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Thursday, 3 February 1994
Page: 353

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (3.11 p.m) —I wish to respond briefly to the concerns that have just been raised. The question of taxation is a vitally important issue not only to primary industry or rural Australia but to every Australian. It is essential that people in public life constantly look for ways in which taxation measures can assist industry. I simply reiterate that at the end of the day the person who is responsible for determining government policy on taxation is the Treasurer, and correctly so. I reiterate—because I hope that the lesson has been learned by those opposite—that the worst forms of taxation for people in the bush are point of sale taxes. We have had some experience of that. For years in the Northern Territory we have paid sales tax on the freight component of goods. One does not have to be a Rhodes scholar or have an economics degree to work out that if one imposes a point of sale tax on a certain commodity, the further away from the point of supply people get, and the higher the price of the goods when they are purchased in a normal retail fashion, the more disproportionately higher is the level of taxation. I have been living with that situation now for nearly 30 years; it is one that I am very familiar with. I condemned the National Party vociferously at the time—the record shows it, so I am not being wise after the event—for the mouse-like support that it gave to that outrageous proposal to impose a consumption tax on rural Australia—

Senator Campbell —What about option C?

Senator COLLINS —Senator, have a look at the Senate Hansard. I opposed option C. I am glad to receive that interjection because I said publicly—I will dig it out for Senator Campbell if he is interested—that I vociferously opposed a point of sale tax `even when it was proposed by people in my own party'. I declare my personal regional bias in that regard. I do not flinch from that.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Did you oppose the fuel tax?

Senator COLLINS —An interjection coming from somebody who grossly misrepresented the impact of consumption tax in northern Australia is a bit cute. Someone who told people that their white goods would end up being cheaper under a consumption tax when they were going to be more expensive should not open his mouth in this debate at all.

  The mouse plague is a serious issue. I do not think rural Australia will be anything than encouraged by what I said at question time today. The difficulty is this—and I am sure that both Senator Chapman and Senator Ferguson are very well aware of this: the last mouse plagues in both South Australia and Victoria were actually forecast by the CSIRO but the extent of the plagues was much more serious than anticipated.

Senator Ian Macdonald —What did you do in the CSIRO?

Senator COLLINS —In terms of the idiot interjections in this debate by Senator Ian Macdonald and his derisory comments about the three years that I spent working for the CSIRO division of wildlife research, as it happens, one of the CSIRO's mouse experts—

Senator Ian Macdonald —Were you the mouse expert?

Senator COLLINS —Why does Senator Macdonald not shut up just for five minutes. When I worked for the CSIRO at its research laboratories in Darwin, I had the privilege of working with a person who became an expert in that area. This person, who is very familiar with the forecasting methods, told me that the big difficulty of forecasting plagues is what to tell the farmers to do about them when they arrive. He told me that the old traditional methods of dealing with mice plagues—physically ripping up the surface where the burrows exist—did not appear to be very effective; that the data on strychnine was not very persuasive at all in indicating whether at the end of the day it actually affected the plague or whether the plague simply died out through natural causes; and that one of the problems with anti-coagulants was their cost. (Time expired)