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Thursday, 21 June 2001
Page: 28305

Mr HORNE (1:07 PM) —I love to come in here and follow the member for New England, because he always runs true to form. He is always predictable; you know exactly what he is going to say. Before he leaves the chamber, let me say that of course I will give a commitment to get justice for the transport industry, because that is what they need. I know so many of those owner-drivers who are not getting justice under this current system. I know that, and he knows that, and he knows they cannot survive under the current system.

The legislation we are dealing with is the New Business Tax System (Simplified Tax System) Bill 2000 and cognate bills. How thoroughly we on this side recall the Treasurer introducing the `simple' tax legislation. We can remember him coming in holding a stack of papers and doing one of his typical charades saying, `That is what the tax system under the Labor Party is. What is it going to be under us?' He then popped out a little booklet and said, `That's what it's going to be, a simplified tax system. It's going to be so simple that small business will love us.' How many changes have we had to it again? Is it 1,300, 1,500, 1,800? We have lost count.

Mr Murphy —1,865.

Mr HORNE —Thank you very much. There have been 1,865 changes already, and we are not finished yet. The things that I recall happening in the Hunter Valley, the area where I have lived all my life, are the great cons that have been placed on investors. The worst cons invariably go back to a law firm, and we all know solicitors who feel so confident they know all about investment policy and monetary policy that they can convince people to invest money. They say, `Invest with us, you'll be safe,' but they overlook something and down the track something goes wrong with their great plan—I guess we could say their cunning plan—and it comes unstuck and we find ordinary investors losing lots of money. That makes me think of our Treasurer and one of his predecessors, his now leader, and I think: what was their background? I realise they were both lawyers in a former life—both lawyers, both confident in their ability and both knowing all about monetary policy, but together they have succeeded in failing to deliver a simplified tax system.

On this side, we support a simplified tax system. That is what small business was promised, that is what small business expect and that is what we demand small business get. But they are certainly not getting it. Let us have a look at who is complaining. The National Farmers Federation feel that the taxation system is unjust. We have just heard the member for New England saying how the transport industry love it, but that is certainly not the message I am getting. They feel that, because of the intricacies of the tax system and because it is so involved, they are set on. Small retailers and tradespeople, particularly people in the building trade, have had to confront other problems recently—such as problems with HIH—which they also relate back to this government.

I had a doctor phone me the night before last about a letter he had received from the Australian Taxation Office. Together we agreed he is probably reasonably intelligent and he said, `When I look at this letter in conjunction with two previous letters I have received, I have no idea where I stand. I find I'm visiting my accountant more than I am attending hospital.' When a doctor says that he cannot understand letters from the Australian Taxation Office, I start to wonder how other people understand the letters that they are getting from the tax office. This was a person who was trying to conform in every way, but when he had a look at all the letters he had received from the tax office about the things he had to do and he saw how they contradicted each other, he just tossed his hands in the air and said, `I give up.' He is 63. He said, `I may as well retire and get out now.' I said, `Don't do that because you are not 65 and you won't get any benefits from this government.'

I read into Hansard the other night a letter that I had received from a dairy farmer. This dairy farmer is a very progressive farmer and he is investing heavily in his business. At the end of the March quarter, he was due for a $35,000 rebate from his BAS. But what happened? He had been promised that he would get that within 14 days of lodgment, except that the tax office decided they would do an audit on him. That $35,000 was due because, with dairy deregulation, he is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to rearrange his business. He is restructuring his whole farm. He needed that money. That money was held up for 10 weeks until the audit was completed, and then the money was released because the audit found everything was in place, except they were mildly critical of his bookwork. As he has said in a letter to the Prime Minister, `I am a farmer, not a bookkeeper.'

That is the sort of demand that this government is putting on ordinary Australian workers, people who have lived and worked all their life in one field, such as that farmer, yet are getting no assistance. In fact, they are getting downright hindrance from this government. These are the stories that we on this side are hearing. If we are hearing them, the government members are hearing them also. I guess Shane Stone was right: this government is mean and tricky and is simply not listening.

I would also talk about some of the furphies related to the tax system in Australia. I am sure that in here we hear from the Treasurer at least four or five times a week—and we generally hear it pretty loudly too—that we are a low taxing country. Isn't it interesting that a report put out on Tuesday by the research arm of the Commonwealth Bank did not find that? It found that in the year to March 2001 each household paid $14,300 in income tax and GST combined, or 17.5 per cent of income. Australia's combined tax take peaked at 17.8 per cent—when? Under a Labor government? No. It peaked at 17.8 per cent in 1998. If we go back a decade to a Labor government, we find that it was then $10,700, or only 16.4 per cent. Would someone on the other side please tell the Treasurer, `Don't come in here and give us the garbage about being a low taxing country, don't come in here and tell us that you've destroyed wholesale sales tax,' because I can tell you that everyone out there who drinks milk is paying a wholesale sales tax on milk of 11c a litre and they will be doing so for the next nine years—and that was brought into place by this government to pay for a program they consider their own. These are some of the furphies that are being put around constantly by this mean, tricky and not listening government.

I also see a report in the paper today where the Democrats, I think, are calling for an inquiry because it has been discovered that goods are being exported from Australia to avoid GST and then being reimported into the country. I also heard one of the previous speakers talk about the black economy. Remember the Treasurer and the Prime Minister saying `This is going to make everyone pay tax'? They want to get out there in the real world and talk to some of the people who are avoiding paying GST on many goods where GST is liable simply because they engage in cash transactions. The cash economy is alive and well, and this government is ignoring it.

Finally, I would like to talk about oyster farmers. In the electorate I represent there are many oyster farmers. About 1,100 people derive their income from that industry. This is an industry where change has been suggested. I do appreciate that the government has listened to these people—I guess because they are mainly in National Party electorates. They are also in my electorate, and the Nationals hope to win that one back. These people are being asked to go out and value their immature stock. That task would be horrendous. It would be very expensive and, apart from that, it would be ridiculous because many of those immature stock will never go to market.

I thank the House for the opportunity to put my views forward. We do support the legislation, and we certainly look forward to a real simplified tax system—not the virtual one that the Treasurer claims we have.