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Thursday, 21 November 1996
Page: 7247


Mr LATHAM(12.39 p.m.) —The opposition understands the situation to be one where the government has maladministered its own legislation and is now seeking the Senate to bail it out by way of amendment, an amendment that many people in this House believe the Senate does not have the right to move, let alone to seek to impose upon the House of Representatives. The proper way of handling this matter would have been either for the government to recommit the bill to the House of Representatives or for the Senate to make a request and nothing more than a request; not for the Senate to exercise powers that many in the House believe are beyond its jurisdiction and charter, constitutionally and morally. It is very important for the House to recognise those points.

The opposition is very concerned that the government is using incorrect practice, using false powers of the Senate, to try to tidy up the administrative nightmare of its own legislation. We all know that this family tax initiative was not framed by reasoned, diligent and rational policy makers; it was framed by a Liberal Party focus group which was told, `John Howard will give you a big fistful of dollars in this election campaign. How would you like it paid to you?' That focus group said, `We do not really regard ourselves as welfare recipients, so we do not want it in terms of a Social Security cheque that might arrive every month, like the basic family payment.' They said, `Why don't you pay it through the tax system?'

So the person organising the focus group, with Andrew Robb taking notes on the other side of the one-way glass, said, `What if we do it through a change to the tax free threshold instead of a rebate which would be the most efficient way to pay the benefit—a rebate at the end of the financial year?' The taxpayers said, `We like the idea of getting the benefit on an ongoing basis through PAYE deductions rather than an end of year rebate.' So that is how the Liberal Party devised its family tax initiative. It was poll driven; it was focus group driven; it was research driven. But something happened to this policy on the way to the forum. They handed it over to the bureaucrats in the federal Public Service who said that it may well be research driven but it is not administratively sound.


Mr Miles —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order with regard to relevance on a debate like this. This is a very specific amendment. I ask you to draw the attention of the speaker back to the debate.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mossfield) —I will take note of what is said and I will listen very carefully to the speaker. I warn him to stay within standing orders.


Mr LATHAM —Sure. What the amendment is trying to do is explained in the words of Senator Kemp when he presented this provision yesterday morning in the Senate. He said:

The first amendment will include the income of a taxpayer's spouse and the family income where the spouse is under a legal disability and the spouse's only income is the share of income from a trust.

That is the most inefficient way to administer this provision. This amendment would not be necessary if the government had paid this family tax initiative by way of an end of year tax rebate or if the government had decided to pay this tax initiative by a weighted adjustment to the basic family payments. So there is no doubt that the government has got itself into trouble on the amendment now before the House. It is in trouble because it did not follow good public policy principles, it did not follow sound administrative practice; it followed the findings of a focus group. It followed the findings of a survey group, conducted and paid for by the Liberal Party, to find the most electorally popular way to present a fistful of dollars at the 1996 election and gain public support. That is why the Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet) to the Prime Minister (Mr Miles) is in so much trouble.

I would ask him to explain the meaning of the amendment presented by Senator Kemp. In particular, what is the meaning of `legal disability' that the government brings to this matter? This is a way the opposition can scrutinise your provisions. The House is not even aware of what you mean by `legal disability' and `the spouse's only income is the share of income from a trust'. So not even the parliamentary secretary is able to explain the provisions now before the House. They have got themselves into a terrible mess in the administration of this matter. That is why I move:

That all words after that be deleted with a view to substituting the following words: the amendments be referred to a conference between the House of Representatives and the Senate where they can address the problems with amendment No. 1 and all the other administrative inefficiencies of the family tax initiative.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I believe the amendment is out of order. It has to be relevant to amendment No. 1.


Mr LATHAM —It is.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —It has to be wider; that is my ruling.


Mr LATHAM —On a point of order to your ruling: the House has been told in a ruling by the Speaker that there is constitutional doubt about the capacity of the Senate to move these amendments. It has been said by the Speaker that he expects Senate ministers to take it as a request when it finally goes back to the Senate. I would have thought, despite the ruling of the Deputy Clerk, that given the extraordinary circumstances it is within the province of the House—and given the lenience it is displaying with regard to the Senate—to move an amendment that calls for a conference between the two houses. This is an extraordinary circumstance. The House is exercising goodwill, contrary to the wishes of the Senate—


Mr Miles —It's out of order.


Mr LATHAM —Your whole provision is out of order in the eyes of many in this House. The way in which you are treating this matter is out of order. So I put that to you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The clerk who has given you that advice should recognise the extraordinary circumstances of this debate.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I have ruled on the point of order. I have ruled that the point of order is out of order.


Mr Price —Mr Deputy Speaker, on the point of order: is it not in order for the shadow minister to move that an amendment be referred for a conference? I cannot see how that can be ruled out of order.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I will get some advice on this. By moving that the amendment is out of order, it goes beyond amendment No. 1 that we are speaking about.