Senate debates

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

Debate resumed from 17 June, on motion by Senator Ellison:

No. 1—
(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).
No. 2—
(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.
No. 3—
(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.
No. 4—
(1)   That 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.
(1)   That 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.
(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.
No. 5—
(1)   That 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.
No. 6—
(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.
No. 7—
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.
No. 8—
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.

upon which Senators Bartlett and Nettle had moved by way of an amendment in respect of motion No. 1:

At the end of subparagraph (1)(a), add “by 24 June 2008”.

Omit paragraph (2).

9:31 am

Photo of Joe LudwigJoe Ludwig (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Where I left the debate yesterday was this: the Liberals are ditherers in respect of these committee references. They are not providing and will not provide an answer on what they will do and what they would prefer to do with these bills. What they are now doing is putting them off to the never-never because they do not want to deal with them now; they do not want to explain to the Australian public what their position on these bills is. Effectively, they are now abrogating their responsibility as an opposition to hold the government to account. They are not going to have the numbers post 1 July. So what they will then do is refer these matters to the next Senate so that they do not have to come to a concluded view, so they do not have to actually say, ‘What we stand for is X or Y.’ What they are actually going to say is, ‘What we’d prefer to do is give the minor parties, the Greens’—and of course not the Democrats—‘the ability to stand up and say what they believe in’—while the Liberals hide behind.

One of the bills, the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008, is in a special category of its own because it does not have a reporting date. Its actual reporting date is some time off into the future, depending upon a whole range of packages coming forward. In truth, it is not a reference; it is an abrogation of their responsibility to refer a matter to a committee to consider and report back on to the Senate. They are not doing that.

This bill is an important bill for the Senate. It is an important bill for the government. We have had an argument about the bill’s issues for a very long time, and the bill provides certainty for a certain area of people who are on superannuation benefits or who might benefit from them. Here we have a referral of it to a Senate committee. That is undesirable as any delay in implementing the reforms in the bill would see the continuation of discrimination against same-sex couples and their children in acts governing the Commonwealth defined benefits superannuation scheme and in related taxation and regulatory acts. Say a scheme member died, for argument’s sake. Until the acts are amended his or her same-sex partner or the children of such a relationship will not be entitled to receive reversionary death benefits.

This cannot occur until the bill is passed and proclaimed. There will be a gap by which people could suffer detriment, and the opposition are not prepared to close that gap. What they are going to do is extend that gap, widening it to the never-never. Commencement of the legislation at the beginning of the 2008-09 income year will immediately extend the concessional tax treatment of death benefits to recipients under Commonwealth superannuation schemes. This bill covers the first stage of the reforms and is confined to superannuation. It is not a difficult issue for the opposition to come to grips with. There will be an opportunity for Senate committee consideration of the reforms more broadly. No-one is saying that the Senate should shut itself away from looking at reform packages as they come forward, but this one is a finite measure, it is a confined measure, it relates to superannuation and it should start by 1 July. There will be an opportunity for the Senate to look at the reform packages more broadly as they come forward when draft legislation covering the remaining reforms is introduced in the spring sittings.

There are of course significant legal and practical difficulties with backdating. The opposition might say, ‘Let’s just backdate it.’ Well, superannuation trustees are required to make payments under the law as it stands, not under what it might be in the future. If payments were to be made now, either to certain beneficiaries or to a deceased’s legal estate, it would be very difficult to unwind those payments at a future date when the law changed. In practical terms, when you are talking about reversionary benefits, you are usually talking about a fortnightly or, at the least, a monthly pension payment. The Rudd government is committed to giving people access to those benefits as soon as possible. Backdating this access will not help anyone meet their day-to-day financial considerations, yet that is the position that the opposition are now putting forward as a proposal by sending this off to the never-never. It should not be done, and they should make a practical decision to support the provisions of this bill from 1 July and not refer it. There will be time for greater consideration of all these bills in the future.

The changes to the Medicare levy surcharge represent a measure to be introduced for one simple reason: to remove an unjust tax slug on working families. That is what it is about. It is not a complex policy issue; it is about the removal of an unjust tax slug on working families. Opposition senators will be aware that this penalty on high-income earners to encourage them to take out private health insurance was first introduced in 1997. The penalty applied to people earning $50,000 and above. That was because of the very simple fact that, 11 years ago, $50,000 was seen as a little bit more than an ordinary income—and even a high income. Because of that simple fact Labor has acted now to ensure that working families are no longer hit with a tax penalty that was never meant for them. As a result, we now have the opposition, again, not ensuring that that would occur. They are referring the matter to a committee. They are not going to deal with it by 1 July; they are going to ensure that working families continue to get an unjust tax slug.

I will conclude with those matters. I will not use up all of the available time. This is an important debate. The opposition are being completely unrealistic about the proposals that they are now putting. They should be supporting the budget bills, supporting those bills that have a start-up date of 1 July, including the same-sex bills, because of the challenges that face those people who have superannuation. They should not disadvantage those people. They should also take the grand policy position of saying, ‘We actually do support changes to same-sex relationships; we actually do recognise that society has moved on.’ But instead they are going to refer the matter off to the never-never.

9:37 am

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

Today we see the true colours of the coalition. I particularly want to concentrate on the decision of the opposition to block the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008. To delay the bill by more than 12 months reveals, on the one hand, all the opposition’s hypocrisy and willingness to sacrifice the health of our democracy on the alter of partisan politics. On the other hand, the government is committed to a transparent and accountable electoral system. To achieve this, we have introduced the bill that I have mentioned. This bill contains five urgent measures to address critical weaknesses in the act’s current funding and disclosure regime. These new measures include ensuring all donations over $1,000 to political parties and candidates are subject to proper public scrutiny and that donations are reported in a more timely manner.

