Senate debates

Monday, 20 June 2011


Taxation of Alternative Fuels Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, Excise Tariff Amendment (Taxation of Alternative Fuels) Bill 2011, Customs Tariff Amendment (Taxation of Alternative Fuels) Bill 2011, Energy Grants (Cleaner Fuels) Scheme Amendment Bill 2011; In Committee

Bills—by leave—taken together and as a whole.

8:25 pm

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

(1) Clause 2, page 1 (line 9) to page 2 (line 6), omit subclauses (1) and (2), substitute:

This Act commences, or is taken to have commenced, on 30 June 2011.

This is a very simple amendment. The opposition does not support any of the bills in this suite of legislation other than the Energy Grants (Cleaner Fuels) Scheme Amendment Bill 2011. Clause 2 of that bill—that is, the one among the bills that we do support—provides that the bill not commence if the other bills be voted down. In the event that the Senate voted down the other bills, the amendments which I now move would be necessary to ensure that the Energy Grants (Cleaner Fuels) Scheme Amendment Bill 2011 could commence. In other words, what we are seeking to do is to break the nexus in this suite of legislation between the last of the bills, which we support, and the other bills, which we oppose.

8:26 pm

Photo of Nick SherryNick Sherry (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I understand what Senator Brandis is trying to do—that is, of course, to effectively renounce the policy that the Liberal-National Party announced all those years ago. I am sure Senator Xenophon knows that. This is Liberal Party policy which was put into the forward estimates. They supported it until very recently, but the purpose of the opposition amendments is to split the four bills in the alternative fuels package and to address only the unintended outcomes that the opposition put into their own law to overtax biofuels from 1 July 2011.

You had many years to fix this problem, Senator Brandis, when you were in government, and what you are doing now is incredibly opportunistic. This amendment would impact the budget bottom line by approximately $500 million. This is despite the fact that the opposition know that the policy informing these bills is good—in fact, it was coalition policy from 2003. The government does not support the amendment.

8:28 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I will make a short contribution. This is not the second reading stage, but, because of other commitments, I could not set out my position on these bills. I will do so shortly, but I will deal with Senator Brandis's amendments now. I see these measures as a package; I do not think it is appropriate to split the bills in the form suggested. I note that there is unanimity on the issue of ethanol, but I think it is important that these bills be seen as complementing each other—or, rather, that they be seen as associated with each other—and splitting the bills is not appropriate.

That is my position on this, but I will have something more to say about the bills later. I have been in negotiations with the govern­ment, and, hopefully, I will be in a position to talk about those shortly. With the indulgence of the chamber, I could set out my position on the bills more broadly—I am in your hands on that.

Photo of Nick SherryNick Sherry (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

You might not get an opportunity.

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I may not get an opportunity later. I see the measures in these bills as being interrelated; I do not think it is appropriate to split them. I think it is crucial that this legislation is passed to ensure that ethanol producers continue to have access to the grant and that they have the ability to offset the excise duty so that this emerging industry can succeed. In relation to the rest of the bills in this package, the alternative fuels legislation amendment has a par­ticularly interesting history. In this regard, I can say that I support the coalition's view in relation to this bill as espoused by Senator Minchin. I think that Senator Minchin took a responsible approach in relation to this. I think that Senator Minchin, if the reported comments are true in terms of his views in relation to the measures contained in this bill in relation to LPG then Senator Minchin should be commended for what I believe is a principled and consistent stand.

This measure was announced by the Howard government as far back as 2003-04, and at the time then Treasurer the Hon. Peter Costello said:

The reforms will establish a fairer and more transparent fuel excise system with improved competitive neutrality between fuels. They will provide the opportunity for currently untaxed fuels to establish their commercial credentials in the market place.

However the 2003-04 budget measure was never enacted, and today the opposition opposes the introduction of an excise against LPG, LNG and CNG fuels in these bills. I note the comments that Senator Minchin has reported in the media and, again, if that is the case—and I believe it may well be—I commend him for that principled stand.

It is true that LPG is a cleaner fuel than petrol. It is 13 percent cleaner than petrol, as I understand it, and the proposed excise by the government acknowledges that in applying an excise significantly below the 38 cent excise applied to petrol and diesel.

The taxi industry has also spoken out against the excise, saying it will affect their industry and that the increased cost will be passed on to consumers. Estimates by the government are that it will add 19 cents to the average metro fare if the excise is passed on in full on 1 July 2015. Estimates from the taxi industry are that it will add about 50 cents to $1 on a $20 fare. So this excise will add some cost to the nation's 66,000 drivers and its passengers. However, I believe the cost is broadly reasonable and the additional excise cost will be tax deductible. But I do acknowledge the concerns of the taxi industry and, as a regular user of taxis both in my home town and when travelling interstate, it is an industry that I have always had a great deal of sympathy for.

I speak to a lot of drivers, and the one issue that I hear about above all others is security and safety. We have all seen in recent years some of the horrendous incidents involving taxi drivers either within their taxis—poor security and lighting at taxi ranks in terms of their overall security has been less than adequate. I have been in discussions with the government in relation to this and I am grateful for the time and, I think, the robust discussions I have had with Minister Shorten in relation to this but I note that the minister may confirm that the government has agreed to commit a sum of $5 million over four years for the promotion, security and safety for the taxi industry. I think this will go a long way to assist the industry in an area that is of core concern to them. I think it is a reasonable sum that will go some significant way to assisting taxi drivers and their personal safety. I think it is appropriate that that sum be in effect appropriated from this excise. I would like to think that, if the measures that are being implemented are seen to be effective and more needs to be spent, then the funds will be found for that.

I think the $5 million over four years would be a very good start for the industry nationally and I look forward to the government confirming that. I think that is a fair way forward in relation to this bill and I believe that the overall equity of this and also the fact that this was Howard govern­ment policy a number of years ago are compelling policy reasons for this to be passed. I am comfortable with this bill with the funds, the provisions, set aside for those key issues to promote the taxi industry, the safety and security of drivers. These are key issues that many, many taxi drivers have told me are their main concerns.

8:34 pm

Photo of Nick SherryNick Sherry (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

There have been discus­sions between Senator Xenophon and Senator Shorten. I did refer to talks in my earlier contribution—you were not here, Senator Xenophon—but I can confirm that.

Bills agreed to.

Bills reported without amendments; report adopted.

I move:

That these bills be now read a third time.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a third time.

Debate resumed on the motion:

That these bills be now read a second time.

8:36 pm

Photo of David BushbyDavid Bushby (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to contribute to the debate on the ComSuper Bill 2011 and the Governance of Australian Government Superannuation Schemes Bill 2011. This package of bills is intended to effect a number of changes. Primarily, it will amalgamate all military and civilian Commonwealth superannuation funds; it will merge the Australian Reward Investment Alliance, the Military Super­annuation and Benefits Board and the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Authority to form a single trustee body, to be known as the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation, or CSC; it will establish ComSuper as a statutory agency providing administrative services to CSC; and it will introduce consequential and transitional provisions to facilitate the merger.

These bills were first introduced in a slightly different form in early 2010 and were subsequently amended to slightly improve the board appointment process, following the inquiry by the Senate's Finance and Public Administration Committee. I might add here that, as a member of that inquiry, the small amendment made shows what an effective tool this place's committee system is, but I note that the coalition's dissenting report highlighted far more issues with these bills than were reflected by the small amendments conceded by the government. The amendments conceded by the government included requiring consultation with the Minister for Defence on employer board appointments and requiring that at least one Chief of the Defence Force, or CDF, nominated director be present where a reduced quorum is acceptable and when issues to be discussed relate only to military superannuation.

Although these amendments improved the bills, the bills still contain a lot of bad policy and, in my view, remain unsupportable. This is because the bills still contain provisions which make them unacceptable to the defence and veteran communities and still give excessive power to the ACTU with respect to appointments of CSC directors, termination of CSC directors and quorum arrangements for board meetings.

The government asserts that these bills have been introduced to reform the super­annuation industry by consolidating 650,000 members and pensioners under a single trustee board and establish a greater pool of assets for investment purposes. When first introduced early last year, the then Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, stated:

The introduction of these changes reflects the ongoing work within the Government to review and where necessary, reform its own business operations, internal governance and structures just like anybody else.

However, when the consequent reform involves decisions that distort the operation of the board that will govern the newly amalgamated funds, effectively handing the ACTU excessive power to make appointments and excessive voting rights at meetings, the question must be asked: what is the purpose of the changes?

Certainly, it is hard to see a lot of demonstrable benefit in these bills and this question was also asked by the witnesses to the inquiry. The RSL submitted:

… assertions about prospective improvements resulting from the proposed merger are not substantiated;


A review of the four sources of information about the proposed merger of the superannuation boards made available to the RSL has failed to find any factually based reason why the merger must take place.

And again:

There were lots of reassuring words … but no hard facts backing up the need for change.

In its submission, the Defence Force Welfare Association stated:

Noting that the Government chose not to consult with DFWA or other Ex-Service Organisations on this issue, DFWA can find no evidence of any benefit, tangible or intangible, to serving or former members of the ADF. Nor can DFWA identify any material or financial benefit to the wider Australian community.

I tend to agree that the government has failed to clear two hurdles regarding the demonstrable benefit these bills will deliver. They are, firstly: it has specifically failed to demonstrate the value of the amalgamation proposal to military and veteran super­annuants and beneficiaries; and, secondly, it has generally failed to demonstrate the need for this amalgamation to the wider com­munity, many of whom share the concerns raised by the veterans groups.

I, along with other coalition senators, share the concerns of affected groups and remain to be convinced of the benefit of amalgamating the management boards of military and other forms of Commonwealth superannuation. As already mentioned, coalition senators and I do not consider that the interests of serving and former ADF members are well served by the proposed board composition of the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation and the way its quorum provisions play out.

These concerns revolve primarily around the relative reduction in the proportion of military and ex-military interests. This concern was echoed in evidence given to the committee by the Returned and Services League, and I quote Rear Admiral Doolan:

Prima facie, if you are increasing the number of board members and you are decreasing the percentage of military representatives on the board, then the military voice must be more muted.

Similarly, at the hearing into the bills, the national president of the DFWA stated:

… the representation on that board will not give adequate voice to the military superannuants, whether they are contributing members or recipient members.

This flaw in the bills is exacerbated by the proposal for the Australian Council of Trade Unions to have the power to appoint three members of the new board, as opposed to only two coming from the military com­munity. Indeed, coalition senators do not support the provisions relating to the role of the ACTU in this bill and will move amendments in that regard.

It is my view that the bills should contain no special provision for ACTU repre­sentation on the board. Rather, board mem­bers should be appointed by the minister for finance, other than the two representatives who should come from a defence background to reflect the unique nature of military service and the defence community's special circumstances. Even to the extent that the ACTU is provided special board repre­sentation, concerns are held about the fact that it can appoint three CSC board members, whilst the CDF is only able to appoint two. If the ACTU is to be given special representation, it should be no more than that given to the defence and veteran community—or, preferably, the military should continue to have its own independent board.

Inexplicably, under these bills, once a director has been appointed by the ACTU, that person can only be dismissed or removed by the ACTU. Even in the case of misbehaviour, physical or mental incapacity, or where the director in question is a habitual no-show to meetings, the minister cannot remove such an ACTU appointed director unless the president of the ACTU agrees. Contrast this with the ability of the minister to remove the five proposed employer directors for any of those reasons and it is clear that such a provision is unacceptable as it gives the president of the ACTU more power over the relevant directors than the responsible minister.

