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Parliament House, Canberra, 26 August 1998: transcript of doorstop interview [tax; election; Job Network ]



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LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

 

TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA,

26 AUGUST 1998

Subjects: Tax, election, Job Network

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Do you think that haircut will last the distance of an election campaign?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

No, I do think I’ll need one or two more trims during the course of an election campaign. But, you know, we’ve had a banana republic style propaganda campaign by our Liberal opponents over the last couple of weeks - an outrageous expenditure of taxpayers’ dollars. Probably, an irregular expenditure of taxpayers’ dollars to try to convince the Australian people that they need a risky new huge tax. Well, the risky new huge tax is just an old European tax. The notion that it helps the economy is just snake oil. And that’s the snake oil that Mr Howard is going to try and take to the polls.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

What’s the latest move, though, in that investigation into the $10 million ad campaign?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, the matter is now before the Auditor-General. But I used to have responsibility for the Minister for Finance’s advance. And that advance is there exclusively for the unanticipated. There’s nothing unanticipated about Mr Howard’s tax package or it’s advertising.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

How confident are you that the electorate will buy Labor’s tax package?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

We’re going to put forward a package which is not just about introducing a new tax. It’s going to be about building a nation, part of the plan for building a nation. We have got to look forward as a people. We have got to have a view of life that sees us as a competitive nation for the long-term. Mr Howard’s tax package - an old, often failing European tax, is not an answer to that.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Are you ready to go to an election campaign

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, we are ready as the Opposition any time. We don’t determine when an election campaign ought to occur. But Mr Howard is feeding speculation of an early election. There doesn’t need to be a double dissolution. And he feeds the speculation of an early election because he knows that the more people get to know his tax package the more they know it’s just an old European tax. That the tax does not deal with the black economy. The tax is essentially unfair. The tax is hard on small business, hard for small business to organise. And he knows the longer it is out there the more discredited it will become.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

So, are you saying that Labor will be offering battlers tax cuts of probably double what the Government is proposing?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, you will see tomorrow, when our package is p roduced, what it actually does. But we don’t regard it in the context of ‘here’s our offer, there’s their offer’. We are playing on a different chess board. What we are trying to do is to reward work and encourage people to undertake work. I mean, everywhere I go, at some point of time during a public meeting I’ll be holding somebody will put up their hand and say, ‘look, it’s not worth my working. I’m a battler on $35,000 a year. Every time I earn an overtime dollar, every time I do an extra hour, I lose most of it’. And that is true, they do lose most of it. So, what we are going to do is to provide an incentive to work. We are about developing and expanding the economy - not putting a great clamp of a new tax on top of it to stultify it.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

What about the public health system? It’s also reported that you’re going to be offering...package for public hospitals.

 

BEAZLEY:

 

We’re going to be saying something about public hospitals. Mr Howard in his tax package reinforced failure having made a complete mess of his rebate proposal so that even folk like Jeff Kennett criticised it and Richard Court criticised it as failing the public hospital system. What he’s decided to do is to double it. That’s his answer. When you have failure - double it. That’s the John Howard approach because it happens to suit John Howard’s prejudices about the public hospital system. We say, ‘go to the source of the problem’. The source of the problem is the public health system. Today we get reports of more closures of wards in regional NSW. You’ve got closures of wards in my home state, in my home town in Western Australia. The public hospital system is in crisis. It has been put in crisis by the Federal and State Governments. It has to be taken out of crisis by the Federal Government. And we will have a package to deal with that.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Are smokers going to be slugged, though, are they going to be the ones who will be coughing this up?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, wait and see tomorrow. Look, we absolutely are of this view that when you decide to do something in the public sector you do have to pay for it. There’s no question about that. The money for the public hospital system doesn’t come out of thin air. It comes out of dollars raised from the Australian taxpayer to deal with the problems that the Australian taxpayer faces. There’s no pain without gain in this business. And it applies whether it be in the public health system or any other area of social expenditure.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

