Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (1:18 PM) -I rise to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (2009 GST Administration Measures) Bill 2009. This bill seeks to implement a number of recommendations made by the Board of Taxation in its recent review of GST administration. The intention is to reduce GST administration costs and to streamline and remove anomalies in the GST administration framework.
There are six schedules relating to this bill, which I will briefly touch on. Before I do, it was with a real sense of nostalgia that I saw this particular piece of legislation listed. I got a little bit misty-eyed thinking back to my days in the former Treasurer’s office, working on the new tax system and the GST-and I also got a bit nostalgic for the old member for Griffith and the way he used to be. I reached back for that fantastic speech by the member for Griffith of 30 June 1999. I know it is a favourite of those opposite as well, because they warmly embrace every contribution the member for Griffith has made in the parliament. Of course I am referring to the speech where the member for Griffith said:
When the history of this parliament, this nation and this century is written, 30 June 1999 will be recorded as a day of fundamental injustice-an injustice which is real, an injustice which is not simply conjured up by the fleeting rhetoric of politicians. It will be recorded as the day when the social compact that has governed this nation for the last 100 years was torn up. It will be recorded as the day when the nation’s taxation system moved from progressivity to regressivity. It will be recorded as the day when the parliament of the country said to the poor of the country that they could all go and take a running jump. And it will be recorded as the day which marked the beginning of the end of tied grants to the states-grants which have underpinned much of the social development of the nation over the last quarter century. The national tragedy is this: so much of what is being done here today is not able to be undone or, if so, not for a long time.
That, of course, was the member for Griffith talking about legislation to introduce a goods and services tax.
Senator Brandis -Who said this rubbish?
Senator FIFIELD -The member for Griffith, Senator Brandis. There was one other absolute gem in the speech, which I want to share with you! It was the member for Griffith referring to the then Treasurer. He said that he is:
… almost like a personality permanently in search of sincerity …
‘Almost like a personality permanently in search of sincerity’. There are three words which came to mind when I read that: ‘pot’, ‘kettle’ and ‘black’. But that is just a historical aside.
The purpose of non-controversial legislation, discussed at this particular time in the diary of the Senate each week, is to facilitate legislation easily and quickly and without controversy. But I do not think it is controversial to try to put things into historical perspective. I think that is something that all senators enjoy and appreciate, because we have a much greater sense of history in this place than they do in the other place.
Mr Acting Deputy President, you will recall the concept of rollback. It was once the Australian Labor Party’s policy to roll back the GST. I have a terrific document here which was a good summary of this policy-not produced by the government but by those on this side of the chamber. It was the Labor Party’s position that the GST was so reprehensible-as put so eloquently by the member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd-that it had to be rolled back. It was such a fundamental injustice. I can imagine the member for Griffith and many of those opposite being devastated when the Australian Labor Party abandoned the policy of rollback and when the Labor Party said that the GST had to be kept. Given that Fundamental Injustice Day was 10 years ago, I can only imagine how the member for Griffith felt when he became the leader of the Australian Labor Party. His first thought would have been: ‘Terrific! I am now the Labor leader. I can bring back the policy of rollback, I can become Prime Minister and I can abolish the GST. I can do that which I really vowed to do on Fundamental Injustice Day: get rid of this evil GST.’ I am sure that was the first thought of the member for Griffith when he became Labor leader, and then when he was elected as Prime Minister he would have thought, ‘Great, I can do this.’
The member for Griffith did return to the policy of rollback, but it was not a policy to roll back the levying of the GST; it was a policy to roll back-or probably ‘pull back’ would be a better term-the GST revenues from the states and to redirect them elsewhere. Far from being opposed to the GST, the member for Griffith is now the greatest supporter and fan of the GST, because he is looking to GST revenues to fund one of his fundamental commitments. It is interesting to see how he has changed over time. The words he used to describe the former Treasurer ‘almost like a personality permanently in search of sincerity’ applies a little more to the member for Griffith these days. Mr Acting Deputy President, you might accuse me of slightly digressing, and I know you are desperate to hear what is in the six schedules relating to this bill-
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT -Senator Fifield, don’t plead guilty before you have been charged, but I ask you to focus on the bill. Let us get through the debate.
Senator FIFIELD -Your wish is my command. You are champing at the bit to know what is in the six schedules of the bill, so this is what is in them. Schedule 1 seeks to amend the A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999, the Fuel Tax Act 2006 and the Taxation Administration Act 1953 so that input tax credits and fuel tax credits must be claimed within a four-year period. However, it does provide exceptions to the four-year restriction so that, where GST may be borne after four years, taxpayers can potentially claim associated input tax credits.
Schedule 2 seeks to extend the Tourist Refund Scheme to allow residents of Australian external territories, such as Norfolk Island and Christmas Island, to claim refunds of GST or GST and wine equalisation tax for goods separately exported to the external territories. Schedule 3 implements recommendation 40 of the board’s report by allowing intermediaries that facilitate transactions but are not common-law agents to be able to use the simplified accounting provisions of the GST Act. These procedures include the ability to issue tax invoices and adjustment notes in their own names. These new arrangements will include other intermediaries, such as billing agents and paying agents.
Schedule 4 seeks to clarify how the GST law applies to gambling operators making GST-free supplies, including where the operators accept wagers from entities outside Australia. Schedule 5 clarifies the law to specify that overpaid refunds are due and payable from the date of overpayment. The last schedule, schedule 6, addresses anomalous outcomes that may arise as a result of the interaction between various GST provisions in relation to supplies between associates for no consideration.
This side of the chamber is delighted that the government warmly embraces the GST and sees the need to maintain that part of the Australian tax base, and the coalition is very happy to support this legislation.