Monday, 20 June 2011
Corporations Amendment (Improving Accountability on Director and Executive Remuneration) Bill 2011; In Committee
The Senate is considering the Corporations Amendment (Improving Accountability on Director and Executive Remuneration) Bill 2011 and two postponed divisions. The question is that the Greens amendment (1) on sheet 7082 be agreed to.
The committee divided [17:49]
(The Chairman—Senator Ferguson)
The question now is that opposition amendments (1) to (4) on sheet 7087 be agreed to.
The committee divided [17:57]
(The Chairman—Senator Ferguson)
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendments; report adopted.
Debate resumed on the motion:
That these bills be now read a second time.
I rise to speak on the Taxation of Alternative Fuels Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, the Excise Tariff Amendment (Taxation of Alternative Fuels) Bill 2011, the Customs Tariff Amendment (Taxation of Alternative Fuels) Bill 2011 and the Energy Grants (Cleaner Fuels) Scheme Amendment Bill 2011.
What we are seeing from the Gillard government with this set of bills is yet another attack on the cost of living of all Australian families. The first three bills deal with the taxation of gaseous fuels for motor vehicles. They will apply a tax to LNG, CNG and LPG. They will apply a tax to the taxi fleet. They will apply a tax to the public transport systems, particularly those in cities such as Sydney, Perth and Brisbane whose buses use compressed natural gas not only to lower emissions but also to lower pollution. These buses burn cleaner and provide Australia with an opportunity to use some of the overwhelmingly ample resources that we have in natural gas.
Australia is a very lucky country. We are self-sufficient in energy. We are in fact one of the few OECD countries that export energy. That energy comes from a number of sources. It comes from coal, and we are the biggest exporter in the world of both coking coal for the manufacture of steel and steaming coal for the production of electricity. That energy comes also from LNG, of which similarly we are a very significant exporter. We have a supply of gas in Australia that will probably last a couple of hundred years at a bare minimum based on current reserves. It makes sense to use that resource here in Australia in transportation fuels, which is the one area in which we are deficient. We import almost 50 per cent of the petrol, diesel and crude oil that we use in our transport fleet. Finally, the energy comes from LPG, of which we are also net exporters and, while many of us in this place know LPG as the thing that runs our barbecues and in some cases our hot-water systems and stoves, LPG's main use is in transportation fuels. It makes no sense to apply a tax to those fuels.
On top of the increases to electricity prices and the cost of living expenses that will occur as a result of the carbon tax, families and businesses now face yet further pressure on the cost of fuel because of the Gillard government's policies. Where will it end? Perhaps at the next election.
As we see from these bills, the intention of the government is to raise by 20 per cent the cost of those fuels to those families using LPG in their vehicles. This is not a small increase; this is a major hit on the family budget, an attack by the Gillard government on the purse strings of everyday Australian families already struggling under massive increases in electricity prices, gas prices, water charges and other living costs. These increases are soon to be made even more massive by an ill-conceived carbon tax which will add yet further costs, including in the area of transport, to all Australians.
Applying an excise of 12½ per cent per litre on LPG makes no sense at all. This government runs a program to encourage families through a financial incentive to convert their vehicles to LPG by offsetting some of the cost of conversion. Yet with all that encouragement, the government is really just setting a honey trap: 'We'll get these vehicles onto LPG,' they think, 'and then we'll increase the cost of LPG by 20 per cent. We'll increase the tax to make sure that these families can no longer cope with the pressures of the cost of living.' That is the Labor Party's way of deceiving the public and the way they think about increasing the pressures on Australian households.
Currently, 283,000 vehicles have been converted to LPG under this government scheme. Every single one of those vehicles is owned by a family. This scheme is not open to commercial vehicles. It is not open to fleet vehicles and it is not open to business vehicles. It is only open to family-owned vehicles. As I said, there are 283,000 vehicles owned by 283,000 Australian families who, if the first of these three bills passes, will wake up to higher fuel costs courtesy of the Rudd-Gillard Labor government.
There is absolutely no justification for this. Why is the government doing it? It needs the money. Why does it need the money? It wasted so much money. This is an old-style spend, waste and tax government of the kind that we always see from Labor. It spends money and wastes money until it has no option but to increase the taxes on ordinary Australian families. Shame on you.
This tax on Australian families is intolerable and the opposition, we hope with the support of Independents, will do everything we can to defeat these first three bills. Along with those 283,000 vehicles of which I have spoken, there are another 400,000-plus vehicles that have already been converted to gas, and a majority of those vehicles would be owned by families. Some of these families would have bought them second-hand from a car yard in the expectation that they would be able to continue to use the vehicles to lower the cost of living, to lower the cost of taking their kids to school every morning and to lower the cost of running a family in Australia under a government that is so out of touch. Costs rise every day. Soon, with a carbon tax, those costs will rise even more steeply. What we see in these first three bills is a government so desperate for money to fill the enormous black holes it created by wasting money that it has decided to cast the burden on the shoulders of working families, with whose support it was elected in 2007 and whom, through its own mismanagement, it is now betraying.
I would like to give the government the benefit of the doubt that they are not trying to destroy family budgets with this tax but that the money will actually be needed because they are incompetent money managers and wasteful with spending. I would like to think that was the reason, but sometimes it is hard to accept that it is the only reason. It appears to me that this is more about them being completely out of touch and completely lacking in compassion for and understanding of the way in which families in Australia are currently struggling under cost-of-living pressures generated in part by the Labor government.
The fourth of these bills, the Energy Grants (Cleaner Fuels) Scheme Amendment Bill 2011, is one which the coalition will support. It is a bill to extend the grants scheme to biodiesel and renewable diesel. In Australia we face a challenge in supplying enough transport fuel. We are trying to build a biofuels industry in Australia. The coalition support the measures that were taken previously by the Howard government and continued by the Rudd and Gillard governments to provide grants to the ethanol, biodiesel and renewable diesel industries to offset the excise which is applied to those fuels at the full rate of 38.143c per litre. The coalition will support the Energy Grants (Cleaner Fuels) Scheme Amendment Bill because it maintains the grants for the biodiesel and renewable diesel industry. This is an industry that is doing it tough. The industry has faced unfair dumping from overseas suppliers. I commend the government for continuing what we started. With that certainty, at least until 2020, I hope that the biodiesel industry, truly supported and protected from dumping actions by the anti-dumping legislation, will be able to resume some economic growth and help us to supply the burgeoning demand for diesel fuel in Australia.
Let us look at the trend in the motor industry in this country. Much of the romance goes to hybrid vehicles—and we are producing hybrid vehicles here in Australia, including, for example, the Camry, which is based on Toyota's Prius technology. There are a number of other vehicles around now that run on hybrid technology. If you want a Porsche, you can buy one that uses hybrid technology. But, if you want to drive the most efficient vehicle in the world as measured by litres consumed per 100 kilometres, you will buy a diesel vehicle. If the opportunity is there for Australia to increase its self-sufficiency by using the most efficient of fuels, diesel, through the production of renewable diesel or biodiesel, then we need to ensure that those incentives continue. That is what the fourth bill does: it provides the incentive for diesel production.