Another concern is the possibility of the ACTU members preventing a quorum, despite some amendments designed to lessen this risk. However, it remains that a quorum is required of nine board members for a quorate meeting of the CSC board—given that there are only 11 members in total, the refusal of all three ACTU members to attend would render any such meeting inquorate. This is simply not good enough and could lead to effective paralysis of decision making in the CSC where decisions are likely to be made where a majority supports them but not the ACTU members. Effectively, it allows the ACTU members to take their bat and ball and go home.

The coalition will be moving a number of amendments to improve these bills, but, even if passed, they will still propose changes that we do not consider to be good policy on balance. As such, these bills should not be supported.

8:44 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am really trying to find some merit in the arguments put forward by the coalition. All I can hear is an attack on trade union involvement in superannuation. That is the bottom line and that is what is being argued. Both Senator Cormann and Senator Bushby have spent most of their time arguing against ACTU involvement in the merged fund. We know why they are doing that. It is because they are anti-union. They do not want workers to have the rights to act collectively or bargain collectively, and that has been the history of the coalition.

For Senator Cormann to stand up and cast aspersions on good, hardworking union officials in this country who are on the boards of superannuation funds is an absolute disgrace. It is typical of the smear campaigns that the coalition simply revel in. They do not worry about policy; they do not want to worry about the rights of workers and the interests of workers; they simply want to smear, and they have spent most of their time tonight smearing trade union officials who serve their members' interests on the boards of superannuation funds. Why are they doing that? They are doing it because industry super funds are demon­strated as the best, most effective and best-returning funds for working people in the country. That is why they are doing this.

The superannuation funds provide excellent returns. They consistently out­perform other funds in this country and they do that because they are innovative; they do that because they will get trustees who stand up and work for the members. It is not about profitability, it is not about creaming off the profits of the funds into the pockets of well-paid executives. It is about making sure that profits go back to the members, and that is why the coalition have spent their time here maligning honest Australians out there working hard on superannuation funds for their members.

Senator Bushby said he was not sure about the benefits. I was actually on the committee that dealt with this. I think it was very succinctly—

Senator Bushby interjecting

You were as well, Senator Bushby. Well, again your input was totally unmemorable. That was another unmemorable contribution from Senator Bushby in the committee structure. Not only do the national press not know who he is; he is totally unmemorable when it comes to Senate committees. I am glad you reminded me that you were there. That is right—you were. I have the transcript here and I see your name. I do not see much else, but I do see your name, Senator Bushby.

Dr Helgeby from the Department of Finance and Deregulation was there. Both the Department of Finance and Deregulation and the Department of Defence came and made submissions to this inquiry. I suppose, if what is being put by Senator Bushby and Senator Cormann is the position, we have two senior public servants acting against the interests of Commonwealth public servants and Defence Force personnel. It is an absolute nonsense. To continue to push that approach on the basis of their hatred for the trade union movement does not do them much credit. They do not deserve any credit in this debate at all.

Dr Helgeby said, in the joint submission from the Department of Finance and Deregulation and the Department of Defence, that their submission demonstrates the importance of structural reform for the long-term delivery of superannuation for military personnel and Commonwealth employees. They were talking about long-term structural reform—something that the coalition know very little about. In 11½ years in government, their structural reform was nil. They left this country ill-equipped to face the challenges of a modern-world economy. Dr Helgeby went on to say:

The submission highlights the challenges of maintaining separate trustee boards and provides evidence of the significant potential benefits that would flow to members under a merged trustee and with improved scheme administration.

So what the two departments are saying is that the benefits you get from a merged trustee board include significant benefits for the membership. That is what they are saying. It is not the ACTU saying this; this is two senior public servants putting their position unequivocally and clearly to the Finance and Public Administration Legis­lation Committee. They said there would be significant potential benefits flowing to members under a merged trustee and an improved scheme administration. What they have pointed out is that the scheme needs improved administration.

For 11½ years the Howard government, in their usual incompetent and lazy manner, did not do anything about this. They were not concerned to try and improve public administration of superannuation. They lazily sat back and hoped the money would keep flooding in from the mining boom so they could say that they were good economic managers, and we all know it was nothing but a front and a farce. They never were good economic managers. Tonight is a demonstration of why they were bad economic managers, because for 11½ years they had an opportunity to merge those funds, to bring improvements to those funds and to make those funds operate more effectively for members of the Defence Force and members of the Public Service. And what did they do? They did nothing. They did not even look at this issue.

Dr Helgeby went on to say that he would talk about the benefits, but there were lots of misunderstandings about how the reforms and proposed legislation would operate. It was last year that this committee took place, and what is quite clear is that neither Senator Cormann nor Senator Bushby have any better idea about the benefits that this will bring to both the Public Service and the Defence Force than they did when Senator Bushby was on the committee. I do concede that he was on the committee, even though he did not make much of an input into the committee. But he was there.

According to Dr Helgeby, the reforms do not change members benefits or death and disability benefits. The bills will deal with structure and governance of superannuation, not with the design of the individual schemes. He went on to say that the reforms would improve efficiency in trustee opera­tions and allow the benefits of these improvements to be passed on to members in the form of reduced costs and, potentially, higher investment returns. Reduced costs and higher investment returns are mostly gained through the benefits of scale, particularly consolidation of funds under management.

The department says that there is clear industry evidence in Australia and overseas that the scale advantage enjoyed by larger funds is substantial. Our joint submission—that is, the submission from the Department of Finance and Deregulation and the Department of Defence—says that this is the appropriate way to go. This is the thing to do to benefit the members of both the Defence Force and the Commonwealth Public Service.

But let us understand that the coalition do not care about the Public Service in this country. They would try to treat the Public Service here as public enemy No. 1, not as public servants. They went to the last election—remember this when they stand up here with their doleful tears about the Commonwealth Public Service—saying they would get rid of 12,000 public servants' jobs. That was their contribution to public service efficiency: slash and burn the Public Service.

Senator Bushby, do not come here going on about your concern for economic efficiency, because you have no credibility in economic efficiency. For 11½ years you did nothing. Do not come here trying to pretend that you are concerned about the Public Service or that you are concerned about the Defence Force, because you have no concern about them. For 11½ years you allowed smaller returns to those public servants and the Defence Force because you did not have the vision or the intellectual capacity or the guts to actually take on a hard issue and deal with it. That is the problem with you lot over there: you are all talk and no action. All you want to do is be negative. You are negative in everything you do. Here we have a joint submission from the Department of Defence and the Public Service saying that this will benefit workers. It will mean benefits in terms of scale, benefits in terms of lower costs and benefits in terms of better returns. And all you can do is come here and criticise the ACTU.

The ACTU and a Labor government actually made sure that workers in this country achieved decent superannuation. That was done in the teeth of opposition from the coalition to provide workers in this country decent superannuation. Many workers back in the early eighties did not have superannuation; you had to be a white-collar worker to get superannuation. Let us not forget that. The first superannuation I got personally was when I became a state public servant in the electricity commission. That was the first time I ever got superannuation. Like many other workers in the electricity commission, when I left the electricity commission to take up a job helping workers as a trade union official I ended up losing tens of thousands of dollars of my superannuation because there was no vesting of superannuation to workers. All you got was your own contributions and the employer kept the contributions that they made for you plus the interest that those contributions made. And that was under a federal coalition government.

It took the Australian Labor Party to say, 'We want to provide superannuation to workers in this country,' and that is what we did. I am proud to say that as a union official I went out and fought against the opposition of the coalition and against the opposition of employers to get industry superannuation into this country. I am proud to say that I was on the board of the Superannuation Trust of Australia as a trustee. I was a trustee of Australian super, one of the most successful funds in this country. I challenge either Senator Bushby or Senator Cormann to step outside the chamber and say publicly what they are saying in here about me as a superannuation trustee in my time as a superannuation trustee or about any other trade union superannuation trustee. Have a little bit of backbone, Senator Bushby and Senator Cormann; get out there and claim that the trustees who are looking after workers' money in this country are ripping the system off and that they are only trying to get their hands on people's money. That is what is underlying this argument.

It is an argument by the extremists in the coalition, who have got absolute control of the coalition. You are an extremist on industrial relations. You are an extremist on superannuation. You are an absolute disgrace. I hope workers see the Hansard of what has been said here tonight . They will soon realise that, when the Leader of the Opposition is out there trying to pretend that he is a friend of workers, the coalition is about ripping away workers' entitlements, ripping away workers' rights to have a say on their own superannuation and ripping away the rights of workers to have representatives in superannuation trusts who understand their needs and understand them. It is quite clear.

Photo of David BushbyDavid Bushby (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What about the Defence Force?

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Bushby, you hardly mentioned the Defence Force. You came here tonight not about the Defence Force but to mount an attack on the ACTU and ACTU trustees and super funds. That is what you did. We know you are part of the group of extremist young guns in the coalition. We know you are part of that group. You will not stand up for Tasmania against Senator Cormann when it comes to horizontal fiscal equalisation. You will not stand up to them on that issue; you succumb to them. You put Tasmania's rights in the background. You will let Senator Cormann bully you, you will let Senator Cormann intimidate you, you will let Senator Cormann stand over you and you will not stand up for Tasmania. I have seen you in action, Senator Bushby. You are absolutely pathetic. You do not stand up for Tasmania; you let the extremists in the Western Australian branch of the Liberal Party walk all over you.

There is one of the Western Australians, Senator Adams, coming in now to make sure that you cannot say anything about the Western Australian Liberal Party. Senator Cormann does not have the backbone or the courage. If he thought he was going to get the backbone or the courage, in would come the Western Australian senators to make sure that he could not open his mouth. Senator Bushby, you are absolutely pathetic.

I am absolutely proud that I was part of the process that brought superannuation to workers in this country. As a trade union official and organiser I was out there doing it while you were probably out arguing against superannuation for workers. In 1983, 39 per cent of the Australian workforce had superannuation. What were the coalition saying about the rest of the workers, who did not have superannuation? They were saying absolutely nothing. When the trade union movement decided that we would go out and make sure that workers got a fair go in this country, what did the coalition do? They were egging the employees on to stand up against the union movement getting super. So when you come here and bleat and moan about an amalgamation and a strong superannuation fund, you are acting in a purely hypocritical manner.

Senator Cormann has come in. You are now surrounded, Senator Bushby. We have Western Australians to the left of you and Western Australians to the front of you.

Photo of Helen KrogerHelen Kroger (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Cameron, please direct your comments through the chair.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Acting Deputy President, Senator Bushby is now surrounded by Western Australians. He will not stand up for Tasmania. If he was daring to stand up for Tasmania, Senator Cormann has moved in to make sure that he cannot stand up for Tasmania. Senator Cormann is here as a minder. He is here making sure that Senator Bushby cannot stand up for Tasmania.

Hearing the attacks on the ACTU tonight we know what they are about. They are about the extremists in the Liberal Party. They are about trying to curry favour with the businesses that would try to destroy the trade union movement. We know what the trade union movement will get, we know what workers will get, if ever the coalition ever comes back. It will be more Work Choices, less superannuation and a bad deal when you go on the job. So do not come crying crocodile tears about superannuation here. The coalition is an absolute disgrace.

9:04 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very proud of Australia's record on superannuation—Labor's record, the labour movement's record and the Gillard government's record—but it is not something we can sit still on. We must make sure Australia has a well run superannuation system so that Australians have sustainable retirement incomes today and into the future.

While we have a good system, it does require some further change, some further tweaking, lest members miss out on the benefits they should be getting because government has not been paying close enough attention to how the system can be improved and better operate. Labor is paying attention but the coalition is not.

In these bills before us we are paying particular attention to improving the govern­ance of the superannuation arrangements of those who serve our nation as public servants or defence personnel. It is but one part of a much bigger platform on which the Labor government's agenda on superannuation rests. Tonight it is about improving and modernising the governance arrangements for the main Commonwealth civilian and military superannuation schemes.

