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Thursday, 20 June 1996
Page: 1906

Senator COOK(11.30 a.m.) —Perhaps I should offer a bit of advice here, as a former minister: when you are sitting in that chair over there it is best not to make provocative statements because it simply opens up the debate again. Firstly, in this debate on the Customs and Excise Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 1996 the subject of the partial sale of Telstra has been raised and linked to the landcare issue. I share the sentiment expressed in this chamber that you cannot trade one principle for another. If the government is fair dinkum about landcare it will not link Telstra to it; it will find the wherewithal elsewhere to meet the problem.

Essentially, in view of the landcare and taxation issue raised by Senator Margetts, the proposed partial sale of Telstra is a red herring. Suppose Telstra was partially sold and the government then had the funds that it says it needs to address landcare. It would still need to investigate the provision about which Senator Margetts asks. Whether the government sells Telstra partially to raise the funds or finds the money off budget, it still has to answer the question that Senator Margetts has raised in order to find the best taxing mechanism.

The partial sale of Telstra is a nice political flourish. This is probably not the place to debate it, though as soon as it is called on we will all state our positions. Nonetheless, the question before the government already is: what provision would be necessary in the act and how would you construct it in order to respond to the principle that Senator Margetts has raised? The chamber wants to hear the government say that it will look at that question.

Senator Margetts, who has put a bit of effort into this issue, reasonably asks the government whether it will look at this matter, whether we can see it when it has looked at it, and whether we can contribute to the analysis of how it will be effected. A word or two from the government about that would be welcomed.

Secondly, one aspect of this bill on which you have placed great weight is that farmers using limestone for deacidification will get the benefit of the rebate in their hands immediately. They will if it is passed on. When I raised that point earlier, the quite fair rejoinder—a rejoinder made previously in this chamber, notably by Senator Panizza who is robust in these matters—was that farmers will insist that quarry owners who get the benefit under this legislation pass on that benefit without loading their cost structures and pocketing the benefit. In other words, it will be a transparent market.

I can think of a number of occasions on which a benefit intended for an end user has been provided to a middle person and has never reached the end user; the intent was thwarted and the middle person grew fat on a measure aimed at meeting a need further down the line. Senator Panizza and Senator Parer are right in saying that farmers are robust and will insist that the benefit is passed on, but there is no guarantee that it will be. My question is: will the government monitor the situation to ensure that the benefit is passed on so that land owners also get the benefit of it? If they do not, if they only partially get it, the intent of this measure is defeated.