Senate debates

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Welfare Payment Reform) Bill 2007; Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007; Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory National Emergency Response and Other Measures) Bill 2007; Appropriation (Northern Territory National Emergency Response) Bill (No. 1) 2007-2008; Appropriation (Northern Territory National Emergency Response) Bill (No. 2) 2007-2008

In Committee

1:45 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Democrats) Share this | Hansard source

The Democrats oppose part 7 in the following terms:

(8)    Part 7, Division 4, page 82 (line 2) to page 85 (line 6), TO BE OPPOSED.

This amendment is to oppose part 7, division 4 of the legislation, which refers to the acquisition by the Commonwealth of the assets and liabilities of a community store. Part 7 more widely deals with the licensing of community stores.

I continually seek to point to and highlight common ground and to attempt to find constructive and cooperative ways forward and I would note that, in the sections related to community stores, the general stated aim of action is one that is, broadly speaking, welcome. The feedback I have received from a wide range of people, including Aboriginal people and groups, is that some concerted action to improve the situation of community stores is welcome. I put that on the record. I am not sure why I keep making the effort of positively acknowledging what the government is doing, because it certainly does not acknowledge our approach. Indeed, even yesterday Minister Brough once again completely misrepresented the Democrats and made grossly false statements about the Democrats’ ‘inaction’ in this area—but I will deal with that at another time.

The section dealing with the licensing of community stores recognises that there would be potential benefit in improving the situation of community stores. As with every example and comment with regard to this area of activity in the Northern Territory and with indigenous communities more broadly, it is not a situation of universal disaster across the board: there are positive examples of stores as well as extremely negative examples. There are different types of circumstances, different situations, different contexts, in all of the different communities; it is not an across-the-board disaster area. I hope that is acknowledged by the Commonwealth in the implementation of all of these things. I hope they do not take a scorched-earth approach and try to reinvent the wheel in areas where the wheel is actually doing okay. Nonetheless, there is undoubted merit in improving the situation of community stores.

I will not pass comment on all the other measures that are being taken, whether it be in this intervention or in a lot of other areas to do with Indigenous people, or on all the different ideas that people have. However, in the feedback I have had from people in the Northern Territory, more than one person has said to me, ‘If you could just make sure that all of the kids get a couple of good-quality meals each day—which could be done pretty cheaply—then you would be making an enormous difference to the health of those kids.’ I know that is a wider issue than sexual assault, but we were talking about the wider issue of the health of children, which is an overarching issue. If you get good-quality food for those kids each day, the health benefits, the social benefits, the wider community benefits, would be enormous and that could be done without massive expense. It would obviously be at some expense—getting food to these areas is not cheap—but, on a national scale, the cost of doing it should not be that large, and it certainly should not be beyond the wit of Australia. I am not sure that delivering it through the government is necessarily the best way of doing it. Utilising private means and community based means and leveraging off private enterprise may well be better ways of doing it, rather than through a government command economy way. That is a broader comment.

The Democrats amendment goes to part 7, division 4 of the legislation, on page 82:  ‘Acquisition by the Commonwealth of assets and liabilities of a community store’. The Democrats’ reasoning behind this is that we think there are other alternatives. We understand the intent; it is the same intent with everything else: the Commonwealth identifies a problem and it thinks the best solution is for it to take over.  We do not believe the compulsory acquisition power is necessary for dealing with stores’ management issues. We think they can be dealt with without giving the power to seize assets. In many communities, the community store is the only viable business, and to have that only viable business able to be acquired by the Commonwealth is a huge step. People should not be dismissive of what that is about. While we are not touching on some of the other aspects to do with the licensing of community stores—the varying of licences, the revoking of licences—the acquisition of assets and liabilities is a step further than is needed. There are already quite substantial powers in other areas.

That is the rationale behind the Democrats amendment. I have an alternative amendment if this one should fail—which, frankly, is pretty likely. Mind you, my alternative amendment is probably pretty likely to fail as well. But it is possible there might be a sudden outbreak of willingness to engage and listen on the part of the government. We will see what happens.

There are several questions I would ask with regard to division 4, ‘Acquisition by the Commonwealth of assets and liabilities of a community store’. Firstly, for the record: what are the appeal mechanisms if the Commonwealth moves to acquire; is appeal through the courts the only avenue, and, if that is the case, what is the scope of that appeal—is it in any way a merits review or is it a court being able to assess the lawfulness or otherwise of the action? Secondly, what is the mechanism for compensation if there is an acquisition by the Commonwealth?


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