Senate debates

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws — Superannuation) Bill 2008; Tax Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy Surcharge Thresholds) Bill 2008; National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical and Other Benefits — Cost Recovery) Bill 2008; Tax Laws Amendment (Luxury Car Tax) Bill 2008; a New Tax System (Luxury Car Tax Imposition — General) Amendment Bill 2008; a New Tax System (Luxury Car Tax Imposition — Customs) Amendment Bill 2008; a New Tax System (Luxury Car Tax Imposition — Excise) Amendment Bill 2008; Excise Legislation Amendment (Condensate) Bill 2008; Excise Tariff Amendment (Condensate) Bill 2008; National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) Bill 2008; National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008; Tax Laws Amendment (2008 Measures No. 3) Bill 2008; Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008

Referral to Committees

3:50 pm

Photo of Chris EllisonChris Ellison (WA, Liberal Party, Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

(1)   That:
(a)   the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008 be referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for inquiry and report; and
(b)   any related bill or bills that may be introduced to give effect to the recommendations of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s report Same Sex: Same Entitlements, dated May 2007, also be referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for inquiry and report together with the following matters:
(i)   the definition of ‘couple relationship’,
(ii)   empirical evidence from the states concerning the existence, recognition and relative numbers of interdependent relationships, other than de facto (whether heterosexual or same-sex) and marital relationships,
(iii)   whether the definition of ‘couple relationship’ should be amended to incorporate other interdependent relationships and, if so, whether the definitions should be broadened to include those relationships or whether a separate definition is required,
(iv)   the fiscal implications of the statutory recognition of other interdependent relationships for superannuation and taxation purposes,
(v)   the definitions of ‘child’ and ‘child of a couple relationship’,
(vi)   the legal and fiscal implications of the definitions referred to in (v), particularly as they relate to the rights, obligations and liabilities of co-parents (i.e., the parent in a couple relationship that does not have a biological connection to a child of that relationship), and
(vii)   all other matters considered necessary by the committee.
(2)   That the committee is not to conclude its consideration of the matter contained in subparagraph (1)(a) until it has concluded its consideration of the matters in subparagraph (1)(b).
(3)   That the committee must hear evidence, inter alia, from:
(a)   the Attorney-General’s Department;
(b)   the Department of Finance and Deregulation;
(c)   the Relationship Registries of Tasmania, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory;
(d)   the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission; and
(e)   the Law Council of Australia (Family Law Section).

And:

(1)   That the Tax Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy Surcharge Thresholds) Bill 2008 be referred to the Economics Committee for inquiry and report not before 26 August 2008, together with the following matters:
(a)   the impact of changes to the thresholds on the number of Australians with private health insurance (PHI), including an examination of how many will abandon their policies as a result and how many will not take up PHI in the future;
(b)   the modelling underpinning the decision and the veracity of that modelling;
(c)   the anticipated impact on PHI premiums and PHI products offered;
(d)   the impact of the change on the cost of living and the consumer price index;
(e)   including the threshold, PHI rebate and lifetime health cover on increasing PHI membership;
(f)   the anticipated impact of changes to the threshold on:
(i)   the public hospital system including waiting lists and the financial requirements of state governments,
(ii)   the ongoing viability of PHI, and
(iii)   private hospitals.
(2)   That the inquiry hear evidence in all capital cities and from, inter alia, the private health insurance sector about the impact of the measures in the bill on the industry and on the public hospital system.

And:

(1)   That the National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical and Other Benefits—Cost Recovery) Bill 2008 be referred to the Community Affairs Committee for inquiry and report not before 18 August 2008, together with the following matters:
(a)   the impact of the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS) cost recovery on:
(i)   patients’ timely and affordable access to medicines,
(ii)   the Australian pharmaceutical industry,
(iii)   new products and innovation, and
(iv)   the independence of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee;
(b)   cost recovery mechanisms in other countries;
(c)   how cost recovery will improve the timeliness and effectiveness of the current PBS process for listing new medicines; and
(d)   the modelling and consultation underpinning the decision.
(2)   That, in conducting its inquiry, the committee hear evidence, inter alia, from the pharmaceutical industry, generic medicines industry, consumer and patient health groups, the Department of Health and Ageing, the PBS Evaluation Units and the Australian Medical Association and other medical bodies.

And:

(1)   That the provisions of the following bills:

