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Tuesday, 8 October 1985
Page: 772

Senator MORRIS —I refer the Leader of the Government in the Senate to the recent reforms of the taxation system by the Government which have resulted in a fairer and more balanced taxation package. In particular, the Government decided not to introduce a broad-based consumption tax, although the Opposition Leader, Mr Howard, has pledged to introduce such a tax. Is the Minister aware of Senator Messner's rejection of the Howard proposal? Does this lend support to the decision by the Government not to proceed with such a tax?

Senator Messner —What a load of nonsense.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Messner interjects: `What a load of nonsense'. Senator Walsh has already made some comment on this issue. Because Senator Messner describes it as a load of nonsense, perhaps it is appropriate that I make a comment too.

The Government's rejection of the consumption tax option certainly was not mirrored by Mr Howard, now Leader of the Liberal Party, who has maintained that he would introduce such a tax, although being remarkably short on the specifics of such a tax, as a lot of commentators have pointed out. As I understand from Press reports, Senator Messner has now thrown cold water over Mr Howard's plans in this matter and has said that there would be no consumption tax. Senator Messner was reported as saying that yesterday. It reminds one of Senator Messner's much vaunted comments about the assets test, which we are not sure whether his Leader supports or otherwise at this stage. Just what the Opposition's policy is on taxation matters remains a mystery to most people and clearly to the Opposition itself at this stage.

I make the point that the Government has made a clear and major reform of the taxation system. The Opposition, by contrast, seems to have even less policy than it did before that major tax change was made.

Senator Chaney —Who wrote this for you? It is awful.

Senator BUTTON —Of course it is awful, and very painful. Senator Messner apparently has tipped a bucket on Mr Howard. He will have an opportunity to deny that at a later stage, in much the same way as the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Mr Neil Brown, has ducked Mr Howard's commitments at one stage in relation to labour relations issues.

Senator Walters —Gee, you are trying hard and not getting anywhere.

Senator BUTTON —That is not for Senator Walters to decide at all. The Australian Financial Review has commented:

The Liberals have come up with a policy which is by definition divisive. If they are going to make industrial relations a major election issue, they will have to do better than this.

That comment was made late last week. We in government are a little concerned to see what the situation is at present and can only be bemused by the variety of comments made by Opposition spokesmen. Of course, those divisive and different statements made by various Opposition spokesmen are confusing to everyone. If one reads the minutes of the taxation sub-committee of the Liberal Party, signed by Senator Messner, one sees the endemic nature of that confusion written into those minutes.

The point I make is that these sorts of exercises have to be contrasted with the clear directions the Government has laid down in respect of taxation policy which, looked at as a whole, have received--

Senator Durack —You don't sound very enthusiastic about it.

Senator BUTTON —I am not enthusiastic about anything, least of all Senator Durack. The important point is that the Government's proposals in respect of the taxation changes have received a fair degree of community acceptance, which is the most we expected. If one makes changes in this country, there are likely to be criticisms from various interest groups which see themselves as disadvantaged by any such changes. That would not have been an experience of the Opposition when it was in government because it did not make any significant changes in respect of the economic management of this country, other than to see it slowly slide down the gurgler during its seven years in government. Senator Durack would not have had that experience. We have had that experience and we expected criticisms and carping of one kind or another, but the tax package has been generally well received by the community.