the people who work in the construction industry in Darwin who have now had to leave the Northern Territory, or those people out of jobs as a result of the GST? Unemployment in the Northern Territory has increased by almost two per cent, year on year, in January this year. Who is responsible for that? The persons responsible for that are the three people who have mismanaged the Northern Territory economy and the federal economy; that is, the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Denis Burke, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer of Australia. They are the people that are responsible. The Northern Territory community is feeling it hard at the moment as a result of the GST and a range of other factors, but principally because of the GST and its impact on small business.

Let there be no doubt about this: what we have seen writ large in this legislation is an act of deceit by the federal government on the issue of beer—where it is very clear that the price of beer has increased more than 1.9 per cent when the Prime Minister has said it would not. The fact is that it has gone up by in excess of 10 per cent. Beer sales over the bar around Australia are down—everyone acknowledges it—as a direct result of government policy.

We also know that in the Northern Territory at least, and I am sure in other parts of rural and remote Australia, the country-city divide in relation to fuel prices has been exacerbated by the impact of the GST on fuel. There is no question about it. It is statistically verifiable. Yet somehow or other the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the member for Longman, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory and the Treasurer of the Northern Territory all live in a state of denial. Well, you can deny no longer. You can fool some of the people some of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. That is very clear. The message should be coming through loud and clear to the federal government.

I want to say in conclusion that my children are involved in a range of activities including circus, gymnastics in the past and dance. They do a lot of funny things with their body—they stretch, they limber and they do somersaults. But I have seen more contortions in this chamber in the last few months out of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer than I have seen in any gymnastics or circus display. Why is this? Because they know that they have dudded the Australian community and that they are trying to dig their way out of it. They will not succeed. They will be found out. They have been found out by the electors of Ryan, and, come other events later in the year, I hope to goodness the whole of the Australian community will mark them down as a result of their actions. (Time expired)

Sitting suspended from 6.34 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.