The bills before us give effect to the government's announcement, back in 2008, that it would merge the trustees for the Commonwealth's main civilian and military superannuation schemes—that is, the Australian Reward Investment Alliance, the Military Superannuation and Benefits Board of Trustees and the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Authority to form a single trustee body. There are important reasons for doing this. The government merged these civilian and military trustees with the aim of improving member benefits and service levels. The bills before us bring together a number of civilian and military superannuation schemes coming under a single trustee. I will not read the very long list to you, because I know that has been done before, but I think it is of significance to note that the bill does not impact on the design of the schemes or on members' entitlements, which are protected by separate scheme legislation that cannot be changed by this new trustee. Changes to these entitlements would require legislative action—and rightly so, because it is very important that this legislation and this parliament recognise the unique nature of military service in the Australian Defence Force. We should not contemplate changes to these entitlements without the consent of parliament and recognition of the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve in our defence forces. In other words, parliament should not separate itself from the sacrifices made by our defence personnel and from contemplating the needs of their dependants should they be killed or disabled as a result of their service to our nation. Because of this, there is no change to the existing features and benefits that reflect the unique nature of military service in the Australian Defence Force, such as death and disability arrangements. It is important that there is no change to these arrangements.

Recognition of the unique nature of military service includes a requirement for CSC to have regard to these important issues as set out in the relevant military superannuation legislation. Tonight I would like to acknowledge the ex-service com­munity for their dedication to representing and advocating for the interests of their members on these important issues.

It is important to place in the hands of a single trustee the capacity to consolidate scheme funds, pro­viding the opportunity to access increased benefits of scale. By doing this we should see access to improved service levels and, importantly, improved investment opportunities. It should also allow members of all the schemes to benefit, through lower investment costs and higher investment returns. This is the stuff that Aust­ralian superannuation is all about—good, long-term financial investments for members, the leveraging of scale, and good investment decisions and risk manage­ment. I am pleased that the Members of the Military Superannuation and Benefits Scheme will be set to gain substantial benefits from this consolidation of schemes.

The Defence superannuation scheme has just over $3 billion in assets, whereas the civilian superannuation scheme has some $18 billion under management. We can see from past industry experience in super­annuation that members of smaller superannuation schemes are able to look forward to gains when their scheme funds are consolidated into a larger pool. Consolidation gives smaller schemes much more investment leverage. That is the opportunity that the legislation before us tonight presents. Members of this consolidated scheme will also ultimately benefit from a highly skilled and innovative trustee being responsible for the scheme. It is also important to note that public sector super will increase its presence in the superannuation industry by becoming a larger and less divided fund. It will be able to operate more strategically in the interests of its members and attract quality and experienced staff and board members.

The senators opposite choose to challenge the quality of those board members, with which I disagree. The union movement has underpinned good industry superannuation funds in this nation for many years. The board will have 11 members, and both military and civilian interests will be represented. In this sense the board is very similar to many other industry super­annuation boards, which include repre­sentatives from the industries in which its members work. The Chief of the Defence Force will be responsible for nominating two member directors, three member directors will be nominated by the President of the ACTU, and there will be consultation between finance and defence ministers on suitable candidates for the five employer director positions.

So it is clear—and we have had many examples of this from speakers opposite—that the key reason the coalition is so opposed to this legislation is union involvement in the board. The simple fact is that unions and the labour movement have been key drivers of the creation of a superannuation system that serves all Australians, not just a privileged few. Super­annuation used to be for a privileged few. But now, thanks to Labor's ongoing com­mitment to good superannuation, millions of Australians can enjoy a much higher standard of living and a far more secure future. Key to delivering this outcome has been the invol­­vement of unions advocating for their members and combining financial savvy with knowledge of their members' needs.

We have had an ideological attack from senators opposite on this legislation, based on the fact that not all workers are members of unions. This is completely beside the point, as unions have brought good corporate governance to superannuation, and they have done this successfully because they are there to serve their members, just as a good superannuation fund should do. So there will be representatives on the superannuation fund serving the whole of the membership. They do not have a narrow membership base. They will be on the board to represent all members of the fund. They will not be driven by their own financial reward but by reward for members. Industry super­annuation funds have served their members very well and will continue to do so. I believe we will see a good example of that in the fund proposed by the legislation before us tonight.

It is very important that the government do the right thing by our public servants and its serving defence force men and women. Tonight we have an opportunity to improve superannuation benefits for the majority of people in uniform in our country. However, in contrast, the opposition in this parliament are opposing a set of bills that would increase the take-home superannuation of over 90 per cent of our serving members. It is a crying shame.

By 2050, one in four Australians will be over 65. We know that longer term challenges such as the ageing of our popula­tion, as well as recent events of the global financial crisis, underscore the need for Australians to have access to quality superannuation schemes and a secure financial retirement beyond pensions. Tonight, we have an opportunity to make a small contribution to the good governance of such superannuation programs and I commend the bills to the Senate.

9:15 pm

Photo of Nick SherryNick Sherry (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to close this important second reading debate on the package of legislation to improve and modernise the governance arrangements for the main Commonwealth civilian and military super schemes. I want to briefly go over the main purpose and features of the legislation. None of the bills change the design of the civilian and military super schemes or member entitlements. Each civilian and military superannuation scheme will remain separate and continue to have its own benefits and entitlements as set out in its enabling legislation. For example, the military schemes will maintain their own legislative base and existing features and benefits that reflect the unique nature of service in the Defence Force such as death and disability arrangements.

The Governance of Australian Govern­ment Superannuation Schemes Bill 2011, the governance bill, seeks to improve the level of member benefit service levels and governance of the main civilian and military superannuation schemes by establishing the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation as the single trustee for these schemes. CSC will be formed from a merger of the existing trustees for these schemes. The consolidation will enable CSC to pool all the civilian and military funds under its management to access increased benefits of investment scale. Industry experience suggests that the members of the Military Superannuation and Benefits Scheme have the most to gain from such pooling due to the small size of its fund relative to the civilian funds. For example, it is estimated that a half a per cent increase in the net investment return for a member of the RAAF who joins as an officer cadet and rises through the ranks to group captain at retirement would lead to an increase in the superannuation benefit of $95,000 over a full career or $41,000 over 10 years of service. There would be benefits, but of a smaller order, to members of the Commonwealth's main civilian superannuation schemes.

The governance bill incorporates a number of suggestions from ex-service organisations that are aimed at protecting the unique nature of military service. This includes a requirement for CSC to have regard to the unique nature of military service, as set out in the relevant military superannuation legislation, when it is performing a function under that legislation. CSC will have a governing board that includes representation of both civilian and military interests. However, each director of the CSC board, regardless of whether they have been nominated by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, the Chief of the Defence Force or the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, will have an overriding obligation to act in the best interests of all scheme members. In order to further protect the interests of members of military schemes, at least one director nominated by the CDF is required to be present when the governing board is considering a matter related solely to these schemes.

The ComSuper Bill 2011 makes comple­mentary reforms to the governance structure of ComSuper that are aimed at improving superannuation administration for the benefit of current and former members. In particular, the ComSuper Bill establishes ComSuper as a statutory agency for the purposes of the Public Service Act 1999, consisting of a chief executive officer and staff. ComSuper will be a prescribed agency for the purposes of the Financial Management and Account­ability Act 1997.

The Superannuation Legislation (Consequential Amendments and Trans­itional Provisions) Bill 2011, the conse­quentials bill, supports the reforms in the governance bill and the ComSuper bill by making consequential amendments to a range of other Commonwealth acts and puts in place required transitional arrangements. An important consequential amendment has been made to the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act 1973 to strengthen recognition of the unique nature of military service by mandating the establishment of a Defence Force case assessment panel. The panel will have military representation, including representation nominated by the chiefs of each of the three services. The chair of the panel will be one of the directors of the CSC who was nominated by the CDF. The consequentials bill also amends the Superannuation Act 2005 to facilitate public sector employees being able to consolidate their savings under the management of one trustee.

Overall, the package of bills reflects the government's ongoing commitment to provide efficient and sustainable super­annuation arrangements for Commonwealth employees and military personnel, and to protect these features of military super­annuation that recognise that military service is unique and different from civilian employment.

The critique in this debate is reflected in the amendments but the focus in the debate has been on the nomination of the trustees. A longstanding rule was established when we passed the Superannuation Industry (Super­vision) Act 1993. I was actually in the parliament when we passed the legislation. In fact, I was a member and chair of the Senate Select Committee on Superannuation which dealt with the legislation and I was involved in some of the design features. Section 10 of the SI(S) Act, on page 17, has a very important principle—that is, equal employee and employer representation. Employee and employer trustees are nom­inated by the respective organisations. This is true of industry superannuation funds. Some are fond of criticising these as union funds, which they are not; they are industry funds. They are multi-employer funds with equal trustee representation, usually nominated by employer and employee or trade union organisations, with a two-thirds voting rule. It is also true of corporate superannuation funds. It is true of all APRA regulated funds and the SI(S) Act applies to them all in this regard. It is a very important principle.

The opposition are arguing that the Minister for Finance and Deregulation should appoint the considerable majority of trustees. That is what the opposition are arguing and they are wrong. It is wrong in principle and it is contrary to the spirit of the SI(S) Act. It is contrary to the equal representation rule that we have in this country, which, despite some of the criticism from those opposite, has worked overwhelmingly in the best interests of members. The equal representation rule and the two-thirds voting rule are absolutely critical. Without further comment, I urge the Senate to pass the legislation without amendment. Question put:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Senate divided. [21:26]

(The PRESIDENT: Senator Hogg)

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Bill—by leave—taken as a whole.

Photo of Helen KrogerHelen Kroger (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the bill stand as printed.

9:31 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

The coalition will be moving a series of amendments to make this bad piece of legislation a little bit less bad, because what this legislation is about is empire building and further entrenching the dominance of the union movement as the exclusive employee representative on Commonwealth superannuation boards. We have had speeches here from Senator Cameron and my colleague from Western Australia, Senator Pratt, and their speeches, I am sure, will be sent to their preselectors in the days ahead. I can see Senator Cameron nodding.

The circumstance is this: not a single member on that side of the chamber should be allowed to vote on this legislation, because they are all conflicted. They should all be absenting themselves from speaking and voting on this legislation because they all have a conflict of interest. Every single one of those members on that side is a member of the union movement. Every single member on that side of the parliament is doing the bidding of the union movement. This is not about the best interests of workers across Australia. This is not about the best interests of public sector employees and their superannuation. This is not about the best interests of retired public servants. This is about enshrining the vested interests of the union movement in a corporate governance structure of Commonwealth superannuation.

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Here comes Work Choices.

Senator Pratt interjecting

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

And of course here we have Senator Cameron, on cue, and Senator Pratt, on cue, doing as they are told, acting as the agents of the union movement. Madam Chair, you tell me why it is appropriate, when only 41 per cent of public sector employees are members of a union, that unions should have 100 per cent of the employee representatives positions on the board to be created under this legislation.

Senator Cameron interjecting

And they are jumping up and down, and yelling and screaming, because of course they feel exposed. They know that they are conflicted. They know that what they are doing is not right. They know it is inappropriate. Why should the 59 per cent of employees who choose not to be a member of a union not have representation on the board to be created under this legislation? Furthermore, why should the ACTU have this sort of control over military superannuation arrange­ments, as is to be enshrined by this legislation?

This legislation is completely inappropriate. It is not driven by the public interest; it is driven by the Labor Party's consideration of the vested interests of the union movement. Surely if the government was acting in the public interest and in the best interests of public sector employees at least one of the three employee representative positions on this board would be filled by somebody who was not nominated by the ACTU. You tell me one good reason, Madam Chair, why the 59 per cent of public sector employees who are not members of unions should not have some representation on the board that is looking after their superannuation. The union movement thinks that the superannuation arrangements are their plaything.

