Wednesday, 28 May 2008
Tax Laws Amendment (Luxury Car Tax) Bill 2008
Consideration in detail
Before question time I was referring to luxury car tax. My daughter drives an SUV, but it is a very small SUV. They are very high off the ground; they have a very small wheelbase and are prone to instability. You need a very big car with a very wide wheelbase to be stable. A few days before Christmas, she rolled the car on the highway and from the evidence it is thought she rolled some six times. She was very nearly killed. If she had been driving a vehicle with a wider wheelbase then in all probability the car would not have rolled. For those of us who have to drive very great distances, this is a reality for us. Both my daughter and my son live in Mount Isa, some 800 kilometres away from our home in Charters Towers.
In its wisdom, for the past 20-odd years, the government of Australia has allocated members in rural areas very wide wheelbase vehicles. The reason for that was the tragic death of the wife of the then member for Riverina—a good friend of my father’s—and it was decided that where we were driving great distances in country areas, we needed a bigger and more stable car. The very wide, big cars were made available to us. If we applied those rules to ourselves, for our benefit, it is terribly unfair for us to say that people should be charged a punitive tax for adopting exactly the same principle. It is really bad that we would set one set of rules for ourselves and another set of rules for other people. Knowing the government as I do, whatever their political hue, maybe the solution to that would be taking our vehicles away.
I used those two examples, and I can also remember driving some 320 kilometres up to our cattle station in a Toyota HiLux—very unstable vehicles, but we could not afford much more in those days—and my eyes were bulging and my teeth were hanging out and sand was in my eyes. Driving back with a mate in his LandCruiser was such a pleasure. When you arrived at the town you were still ready for a day’s work.
So what is most certainly a luxury in the Ascots and Clayfields of Queensland and the Vaucluses of Sydney is most certainly not luxury for the people that I represent. They are a very great necessity for us. We have very high death tolls on the roads—the accident toll in Queensland is really mostly outside of the south-east corner and outside of Brisbane—and the more stable the cars that we have, the better it will be. God was very good—my daughter escaped without serious injury from her accident. When she was buying the vehicle I explained to her that it had a very narrow wheelbase and would be very unstable on the road. She could have bought something that was much lower to the ground that was not an SUV and she most certainly could not afford a big SUV. So as late as a few months ago it was brought home with a vengeance to my family the necessity for having wide wheelbase vehicles.
I have to say there is an element of hypocrisy on the side of the opposition. For the new members of parliament here, it was the opposition that introduced the 25 per cent tax on luxury vehicles. This mob have only put 10 per cent on it. I do not want the ministers to interpret that as suggesting they should try to catch up by making it 25 per cent, the same as the other mob did. The opposition are new in opposition, and they should try to veer away from what is arch hypocrisy. To get up, as previous speakers did— (Time expired)
Both I and the opposition have some sympathy for the intent of the amendment moved by the honourable member for New England. It raises one of the serious anomalies in this legislation, but it is not the only one. There are quite a number of significant issues that need to be addressed in this legislation. It is hard to argue against a penalty tax on Lamborghinis and Rolls Royces, but I do not think it is okay to put luxury tax on a large vehicle that is necessary to accommodate the needs of a large family. I do not think it is appropriate that there should be a luxury tax on the extra safety features that may in fact take the cost of a vehicle over the trigger figure for the luxury tax. Nor do I think it is appropriate that there should be a luxury tax on four-wheel drive vehicles that are necessary and required in rural and regional areas where the road systems are poor. So there are serious deficiencies in this legislation, and that is why the opposition proposes that this measure should be dealt with in some detail by Senate committees, for them to look at the various issues and to devise an appropriate response.
I find it difficult to support the amendment of the honourable member for New England because I believe his proposal would be easily rorted. If every four-wheel drive vehicle registered in a rural area was to be exempted, it would be a simple matter of registering your vehicle in a country town and then driving it to Melbourne or wherever you want it to be. In fact, it would be a city based vehicle. I do not think this, therefore, is an appropriate amendment to the legislation. I believe this issue must be addressed in the amendments that will eventually be proposed for this legislation.
In saying that I think this amendment is flawed in its drafting, I do not intend to be critical of the member for New England, because he, like the opposition, had this bill dumped on him in a day with the expectation that it would be debated and through the House in a very short period of time. In common with a whole series of other legislation, this bill was dumped on the House last night and the government expects it to be brought through without giving people any proper opportunity to effectively consider it. What this government has done in bringing legislation in is without precedent. It is difficult for oppositions and Independent members to develop the full suite of amendments that need to be made to legislation like this in the available time. We intend to use the Senate process. If the member for New England wants to make a constructive contribution in this area, I hope he would also be willing to give evidence to the committee and to put forward his proposals.