The bill also bans overseas and anonymous donations and prevents political parties and candidates from making a profit from public funding. These measures are straightforward, they are positive, and they ought to be uncontroversial. But the opposition, under Dr Nelson, want to use their Senate majority to block these necessary and urgent reforms and send them to a committee until, at the earliest, the financial year after next—in other words, to send this bill into legislative limbo. They want one whole year—a minimum 12 months—to pretend to look at this simple bill. This charade clearly shows their contempt for our electoral system and their determination to turn their backs on any effort to clean up the system. It proves that the opposition clearly do not support transparency and accountability of our electoral laws. This proves the opposition do not want the Australian public to know who gives how much money to which party.

The decision to block this bill raises two questions for Dr Nelson. The first is: does Dr Nelson honestly think that less accountability, less transparency, less integrity benefits our democracy? The second is: what do Dr Nelson and the opposition have to hide? Clearly, the answer to the second question is: a lot of money and where it comes from. In marked contrast to Dr Nelson and the coalition, the government believe that reforming our political funding and disclosure regimes to ensure the Australian public knows where political parties and candidates get their money is both critically important and a matter of urgency. We want this bill to commence on 1 July this year. We want to start cleaning up these problems now. We want these measures in place for the 2008-09 financial year. There are strong reasons for acting now. There is no reason for delay on this bill.

The first measure in this bill will reduce the donation disclosure threshold from $10,500 to $1,000. This will mean that every political donation above $1,000 will be exposed to public scrutiny, as should occur in any electoral system with integrity. For 2004-05, when the donation disclosure threshold was $1,500, 1,286 donor returns were lodged with the AEC. For 2005-06, when the previous government raised the disclosure threshold to $10,000, only 317 donor returns were lodged. So just in the space of a year the number of donor returns subjected to public scrutiny dropped by three-quarters. And in 2006-07 the number of donor returns dropped again to 194, less than one-sixth of the number of donations disclosed when the threshold was $1,500 in 2004-05.

With this bill Dr Nelson had a chance to make a clean break with the pathetic record of the Howard government. He had an opportunity on this bill to show some leadership. He had the opportunity to demonstrate that he stood for transparency and accountability rather than obfuscation and secrecy, but Dr Nelson dogged it. By deciding to block this bill, Dr Nelson has shown his true colours. He has revealed that either he is, like Mr Howard before him, a sworn enemy of integrity in our electoral laws or else he is so pathetically weak he is a complete captive of the self-interest of the Liberal Party hacks and operators. One way or another, Dr Nelson and the opposition seem to believe the Australian public has no right to know when someone is attempting to buy political influence. They believe these backroom contributions should remain in the shadows. We in the government could not disagree more strongly. We think these donations should be exposed to the light of public scrutiny. From 1 July this year, all donations of $1,000 or more—an amount most Australians consider substantial—should be made reportable to the Australian Electoral Commission and disclosed publicly, and that would happen if the opposition decided to pass rather than block this bill.

It is worth taking just a moment to look back at the coalition’s record on donation disclosure thresholds. Before the Howard government’s changes to the Electoral Act in 2006, all donations over $1,500 had to be disclosed. As soon as the coalition got the numbers to have control of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, they produced a recommendation supported by those impartial witnesses, Liberal Federal Director Brian Loughnane and Nationals Federal Director Andrew Hall, that the threshold should be raised to $10,000. The ethical gymnastics the coalition majority had to engage in on this were amazing. It was death defying. The JSCEM report states:

... there is a need for transparency to reduce the potential for undue influence and corruption in the political system.

Yes, so far so good. But in the very next sentence they take a sharp right turn and leave the road of logic, saying the committee:

... believes that such transparency would still occur under higher disclosure thresholds.

Yes, that is right. The coalition-controlled JSCEM majority reported that they believed that hiding more donations would have no impact on transparency. They may be kidding themselves but they are not fooling us; they are not fooling the Australian public. It seems that the Liberal and National parties have a different definition of transparency to that of the Australian Labor Party but, more importantly, to that of the Australian public. They think it means hiding more of the cash flowing to political parties. Certainly, as their opposition to this bill shows, they think it is an optional extra for a healthy democracy. Well, the government does not. The government believes that transparency is essential to the health of our democratic system, and we believe also that the Australian public has a right to know who is funding political parties.

The second measure in this bill will remove the loophole whereby people can make donations of just less than the threshold to different branches and divisions of a political party and thereby avoid any disclosure obligations. Clearly, this loophole undermines the purpose of having a donation disclosure threshold in the first place. The government wants to remove this loophole from 1 July this year. The government wants to end this rort. The opposition, in stark contrast, supports these rorts continuing and supports them continuing into the never-never.

The third measure in this critically important bill places new reporting requirements on political parties and others who are involved in the political process. Political parties will be required to report after every six-month period rather than within the current 12-month period. The time frame for submitting these reports will also be reduced from 16 weeks to eight weeks, with the AEC publishing these reports as soon as reasonably practicable thereafter. That change will address the scandalous situation that we have today. Just think of this: as I speak today, almost seven months after the last federal election, we still have no idea who gave what to political parties and candidates before and during that campaign. In fact, under the current system, the Australian public would not find out about these donations until February next year, 15 months after last year’s federal election. If the provisions of this bill that is being deferred or blocked or just abandoned by the Liberals had been in place for last year’s campaign, donations to the major political parties would now be public knowledge. I worry that only a party with something to fear or something to hide would want to block a bill that increases the number of donations that are reported and makes those reports more timely.

The fourth measure in this bill will ban overseas and anonymous donations. The government believes that money from overseas should not be able to purchase influence in Australia’s political system. Foreign donations lie outside the jurisdiction and the investigative powers of the Australian Electoral Commission. We can never be sure who is ultimately behind those donations. In a similar way, allowing political parties and candidates to accept anonymous donations undermines proper regulation of our electoral system. And in the past many political parties have accepted political donations from overseas. Yes, the Labor Party have. So have the Liberal Party. So, I understand, have the Greens and the Democrats. But there seems to be a very important difference here, because the Labor Party want to stop this practice as soon as possible. I certainly hope and believe that the Australian Democrats and the Australian Greens will join us to attempt to prevent overseas donations from 1 July this year. But the question for Dr Nelson and the opposition is: why do they not support banning overseas and anonymous donations right here and right now? This is something that other Western democracies did long ago, and I believe all senators would understand that their electoral systems are much better for it.

