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Tuesday, 24 September 1974
Page: 1304

Senator DURACK (Western Australia) - This Bill removes the necessity to pay fees for broadcast and television receivers licences, as announced as part of the Budget last Tuesday by the Treasurer (Mr Crean). First of all I would like to protest that some of the Budget Bills have been proceeded with by this Government in advance of the time honoured custom of giving the Leader of the Opposition a week in which to reply to the Budget. As we all know, the Leader of the Opposition in another place, Mr Snedden, will be stating the Opposition's attitude to the Budget in a major speech in another place this evening. I think it is only right and appropriate that the Opposition should not be expected to respond to Budget measures in advance of the principal debate on the Budget which will commence this evening in another place and here tomorrow. If this Bill were the only one involved perhaps one would not make much of a protest but we have had brought into the Senate another important Budget Bill which has already been processed in the House of Representatives; that is the Bill increasing telephone and postal charges.

The Opposition does not oppose the abolition of the television and radio receivers licences under the Broadcasting and Television Bill now before the Senate. However, it does note a few anomalies in the Government's policy on this question. The prime anomaly that arises is that the Government in its policy on Post Office and telecommunications services has adopted very strongly the principle that the users of the services should pay for them. We will be debating in a few days time the Bill which has been introduced to increase greatly the charges for postal services and telecommunication services. It is a Bill which has been drafted on that basic principle, that is, that the users of the services should be paying for them. However, in relation to the service that people receive from the national broadcasting and television stations the Government has in this Budget now adopted the principle that they should not pay. We are not challenging that decision nor opposing the passage of this Bill. Nevertheless we must register our surprise at the anomaly which seems to exist in Government policy. Perhaps we should not be so surprised about it. We are becoming more and more familiar with many anomalies and contradictions in Government policy. They seem to be the order of the day and this just another of them. It is perhaps one which has not the great, major or fatal consequences to the nation that many other Government anomalies and rapid contradictions of policies and differing statements by Ministers on major issues have had.

The Government also justifies the abolition of these charges on the grounds that they are expensive to collect, and their collection is not very efficient. The Government estimates that probably $llm is lost annually because people are not paying for licences and, in fact, 23,000 people were prosecuted last year in that regard, is also said that the collection of these fees requires the employment of 247 people. So it would seem to me that the Government would have been on stronger ground in emphasising these reasons for the abolition of the charges instead of invoking some grand principle that the national service is providing information, educational, cultural and entertainment services to the community and that therefore the people should not be paying for it.

Another matter to be noted in relation to this decision is that $67m income for the Government will be forgone by this abolition. That is a very substantial amount. Obviously it has had to be paid for by the community and by the taxpayers generally. That may be one reason why the income tax reduction in this year's Budget stands at the rather curious figure of $430m instead of a round figure, which one would expect, of, say, $500m. It is interesting to note that the figure of $67m added to the savings in taxation would amount to such a figure. It is quite clear that the abolition of this fee has been at the expense of other taxation reductions in the Budget. This only emphasises the difficulty of debating a matter such as this in isolation and without considering the debate on the Budget generally. I have already protested about that.

It seems to be the case that as a result of forgoing such a major amount of income as $67m in a full year the taxpayers generally are having to pay more for it. We know that the Government is budgeting for an increase of no less than 46 per cent overall in the revenue from income taxation. So to present this proposal as being in any great way a reduction in the burden of taxation on the community is a good deal of eyewash. There may be some sound, practical reasons for the abolition of this fee, as I have already indicated. The Opposition does not challenge them. It is not opposing them. But I think it would be foolish for the electorate to believe that it was really benefiting to any extent by this abolition. The Government may think that some political advantage is to be gained in that people will suddenly not have to pay the fee and will think therefore that the Government has given them some great stroke of benefit. But as we all know, this year there will be an overall increase of 46 per cent in income tax paid by the taxpayers generally throughout the community. That will apply not only to the affluent but also will apply pretty generally. Because of the present rate of inflation the present lower income earners will rapidly reach the higher income brackets and will pay more tax.

I wish to advert to one other aspect of the Bill, and that is the question of refunds of licence fees that have already been paid. Apparently it is the Government's policy that those people who have paid a television or radio licence fee in advance of the day of abolition- namely, 17 Septemberfor a period commencing beyond 17 September will be entitled to a refund that anybody who has paid prior to or presumably on 17 September for a whole year's licence fee for the year ahead will not be entitled to a refund. So there are great anomalies there. The people who took out their licences within a few days or a few weeks of the Budget on 17 September in the expectation that they would be paying a fee for 12 months hence will be severely disadvantaged as compared with those whose licence fees would be due for renewal in the weeks or even months immediately following 1 7 September.

I believe that another anomaly has been created by the Government's policy in this regard. The community and certainly we in the Opposition are not surprised by the anomalies and contradictions in the Government's policy. However, as I have said, the Opposition is not opposing this legislation. It can see some good arguments in favour of the abolition of these fees. The Postmaster-General (Senator Bishop) has indicated some of those practical arguments in favour of the abolition. The Opposition accepts them and does not oppose the measure.

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