We then move to compressed natural gas. It is a cumbersome fuel but one which has a place in the Australian urban environment, particularly for delivery vehicles or buses that return to a depot and can carry this bulky fuel. It is not liquefied; it is compressed, which is why it is called compressed natural gas. It takes up a lot of room and the fuel tanks weigh a lot, but it has a very significant role to play in public transport. This is a fuel that we are trying to get into our bus fleets. Might I pause to commend my friend and colleague Mrs Jane Prentice, the member for Ryan, who is the chair of the Brisbane City Council's transport department and who pioneered the introduction of such buses in my city. Perth has about 300 such buses, Sydney has around the same number and growing and, as I said a moment ago, Brisbane has made an investment in these buses. The buses do not leave particulates in the air, they burn cleaner, they provide an opportunity to reduce emissions and they will increase the efficient transport of people through the public transport system.
So what does the government do to those buses? It taxes them. What is the result of the tax? Those buses will no longer be bought, because the economics of running a compressed natural gas bus simply will not be there. We will stop using a fuel that we are abundant in—so abundant that we export tens of millions of tonnes and perhaps soon 50 million times per year in the form of LNG. This government will tax it to the point where it is not economical to run those buses and so they will go back to using diesel. Then there are all the issues associated with that in terms of the balance of payments. Shame on you. Further, those 900 buses already in use would face a fuel price increase of at least 20 per cent in the case of CNG. That means that bus fares will go up. Here we have a government that claims it is all about reducing emissions and introducing efficiencies and all about trying to get people to use public transport, but it is so desperate for money it has to present these bills to the parliament, with the effect that I have indicated. This government reaches out to every part of sensible living and taxes it. We have a tax on family cars, a tax on compressed natural gas buses and we also have a tax on taxis. The 19,000 taxis in Australia are going to see a 20 per cent rise in their fuel cost. That means higher taxi fares in Australia, because the Gillard government just cannot manage money. They are so desperate to get money into their coffers that they will literally tax anything that moves.
This is bad legislation. It is not about improving efficiencies in this country. It is not about ensuring that Australia is a better place to live. It is legislation about taxing a fuel source which we have in abundance. It is legislation about taxing a fuel source that is efficient. It is legislation about taxing a fuel source that is a low emitter. It is legislation about taxing the livelihoods of Australians. It is legislation about increasing the cost-of-living pressures on families. Shame on you.
The opposition will oppose the first three bills. I flag that we will move an amendment to the fourth bill. This is necessary because the government has incorporated a suicide clause. If each of these bills is not passed, none of them will receive royal assent. The government is prepared to say to the biodiesel industry: 'If the opposition knocks over these bad bills on LPG, we are going to tax you at 38.143c.' Our amendment will break the nexus between these bills. It will ensure that if the first three bills are defeated, which they should be, and the fourth bill is passed, which it should be, then we do not have to rely on all four bills being passed to get royal assent.
Our amendment will make the fourth bill, the Energy Grants (Cleaner Fuels) Scheme Amendment Bill 2011, effective from 1 July 2011. There should be no other way. You cannot leave the biodiesel and renewable diesel industries swinging in the breeze while the government plays games with their livelihood. As I said, the biodiesel industry has been through enough already. We need to give that industry certainty and, as usual, it is the coalition that will do that. That is the reason that the Howard government never proceeded with this. We never presented legislation in this House when families were in financial crisis, because we knew, we were in touch and we understood. We believed in ensuring that these pressures were not put on families by a new tax. This government is oblivious to that fact. It knows, or it should know, that families are under pressure now, just as we knew when we were in government, which is why we never proceeded with these bills, but this government, in its ignorance, callousness and obliviousness to the concerns of everyday Australians, proceeds with this bad legislation in any event.
I just note, Senator Brandis, that in May 2003 the then Treasurer, Peter Costello, announced the alternative fuel tax arrangements as long-term important reforms. He said at the time that Australia must have a more consistent and sustainable fuel tax regime. In December 2003, when Senator Brandis was in the Senate, the then Prime Minister, John Howard, said the reforms would result in a more consistent neutral tax regime for fuels used in vehicles, and the Deputy Prime Minister at that time, John Anderson, emphasised the importance of investment, certainty, and so on and so forth. So let's have less of the hypocrisy. The hypocrisy here is coming from the coalition, because, indeed, these reforms were announced by the coalition in the 2003-04 budget when they were in government.
I want to address my remarks today first of all on the importance of finally getting to a proper fuel excise arrangement. This is something I have been arguing since I have been in the Senate. It is time, if we are considering that we need to move to a low-carbon economy, that we had an internally consistent set of policies that mean that we encourage people to drive less, and when they do drive they should drive more efficiently.
At the same time we need to look at what is happening globally in terms of transport. What we are seeing is the rapid electrification of the transport fleet. You only have to see what is happening in countries like China, where they are rolling out something like 10 million charging stations for electric vehicles and massive investment, even when there are popular driving and car shows saying that this is the end of motoring as we know it. There is such a revolution going on in cars and a whole range of different kinds of engines in cars, but essentially it is all about fuel efficiency.
If we go to the notion that we want people to drive less and have more public transport, better designed cities and so on, and that people should drive more efficiently, one way to ensure that is to make sure we have mandatory vehicle fuel efficiency standards that are futuristic, not backward as those announced by the government during the recent election campaign. Not only do we need high mandatory vehicle fuel efficiency standards; we also need to make sure we have a fuel excise system that genuinely reflects the energy content of the fuel. Whilst we now have essentially three broad categories of fuel excise, we think we need to have a proper review of fuel excise and we should charge for the level of energy content in the fuel, phased in over time, so that people know when they are buying a vehicle now that in three or four years hence there will be an excise regime which will reflect absolutely the energy content of the fuel. If you want to buy a car that is powered by a fuel with a high energy content, you will know the running costs of that car are going to be considerably more than if you bought an electric vehicle, a fully electric plug-in, which you power from your own sources, if it is renewable. Then you will have a situation where you end up with no fuel excise in the long run. That is why I have talked endlessly about shifting to this kind of system. At the same time you would need to phase in a road user charge, because with electrification of the transport fleet and renewable energy there will come a point when people are not paying fuel excise but using the road system. You will have to have a system which reflects that. You are going to have to have a system which reflects that. This is particularly in the context of bringing in carbon pricing.
We need to have an understanding of how carbon pricing relates to fuel excise and how fuel excise is about shifting the effort onto less emissions-intensive fuels. Or are people intending to run two regimes: a carbon pricing regime on the one hand and a fuel excise on the other? It makes no sense. Over time, we need to get rid of the fuel excise as it currently is, shift it to a fuel excise system based on the energy intensity of the fuel and at the same time phase in road user charges that reflect the transition to fully electric vehicles, which is where the world is going.
I think that is where we need a lot more consistency and thought. In terms of the Australian car industry, it is complete madness to keep on subsidising a car industry which is not making top-of-the-range vehicles in fuel efficiency. Otherwise, you end up with an export market for the old six-cylinder or eight-cylinder vehicles that go to the Saudi Arabian market et cetera. We want to do, in fact, as China did: set the highest mandatory vehicle fuel efficiency standards, create the technology to meet them and then build themselves a competitive position. In reality, if you want to keep building cars that have poor standards you are going to end up with no market and you will be uncompetitive and totally dependent on being subsidised—on having a market with government car fleets and so on. That is not the way to build long-term job security or competitiveness in a car-manufacturing market.