The fifth and final measure in the bill that the opposition is blocking ties public electoral funding to campaign expenditure. This will mean that political parties and candidates cannot make a profit from election funding. Most Australians would be appalled to think that anyone could stand for election to make a profit rather than make a difference, but that is what the law allows to occur today and the government is determined to put a stop to this practice. We want this bill passed now so that the Gippsland by-election is the last ever opportunity for anyone to abuse the electoral system, treating it purely as a source for profit. By blocking this bill, Dr Nelson and the Liberals stand united with anyone who wants to keep their snout in the trough of public funding.

The opposition pretends to question why the government has introduced this bill when we are also in the process of developing a green paper which looks more comprehensively at electoral reform. The answer is simple—even Dr Nelson and Senator Ronaldson should understand it if they were not being so deliberately obtuse on this—this bill addresses major shortcomings which have been identified in our electoral laws for a very long time. And, given the fact there is such awareness of these problems, it is incumbent upon any government—and I believe the parliament—to fix them. These problems must be fixed. They must be fixed and they must be fixed now. If the opposition supports accountability and transparency, if it believes in having integrity in our electoral laws, then it must allow this bill to be debated and it must vote for this bill. But, on the other hand, if Dr Nelson and the opposition block this bill then what they are doing is saying that they support secrecy, they support keeping hidden the shadowy attempts to purchase political influence.

If the opposition block this bill then they can only do so because they believe it is okay to rort the system and hide donations, that it is absolutely fine to sell out Australian democracy to the highest bidder, that abusing our electoral system to make money is just fine. That is what the opposition are on about. In short, if the opposition block this bill they will stand condemned for acting in self-interest rather than in the national interest, for sabotaging the chances to address critical and urgent shortcomings in our electoral laws, and for thumbing their noses at decency, integrity and transparency in our electoral system. (Time expired)

9:59 am

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Special Minister of State) Share this | | Hansard source

I must admit I am disappointed with the performance of my opposite number today in relation to this matter. The first thing I will say is that Senator Faulkner knows full well that we are not blocking this bill. I thought it was unfortunate that he actually got to the stage where he was making this a partisan issue as opposed to a realistic debate on extensive campaign finance reform. And to talk about Dr Nelson’s role in this, regrettably, did not allow him the opportunity to then talk about the failed opportunities of Mr Rudd. I was not going to talk about it today but I will, given the matters that have been raised by Senator Faulkner, the minister responsible.

On 11 March there was one person in this place who had the opportunity to support comprehensive campaign finance reform. That was the Prime Minister of this country—the man who apparently is now interested in this, but only post Wollongong. Only post the sex and bribery scandal has the Australian Labor Party become involved in this debate. A notice of motion put up on 11 March in my name on behalf the coalition talked about comprehensive finance reform. Who supported it? Senator Bob Brown on behalf of the Greens supported that notice of motion; the Democrats supported that notice of motion; Senator Fielding supported that notice of motion. Who was the one person that failed to support a comprehensive motion in relation to campaign finance reform? It was the Prime Minister of this country.

The Prime Minister of this country snubbed his nose at campaign finance reform. The Prime Minister of this country made it quite clear that he wanted a knee-jerk response to the Wollongong sex and bribery scandal that precluded comprehensive finance reform. The opportunity was here for the Australian Labor Party and Prime Minister Rudd to support the Senate, the majority in the Senate—the coalition, the Greens, the Democrats and Family First. They failed to do so. I will not go through the full notice of motion, but it discusses disclosure amongst other things. I find it quite extraordinary what we have heard from the minister in here today—I love it, as someone said last night, when the poacher becomes the gamekeeper, as we have seen with Senator Faulkner. It is not lost on my colleagues and I suspect it is not lost on anyone else.

The Australian community needs to know that the minister himself has a green paper due for release in July and one of the specific matters to be raised is disclosure. On 29 May, the minister said:

Parliamentarians, political parties and any number of people involved in the political process are trying to ensure that they have my ear on this. But my focus has been to work with agencies on the green paper. I accept that a consultative approach is important. I can assure you I will be giving opportunities for the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and other political parties to have an involvement here and express views.

Minister, what you have failed to explain to the Senate today is why you have got this quite specific piece of legislation coming forward now when you have got a green paper that quite specifically refers to disclosure. In fact, you have two green papers in relation to these matters driven again by the non-government parties in this place, driven by those of us who actually want substantial and comprehensive campaign finance reform. You have these two green papers but you come in today and insist on one particular piece being pulled out of it—to cherry pick it—for your own domestic political purposes, so you can be seen to be doing something in response to the Wollongong sex and bribery scandal. This is not proper process. If you were serious about this, Minister, you would let your own green paper process determine the outcome of this campaign finance reform.

The joint standing committee, as you are well aware, Minister, is looking at this quite comprehensive and substantial reference from the Senate in relation to campaign finance reform. As the Leader of the Greens has said before, we need to have everything on the table. I agree entirely with him. We need to have this on the table. With talk about involvement of community and involvement of political parties, why would this minister pull out one particular aspect of campaign finance reform? It is for cheap political purposes. It is to respond to a position that his state colleague, Premier Iemma, has found himself in, where there have been substantial abuses of the process—appalling abuses of the process. This minister, at the bidding of the Prime Minister, has plucked out one particular part of campaign finance reform and put it on the table to be seen to be doing something.

