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
I will not detain the Senate for long because our whip will have principal carriage of these matters. I want to make remarks with respect to three main issues that concern me in this debate. The first is relevant to my own portfolios of tax and accountability, and that is the presence of tax bills in this reference. As you know, the Democrats are very strong supporters of the committee system and believe that it is a great aid to intelligent legislating in this chamber. We do support matters being referred to committees, but what we have with these tax bills is an indication of an ongoing problem that has been there in previous years. I would particularly urge the Manager of Government Business and also the Manager of Opposition Business to think about this issue. We have the budget and then, from the Senate perspective, we have the Senate estimates. The tax bills are considered in the House in their two-week sitting period when it is Senate estimates and then they arrive in the Senate to be considered in the final two weeks of June sittings. Often they need to go to committee, they are complex, they are technical, they raise issues of policy and there are often big financial consequences to them. The two-week June sitting period is insufficient to examine those bills through committee. The consequence is that they get referred out to August. But often they are time sensitive—namely, they relate to a financial year and so on. It is because the budget is jammed up against the sitting period which is just prior to the end of the financial year.
Somehow that process needs to be worked out whereby the Senate can get an instant reference when those bills hit the House in those two weeks when we are in estimates, so they have got time to go to committee and so on. I have no objection at all to the coalition referring these tax bills away—although, like my whip, I find their wording odd when they say ‘report not before’ a particular date, which seems to be awfully bad English. Another one says ‘report not before’. It seems unusual to me. Committees should be able to decide when they report, providing it is by a certain date. Leaving that aside, there is the issue whereby tax bills which arise from the budget should be able to go to committee and be considered in time for this period. I urge the Manager of Government Business to convey to the Senate and perhaps the Senate Procedure Committee some mechanism whereby the Senate could have a reference immediately they hit the House in the two weeks sitting after the budget. That is the first issue I wanted to raise.
The second issue I raise refers to item 1 of this notice of motion, concerning the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008. Firstly, there is no reporting date for that reference, and also the reporting date for the reference at No. 8 is so far out as to be ludicrous. What we see here is procedural filibuster. This is filibuster by committee; it is putting off to the never-never something you do not want to happen. I think it is outrageous. I do not complain overly much about matters being referred to committee if people feel strongly about it, but to have a nonsensical reporting date which is not relevant to the issue at hand simply because you do not like, or want to deal with, the issues concerned is, I think, a blight on the opposition. I do hope they have the sense to come back to this chamber with a date for reporting on item 1 and to bring forward the date for reporting on item 8.
I feel so strongly about this that I would urge the government to bring back the Senate in July for the specific purpose of changing the dates of reporting. Let us put it to the Senate when the coalition no longer controls it. I do know that the previous government brought back the entire parliament once to change ‘a’ to ‘the’, which was profoundly unnecessary. But in this case I would urge, in the interests of great equity and great urgency, the government to consider the Senate being brought back to change those dates. This is an outrageous abuse of the Senate process and is a filibuster by committee.
The other thing that I want to say with respect to the same-sex bill is that, again, I have no objection to the larger issues being discussed, but there are time sensitive matters concerned with that bill and it should have been dealt with by the end of June. I want to associate myself strongly with the contribution made by the Democrats Whip, Senator Bartlett, yesterday on this matter. I thought that his remarks were entirely appropriate and accurate. It has been my view for a long time that, although there are some wonderful advocates for equality, equity and fairness within the coalition, those with homophobic tendencies still carry the day and are fighting a rearguard action in these matters. I would urge the coalition to start to deal with this matter, which does arouse, it seems, great antagonism within their ranks, on a conscience basis. Let us get it out of the road on a party basis; let it be dealt with on a conscience basis. I am absolutely certain that on that basis Liberal, Labor and the minor parties will join together to pass these sorts of bills. They are long overdue, and the rearguard action being fought by those with these prejudices needs to be defeated and put aside. I feel very strongly about a matter of continuing injustice in that area.
The third item I want to deal with is the political donations area. I want to associate myself with the remarks made by the Special Minister of State, who is here in the Senate. I want to commend him for his courage and his advocacy in being able to persuade his party to take some quite adventurous and quite courageous steps towards greater accountability in the political donations area. I have no objection whatsoever to the reference, which I support, to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for the whole matter to be looked at more broadly and widely. That is not at issue. What is at issue is this particular bill, which deals with matters that have been extensively discussed previously by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and in this chamber—and have been reviewed.
Members of the Senate might not all be aware that I have sat as a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters since 1996, so I know what it is about. Members of the Senate might also not recall that I moved, eventually with the support of Labor, a reference for a wholesale review of political donations to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. Members of the Senate might not recall that the committee was so slow that it was held over—it was indeed another filibuster by committee, I might say—from one parliament to another and eventually reported. But the fact is, there was a major report on the entire area of political donations by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in recent years. There is no senator in this chamber who knows more about how hard it is to get reform in this area than I—