To get to the point of the legislation: I think everybody recognises that liquefied petroleum gas is a fossil fuel. There seems to be some sort of perception that it is vastly superior to petrol and diesel, and that on that basis it should continue to be given a free ride with respect to taxation. In fact, gas is not substantially more efficient than petrol and diesel. It is only about 13 per cent more efficient. That is the mythology around LPG. It is certainly more efficient, but not so significantly that you would say that it ought not to fit into an excise regime. If you had a regime such as that that I am proposing then it would find its natural place in the excise and you would charge with the highest levels of excise for the largest energy content right down to the lowest fuel excise for that with the lowest energy content.
We need to grapple with the reality that we are in a climate change emergency. I am fully aware that there are many people in this chamber who do not believe that. But we do need to move as rapidly as we can to a zero-emission energy sector, and that includes transport. It means we need to switch to those ultraefficient vehicles, including the plug-in hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt or the Audi A1 e-tron—even over conventional engine vehicles like the Fiat 500 Twin Air—over the next few years. If gas powered vehicles can compete with this new technology, well and good, but we think that subsidising LPG and other gaseous fuels in a way that reduces the competitiveness of this new technology is not exactly a very good thing to do. Fundamentally, we have the view that there should be a level playing field and that the LPG industry, in particular, ought to fit in on that line on the level of emissions, as I said.
I have had a lot of representations from the LPG industry in Tasmania, I have to say. They are very concerned that they will be particularly adversely impacted by this bill because of the additional cost of transporting LPG to Tasmania. I have raised these concerns with the minister, and I just reiterate a bit further that Tasmania does rely on LPG auto gas with domestic, commercial and industrial customers. The federal government has yet to bring out its energy White Paper. It has no alternative fuels policy in place generally, and we know that Tasmanians suffer because of the freight impost. The taxi industry in Tasmania is arguing that it will suffer more so than the rest because of that. Of course, the taxi industry across Australia is arguing that there will be a greater impost and higher fares.
The cost of shipping to Tasmania is approximately 12.5 cents per litre. The question here becomes: will the adverse impact that the industry anticipates actually put it out of business? It is a question of critical mass for Tasmania, and it is true that it has taken the industry a long time to get a number of outlets around the state so that it is actually competitive to use this in Tasmania. Up until a while ago there were areas of Tasmania where you just could not get LPG. It was difficult for people with hire cars and all the rest of it. Now that has changed; there is a network throughout Tasmania. But the issue here is: if the price goes up, and with the additional costs of the transport of fuel, the freight, are they going to have a significant adverse impact?
As I indicated, I have raised that with the minister. The government believes that these concerns are unfounded, but nevertheless what the minister has undertaken to me is that they will monitor the industry in Tasmania closely and if a problem arises then steps will be taken to rectify the situation. I do not know what those steps might be, but they may well be that the government would have to look at the additional freight arrangements into Tasmania. I just want to put on the record that I am aware of the effort that has gone into Tasmania to build the network in recent times. I will be coming back to the government on this issue if, indeed, the combined freight and extra costs have the adverse impacts that people are saying they may at this point.
As to the taxi industry: I know that I have seen quite a few of the articles around Australia about that. I am yet to be convinced that there will be a significant increase in taxi fares as a result of this. I am pleased to see that wherever I go now the taxi fleets are starting to employ a lot more hybrid vehicles and recognising the value of getting highly efficient cars into the taxi fleet. That is one of the advantages, of course, of having more hybrids in Australia: they are getting into the second-hand and taxi markets.
We have also received representations from manufacturers and LPG system installers, and we have listened to their concerns. But we also note that these changes to—
Sitting suspended from 18:30 to 19:30
Before the dinner break I was pointing out that the Greens support this legislation, recognising that the LPG, LNG and CNG industries are right to be concerned that we do not have a systematic fuel excise system in Australia that recognises the energy content of fuel and charges in an appropriate and systematic manner. That is something I will be working for in this period of government. I have been campaigning for that, together with higher vehicle fuel efficiency standards, for a long time and will continue to do so.
The bills also deal with biofuels, and this is a particularly complex and vexed issue. When biofuels were first talked about there was huge excitement about the possibility of replacing the oil based industry with a biofuel industry to drive and meet the transport task. It caused massive distortion in the market, and when the Europeans brought in a law that required 10 per cent of all fuels to come from biofuel it created a disaster around the world. The European insistence on this 10 per cent figure resulted in massive conversion of tropical forests, particularly in Indonesia. But we are also seeing massive conversion of tropical forests around the world as a result of this.
We have also seen massive displacement of food production by biofuel production, with a significant impact on food prices, which in turn has impacted on the poor around the world. You have only to look at what happened in Brazil, with a massive changeover to biofuels, and in the United States, with a big push for energy security. They have a real concern about being so dependent on foreign oil and so they have moved massively to biofuels, which have displaced food production. All this has combined to drive food inflation and appalling problems of food scarcity.
We are facing a climate crisis, a water crisis, a fuel crisis and a fibre crisis all at once. Agricultural land is now subject to competition between those who want the land to grow biofuels, those who want it to grow food and those who want it to grow fibre crops. As we move away from petrochemicals, because we have reached peak oil, there is a recognition that you can grow for biodiesel and you can use agricultural waste for ethanol and the like, which is happening in some places, but the real problem we have is the question of sustainability. I have argued endlessly that, where you have a conflict for agricultural land, you will get perverse outcomes if you put incentives in the system for one use of agricultural land versus the rest.
That is exactly what has occurred with biofuels, which is why the Greens have taken a policy position that we should be supporting only second- and third-generation biofuels and the use of wastes for biofuels, not growing primary crops for the purpose of biofuels. We are told that ethanol produced in New South Wales is produced using food-grade starch. No doubt there will be others who deny that is the case; nevertheless, that is the information that has come to us.
I have spoken to the minister about this issue of sustainability and the use of biofuels into the future. To the minister's credit he has considered the position that I put to him in pointing out the perverse outcomes. This was particularly highlighted in the recent Productivity Commission report looking at the competitiveness of Australian industry and the impacts of a carbon price. It too points out that there is now real concern around the world about subsidies that drive biofuels to the detriment of food production and about a failure to consider, with ethanol and biodiesel production, that you need a full life-cycle analysis of the real carbon cost of growing these fuels. You cannot just test the final product; you have to look at everything from the growing of the crop, through the harvesting and transport, to the processing and so on. With biofuels you need a full life-cycle analysis to make sure you are getting an accurate reflection of the carbon cycle.
At the G20 leaders' summit in November 2010 they asked the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the World Bank, the WTO and other international organisations to develop options for G20 consideration on how better to mitigate and manage the risks associated with the price volatility of food and other agricultural commodities, which is largely the result of the disproportionate influence in the market of biofuels and the impact on global food security.