Tax Laws Amendment (Luxury Car Tax) Bill 2008

A New Tax System (Luxury Car Tax Imposition—General) Amendment Bill 2008

A New Tax System (Luxury Car Tax Imposition—Customs) Amendment Bill 2008 and

A New Tax System (Luxury Car Tax Imposition—Excise) Amendment Bill 2008,

be referred to the Economics Committee for inquiry and report not before 26 August 2008, together with the following matters:
(a)   the incidence of the luxury car tax (LCT) and the effect of the proposed increase in the LCT rate on rural and regional communities, small business families and tourism operators;
(b)   the effect of the LCT increase on the prices of vehicles, the affordability of motor vehicles, the cost of living, and the consumer price index (CPI);
(c)   the expected impact of the increase in the LCT rate on vehicle demand and the likely consequences for government revenues including from the LCT, goods and services tax (GST) and stamp duty;
(d)   the growing incidence of the LCT over time and the adequacy of current arrangements for indexation of the LCT threshold, in comparison with alternative measures including the CPI, average weekly earnings and the increase in the retail price of motor vehicles;
(e)   the rationale for taxing ‘luxury’ cars at a higher rate than other goods and services;
(f)   the effect of the LCT and the proposed increase in the LCT rate on Australian vehicle manufacturers and vehicle importers and distributors;
(g)   the overall taxation burden on ownership and operation of motor vehicles including customs duty, GST, LCT stamp duty and excise on fuel;
(h)   the effect of the LCT and the proposed increase in the LCT rate on the adoption of vehicle safety features and environmental technologies; and
(i)   the extent to which the LCT is viewed as a non-tariff barrier by other car exporting countries.
(2)   That:
(a)   as a minimum, the committee hold hearings in Melbourne and Adelaide and hear evidence, inter alia, from Australia’s vehicle manufacturers, importers and distributors as well as from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, the Australian Automobile Association, the Motor Trades Association of Australia, the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce, the Motor Trades Association of Queensland and the tourism industry; and
(b)   the committee also take into account submissions to, and recommendations of, the Bracks’ Review of Australia’s Automotive Industry.

And:

(1)   That the provisions of the Excise Legislation Amendment (Condensate) Bill 2008 and the Excise Tariff Amendment (Condensate) Bill 2008 be referred to the Economics Committee for inquiry and report not before 26 August 2008, together with the following matters:
(a)   the impact of the changes on retail prices of domestic gas and electricity in Western Australia, and any consequent effect on consumer prices;
(b)   the impact of the decision on the industry generally and on the exploration for petroleum products in Australia; and
(c)   the impact of the decision, and the decision-making process, on domestic and international investment confidence in Australia.
(2)   That the committee must conduct hearings in Western Australia and hear evidence from, inter alia, industry bodies and joint venture partners on the North West Shelf.

And:

(1)   That the National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) Bill 2008 and the National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008 be referred to the Economics Committee for inquiry and report not before 29 September 2008, together with the following matters:
(a)   the impact of the proposed Fuelwatch scheme on the price consumers will pay for motor fuel (including unleaded petrol, diesel and LPG) in metropolitan areas, regional centres and rural Australia;
(b)   the economic benefits and costs of the proposed Fuelwatch scheme to consumers in metropolitan areas, regional centres and rural Australia;
(c)   other economic costs of the proposed Fuelwatch scheme, including the compliance costs of the scheme for industry, particularly independent retailers;
(d)   the impact of the proposed Fuelwatch scheme on competition between motor fuel retailers and the operation and viability of independent motor fuel retailers;
(e)   intraday price volatility in the retail market, established price cycles in each state and territory, and consumer awareness of price cycles;
(f)   the impact of Fuelwatch on discounting, as well as the amplitude and duration of price cycles, including any penalties that will apply to motor fuel retailers for not fixing prices for 24 hour periods;
(g)   the potential use under the Fuelwatch scheme of sophisticated pricing strategies by motor fuel retailers who have more than one retail outlet, and how they may take advantage of the 24 hour rule;
(h)   independent analysis of the overall economic benefits and costs of the proposed Fuelwatch scheme;
(i)   independent analysis of the differences in motor fuel prices between Western Australia and other Australian states and territories, with particular reference to volumetric or consumption-weighted prices; and
(j)   the legal basis for the legislation.
(2)   That, in conducting its inquiry, the committee:
(a)   hear evidence in all capital cities and in such major rural and regional centres as may be determined by the committee; and
(b)   hear evidence, inter alia, from independent retailers, motoring bodies with knowledge of the retail motor fuel market, business organisations with an interest in motor fuel prices and independent think tanks and economists who have knowledge of retail pricing arrangements in the motor fuel industry.

And:

That the provisions of Schedules 1 and 2 of the Tax Laws Amendment (2008 Measures No. 3) Bill 2008 be referred to the Economics Committee for inquiry and report not before 18 August 2008.

And on behalf of Senator Ronaldson:

That the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008 be referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for inquiry and report on 30 June 2009 in conjunction with the committee’s inquiry into the 2007 Federal Election.

To clarify the terms of the notices: when I gave notice, the bills were still in the House, and my notices therefore referred to the provisions of the bills. Now that the bills have arrived in the Senate, I make it clear to the Senate that in relation to notices No. 7, No. 11 and No. 12 I am moving to refer the actual bills and not just the provisions off to committees.

There are a number of bills involved in this matter and we are conducting a cognate debate in order to save time. I believe it is best that we take each of these bills in turn in relation to the merits of referral to the respective committees. But, before I do, I think it is useful as a backdrop that I remind the Senate of statements made previously on the referral of bills to Senate committees. In this regard, I would refer to the following statement:

Whether or not this government has a majority in the Senate and whether or not the Liberal government won the last election, the Labor Party are not required to say, ‘Oh, well, we’re just going to roll over, agree to everything the government has announced and do nothing for the next three years.’ That is not the approach in a democracy …

That statement was made by Senator Sherry on 16 June 2005. Indeed, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Evans, on 14 June 2005, stated:

It is our responsibility to provide an alternative view of legislation, to speak out when we think things are wrong and to fight for those people whose interests we represent.

