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Tuesday, 12 November 1985
Page: 1969


Senator MISSEN(3.34) —I rise to speak in general to the Appropriation Bills and particularly to conclude with some remarks about the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill, which relates to appropriations for and applicable to this Parliament. This debate enables us to make some general comments upon the economic situation in which this country finds itself. I agree with many of the remarks which Senator Hamer made. I think we are finding that the Government is not facing up to its real problems. The real problems are being evidenced today very substantially by the $1,600m deficit in our overseas balances in the month of October, indicating a very serious problem for Australia which the Government's present plans do not appear to contemplate or in any way to overcome.

One recollects that there was a tax summit earlier in the year which appeared likewise to be very disappointing and very unsatisfactory. I do not blame the Treasurer (Mr Keating) particularly for that. I believe that he went forward with a fairly definite program, but in the end he was dumped by his own Government, by the unions, by business circles and by others who did not give him the support which might have meant a substantial change in the tax arrangements whereby the excessive demands made upon wage and salary earners, which lead to so many people going into the top taxation bracket-this will be more so than ever now-were to be offset by a consumption tax or some other tax that would spread the burden of taxation. Instead we are left, as evidenced in this year's Budget, in the Appropriation Bills and in the proposals for tax reform which are now floating about, with a solution which is not really a very full-blooded one and which is not likely to make the most positive contribution to improvement.

We in the Opposition, I believe, are entitled to criticise, and criticise severely, the failure of the Government to face up to these matters. We, in turn, must put up positive solutions, and I hope that speed will be used in finding them. I think we can indicate, where we are seriously opposed to such measures as are put forward, that we will remove them and replace them when we return to government. If matters are particularly serious and if the alternatives are well thought out, an alternative government should do that. At the same time, I think it is a matter which requires caution, because we do not know what the economic situation will be when the new government comes into power. We do not want to face the situation where we have made promises and cannot keep them.

I do not believe, however, that it is the duty of an opposition to replace a government's own measures and to try to reform its financial program. I believe that, in doing that, an opposition only leads itself to accepting responsibility for the mistakes which the government has made. An opposition can set out its criticisms quite severely and should not worry if it is attacked by people who say that it should immediately try to defeat this or that, terminate something else and thereby redevelop the whole of the government's economic program, because that is not, in my mind, the role of an opposition or of a Senate.

Senator Hamer has spoken at some length on some of the proposals that have been put forward as part of the tax package which will, in due course, no doubt be processed through this chamber as it will through the House of Representatives. The capital gains tax proposal is getting a great deal of coverage. It seems to me that it is not a very big proposal and that it will not substantially alter the financial affairs of the Government. But it is essentially, of course, part of its financial program. The Government must therefore accept responsibility for it if it is a poor or inadequately expressed proposal, but I do not think it is the role of the Opposition to try to replace it at this time.

A tremendous campaign is going on in the community in respect of perks, business lunches, entertainment and things of that sort. We have all received a great number of letters from people who will be hurt by these measures. Very often they say to us that we should throw them out. To my mind this approach mistakes the role of the Senate. One can feel a great deal of sympathy for those who have restaurants for which they have been expecting profits and have become dependent upon trade and they suddenly find that trade cut off. But the more I see of the campaign that is being waged and the more I hear allegations that something like $350m in revenue will be lost if tax is imposed on these business lunches, the more I am satisfied that this is very substantially a rort for which the ordinary taxpayer, the salary earner and the wages earner, is paying. I do not find it persuasive that they should be expected to pay.

I am sorry that so far the Government has not been able to find measures by which it can discover which expenses are legitimate and necessary business expenses. The Government had a choice. It decided to impose this tax. The Australian Democrats are not in the chamber but it is they who are ready to fall for the quick and popular remedy. We should not do the same thing. We should not see the satisfaction people may get by voting against such measures, perhaps knowing that the measures will not be defeated, but making a gesture. I say that this is not the way that such things should be done. We may do something different when we come to office but we should not now say that this substantial amount of $350m or whatever should not be recovered by the Government.

