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Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Page: 9409

Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:12): We know that this government has a huge table piled with stuff, but those opposite cannot seem to agree on exactly what that stuff is. Our Prime Minister is unshakeable from the assertion that everything is on the table—and this includes a hit to the cost of living for every single Australian through a GST hike. In fact, in a recent interview with 5AA in Adelaide, the Prime Minister was very clear that the GST holds a prominent place in his planned changes to our taxation system. On this issue, Prime Minister Turnbull said:

I know Stephen very much shares my view which is that changes to the GST should be on the table.

But last week in this place, my Tasmanian colleague Senator Colbeck seemed blissfully unaware of his leader's intentions when he told question time last week that there was no proposal on the table from the government. Perhaps Senator Colbeck knows exactly what his leader is really planning but he is trying to distance himself from it. He knows, like I do, that a GST hike would be bad for Tasmania. It would be bad for Tasmanian workers, bad for Tasmanian pensioners, bad for those seeking work and bad for all Tasmanian families. It would also be bad for Tasmanian businesses—businesses like our salmon and apple producers, who would suffer the double hit of trying to sell their goods at a higher price to Australians who will have less money.

I am particularly concerned that those opposite are planning to slug the GST charge on the price of fresh food, which is currently exempt. We know that many fresh foods are already more expensive than some far less nutritious offerings on the supermarket shelves. We know that grocery bills are already forcing Australians to make difficult decisions when their need for a healthy diet comes into direct conflict with the money that they have in their wallets. If the GST were applied to fresh food, it would be inevitable that financial realities would lead many Australians to forgo fresh food in favour of cheaper junk food and inevitably our health outcomes would suffer, but those opposite do not seem to care about that. We need to be encouraging Australians to eat more of our amazing fresh produce—like Tasmanian salmon and apples—not putting it out of their reach.

The obvious discrepancy between our Prime Minister and our tourism minister is not the only inconsistency in the ranks of our government when it comes to the GST. On one hand we have the Prime Minister talking in soothing words about fairness. He assures us that poor Australians will not be worse off and he tells us that there will be compensation packages to make up for the hike in the cost of living for those on low incomes. Then on the other hand we have his Treasurer, Mr Scott Morrison, saying that, 'Any change to the GST would not result in a greater tax take from the federal government.' He tells us that if a GST were brought in it would be counterbalanced by tax cuts in other areas. It does not take an economist to work out these two statements are mutually incompatible.

Let us be clear, the GST is a regressive tax. It is the basic reality that the less you earn the more you have to shell out as a proportion of your income on the GST. If you are going to hike the GST but cut income tax without increasing the overall tax take, you are just replacing a progressive tax with a regressive one and that, by definition, will hit the poorest people in the country. Who do you think is going to benefit out of this? The richest in the country. The most wealthy in our society. This is a government that jumps and shouts about a plan to cut down on smoking but will not reject a tax hike on fresh fruit and vegetables—talk about twisted priorities. Swapping a progressive tax for a regressive one is not about reform. It is a lazy swipe at low-income Australians. Hiking the cost of living for everyday working Australians with no net budgetary benefit is not good economic management; it is just a cheap attack on the most vulnerable people in our society. Adding a GST burden to the cost of fresh food is not a choice that is in the national interest. It is a recipe for a health disaster. (Time expired)