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Thursday, 29 June 2000
Page: 16088

Senator ROBERT RAY (8:25 PM) —I will not delay the chamber too long, but Senator Cook made one or two references, in addressing the A New Tax System (Tax Administration) Bill (No. 2) 2000, to the Prime Minister's address to the nation tonight. I suppose the first thing we could note is that the Prime Minister was a bit twitchy, which always shows that he is under a bit of pressure. But the real story of that address to the nation is that it is poll driven. The words that dripped out of the Prime Minister's mouth are exactly what is coming through the government polling at the moment. The emphasis that the Prime Minister put on certain concepts was very much driven by public opinion polling.

This government is spending well beyond $2 million across seven different polling exercises to try to assess public opinion and then, in turn, influence it in regard to its tax package. It has given up basically trying to say that the tax package is good for you as an individual. It has gone back to the theme that it had in August 1998—the only one that in the end it was in the positive with during the election campaign or until the Monday before election day—and that is that it is good for the nation. This is the government's last sort of bastion, its last defence about the tax package—that it is good for the nation. It is all poll driven. The taxpayers have paid for that as well. One of the biggest polling efforts in Australian history has gone in on this particular package.

However, I also wanted to say how excruciatingly embarrassed I was by the Prime Minister's performance this morning, but I must say I was a tad sympathetic as well because maybe it can happen to anyone. The Prime Minister or his staff—it would not have been the Prime Minister; it would have been his staff—were thinking in the last four or five days: what stunt can we pull in the Prime Minister's run around on the Thursday, the last day of parliament, that can get publicity for the GST?

I thought they showed a bit of prescience in avoiding a cake shop. I thought that was probably pretty bright of them. So they went down to Jim Murphy's grog shop and there, with all the cameras whirring, all the channels present, the Prime Minister got a basket of wine, spirits and beer and put it all in and they then added it up. You could see a bit of sweat on the Prime Minister's brow as he waited for the results. It was like an election night, waiting for the latest results. Then you see that sense of relief on the Prime Minister's face: here you have it, the price of the goods will be $22 cheaper on Saturday than they were today. Cheers go up. Little apparatchiks around at the Prime Minister's office relax. This is terrific. Then suddenly they realise that they had inputted a bottle of scotch twice. `Oh oh, recount. Get the scrutineers in again.' They recount the ballot. `Oh, it will now be more expensive on Saturday than it is was today, Thursday.'

How would you like to be the bright staffer who thought up this particular stunt right now? It was carried on every news program tonight, and I was a bit embarrassed. Even though I am very partisan in my politics, I felt embarrassed that the Prime Minister of Australia would be so humiliated by this recount. Surely an advance man goes out. Surely, if you are going to pull a stunt like this, you count the amount of the grog several times before you actually wheel the Prime Minister in through the door. So they can spend $430 million, but they cannot afford an advance man. That really does border on the pathetic.

Equally pathetic was Senator Kemp's performance here today when he refused to release the modelling. Let's face it, that modelling, according to the Prime Minister, is the one verification that the Prime Minister has of being an honest person. We have seen the Prime Minister quote the modelling time and time again, and anything we say on the subject is merely scaremongering. Remember that line, `You're just trying to scare the horses'? Well, we gave the government an opportunity to prove us wrong, to justify its claims that we are scaremongers. The government has the economic modelling that proves it right. But will it produce it? Not at all.

We have seen other organisations produce their economic modelling — economic modelling that shows that petrol prices are in some ways justified, because the savings the government claims are not there. But the government has that opportunity. It still has that opportunity. Senator Kemp now, in a burst of honesty and enthusiasm to try to defend his leader, could produce that modelling and we would have a justification. I hope this minister is not withdrawing that modelling, not supporting his Prime Minister, because he was not picked in March 1996 in the first-round draft. I hope it is not old enmities coming to the surface here. Senator Kemp, I assume, has read the modelling—I assume it backs up exactly what the Prime Minister says—but refuses to table it in this particular chamber. That is very disappointing.

But I want to personalise the GST. I arrived home last Friday and discovered that I was out of pipe tobacco—a great tragedy, as everyone would acknowledge. So I pick up the mail, I pick up the Herald Sun and I walk up the street and get on the tram to go to the tobacconist. The first thing that hits me is `tram fares are going up by 9.8 per cent'. Fortunately I had the exact money and I was able to take my tram ride because there had been no price rise as yet.

