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Wednesday, 9 October 1985
Page: 900

Senator WATSON —Is the Minister representing the Treasurer aware of a scheme launched by a Perth company-`Luncheon Vouchers of Australia'-to combat the Government's assault on the catering and restaurant industry through its fringe benefits tax proposal? Does the Minister believe that such a scheme may have some merit in that it could offer some hope for the thousands of people whose jobs are now in jeopardy across Australia? Or will the Government support the Minister's callous disregard for workers in this industry, as expressed in his answer to Senator Peter Rae yesterday, and act to block such schemes in its tax legislation? Finally, does the Minister acknowledge some greyness in this area? Will he request the Commissioner of Taxation to issue a public information bulletin to clarify the issues?

Senator WALSH —We have just seen yet another manifestation of the free lunch mentality of the Liberal Party of Australia, which apparently believes in a free lunch led economic recovery. The decadent Roman Empire used to put on circuses to divert attention from its corruption and incompetence. The decadant Liberal Party puts on free lunches for the same purpose. Senator Watson referred to the Perth company-I saw a transcript of a radio interview on this matter-which proposes to sell luncheon vouchers as a way of getting around the new tax law. My only knowledge of the matter comes from that transcript. However, prima facie I find it very difficult to see how, although certainly a firm could sell luncheon vourchers, a firm which purchased the luncheon vouchers could successfully claim the cost of those vouchers as a deduction against the firm's taxable income, which is presumably the purpose of the exercise.

I will draw this matter to the Treasurer's attention. It would be surprising if that scheme were not being organised by a couple of members of the Western Australian Liberal Party finance committee, given its previous record. It would not be at all surprising if the most enthusiastic would-be tax avoiders and evaders in Australia were still located in Perth. It would be amazing if they were not to be found in the Liberal Party, particularly in its finance committee. I will ask the Treasurer to investigate the matter and take appropriate action if he or the Taxation Office thinks there is any possibility of the new law being successfully evaded.

Senator Watson also referred to the thousands of jobs which are going to be lost, and so on. I find it quite astonishing that the Liberal Party is so hooked on the free lunch mentality when it says from time to time that the Australian economy has been weakened by self-indulgent consumption and the consequential neglect of the sort of basic investment which is required for continuing economic growth. The Liberal Party's answer is to stick to the free lunch and, presumably, to pursue the free lunch led recovery. There is no reason to believe that there will be a net loss of employment, because the taxpayers' money previously spent by the self-indulgent on free lunches will be spent somewhere else. There is no a prior; reason to believe that that expenditure will sustain fewer jobs than did the free lunch industry.

As an example of the degree to which the facts of this matter can be distorted, I mention that I was listening to a local wireless station this morning and heard a local restaurateur asserting implicitly that because free lunches are to come to an end people will stop eating. He said that not only the employment generated in the restaurant industry itself but also the inputs to the restaurant industry, such as vegetables, milk, fish and all that sort of thing, would be affected. He said: `People will lose their jobs in the vegetable supply industry, the milk supply industry, and so on. It is logically inescapable that because of the abolition of the free lunch people will stop eating'. That demonstrates the absurdity of the claims which are being made by some people and mindlesslly endorsed by assorted members of the Liberal Party, for whatever reason.

Senator WATSON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. In the light of the confusion arising from the variance in answers given both in this chamber and in the other House, will the Government direct the Commissioner of Taxation to issue a public information bulletin to indicate how he will exercise his discretion in this area?

Senator WALSH —In good time I would expect the Commissioner to issue guidelines on a number of matters associated with the present tax reform package, as he has done on a number of tax law items in the past.