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Wednesday, 29 August 2001
Page: 30539

Mr HOCKEY (Minister for Financial Services and Regulation) (4:03 PM) —That was the last gasp of the Labor Party day after day asking the same old questions. They describe it as a scam. The Prime Minister pointed out yesterday to the House and to the people of Australia that the total shortfall was $150. At a time when the people of Australia are interested in the serious issue of illegal attempts to enter the country, the opposition thinks that spending question after question in question time on a $150 underpayment on the GST is the issue of national significance for the people of Australia. This is the alternate government that thinks, day after day, that a $150 shortfall is more important than some of the issues that the Australian people are interested in at the moment, including issues relevant to the destiny of the Tampa off the coast of Northern Australia, as well as serious questions about health, education and law and order.

I said last Sunday, and I say again, that last week was all about the credibility of the Leader of the Opposition. This week is about the credibility of the Leader of the Opposition. Next week and every week until the federal election will be about the credibility of the Leader of the Opposition. That is what it is about. Today feels like Groundhog Day in relation to MPIs and GST. For the umpteenth time, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has come here to talk about how the GST is this, how the GST is that and how the GST has effectively caused Mount Etna to erupt as well as having brought down the Australian economy last year.

Mr Crean —It did. It cut the growth rate by half.

Mr HOCKEY —He says that it did and it cut the growth rate by half. Thankfully, I can go to more authoritative sources than the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to learn a little about the true impact of the new tax system. I am happy to table this extract from the Economist. It is not an Australian publication or an Australian government publication. The extract, dated 18 August, states:

In the nine years up to the middle of 2000, Australia enjoyed remarkable economic growth, averaging more than 4% a year. Unemployment fell, productivity growth increased, and inflation was low. The economy slowed sharply in the fourth quarter of 2000—

I notice that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition nods his head to that. It says:

... under the weight of higher world energy prices and a slowing American economy.

That is what the Economist said. It continues:

However, the OECD says in its latest survey of the economy that the slowdown should be short-lived ...

Damn right; it has been. The article then says:

Tax cuts should help to support demand, and low inflation has given the Reserve Bank room to cut interest rates. The OECD lauds tax reforms that began to take effect last year, to broaden the indirect-tax base and to reduce high effective marginal rates of income tax. The Paris-based economists also like the look of recent labour-market reforms.

The Economist poll indicates that, for the year 2002, Australia's growth rate will be, according to its forecast, four per cent, which is higher than Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Euro area and the United States. That is the fastest growth in the world, and the Economist says that you can thank the reforms of the Howard government for bringing it about. Just for good measure, I notice in the same Economist that the Australian all-ordinaries index has outperformed every other major index in the world at the same time. Given that we are the largest share owning nation, no thanks to the Labor Party, we can also be pleased about that. When it comes back to credibility—

Dr Martin —What about the Minister for Small Business?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)—Order! The member for Cunningham! The minister will ignore the member for Cunningham. You make it very difficult for all of us.

Mr HOCKEY —I know that a lot of people do, but on this occasion I want to take advantage of his interruption. He says, `What about small business?' I will talk about small business.

Dr Martin —No, I said, `What about the Minister for Small Business?' He is misrepresenting me.

Mr HOCKEY —Let us look at the single most tangible indicator of what happens to small business out in the marketplace: small business interest rates. In 1976 they were 10.4 per cent; in 1981 they were 12.5 per cent; in 1986, under Labor, they were 17.4 per cent; in 1991 they were 14.35 per cent; in 1996 they were 10.75; and in 2001 they are less than eight per cent. It is like climbing the mountain for small business, except the problem is that, when Labor is in government, small business has to get to the top of the mountain, which is 17.4 per cent interest rates. Thankfully, this government is about the interests of small business. This government is about protecting and enhancing opportunities for small business, much to the regret of the Labor Party. The Labor Party has on numerous occasions declared itself to be the party of the union movement rather than just the party for anyone other than the union movement. I am reminded of the fact that, on 7 July last year, on Perth radio the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Kim Beazley, said:

We have never pretended to be a small business party, the Labor Party. We have never pretended that.