I open the one letter that I thought might be interesting and find it is from the Melbourne City Council. It is informing me that most council matters are, in fact, not GSTable. That was a relief. But I then read that there is a whole range of commercial activities that are GSTable. If you get your car towed away and have to recover it, you pay GST on it. If you use a parking machine, it is GSTable. If your poor old cat gets caught out at night and is impounded, to recover the cat costs you an extra 10 per cent. If you want to use the local park for a wedding—praise God, I don't have to go through that again—it is an extra 10 per cent. They did not lift it by six, seven or eight but by the full 10 per cent.

In an absolute state of shock, I shoved that letter in my top pocket and opened the Herald Sun and thought, `I'll read the sports pages. At least I can calm down and relax.' There is a big advertisement from the AFL telling us not only where the main games are being played on Friday, Saturday and Sunday but also what the price list is post GST. Guess what? Every one of the items has gone up by 10 per cent: seats, admission—the whole thing up by 10 per cent. I thought, `Surely the AFL can save on some input costs. Surely with the grass they're sold to resurface their oval every second day there are some input costs.' I just wonder exactly what degree of exploitation is going to occur.

But the coup de grace, of course, is that I stumble off the tram and get into the tobacconist and he tells me everything is going up by 10 per cent next Saturday week. That is the only one that I am not sure will go up by exactly 10 per cent, but that was certainly the tobacconist's view. So here you go, Madam Deputy President: the horror ride on tram No. 8, the horror ride. It is a bit like Colonel Kurtz going up the Mekong: the further you went, the deeper in debt you got.

Senator CookHeart of Darkness.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Exactly, Senator Cook. You have always had the literary allusion, that absolute touch, when it comes to these particular matters.

So I just want to finish on one other point. That is, all these matters have been advertised and we are not going to go over all the old ground or the $430 million. But one thing that has not been canvassed in this chamber is that the tax commissioner, Mr Carmody, sought legal advice from the Australian Government Solicitor's office as to whether the total package of advertising was, in fact, properly funded and legally based. The advice came from the Australian Government Solicitor on 19 May and was written by Mr Henry Burmeister QC and Special Counsel George Witynski. Let me quote from that advice, and I do not think it has yet at least been tabled in this chamber, but certainly it has been sent to a committee via Mr Carmody. It states:

"... The material which he [the Taxation Commissioner] sponsors or distributes would in our view be subject to the same restrictions as material produced in his own name. That is, the Commissioner and his office should not participate in the distribution of overtly political material, such as material criticising opponents of the new tax system. In so far as the distribution of material fell within the legitimate role of the Commissioner and his office, it would be useful if the material were identified in some way with the ATO ..."

That is clearly not the case in the booklet distribution. That is clearly not the case in the Prime Minister's letter. But not only did the legal advice say that the material should not be overtly political, it also said:

Appropriate authorisations ought to be attached to the material sent out.

When we read the Prime Minister's letter, there is no authorisation on it at all. Senator Kemp has the document there. You could point out in the Prime Minister's letter where the authorisation is. No, Senator Kemp is not even paying attention; he is off driving ships. Here we have the dilettante minister, off steaming his boats around his bath. Pay attention, Minister; pay attention, please.

The reality is of course that that letter from the Prime Minister `to my fellow Australians'—but not in fact personalised any more—had no authorisation on it. They might then ask, `Is the authorisation on the main leaflet sufficient?' It has certainly never applied to any electoral material; you have to authorise every separate item. What I found particularly interesting was that, in the actual booklet that was put out, the authorisation is written by C. Ellison. You have to ask yourself the question: why has every other item of publicity been authorised by the Commonwealth government, but this particular one was by C. Ellison? Does anyone believe that in fact C. Ellison wrote the booklet? Of course he did not. The advertising people wrote it. It is almost, if you like, a compilation of a variety of advertisements. That in itself is a lie. I recommend that anyone go back and read the legal opinions given to this government. It has not complied with them, and it has put itself in harm's way because of it. You might be sceptical about that, but the last time we had ministers issuing press releases or coming into this chamber pouring scorn on those who challenged the legality of some aspects of this campaign they ended up with egg on their faces. They ended up having to cancel and pulp eight million letters at a great cost to the Australian taxpayer and at great humiliation to themselves.

I started off by saying that I thought the Prime Minister's address to the nation did not deal with proper tax matters and that it was basically a political exercise. It was poll driven and it did not warrant an address to the nation. It would not be the first one to fit into that category, I readily concede, but I thought it significant that it was so political that only Channel 2 under the stewardship of Donald McDonald and Mr Shier, and with Michael Kroger on the board, actually ran it live.