To the minister's credit he has taken on board what I raised with him and has indicated that Australia will be moving to some kind of certification. I note that it is likely to be a voluntary or self-managed regulatory approach. I doubt that works on most occasions; nevertheless, we are recognising that you need to have sustainability criteria, that you need accreditation and that dealing with biofuels in the absence of other issues around food security gives you perverse outcomes. This is particularly so with the carbon farming initiative as well. That is another reason why I am grateful to the minister for recognising we actually have to move on the sustainability issues of biofuels. I put on the record that I am pleased that we are going to move to some system of accreditation in this regard and start getting the issue of sustainability onto the agenda.
Many years ago when I did the Senate inquiry into alternative fuels to get us off petrochemical fertilisers, there were young people working on all kinds of quite exciting technologies. There are risks and opportunities associated with biofuels, especially second and third generation. I hope that, as we move to a more logical fuel excise system that actually charges for the embodied energy in that fuel, we will start to get some incentives in place to see some of this brilliant innovation by young people come to market.
(New South Wales—) (): The incorporated speech read as follows—
Mr President, the government has introduced four bills to the senate regarding changes to the taxation arrangements of LPG, LNG and CNG. They also clarify how biofuels — ethanol, biodiesel and methanol are treated regarding the tax arrangements.
While I don't support the changes to apply a tax to LPG, CNG and LNG, I am very supportive of the legislation as it relates to ethanol and biodiesel.
Mr President, I have been a strong supporter of biofuels, in particular ethanol, for over a decade. Indeed, in a preselection speech I gave in 2001, I said:
"One issue that I believe we should seriously look at is the use of ethanol as an alternative fuel. The creation of an ethanol industry would be an enormous boost for regional Australia, and would create thousands of jobs in those areas. It has environmental benefits, and has the potential to underpin commodity prices."
In my maiden speech in this place in 2005 I said:
"As a champion of the bush I will always seek to find ways to improve the viability of our rural communities. One such way is the development of a sustainable domestic biofuels industry. For many years I have been, and I will continue to be, a passionate advocate for a domestic ethanol industry. There is no doubt that the development of an ethanol industry would create jobs and opportunities in our regions. I will do all I can to support industries that will deliver real benefits to rural and regional Australia. An ethanol industry would provide significant environmental and health benefits and would reduce our reliance on fossil fuel. It would give grain and sugar farmers another market, and it would develop business opportunities in our regions.
The government currently has in place a policy target of 350 million litres of biofuel production by 2010. The effect of vehicle emissions, particularly in our cities, cannot be ignored. Given that the introduction of ethanol into our fuel mix would lower vehicle emission pollutants, it stands to reason that it Is simply commonsense that, for the improved health of Australians, we as legislators support the development of an ethanol industry in this nation. Indeed, the AMA recently put forward their view to the Prime Minister's Biofuels Taskforce that they strongly support the use of ethanol in our fuel mix as part of the solution to improving the health outcomes of Australians.
Many countries around the world pursue the use of ethanol—indeed, they not only use it but actively embrace it. In the United States alone, last year 13 billion litres of ethanol was used. The list of countries using ethanol is ever growing, including the US, Brazil, Thailand, the Philippines, India, China, Japan, Colombia and the EU. Governments in all of those nations have recognised the importance of this industry. Australia is lagging behind, and it is not good enough."
The government's measure to extend the domestic production subsidy for 10 years is a very welcome one. The industry needs the extension of the subsidy to ensure a sustainable industry in the future.
It was hoped that the industry would be delivering a much greater volume into the market by this time. Indeed, in 2001 the Coalition had a policy objective of 350 million litres of ethanol and biodiesel contributing to the total fuel supply by 2010.
However, we are nowhere near that level as yet. That is in large part due to the fact that In the early 2000's a huge scare campaign was run against the use of ethanol, by the Labor Party. How ironic that they have finally seen the light! That scare campaign put the industry back years, and I have to congratulate the ethanol industry for having the strength to continue on a path that they could see would have significant benefits for the nation, in the face of such adversity.
Many people recognised the benefits of a domestic ethanol industry in the early days, including the Hon Ian Armstrong AM OBE, who was a strong advocate of the industry. Indeed, his input was significant, and I remember him convening a Bio-technology Conference in Cootamundra as early as July 2003 on alternative fuels.
The extension of the domestic production subsidy on ethanol is welcome, and in spite of the fact the government appears to have done a total backflip with regard to this industry over the last 10 years, this is a measure that will provide certainty and a sustainable future for the biofuels industry.
However, the introduction of excise on LPG, LNG and CNG shows a complete lack of foresight by this Government, and a complete lack of understanding of the impact this will have on people and families already struggling with the rising cost of living.
LPG is going to have a new tax, rising to 12.5% over the next 5 years.
It's a decision taken by this government that simply doesn't make sense.
This fuels is environmentally friendly, and why on earth would the government make it more expensive, and less attractive, for people to use? The fact that there are incentives that have been put in place to increase the use of LPG as a transport fuel - indeed, as at April 2011 283,512 grants had been paid - the fact that this Labor government would then place a tax on LPG to make it more expensive to use is simply beyond comprehension.
This again shows Labor's complete inability to recognise the very real difficulties that people are facing with the rising cost of living. This Labor government, through these measures, is going to make that worse.
They have also hit public transport, a sector we should be encouraging to grow, not punishing. 90 million taxi customers will be paying more, fuel prices will increase for the taxi industry. There are 900 buses running on CNG - how can this measure not lead to an increase in the price of bus tickets.
These measures are a tax grab. This Labor government is a government that is addicted to taxing.
Mr President, while I certainly do not agree with the changes that have been made to LPG, CNG and LNG, I wholeheartedly approve of the 10 year extension to the current taxation arrangements for the biofuels industry, and look forward to seeing a strong and sustainable biofuels industry in the future.
Today we are debating a package of four bills that deal with content based taxation to certain alternative fuels: the Taxation of Alternative Fuels Legislation Amendment Bill 2011, the Excise Tariff Amendment (Taxation of Alternative Fuels) Bill 2011, the Customs Tariff Amendment (Taxation of Alternative Fuels) Bill 2011 and the Energy Grants (Cleaner Fuels) Scheme Amendment Bill 2011. The bills seek to extend the grant given to biodiesel, renewable diesel and ethanol, which is 38.143c per litre. This grant is due to expire on 30 June 2011—that's right, next week. At the same time, the bills phase in a fuel excise on LPG, LNG and CNG from 1 December 2011, with stated increases through to 2015.
Recently I visited a biodiesel plant in my home state of Victoria to see firsthand how the industry operates. I heard how important this grant is to the industry and how, without it, the whole biodiesel industry could be wiped out. That is not something that I want to see, especially given that the biodiesel industry is on the verge of finding even more efficiencies through its independent research. Alternative fuels such as biodiesel, renewable diesel and ethanol are worthy of support, and I am critically aware that to delay passage of this legislation would seriously jeopardise these industries. The grant is due to expire, as I said, on 30 June 2011, so there is urgency to pass this package of bills.
