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Wednesday, 29 August 2001
Page: 30542

Mr EMERSON (4:18 PM) — This is a government with a born to rule mentality. It is a government that believes there should be one rule for the Liberal Party and another rule for Australian small businesses. We witnessed that mentality last week with the disgraceful Lynton Crosby `dash for cash' bill, on which the state director of the Western Australian division of the Liberal Party commented, `Why mess around with the GST if you don't have to?' Small business bankruptcies have gone through the roof under the GST, and small businesses in Australia do not get the choice as to whether or not they have to mess around with the GST. Any small business with a turnover of more than $50,000 must register for the GST and mess around with the GST, but not the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party expects the choice as to whether or not it should pay the GST and, if it does pay the GST, how much GST it should pay.

The government's view that there should be one rule for the Liberal Party and another for small business has been on display in this parliament and outside it since last Thursday, when the behaviour of the Groom FEC and the Queensland division of the Liberal Party came to light. Since that time, the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, the Minister for Small Business and now the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation have all said that there is no scam, just a misunderstanding, that only $75 or only $180 is involved and that there is no systematic problem. Even on Friday, the Treasurer said they may have made an error or that people from time to time make mistakes. There was no mistake.

I will describe what happened. The fundraising function occurred on 23 November last year and the bill was paid by the Groom FEC to the catering company. Then, on 12 December, the scam was outlined to a reluctant treasurer of the Groom FEC. On 18 December that reluctant treasurer was so concerned about the scam that she telephoned the small business minister and warned him about it. He said that at the meeting of the FEC the next day, which he would be attending, he would not be voting on it; it had nothing to do with him. On 19 December that meeting occurred and it resolved to direct the treasurer of the FEC to reverse the transaction. So, under duress and under the direction of the FEC, the treasurer of that FEC went to Liberal Party headquarters and obtained from the Liberal Party state director a new cheque, which she then went back to the caterers with and said, `I am instructed to ask you to refund the cheque that we gave you three weeks ago. Here is a new cheque.' The catering company was so concerned about it that they described it as irregular, and made a diary note to that effect. So, one month later, the original transaction was reversed and the scam was put in place. There was no error and there was no misunderstanding.

It is a systematic scam. We know that because the Liberal Party has now admitted that this scam has been put in place in Lilley and in Leichhardt. The Ryan FEC had this proposition—the scam—put to them, but they said no; Bob Tucker's people said no. Well, I can say his days are numbered because I have the latest leak from the Liberal Party with me. It is the notice of a special meeting of the Centenary branch of the Liberal Party which occurred last Thursday. It was to get all the opponents of Mr Tucker to that meeting to dive through a loophole on the residency test so that they could vote in Saturday's preselection and wipe out Mr Tucker's chances of being the candidate for the federal seat of Ryan. It is a leak a day as far as the faction ridden Liberal Party of Queensland is concerned.

We have also heard that the Liberal Party did pay the GST on the fundraising dinner. We have heard that from the Minister for Small Business; he said so last Friday. He said that there is therefore only $75 involved. As every small business knows, if you claim the input tax credits, you must pay the GST. It is very simple. One-eleventh of the proceeds of the fundraiser is $1,668. How much was paid to the ATO by the Liberal Party? $751. What is the difference? $917. That is the shortfall—$917, and not $75, as the Prime Minister has tried to tell the parliament and the Australian people. So that works out at a special cut-rate GST for the Liberal Party of four per cent.

They tried to cover up the scam after the whistleblower exposed the scam but, even in the cover-up, they botched it. That is what the $75 is. That is the discrepancy. That is the extent of the botching of the cover-up. When the Prime Minister says, `Look, it is only $75,' and then goes on to say, `Look, it is only $180 for all of Queensland,' that is the extent of the botching of the cover-up— not the extent of the cover-up itself. The cover-up could be many thousands of dollars. There could be thousands and thousands of dollars of input tax credit fraudulently claimed, but they even botched the cover-up. That is what the $180 is, and not the extent of the cover-up itself. It is like being caught with your hands in the till and giving back all except $75 and saying, `What's the problem? We were caught. We gave the money back. We have got $75 in the pocket. What's the problem?' That is what the Prime Minister is saying. No small business in this country could get away with that. No small business has the luxury of trying to get away with that, because they would be nailed by the tax office.

The minister himself has made so many confusing and contradictory statements that it has got to the point where he does not know whether he is Arthur or Martha. But I know he is not Arthur Macfarlane; he is Arthur Daley. Arthur Daley made an art form of, and dedicated his life to, beating the VAT man. That is what the minister is trying to do: beat the VAT man with `a nice little earner'. That is what the Minister for Small Business thought he had got—a nice little earner. And he had got it, because there is still $826 of falsely claimed input tax credits in the re-election account of the Minister for Small Business, as of this day. And he is saying, `I did nothing wrong.' He has had a nice little earner.

There are lots of other Arthur Daleys floating around the Liberal Party in Queensland, and these are the shadowy figures: Neville Stewart, Santo Santoro and, despite his denials, Senator George Brandis. What was the motivation behind these nice little earners beating the VAT man? That is revealed in yet another leaked document, Lynton Crosby's review of the conduct of the 2001 Queensland state election, where he says under the heading `Rebuild the finances immediately':

The financial problems which the Division faces must be addressed immediately.

And they started addressing them immediately—through this nice little earner. There are plenty of small businesses going broke, but they are still obliged to pay the GST. Last year on 18 May, the Treasurer said, `I don't think any small business will go to the wall as a result of the GST.' The chart I am showing you graphs the bankruptcy figures for the period since the GST came in. They are going through the roof. An apologist for the government said, `These rising bankruptcies are not necessarily due to the GST. They could be due to a slump in sales.' What do you reckon might have caused a slump in sales? Climate change? The greenhouse effect? The GST caused the slump in sales. So the Arthur Daleys of the Liberal Party have been going around beating the VAT man, and they have been backed 150 per cent by the Prime Minister. Remember that the Prime Minister comes in here, putting his arm around the Arthur Daley who is trying to beat the VAT man and saying, `Good on you, son. Go your hardest. This is terrific.' Why? Because there is one rule for the Liberal Party and another rule for small businesses.

The Deputy Speaker last night sought to sit me down for reflecting on the minister when I was quoting from the minister. He said, `You're reflecting adversely on the minister.' What an indictment of the minister, that the Deputy Speaker had to try to sit me down for quoting from the minister because the Deputy Speaker himself regards that as an adverse reflection upon him! So there we have a Liberal Party forced into this sort of unseemly, fraudulent activity that small businesses would be nailed for by the tax office. There is one rule for the Liberal Party and another rule for small business. If the Minister for Small Business had any decency, he would resign. If the Prime Minister had any principles, he would sack the minister.