It is a reminder to every single small business in Australia—an estimated 2½ million small businesses in Australia—that the Leader of the Opposition has proudly proclaimed to all Australians that the Labor Party have never pretended to be the party of small business. Do you know why? It is because they are the party of their mates in the union movement, and they have declared it. Not only have they declared it, but the Labor Party deliver on their declarations. When we came into this House with amendments to the Trade Practices Act to try to protect small business from the implications of secondary boycotts, and when we tried to give the ACCC power to protect small businesses that were going to be hit in a third line way by boycotts by the union movement, the Labor Party opposed it. We had the extraordinary scene when numerous members of the Labor Party got up in this place and said, `We support this measure for the ACCC to protect small businesses.' In came the shadow minister for industrial relations, the member for Brisbane, Arch Bevis, and he said, `Hang on, comrades. We are about protecting the union movement; we're not about protecting small business.' He is saying that it is absolutely right that small business is thrown to the wolves in its battle with the union movement, but the ACCC should have no powers to protect or defend small business.

A hell of a lot of small businesses are also exporters. Only today, the balance of payments figures came out again and gave a very clear indication that the tax reform undertaken by the Howard government is delivering real benefit for Australia's exporters. Exports are dramatically up, the trade deficit has come down about 50 per cent, and Australia is exporting its socks off. To give credit where credit is due, a low Aussie dollar is obviously making us more competitive. If you are removing $3 billion of tax from exports, you are making Australian exports a whole lot more competitive. If you make Australian exports more competitive, more people buy them, which means that we sell more products and become a wealthier nation. Why was the Labor Party opposed to that? Why was the Labor Party opposed to helping Australian businesses grow through exports? Why was the Labor Party opposed to more jobs in small business? Why was the Labor Party opposed to tax reform which the article in the Economist, which I table, clearly indicates has helped to deliver the strongest economy in the developed world? Why was the Labor Party opposed to all that? My goodness, could it be political opportunism? No, it couldn't be, could it? Could it be about the Leader of the Opposition's standing for nothing? Could it be about the Leader of the Opposition's believing in nothing? Could it be about the Labor Party's having no principles upon which to build a credible policy alternative?

The Labor Party has waxed and waned about taxation. Compared with wise people like the Chief Government Whip, the member for Menzies, the Minister for Forestry and Conservation, or the member for Corangamite, the member for Petrie and I are political novices. Mr Deputy Speaker, I defer to your political wisdom as well. I make one observation about the last few years, and the last few months in particular: every time the Labor Party releases a policy it gets itself into trouble. They are not even detailed policies. When the GST came in, the Labor Party announced that it was going to have roll-back. It is now running 150 miles away from roll-back. The words are not uttered.

Dr Martin —It's on the shelves in Woolworths!

Mr HOCKEY —What has happened to roll-back? The member for Cunningham says it is on the shelf.

Dr Martin —It is in Woolworths!

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)—The member for Cunningham!

Mr HOCKEY —Put it in the store room, or send it to the National Archives. Roll-back has gone.

Dr Martin —You wish!

Mr HOCKEY —It has gone—out the door. Roll-back is on the interchange, but it is never coming back. Then we heard the next policy: Knowledge Nation—aka `noodle' nation, spaghetti and meat balls—a simplistic explanation of the new education agenda of the Leader of the Opposition. The only problem was it made a Telstra interchange look simple. It is `noodle' nation, which the Leader of the Opposition said he was going to build his prime ministerial ambitions on.

Dr Martin —Sure will!

Mr HOCKEY —Dead—and not even 24 hours! Some of the greatest flops in film in history have lasted more than Knowledge Nation. It is dead. That was a policy initiative—

Dr Martin —`Never, ever' on the GST!

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Cunningham is stretching his goodwill. His account is nearly overdrawn. The minister has the call.

Mr HOCKEY —As Minister for Financial Services and Regulation, I suggest he is actually overdrawn! The third area of policy which the Leader of the Opposition introduced was health. Two weeks ago he started every question in question time as if the federal government runs accident and emergency specialist centres in the hospitals right around Australia. In fact, a criticism from the former Premier of Victoria was that the Commonwealth has a department of health and it does not run a hospital. And the Premier of Queensland came in and said, `In fact, we proudly, at a state level, run all the accident and emergency centres.' So we got question after question from the Leader of the Opposition then, klunk, dead. Health died because the Leader of the Opposition incredibly made some major errors by using his family in those instances.

This election will be about credibility. This election will be about the truth. And on those criteria alone we should be re-elected because we have been honest with the Australian people. We look forward to the Labor Party being honest with the Australian people. That is why the Prime Minister said we are waiting for the Victorian branch of the Labor Party to write to the ATO, because if it is good enough to apply the truth test to the Liberal Party—and we will apply it independently—then it is good enough for the Labor Party to apply the same truth test. We anxiously await a copy of the Leader of the Opposition's letter to the head of the ATO. (Time expired)