Clearly, the Government has to balance moneys and expenditure. There is a great gap between its revenues and the amount which it spends. The gap is worrying and it is not a matter to which we should substantially add. When looking at a tax package, at what are called nasties by some people and the good parts, one cannot ignore any part. We cannot ignore that money must be raised to pay for certain expenditures, for example, for reductions in taxation. This must very much concern the Opposition. I remind honourable senators of the statement made by Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle about two years ago on the Taxation (Unpaid Company Tax) Assessment Amendment Bill 1983. It appears on page 1758 of Hansard of 19 October 1983. She set out, after much consideration by the Opposition, the only conditions under which we would interfere with moneys that are part of the financial program of the Government. She said:

I should say that this legislation is, coincidentally, brought before the Senate during the Budget session and, in some sense, there would be those who would describe it as Budget legislation. In general terms, I believe that it is accepted that a government is entitled to expect the passage of normal Budget and Budget-type legislation and other legislation that is an essential part of its financial program. However, there will be rare occasions when an opposition will feel compelled to reject or substantially amend such legislation, within the Constitutional limitations of the Senate, where it is demonstrated to be capricious and arbitrary or vindictive legislation or where it creates new tax burdens of a retrospective kind.

She pointed out that in that case it was clearly so. It was clearly a new tax which was retrospective and in every way it came within the capacity of the Opposition to oppose-and we did. We had opposed it in May and when it was brought forward coincidently at Budget time we again opposed it successfully. We should not be confused by people talking about `Supply' as a matter by itself, or about a Budget as though Budget Bills are somewhat sacred and other legislation is not. They are the financial programs of the Government for which the Government must accept responsibility and which we may criticise, I hope cognately and successfully, and where necessary promise to repair when we get into government. When dealing with Appropriation Bills such as these, we should bear those principles in mind.

I want to deal with one other matter. I wish to deal with the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill, as this is a joint debate. This Bill has arisen as a result of deliberations of this Senate through the Senate Select Committee on Parliament's Appropriations and Staffing, of which I was a member in 1980-81. As a result, we set up separate appropriations for the parliamentary departments. There was great discussion with the then Fraser Government over the matter. I regret that ultimately the Government put a ceiling on the amount that could be contained in such a Bill. That amount would be determined by the Treasurer. I think that it was a great mistake by the Senate and the House of Representatives that they accepted that they should be limited in this way.

I happen to know that at present there are considerable problems. Problems were raised very recently by Senator Walsh when we were dealing with the setting up of a committee on human embryo experimentation. The Senate decided to do so. I was not well and was absent at the time. If I had been here I would have opposed the appointment of that committee, as being unnecessary. But it was not for me or Senator Walsh to determine that matter. It was determined by the Senate. It decided to have such a committee to bring together information and report later to this Parliament. On that occasion, Senator Walsh said:

I am opposed to this motion, not because I am opposed per se to the referral of this Bill in particular to a committee, but because the motion seeks to establish a select committee. I think there are already far too many Senate committees. Far too many people have had their fads, their obsessions and their indulgences gratified by setting up a number of committees which have both strained the available resources and added substantially to costs. I do not accept the proposition, which was accepted by the previous Government, that the amount of money appropriated for Parliament is a matter for the Parliament to determine.

I could not be more in disagreement with that sentiment. We have had recommendations from Estimates Committee A which deal with this matter. But it is very important that we should re-establish beyond any doubt the right of this Senate and the House of Representatives-if it only had the courage to take it-to determine what committees we will have and what are necessary expenses. The heads of these departments, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, should take responsibility for the fact that we act responsibly and with minimum expenditure.

It is not for other people such as Ministers to determine. This matter does not concern one of the `ordinary annual services of the Government' with which the first Appropriation Bill deals. It concerns the running of the Senate and the running of the Parliament has nothing to do with the services of the Government. It involves the services of the people of Australia. The members of this chamber should take responsibility and determine these matters. I hope that they will do that in the near future. This Bill can be amended by this House. It can take into account, as I understand, allegations made by Senator Walsh about the rise in salaries which will come in the next year. They are accepted by some 26 or 28 departments and the Government and will be added on to their expenditure, but the Senate, the House of Representatives and the other parliamentary departments are apparently expected to take this rise out of their own moneys and thereby reduce the other services that they provide. Only this House can stand up for its rights. In the interests of the people it must determine the forms of investigations it will use and what committees shall exist. This should not be determined by governments. I hope that we will take a strong stand when this matter comes on for debate and vote.

I make these comments on the Bill. I will not go into the details of the Bills which have been dealt with by Estimates committees. But I make these strong propositions today because they are matters in which I believe. I believe that it is important for this Senate to be able to stand on its feet and have the financial means to conduct its affairs. I believe that this Senate should not misuse or overestimate its powers and should not use them to act as a government in exile. In that way, in balancing what we do, we should be very careful that we do not move excessively and do things which are beyond the powers and the needs of this Australian Parliament.