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Wednesday, 15 December 1993
Page: 4669

Senator HERRON —My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Last night, in an interview with Paul Lyneham, with reference to his proposal to introduce a two-tiered Medicare levy, the minister said:

I would readily concede that a jobs levy would make my proposal impossible.

In the light of the minister's statement last night, does he concede that the ACTU's strong support for a jobs levy effectively torpedoes his two-tier levy proposal?

Senator Bolkus —You are drawing a long bow.

Senator RICHARDSON —As I stood up, Senator Bolkus, my esteemed colleague, who has always been one for excellent advice, said, `You are drawing a long bow'. The bow is long indeed. I have a view that there is a limit to the number of times we can add to the tax bill for Australians. If there is going to be a jobs levy, I would have to concede that my levy proposal would be in a great deal of trouble. That is something I have conceded all the way through. They are separate arguments, and the government will have to sift through them.

  The government will have ample time to make its decisions on employment levies before it has to make any decision on the proposal that I am floating, but not seeking endorsement for this week, on a higher levy. I think they are legitimate arguments and they can both run. The government can make its decisions on them at the appropriate time, but it is some months off. I look forward to the debate.

  There is no reason to suggest that, because I seek some change, other ministers—or, indeed, the cabinet or the caucus as a whole—are not able to seek alternative routes for what they would probably see as bigger problems that need to be dealt with. Everyone has a right to their own priorities, and the government has to set its priorities. If a priority that I have has to take a second rung to a priority on long-term employment, so be it; I can live with it.

Senator HERRON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. That would suggest that it is not just floating; it has sunk. Surely the minister would concede that it was just a cynical exercise on his part and a classical ploy of his to bring forward something that he knew was doomed from the start. Not only is the Prime Minister against it—

Senator Robert Ray —Put a question, not an argument.

Senator HERRON —It is a question. Surely he will now concede defeat. He ought to concede defeat. Does the minister not concede defeat?

Senator RICHARDSON —No. I will not concede defeat at all. It is not unusual on this side of politics for people to have ideas. On the other side they have to break their duck, but over here ideas actually happen. As I said yesterday, once you have them, it is an ideas market and you do your best to sell them.

  Senator Bolkus interjecting—

Senator RICHARDSON —There is a virgin mind for ideas over there; do not worry about it. I do not believe that there should be any reason why we cannot, over six months, go through this proposal from top to bottom with the union movement and with my colleagues in the caucus. I believe I have every chance of convincing them, and I will be trying. That having been said, I add that if there is an employment levy for other reasons that the government regards as greater imperatives, then so be it.