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Wednesday, 18 September 1985
Page: 677

Senator CHANEY —The Leader of the Government in the Senate will recall referring yesterday to a `ratbag constituency of a wide range of disparate groups' when he was asked about overwhelming opposition to capital gains and fringe benefit taxation revealed by a survey of 5,000 businesses. I ask the Minister: Has his attention been drawn to a poll published in today's Bulletin magazine which shows that 73 per cent of Australians oppose capital gains taxation? I ask: Is this figure high enough to satisfy his concern for the wider community or is it just another manifestation of a ratbag constituency to be ignored? Will the Government now apply the Prime Minister's principle 9 and abandon its capital gains tax proposal?

Senator BUTTON —Somebody said that to err is human, to forgive, divine. I forgive Senator Chaney for the interpretation which he has placed on the answer I gave yesterday. Of course, I meant to say `grab bag', but it does not matter in the case of the Liberal Party of Australia. It is a sort of ratbag constituency, given the way it is constructed and put together. That does not mean for a moment that I think the New South Wales Chamber of Commerce, either its corporate form or any of its members, are ratbags for having a particular view about a capital gains tax. I am quite aware of the poll which appeared in the Bulletin today in respect of a number of questions asked about a capital gains tax. As I said yesterday, it is very important that members of the Opposition and others see the precise form of a capital gains tax and the effects which it might or might not have on various sectors of the community before leaping to conclusions. This society has come to a very sad state if the very expression `capital gains tax', without any identification of what it means, becomes one of those sort of Orwellian bogy expressions which this society cannot consider or talk about. I would find it immensely unfortunate if we had reached that position.

Liberal senators who want to adopt a rational and constructive approach to these issues, rather than asking questions of the kind that have been asked on this topic, should look at the editorial in today's Australian Financial Review and, more particularly, at the analysis in the White Paper on taxation of current deficiencies in the Australian taxation system. Undoubtedly, it is very clearly established there that investment patterns in this country have been distorted and, more particularly, tax avoidance and evasion have been rampant because of the tax structure we have. Having said those things, I invite honourable senators, before getting too excited about polls in today's Bulletin, to wait and see the composition of the tax package, particularly the provisions of the capital gains tax, if there is one in the package.

Senator Lewis —Who is in front? You or the other side?

Senator BUTTON —Senator Lewis is interjecting very freely. In the last few days he has been in a state of chronic agitation on the basis of particular fears he has about the tax package as it is likely to affect him. I can understand his apprehension. It is an apprehension which I think any parliamentarian is entitled to feel. However, I do not want him to get too agitated and go overboard about it. Again, I extend to him the same advice as I have extended to those who have responded to the quite peculiar questions about capital gains taxes in general in the various polls to which Senator Chaney has referred.

Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Senator Archer referred to a survey of 5,000 businesses and I referred to a survey of the general community. The Minister seems to be trying to avoid the expression he used yesterday, namely, `ratbag constituency'. I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate: Will he withdraw the expression and apologise for using it? If not, will he tell us to whom he was applying it?

Senator BUTTON —Sometimes in this chamber we make errors in expression and so on. Sometimes we make what seem to be errors but what are, in fact, deadly accurate comments. Let me say that I probably intended to use the expression `grab bag'. However, it does not matter, because I was really referring to the Liberal Party of Australia.

Senator Chaney —Rubbish! You talked about a constituency.

Senator BUTTON —Of course I talked about a constituency. I do not regard the New South Wales Chamber of Commerce as being part of the Opposition's constituency. It is very well aware of what happened to this economy under seven years of Liberal government. It is not part of the Opposition's constituency. The people the Opposition is trying to put together in its constituency is anybody it can find. That is a ratbag compilation of a constituency.