The decision by the government to introduce an excise on LPG is certainly not something I would advocate as it would impact on motorists who have converted their cars to LPG and the taxi industry. Successive governments from both sides have encouraged families to convert their vehicles to LPG while at the same time indicating they would impose an excise. Unfortunately, families are not aware that this has been a move by both sides of parliament. Nevertheless, it is important not to ignore the other components of this package of bills. Given that it is critical that the alternative fuels grant continue beyond 30 June 2011, I have no choice but to support the package of bills.
I would like to thank all the senators who participated in this debate. The bills debated this evening will bring liquefied petroleum gas, liquefied natural gas and compressed natural gas used for transport purposes into Australia's fuel taxation regime so that excise duty or excise equivalent customs duty will apply.
The tax rates for these fuels are based on the energy content of the fuels. However, the tax rates are discounted by 50 per cent in recognition of the potential environmental, regional development and fuel security benefits of their use. This policy was announced by the previous Liberal government. Yes, the previous Liberal government—Mr Costello, our then Treasurer—announced this one. It has been in the public domain since 2003, when it was put into the forward estimates by the former Liberal-National Party government. Importantly, the changes are phased in over a transition period of five years to allow affected parties time to adjust to the changes.
The bills provide certainty concerning the taxation arrangements for alternative fuels. They deliver investment certainty to allow industry to finally make decisions in the knowledge that the final legislation is in place. They also ensure that the overtaxation of the biofuels that would result from 1 July 2011 under the legislation put in place by the Howard government does not occur.
I will briefly outline the key elements of each bill in this legislative package. The Taxation of Alternative Fuels Legislation Amendment Bill 2011 deals with the taxation of LPG, CNG and LNG when used for transport purposes. It establishes simplified reporting and excise licensing requirements for industry to make the transition to the excise system as smoothly as possible.
The Excise Tariff Amendment (Taxation of Alternative Fuels) Bill 2011 amends the Excise Tariff Act 1921 to set the excise rates applying to alternative fuels from 1 December 2011 and to calculate the duty payable on blended goods. The Customs Tariff Amendment (Taxation of Alternative Fuels) Bill 2011 amends the Customs Tariff Act 1995 to set the excise equivalent customs duty rates applying to alternative fuels from 1 December 2011. The Energy Grants (Cleaner Fuels) Scheme Amendment Bill 2011 extends the operation of the existing provisions of the Energy Grants (Cleaner Fuels) Scheme Act 2004.
The key objectives of this policy are the same as they were in 2003, when the Howard government put it in the forward estimates—that is, certainty for industry, greater consistency in the taxation of fuels used for transport purposes and phasing in the new fuel tax arrangements while providing support to the alternative fuels industry in recognition of the potential environmental, fuel security and regional development benefits that these industries can generate. As industry has pointed out, LPG has the potential to deliver up to 13 per cent less emissions than regular unleaded petrol. These bills, however, deliver a full 50 per cent tax discount in recognition of the potential environmental and other benefits that LPG and other gaseous fuels can deliver.
While the government has not made any final decisions about the treatment of fuel in the carbon price arrangements, a principle of carbon pricing is to apply a price that reflects the emissions of different activities. The government is committed to addressing the relative emissions generated by fuels as part of its consideration of arrangements for fuel under the carbon price. The bills also represent a move towards a more sustainable taxation system. As market share forecasts provided by industry show, the share of alternative fuels in the transport fuels mix is expected to continue to grow, even with the new tax arrangements. To continue to exempt these fuels from fuel taxation does not provide for a sustainable fuel tax system. This was acknowledged by the former Howard government by the former Treasurer, Mr Peter Costello, and by Mr John Anderson, a former leader of the National Party. It is also acknowledged internationally.
Australia has not gone it alone in proposing to tax LPG autogas. Most countries in the OECD already apply fuel tax to LPG autogas. Even with the new tax arrangements, Australian LPG autogas prices will be amongst the lowest in the OECD. The bills reflect the results of widespread consultation and negotiation with crossbench members and industry. Reflecting these discussions, the bills also extend current taxation and grant arrangements for 10 years for ethanol, biodiesel, renewable diesel and methanol. After 30 June 2021, the taxation and grants settings of these fuels will be reviewed.
These arrangements deliver long-term policy certainty for biofuels and will encourage a growing and sustainable Australian biofuels industry into the future. On this point I would like to acknowledge the contribution of the Australian Greens, particularly Senator Milne. I can say that the government will work with the Biofuels Association of Australia to introduce self-regulatory sustainability criteria. This will ensure that the production of biofuels in Australia will have no direct impact on food supply or food prices.
In addition, government will work actively along with the Biofuels Association of Australia and with the International Standards Organisation to develop internationally agreed sustainability criteria that can be applied to industry. This action will ensure that support for biofuels does not compromise sustainable production practices but will provide greater impetus for initiatives such as second generation biofuels.
In the course of the debate on these bills, a number of issues have been raised that require further comment. The opposition have claimed that these bills will be the death knell of the LPG industry and the taxi industry. However, it needs to be placed on the record that LPG will continue to exhibit a significant price advantage over regular unleaded petrol going forward.
The effect on taxi fares of including LPG in the excise system depends on decisions made by state and territory regulators. If the excise is passed on in full, the 2.5c per litre excise that applies from 1 December 2011 could add approximately 3.5c to the average metro taxi trip fare. Even when fully phased in, the final excise of 12.5c per litre from 1 July 2015 would mean approximately 19c for the average metro taxi trip fare, if passed on in full.
It should also be recognised that the cost of LPG, including the excise that will apply, can be claimed as an income tax deduction by taxi operators and other business operators. This reduces the impact of the new excise arrangements for LPG.
More generally, LPG is cheaper and more cost-effective than petrol, with an average saving of around 37 per cent, or $7.44, per 100 kilometres driven. On 1 December 2011, when excise is introduced, LPG will still have savings of around 35 per cent, or $6.94, per 100 kilometres. In July 2015, when fully phased in at 12.5c per litre, LPG will still retain an average 25 per cent cost advantage over unleaded petrol.
Notwithstanding this, the government acknowledges that state and territory regulators across Australia are grappling with other issues impacting upon the taxi industry, particularly in terms of driver safety. The government has received representations from Senator Xenophon about driver safety in his state. We will further explore these issues with Senator Xenophon, including whether the Commonwealth can play a role.
The government has received representations from several members of parliament and senators on behalf of the LPG excise in Tasmania, given claims by the LPG industry about the developing nature of the industry in that state, my home state. The government will closely monitor any impact of the excise arrangements on the LPG industry in Tasmania and will consider any measures that would be required should such claims prove correct.
The government has also received representations from producers of CNG and LNG on the impact of excise on these fuels. The government will consider the impact of these excise arrangements on CNG and LNG once the excise arrangements have applied for 12 months in order to ensure there are no unintended consequences from its implementation. This is in addition to the formal review that will occur after 1 July 2015, once the tax has been fully implemented, which will consider the impact of the tax on LPG, CNG and LNG and its interaction with the carbon price and market demand for these fuels.