This is the same minister who has a green paper in relation to the very issues that we have been chastised about today. It beggars belief that the minister can come in here today and invoke some sanction against the Leader of the Opposition when he has only, through the Senate, refused to endorse a reference in relation to campaign finance reform. And they lack the integrity to even divide over it. It was all done under the table over the other side—whisper, whisper, ‘We won’t divide on this, but we are going to put it on the record that we oppose it.’ What a lack of intestinal fortitude that was. It is either good enough to divide on or it is good enough to support. You just want to put it on the record by saying, ‘Look, we oppose it.’ If you were so serious about it, why did you not divide on it? Why did the Chief Government Whip not divide on this as opposed to doing it under his breath? What a complete and utter lack of intestinal fortitude.

Minister, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, you have green papers in relation to disclosure and other matters. If you are serious about this, why not follow the lead of the Senate—the Greens, the Democrats, Family First and the coalition—and have comprehensive finance reform discussion? Why not let the committee that since 1983 has been addressing these matters do its job? It is chaired by the government. It has representatives from all the major and minor political parties. They are the ones whom we have entrusted with the decision-making process in relation to electoral matters since 1983. Why is it that this government now refuses to endorse the integrity of that committee? The reason it has broken the rules on that is that this is a matter in which it believes it requires something to be done to cover its own back in relation to the appalling activities of certain members of the ALP in New South Wales.

What Senator Faulkner failed to disclose to the Senate today was that three members of his own executive, Mr McClelland and Mr Griffin in the other place and Senator Conroy, actually supported an increase in disclosure levels to $5,000. Why weren’t we told that today? Why didn’t Mr Rudd, through Senator Faulkner, acknowledge to the Senate that his own party supported an increase in the disclosure levels to $5,000? Why weren’t we told that today? Why wasn’t Mr Rudd prepared to acknowledge, through Senator Faulkner, that his own party had supported an increase in disclosure levels?

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

What’s he talking about?

Photo of Michael RonaldsonMichael Ronaldson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Special Minister of State) Share this | | Hansard source

What I am talking about, Minister, is your own party. Three members of your executive wanted to increase disclosure to $5,000, and you have the gall to come in here today and attack the Leader of the Opposition in relation to disclosure levels. What an utter disgrace!

I am not going to take up the full time available. The opposition is quite clear on this. We put forward a comprehensive notice of motion in relation to campaign finance reform. We invited the rest of the Senate to join us in relation to that. To their very great credit, the Democrats, the Greens and Family First took up the invitation to support those comprehensive terms of reference. The Australian Labor Party refused to do so. In his first test in relation to comprehensive campaign finance reform, the Prime Minister of this country refused to act. He was given the opportunity; he refused to act.

This minister acknowledges that he has two green papers that are to be brought forward in July and September. The first one relates to the very matter that we are discussing today. Why would you bother having a green paper and then bring in legislation? Again, it beggars belief. One would have to look at the motives behind it to see why it would be done. There is only one motive; it starts with W—it is Wollongong. It is this desperate Prime Minister’s attempt to be seen to be doing something.

We categorically reject the allegations made today. We challenge the Labor Party to finally take up the challenge that, with the minor parties, we have put through to have comprehensive reform. We challenge the Australian Labor Party to let the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters do the work it has been doing on a bipartisan basis since 1983. We challenge the Australian Labor Party to stop playing games with campaign finance reform, to join the rest of us in getting something serious done and putting it on the table and to stop bringing into this place piecemeal bits of legislation that it has cherry-picked for its own cheap political purposes.

10:12 am

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian Greens do not support the prospect of an obstructionist Senate. However, we have always believed that the Senate has a crucial role in the Australian bicameral parliament as a house of review. In essence, the debate this morning is about that role. In the coming years we are going to do everything we can from the crossbench to review initiatives in the Senate—those from the government in particular because it is the elected government of the country but also those that arise from the coalition or the cross-benchers—and to improve those initiatives in the interests of the Australian people.

We will also be an innovative component of this Senate. We have a large list of legislative initiatives on the board and there will be more from the Greens. We do not see ourselves as being simply arbiters between the government and the coalition except in the role of getting better outcomes on behalf of the nation. We see the Greens’ role also as being innovators where the big parties fail to take initiatives which can benefit Australians as a whole. Of course, that means in the fields of social justice, the environment, the enhancement of democracy, which we have just heard some of the debate about, and achieving a more peaceful world, particularly on an increasingly dangerous planet threatened with overpopulation, environmental degradation and the spread of and increased expenditure on extraordinary armaments.

We have a proposal from the opposition—which has the majority in the Senate and which can, no matter which way we vote on this matter, presumably prevail through the use of those numbers in the coming two weeks—that eight measures being proposed by the government be sent to committee and effectively delayed some months, until at least the resumption of Senate sittings at the end of August, with the new Senate and the return of the balance of power to the crossbench.

In the matter of the electoral reform that Senator Faulkner and Senator Ronaldson have been debating, there is a proposed delay of at least one year before it comes back to the Senate. The Greens will not be supporting a delay on this matter, which was extensively canvassed in the parliament by current senators in 2006, when the Howard government brought its reforms into play and the Greens opposed them. Labor’s move to restore the previous situation is one that we support. Innovation in the area of electoral reform, which is badly needed, is something that we will back. So we will not be supporting the initiative from the opposition in that regard.

I can say, however, that we will support the sixth matter, which is that the National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) Bill 2008 and the National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008 be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Economics for report by September this year. We Greens have been very strong in advocating publicly much greater action by the government—after 11 years of failure by the Howard government—to deal with the matter of transport in Australia and getting a better prospect of future ability for Australians to move to and from work and across the country in an age of increasing oil costs and threatening climate change. Our emphasis has been for there to be much greater investment in fast, efficient, cheap public transport.

The government’s budget fails on that score. As you know, Mr Acting Deputy President, 75 per cent of the transport budget goes into greater expenditure on roads—tollways in particular—and a lot of the 25 per cent that goes into rail and other forms of transport will simply go to the coal industry to help it export more coal to be burnt elsewhere around the world to magnify the problem of climate change. We believe that problem should be tackled in part in this country by a reorientation of our transport systems to concentrate not on getting coal to export facilities but on getting people to work on time cheaply and efficiently, no matter where they might live in this country. People need to be able to travel with a world-standard public transport system—a big difference from the situation now. The country lags right at the back of the field at the moment.

