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Wednesday, 26 June 1996
Page: 2253

Senator KERNOT (Leader of the Australian Democrats)(3.09 p.m.) —Mr President, when I heard Senator Short answer my question yesterday, at first I thought he may not have known what the Treasurer had announced earlier in the day. I thought he simply knew that we were debating the Development Allowance Authority Bill and he had not heard that the Treasurer had made a separate announcement. But listening to the end of the answer and hearing what you have repeated today, it is my view that you have misled the Senate. I believe you have misled us in two ways.

Firstly, I think you have been wrong about the amount you have stated because, as I understand it from the financial impact statement of the bill, we are talking about $920 million dollars, not $2.5 billion. Secondly, as Senator Peter Cook has explained, it is misleading to say that anything has been sabotaged when the bill has been passed. What it in fact means is that now the government has a choice. It has a choice whether it accepts the extension that they were asking for in the bill to the new applications which have come in after the closing date and the Senate amendment which says no to the reinstatement of urban roads as qualifying for infrastructure tax concessions, or whether it says no to the lot. It is the government's choice. It is very misleading to say, when a bill has been passed, that something has been sabotaged.

I want to revisit why the Democrats moved the amendment we did, because it has been misrepresented as well. We added a provision to the bill which affects only 40 privately constructed toll roads, not the 40 private projects that you were talking about. The Economic Planning Advisory Commission, the private infrastructure task force that was set up in October, looked at infrastructure borrowing tax concessions for the builders of private tollways. It said that privately financed projects are likely to be least advantageous for urban roads and that there was little efficiency to be gained from private ownership.

You are the people who go on about efficiency all the time—making taxpayers' money work efficiently—and you try and reinstate a rort which gives a benefit to private developers and asks taxpayers to pay three times—through petrol, then to the tax collector, and then to the toll collector at the toll booths—for the privilege of using roads in New South Wales.

That is the point. You are the ones that go on about efficiencies and you are the ones that are reinstating a very inefficient tax. Mr Costello's supposedly independent Commission of Audit said:

It is not apparent within the current income tax arrangements why special tax treatment should apply to infrastructure borrowings.

That is the point. We should revisit the Treasurer's words when we are asking why this government, preoccupied with efficiency, chooses to reintroduce a rort.

We should also revisit why the Treasurer said, when he was saying that it was not right for some state governments and local governments to have cars that were sales tax exempt:

Don't think that the government will sit by and allow the existing tax system to be riddled and rorted.

He sought to reintroduce a huge rort. That is the point, and that is why the Senate acted as it did. We said that we do not accept this. It has nothing to do with the construction of Sydney's eastern distributor. Tollways are incredibly profitable, and that is why investors are lining up to invest in them. That is the fact. When you say that we sabotaged something, Senator Short, I ask you to look again. This Senate passed the bill. The government got what it asked for. It got a little bit more that it did not want, as well. The choice is yours, but you have misled the Senate on two counts.