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

We can look at the facts. In 2006, the first full year of the coalition’s Senate majority—perhaps those commentators who take an interest in this might have regard to it—the coalition government supported the referral of more than 100 bills to Senate committees for inquiry and report. This was the highest number of bills ever referred to committees in a calendar year and double the average number of bills referred to committee when the ALP was last in government. Let us see what the Rudd government is going to do about referring matters to Senate committees. Let us see if it can match the coalition’s record of 100 in a calendar year. Let us see if the Rudd government will agree to these referrals. Or is it going to deny the Australian people the chance to scrutinise important legislation which in some cases came with little or no notice?

I have mentioned the fact that the government has made much of the cost and the effect that this will have on the budget. These measures are all capable of being dealt with by referral and scrutiny without the attendant loss of revenue that the government claims. If the government were at all on its game, it would be able to remedy any aspect of delay especially in relation to the fuel condensate bill. I have outlined how it can do that. It is a matter which is capable of simple amendment. There is absolutely no vandalism or denial of revenue at all in any of these measures. It makes eminent sense, when we have the time, to deal with them together, for example in the case of a bill such as the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008—especially when the Attorney-General has said there will be others to follow. Yet this government wants to do it piecemeal, which will result in unintended consequences. It is similar with electoral law reform. We say you can have the law reform. It should take its course and it should be dealt with together with other aspects of reform. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, as I recall, has been around for in excess of 25 years. That is its job. That is what we are asking it to do: to look at political donations and to incorporate it in the other aspects it is looking at in relation to electoral reform.

Any denial of these referrals is one which will deny public scrutiny and will be, in any shape or form, an arrogant denial of Senate process. We have carefully considered those bills which are needed and where time is of the essence. We have indicated to the government that we will comply with the government’s agenda in relation to those budget bills and getting through its package of bills in this fortnight. There are around 40 packages, as I recall, and we anticipate getting through those packages in this fortnight. However, there are some that have to be referred to Senate scrutiny by virtue of its committee system, and that is what we are all about. Where that can be done quickly we have pursued that path, but of course you could not do all of these bills justice by sending them off to Senate committees for reporting back by next week. That would be an abrogation of our responsibility in the Senate and as an opposition.


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