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Monday, 14 October 1985
Page: 1139

Senator DURACK —My question is directed to the Minister for Finance both in his own capacity and as Minister representing the Treasurer. I refer the Minister to a statement made by the Treasurer when he introduced the tax package. The Treasurer said:

An independent inquiry has been established to examine the impact of the White Paper proposal on the gold mining industry.

In the Senate last week, on 9 October, in a pitiful attempt to answer a question I put to Senator Walsh, he said:

The fact, as Senator Durack knows very well, is that the Government has set up a study regarding the taxing of gold or the future taxation status of gold mining.

I might say that I am not aware of that study having been set up.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Will the honourable senator ask his question.

Senator DURACK —I ask the Minister: Has the committee been established? If so, when was it established? Who are the members of it? Has it met? What are the terms of reference?

Senator WALSH —I am astounded that Senator Durack should see fit to raise this question again. There can be only one possible reason for raising it, because Senator Durack knows the facts very well. He has raised it because he believes the discredited Liberal Party of Western Australia might be able to get a bit of political mileage out of this issue. They are common tactics, but what I find astounding is that the present leader of the Liberal Party is reported in the Kalgoorlie Miner of 6 August this year as follows:

Speaking at a Minerals and Energy Club of Australia luncheon in Brisbane, Mr Howard said that he doubted if gold could retain its privileged tax-free status for very much longer.

Senator Chaney, writing in the Australian on 17 February 1984, said:

Since gold no longer has any particular monetary significance it is a commodity like any other, its price being determined by the market.

Neither the magic and mythology of its history nor economic logic justify the special treatment of gold.

I would have thought that those quotations established very clearly that the Liberal Party has every intention of ending the tax-free status of gold.

When the former Leader of the Opposition, Mr Peacock, was bailed up in Perth four days after Mr Howard made his statement signalling that the Opposition, if it ever returned to government, would tax gold-in response to remarks by the Federal Opposition spokesman on Treasury matters who was reported to have said that he would not guarantee that a future Liberal government would not tax gold-Mr Peacock said that he would guarantee that a Liberal government would not tax gold. Since then we all know that Mr Peacock has been deposed as Liberal Party Leader and has been replaced by Mr Howard. Therefore, one would assume that Mr Howard's assurances are not the same as Mr Peacock's.

Senator Chaney —I raise a point of order. The Minister has not yet touched upon the matter which was raised in the question, which was the question of whether the Government has established a committee, which it undertook to do when it brought down its statement. He is simply debating the question and I believe you should call him to order, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT —I ask the Minister to respond to the question.

Senator WALSH —Certainly, Mr President. It is not my fault if mugs on the Opposition front bench insist on leading with their chin. The fact, as Senator Durack knows very well-it is set out quite clearly in the Treasurer's statement of 19 September-is that the Government has decided not to adopt the White Paper proposal on the taxing of gold. The Treasurer said that an independent inquiry had been established to examine the impact of the taxation question on the gold industry and that it was expected to report in the first half of 1986. I do not know whether a meeting has been held. I will inquire of the Treasurer and let Senator Durack know.

Senator DURACK —If I may ask a supplementary question, the Minister has indulged in the greatest bit of obfuscation-

The PRESIDENT —Order! Will the honourable senator ask his supplementary question?

Senator Chaney —On a point of order, Mr President: It seems to be open to have endless obfuscation in answers in this place and a small preliminary comment in a question is objected to. I would ask for some evenhandedness in this matter.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Question Time is limited to an hour. There have been five supplementary questions to date, and I do not deny anyone the right to ask supplementary questions, but if we allow supplementary questions to become supplementary statements, the matter gets completely out of hand. I have asked endlessly for honourable senators to keep their questions as short as possible, and I have also asked Ministers to respond as expeditiously and as briefly as possible. I ask everyone to adopt those rules and then everyone will get a fair go.

Senator DURACK —I asked the Minister four questions. He has answered only one of them-and in fact he has not answered that. I asked when was the committee established, who are the members of it, has it met and what are its terms of reference.

Senator WALSH —I can only repeat the answer I gave before. I will inquire of the Treasurer and let Senator Durack know.