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Friday, 9 June 1989
Page: 3769

Senator STONE (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(10.51) —The matter which has been raised by the amendment moved by Senator Macklin relates to section 78 of the Income Tax Assessment Act-the deductability of gifts provision. For my sins, I have some knowledge of that provision. It has been one of the most contentious, time-consuming and difficult areas of the tax law for many years, probably ever since it was first put into the tax Act. Of course, there is no lack of good causes. We can all think of probably half a dozen bodies which we happen to think are excellent worthy bodies performing useful or vital public services. The Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh)-I do not always praise the Minister, but I do on this occasion-very fairly said that there is a degree of arbitrariness. I think that is acknowledged on all sides. It is certainly acknowledged by the beleaguered Treasury and Australian Taxation Office officials who have to preside over the administration of the tax law.

On the face of it, one might well ask: Why should the chamber not support the body to which Senator Macklin wishes to direct the bounty of the taxpayers of Australia? We should not neglect to understand that, when we provide for the deductability of gifts in the tax law, we are basically providing a concession to those who make those gifts, in terms of their taxpaying proclivities, at the expense of other taxpayers. We may be able to make out a perfectly good case for doing that in some cases but, if we are to have people such as Senator Coulter advancing the argument about a level playing field-I must confess that I could not quite follow his argument on that point-I think we need to go a bit more deeply into it than I suggest Senator Coulter did.

It is no good bringing up amendments of this kind at the last minute. I did hear Senator Macklin say that this amendment has been around for a month or so.

Senator Macklin —It has been around for years.

Senator STONE —It may have been around for years in one sense of the term `been around'. But, having the responsibility for the handling of this legislation on behalf of the Opposition, I am concerned that this amendment arrived on my desk only yesterday. I hope that I will not be contradicted in that respect. At no time, either prior to that time or since, did Senator Macklin or any other member of the Australian Democrats speak to me about their intentions in this regard. Had they done so it might have been possible, in the limited time available, to give some consideration to it-although I rather doubt it because the time would have been too limited. It is no good the Democrats coming into this chamber and saying that something has been around for a month, a year, or whatever the time is supposed to be, when we have received a specific proposal only within the last 24 hours. If we are to have good government in this country we simply cannot handle matters of that kind on the run.

To make an obvious point, I do not imagine that the Minister has had time-in fact I am sure that he has not-to undertake the kinds of processes that he would have to undertake with his Cabinet colleagues, or at any rate a sufficiently senior group of them, to give him authority to agree to an amendment of this kind. I make that point only to draw the obvious parallel that the Opposition has not had sufficient time either. We have had no time to put a proposal of this kind to our shadow Cabinet. It would be the responsibility of the shadow Treasurer, the honourable member for Wentworth (Dr Hewson), to do so anyway; it is not my responsibility. There is no time and there will not be an opportunity now, because the House of Representatives has risen, to have a party room discussion on the matter.

We have here a classic example of the behaviour of the Australian Democrats on so many areas where it is a matter of all care and no responsibility. The Democrats come into this chamber time and again putting themselves forward as the caring representatives of the people. But the fact of the matter is that the Democrats have no responsibility for the government of this country. They will come into this chamber and support amendments twice a day every day of the week. This amendment happens to be a terribly minor one and I am not suggesting that it would ruin the country if it were to be incorporated into the tax law; of course it would not. Indeed, Democrat speakers would argue that it would be good for the country, and I am not denying that. They have a perfectly valid case in that respect. But it is not good enough for them to put themselves forward as a responsible political party, yet day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year wheel up to this chamber proposals to spend the taxpayers' money and, therefore, tax the taxpayers a lot more than they are presently taxed, in order to do all the things that the Democrats think should be done, or at least have put forward as things they think should be done, when they have no responsibility whatsoever for the consequences.

This afternoon we will be debating a matter of public importance, the terms of which I think have already been circulated, in which we will be talking about the disastrous impact of the Government's high interest rate policy on home buyers, small businesses and farmers. I do not want to get onto that matter; we will have something to say about that later today. I am simply making the point that this is a characteristic modus operandi on the part of the Australian Democrats. Frankly, I think it is time they grew up.

My senatorial colleague Senator Harradine has also supported the amendment. I am inclined to take Senator Harradine's remarks on these matters a good deal more seriously than I am often prepared to concede in the case of the Australian Democrats. But he said that all the Nursing Mothers Association of Australia is asking is to be registered as a charity, so to speak-I think I have quoted him correctly; I took down his words at the time-in order not to be subject to a double whammy. As has been pointed out by Senator Macklin and reiterated by Senator Harradine, the point about the double whammy arose from the fact that this group has been deprived by the Government of a previous grant-in-aid of $73,000. I have to say that the logic of that escapes me. One can argue about whether that grant should have been withdrawn. I think there is a prior question as to the level at which the Government should be making such grants to all these individual associations or organisations in Australia. I think the process of having everything happening from Canberra-all these great tentacles stretching out from Canberra with bits of money being dribbled out here, there and everywhere because some Commonwealth parliamentarian or Minister thinks he can pick up a vote or two in the process-is a recipe for fiscal disaster of the kind that we are now experiencing in this country. We would all be better employed if we put the responsibility for aid of this kind elsewhere.

I do not want to debate the question of whether the association as such is a perfectly worthy object of such aid. It may well be; in fact, I am sure that in many ways it is. What I am saying is that there is a perfectly good case for saying that such aid should come from a State government, not the Commonwealth Government.

I come back to the double whammy argument. Senator Harradine's argument is not correct. It is subject to a single whammy by withdrawal of the grant, but nothing else has happened. No double whammy is involved. I think we have to get our line of argument straight.

Finally, in the light of all considerations I mentioned earlier, we simply cannot handle matters of this kind in the manner in which the Australian Democrats would like us to. The Opposition will not be able to support this amendment.