Doorstop Melbourne: GST, pensions, Tasmanian petrol subsidy

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July 4, 2000
Doorstop Interview Melbourne: Tax Reform
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Doorstop Melbourne: GST, pensions, Tasmanian petrol subsidy

Transcript No. 2000/75




Acting Prime Minister





Wednesday, 5 July 2000


SUBJECTS: GST, pensions, Tasmanian petrol subsidy.


We assume by your demeanor that all is well on the GST front.



We’ve just taken reports this morning, as we do on a daily basis from the

Commissioner of Taxation, also from the Chairman of the Competition Commission. The

Commissioner has just been reporting that the number of calls has come off a bit, about

35,000, which is actually down from last week. He says the tenor of the calls is changing,

they are now more factual kinds of calls about invoices and remittances and the PAYG

system. But we can report that the introduction of the GST seems to be continuing on quite

a smooth basis. There will be a lot more questions and I’d encourage those business

operators that have questions to ring in to the tax information line. We now have a lot of

unused capacity. A lot of lines that are open and the Tax Office stands ready, willing and

able to give them answers to their queries.



But nothing this complex could go off faultlessly. What has proved to be the biggest




Well, there’s going to be continuing information, I think, that’s going to be

needed. And I expect that the calls both on the application of the tax and on pricing will

continue, and we’d encourage people to do that. I agree with the point. You

don’t start a New Tax System from scratch on day one without questions. The old tax

system was in place for 70 years. Now the new one is going to be a lot better to

administer, but there are bound to questions and I’d encourage those people that have

questions to ring into the Tax Office, to make sure that they get answers. There’s a

lot of unused capacity there and if in doubt ring in and get an answer.



We’ve had some information this morning from a man on ABC’s AM Program who

lost his pension. He has after some trouble had it reinstated. You’re talking about

the Tax Office, what other mechanisms are you going to put in place to ensure that people

can get the same sort of information and assistance if they have problems with pensions?



Well pensions are handled out of Centrelink and we’ve been in touch with

Centrelink today. They are reporting that they’ve been able to handle their

inquiries. But I say this, anyone who is on a pension, as of Saturday, is entitled to an

increase in their pension, with an increase in the assets and the income tests, and they

should be ensuring that they get it. I also say to people who are receiving family

assistance, anybody who is on family assistance from Saturday is entitled to the increases

which became payable from Saturday and there were easings in relation to the income test.

If you have any problems get onto Centrelink. The Centrelink offices have been instructed

to assist people. Don’t take no for an answer. Ensure that you get all of your

entitlements and get onto those hotlines.



How much of an embarrassment is it though that you actually have to say to pensioners

“Don’t take no for an answer from Centrelink.” Should it not be that

pensioners are looked after? We shouldn’t have to treat Centrelink like that surely.



Well pensioners are looked after. And in fact every pensioner, every person who is on

the pension is getting an increase in their pension. There are new people that are going

to become eligible for pensions as a result of these tax changes. So I think Centrelink is

ensuring that people get all of their entitlements. And as I said earlier there should be

more people receiving higher pensions as a consequence of tax reform.



But do you accept that a serious mistake was made?



Look, in relation to pensions, I think the probabilities are for the last 50 years,

there have been mistakes made on pensions. I think pensions in this country were

introduced probably more than 50 years ago. And I warrant to you, on every one of those

days in the last 50 years, mistakes were made in pensions. I don’t think mistakes on

pensions if they have occurred were a new phenomenon that appeared on the Australian

landscape for the first time in the last two days.



What action are you planning to take if the Tasmanian Government fails to reinstate

petrol subsidies?



Well I want to make this entirely clear, that the State Governments are funded by the

Commonwealth to pay petrol subsidies. Tasmania is being funded by the Commonwealth to pay

its subsidy of about 1.9 cents per litre. Now Tasmania can’t take that money and

refuse to pass it on to the motorists. And to see a Labor Government, on the 30th

of June wipe out a subsidy for which it was being funded, in a transparent attempt to try

and say that prices had risen because of the New Tax System, when they knew that they were

withdrawing a subsidy which could only have one effect; namely to put up prices. I think

it is regrettable conduct. And to see this from the Labor Party which has been talking

about petrol prices. Now I call on the Tasmanian Government and the Tasmanian Labor

Treasurer, Dr David Crean, to reinstate that subsidy immediately, and I call upon the

Federal Labor Party leadership, Mr Beazley and Mr Crean to demand that the Tasmanian Labor

Government fall into line. This is now a problem for Kim Beazley. Kim Beazley has been

running around complaining about prices and where do we see the attack come from? From a

Labor Government.



