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Tuesday, 7 September 1993
Page: 1072

Senator McKIERNAN (4.45 p.m.) —Mr Acting Deputy President, may I congratulate you on your election to your very esteemed office. I am sure you will carry out your functions with great style. This afternoon we are discussing yet another urgency motion. Such motions arise in this place each and every time a budget is introduced. I am not saying that just because I am a Labor Party government senator, because it has happened previously—a long time ago when those opposite were in government and introduced budgetary measures which increased taxes and increased revenue and which were opposed by the then opposition. There is absolutely nothing new at all in what we are doing here this afternoon.

  There is also nothing new in the fact that it is sometimes difficult for people on this side of the chamber to defend measures such as the ones being debated here this afternoon. As an individual member of the community who also happens to be a member of parliament, I do not enjoy paying tax. I do not enjoy paying tax out of my income which is stopped before I even get the money into the bank account. I do not enjoy paying tax on the fuel that we purchase from the petrol pumps. We do not enjoy paying tax on the alcohol that some of us from time to time consume. The same applies to all the taxes that we have to pay. Very few people in the community enjoy paying tax.

  As a member of parliament, I have not been inundated with constituents coming in to see me and telling us to increase taxes, but all governments do. All governments have done so from time immemorial. Not only do they do it at a Commonwealth level but also at a state level. In my state of Western Australia we know this as much as anybody else, although perhaps the Victorians are hurting a bit more on the state side of things. But governments do raise revenue through a variety of measures which include taxation and excise.

  The increase in the fuel excise that we are debating this afternoon will undoubtedly hurt the community. Those who buy petrol or diesel at the moment will pay, or are paying currently, more for those products. The government realised this when it took those measures; it took it into account. They are very considered measures and it was known that they would have an inflationary impact on our society. Not only does one have to take account of the cost of the actual product that one purchases and puts into the fuel tank of the vehicle one is using; there is also the spin-off effect in that it will be inflationary. But it is not gloom and doom.

Senator Ferguson —You knocked a bit off.

Senator McKIERNAN —We have knocked a bit off. I am pleased about knocking a bit off. I will come to that in a little while. The measurements that the government has taken on this particular matter indicate that it will have an inflationary effect. The government is not running away from that at all. But the measurement it has come up with is that, at the first level, the effect will be one-quarter of one per cent of the CPI. That is not gloom and doom. This society will not end merely because an extra one-quarter of one per cent will go on to the consumer price index.

Senator Boswell —You put up the cost by five per cent.

Senator Collins —You screwed it up.

Senator McKIERNAN —I did you the decency, Senator Boswell, of staying out of the chamber and refraining from interjecting when you were on your feet.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McGauran)—Order! Senator McKiernan, please address your remarks through the chair.

Senator McKIERNAN —I accept your ruling, Mr Acting Deputy President. The real heavyweight contest going on here across the chamber was somewhat distracting. The increase of one-quarter of one per cent in the CPI does not mean that Australian society will end overnight or even end next year when additional measures come into force. Certainly, it will be hard, but I am sure that the Australian population will cope. Some people will have it harder than others as the measures filter through.

  We have heard those arguments and the predictions of gloom and doom before. One example that springs to my mind very readily, coming from Western Australia as I do, is the measure we implemented some years ago when we removed the taxation exemption on the gold mining industry. The predictions then were that it would be the death of the industry.

Senator Boswell —It was.

Senator Panizza —It was a bad move, the gold tax.

Senator McKIERNAN —Of course it was not the death of the industry, as time has since proven. We have a very viable industry that is now making a contribution to our society. Let me move on to argue why the government has increased its share of the cake by implementing this measure.

Senator Ferguson —It is revenue though.

Senator McKIERNAN —It is revenue. Why does this government need revenue? It needs revenue to serve society. The government has no money of its own. The money that the government spends is raised from the taxpayers in a variety of forms. Fuel tax is just one form. How does government spend the money? It spends the money in a variety of ways. For example, we have seen in recent days—last week as a matter of fact—the expose that one of the senators on the other side tabled or made available to the media in relation to the travelling expenses of a particular opposition senator. Those expenses have to come from somewhere—$93,000, I think it was from memory—

Senator Collins —And that was only for air travel.

Senator McKIERNAN —No. From memory, I think there was an element of motor vehicle travel in that as well. But the money to pay Senator Bishop to travel around Australia to enhance her leadership ambitions has to be raised from the taxpayers of Australia. Whose pocket does that money come out of? It comes out of the pockets of each and every one of us and those of the constituents whom we represent in this place. It comes out of pay as you earn income tax and other taxes, such as fuel tax.

  I have a certain amount of sympathy for the earlier arguments I have heard about the impact of this particular measure on people in rural areas of this country. There are more rural areas in my state than there are in any other state of Australia. I am sure Senator Panizza will agree with me on that because we both do our best to represent the interests of people from Western Australia. Western Australians are very resilient people, particularly those who come from rural areas. They are not whingers. They accept the good times with the bad times.

Senator Boswell —They will not accept this budget.

Senator McKIERNAN —They are accepting it, with all due respect, Senator Boswell. My office has not been inundated with claims against this particular tax measure. In actual fact, after the recent federal budget, fuel tax is probably one of the sleepers in the budget. It certainly has not come to the fore.

Senator Ferguson —They are probably ringing Senator Panizza.

Senator McKIERNAN —I have no doubt that they are probably ringing Senator Panizza. They are probably ringing him in Perth, but they are not raising the matter with me. I would not be surprised if they did raise it with me because like any increased tax, it will be unpopular. It is unpopular, but the people will rally to the cause and will pay up and accommodate the budget accordingly to take into account the additional expenditure that has to be forked out.

  I want to make one final point in closing my contribution to the debate—I do not think it will be accepted by people on that side of the chamber, but it is a very important point. To raise revenue by increasing taxes on fuel is not a new phenomenon. In 1981-82 the government of the day raised 14.6 per cent of the total Commonwealth revenue from excise on fuel. In 1992-93—the last complete year for which statistics are available—we brought that down to 10 per cent. So fuel is actually cheaper than it was more than 10 years ago when those opposite were in office—or when their predecessors were because none of this lot has ever served on the front bench; they do not have an `honourable' among them! So that is a point that has to be taken into account. (Time expired)