We had Senator Sherry out here saying what a great contribution the unions have made to superannuation in Australia. You know what? I would just refer the minister to what is happening with the MTAA. I refer the minister to the things that are happening in the failed merger between—

Photo of Nick SherryNick Sherry (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

It's actually an employer fund, the MTAA.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

You talk about the great contribution of unions and industry super funds, and you of course know, Minister—through you, Madam Chair—that union representatives on that fund went to Fair Work Australia to demand that Fair Work Australia identify that fund as a default superannuation fund without declaring the conflict, without declaring that they were actually trustees on that fund. This is the sort of stuff that we are dealing with in superannuation across Australia today.

And we are talking about a significant amount of people's money. We are talking about $1.3 trillion across the superannuation industry—money that belongs to Australian families. So the corporate governance arrangements are very important. The corporate governance arrangements, whether they are in relation to Commonwealth super, industry super funds or retail funds, are very important. The Cooper review, which this minister commissioned, made a whole series of recommendations to improve corporate governance arrangements. And this gov­ernment has rejected every single recom­mendation that could in any way weaken the stranglehold of the union movement on superannuation corporate governance arrangements across Australia.

So it is completely inappropriate—the way the government is seeking to enshrine the dominance of the ACTU when it comes to employee representation on the board to be created under this legislation by giving the ACTU 100 per cent of the ACTU nominated positions. The minister is saying that we are against unions having any involvement in the superannuation industry. That is not true. Of course the unions should have involvement in the corporate gover­nance arrangements of the superannuation arrangements. But why should the union movement have 100 per cent of employee representative positions on the board to be created under this legislation when they represent only 41 per cent of public sector employees? Why should the 59 per cent of public sector employees who choose not to be members of a union not have some representation on that board, even if they had just one?

Senator Feeney interjecting

I know that Senator Feeney wants to get in on the act because he wants to make sure he can send a few notes to his preselectors to say, 'I did the right thing: I stood up for your interests in the parliament.' As I say, every single member on that side of the parliament should absent themselves from the vote on this legislation because every single member on that side of the parliament is conflicted when it comes to this issue. They are acting not in the public interest; they are acting in the vested interests of the union movement. They know that if anything happened to the ACTU representation on this board they would pay for it with their job at their next preselection. That is what this is all about.

Senator Feeney interjecting

Senator Cameron interjecting

They are yelling and screaming, and I can see that Senator Feeney is sitting right next to Senator Cameron so they can get this thing going. No amount of yelling and screaming across the chamber is going to hide the fact that this is completely inappropriate. You are not acting in the public interest. You are acting in the best interests of the union movement, who you are of course representing in this chamber. With those few words in relation to my first series of amendments, I seek leave to move those amendments together.

Leave granted.

I move amendments (1) to (12) on sheet 7089 together:

(1)   Clause 11, page 8 (lines 18 to 23), omit subclause (2), substitute:

  (2)   Subject to subsection (5), the Chief of the Defence Force may nominate, in writing, 2 of the 10 other directors.

Note:   The Minister chooses the remaining 8 other directors.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(2)   Clause 11, page 9 (lines 1 to 3), omit subclause (4).

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(3)   Clause 12, page 9 (lines 19 and 20), omit “the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions or”.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(4)   Clause 16, page 10 (lines 27 and 28), omit “the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions or”.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(5)   Clause 16, page 11 (line 1), omit “President or Chief, as appropriate”, substitute “Chief” .

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(6)   Clause 17, page 11 (line 21), omit “(7),”.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(7)   Clause 17, page 11 (line 28), omit “(7),”.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(8)   Clause 17, page 12 (line 4), omit “(7) to”, substitute “(8) and”.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(9)   Clause 17, page 12 (lines 7 to 10), omit subclause (7).

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(10)   Clause 17, page 12 (lines 15 and 16), omit “the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions or”.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(11)   Clause 18, page 13 (lines 6 to 14), omit subclause (5).

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

(12)   Clause 38, page 29 (lines 26 and 27), omit “the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and”.

[remove ACTU nomination of Board members]

Essentially, the effect of these amendments is to remove ACTU nomination of board members. What we would encourage the government to do is to come back to the parliament not with a proposal for the minister to nominate all of the employee representatives but with a process which would actually ensure that there is representation of the diversity of views across employees, not just of the 41 per cent of employees in the public sector who choose to be members of unions but also of the 59 per cent who choose not to be members of unions.

I flag now that we are also concerned about the fact that the ACTU has more members on this board as employee representatives than the Defence Force. As well, we are very concerned that the quorum under this legislation is set at nine out of 11, and of course with three ACTU members on this board that will mean that the ACTU on their own can prevent a quorum being reached. The minister will say that the ACTU does not play those sorts of games trying to prevent a quorum. Well, we have seen stranger things happen. You tell me why we need a quorum of nine out of 11. Why would it not be possible to have a quorum of eight out of 11, which would just happen to mean that the ACTU on their own could not prevent a quorum being reached for meetings of the board under this legislation? Tell me one good reason why the ACTU should be put in a position where, on their own, they can prevent a quorum being reached.

If we had a requirement in Senate committees that six out of seven members of a committee had to be there in order to reach a quorum, a lot of our meetings would never take place. That might suit the government because that would mean less scrutiny of bad government legislation, but of course that is not the arrangement that is in place here. There should not be a quorum arrangement enshrined in this legislation which requires nine out of 11 directors to be present, which gives the ACTU the opportunity to prevent a quorum being reached.

I flag now that if these amendments are unsuccessful—I hope they are not; I commend them to the chamber—then I will move some further amendments to ensure that the ACTU on their own cannot prevent a quorum being reached by the board of the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation.

9:41 pm

Photo of Nick SherryNick Sherry (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Minister Assisting the Minister for Tourism) Share this | | Hansard source

We are dealing with a group of amendments relating to ACTU representation. I have already referred, in my second reading speech, to the SI(S) Act, which establishes the principle of equal representation: employer, employee, union. That is well accepted in respect of all superannuation funds. What Senator Cormann is suggesting is that in this case the employer would nominate five plus another three employee representatives. What he is suggesting is an arrangement that is contrary to that which exists at the present time prior to the two funds being merged. The military are entitled through their association to nominate two employee representatives and the ACTU three.

That is what happens at the present time. Even Senator Minchin, as Minister for Finance, when he closed the defined benefit fund and opened the defined contribution fund and created Aria, as it is known—and we supported those arrangements, by the way—maintained the ACTU nominees position. Senator Minchin is not renowned for his support of the union movement; he is renowned for being frank and realistic about fiscal issues and matters relating to superannuation—and I congratulate him for that. But not even Senator Minchin suggested that there should not be ACTU nominees.

We oppose the amendments. This is typical ongoing abuse of the trade union movement and the equal trustee arrange­ments that exist and that overwhelmingly have worked well in the governance of our superannuation system. The one example that Senator Cormann could refer to, the Motor Trades Association of Australia, is one of the few funds in this country that is actually an employer fund, in that the employer nominates all the trustees. Senator Cormann could not have picked a worse example. There are a couple of funds in this country that are totally employer nominated, and the MTAA is one of them, Senator Cormann, so you should check your facts. There are also a couple of funds in this country that predate the SIS arrangements of 1993 that I referred to earlier where the unions nominate the trustees. So there are only a couple of each, employer and union, that exist out of the many funds in this country, Senator, and your example was just wrong.

The government do not support these amendments with respect to removing the ACTU. We believe it is appropriate that the ACTU should nominate some of the trustees on the employee side. Question put:

That the amendments (Senator Cormann's) be agreed to.

The committee divided. [21:49]

(The Chairman—Senator Ferguson)

Question negatived.

Progress reported.

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! I propose the question:

That the Senate do now adjourn.

9:52 pm

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

In March I spoke in the Senate about the achievements of the Australian blind cricket team. In that speech I mentioned that Ben Phillips, a totally blind cricketer, would be joining the Tigers Oxfam Trailwalker team to compete in the 100-kilometre 2011 Melbourne Oxfam trail walk. Tonight I inform the Senate of the Tigers' success in completing the 100 kilometres in 37 hours and two minutes and, most importantly, the fantastic work of Ben, who did it all without seeing a single step along the way.

Ben is now totally blind. He was born legally blind and as a child had very limited vision. He went to school and learned to read, but—as the years passed and his glaucoma, aniridia and other eye conditions became worse—his sight diminished. He has been totally blind for around two years now and has only extremely limited light perception.

The Tigers first met Ben while we were training with Nick Gleeson for the 2010 Oxfam trail walk in Melbourne, when Max—a Tigers stalwart—Ben, Nick and I along with another blind walker and two other guides walked a section of the Great North Walk in Sydney. Ben works as a babysitter and is studying child care at university via correspondence—he seems to have a natural talent for getting babies off to sleep! He lives independently in Paddington in Sydney. He plays blind cricket for the Burwood club and is a regular in both the New South Wales and Australian sides.

In the first stage of the Melbourne trail walk the Tigers kept up with the pack, and we met some interesting characters along the way. Ben's bright orange vest with the silver text on the back saying: 'I'm Ben. I'm Blind.' made this congested section much easier to manage as groups overtaking the Tigers would see Ben's vest, say g'day to Ben and wish us well for the 90-plus kilometres to come. We eventually made it to checkpoint 1, which had run out of food by the time we got there—disaster!—but with a quick change of socks we were on our way to checkpoint 2 at Lysterfield Lake.

At Lysterfield we met up with our support crew, Anthony Byrne MP and his staff, who as usual gave our team magnificent support. We set off on the wide fire trail with the goal of reaching checkpoint 3 by sundown. As the fire trail wound back into suburbia, the team pushed up some steep hills around Belgrave. We made checkpoint 3, at Ferny Creek, not long after dark.

After a short break we hit the track again. Many parts of this section consist of slippery, single-file track. Light rain began to fall; heavy rain followed. Conditions were very cold and miserable. We were climbing for most the second half of this section, and we reached the highest point of the trail walk in the middle of the worst storm. Ben said this was especially difficult for him because, when the wind and rain whipped around his ears, the hood on his raincoat invariably muffled directions given by sighted team mates. Ben had no choice but to bat on and concentrate very, very hard—which, of course, he did.

We reached Olinda, the highest checkpoint in the walk, and decided to sit out the storm. When the worst of the storm moved on, so did the team. It was cold, and the wet track was difficult, but at least the wind and rain had eased. The Tigers team reached checkpoint 5 at Mount Evelyn around 5 am. After Mount Evelyn the event follows the Warburton Rail Trail, where Ben put his foot down—he raced along the Warburton Rail Trail, which is built on an old railway line and is wide, flat and consistent underfoot. Checkpoint 6 at Woori Yallock was a quick turnaround; although blisters were becoming an issue, the Tigers were determined to push on quickly.

The penultimate stage includes a climb up to and a walk along a disused aqueduct. It was quite odd that the first street sign that we stumbled upon was a huge sign pointing the way to Sussex Street, proving what I have always thought: they have their tentacles everywhere! We reached the final check­point, and some serious repair work was required on blisters. Ben sought assistance from the professionals. He had many blisters, including a whopper on his heel, which made even putting his shoes on a difficult task. The physios and podiatrists had shut up shop; but to Ben's credit he just shrugged his shoulders and said, 'Okay—let's go.'