Are you saying it was an attempt to damage public perception of your tax reform?



It was an attempt to take the tax reform as a cover, to withdraw the subsidy and

therefore to try and confuse people into thinking that somehow petrol prices had risen

because of the New Tax System. Remember the Labor Party was running around saying that the

New Tax System would increase prices. And then on the 30th of June, what do we

find a Labor State doing, we find it withdrawing a subsidy. Now they were obviously going

to try and point the finger at Canberra. They have been caught. Now Queensland tried the

same thing you will recall. Queensland, Mr Beattie, was going to try and withdraw his

subsidy and when he was caught, he reversed his decision. He is continuing it. The

Northern Territory raised it, and when I sought talks with them they gave written

confirmation that they would keep their subsidy. When Western Australia raised it and we

had discussions with them, they confirmed they would keep their subsidy. When Mr Bracks

raised it, Mr Bracks confirmed that he would keep his subsidy. We now have this situation

where the following states are keeping their subsidies – Queensland, New South Wales,

Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory. There is only

one state that is trying to get away with this. It is the Tasmanian Labor Government.



Do you have any other plans other than demanding they re-instate it? Is there any other

sort of action you are planning to take?



Well I said yesterday, we are not going to pay a subsidy to the Tasmanian Government to

subsidise petrol if it is not going to subsidise petrol. You don’t send them a cheque

and say, here is a cheque to pay a subsidy when they are not passing it on. And if they

don’t re-instate it, they won’t be getting the subsidy from the Commonwealth I

can assure you of that.



From when? From now?



The Commonwealth will put some other scheme in place which will protect the Tasmanian

motorist. But I say to Dr David Crean and the Labor Party of Tasmania, that they ought to

re-instate that scheme immediately. It is the quickest way of fixing this. A couple of the

other Labor State Governments toyed with the idea, they couldn’t get away with it.

The Tasmanian Government will not get away with it. It is not worth continuing on with

this. They ought to continue that subsidy and use the Federal funds for the purpose to

which they have been given.



Treasurer you’ve mentioned David Crean rather than the Tasmanian Premier. Do you

think there is, are you suggesting there is collusion between the Crean brothers?



No. I am just saying this: he is the State Treasurer and he is the person responsible

for paying that subsidy. And, you know, if it were Joe Smith, I’d be calling on Joe

Smith to do the same thing. But he is a Labor Party Treasurer and the Labor Party is

making all this big fuss about petrol prices. We come to the end of the day and who do we

find actually withdrawing subsidies in a way that will increase petrol prices – the

Labor Party. Now, you know, those sleuths that are out there every day, Beazley and Crean,

sleuthing around looking for price increases, seemed to have missed it in the only place

that it actually took place, down in Tasmania under a Labor Government. Now, you and I

know Crean and Beazley are able to turn on hysteria acts at the drop of a hat. So I

suggest you go and find them. I presume they will be starting to get quite hysterical

about what’s happening in Tasmania.



So as of what date will the cheques stop going to Tasmania?




Well, I’m appealing to the Tasmanian Labor Government to do the right thing. I

appealed to Mr Beattie to do the right thing and he changed his mind. I appealed to Mike

Reed, the Northern Territory Treasurer to do the right think and he’s doing it.

Premier Court is doing it. We had this same argument in New South Wales over low alcohol

beer. Everybody said, well, what financial penalty are you going to put on Mr Egan. I

appealed to Mr Egan to do the right thing and at 9 o’clock on Monday he did. And

I’m not going to go the big stick until the Tasmanian Labor Government has been given

every opportunity. And I appeal to them, do the right thing by your motorists. And I make

this point to the motorists of Tasmania, we are not going to continue to pay a subsidy to

the Tasmanian Government for motorists if they won’t pass it on. We will find another

way of protecting them. Thanks.