So we will be supporting a look at the competing arguments, which have raged in the public arena, about the proposal for Fuelwatch. Let the Senate get the competing points of view and the factual information, particularly that deriving from Western Australia, and report back here by September so that we can have some resolution of this initiative which the government says is going to reduce fuel prices. The opposition ostensibly says—and I hope I am not misrepresenting the opposition; someone can correct me if I am—that Fuelwatch will actually increase fuel prices. We do not have a resolution of that. Let the Senate have an inquiry to determine that particular matter. That is part and parcel of the committee system—to look at just such matters as that, gain the information from the public and report back to the Senate so that we can much more wisely vote on the matter.

My colleague Senator Nettle will speak shortly on the first matter, which is to do with the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008. The opposition, while in government, did nothing on this enormous injustice in federal law for 11 years. It seems a matter of concern to us that, through this process, the opposition wants to delay government action which is imminent now.

There are some tax bills listed here that fix anomalies or otherwise improve delivery of fairness in taxation. There is the National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical and Other Benefits—Cost Recovery) Bill 2008. The Greens believe that cost recovery is a reasonable thing. The government is looking at recovering $9 million to $14 million from the pharmaceutical corporations that use the services involved here. This is a system that delivers $6 billion in benefits to Australians, who have arguably the best pharmaceutical system in the world. It is envied by many other countries. Cost recovery from the big corporations for the work that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee does in assessing drugs being brought into that system and therefore subsidised by the government is not only reasonable; it is long overdue.

The Greens support the Tax Laws Amendment (Luxury Car Tax) Bill 2008. We have looked at it and we have assessed it. It will come down to a political decision rather than one made on the basis of facts to be derived from any Senate inquiry. I am sure the opposition has really made up its mind on that matter, and so have the Greens.

I will just go to the last matter again, which is the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008. To put it simply, the Howard government amendments in 2006 turned a political donation system which we think was unsatisfactory into one which was much worse in terms of accountability and transparency for Australian voters. This bill goes back at least to that 2006 situation. We support the measures and believe they should happen now and not wait for another year for the review of the committee looking into the 2007 election. Mind you, that committee has a lot on its plate and we will be expecting great things from it. We support the government’s move here and we think the opposition should support it as well. The matter, as I said earlier, was debated extensively in 2006. This is an obstruction by the opposition, using its numbers before the turnover of the Senate. It is something that may be rectified in the new Senate. That will come down to the crossbench, I presume, and some new initiative from the government after we resume in August.

I finish by saying again: the Greens intend to consider matters brought before this Senate rigorously, with great responsibility and with recognition that we are not just a debating chamber taking political points of view; we owe it to the Australian people to get outcomes. What we see here today is a move by the opposition, which still has the majority numbers, to prevent outcomes which are reasonable in the main. We will support the opposition in the Fuelwatch reference to committee, but in regard to the other seven matters we will oppose the initiatives from the opposition.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Brown, just to clarify with you, at the moment the intention of the Senate is to deal with all the matters together. If you need to request that the matters all be dealt with separately, or simply that one matter be dealt with separately, you should do that now.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I am sorry. I was under the impression that we would be dealing with them separately. In that case, I ask that No. 6, the Fuelwatch matter, be dealt with separately.

10:24 am

Photo of Andrew MurrayAndrew Murray (WA, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

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—

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

I might pick a bone with that one, Senator.

Photo of Andrew MurrayAndrew Murray (WA, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

although I do acknowledge and recognise that I have had warriors on my side, such as Senator Faulkner, and I am pleased to see Senator Ronaldson joining in. Hopefully he means what he says and actually does support wholesale reform. But that is with regard to the entire architecture. What we are dealing with here are the specific pillars that will support the political donations structure whilst that broader review goes on—the broader review through COAG and the broader review through JSCEM. I think that the way in which this reference has been framed is deceitful, because it attempts to conceal the real motive, which is to delay reform that, if enacted, would clean up and improve our political donations regime.

So I want to indicate that I and the Democrats are strongly opposed to referring this bill, at No. 8 on the Notice Paperthe Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008to JSCEM until 30 June 2009. We would support a short reference within the Senate if that was necessary. We would even support, although we would regret, a reference through to August. But a reference through to June 2009 is just a disgraceful and deceitful reference, in my view, which conceals the real motive—and that motive is that this reform is absolutely, fundamentally, thoroughly and completely resisted by the coalition. It would be far better to put the bill to the vote and have it defeated on the floor. That would be far more honest than this process of reference.

I hope, with those remarks, that you will gather that I feel there is a long-term issue with the way in which tax bills are presented at the end of year which needs, I think, to be addressed through Senate procedures. I hope, Minister, that you are taking that on board and will carry it through to the Senate Standing Committee on Procedure. It is an issue. We have the budget and then we have just these two weeks to deal with the tax bills. We do need more time to refer. Secondly, I do hope that these same-sex superannuation reforms are dealt with far more expeditiously, and thirdly I wish strength to the arm of the minister in getting his political donations reforms through.

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

I have already spoken in the debate. My point of order is to request, if I could, that under standing order 84(3) the eight questions that are before the chair be put separately. Senator Brown has already raised this in relation to at least one of the matters. I request, in relation to order of the day No. 2—these matters that have been adjourned from yesterday on eight separate questions—on behalf of the government, that they be put under standing order 84(3) and that those complicated questions be divided and put separately.

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

On the point of order: the Manager of Government Business and I had discussions about this yesterday, and I agree with that course of action.

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

My understanding is that under standing orders any senator can request that questions be put separately, and that shall be done.