So, will the electorate buy that extra cost on their ciggies and alcohol to increase funding for public hospitals?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, they face that extra cost in relation to the question of cigarettes from Mr Howard’s package. But it’s going nowhere except, apparently, to reinforce failure with a doubling up of his failed rebate. So, that’s no answer. What people need is good use of taxpayers’ dollars. People will pay taxes when they think they’re being spent properly. And spending it on making the public hospital system work for all of us - we all need the public hospital system. If you get really, really sick that’s where you end up. You don’t end up in private health care, you end up in the public hospital system.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

So, are you ruling out, then, Labor accepting the second stage of that rebate? Sticking with that policy?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

We completely oppose the propositions they’ve put forward. We’ve said, ‘OK, the rebate is there now’. And we will accept the rebate as it is because to do so would create confusion for an awful lot of people in the private system. But we know this, from our experience of that rebate, that simply increasing it in the way in which John Howard has done and giving it to millionaires is only going to provide yet another opportunity for premiums to rise. That is not the answer to the public hospital system. The answer to the public hospital system is to spend money on public hospitals.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

You’ve flagged Labor’s tax package as fairly modest approach compared to, say, a GST and that sort of radical change as such. How would you describe, or what are you expecting the electorate’s response to be tomorrow?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, Mr Howard’s package is so risky. That’s the extraordinary thing about this election campaign. It is the Labor Party that goes in with the forward looking policies and not the heavy risk. It’s risky because it’s too impactful on the Budget surplus. It is risky because it is coming in - a new tax which is a tax on jobs - at a time when jobs in this country are going to be very much under threat. It is risky because of its inequity. It’s a huge imposition on middle Australia, and particularly in the elderly. So, John Howard’s package is a very risky one. A very risky one, indeed, for all of us. Our package is going to be about tax reform where people want it. What do people want out of tax reform? The people of Australia profoundly believe that a number of Australians get away without paying their fair share. And when they ask for tax reform they ask for tax reform to ensure that everybody pays their fair share. Well, the Labor Party is going to be about everybody paying their fair share, and having paid their fair share, then opportunities to be created for us to get jobs, to grow, to do business, to innovate and to encourage people who are discouraged from entering the workforce to do so.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

Faced wit h a cynical electorate, why should they believe you?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, they should believe us because ours will be within manageable financial conditions. That’s what ours is. Theirs is not. They have a risky new tax and they rely heavily for the benefits, allegedly, from it, on a Budget surplus which, whilst there to some degree, is nowhere near the degree which they have claimed. And it’s a very risky proposition on their part. Ours will be without that risk.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

And, finally, this afternoon you’ve got your Shadow Cabinet meeting. What are you expecting there?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

This will be an opportunity for us to talk through the tax package. Most of our Shadow Ministers are familiar with the various aspects of it. They will get the final detail of it. We have not been as secretive about our intentions as our political opponents have been. So, they’re pretty well aware of it. They’ll get a chance to have a look at that. We’ll be discussing one or two other things as well at that Shadow Cabinet meeting. It seems to be the possibility that it is the last one on that we’ll be holding before the calling of an election campaign. So, I’ll be telling them to go cheerfully forward.

 

JOURNALIST:

 

What will you be doing about jobs, Mr Beazley?

 

BEAZLEY:

 

Well, it’s not a bad start to encourage people to innovate and invest when you’re dealing with jobs. And during the course of the election campaign, as well as what you’ll see tomorrow, we’ll have further things to say about providing jobs. It’s well that you raise that today because today, of course, marks a day of formal public recognition by the Government of the utter failure of its ideologically driven employment services. They have created a crisis for Australia’s unemployed. They are so lucky that they have had as an overlay of the issues in politics of the last two or three weeks, the tax issue. Because, had that not occurred, then the scandalous performance of their employment services would have been the front page news on every paper in Australia - and rightly so. Because our unemployed are being treated with absolute scorn by this Government. So, we will have an employment package in there that works. But I would ask Australians to think about this: the Government that has failed with its health rebate, the Government that has failed with its industrial relations reforms, the Government that has failed with its employment services. Is this the Government that can actually deliver you tax change?

 

ends

 

 

KD