Wednesday, 18 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
At the outset I totally reject the comments of Senator Nettle on the reference of the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008 to the Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. We are not attempting to send any of this into the never-never not to be dealt with. This reference clearly puts the pressure on the government to bring forward those related bills that it said it would which relate to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report. As we know, if you deal with legislation which is closely related to other legislation on its own without consideration of other provisions in other pieces of legislation, you can well end up with unintended consequences.
Senator Nettle said the Greens are vitally concerned with antidiscrimination—as is the coalition. But we want to get it right; that is the difference. We do not want to rush it through in two weeks. We do not want to have a one-day, Friday, committee, as is suggested by the Democrats amendment. We want to make sure that we get an opportunity to consider the other bills which will be closely related to this bill. In an endeavour to make it abundantly clear to those who have misunderstood this, I can foreshadow an amendment by the coalition that the committee have a reporting date of 30 September or after consideration of these other related bills, whichever is the sooner. That makes it absolutely clear that we are not in the business of sending this into the never-never; nor were we. What we are saying is that the committee can report by 30 September or after having received these other related bills, whichever is the sooner.
What that does is put the pressure right back on the government, which has been espousing its antidiscrimination stance, and it says, ‘Okay, you go to work, as you say you are hard workers and it is all 24/7, and let’s see some bills come back when we come back to the Senate at the end of August. Let’s see these related bills so that the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs can consider those bills with the same-sex relationship bill and ensure that we get it right.’ We in the coalition are not about rhetoric; we are about achieving an outcome which is equitable, appropriate and also one that works. If we take this in a piecemeal fashion, we will have unintended consequences. Senator Nettle cited the example of a person who was complaining about discrimination by social security in relation to same-sex couples. That is precisely one of the issues we will be looking at. We will be looking not only at superannuation but also at the impacts on taxation, social security and other areas of Commonwealth legislation. So I can foreshadow that the coalition will be moving that amendment to make it absolutely clear that we want the time to consider this legislation carefully with other related legislation and that there is a finite term to that consideration. We had always intended that. But we the coalition are not the government. It is the government that has to bring forward those other bills, and now the pressure is on the government to do that.
I turn to some other comments made by the government in what was a desperate attempt to try to deny that this is anything but an appropriate course of Senate scrutiny. Senate Evans referred to ‘economic vandalism’ by the coalition. I stress again that many of these measures were not even mentioned in the election policies of the government. Some of them are not even budget measures. The Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008 is not a budget bill, nor is the electoral reform bill in the first instance. There are other measures which require close scrutiny.
In relation to the luxury car tax, I remind the Senate that during estimates hearings it became apparent that the department concerned had not even been asked to do any modelling. It was the same with condensate—a $2.5 billion measure but no modelling was asked for. In relation to the Fuelwatch initiative, no less than four departments advised the government against that course of action. So this government brings forward these measures, for which in some cases no modelling has been sought and for which you have overnight drafting of a bill which departments briefed against, and this government then says that for the Senate to ask for scrutiny of the bills is obstructionist and economic vandalism.
It is the government that is guilty of a total disregard of proper process in putting together what is complex legislation, particularly in relation to the finances of this country. That is where the blame lies. It is with the government because of its negligence in putting together these packages without any aforethought, without any consultation and, in one case, in complete defiance of the advice of no less than four departments. If you are talking about economic vandalism, you have only to look to this budget. What you have is net increased expenditure of around $15 billion and an increase in taxes of $20 billion in round terms. If that is not economic vandalism when the government says we are experiencing inflation, then I do not know what is.
All we are asking with these references is that the Senate committees charged with these references have appropriate time to carry out the scrutiny of those respective bills and that the stakeholders who have such a vital interest be given an opportunity to make submissions to those committees. We also have the completely rigged figures from the government in relation to how much all this will cost. It started out at a loss of around $300 million. Now it is down to $220 million. I demonstrated yesterday that, after the briefing by Treasury, it is abundantly clear that an amendment to the excise bill dealing with condensate could easily take care of the related back excise that is dealt with on a monthly basis. You could extend that to two months or three months on a one-off basis if you wanted to. That would take away the $180 million that the government is talking about. Just one small amendment would take away that potential loss to revenue. So the government is certainly misleading the Australian community when it says that delaying that particular bill will cost $180 million; it will not. When you take that out of the $220 million, you really are getting down from the original figure at which the government started, the $300 million.
Remember that these are the people who strung together overnight, in 30 hours of drafting, the Fuelwatch initiative in complete contradiction to the advice of four departments. This is a government that brings to the Senate chamber complex taxation legislation—dealing with condensate, a $2.5 billion measure; the luxury car tax and Fuelwatch—for which it did not even carry out any modelling or consultation with the private sector. Well, it is for the Senate to do that. We, as a responsible opposition, have an obligation to do that and we are giving the Australian community the time to make submissions and to offer that much needed scrutiny of bills which could have a potential detrimental effect on this economy and, in other cases, unintended consequences, such as those to do with the same-sex relationships bill, and, on the electoral reform bill, something which could be considered in complete isolation from other potential reforms which the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters would consider in relation to the recent election we have just experienced. Senator Ronaldson superbly outlined the arguments in relation to that and I will not go into them.
This is a chance for the Senate to demonstrate that it is a house of review, that it does take these things seriously and that simply referring these bills to Senate committees in a two-week turnaround period is not sufficient. As I said earlier, we have agreed to those essential bills which are much needed and which involve a large amount of money. We have agreed to them being dealt with in this fortnight, with a one-day Senate hearing. That is appropriate for those bills; for these bills, it is not. The opposition’s amendment in relation to the same-sex bills is one which will provide certainty—if there are any who had that doubt—and which will put it beyond doubt that we want this dealt with, but we want it dealt with in consideration of those other bills which the government has promised will be forthcoming. I commend these motions to the Senate. As indicated earlier, we will take a vote on them separately. We also foreshadow the amendment which the coalition whip will be moving with respect to motion No. 1.