The bills provide for greater consistency in the taxation of fuels but acknowledge that uniformity in taxation would not be appropriate and a balance must be struck between policy goals. The bills recognise that it is appropriate that there be some contribution from gaseous fuel users towards the maintenance and construction of our road system. It is not sustainable that users of petrol and diesel are the only contributors through the fuel tax system to the cost of the road system.
However, the bills also recognise that alternative fuels are potentially more environmentally attractive, have regional development benefits and improve Australia's fuel security. These bills get the balance right for Australia and I commend them to the Senate.
Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.
That intervening business be postponed till after consideration of government business order of the day no. 6 (Governance of Australian Government Superannuation Schemes Bill 2011 and two related bills).
Question agreed to.
Debate resumed on the motion:
That these bills be now read a second time.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak on these bills: the Governance of Australian Government Superannuation Schemes Bill 2011, the ComSuper Bill 2011 and the Superannuation Legislation (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2011. These bills will reform governance arrangements for Commonwealth government superannuation schemes in line with trends in the broader superannuation industry. They will also serve to modernise some aspects of these arrangements. The purpose of these bills is to improve the superannuation arrangements for the men and women currently serving in the Australian defence forces.
Since I assumed my current responsibilities I have had the opportunity of meeting many of these fine Australians and I have acquired a better understanding of the uniquely difficult tasks with which we task them. We have an obligation to see that their service and their sacrifices are appropriately recognised, and one way to do that is to ensure that the superannuation arrangements we put in place for our service personnel are the very best possible. This legislation demonstrates the Gillard government's commitment to improving the superannuation arrangements for our service men and women under the Military Superannuation and Benefit Scheme.
These bills will increase the superannuation returns for the majority of our serving members. In fact, they will increase the take-home superannuation of over 90 per cent of our current serving personnel as well as future members of the ADF. Let me give an example. An increase of 0.5 per cent in the net investment return for a member of the RAAF who joins as an officer cadet and retires as a group captain would lead to an increase in superannuation benefits of some $41,000 over 10 years of service or $95,000 over a full career.
Recently in the Senate we have seen a series of shameless stunts by the opposition in relation to the retirement income of our Defence personnel. Senator Ronaldson has brought in a private member's bill which seeks to change the method of indexing Defence pensions for certain categories of Defence retirees. In the course of so doing, he has been highly critical of the government for not supporting his bill. Of course, what Senator Ronaldson has not explained to the Senate—nor, I might say, to anyone else—is why the Howard government, of which he was a member, did absolutely nothing about this issue for the whole 11 years it was in office. He has not told the Senate that the Minister for Veterans' Affairs in the Howard government, the Hon. Mr Billson, commissioned a report on this very matter. Nor has he told us that this report, the Podger report, recommended against the course of action which the opposition is now putting forward and that Mr Billson accepted that report. He has not explained why he went to the 2007 election supporting a policy which was the very opposite of the one he now purports to support. I am still waiting for the opposition to explain their extraordinary inconsistency on this issue. In government, they accepted Mr Podger's finding that changes to the indexation system for Defence pensions could not be justified. Now, in the safety of opposition, they have discovered that all of this is a monstrous injustice for which the Labor government is obviously to blame.
Senator Ronaldson and his colleagues have some explaining to do. I am, of course, astonished to find that they are opposed to the simple and straightforward improvements to our Defence superannuation arrangements that are contained in these bills tonight. Last week it seemed vitally important to them to change the system for indexing Defence pensions, because our military retirees were suffering erosion of their standards of living, but, this week, when the government brings in legislation that would bring about an increase in superannuation benefits to the average ADF member of perhaps $41,000 over 10 years or $95,000 over a full career, they are opposed to it. This is quite astonishing and I think it is a real insult to the intelligence of the men and women of the ADF and the wider Defence community. How can Senator Ronaldson and others in the opposition possibly imagine that the antics of last week and their position tonight will not be matched against one another?
What grounds are the opposition using to oppose these bills tonight? Apparently it is because these bills provide that the ACTU will nominate three members of the board of the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation. What a shocking idea that is! The vigilance of the opposition is truly extraordinary! The notion that the peak body representing Australian employees, an organisation with more experience of administering superannuation than anyone else in the country—indeed, it lays claim to inventing modern superannuation—should have a voice on the governing body of the main Australian government civilian and military superannuation schemes. Well, how remarkable!
So now we know what the real priorities of this opposition actually are. We know that pursuing their obsessive and irrational vendetta against the Australian trade union movement is far more important to them than the welfare and standard of living of our retired public servants and Defence personnel. What a marvellous juxtaposition this is with their outlandish rhetoric of only last week.
The Liberal Party is, after all, the party that brought us Work Choices and would, of course, bring us 'Son of Work Choices' if they ever got back into power. They are opposed to anything which brings benefits to employees. But I am sure that current serving members of the ADF will note that the opposition is trying to deny them the very real benefits of this legislation on the basis of what can be described as nothing more than an ideological vendetta.
Let us now return to the bills which we are debating. The Governance of Australian Government Superannuation Schemes Bill 2011 implements the government's decision to establish a consolidated trustee for the main Australian government civilian and military superannuation schemes. The consolidated trustee body is to be known as the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation. The CSC will be a Commonwealth authority for the purposes of the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997. The bill requires the governing board of CSC to have regard to the unique nature of military service as provided for in the schemes established by the relevant military superannuation acts when it is performing functions under those acts.
The bill will also provide for the CSC to be governed by a board, in line with the common model in the broader superannuation industry. The board will comprise 11 directors—a chair, five member directors and five employer directors. The ACTU and the Chief of the Defence Force will nominate three and two member directors respectively. This representation is consistent with the size of funds in the scheme—$19 billion in the civilian scheme and some $4 billion in the military scheme. The Minister for Finance and Deregulation, after appropriate consultation, will choose the five employer directors. The minister will consult with the Minister for Defence in selecting suitable candidates for these positions. By merging the existing civilian and military superannuation trustee boards into the CSC, this bill will improve the economies of scale to generate potentially higher investment returns and lower investment administration costs and combine all of the funds under the management of a single trustee board. These changes will be of significant benefit to military scheme members because of the smaller size of the military superannuation benefits fund—as I said, some $4 billion—as compared to the civilian schemes—as I said, some $19 billion. Without this consolidation, members of the MSBS, who comprise over 90 per cent of current serving ADF personnel as well as all future serving personnel, will be disadvantaged as superannuation industry funds continue to consolidate. This would reduce the MSB fund's ability to obtain good investment value and, of course, good value with respect to fees.
The ComSuper Bill 2011 implements the government's decision to modernise and clarify the governance of administration arrangements for the above schemes. It does this by establishing ComSuper as a statutory agency under the Public Service Act 1999 and replacing the Commissioner for Superannuation with a chief executive officer.
The Superannuation Legislation (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2011 amends a range of Commonwealth legislation to take account of the new trustee arrangements and the changes to governance of administrative arrangements. It also includes transitional arrangements to facilitate these important changes. The reforms will also, through consolidating funds under management and reducing administration costs, improve the superannuation returns to members, particularly defence superannuants.