That is precisely what these referrals are all about: providing adequate time for those pieces of legislation to come under the scrutiny of Senate committees and, furthermore, providing stakeholders with a vital interest in these bills with an opportunity to have a say. Of course, we understand the government has an agenda. We have notified that a number of bills are non-controversial and, indeed, a number which are time critical. In that regard, we have referred three packages to Senate committees for reporting by next week. The coalition recognises that there are bills which are time critical and that we can conduct the scrutiny of those in the next fortnight and have them dealt with according to the government’s agenda.

But I am dealing here with something quite different. We have a package of bills, many of which were not election policy statements of the government in the recent election and many of which, we believe, have no budgetary impact. In fact, we say that the government, in painting a picture that this is in some way vandalising the budget, is conducting a completely false exercise in misrepresenting to the Australian people the process that we are pursuing. We are pursuing here the referral to Senate committees—and in one case to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters—important bills, some of which the Australian community has had little or no notice of.

I will turn to them in order. The Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008, which we seek to have referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for reporting on 30 June 2009, is an important piece of legislation dealing with political donations and related matters. The coalition is committed to a holistic reform of election campaign finance laws in the wake of many scandals which we have seen, particularly the Wollongong ‘sex and bribes scandal’. We make it very clear that having a piecemeal approach to electoral reform will not result in the outcome that all would desire.

We have heard from the government that they are pursuing electoral reform. We say: let that be in an informed manner and let the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which deals with a review of each election, have available to it the means and the standing to conduct this review. This particular bill should be reviewed with other matters in relation to the recent election.

In relation to the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008, the government intend to introduce further legislation dealing with other recommendations of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report. The coalition believe that this piece of legislation requires careful scrutiny. The coalition have said that we support this bill in principle, but there are details in this bill and in the government’s proposed bills—and I refer to the comments of the Attorney-General in this regard—that require scrutiny which you could not offer in just two weeks. We believe that, despite the fact we have given in principle support, it would be irresponsible of us as an opposition to simply wave it through and wait for further like legislation to come along which could have unintended consequences as a result of not being considered holistically with this bill. I might just add that this was not an election policy issue. I concede it was in the platform of the ALP but not one which was canvassed in the election campaign.

The Tax Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy Surcharge Thresholds) Bill 2008, to be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Economics for reporting by 26 August, is an extremely important bill. We have recently learnt that the Rudd government did not ask either Treasury or the Department of Health and Ageing to model, cost or in any way assess the impact of the change to the Medicare levy surcharge on public hospitals. That is just one matter which requires close scrutiny. It is imperative for the health systems run by the states, territories and the Commonwealth of this country that we have careful scrutiny of this bill, and 26 August would provide that opportunity for the appropriate scrutiny to be conducted. Again, I reiterate the precise terms of this bill are not ones that I recall being an election policy of the government in the last election.

Similarly, the luxury car tax was not an election policy and it involves the government introducing another tax without consultation with industry, motorists or other stakeholders. This is an area where you could have flow-on effects which could be detrimental to motorists across Australia. The Tax Laws Amendment (Luxury Car Tax) Bill 2008 also requires careful scrutiny by the Senate Standing Committee on Economics. In our motion, we have put a reporting date of 26 August.

Similarly, the National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical and Other Benefits—Cost Recovery) Bill 2008 was not an election policy of the government and we would seek its referral to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs for reporting on 18 August. This is a measure which has had absolutely no consultation. Concerns have been raised about the independence of the PBAC, and that needs to be looked at. Other measures in this bill could have effects on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which affects so many Australians. That needs careful scrutiny. The Fuelwatch bill was done overnight, in a matter of 30 or so hours, with public officials working through the night. It was not an election policy, and we believe that it has such consequence that it should be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Economics, to report by 29 September.

No less than four government departments have briefed the Rudd government against the introduction of Fuelwatch including the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Finance and Deregulation, the Treasury and the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism. We have a number of departments briefing against this legislation, and the government is intent on rushing it through. This concerns something which is uppermost in the minds of many Australians: the price of fuel. This is something which demands close attention and we have asked that the committee concerned not report until 29 September to give the Australian public the chance it deserves to have input into this important piece of legislation so that it is not simply rushed through in these last two sitting weeks of the financial year.

We would seek that the Excise Legislation Amendment (Condensate) Bill 2008 be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Economics, for reporting on 26 August. This, again, was not an election policy and could well have ramifications in the energy sector. The government is making much of the fact that it says this will cost taxpayers $177 million if not passed by the end of this month. This bill is capable of amendment to such an extent as to recapture any excise from the date it was announced. There is absolutely no problem with that. The opposition has had a briefing from Treasury. I would defy the government to prove beyond doubt that this is the case, because it cannot deny the fact that an amendment—

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