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Thursday, 23 August 2001
Page: 30097


Mr GRIFFIN (10:16 AM) —The Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Account Bill 2001 is a landmark in forcing the Prime Minister to keep his broken promises. Twice he has been forced to back down by the opposition campaigning to keep him to his word. The first time was his very public promise that the price of ordinary beer would not increase as a result of the GST. Labor demonstrated that ordinary beer served across the bar would actually suffer a large increase in price and the government was forced to backflip by reducing the level of beer excise.

The Prime Minister then promised that all the money collected during the period when beer prices had risen would go into a foundation, the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation, to reduce the impact of excessive use of alcohol and other legal drugs. He signed a memorandum of understanding with the Democrats setting out this commitment. The legislation he brought forward short-changed the foundation financially and short-changed the public because the foundation has not been set up as a properly accountable body. The promise the Prime Minister made in writing to the Democrats was that the legislation would ensure that the `full equivalent of the increase in excise collected on draught beer since 1 July 2001 less $5 million allocated to the Historic Hotels Initiative is appropriated and allocated to the foundation'. It is there in black and white with the Prime Minister's signature at the bottom. In fact, the government is only appropriating $115 million which, with the $5 million for historic hotels money, makes a total of $120 million. The brewers have actually paid $145 million and they have provided a letter to this effect. I seek leave to table the letter.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Is leave granted?


Mr Tuckey —I suggest that it should be shown to me prior to the request being made.


Mr GRIFFIN —I will address it at the end of my speech. The government has refused to release the basis for its original estimate and, more importantly, has refused to release the details of the excise that it actually overcollected during the period from 1 July last year to 3 April 2001. This is nothing short of a cover-up and this issue will have to be further investigated through the estimates process.

On top of this, the government also short-changed the foundation by the tricky mechanism of spreading the payments over four years instead of paying the money over in the first year as promised. This effectively denies the foundation the full value of the money and prevents them earning an estimated $30 million in interest over the next four years. Labor refused to accept this and moved a request in the Senate to restore the full value by including an interest provision similar to one that exists for the payments equivalent to interest to the National Heritage Trust. The Democrats supported Labor's position and did a further deal with the government to amend our request into the current form, which denies the foundation the full amount of interest and sees it paid over only in the year 2004.

The passage of this bill is the conclusion of a sorry saga of deception and broken promises by the Howard government. Labor supports the concept of a properly accountable foundation working to reduce the harm caused by alcohol, and in government we will act to ensure this work extends to include programs to reduce domestic violence—something that the Democrats refused to support.

I will take the opportunity to read the letter into the record given the concerns around the question of tabling. The letter is addressed to the Secretary of the Australian Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, Mr Elton Humphery. It states:

During the Senate committee hearing on the above Bill last Monday, a query was raised regarding the AAB submission which suggested that disputed excise was in the region of $180 million for the period July 1 2000 - April 4 2001.

I am advised that the disputed excise number quoted was a conservative estimate based on both packaged and draught beer consumed on-premise, which rose in price by at least 7 per cent on July 1, despite the Government saying that ordinary beer would rise by no more than 1.9 % as a consequence of tax reform.

The brewers' solution was to introduce different excise rates for draught versus packaged beer. In other words, the brewers conceded that the Government could not reduce the price of packaged beer on-premise without a significant flow on effect of a price fall off-premise.

When on-premise packaged beer is removed from the calculation, the brewers' modelling shows that the disputed excise relating to draught beer specifically is approximately $145 million from period July 1, 2000 - April 4, 2001.

The figure $145 million is still some $25 million higher than the $120 million that the Government and the Democrats agreed to assign to the proposed Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation.

The Australian Associated Brewers understands that the difference of some $25 million appears to be due to different assumptions in the brewers' modelling and that which the Democrats agreed in their negotiations with the Government.

Yours sincerely

It is signed by Terry Mott on behalf of the AAB. I welcome the backdown by the government on the question of interest and I welcome the passage of the bill. (Time expired)

Question resolved in the affirmative.