After these bills were announced, the government became aware of some concerns held by ex-service organisations about some of their provisions. As a result, the government has introduced amendments to address these concerns. The following changes were made: first, amendments were made to recognise the unique nature of military service. A new objects clause and an amended functions clause were included to require the trustee to have regard to the unique nature of military service when performing a function under the military superannuation legislation. Second, the bill was amended to provide that at least one board member appointed by the Chief of the Defence Force must be present when the board is considering a matter related solely to the military schemes. Third, the establishment of the Defence Force Case Assessment Panel has now been made mandatory, with the legislation prescribing its membership. Previously the legislation gave CSC discretion to establish this panel to review decisions which are the current responsibility of the DFRDB Authority. I notice you are nodding, Madam Acting Deputy President Moore. You are obviously very familiar with these questions. Fourth, an amendment was included to provide for consultation between the finance minister and the defence minister in relation to the five employer directors of the board. This is in addition to the Chief of the Defence Force being responsible for nominating two member directors of the board.
Let me conclude by saying that the government is doing the right thing by its current serving Defence Force men and women as well as those who will serve into the future by providing the superannuation benefits for the majority of those in uniform. We have consulted with military and ex-service organisations and made several amendments in response to their concerns to further recognise the uniqueness of military service and to make changes to the operations of the trustee board when they consider military matters. This is positive legislation that will provide further support for our men and women in uniform. It is a great pity, though hardly a surprise, that this opposition, who do nothing but oppose for opposition's sake and who engage in the most irresponsible and hypocritical kind of stunting on the issue of Defence pensions, should be opposed to this worthwhile and uncontroversial legislation. They are doing so solely because of their consuming hatred of the trade union movement. They should stop. They should reconsider their attitudes and place the interests of our ADF personnel ahead of their own lonely ideological fixations. I commend the bill to the House.
The coalition does not support these bills. The reason we do not support these bills is that this government is completely obsessed with ensuring that its friends in the union movement get overall control, on this occasion over military superannuation and military pension arrangements. Why would it be, when only 41 per cent of public servants are members of a union, according to ABS data, that 100 per cent of employee representatives on the board created under this legislation will be ACTU nominated representatives?
Forty-one per cent of public sector employees are members of unions; 59 per cent are not. The majority of public sector employees choose not to be part of a union. Yet 100 per cent of employee representatives on the board to be created under this legislation—a board which also has responsibility for military pensions and military superannuation arrangements—will be ACTU representatives. Not only that, but also the ACTU president is the only one who can nominate employee representatives of the board. The Minister for Finance and Deregulation, who has responsibility for ComSuper, is not able to dismiss any of them without getting the agreement of the President of the ACTU. Why is that appropriate? I do not think that any reasonable person in Australia would think that that is appropriate.
This is yet another example of the Labor Party looking after the vested interests of the people who put them here. Every single senator representing the Labor Party in this chamber and every single member of the Labor Party in the House of Representatives has to be a member of the union, courtesy of the constitution of the Labor Party. That is why the unions have a stranglehold over the sorts of decisions that are made by this government on issues like this. It would be much more appropriate for employee representatives on the board created under this legislation to be much more representative of the diversity of employee interests, including the 59 per cent of employees who choose not to be a member of a union. But, no, they have got to use their time in the sun, their time in government, to make sure they lock in as many benefits as possible for the vested interests of the union movement. This is about lining the pockets of the union movement, yet again, at the expense of the public interest.
During Senate estimates we asked questions about the current Aria board. This is the board that looks after all of the public sector superannuation arrangements. There are seven people on the board. Three are guaranteed positions to be dominated by the ACTU. But guess what? It just happens that four out of the seven representatives on the Aria board are representatives of the unions, so the unions have got the numbers on the Aria board. Why is that? Because, other than the ACTU nominated positions, the government has made it its business to make sure that it puts another union representative on the board. You can laugh, Senator Feeney; I know that that is a matter of great amusement for you.
Through you, Madam Acting Deputy President: Senator Feeney may well laugh; he may well find this amusing. He might not think that it is appropriate to have superannuation trustees on those boards who are focused on the best interests of members of the funds, irrespective of whether or not they choose to be members of unions. He might not think that it is important for the 59 per cent of public servants who choose not to be members of unions to have a voice on these bodies. He might find that very amusing, to the point where he dismisses as an ideological hatred for unions any concern that the coalition expresses. Through you, Madam Acting Deputy President, I say to Senator Feeney: I do not have any hatred for unions whatsoever. The coalition does not have hatred for unions. But we think it is entirely inappropriate to have legislation setting up a corporate governance structure for super funds which entrenches a completely unrepresentative model where 41 per cent of employees who choose to be members of a union happen to get 100 per cent of the employee representative positions on the board.
These are serious matters. In the broader superannuation industry, this government has been very reluctant about and in fact has opposed many of the recommendations arising out of the Cooper review to improve corporate governance arrangements in the superannuation industry. Why? Because the union movement does not like it. The union movement does not like recommendations that improve transparency, corporate governance and integrity—things like superannuation trustees should declare foreseeable conflicts of interest to APRA if they want to sit on multiple boards; things like the requirement to have independent directors on superannuation boards. This government has a pattern when it comes to superannuation: whether it is in the Public Service or in the private sector it is guided by one thing, and that is to protect and to pursue and to be an agent for the vested interests of the union movement. This legislation is a very sad example of this.
The minister talks about—I am sorry, Madam Acting Deputy President, I have promoted Senator Feeney—
The parliamentary secretary talks about the significant benefits of scale. We actually explored that with APRA, the regulator, during Senate estimates. APRA said that there is absolutely no evidence of the so-called benefits of scale—in particular, if you put the ACTU in such a dominant position over the funds not only of public servants but also of our defence personnel.
We have raised these concerns with the government and they of course are pressing ahead with this current model. The reason we have expressed those concerns to the government is that those concerns have been expressed to us very strongly, in particular by representatives of the defence community. We understand that the government cannot afford to do the wrong thing by the ACTU because the ACTU have a hold over them. The ACTU would not allow them to press ahead with changes that in any way undermined their stranglehold over the Commonwealth superannuation arrangements into the future. The reality is that the government should come up with a governance model which is more representative of the diversity of public sector employees' backgrounds and perspectives.
These bills establish ComSuper as a statutory agency consisting of a CEO and staff. The bills merge the existing trustees for the Commonwealth civilian and military superannuation schemes into a single trustee body, the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation. The function of ComSuper is to provide administrative services to the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation, with the CEO of ComSuper appointed by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation in consultation with the Minister for Defence.
The Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation will be trustee for all of the existing Commonwealth superannuation funds, including the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme, the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme, the Public Sector Superannuation Accumulation Plan, the Military Superannuation and Benefits Scheme, the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme and the Defence Force Retirement and Benefits Scheme. The Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation Board will consist of 11 members appointed by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, with five employer directors chosen in consultation between the finance and defence ministers, three members nominated by the President of the ACTU, only two members nominated by the Chief of the Defence Force and one independent chair.
