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Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Page: 29

Senator ABETZ (8:16 PM) —The opposition will be opposing this amendment. This amendment is the worst case of window-dressing that we have witnessed for quite some time. I would invite Senator Fielding to, in fact, have a look at his speech of 3 September and see how the amendments he is putting forward today match up with his statements. I remind him that he acknowledged ‘this tax increase is a blatant tax grab’. It is. He is right. Why would you vote for a blatant tax grab, even if it is going to be a few million dollars less. Especially when you acknowledge, as Senator Fielding so rightly did, and I quote:

 ... there are also small businesses that depend on their cars as a tool of trade but their vehicles do not fall into those exemptions. Small tourism operators and farmers are two important groups who will get slugged by this tax increase.

He is right. I say to Senator Fielding and the crossbenchers: there are a lot more groups out there in the community than just primary producers, or farmers, and tourism operators. Indeed, at the time Senator Fielding referred to ‘small tourism operators’. If you have a look at the detail of Senator Fielding’s amendment, you see that there is no limit to the number of vehicles that a tourism operator can buy in any one year. It could be 100 new motor vehicles, and Senator Fielding would still call them a small tourism operator according to his speech. But the one-man band who happens to be the local vet, the local plumber, the local fencing contractor, the local Australia Post contractor or the local general practitioner somehow gets forgotten. The big tourism operator, who might be buying 100 vehicles a year, is okay but all these other small businesses are not. Senator Fielding went on to say:

Family First also wants to see an exemption or some other way for four-wheel drive vehicles that are registered in rural areas, in recognition that families in rural and regional Australia are doing it tough.

What a great idea. We support the concept. That is why we moved a request for an amendment to exempt all vehicles from this iniquitous tax up to a threshold of $90,000. Guess who voted against it? All the crossbenchers—because they have done deals with each other inconsistent with their own policy pronouncements. Families are doing it tough in rural and regional Australia. I do not know why Family First think that it is only primary-producing families and tourism families that are doing it tough. Do Family First think that the local plumber is not doing it tough—or the local vet, the local fencing contractor, the local electrician and his or her family are not doing it tough? Of course they are, but they are not going to be looked after.

So what we have with Family First is a case of ‘all families are equal but some are more equal than others’. This is nearly like an Orwellian overtone, isn’t it? If you are a primary-producing family, Family First is with you. If you are in the tourism game, Family First will look after you and your family. But woe betide you if you are a plumber in rural or regional Australia—sorry, you are in that second category of families that Family First is not that concerned about. Quite frankly, I find it amazing that my good friend Senator Fielding and Family First have come to this position and accepted this position from the government. It is a sell-out of rural and regional Australia other than primary producers.

Let us move on to the definition that has been proffered to us in these amendments of what ‘a primary production business’ is. It is a whole lot of things, but it should be very interesting for supporters of the Australian Greens to learn that the Australian Greens will, in fact, be supporting this amendment when they take a look at what it includes. You get the exemption if you are buying a four-wheel drive vehicle for the purposes of primary production. The amendment states that you carry on a primary production business if you carry on a business of felling trees in a forest. This is going to be a tax break for those forest workers who harvest the old growth forests of Australia.

I do not mind that. I confess that our amendment, which was a catch-all, would have allowed for that to occur. We believe that everybody in that bracket of up to $90,000 should be exempted. The Australian Greens have lectured us for I do not know how long about the need for low-emission vehicles and about how they were setting the scene for Australia by becoming more responsible with fuel consumption. They are now all of a sudden providing tax relief for vehicles that consume up to 14.5 litres per 100 kilometres so that they can go about their job of harvesting Australia’s forests. It would be quite funny if it was not so sad and, in fact, two-faced. We support the forest industry. We have a very proud record of doing that.

The Greens and Family First, in their bizarre dealings that quite frankly nobody has been able to explain in this debate, are now voting for each other’s amendments in complete contradiction of what I believed these parties stood for. There are 34,000 breadwinners in the Australian car industry, most of them in the state of Victoria. The amendment that we as an opposition moved would have exempted, in effect, all Australian made vehicles from this extra tax impost. But Family First, which is based in Victoria, voted against out amendment—I do not know why—and supported an amendment which will make about 35 imported vehicles cheaper to purchase than Australian made vehicles. Do not tell me that that is not going to have a direct impact on the livelihoods of those 34,000 families who have breadwinners in the car manufacturing sector. There will be job losses as a result of this, let us make no bones about it. If you jack up the price, if you increase the price, you get fewer sales.

What does the automotive sector tell us? That it is in the higher price bracket vehicles that they start making a profit. About 10 per cent of the vehicles that are hit by the luxury car tax are Australian made. They will be hit. And, might I add, not one of the amendments that we have before us, whether Greens amendments or government amendments—there is a bit of confusion there; we might as well call them the Greens-Labor coalition amendments—benefits a single Australian motor vehicle. The government has acknowledged that. I took a look at Senator Fielding’s amendments to see whether there might be benefit, and there might be with the Ford Territory Ghia—possibly.

Then we have the very interesting aspect—and I will have to canvass this a bit later on, I fear—that in Senator Fielding’s amendment dealing with tourism operators we have the suggestion that the government might pass regulations and allow for other vehicles to be exempted. This Senate is entitled to know what, if any, deal has been struck between the government and Family First as to what vehicles they are going to exempt under the proposed regulations. Why can’t they have been legislated for, as they were with the emissions amendment from the government and the Greens? Specific reference was made to four-wheel drives by Senator Fielding in his amendment. But then there is a regulation that might allow other vehicles. What deal has been done? What vehicles and why?

I would also like to know why primary producers are only to have one vehicle exempted per annum under this proposal. If you are a small business and a primary producer, you are only allowed to have one vehicle per annum exempted. But if you are a small business and a tourism operator, you can have as many vehicles as you like exempted. Where is the fairness? Where is the justice? Why is it that a farming family is only worth one vehicle whereas a tourism family is allowed to have as many vehicles as it wants exempted from this tax hike—or tax grab, as Senator Fielding described it?

These amendments are very disappointing. But I would be very interested if Senator Fielding could respond to some questions. Why has a limit been placed on primary producers of only one vehicle but tourism operators have unlimited access to the exemption? Why does it only cover primary producers and tourism operators and not the hosts of other people who are doing it tough, as Senator Fielding acknowledges, out in rural and regional Australia?

Why do we have a mechanism under which these poor struggling families doing it tough, as Senator Fielding acknowledges, have to first of all come up with the money for this tax? Why do they have to extend their overdrafts for the privilege of paying this tax only to have it rebated to them at some later stage? Why not just exempt them from the tax and save them from having to increase their overdraft facilities? They will be paying interest on these funds for the sole purpose of paying the money and then having it paid back to them, one would imagine, a couple of months later. I thought that Family First was about looking after the interests of small business yet we have this bureaucratic and very costly mechanism being applied to this proposition. I would like to know why and how that helps small businesses, especially family businesses.