10:38 am

Photo of Kerry NettleKerry Nettle (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to speak on the reference of Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008 to the never-never, which is the opposition’s proposal in relation to this matter. I will start by reading out a letter, which I received some time ago in relation to proposals by the ACT to introduce civil unions legislation. I will read the letter from this individual and then discuss the impact that this legislation would have on him. He wrote to me two years ago and said:

I am a 58-year-old gay man who has been living in Canberra with my partner (of a similar age) for the past 14 years.

We are both ex-serviceman. His was a long career in the army, mine a short one as a National Serviceman from 1969 to 1971.

We have both worked extensively in the Australian Public Service; in my case, in Social Security, Health and Veterans Affairs portfolios for many years.

Each of us has at various times held Top Secret security clearances either in the military or in sensitive public service portfolios.

Both of us have lived the majority of our lives in situations where our relationship was considered to be criminal in one state or another.

Throughout my partner’s military career he kept his sexuality utterly secret, since the alternative (till the early 1990s) would have been summary discharge from the Services. I was more fortunate in that the public service reformed its attitude a little earlier.

Governments were happy to accept our contribution to the national good, but for many years they did so on the condition that we lied about our personal lives and pretended to be something we were not. As for entitlements, we were expected to be grateful for not being arrested.

Those days of hypocrisy and persecution are largely past. But whilst all Australian states and territories have now decriminalised same-sex relationships, we are not accorded recognition by social security, superannuation, health and taxation systems controlled by the federal government. Though we pay for our share, we don’t receive our share. And our schools are still reluctant to teach kids that gay sexuality is ok, and many teachers turn a blind eye to victimisation and bashing.

I have once experienced being the target of gay-hate violence. Half a dozen thugs with baseball bats attacked me just a few years ago here in Canberra. If I weren’t both lucky and prepared to stand up for myself, I would have died that night. Some of my friends have been less fortunate.

The continued existence of this sort of anti-gay violence is due in great measure to those who seek to impose on the entire community their narrow view of what is ‘moral’, and who seek to use gays as scapegoats to blame for society’s ills. I recall all too well the attempt by some religious groups in the 1980s to blame gay men for HIV/AIDS and to cynically use HIV as a weapon to try to drive society back into the sectarianism and hypocrisy that characterised the 1950s.

Certain religious groups still have no hesitation in promoting the most appalling and dishonest anti-gay propaganda in the name of ‘family values’. But as I recall, the Nazis also claimed to be committed to family values, and were equally intolerant of freedom of choice. Tens of thousands of homosexual men were interned by the Nazis, and many of them perished in concentration camps. It was not the first time we have been used as scapegoats by political and religious fanatics, nor was it the last time.

I consider myself to be a highly moral and principled person, a quality I attribute to the nurture of my late parents. My family have always been absolutely supportive of me and my partner, and my siblings often travel to stay with us at Christmas or new year.

I have made (and am continuing to make) a significant contribution to the society in which I live. Those with whom I have worked have always respected my contribution and have had no difficulty with the fact that have I am an openly gay man. Likewise, those with whom I am involved in amateur sport at ACT and national levels respect me for my contribution and my honesty, not because I am or I am not gay.

I am proud to be an Australian, and thankful that over the past 30-40 years our country has gradually become a fairly tolerant and welcoming place for most people.

But every step of the way over the past thirty-forty years attempts to remove the punitive and discriminatory laws that made me and my partner second-class citizens have been met by ideological bigots claiming that to remove such discrimination would somehow damage the rights of those who suffered no such ill-treatment. What poppycock.

I’m truly sick of the whingeing and whining that comes from the religious conservatives every time someone obstructs a little of their pathological crusade against gay men.

The proposed ACT legislation does not equate civil unions with marriage. To complain, as the Attorney-General has done, that it implies ‘equality’ shows just how much influence religious bigots have over a supposedly secular federal government.

Living in Canberra I am also sick of the disadvantage every ACT resident endures. Namely, having substantially less representation in federal parliament than Tasmania which has hardly more population than we do, and having our legislation and planning decisions threatened or overturned by federal government bully-boys.

Whether on this issue or any other, it is intolerable that Australian citizens in the two territories do not have true self-determination in the manner that people in the states do. Those of you who come from states might care to think how you would feel if the federal government could over-ride your state’s laws.

As I said, this letter relates to the ACT legislation, but he continues:

My partner and I still have our military service medals. Sometimes I wonder if we should send them back, since our contribution to the military service of this country is apparently not considered sufficiently worthy to accord us the entitlements that most people take for granted.

He continues on the ACT legislation in particular and goes on:

It’s high time the federal parliament stopped avoiding the issue of its discriminatory laws. We are all citizens and there should not be one law for my brother and a different law for me.

He says:

I am happy to take unpaid leave from my job to come and see any MPs or Senators at Parliament House, so that they can meet in person one of the many people who has had to fight tooth-and-nail all his life to get some measure of fairness from governments. Someone who for most of his life was arbitrarily classified as a criminal, denied the protection of the law, and refused the entitlements that my siblings are given automatically.

He concludes the letter by saying:

I sincerely wish you and your family the same peace and security that I seek to have accorded to myself and my partner.

I wanted to read that letter out because that is just one of many individuals who have a right to their entitlements—entitlements that other people in heterosexual relationships have. These are people who are public servants in this country would have that discrimination removed if this piece of legislation is able to pass in our parliament. I recall when this legislation was first proposed that the opposition said that they would be supporting it. Yet now we are in a situation where they are proposing to refer it to a committee with no reporting date. I want to know what opposition members are going to say to people such as this gentleman about whether or not they deserve their entitlements.

The issue to do with interdependent relationships is an issue that has been talked about many times in this chamber. Some change has been made and there is more change that needs to be made. But simply because one group of people—people in interdependent relationships—are being denied entitlements does not mean that we should deny other groups of people their entitlements as well. People in same-sex relationships have had their entitlements denied to them forever. That discrimination has not been removed.

