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Wednesday, 4 December 1985
Page: 2869

Senator MAGUIRE(10.12) —For years, members of the Opposition and their gurus have been telling Australians that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Week after week, month after month, year after year, members of the Liberal Party of Australia have been telling Australians to tighten their belts and to make economic sacrifices, using the slogan `there's no such thing as a free lunch'. They are now proposing in this House to support tax subsidised lunches for a narrow elite group of the community-5 per cent of the population. As I pointed out last night, in those countries with which we normally compare ourselves, such allowances are not available. There is no comparable general allowance in the United States of America or in Great Britain. The removal of the taxation subsidy for lunches does not mean that the restaurant industry will collapse. I shall quote some spokespersons involved in that industry. For example, Ms Jill Heavan, the leading Adelaide restaurateur, the Manageress of Ayers House Restaurant in Adelaide, has said:

The legitimate business lunch will survive.

Mr Harold Lasky, the Managing Director of Diners Club Ltd, should know about the potential effects on the restaurant industry as a result of the removal of the tax subsidised lunch, because a great proportion of the turnover of Diners Club comes from the restaurant industry. He was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald of 21 September as saying:

I think the people who are genuinely involved in a lunch to discuss business will continue to do so.

There will, of course, be a transition period for restaurants, in which restaurants find it necessary to target their business towards a different clientele. Restaurants will have to aim their food and prices towards the family rather than the business man. Good quality, reasonably-priced restaurants will continue to be profitable. It was particularly interesting to see an advertisement placed in the Australian Financial Review by Sydney's Lucy's Restaurant. Lucy's Restaurant of Castlereagh Street, Sydney, advertising in that national daily newspaper on 20 November, said:

Lunch without the taxman.

Thanks to Paul Keating, business at Lucy's has greatly improved.

At Lucy's prices, tax deductions are not an issue.

There we are. A leading Sydney restaurant has said that business is booming as a result of the Government's tax package. That restaurant is not crying over the Government's tax package. Instead, it is making a very positive response to the new position facing it. It should be remembered in assessing the impact of this measure to remove tax deductibility for lunches that all of the extra revenue from that measure will be given back to Australian taxpayers in the form of personal income tax cuts. That is a very important point to bear in mind. Australians will have more disposable income. They will be able to consume more. More Australians will be able to afford restaurant meals. They will be able to afford them out of their own pockets and not out of the pockets of the taxpayers of this country, because they will have higher disposable incomes.

There will, of course, be some exceptions to the general rule of disallowing entertainment expenses as a tax deduction. Some expenses will continue to be allowed. Expenses incurred in operating a business for the provision of entertainment will be exempt from the new arrangements. Expenditure on entertainment for promotional or advertising purposes will be exempt from the new measure. The cost of overtime meals covered by an industrial award will be exempt from the new measure. The cost of a person's meals while living away from home will be exempt. The costs associated with in-house dining and recreational facilities for employees will be unaffected. That refers to staff canteens. The cost of meals while attending a seminar will be tax deductible also.

I wish to make a few comments about the unfortunate publicity campaign being carried out by the Opposition, the hospitality industries and, regrettably, a small section of the Australian media. I refer to the advertisements which have been appearing in daily newspapers in the context of the South Australian State election. Very expensive advertising has been undertaken by the restaurant industry, which has been taking out full page advertisements forecasting doom and gloom in the industry.

Senator Knowles —If you were fighting for your survival you might do so too.

Senator MAGUIRE —I will get on to that in a moment. The restaurant industry has intruded into the South Australian election, and now it is fair game. It underestimates the common sense of the average Australian taxpayer. Under previous arrangements, the average Australian had a healthy suspicion about free lunches. Now, the more the abolition of free lunches is attacked the more attention is drawn to the lurk that they were. That is what is going on. It is a totally counter-productive campaign. The more they advertise the more support that is lost by the free lunch advocates.

Let us look at some of the advertisements which have been appearing in the South Australian media. An advertisement in the Adelaide News on 29 November said: `. . . . give Canberra the message.' It advocated sending Canberra a message about tax changes for the restaurant industry. Liberal Party supporters are advocating that a message be sent to Canberra. That is what they are doing. It is very unfortunate for the current Leader of the Opposition, Mr Howard. He is very concerned about that, because he is now trying to distance himself from the South Australian election result on Saturday. He is trying to separate himself from that result. To put it frankly, Mr Howard does not want the South Australian election to be fought on Federal policies. That is the truth of the matter. That is the last thing he wants. I refer to the report of a very revealing interview of Mr Howard by Mike Steketee in the Sydney Morning Herald last Friday-a very revealing interview indeed. I will quote Mr Howard's words. He stated:

Like all State elections, South Australia will be decided predominantly on State issues.

That is what he said, with no qualification at all. His supporters in the Liberal Party of South Australia, the people who are placing these nonsensical advertisements in the Press, have not got the message; there is no co-ordination. They are still saying: `Send a message to Canberra'. He desperately does not want a message sent to Canberra. That is the last thing he wants as a result of the South Australian election this Saturday. I know what the message will be out of the South Australian elections on Saturday and Mr Howard has a jolly good idea too what is coming for him on Saturday.

