Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (3:22 PM) -I have a confession to make. I hesitate to do so, because I fear I might earn the ire of Senator Adams and Senator Cormann, but I am actually quite a fan of Senator Conroy. I know the Prime Minister is not, so I am very proud to stand with Senator Conroy today. I think he more closely approximates an economic rationalist than most of his Labor colleagues, putting a box around the NBN. What’s $42 billion between friends? He is very solid on the US alliance and he is a bit of a fan of free trade. I think many of my colleagues on this side were very sad when Senator Conroy lost his position in this chamber representing the Treasurer, so I was delighted today to see Senator Conroy reprise that role in the absence of Senator Sherry.
It is because I am such a fan of Senator Conroy that I felt disappointed by him today-or let down would probably be a better way of putting it. That is why I feel compelled to join in the debate today to take note of his lack of answers to Senator Joyce’s questions on the Henry tax review. I think we all remember when the Henry tax review was announced on 13 May 2008-almost two years ago-the excitement about and anticipation of the review. The review was announced in the context that there had not been-and I quote from the press release of the Treasurer, Mr Swan-‘a comprehensive review of the Australian taxation system, including state taxes, for at least the last 50 years’. That is true if you ignore the new tax system of the coalition. It is also true if you ignore that great economic summit down at Old Parliament House, out of which came the famous option C: the Keating consumption tax model. If you ignore those two significant events, Mr Swan’s statement is true.
We were extremely excited when we heard about the tax review. At that time we were told that the final report to the Treasurer would be by the end of 2009. The government were true to their word: on the death knock of 2009-I think it was Christmas Eve-the report was handed to the Treasurer. We have waited and waited and waited for the government’s response, but waiting is sometimes a good thing because it gives you a chance to reflect. While I have been waiting I have been reflecting on another project that Dr Henry was deeply and intimately involved with, and that of course was the new tax system-the GST. I recall the response of the member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd, at that time when he 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 governed this nation for the last 100 years was torn up.
He went on:
It will be recorded as the day when the parliament of this country said to the poor of the country that they could all go and take a running jump.
The member for Griffith would have been extremely disappointed when the then leader of his party, Mr Beazley, announced the end of the rollback policy. Labor were going to abandon the rollback policy of repealing the GST. I was incredibly surprised that the Henry review specifically said that it would look all Australian government taxes except the GST, because I would have thought that, remembering Fundamental Injustice Day, the member for Griffith would have thought, ‘The first thing I want to do with a new tax system is abolish the GST,’ which he did not do. I am glad he did not, because I think the GST was an important reform. Clearly this government does not have the strength of its own convictions.
The Treasurer, on the Insiders program a few weeks ago, finally declared that we would have the benefit of the Henry review by the budget. He did not say ‘before the budget’; he said ‘by the budget’. The reason was that this is a review that this government wants to bury. Senator Bishop did acknowledge the work of the Howard government and the previous Keating government in tax. This government has yet to do anything on tax. It will not do anything on tax. It wants to bury this review. This is not a reformist government.
Question agreed to.