The final stage of Ben's epic began with the most awkward climb of the 100-kilometre trek. This steep, narrow section of the track is very slippery and has steep drop-offs on both the left and right hand sides of the tracks. Ben needed to concentrate hard and switch his focus and line, as the track poses dangers on both sides. The team handled this stage with military precision. We made it to the top of the hill and onto the fire trail in record time and began the run home. On the last couple of hills, where the track is covered in scree, every step felt like a dagger through the soles of our shoes. But, you will be pleased to hear, we made it to the top of the last hill and began the final precarious descent. Partly grass and partly loose rubble but all treacherous, the surface is as unpredictable as a Benji Marshall show-and-go. I have gone base-over-apex on that hill every year we have participated!

In a final sprint to the finish line, Ben proudly waved his Tigers flag—he had done it. He finished the 100 kilometres in 37 hours and two minutes, and that is a great achievement. Let me quote Ben's own words about this. This is what Ben said:

I've been overwhelmed with emotion this afternoon, just crying my guts out with joy. I can't tell you how liberating it is having experienced years of bullying and discrimination for being blind ... then to go and conquer something most people will never do, and wear a bright vest that says "I'm Ben. I'm blind. Tigers " and do that for 100 km for all to see. It became something positive, I feel valued and special and I no longer need to hide [being blind].

My thanks as always go to Max, who does so much of the organisation for our trail walkers; to John Paul; and to our fantastic support crew: Alex, Helen, Daniel and Anthony Byrne and his staff; and, as always, I pay special tribute to the Balmain Tigers Rugby League Football Club, who have been so generous in their support for this worthy cause, as have all our other supporters and donors—and so many of them have done so now for a very long period of time. As far as Ben's three other team members are concerned, I just want to say this: as far as we are concerned, our mate Ben is a real hero.

10:01 pm

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for COAG) Share this | | Hansard source

It is not very often, as Senator Faulkner would know, that I would stand in the chamber and say, 'Go Tigers' but on this occasion I can certainly acknowledge the value of the walk team for the trail walk that he and his fellow Tigers put together, and I have been known to support it myself in the past. Last Thursday night—

Senator Faulkner interjecting

My absolute pleasure.

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Interjections may normally be disorderly, but I think that people understand the context of that.

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for COAG) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you very much, Mr President. Last Thursday night, 256 chief executive officers and a few politicians—including the Hon. Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, and Minister Mark Arbib—slept out at Luna Park in Sydney to raise funds for St Vincent de Paul's work with respect to homelessness and to raise awareness of homelessness. Across all the capital cities in Australia, a total of 1,001 CEOs and, I suspect, a few attendant politicians, slept out for the night for that very worthy cause.

The initiative of the CEO sleep-out was, I am proud to say, started by Penrith business executive Bernard Fehon. It is a great initiative and in New South Wales alone this year it raised over $1.4million. Anyone who has met Bernard knows just how passionate and committed he is to this issue and, as I said, the fact that it was started by a Penrith local is particularly notable for me.

Attracting slightly less publicity, perhaps, but just as important an initiative was the Penrith Valley Fund Business Sleepers event at the Penrith Paceway on 3 June this year. It was the end of a very cold, wet week, and sleepers were consigned to the concrete areas surrounding the paceway rather than the quagmire that was the centre of the track. I have to say that the paceway takes on a rather eerie perspective in the early hours of the morning if you are used to seeing it on a regular trots night, a Panthers' game night when they are playing across the road or when the markets are there.

Credit for the organisation of that sleep-out, the Penrith Valley Fund Business Sleepers event, goes very much to Richard Eastmead from the Good Guys at Penrith and their absolutely indefatigable marketing manager, Gai Hawthorn. In terms of participation, there were over 40 local business people and members of parliament, including myself; Tanya Davies, the newly elected state member for Mulgoa; and Stuart Ayres, the state member for Penrith. We had the Good Guys team in numbers. We had local newspaper editors, florists, bankers, club management from the paceway, website designers and business advisers, again, including Bernard Fehon and many others.

It was particularly good to meet some of the tireless local community and volunteer workers who were there to talk to us and give us their perspective on homelessness, about their regular nightly work, about who they meet and their circumstances and the challenges that they face. It was also instructive and, to say the least, enlightening to speak with some of the local men who are struggling with the nightly challenge of homelessness themselves. Even more instructive, I have to say, was a conversation with Malcolm, who is regarded as one of the local community and voluntary workers' success stories. He had been out of work for a very long period of time and homeless for an extended period, and he related a number of those stories with great pride as he was able to stand in front of us and tell us about the job he had recently acquired, about his consistent accommodation and how that had changed his life very much for the better. All of the participants contributed a small sum towards swags for the homeless and essentials packs put together, as I said, by Gai Hawthorn for the Good Guys.

It was a cold night but not the coldest, and the concrete, even with our cardboard base, was cold and hard but not unbearable—all of this was nothing compared to the exper­iences of those who sleep rough every night, hundreds of them in places like Penrith and Parramatta.

I particularly want to acknowledge the great community spirit and effort of Richard Eastmead and his team. This was their first sleep-out, but it does not matter, it seems to me, whether it is homelessness, the World's Biggest Morning Tea, the setting up of the Penrith Valley Community Fund, the work of the local community kitchen or the support of the Fusion Youth Services, Richard and his team are there and, so to speak, they absolutely put their money where their mouth is. They make an amazing contribution, and he is an amazing contributor. It is an admirable commitment to community which shows the very high personal regard in which Richard is held across the city of Penrith and much further afield.

One of the reasons I speak about this activity tonight, in addition to the CEO sleep-out from last week, is that these awareness-raising activities are invaluable for showing the rest of our local community and Australia, and corporate and political leaders, some of the realities of home­lessness. It can be on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald or our local Nepean News. The story about a sleep-out by local community members does have an impact. I have had people raise it with me since then in the street, at functions, in the gym and in conversation amongst friends. It makes a real difference to how people think about home­lessness and in fact whether people think about homelessness. It makes a real difference to their level of awareness. My first real awareness of the challenge of chronic homelessness in Australia was crystallised in 1989 by what was then known as the Burdekin report from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, with its focus on youth homelessness and on the lack of state-federal coordination in this area. It became a real focus of my policy interest as someone involved in the youth wing of my political party, probably much to the irritation of the then coalition shadow ministers in the portfolio. It is perhaps somewhat ironic that we have come full circle to a point where I am now the shadow minister for housing myself and I can irritate myself with my obsession, I suppose.

I also want to refer briefly tonight to the Nepean Youth Accommodation Service, an invaluable service which local Penrith identity and board member George Rabie introduced me to some years ago. I attended the NYAS, as they are known, members dinner in Penrith recently. It was held both to acknowledge the work that NYAS and their manager, Joe Magri, do and, again, to raise awareness of their work amongst business, the media and the broader community in the Penrith area. They have operated in the region since 1989. They deliver support services and accommodation options to young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness or of entering the child protection system.

One of the things I particularly like about NYAS is their vision for their clients. It is pretty simple, really. It is: 'That young people and young families are included as part of their local community.' It is not until you think about how often many of us would take that feeling for granted that you realise what a basic aspect of our lives it is that is not present in the lives of those who are homeless. From personal observation, Joe Magri, by his example, leads a highly dedicated team who are passionate about the kids they support. Whether it is through their refuge accommodation, their young parents program or their Nepean Youth College, they are changing lives. I have met some of their clients and several gave presentations on the night: Shane, Melanie, Gerard, and Rebecca and Andrew. They each have very different but very profound experiences of home­lessness and all acknowledged the import­ance of NYAS to their lives and to their futures.

I particularly noted the role of the Nepean Youth College in the support of these young people. It is a tutorial centre for young people who have disengaged from formal education. The passion with which some of them spoke about the chance to complete their basic high school education—to make those steps which, again, so many people take for granted—was incredibly compelling.

NYAS has a strong, community based, elected board and they work very hard to maintain links between their organisation and service providers and other community groups and to work in partnership with all of them. They are absolutely vital local relationships. As Joe Magri has emphasised to me, they illustrate the strong importance of the government response to homelessness, at both state and federal levels, as being a whole-of-government response. I know that in parliamentary offices like ours and in other chambers across Australia, constituents are regularly coming forward with their own challenges of housing affordability and homelessness, and still more are falling between the service cracks. Organisations like NYAS provide a vital support and service in our communities and I absolutely commend them tonight on the job they do.

These small, local efforts, reported in people's local papers or in the national dailies, sometimes do make us stop and think. The community contribution that individuals make from their own businesses, from their own families and, essentially, from their own hearts and minds makes all the difference to how we are able to support those who need our support.

10:11 pm

Photo of Kate LundyKate Lundy (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

The centenary of the founding of Australia's national capital is now less than two years away. While the historic month of March 2013 will no doubt be crammed full of community celebrations and commem­orative events, I note with real interest that the centenary program, under the guidance of creative director Robyn Archer and her team, will evolve over the entire year, focused on 12 carefully chosen, themed months and embracing the four different seasons to mark the special birthday of the unique inland city on the edge of the Australian Alps.

We know that the full program will be announced in September 2012, so the next 15 months will be vital in finalising the detail of what already promises to be a superb 'big book' publication of the list of cultural, commemorative, history and heritage activities. The Australian govern­ment's contribution to the centenary, announced in the recent budget, is timely indeed and a welcome affirmation of the partnership agreement with the ACT government signed in late 2008. I will return to the budget shortly, but first I will give a little context.

Over the past few years, we have had several milestone Canberra centenaries meaningfully recognised: the so-called 'battle of the sites' of 1902 to 1908, which eventually determined where the capital would be placed; the Seat of Government Act 1908, giving the final nod to the option somewhat mischievously labelled the 'Yass-Canberra'; the exhaustive survey of the capital area and surrounds under the watchful eye of Charles Robert Scrivener, the most respected surveyor of his generation; the start, in June 1910, of the exhaustive border survey of the federal territory, which would take almost five years to complete; and, on the first day of January 1911, the commencement of the Federal Capital Territory—recognised and celebrated by the Commonwealth parliament with a splendid exhibition in the Presiding Officers gallery entitled 'Devotion, daring and sense of destiny: surveyors of the early Com­monwealth'. The exhibition ran for three months, up to Canberra Day this year, and was seen by upwards of 200,000 visitors from right across the country, and no doubt many overseas visitors as well.

Yet it is, I think, fair to say that, while recognising the heritage significance of this cluster of commemorative signposts in recent years, it is only in the last couple of months that we have finally arrived at the business end of the centenary build-up. For on 30 April 2011, less than two months ago, the national capital—and the nation—remembered with pride the announcement, exactly 100 years earlier, of the remarkable international competition to design Canberra. The Centenary of Canberra team grasped this prized opportunity to announce a bold new project destined to run right through to 12 March 2013. Entitled 'Capithetical', it is itself a design competition for a hypothetical Australian capital city, open to aspiring and established designers and planners across Australia and across the world. I understand that initial stakeholder interest in the competition, just like 100 years earlier, has already been enormous. Capithetical aims to do a number of things, including: encourage the most innovative thinking about cities today; examine the original world competi­tion a century ago, which we know was won by Marion Mahony-Griffin and Walter Burley-Griffin; and speculate on the roles to be played by capital cities throughout the 21st century and beyond. It a very exciting and potentially controversial concept certain to generate cutting-edge discussion and debate globally about our mature national capital, our beloved 'bush capital', our pre-eminent 'capital city in the landscape', so described, and we will all learn from it.

In her Canberra Day Oration in March this year entitled 'Seed now, blossom in 2013, flower for another hundred years', Robyn Archer stated:

The program for the Centenary is based on the very highest ideals, and couched in the very finest streams of creativity we can find, nurture and afford. The celebration becomes a year-long showcase of the best of our thinking and achievement. Yes there will be fun, and joy and awe, but in the service of ideals and values that are pivotal to the nation’s future.