The reason that the coalition continues not to support these bills is because, as I have mentioned, the ACTU has completely disproportionate representation on the board and is the exclusive representative of public sector employees on that board. The current legislation still contains provisions which make it unacceptable to the defence and veteran communities. Although the bill now contains a reference to the unique nature of military service, the bill's other inclusions, particularly with regard to the disproportionate ACTU representation, mean that military members' interests are not properly represented or safeguarded. The bill still gives excessive power to the ACTU with regard to appointments of board members, termination of board members and quorum arrangements for board meetings.
I will just go through some of these issues in detail. With regard to ACTU representation on the board, why should the ACTU, as I have mentioned before, have 100 per cent of the employee representative positions on the board when only 41 per cent of public sector employees are in fact members of unions? This gives a completely inappropriate and privileged benefit to the union movement ahead of proper representation for the 59 per cent of public sector employees who choose not to be members of a union.
Defence superannuants should retain their representation of directors on the board due to the unique nature of military service and the defence community's special circumstances. Why should the ACTU have more employee representatives on this board than the defence community? Currently the ACTU is able to nominate more directors than the Chief of the Defence Force. The defence and veteran communities believe that military representation on the board under this legislation should be at least equal to that of the ACTU or, alternatively, that the military should continue to have its own independent board. Why is it that the minister cannot dismiss an ACTU-nominated director? The legislation currently provides that the minister for finance cannot remove an ACTU-nominated director unless the president of the ACTU agrees. This is even in the case of misbehaviour, physical or mental incapacity or if the director is absent from multiple meetings of the board. That is an extraordinary position. It is an extraordinarily privileged position to be given to the ACTU and it is simply courtesy of the fact that the ACTU calls the shots with this government. Between the ACTU and the Greens, all of the decisions are made in the back room.
We know that Senator Cameron enjoys the positions adopted by the Greens much more than the positions adopted by his own Prime Minister. We know that because he said so. We know that Senator Cameron is very concerned about the fact that he is not allowed to speak his mind anymore inside the Labor caucus. We know that because he said so. Senator Cameron has told us about the problems with Labor senators 'getting a lobotomy' and 'becoming like zombies', not able to speak their minds. I am sure that he is going to be even more passionate in his defence of the union representation on this Commonwealth superannuation board, irrespective of the fact that they are not actually representative even of a majority of public sector employees.
The thing I really do not understand is that ACTU members, under this legislation and under the corporate governance arrangements set up by this Labor government, can prevent a quorum being reached. For some reason, the quorum under this legislation is said to be nine members. Nine members are needed at a board meeting for decisions to be made. That means that the three ACTU-nominated directors on their own can prevent a meeting from validly being held. Combined with the provisions preventing the minister from dismissing an ACTU-nominated director, this legislation gives the ACTU extraordinary powers and a completely inappropriate level of corporate governance control over Commonwealth superannuation funds.
I would say to Senator Feeney, through you, Madam Acting Deputy President, that this is not about an ideological hatred of unions. For example, in Victoria a couple of weeks ago, we had the circumstance of a mooted merger between Vision Super and Equipsuper. That merger was falling over. Why was it falling over? Because the union-nominated directors on one of the funds were concerned about the proposal for direct election of the board in the merged entity and they were concerned that there was no guarantee of nominated directors on the board of the new entity.
Superannuation fund trustees are supposed to act in the members' best interests. They have a fiduciary duty to act in the members' best interests. Yet the union representatives on that board, in making a decision to not support a merger going ahead on the basis of a lack of assurance there would be a continuation of union-nominated directors, were not acting in the best interests of their members; they were acting in direct and obvious self-interest, in the interests of the union movement. They were protecting their positions. So what is being done about this?
There is absolutely no guarantee under the arrangements being put in place that the interests of 59 per cent of public sector employees who are not members of a union will be properly looked after. The ACTU representatives on that board will have a vested interest in making the best possible arrangements for union members in public sector employment. This concept that somehow it is appropriate for 41 per cent of public sector employees to get 100 per cent of the employee representative positions on the board to be created under this legislation is extraordinary. There is no proper or rational explanation as to how that is in the public interest. The only explanation that we can reasonably come up with is that this government is captive to the directions of the union movement. They have told you that that is what they want. They are insisting on it. They say: 'Yeah, go ahead with this merger. Give us more power. Give us power over more of the Commonwealth superannuation arrangements. Make sure that we can get on top of the military super so that we can get our hands into that. But don't dare weaken or dilute the influence that we have over the public sector superannuation arrangements, even though we represent less than half the superannuants that are being covered under this scheme.' I am talking about 41 per cent of current public sector employees. How many retired members would still be members of a union?
This is a government that is completely conflicted when it comes to putting forward recommendations around the corporate governance arrangements for Commonwealth super. This government should be embarrassed at the complete inappropriateness of this legislation they have put forward. But, the way things have been going over the last 12 months or so, it seems that this government does not get embarrassed about anything anymore. They are just pressing ahead to lock in as many advantages for the vested interests they represent in this chamber and in this parliament as they possibly can in the time that they have remaining in government. They want to make sure that as many vested interests as possible are locked in to legislation before the Australian people can formalise their loss of trust and confidence in this government—the serious betrayal that this government has imposed on them on things like the broken promise not to impose a carbon tax on them.
This legislation should not be supported by the Senate. I worry that, given the changed dynamics in the Senate that are around the corner, and given that the government now will have the majority and control of the Senate with the support of their alliance partners the Greens, I do not have much confidence that bad legislation like this will get proper scrutiny in the Senate as it would have done in the past. Sadly, the place for appropriate scrutiny of government legislation will no longer be the Senate; it will be the House of Representatives, because the government—not having a majority—will be able to make proposals, but ultimately it will come down to whether they are able to convince crossbench members of parliament to help them get legislation through the House of Representatives. In the Senate, I suspect the Greens will on various issues jump up and down and express concerns but in the end vote with the government no matter what. That is the way things will go in the Senate moving forward.
This is bad legislation. It is bad policy. It is completely self-interested—it is driven by a desire to institutionalise the vested interests of the Labor Party, acting as agents for the union movement. This legislation aims to entrench a corporate governance structure which gives 41 percent of public sector employees 100 percent of the employee representative positions on the board it will create. It will merge all the Commonwealth superannuation arrangements, including the military superannuation arrangements, into one organisation.
Of course, Labor senators get very touchy over all this. First we had Senator Feeney laughing and smiling, and now we have Senator Feeney and Senator Sherry talking loudly between themselves. They do not take this issue seriously. They probably feel embarrassed about the fact that they are putting legislation forward which is in the interests not of the public but of the ACTU and the broader union movement. They are probably embarrassed that they are here acting as the agents of the union movement, putting forward legislation that will entrench a seriously conflicted corporate governance structure, including military superannuation arrangements—a move which is, of course, entirely inappropriate—into the future. That is why we will move an amendment to seek to improve this very bad legislation; but we do not believe it will be passed. (Time expired)
Debate resumed on the motion:
That these bills be now read a second time.
Question agreed to.
Bills read a second time.
Bills—by leave—taken together and as a whole.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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—
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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—
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.
Tariff Concession Orders—
Tariff Concession Revocation Instruments—
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].
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].
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
(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)
(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)
(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.
(1) As at 30 April 2011, 619 including casual staff.
(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.
(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.
(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)
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
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.
The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:
(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.