There has been discussion and public debate about the removal of this discrimination for decades. Discussion about removing this discrimination has probably been going on for the whole of my life and longer. So for the opposition to say, ‘We need a bit more time to think about this,’ is just extraordinary. I am 34 years old and I reckon for the whole of my life there has been discussion on this issue about removing these entitlements. I do not really think that sending it off to a committee is going to change the nature of that discussion or indeed parties’ views in relation to that discussion. In fact, we heard the Leader of the Opposition say that the opposition would be supporting these reforms. So why does the legislation need to be sent off to a committee which has absolutely no reporting date? The opposition are saying that they want this matter dealt with and that the committee should not conclude until all issues relating to same-sex entitlements have been dealt with.

One of the issues that I have talked about a lot in this chamber in relation to same-sex entitlements is that of recognising same-sex marriage. I like to be optimistic, generally, about the removal of discrimination, but I am not holding my breath waiting for both of the two major parties in this country to accept that same-sex couples have the right to be recognised under the law that people in other relationships do. Are the opposition really saying that they want all reforms that relate to same-sex couples sent off to a committee until everything that relates to same-sex couples has been dealt with? Does that mean this has to wait until both the major parties decide that they want to support same-sex marriage—as I believe they inevitably will, as we see more and more countries doing that around the world.

This reference is quite extraordinary, saying, ‘We want this matter dealt with in a committee until all these matters have been resolved.’ There are many matters that relate to same-sex discrimination. HREOC identified many and the government have identified more; there are others that were dealt with by HREOC and there are others, such as the issue of marriage, which the government are not proposing at this point in time to make a change to as well. So it is just extraordinary to be proposing that the legislation be sent to a committee, where it will stay until all these matters are dealt with. It is just not acceptable to treat same-sex couples, or indeed the parliament, in this way.

The government—for all their many failings that I might point out on another occasions, and indeed have—indicated prior to the election that this was an issue on which they were going to move, that they were going to remove the discrimination that was identified by HREOC. We heard the Leader of the Opposition say, when the government introduced the legislation, that the opposition would be supporting it. Why can’t these people—like the gentleman who wrote the letter I just read out—have their entitlements? Why should their entitlements be sent off to the never-never land where maybe, down the track—if finally both the major parties get with the program and recognise same-sex marriage—they can deal with it? It is just not an acceptable way to operate.

Senator Bartlett moved yesterday to put in a reporting date that relates to the same-sex superannuation legislation. That reporting date is Tuesday next week, which would allow this legislation to be dealt with. I join him in supporting this particular proposal, and the Australian Greens will be dividing and voting to ensure that the same-sex superannuation legislation has a short committee, reporting on Tuesday of next week, so the legislation can be dealt with and so that it can be in place by 1 July, which is the government’s intention in relation to this legislation. If it is not supported, we will not support this indefinite reference for all same-sex matters.

The need to remove this discrimination is an issue that many of us in the parliament have given many speeches on, and very little action at all has occurred. That was because of the failure of the Howard government, the now opposition, to move in this arena. The one instance that Senator Bartlett pointed to last night in relation to same-sex superannuation, which did include interdependence, is probably the only example we can point to where we saw some action from the Howard government on this issue. Finally, after all this time, we now have an opportunity to remove some of that discrimination, and the opposition are proposing to send it off into the never-never. Well, that is not acceptable. The Greens will never support that, because the Greens do not support discrimination.

For us, this is a matter of principle. We do not think people should be discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality. We do not think that certain public servants and certain members of the military should not be able to access the entitlements that their colleagues can simply because of their sexuality. That principle, for the Australian Greens, applies right across the board. That is why it includes marriage. We take the principal position of not supporting discrimination. It is one of the really fundamental elements on which civilised Western democracies all around the world are based—not supporting discrimination. We in Australia are a long way off being able to hold our heads high on this matter, because we still have so many areas of federal law where people are discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality.

Here is an opportunity being presented to us. We finally have a government that in one small arena is saying, ‘Let’s just remove this little bit of discrimination,’ and the Greens say: ‘Yes; thank goodness! About time!’ It is not like it is not something that we have been debating for, as I say, my entire life. It is not something that needs to be sent off to a committee so that the details can be pored over. I understand Senator Bartlett outlined in the chamber yesterday all of the inquiries into these matters in the past. It is a matter that needs to be dealt with. That is why a short inquiry that enables us to look specifically at this bill and to pass the legislation before the end of this financial year, so that it can come into effect by 1 July, is appropriate. The Greens are joining Senator Bartlett in moving an amendment to bring in a reporting date so that on Tuesday next week we have a report about superannuation for same-sex couples.

There are issues that relate to that legislation that we would like to deal with. One issue that I would like to see dealt with in a short Senate committee is that this legislation does not require the discrimination to be removed in private superannuation firms; it deals specifically with Commonwealth public servants. It deals with judges, veterans and Commonwealth public servants but it does not deal with other same-sex couples throughout our community who have their superannuation in private superannuation firms. It allows private superannuation firms to, if they choose to, remove the discrimination but it does not actually require them to.

Certainly the impression that the gay and lesbian community has been left with as a result of the advocacy by the former opposition, now government, the Labor Party, is that they were intending to remove the discrimination that same-sex couples face in the community in their entitlements—in things like superannuation. So it is disappointing for the Australian Greens to see that this government legislation does not in fact require private superannuation firms to stop discriminating against same-sex couples. It allows them to, if they choose to, remove that discrimination but it does not require them to do so. So, even if this legislation were to pass, we would still see same-sex couples who had their superannuation in private superannuation firms facing discrimination.

So there are genuine matters to do with this legislation that the Greens would like to see an inquiry into. I would like to understand how many same-sex couples with superannuation in private superannuation firms would continue to be discriminated against in relation to their entitlements were this legislation to pass. There are matters that we think are important to be discussed in a committee context. They are matters that we think can be dealt with within the timetable that the government has outlined. That is why we do support sending this to an inquiry—so that we can look at some of those matters and can also raise, as we have many times before, the issue in relation to interdependent couples. But we do not support sending this legislation off into the never-never, which is what is being proposed by the opposition.

