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Monday, 2 April 2001
Page: 26124

Mr CREAN (2:06 PM) —My question is to the Treasurer. Has he seen the latest business survey released today by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry that shows the fifth consecutive decline in confidence, now down 35 per cent since January last year; a spreading of the pessimism over business conditions across the business community; the lowest reading of investor confidence in nearly eight years; and continued poor expectations of growth, investment, profitability and employment?

Honourable members interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will come to his question.

Mr CREAN —Has he also seen statements by ACCI's head, Mark Paterson, blaming the GST and saying of the survey:

... the results have now moved relentlessly downwards so that many of the outcomes are now the lowest that this survey has recorded in its ten year history.

Treasurer, given that your own cheer squad has recognised the problems your GST is causing—

Mr Charles —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. I draw your attention to the fact that this is question time, not `statement time'.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for La Trobe will resume his seat. I had asked the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to come to his question. He had in fact then turned to a question. The question is now longer than would normally be the case. I ask him to wind the question up.

Mr CREAN —I will, Mr Speaker. Treasurer, given that your own cheer squad has recognised the problems that your GST is causing, when will you start listening rather than looking for someone else to blame?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —Mr Speaker, because of the noise I did not hear the full question, but I do not ask that it be read again because I have a pretty fair idea it would have been the Deputy Leader of the Opposition trying to run down the Australian economy. I notice that he tried it on Friday, he tried it on Saturday, he tried it Sunday and he tried it on Monday. As the Prime Minister said, I said on the way down to question time it is a fair bet we will not get any questions about retail trade today, because if consumers are buying the Labor Party is unhappy.

I have seen the ACCI survey, which said that 90 per cent of respondents expect growth in earnings to rise or stay the same; 75 per cent of respondents regard their own conditions to be satisfactory or better; 70 per cent of business expect the level of sales to be satisfactory or better; two-thirds of respondents expect investment to be the same or higher, with nearly 30 per cent expecting higher levels; and 70 per cent of businesses expect full-time employment to do the same.

Mr SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition was granted a good deal of grace and will extend the same sort of courtesy to the Treasurer, or I will deal with him.

Mr Horne —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. When the Treasurer stood up to answer this question, he said that he did not hear it because of the noise. You could hardly say it was orderly.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Paterson runs the real risk of reflecting on the chair.

Mr COSTELLO —So, in relation to the ACCI survey today, there were a number of indications that, in respect of their own businesses, businesses were expecting growth in either earnings or investment. It is true to say that, coming off record highs in January 2000, confidence is lower than it was at the time of the record high, but if you look at the measures of confidence, as I do carefully, the good thing to say about the ACCI survey is that the measures are certainly stronger than they were under the Labor Party government when the Labor Party was pushing Australia into the massive recession that it did in 1990 and 1991.

In relation to the new tax system, because I am asked about the new tax system, can I just make this point: if the Labor Party were really against the new tax system and really opposed to GST, it would be pledging to abolish it. But the fact that the Labor Party on the one hand says that it is opposed the GST but on the other hand intends to keep it when it gets into government shows the complete hypocrisy of Labor Party spokesmen.

The Prime Minister said on the weekend that this is the weakest Leader of the Opposition since Gough Whitlam. I would say—`and, unlike Gough Whitlam, who turned out to be Australia's worst Prime Minister, actually has a weaker policy position than Gough Whitlam'. The member for Hotham could be the weakest spokesman on Treasury matters for the Labor Party since his father. After five years he has not announced a single policy. On the one hand, he would have you believe that he is totally opposed to the GST; on the other hand, his desperate desire is to get into government and to take advantage of it.

The Labor Party has been pretty lucky that it has had a sympathetic press for the last five years, but now that the focus is coming onto it and people are beginning to ask questions it is time for some answers to be given. And the biggest answer that the people of Australia want to know today is: if you are so opposed to GST, if you think it is no good for the economy, why are you not promising to repeal it? Why will you not commit yourself to a massive roll-back? Why will you not name the goods and services? Why will you not name how you will fund it? And, most of all, why will you not tell the people of Australia how much you intend to put up income taxes to pay for it?

Mr Crean —I seek leave to table the ACCI survey that demonstrates the blame of the GST on the economy.

Leave not granted.