I cannot help but be struck by the potent connection between the ACT government's imaginative mapping of the 2013 Canberra centenary and the lofty sentiments, nearly 100 years earlier, of Labor Prime Minister Andrew Fisher when he spoke at the Foundation Stones naming ceremony on 12 March 1913. On that momentous day, Prime Minister Fisher articulated a simple, powerful vision for the Australian capital city to come. He said:

Here, on this spot, and in the near future, and, I hope, the distant future too, the best thoughts of Australia will be given expression ... I hope this city will be the seat of learning as well as of politics, and it will also be the home of art.

Prime Minister Fisher's speech was delivered towards the end of a productive three-year period of Labor government from 1910 to 1913, during which he embarked with intent—and, I have to say, in the face of constant criticism from his conservative political opponents—on an energetic nation-building enterprise on behalf of his country. He recognised the roles—practical, administrative and symbolic—that the national capital would be called on to play in the future and legislated accordingly. Fisher positioned Australia for the many challenges of the new century ahead.

In circumstances not dissimilar, the Labor government today, under Prime Minister Gillard, is determined to deliver on its own nation-building commitment. A number of items in the recent May budget bear further testimony to a determined commitment that transcends the relentless carping of the opposition. Night after predictable night, the opposition turns up for stunt after stunt, with no policy substance to contribute to the public conversation. In the meantime, Labor gets on with the job of governing, acutely conscious of its community, heritage and, above all, its necessary nation-building responsibilities. Thus, in recognition of the importance of the forthcoming centenary of our nation's capital, the government has allocated $6.8 million to date as its contribution to the centenary program to ensure that the specifically national elements of the program are properly funded as part of a close partnership with the ACT Labor government.

This centenary program allocation is just one part of a much wider federal investment here in the ACT this financial year. There is investment in a number of important infrastructure projects, as well as in ACT schools, health, families and jobs. There is an allocation of $82.2 million to ACT road infrastructure improvements—most notably $42 million to the upgrade of Constitution Avenue, which will enable the National Capital Authority to begin to shape this major thoroughfare as the premier inner-city boulevard that Walter and Marion Griffin originally intended. ACT schools will benefit from the Smarter Schools National Partnerships program, with some 30 territory schools funded through the $17 million made available by the government over the life of the partnerships program. For example, funding at Richardson Primary School will enable new teachers to do tailored courses aimed at overcoming barriers to student learning. Also, $2.3 million has been allocated to the ACT health sector to improve critical outreach and training courses, $2.9 million has been allocated to support Koomari in the ACT, $790,000 has been allocated to support the work of the Community Programs Association, and $141,000 has been allocated to establish 19 broadband terminals at seniors kiosks around the ACT. In addition, some 6,700 ACT families in this financial year are eligible for an extra $4,200 for their 16- to 19-year old children to assist with cost of living expenses, while some 7,300 apprentices are eligible for the trade apprentice bonus scheme.

Defence and security has been bolstered, with $34.7 million allocated to new and upgraded facilities at ADFA, $83.6 million to HMAS Creswell, and $30.6 million to the new ASIO facility. I am also very pleased about the $33.9 million that has been allocated to the Australian War Memorial over a number of years to ensure that the institution can meet its increased com­mitments in the years leading up to the milestone centenary of Anzac and Gallipoli in 2015. (Time expired)

10:21 pm

Photo of Helen KrogerHelen Kroger (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

With only three parliamentary sitting days left before the composition of the Senate changes on 1 July, I am filled with trepida­tion at the implication of a strengthened Labor-Green coalition. With the Australian Labor Party and the Greens holding the balance of power in the Senate with the arrival of three further Greens senators, I look forward to and anticipate the level of scrutiny that I hope will be applied to the Greens agenda.

I hate to say it, but there is a stale aroma wafting at the Senate doors: it is called communism, that political ideology which has been tried, tested and failed to the detriment of millions of people. Whilst the clock counts down to 1 July, radical extremism must be left at the door.

The Greens have been masters of disguise and artisans of deception. What they sell is rarely what they deliver. The leader of the Australian Greens outlined the priorities for his party prior to the last federal election. It included repealing the Northern Territory euthanasia laws, the return of death duties and, disturbingly, the cessation of public funding for private schools. If a heroin injecting room in your neighbourhood is something which interests you, then the Greens are the party for you. They may appear to champion only environmental causes, but the reality is far removed from this. The most recent demonstration is their influence in ensuring a carbon tax is front and centre of the Gillard government's agenda.

Karl Marx died in 1883. It would be reasonable to suggest that the Greens move­ment has been trying to revive his spirit ever since. The Greens have not accepted that com­munism has failed and that it is anathema to the Australian way of life, and they clearly have not learnt the lessons from the collapse of socialism in Soviet Russia and East Germany. An obsession with the class struggles which Marx referred to in his writings has meant that the Greens are more concerned with the redistribution of wealth and punishing wealth creators than in the daily issues that confront Australians. If the Greens think that 'Communism is the riddle of history solved,' then they desperately need a reality check.

At the 2010 general election, the people of Australia elected three new Greens senators and the first Greens member of the House of Representatives in Mr Adam Bandt. My point this evening is simply to highlight that with great power comes great responsibility, and given the Greens recent track record we know that the mantle of public scrutiny may be too heavy a burden for them to carry.

Recently, we witnessed a hostile Senator Bob Brown attacking the fourth estate for applying the same standards to them that apply to the two major political parties. His response could only be described as extraordinary; behaviour we would see in the junior school playground from the kid who does not get his own way and cries foul: 'It wasn't me! I didn't do it! I'll tell my mum on you!' When ABC journalist Chris Uhlmann, asked, 'Didn't you say in 2007 that "We had to kick the coal habit?"'—quoting directly from an opinion piece authored by Senator Brown—the senator quickly responded by describing the ABC as the 'hate media'.

Regrettably for Senator Brown, his problems do not end with the fourth estate. He has bigger problems brewing at home with his own party. One of those senators elect, Ms Lee Rhiannon, has already receiv­ed critical attention for her interest in an extreme radical social-engineering agenda. It is Ms Rhiannon who was an aggres­sive supporter of the boycott divestment sanctions motion that was passed by the Marrickville council. This Senate recently passed a motion condemning the BDS movement and the Marrickville council for pursuing such a racist charter that would undermine the strong bipartisan support for a two-state solution. It was interesting to read that while the Senate was discussing this Ms Rhiannon was giving an address about how to strengthen Australian solidarity with Palestine. But when you have suckled on the teat of the Communist Party who could be surprised?

It has been reported that in November 2002, in the week prior to protests against the World Trade Organisation in Sydney, Ms Rhiannon spoke in support of the protesters and organised a public conference on civil disobedience at the New South Wales par­liament. It has also been reported that Ms Rhiannon was critical of the activities of the police during the violent S11 protests and that in May 2009 Ms Rhiannon was the main speaker at an award ceremony described by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba as an act of allegiance to Fidel Castro.

I am disgusted and outraged that a person who seeks to represent the Australian public would choose to support such extreme and subversive political causes. These reported activities are diametrically opposed to the values which our society believes in and which this parliament strives to maintain and uphold. That is why I applaud the member for Melbourne Ports, Mr Michael Danby, who has recently announced that he will not preference Greens at the next federal election in his seat of Melbourne Ports. This very same position was taken by the Victorian division of the Liberal Party for the recent state election in Victoria last November, when the Greens were crowing—and I would suggest that that would be under­stating their predictions—about a possible victory of four to six lower house seats. They had already factored them into their count. The Liberal leadership made an honourable decision not to preference the Greens. It was one based on the platform and values of the Liberal Party, and it was a decision that was lauded and recognised by Victorians and which saw them win a majority government.

In conclusion, I do not believe that there is any place for selling out your soul for short-term gain. The reality is that all Australians are suffering the consequences of a Labor-Green government, a mistake that we must make sure that we never see or is made again. Let's not forget: if you go to bed with a dog you must expect to wake up with fleas.

Senate adjourned at 22 : 29

The following documents were tabled by the Clerk:

[Legislative instruments are identified by a Federal Register of Legislative Instruments (FRLI) number. An explanatory statement is tabled with an instrument unless otherwise indicated by an asterisk.]

Airspace Act—Airspace Regulations—Instrument No. CASA OAR 090/11—Determination of airspace and controlled aerodromes etc Amendment Instrument (No. 1) 2011 [F2011L01054].

Appropriation Act (No. 1) 2010-2011 and Appropriation Act (No. 2) 2010-2011—Determination to Reduce Appropriations Upon Request (No. 18 of 2010-2011) [F2011L01050].

Australian Bureau of Statistics Act—Proposals Nos—

9 of 2011—Economic Activity Survey.

10 of 2011—Transport Industry Survey.

11 of 2011—Manufacturing Industry Survey.

Census and Statistics Act—Statement No. 2 of 2011—Lists of Agricultural Farm Businesses for the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.

Christmas Island Act—List of applied Western Australian Acts for the period 24 September 2010 to 7 June 2011.

Civil Aviation Act—Civil Aviation Safety Regulations—

Airworthiness Directives—

AD/DHC-1/3 Amdt 1—Fuel Line Cock to Filter – Replacement [F2011L01062].

AD/DHC-1/33 Amdt 2—Tailplane Support Struts [F2011L01061].

AD/V2500/7—In-flight Shutdown [F2011L01067].

AD/V2500/8—High Pressure Turbine Disks [F2011L01068].

Revocation of Airworthiness Directive—Instrument No. CASA ADCX 012/11 [F2011L01066].

Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act—List of applied Western Australian Acts for the period 24 September 2010 to 7 June 2011.

Customs Act—

Tariff Concession Orders—

0948746 [F2011L01063].

1041327 [F2011L01064].

Tariff Concession Revocation Instruments—

40/2011 [F2011L01041].

41/2011 [F2011L01042].

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act—Amendment of list of exempt native specimens—EPBC303DC/SFS/2011/14 [F2011L01055].

Financial Management and Accountability Act—

Financial Management and Accountability Determination 2011/07 – Section 32 (Transfer of Functions from the former DEWHA to DPMC) [F2011L01060].

Notice under section 39A—NBN Co Limited, dated 16 June 2011.

Health Insurance Act—Declaration of Quality Assurance Activity—QAA No. 3/2011 [F2011L01053].

Migration Act—

Direction under section 499—Direction No. 50—Order of consideration – certain skilled migration visas.

Instrument IMMI 11/039—Granting of parent, contributory parent and other family visas in 2011/2012 financial year [F2011L01058].

Migration Regulations—Instruments IMMI—

11/008—Places and currencies for paying of fees [F2011L01057].

11/045—Specified place [F2011L01056].

National Health Act—Instruments Nos PB—

43 of 2011—National Health (Price and Special Patient Contribution) Amendment Determination 2011 (No. 4) [F2011L01051].

44 of 2011—National Health (Listed drugs on F1 or F2) Amendment Determination 2011 (No. 7) [F2011L01065].

Governor-General’s Proclamation—Com­mencement of provisions on an Act

Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Regulatory Levies Legislation Amendment (2011 Measures No. 1) Act 2011—Schedule 1—17 June 2011 [F2011L01059].

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

asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice, on 28 September 2010:

(1)   For the 3 year period up to 2020, using the price forecast used in standard treasury modelling, what revenue will be raised from the Minerals Resource Rent Tax, based on price assumptions for coal and iron ore as used in the Treasury modelling for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

(2)   What is the estimated cost of the company tax reduction during that period.