We will be joining Senator Bartlett in moving the amendment to say: let’s have a report back next Tuesday; let’s have a short period of time for an inquiry to look at some of these matters. Yes, they are really important matters. I would like to see more discussion on the issue of why people in same-sex relationships cannot have discrimination removed by private superannuation firms but I am prepared to have a shorter inquiry so that we can see this change come into place. That is what we are going to be supporting. But we will never support a proposal which is about continuing discrimination, and that is what the opposition is proposing. We need to remove discrimination not just in relation to Commonwealth public servants and their superannuation but in all areas of federal law where same-sex couples are discriminated against. Get with the program, guys! Countries all around the world have been removing this discrimination. Countries around the world are recognising that, particularly in relation to areas like marriage, we need to remove discrimination. As I said before, I am an optimist; I think we will remove that discrimination in Australia. But I am not going to wait to remove all of the other areas of discrimination until both the major parties get on board with removing discrimination in relation to marriage, and that to me is what the opposition is proposing to do. It is just extraordinary. We cannot support it.

The Greens, as I said before, do not support discrimination. We want that removed. This bill is an opportunity for us to remove just one small arena where discrimination exists—in relation to superannuation and death benefits for Commonwealth public servants. We are going to seize this opportunity with both hands. We want to support this. We do not want to be told by the opposition that, perhaps because of the internal homophobia that they are dealing with within their party, they want to send it off to the never-never. That is no good. We have had 12 years of your homophobia holding back this removal of discrimination. Now is the time we need to remove that discrimination. The Greens want to be a part of that. The Greens will be a part of that. We will be supporting the removal of discrimination in all areas of federal law, including in marriage, and we do not want the opposition trying in a last-ditch effort to send off this discrimination, to say discrimination and homophobia can continue to be a priority for the opposition. That is not acceptable. The public have voted against that, and we need to see this discrimination removed. (Time expired)

10:58 am

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

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.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that the amendment moved by Senators Bartlett and Nettle be agreed to.

11:15 am

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move as an amendment to motion No. 1:

Omit paragraph (2), substitute:
(2)
That the committee is to report on 30 September 2008 or after the consideration of any related bills mentioned in paragraph (1)(b), whichever is the sooner.

Question agreed to.

The question now is that motion No. 1, as amended, be agreed to.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question before the chamber now is that proposed reference No. 2, relating to the Tax Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy Surcharge Thresholds) Bill 2008, be agreed to.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question before the chamber now is that proposed reference No. 3 of the National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical and Other Benefits—Cost Recovery) Bill 2008 be agreed to.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that proposed reference No. 4 of the Tax Laws Amendment (Luxury Car Tax) Bill 2008 and associated bills be agreed to.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that proposed reference No. 5 relating to the Excise Legislation Amendment (Condensate) Bill 2008 and a related bill to a committee be agreed to.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that proposed reference No. 6 relating to the National Fuelwatch (Empowering Consumers) Bill 2008 and a related bill to a committee be agreed to.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that proposed reference No. 7 relating to Tax Laws Amendment (2008 Measures No. 3) Bill 2008 be referred to a committee.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

We move to proposed reference No. 8—that the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008 be referred to a committee.

Photo of Steve FieldingSteve Fielding (Victoria, Family First Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, a point of clarification: what is the date on that referral coming back?

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I will read the whole question, which is: 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 by 30 June 2009 in conjunction with the committee’s inquiry into the 2007 federal election.

Photo of Steve FieldingSteve Fielding (Victoria, Family First Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I would like to move an amendment to that motion.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Fielding, the debate is closed. You did not foreshadow an amendment, so you will have to seek leave to move an amendment.

Photo of Steve FieldingSteve Fielding (Victoria, Family First Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to move an amendment.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, it is quite a serious matter for the Senate at this stage to be asked to consider an amendment. I think it would be prudent for the Senate to hear what the amendment is before we give leave to consider the matter.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I can only ask you to give leave or otherwise. Is leave granted?

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to hear what the amendment is before we vote on that matter.

Photo of Steve FieldingSteve Fielding (Victoria, Family First Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The amendment is for the reporting date to be before November 2008.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senators have heard the amendment. Is leave granted for Senator Fielding to move the amendment?

Leave granted.

11:43 am

Photo of Steve FieldingSteve Fielding (Victoria, Family First Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

Omit “by 30 June 2009”, substitute “before November 2008”.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, the Senate is being asked to agree to an unspecified date before November. If we are going to proceed with the matter, I suggest that the senator specify the reporting date that he wants the Senate to consider.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

If I heard the amendment correctly, Senator Fielding moved that it should be before November. If it is before November, the date would have to be 31 October or before.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I just want to comment on the process here. We can make a determination on this, but it is inappropriate that the Senate be asked to deal with an amendment like this outside the debate.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Brown, because Senator Fielding has moved the amendment and you have already spoken, you can only take a point of order or seek leave to make further comments.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I haven’t spoken on the amendment.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, you did. You spoke a few minutes ago. You are allowed to speak only once. After he moved the amendment you stood on your feet and spoke. The question is that the amendment moved by Senator Fielding be agreed to.

Honourable Senators:

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of Andrew MurrayAndrew Murray (WA, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, although I supported the motion for an earlier date, I did not support the division. I do not know anyone else who supported the division.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I was sure I heard two noes. I will put the question again. The question is that the amendment moved by Senator Fielding be agreed to. Those of that opinion say aye and those against say no. I did hear two ayes. Is a division required?

Honourable Senators:

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Let’s get this clarified properly. I am going to put the question one more time. Is the amendment moved by Senator Fielding agreed to? Those of that opinion say aye and those against say no. I think the noes have it. Is a division required?

Photo of Steve FieldingSteve Fielding (Victoria, Family First Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I am sorry, Senator Fielding; only one voice said yes.

Question negatived.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I ask that the Greens support for the amendment be recorded.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that proposed reference No. 8, relating to the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008, be agreed to.