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Monday, 18 June 2001
Page: 27703

Mr CREAN (2:49 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister, and I refer to his continuing claims that the GST is `behind us'. Prime Minister, have you seen the latest Herald Sun survey showing that, despite your spending $500 million on GST advertising to date, with millions more to come in future months, Australians are just not buying it, with 56 per cent of people thinking the GST has made them worse off, 56 per cent of people thinking the GST has mugged the economy, 58 per cent opposing the GST—

Mr SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is advancing an argument.

Mr CREAN —and 68 per cent thinking most goods went up by more than 100 per cent—more than 10 per cent?

Government members interjecting—

Mr CREAN —Just to repeat that point: 68 per cent thinking most goods went up by more than 10 per cent. Prime Minister, why should people believe the GST is `behind them' when you are spending so much of their money to cover up the GST's failure?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —In the end the Australian people will of course, at an appropriate time, make a judgment about these matters.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr HOWARD —I say to those who interject, with smiles on their faces and with glee, from opposite that that is a view that I stated before, during and subsequent to the introduction of the new tax system. I have never underestimated the difficult challenge facing any government undertaking major reform for the long-term benefit of the nation. The difference between those who sit behind me and those who sit behind the Leader of the Opposition is that we have put the interests of the nation first. We have not been prepared to talk down the Australian economy. The person who asked me the question is the person who, in unison with the Leader of the Opposition, absolutely rubbed his hands together with glee when those December quarter national account figures came out. They thought—

Mr Beazley —Not right.

Mr HOWARD —`Not right,' he says. They spent three months going around the country endorsing every gloomy newspaper story, they spent three months going around the nation saying what an absolute disaster the GST is for the nation, but when you ask the Leader of the Opposition or when you ask the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, `If you should become the government of the country what are you going to do with the GST?' they say, `Really, we are going to keep it.' They hate it—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr HOWARD —Ah, roll-back! That brings me to Senator Conroy, because last week we had an endorsement from the Leader of the Opposition of the validity of what Senator Conroy said. Remember what Senator Conroy said? He said, `If you're going to roll back the GST, either you've got to cut spending or you've got to lift taxation.' Last week the Leader of the Opposition made it very clear that he was not going to cut spending. The Leader of the Opposition, in response to a news release that I put out, huffed and puffed and he said, `We're not going to cut spending; we're going to spend more.' If you are going to spend more and you are going to roll back and you going to have a larger surplus and you are not going to dud the states—because you gave them a guarantee at that meeting you had in Burnie—you are left with only one alternative, and that is to lift income tax.

The bottom line of this economic debate is that there is only one side of politics that has had the courage to do something for the long-term national interest. In the end, like every political party in this country and every government in this country, we will be judged not by opinion polls or newspaper pieces but by the Australian people. I will be happy to say to the Australian people that, in the long-term national interest, we were prepared to do something that every senior politician has known for a generation had to be undertaken for the benefit of this country. It will be forever to the credit of this government that, instead of trying to trash the national interest, as you did for three months, we have put the national interest way in front of our political interests.