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
The government has built a budget surplus of $22 billion to fight inflation and put downward pressure on interest rates. With these referrals, the Liberals are threatening the surplus. This is the surplus Australia needs if we are to fight the inflation that we inherited. We have to ensure that we put maximum downward pressure on interest rates, and the Reserve Bank board minutes released earlier today are a stark reminder of that. They reveal that inflation remains a key challenge. The minutes state that, over the past year, inflation has picked up at an uncomfortably high rate against a background of limited spare capacity and earlier strong growth in demand. The minutes also highlighted the role of the government’s strong surplus in fighting inflation.
The actions of the Liberal Party in this referral are clearly irresponsible. They are using, without good reason, their numbers in the Senate to delay key revenue measures in the budget. The bill contains straightforward measures that need to be passed by 30 June to ensure their implementation. These are not novel pieces of legislation. These are not grand policy initiatives. These are budget bills. The details can be considered either in a committee on Friday or in the Senate during the committee stage. That is the process that has been adopted in the past. We have a May budget, which means that implementation dates are from 1 July.
In opposition, the Labor Party had to deal with legislation in the time available. We came to a conclusion on the bills. We did not send them off to the never-never. We took the responsibility that opposition provided to hold the government to account for decisions in their budget. We dissected their budgets. We considered again the measures that we opposed, and we supported those measures that were beneficial. We did that so that the then government could implement their measures by 1 July. The May budget provided a time frame for us.
In this instance, this government wants its budget to be passed so that those matters can be implemented by 1 July. From what the opposition have said, you could really say that they are playing politics with it, but the truth is that they are ditherers. They are dithering about these 13 bills—not one bill, not two bills, but 13 bills. They cannot come to a concluded view about what their position is on these bills. The Liberals would rather play politics with the condensate bill. They would rather that those who can afford luxury vehicles not play a role in fighting against inflation. There is now a real threat to the inflation-fighting surplus. Those opposite, the Liberal Party, are delaying, perhaps even planning to oppose, several measures, but we do not know about that. They cannot find the gumption to come to a concluded view to inform the Senate what their position is on these bills. In fact, if the budget measures of these bills are not passed by 1 July, the next chance they will have is in early September. But the budget has to be passed. It should be passed. The first Rudd Labor government’s budget should be passed so that those matters contained in the budget measures can be implemented by 1 July.
The Treasury estimates the cost of delay that those measures will see at $284 million, and that will come directly off the budget surplus. You would think, from the way the opposition are behaving, that they do not care—that they do not care about working families, do not care about working Australians, do not care about those who are doing it tough in the community—because they do not want to assist this government in putting maximum downward pressure on inflation. They do not want to see those working families, those working Australians, those that are doing it tough, try to get the benefit of these budget measures.
It is time that the Liberals stopped using the Senate process to defer their responsibilities. The internal party tensions—I suspect—over leadership should not spill into this chamber. They are hiding behind the Senate processes now. It is irresponsible. They should not be doing it. They are delaying consideration of legislation at the expense of the Australian community. The reality is that the opposition have sent three bills to committee for Friday. It is within their ability to send bills to be dealt with by a committee on Friday if they think there are measures that require inquiry or that they wish to explore further. That is the opportunity that we have adopted in the past. We have met those challenges in the time available to ensure that the Senate can perform its function of scrutinising legislation but also meet budget considerations such as implementation dates of 1 July.
Of course, the Liberals could have treated all the bills in that way, or they could have actually come to a concluded view on some of them and informed the Australian public what their views about these bills are rather than hiding behind them. In fact, they are now doing a curious thing. By delaying, they are clearly handing over the responsibility to a future Senate that they do not have a majority in. They do not want to exercise the control that they have exercised in the past. It is curious because in the past they did exercise control—badly, I think. They used this place as a sausage machine. They processed bills through it. They used Fridays for committees. They had one-day inquiries. They referred all bills, whether they needed scrutiny or not, to committees to jump up their numbers, quite irresponsibly, to make sure that they could then come into this place and argue, if they had a mind to, that they were being responsible and ensuring that the Senate processes were being dealt with. It was a farce. What they were really doing was using the Senate as a sausage machine.
In opposition, they cannot let go of the reins. They cannot accept that the government of the day should have its budget dealt with appropriately by this Senate and the bills passed so that matters can proceed. Of course, when the opposition were exercising their numbers, they did not have regard to the matters that Senator Ellison talked about today. They did not have regard to the due processes that the Senate has. They had regard to the stark political reality that numbers win. That is what they had regard to. What they do not accept is this: they pretend to hide behind the process, but it is a fig leaf. What they are doing is transparent. The Australian public will judge them adversely for this role that they now play.
Senator Bartlett makes a very good point about the same-sex couples bill. It is a point that is worth reiterating: the essence of the subject matter of that bill has been dealt with many, many times in this place. The government has decided, according to its election commitments, to meet those commitments, but the opposition have decided to refer the bill off to the never-never. One questions the referral in itself, in that by referring it they have said ultimately that it will be referred contingent upon some unknown future event. One wonders whether it is in truth a deferral rather than a referral. In my view, it is a deferral because it is not contingent upon some known fact that we can ascertain so that the bill can be dealt with in truth.
The opposition should be reminded that they need to consider how these matters are dealt with and dealt with appropriately. The Rudd government recognises that working families, those people in the community who are doing it tough, need the inflation pressures alleviated. Let us look at what the opposition have done. When they got to opposition—if that is a better way of phrasing it—they immediately put in four select committees to deal with matters that they wanted to scrutinise—matters that they wanted to reflect upon, examine and inquire into. Here, they can pass the bills. They could refer these matters off to committee to have a look at their substance if they were really concerned about them. It is not necessary for them to take the role of simply deferring these measures. If they want to maintain an opposition’s role of being accountable, to scrutinise the government’s actions—