So, whilst the opposition believe that the member for New England has raised a legitimate issue and one that must be addressed, we do not believe that the drafting of this amendment is an effective way to deal with the issue. This matter requires more detailed consideration. I note that the government, according to media reports, has also acknowledged that there are problems with this legislation and that it intends to refer the whole issue now to its own tax review for report in a year and a half. The government might be willing to indicate whether the whole thing is going to be put on hold for a year and a half, which means there is no need to rush this legislation through the parliament, or whether it is just going to have a review after the event, which I do not think is very appropriate.
This issue raises the same sorts of questions about GST on a tax—a tax on a tax. They have now referred the fuel issue to the tax review. There are, of course, lots of other cases of taxes on taxes. If that is an issue of principle that the government is now concerned about, it certainly needs to take that into account on matters such as this. So the legislation is defective. Amendments will be required. This proposal by the member for New England, while honourable in intent, will create a range of difficulties and will not really solve the problem for people who live in regional areas.
For the National Party to be concerned about rorting is absolutely beyond belief. For the Leader of the National Party to come in here and say that an amendment to this legislation that stands up for country people would be rorted! I think he should take another five minutes to explain how this could be rorted. I cannot believe he even used the word ‘rorting’ after what he has been through in the last few years. We have had an audit inquiry into the rorting of the Regional Partnerships processes, the breaches of the Financial Management and Accountability Act as well as the program’s whole guidelines. No wonder the Leader of the National Party has left the chamber.
To come in here and condemn my well-meaning amendment—supported by the member for Kennedy—to a rather stupid piece of legislation that the government has put up and say it is something that could be rorted says to me that the National Party have done absolutely no homework on any of this. They have assumed that, by just opposing the government, the legislation will drift through and the government will get the blame for it. I do not think the government will be totally getting the blame for this. If the National Party do not support the amendment, they will clearly display that they really do not care about this issue.
The shadow Treasurer spoke at great lengths about these people in the bush and their country vehicles. He said he had great sympathy for those with LandCruisers and believed that these vehicles should not be classified as luxury vehicles. But he will not vote that way. It is becoming a bit of a trademark for him—he says one thing to please one constituency and does another to please another constituency.
The member for Kennedy and I will be dividing the House. It is a great shame that the member for O’Connor will not be able to join us, because I am sure that, given his very clear enunciation of support for these amendments, he would have supported this amendment. This amendment will exempt from the legislation people who live in rural areas. It is very clear. If the Leader of the National Party can describe how that can be rorted, I would be very pleased to know because he did not do that in his five-minute speech. I encourage the government to reconsider, the minister to reconsider and the opposition, if they are serious about this legislation, to support the amendment.
It is narrow axle width as well as short wheelbase. The statement made by the National Party insults the intelligence of every rural person in Australia. Quite clearly, if the vehicle is registered rural and the person is living in the city then it would be in breach of the tax act. It would be construed as an attempt to dodge tax and, of course, it would be considered that way by the tax department. So it is an act of hypocrisy. We will see how they vote. They will vote how they are told to by the Liberal Party, and they soon will be the Liberal Party.
As well intentioned as I am sure the member for New England and the member for Kennedy are in respect of this amendment—both of them have my deepest respect—the government will be supporting its legislation before the chamber unamended. We believe that the Tax Laws Amendment (Luxury Car Tax) Bill 2008 is good legislation. It is good legislation as part of our budget, which will deliver a $22 billion surplus to put downward pressure on inflation and downward pressure on interest rates. We believe that it is critical that the integrity of our budget be supported by the parliament in both houses. We believe that particularly in the context of the fact that the government has, through the budget, put forward proposals entirely consistent with the mandate that we received on 24 November last year.
The opposition, however, cannot claim to have the integrity that the member for New England and the member for Kennedy have. They are standing up for their views. I respectfully disagree with them at this point in time. The opposition are now engaged in an exercise whereby on a range of issues with regard to budget measures they say one thing one day and another thing another day. Today they have decided to say nothing, abstain and actually pull people from the House. I commend the bill to the House. The government will be opposing the amendment.
As there are fewer than five members on the side for the ayes, I declare the question negatived in accordance with standing order 127. The names of those members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.
Question negatived, Mr Katter, Mr Windsor and Mr Secker voting aye.
Bill agreed to.