(3)   Is there any risk that the additional net revenue from the Minerals Resource Rent Tax will fall short of the estimated reduction in revenues from company tax; if so, how great is that risk; if not, how safe is that assumption and why.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Finance and Deregulation) Share this | | Hansard source

The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1)   The net financial impact of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax over the forward estimates period has been published by the Government in the 2011-12 Budget. It is not usual practice for governments to release the medium and long term revenue impacts of individual measures. The estimated net revenue impact of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax over the forward estimates is a revenue gain of $11.1 billion, comprising $3.7 billion in 2012-13, $4.0 billion in 2013-14 and $3.4 billion in 2014-15.

(2)   The company tax reduction from 30 per cent to 29 per cent in 2013-14 (abstracting from the impact of transitional timing) is estimated to cost around $2 billion.

(3)   Treasury does not produce estimates of the expected revenue from the Minerals Resource Rent Tax beyond the forward estimates period. Acknowledging that these figures have been produced on occasion in the past, the former Secretary of the Treasury, Dr Ken Henry, noted in Senate Estimates on 24 February 2011 that “the figures are of such poor quality, there is so much uncertainty attaching to them, particularly the figures in the out years – that is, beyond the forward estimates period – that they are not figures that should be accorded the significance they have been accorded in public debate.” This is because of considerable uncertainty in such estimates, which are highly sensitive to various factors including exchange rate movements and minerals prices. Company tax revenue collections are also subject to variability arising as a result of similar factors. Given the considerable uncertainty attached to these estimates, figures beyond the forward estimates would be of such low reliability that it would not be appropriate to estimate them. It is therefore not possible to accurately predict the net balance over the longer time period between the additional revenue from the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and the estimated reduction in company tax revenue.

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

asked the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, upon notice, on 16 March 2011:

With reference to public Internet access in Pukatja (also known as Ernabella), the largest Aboriginal community in South Australia:

(1) When does the department expect public Internet access will become available in Pukatja.

(2) What proportion of people living on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in South Australia currently have free public Internet access.

Photo of Stephen ConroyStephen Conroy (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) The Australian Government funds the delivery of public internet access to remote Indigenous communities through the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Public Internet Access (the NPA).

The NPA has been established between the Australian Government and a number of participating state and territory governments, including South Australia, to work collaboratively to improve internet access in remote Indigenous communities. Under the NPA, it is the responsibility of participating state and territory governments to nominate eligible Indigenous communities to receive public internet access facilities. The South Australian Government has not nominated Pukatja under this program.

In addition to the NPA, the department also delivers a number of other programs to improve essential telecommunications services and digital productivity outcomes in remote Indigenous communities.

The National Broadband Network (NBN) will provide high-speed broadband to all Australian premises. Indicative coverage maps published by NBN Co indicate that the APY Lands are likely to be served by next-generation satellite technology, providing peak speeds of at least 12 megabits per second.

NBN Co will also offer an Interim Satellite Service from 1 July 2011 offering peak download speeds of 6 megabits per second and 1 megabit per second upload, ahead of the introduction of a long term satellite solution in 2015. Communities in the APY Lands, such as Pukatja, may eligible for the Interim Satellite Service.

(2) Public internet access facilities may be available in a range of locations such as libraries, community halls, schools and other public buildings. The department does not maintain records on the locations of points of public internet access in Australia.

Photo of David JohnstonDavid Johnston (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 22 March 2011:

(1) For the period 1 July to 31 December 2010, how many:

(a) uniformed staff; and

(b) civilian staff, resigned from each of the service areas (i.e. Army, Navy and Air Force).

(2) For the period 1 July to 31 December 2010, how many:

(a) uniformed staff; and

(b) civilian staff, were made redundant or accepted severance packages in each of the service areas.

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

The Minister for Defence Science and Personnel has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) (a) For the period 1 July to 31 December 2010 the following permanent uniformed personnel voluntarily separated from the Services. This includes personnel who left each of the Services through resignation, within 90 days of enlistment, as a transfer to another Service or completion of an employment contract.

(i) Navy: 484;

(ii) Army: 1,066; and

(iii) Air Force: 363

(1) (b) For the period 1 July to 31 December 2010 the following civilian staff resigned from each of the Services:

(i) Navy: 31;

(ii) Army: 81; and

(iii) Air Force: 22

(2) (a) For the period 1 July to 31 December 2010 the following permanent uniformed personnel were made redundant or accepted packages from the Services:

(i) Navy: 1;

(ii) Army: 6; and

(iii) Air Force: 2

(2) (b) For the period 1 July to 31 December 2010 the following civilian staff were made redundant or accepted packages from each of the Services areas:

(i) Army civilian staff: 9

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice, on 19 April 2011:

With reference to the department and the agencies within the Minister’s portfolio:

(1) What is the total number of staff currently employed.

(2) What is the total number of staff with a disability currently employed.

(3) What policies or programs are in place to encourage the recruitment of people with a disability.

(4) What retention strategies are in place for people with a disability.

(5) What career pathways or plans are on offer for people with a disability; if none, why.

(6) Are there any specific targets for recruitment and retention; if not, why not.

(7) What policies, programs or services are there to support staff with a disability.

(8) Can details be provided of any policies, programs, services or plans currently under development within the department and its agencies, concerning the employment of people with a disability.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Finance and Deregulation) Share this | | Hansard source

The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) As at 1 May 2011, there were 1022 staff (head count) employed at Treasury.

(2) Twenty-one of the above-mentioned staff have identified themselves as having a disability.

(3) The Treasury is committed to providing an organisational culture that embraces and actively promotes diversity. Treasury’s Disability Action Plan provides a mechanism for coordinating the department’s efforts to meet its responsibilities under the Commonwealth Disability Strategy regarding equity, inclusion, participation, access and, in particular, accountability. One of the main objectives outlined within Treasury’s Disability Action Plan is to attract and retain a diverse workforce which includes employees with disabilities. Strategies and actions in place to assist Treasury to meet this objective are outlined below.

              (4) Refer to question 3.

              (5) Another main objective outlined within Treasury’s Disability Action Plan is to ensure that employees with disabilities have access to development opportunities and are encouraged to maximise their potential in the workforce. Strategies and actions in place to assist Treasury to meet this objective are outlined below.

                    (6) While it is Treasury’s aim to increase the recruitment and retention of staff who identify as having a disability, no formal target has been set.

                    (7) A range of assistance is provided to staff with a disability in the Treasury, including reasonable adjustment identified through work station assessments and the purchase of specialised equipment/software, such as teletypewriter (TTY) phones, specialised keyboards, headphones, voice recognition and magnification software. Case management and rehabilitation services are also made available, if required. This approach ensures employees with a disability, and their managers, feel supported in the workplace, thus creating a safe third-party that can be utilised by all staff for advice and guidance. The JobAccess service has also been utilised to assist staff with disabilities. The department endeavours to identify, wherever possible, the needs of staff with a disability before they commence work in the department. Induction paperwork for new staff captures category of disability to ensure appropriate and timely support is offered on commencement of employment and staff are regularly reminded to update their personal details in Aurion including identification of disability by type. Treasury also ensures that seminars on mental health issues are captured within its health and wellbeing programs to assist in educating staff and removing the stigma associated with mental illness.

                    Additional objectives outlined within Treasury’s Disability Action Plan are to encourage a culture of tolerance and respect in the workplace by reflecting Treasury values in the management systems and everyday work practises and ensuring that people with disabilities have access to Treasury premises and departmental information. Strategies and actions in place to assist Treasury to meet these objectives are outlined below.

                                          (8)   Not applicable.

                                          National Competition Council (NCC)

                                          (1) Total of 13 staff currently employed.

                                          (2) No staff identifying as having a disability are currently employed.

                                          (3) The NCC has no recruitment policies or programs specifically directed to people with a disability. However the NCC values diversity, provides an accessible workplace and flexible and supportive working environment and supports the concept of reasonable adjustment: it is committed to action to reasonably accommodate the effects of any staff member’s disability.

                                          (4) The NCC has no retention strategies directed to people with a disability. However the NCC values diversity, provides an accessible workplace and flexible and supportive working environment and supports the concept of reasonable adjustment: it is committed to action to reasonably accommodate the effects of any staff member’s disability.

                                          (5) A career pathway would be available to any NCC staff member with a physical disability. The nature of the NCC’s work would generally not provide a career opportunity for a staff member with an intellectual disability.

                                          (6) The NCC has no specific target: the small size of the NCC means that the employment of a staff member with a disability would represent a relatively large proportion of the NCC’s average staffing level.

                                          (7) The NCC values diversity and has accessible premises and a supportive work environment. The NCC is committed to addressing the needs of any future staff member with a disability on a case by case basis.

                                          (8) The NCC has no policies or plans currently under development.

                                          Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB)

                                          (1) 10 full time technical specialists, 1 graduate intern, 7 administrative staff, 4 part-time staff – Total 22.

                                          (2) None now. Had one vision impaired person for long period.

                                          (3) Fully encouraged to apply.

                                          The AASB has a Workplace Diversity Program that is supported by more detailed plans for action in the Workplace Diversity Action Plan, Disability Action Plan and Indigenous Employment Plan.

                                          (4) Individual staff development plans.

                                          (5) No limitations on path.

                                          (6) The AASB has a target but we have a very small specialised staff with quite low turnover.

                                          (7) Provision of physical facilities (e.g. for visually impaired), good physical access, access to further training/education, flexible work-from-home arrangements, flexible hours to facilitate transport, late evening taxis if needed.

                                          (8) Detailed programs and plans can be provided and are considered appropriate.

                                          Corporations and Markets Advisory Committee (CAMAC)

                                          (1) 3.

                                          (2) Nil.

                                          (3) The work of CAMAC requires staff with highly specialised policy and administrative skills. Persons with those skills are not in great supply. When there is a vacancy, CAMAC encourages anyone with the relevant qualifications, whether or not with a disability, to apply.

                                          (4) CAMAC ensures that staff are aware of the policy outlined in the response to question (6).

                                          (5) CAMAC values the skills of all its employees and ensures that those employees are not prevented from furthering their career with CAMAC by reason of any disability that they may have.

                                          (6) No – CAMAC is a small agency with a minimal budget (just over $1 million). It has not had occasion to recruit for some time and has no immediate plans to recruit additional staff.

                                          (7) CAMAC makes it clear that the health of its employees is paramount. CAMAC has a policy of ensuring that employees with a disability are not unnecessarily disadvantaged in performing their duties, encouraging any employees with a disability to seek necessary medical attention and structuring CAMAC’s workflow to ensure that they have the opportunity to do so.

                                          (8) Given its small size, CAMAC has no plans to develop further policies, programs, services or plans concerning the employment of people with a disability.

                                          Inspector-General of Taxation (IGT)

                                          (1) 7.

                                          (2) Nil.

                                          (3) The IGT applies the Treasury’s Disability Action Plan and will continue to consider options available to a small agency.

                                          (4) The IGT applies the Treasury’s Disability Action Plan and will continue to consider options available to a small agency.

                                          (5) The IGT applies the Treasury’s Disability Action Plan and will continue to consider options available to a small agency.

                                          (6) The IGT applies the Treasury’s Disability Action Plan and will continue to consider options available to a small agency.

                                          (7) The IGT applies the Treasury’s Disability Action Plan and will continue to consider options available to a small agency.

                                          (8) The IGT applies the Treasury’s Disability Action Plan and will continue to consider options available to a small agency.

                                          Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA)

                                          (1) As at 30 April 2011, 619 including casual staff.

                                          (2) Six.

                                          (3) to (8) As an employer, APRA ensures that all employment policies, guidelines and processes meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act (1992) and do not discriminate on the basis of disability. APRA’s commitment to the Disability Discrimination Act is included in its Human Resources Policy Manual and Code of Conduct. All staff and managers are responsible for supporting the principles of workplace diversity. APRA is a member of Diversity Council Australia, an independent, not-for-profit diversity adviser to business in Australia. APRA’s recruitment policy ensures that recruitment advertising does not dissuade people with disabilities who have the necessary experience, skills and qualifications from submitting applications for employment. The policy also ensures that selection processes take into account the special needs of applicants, so that those with disabilities are not disadvantaged.