The Liberals are trying to have it both ways on this question of free lunches. They say they will vote against the Government's proposal to abolish the free lunch. By saying that, they are trying to win the support of the restaurant industry in this country. Look again at Mr Howard's interview with Mike Steketee in the Sydney Morning Herald last Friday. He gave no pledge at all in that interview to repeal legislation to end free lunches, in the unlikely event that he becomes leader of this country one day. In fact, the interviewer very pointedly drew attention to that fact.

I believe that the hospitality and tourism industries of this country should not be taken in by the nonsense that is being put around by this Opposition and sections of the industry. The campaign by sections of the industry, the Opposition and a small section of the media has totally dicredited itself. The most extreme statements are being made on this subject. I simply quote Sir Frank Moore who is Chairman of the Australian Travel Industry Association. He is on record in the Adelaide News last week as saying that, as a result of this measure, Australia will become the white trash of Asia. As a result of this Government removing free lunches for an elite group in the community-

Senator Cooney —How many are in that group?

Senator MAGUIRE —It was 4.7 per cent, I think. As a result of this Government removing free lunches for an elite group in this community we are being told that Australia will become the white trash of Asia. What absolute rubbish to make such a nonsensical claim! That shows a total loss of perspective by the opponents of this measure. We have had dire predictions about the number of jobs that will be lost as a result of this measure, all of them totally unsubstantiated. A survey was quoted last night by Senator Messner-who is very vocal at the moment-from BIS-Shrapnel on the impact of this measure on the industry. Senator Messner omitted to say that that survey and its findings had been comprehensively destroyed by the Commonwealth Treasury in a report on the matter. That appeared on the front page of the Australian Financial Review of 25 November. One of the things that survey ignored was the positive impact of the tax cuts being financed by this measure. It totally ignored the further expenditure by Australians from the taxation reductions they will be receiving as a result of the revenue raised by this measure. Senator Messner totally ignored that.

From examining the outrageous claims that have been made by Opposition spokespersons, by the industry and by beat-up merchants in the media about the number of jobs that might be lost as a result of abolishing the free lunch for an elite group in the community, it seems that the loss of job predictions range, generally speaking, from 10,000 to 18,000. That is a fairly large range. But, of course, those predictions are based totally on guesswork and are totally unsubstantiated, as is the norm with claims made by members of the Liberal Party. Then, of course, we have the completely outrageous claim made by Mr Hodgman, who is a Tasmanian member of the Liberal Party. This is the one that I believe really takes the cake. He has told us that 80,000, not 18,000, jobs will be lost. As Senator Walsh quite rightly pointed out in this House some time ago, fewer people than that are working in the entire industry in Australia. There are not even 80,000 people working in the industry in Australia, yet outrageous claims are made about potential job loss in the industry.

We have had all these nonsensical claims about the flow-on effects to the wholesale suppliers to the industry-the food merchants and the butchers-and about the loss of business by those wholesale participants in the industry. The heroic assumption that is being made by the opponents of this legislation is that people will stop eating. That is what it is all about. The opponents are trying to convince the Australian public that people will stop eating. That is the way they are making their claims.

I have some concrete figures on the labour situation facing the restaurant industry. I do not have estimates; I do not have propaganda; I have the facts. These official figures have been released by the Commonwealth Employment Service. They are based on the number of job vacancies which are lodged with the CES by employers. They show that 9,726 jobs are vacant in the entertainment and hospitality industries. That compares with only 8,078 jobs vacant in those industries 12 months ago. It seems as if the entertainment industry is growing rather than contracting, as some on the other side would have us believe. In fact, 1,648 more jobs are on offer-a 20 per cent increase in 12 months. That is the situation facing the restaurant and hospitality industries.

I understand that those figures are paralleled in South Australia where those ludicrous advertisements are appearing. The CES cannot fill all these job vacancies. It cannot handle the demand. Perhaps that is why an advertisement was placed in the Adelaide Advertiser last month by a company known as Murrick Enterprises. It is a hospitality staff placement and consultancy company. It is right in the centre of the industry. Under the bold heading of `Hospitality Industry', the advertisement asked businesses to `register with us now'. There is obviously sufficient demand for staff in the hospitality industry to keep a specific hospitality industry employment agency going in South Australia alone. That is what is going on. It is clear that the real effects on employment in the restaurant and hospitality industries are well below those claimed.

I have noted that new restaurants are opening. That fact is ignored by members of the Opposition. I refer to the opening of a new restaurant in the Riverland region of South Australia which was advertised in the Press just recently. Senator Messner seems to have ignored that. Restaurants are opening. What the Opposition has been saying on this whole subject is absolute nonsense. As for the proposition that the free lunch is an integral and necessary part of business in this country and that business will collapse without it-that is the claim being made-I need only to quote the employee of one restaurant in Adelaide. That employee, who worked in a topless restaurant, said that all she had overheard discussed at so-called business lunches was football, racing and sex-a very frank statement indeed. I support this legislation. It is long overdue. It removes a tax lurk which was available to 5 per cent of the electorate and brings more fairness and equity.