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Thursday, 19 August 1993
Page: 330

Senator SHORT (3.16 p.m.) —I have never heard such a lot of nonsense in my life as that which has just come from Senator McMullan and, before he spoke, Senator Evans. Those people opposite have got themselves into an absolute shambles. The simple fact is that on Lateline on, I think, 22 November last year—

Senator Gareth Evans —November 19; get it right.

Senator SHORT —On 19 November last year, the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) said:

To maintain the tax to GDP ratios we roughly have at the moment.

Senator Gareth Evans —Roughly, yes, roughly.

Senator SHORT —That is his objective, yes:

In other words, what I'm promising is not to put up tax.

At that time, the tax to GDP ratio for the year just completed—1992-93—was 22.2 per cent.

Senator Gareth Evans —And this year will be?

Senator SHORT —This year it will be 21.9 per cent. And does Senator Evans know what it will be next year, according to the figures he has just tabled? It will be 22.8 per cent; then it will be 23.3 per cent; and then it will be 23.5 per cent.

Senator Patterson —It is going up.

Senator SHORT —So it is going up every year. It will go up every year between now and 1996-97. The Treasurer (Mr Dawkins) acknowledged that very point yesterday at the National Press Club. He said:

I might say that in doing that—

that is, the budget's tax measure—

we will be restoring the overall share of taxation revenue by 1996-97 to 23.5 per cent of GDP.

In other words, he is saying exactly the opposite of what the Prime Minister said on Lateline in November last year in what was unequivocally an election promise. On the basis of the figures that the government has produced in the last couple of days in the budget, the Prime Minister lied. The Prime Minister lied, and there is no way—

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. It is unparliamentary and out of order to describe a member of the other place as lying. Senator Short knows that, and I ask him to withdraw it.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Childs)—Withdraw, Senator Short.

Senator SHORT —Mr Acting Deputy President, our leaders are going to be written to on this. So, pending clarification of that—

Senator Hill —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. If you are going to make a ruling in accordance with Senator Evans's request that that is unparliamentary, I think, Mr Acting Deputy President, you should take into account the previous rulings of the President in this regard. What I will do is ask of you the same as I asked of the President to—

Senator Gareth Evans —Including the ruling half an hour ago.

Senator Hill —No, he did not make a ruling half an hour ago; he said he was going to write a letter and he asked for a withdrawal. He did not make a ruling.

Senator Gareth Evans —He asked that Senator Newman withdraw.

Senator Hill —Mr Acting Deputy President, I am going to ask you to distinguish between the situation of stating that the Prime Minister is a liar and what Senator Cook was allowed by the President to do on an a number of occasions in November of last year, and that was to refer to the Victorian Premier and certain of his ministers and then immediately thereafter say the government lied. The only possible interpretation of that is that he was dressing up an allegation that those Victorian ministers were lying with the final wrap-up statement that the government lied. Nobody reading what Senator Cook said on several occasions on 10 and 12 November last year could do other than interpret that he was alleging that the Premier of Victoria in the lead-up to the Victorian election lied; and yet he was permitted by the President to do so in this place.

  What I am asking is: how can he—a Labor minister in this place—be permitted by the President to do that as within the standing orders and practices of this place if you, Mr Acting Deputy President, are going to rule in favour of Senator Gareth Evans and say that Senator Short should not be permitted to say, in these blatant circumstances, that the Prime Minister lied in the lead-up to this federal election?

Senator Gareth Evans —I request to speak further on the point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. What Senator Short said was—and I quote him as best I can recollect—that the Prime Minister has lied. He did not say, `The government has lied'. His reference was not made in any collective way, which is the particular context that Senator Hill is describing and in respect of which Senator Sibraa earlier today said that something of an anomaly perhaps had opened up, because precedents had been established where people had referred to a collectivity as lying. But whatever may be the case, whatever may be the justification for drawing that distinction, which is perhaps a rather dubious one—I say this with all due regard to my colleague and the President—there is no suggestion and never has been any suggestion in this place—and nor should there be any such suggestion—that a statement as blatant as that made by Senator Short is other than absolutely, unequivocally unparliamentary, and I ask you to order him to withdraw on that basis. A specific reference to a specific named member of the other place in those terms, Mr Acting Deputy President, is just out of order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —On the basis that it has been held on so many occasions that to say that the Prime Minister or another parliamentarian has lied is not in order and under the circumstances of a recent statement by the President on this matter—under all those circumstances—I ask Senator Short to withdraw.

Senator SHORT —Mr Acting Deputy President, pending, as I say, the President writing to the party leaders, I will defer and withdraw. I have consulted a thesaurus on this. Would you take as an alternative a `right proper whopper'? What the Treasurer did yesterday at the press club by telling the truth—and for once he could not do anything else because he had actually put it in his budget papers the day before—by saying that tax measures will restore the overall share of tax revenue by 1996-97 to 23.5 per cent of GDP was to put the Prime Minister's statement on Lateline last year in proper perspective—that is, that that statement was blatantly wrong; it was not an accurate or a true statement. Yet it was a statement that was relied on very heavily by the electorate during the election campaign.

  Let me come back very briefly to the figures because they are extremely significant. The figures that Senator Gareth Evans has tabled today—and I thank him for doing that—show, as he rightly says, that the ratio of tax to GDP will fall marginally from 22.2 per cent last year to 21.9 per cent this year. But then it will increase every year until 1996-97, till it reaches the figure of 23.5 per cent, and that figure means that the tax hike involved is more than $6 billion.

  If that is not a tax hike, I would like Senator Gareth Evans to tell me and the Australian people what is, because there is no way that the government can get that figure without there being a massive increase in taxes. If one looks at the government's figures published in the budget, even in absolute terms—set aside altogether the percentages—tax is going to rise from an estimated $89.2 billion last financial year, and $92.4 billion this financial year, to $121.4 billion in 1996-97.

  By anyone's standards, by anyone's measure, that is not only a tax rise; it is a big tax rise. It is absolutely contrary to the deceit the government has been trying to spread across the Australian electorate for months and months now and which it spread—shamefully—in particular, before the election. The government's whole economic policy is a shambles, a fraud. It is an absolute deceit. The government has been caught out monumentally.