                                          Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)

                                          (1) As at 27 April 2011, ACCC headcount was 827 (includes 9 Public Office Holders).

                                          (2) 13 employees reported having a disability.

                                          (3) At the time of recruitment candidates can specify if they have a disability and if selected for interview whether assistance is required. Where assistance is required, this is provided by the ACCC.

                                          (4) Guidance is provided to managers and staff through the Workplace Diversity Plan.

                                          The ACCC provides reasonable adjustment for staff with disabilities, such as technical equipment for staff who are visually impaired. Employment terms and conditions provide for flexible hours of work, part-time work, home-based work and paid personal leave.

                                          (5) Employees identifying disabilities participate in performance development planning which enables career plans to be tailored to their aspirations.

                                          (6) There are no specific targets for recruitment or retention. Recruitment is based on the need to fill positions arising from new policy proposals and backfilling vacancies within the constraints of the agencies budget. Retention trends are monitored quarterly.

                                          (7) Support is provided at the time of selection and throughout the employee’s employment. Such programs include acquisition of special equipment; flexible or part-time working hours, paid personal leave to attend medical therapy, individually tailored workstation assessments, and external counselling services. Assistance to staff with disabilities is usually tailored to their specific need.

                                          (8) There are no policies, programs, services or plans currently under development.

                                          Royal Australian Mint

                                          (1) The total number of staff currently employed by the Royal Australian Mint is 185.

                                          (2) The total number of staff who have declared a disability under the definition in section 4 is 7.

                                          (3) The Mint is a bronze member of the Australian Network on Disability (AND) and we are currently working with them to develop reasonable adjustment policies, training and work experience and procedures for adopting a customer charter for people with disabilities. The Mint also uses AND’s logo in recruitment advertising.

                                          (4) The Mint provides internal and external support to staff with a disability and staff who acquire a disability, enabling them to maintain or return to a role appropriate to their experience and abilities within the organisation. The Mint provides and updates tools and equipment to maintain and sustain capability. The Mint also ensures that staff with a disability have the same opportunities as others to develop their full potential within the Mint. The Mint ensure that specific steps are taken to ensure that the working environment does not prevent staff with a disability from taking up positions for which they are suitably qualified.

                                          (5) There are currently no specific formal career pathways or plans on offer; every staff member is given the same opportunities. Staff with disabilities are offered the same training and development opportunities tailored to meet their career objectives taking into consideration their disability through the Performance Development System.

                                          (6) There are currently no specific targets for recruitment and retention. However, we recognise the need and are working towards setting these targets with AND.

                                          (7) AND is also working with the Mint to set in place a comprehensive set of policies, programs and services to support staff with a disability. This is under the umbrella of the Employment charter and the checklist on achieving the principles of the charter.

                                          (8) As above.

                                          Australian Office of Financial Management (AOFM)

                                          (1) 42.

                                          (2) Nil.

                                          (3) See the Treasury Disability Action Plan 2009-2012.

                                          (4) None at AOFM as we have no such employees.

                                          (5) None at AOFM as we have no such employees.

                                          (6) No – targets are not appropriate given the size of the agency.

                                          (7) See the Treasury Disability Action Plan 2009-2012.

                                          (8) See the Treasury Disability Action Plan 2009-2012.

                                          Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

                                          (1) Total head count of ongoing staff is 2946.

                                          (2) The number of ongoing staff currently employed who have identified as having a disability is 74. The rate of staff with a disability is 2.5%.

                                          (3) Consistent with legislation, APS wide policy and the ABS Workplace Diversity Program, ABS recruitment guidelines provide that there are no barriers to people with disabilities applying for positions and there is no discrimination during selection. This includes:

                                                (4)   Retention strategies that are in place for people with a disability include:

                                                    a.   ensure that ABS’s corporate, business and human resource plans recognise and utilise the diversity of its employees;

                                                    b.   provide a workplace that recognises and utilises the diversity of its employees;

                                                    c.   uphold and promote equity and procedural fairness in decision making;

                                                    d.   encourage and assist employees to balance work and individual needs;

                                                    e.   prevent and eliminate discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, sexual preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin; and

                                                    f.   foster an environment free of harassment, including bullying.

                                                          (5) ABS provides career pathways and plans to all staff. These are made available to people with a disability through the application of reasonable adjustment principles, which help ensure staff with a disability can access and participate in learning and career development opportunities.

                                                          (6) The ABS currently does not have specific targets for recruitment and retention. The percentage of employees with a disability employed in the ABS has been at similar levels to the APS average (for at least 8 years) and there is no specific whole of government priority or target.

                                                          (7) ABS programs and guidelines available to support all staff including those with a disability include: performance management related guidelines; Harassment and Workplace Support networks; and Workplace Diversity advisers and internal complaint mechanisms that are used in conjunction with reasonable adjustment principles as per ABS Reasonable Workplace Adjustment guidelines. Expertise is also built into these programs through attendance at disability related forums and workshops, by HR practitioners including case managers and workplace diversity advisers.

                                                          (8) The ABS currently has a Workplace Diversity Plan and a new plan for 2011-15 will be implemented in July 2011. The 2011-15 Plan will incorporate disability strategies including the attraction and retention of people with disabilities.

                                                          Productivity Commission

                                                          (1) 200.

                                                          (2) 6.

                                                          (3) The Productivity Commission has an “Equity and Diversity Strategic Plan” and a “Disability Action Plan” to encourage the recruitment of people with a disability.

                                                          (4) The Productivity Commission does not have any retention strategies specific to staff with a disability.

                                                          (5) The Productivity Commission does not have any career pathway strategies specific to staff with a disability. Staff with a disability have access to the same career pathways as staff without a disability.

                                                          (6) The Productivity Commission does not have any recruitment targets specific to staff with a disability. As a small specialist agency where the majority of employment opportunities are for research economists, the field of qualified applicants is very limited.

                                                          (7) The Productivity Commission does not have any support programs specific to staff with a disability, but our general workplace health policy is to provide equipment and make any other reasonable adjustment required to support an individual in their employment needs.

                                                          (8) The Productivity Commission does not have any plan or program under development specific to staff with a disability.

                                                          Australian Taxation Office (ATO)

                                                          (1) 24,761 (head count) as at 27 April 2011.

                                                          (2) 495 (or 2%) have identified that they have a disability as at 27 April 2011.

                                                          (3) The ATO Recruitment and Selections policy (Corporate Management Practice Statement 2009/01).

                                                          All recruitment and selection Candidate Information Kits outline the ATO’s commitment to diversity and that the ATO encourages people from all backgrounds, including people with disability, to apply for positions in the ATO.

                                                          The ATO provides reasonable adjustment (the administrative, environmental or procedural alterations that are required to enable a person with disability to work effectively and enjoy equal opportunities with others) at all stages of the selection process. The ATO also follows up all successful applicants who have identified as having a disability to ensure that reasonable adjustments are in place in the workplace as soon as practicable. These actions help to ensure that people with disability have a positive experience throughout the recruitment process.

                                                          The ATO Access and Inclusion Plan includes a number of programs to support the employment of people with disability:

                                                                (4)   The ATO has a centralised process for managing requests for reasonable adjustment for employees with disability. This process provides a single point of entry for staff to request various services, equipment and aids associated with making reasonable adjustments in the workplace, thereby making it easier for people with disability to participate and remain in the workplace.

                                                                Whilst not targeted specifically at people with disability, the ATO agency agreements provides a broad range of flexible working arrangements such as part time work, home based work, job sharing, purchased leave, flexible working patterns and parental leave. People with disability are able to access these where appropriate.

                                                                (5) The ATO participates in the ‘Stepping into Program’ as part of being a member of the Australian Network on Disability. In 2010 the ATO provided paid work experience and mentoring to 12 students across the country, to increase their opportunity to participate in the ATO’s graduate and other entry level programs.

                                                                The ATO’s Debt business line has a Community Program which includes targeting people with disability to undertake a mix of work experience, and ongoing and non-ongoing work to assist them develop a career in the ATO.

                                                                People with disability, along with all other employees, are able to access career and development advice through the ATO’s performance development agreements and processes.

                                                                The ATO also ensures that people with disability are able to access face to face and online learning opportunities. All online learning products are designed to be accessible to all employees through adaptive technology support. In addition, reasonable adjustments are made for face to face learning to allow people with disability to participate fully in these opportunities.

                                                                (6) No. However, the ATO is currently considering the new Public Service Commissioner's Direction on employing people with disability, particularly in the context of large scale selection exercises where it may be appropriate to use the special measure provision to quarantine positions for people with disability. The ATO’s focus is on eliminating barriers to employment for people with disability to enable them to compete on merit.

                                                                (7) The ATO’s Access and Inclusion Plan contains actions to ensure people with disability are respected, valued, supported and engaged. It contains actions to ensure that ATO policies and practices are inclusive and accessible and includes provision for adaptive technology and the application of reasonable adjustment. In addition, the ATO has a National Disability Network for ATO employees with disability. The network contributes to and influences the development of initiatives and strategies to address issues in relation to people with disability. Approximately 60 employees are members of this network.

                                                                (8) The ATO is currently reviewing its Access and Inclusion Plan. The ATO is seeking to improve the programs on offer to provide people with disability with the skills and experience they need to enter the workforce.

                                                                The ATO is also actively involved in APS wide collaboration on the recruitment, retention and development of people with disability.

                                                                Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC)

                                                                (1) As at 27 May 2011, ASIC has 1,870 active employees.

                                                                (2) ASIC currently has no employees identifying themselves as disabled in our HR Management Information System, however we have 3 staff with disabilities (as defined Disability Discrimination Act) to whom we provide on-going support.

                                                                (3) ASIC has a Workplace Diversity Policy, underpinned by equal employment opportunity principles, to promote building and maintaining a diverse workforce. As part of our recruitment process, candidates have an opportunity to disclose if they have a disability to ensure any reasonable adjustments to process are made.

                                                                (4) ASIC has no specific retention strategies in place for people with a disability.

                                                                (5) ASIC has no specific career pathways specifically targeting people with a disability.

                                                                (6) ASIC has no specific targets for recruiting and retaining people with a disability.

                                                                (7) ASIC has a Workplace Diversity Policy and Health and Safety Management Arrangements, acting as a framework to provide ASIC employees with a disability with aid and appliances to assist with their day to day duties. With recent office refits, ASIC has conducted OHS assessments on affected staff members to ensure work areas and work stations suit individual needs.

                                                                (8) As part of the 2011/12 HR business plan, policies and programs will be reviewed to ensure our continued compliance with legislation and APS policy and look for opportunities where ASIC grow our commitment diversity.

                                                                Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

                                                                asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice, on 21 May 2011:

                                                                Did the Australian Reinsurance Pool Corporation hold a CEO retirement function in Sydney on 22 November 2010; if so: (a) what was: (i) the budget, and (ii) the cost of this event; (b) where was it held; and (c) how many people attended.

                                                                Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Finance and Deregulation) Share this | | Hansard source

                                                                The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

                                                                The Australian Reinsurance Pool Corporation did hold a CEO retirement function in Sydney on 22 November 2010.

                                                                (a) (i) The budget was $25,000.

                                                                (a) (ii) The cost was $20,045.53 comprising –

                                                                    (b) The function was held at the Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House.

                                                                    (c) 95 people attended the function.

                                                                    The Australian Reinsurance Pool Corporation is funded from its reinsurance premium and investment income and receives no appropriation from Consolidated Revenue.