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Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Page: 5027

Mr BALDWIN (6:10 PM) —I did not think I would be speaking on this again, but there were a couple of issues in the Minister for Finance and Deregulation’s summation that concern me. Firstly, he implied that, by having two separate boards, agreement may not be reached on investment decisions. Whether the two boards sit separately or sit as one board, there may be differences of opinion on investment decisions. This goes to the very point of what the coalition is saying—that is, if the CDF people are outnumbered three to two, or eight to two, then they would be overruled anyhow on what they consider to be the best way forward.

The minister spoke as though the board is sitting there almost on a daily basis deciding whether to buy or sell Telstra shares—you would not buy those at the moment with the way the government is handling the NBN—or mining shares—and you would not buy those either with the way the government is dealing with the resources super tax. Members of the board will not be handling individual investment decisions on what shares or stocks to trade or invest in. The minister advised me that the management of the money and investment of the portfolio will be done by an investment house or a brokering firm—and the minister can advise me of the exact terminology. As I understand it, the management of the portfolio is going out to tender and it will be the successful tenderers who will be managing the investment portfolio, deciding what to buy and when to sell.

There is no difference whether one cheque goes out for $16 billion and another for $3 billion to the same recipient. The money will be divided amongst the members on a ratio of $3 billion to $16 million. An amalgamation of the board will not mean that all of a sudden—and perhaps this is what the minister is implying—people on the MSBS will get a greater financial return. That is simply not the case, because the percentages of revenue in there determine how the profits, or the return on the investment, will be divided. The minister has just alluded to the greatest concern that we have—that is, that members of the ADF will be bullied, bludgeoned and voted down by the decisions of others, which may not be what the Defence Force considers to be in their best interests.

The minister was asked by Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Robert to table the document. The minister has said that the information is freely available. My office contacted the minister’s office on a number of occasions for more information following the discussions that we had. I have to say that the minister was very generous after the bill was initially put. We had some discussions, and I thank him for that time. But the key point is there has been a request for financial details and the minister is expecting us to give him carte blanche approval to steam ahead without him having provided any financial details so we can better understand the position and where these great savings and great financial benefits for individual members, past and present, of the Defence Force will be.

I find the government’s view very hard to believe. We as members of this parliament are elected by people to represent their best interests. Ministers and members of the executive government are elected by their caucuses to serve in this House, and their key role is the accountability of the government processes to this parliament. To devolve that responsibility to the head of the ACTU is not on. In this House, if I want to ask a question about the performance of that superannuation fund, I do not think I would be able to ask direct questions of the President of the ACTU at the bar of the chamber—and from opposition we would not have the numbers to cause that to happen. The minister would just say, ‘Sorry, all the power lies with the President of the ACTU.’

The minister has quite correctly said that there are forms (Extension of time granted) in legislation by which those who no longer hold the qualification to serve as a director would be dismissed, but in that case it still has to go to the President of the ACTU for approval. Last time I looked, while the President of the ACTU might be elected by union members, I cannot remember there ever being a public ballot nationwide for them to be a representative of all people in this House.

In summing up, our key issues are, firstly, the implication that ADF members’ interests will be best served by this legislation—that is not the truth. Secondly, the statement by the minister that having two separate boards is unworkable because they will have differences of opinion just confirms the concerns of people on this side who actually understand veterans issues, perhaps none better than Stuey Robert, the shadow parliamentary secretary, who is a former serving officer of the Australian defence forces. He knows because he has been there, done that, bought the T-shirt and worn it out, as they say. Thirdly, the statement by the minister that there will be a financial disadvantage by this not all coming together is untrue as well. But the greatest concern that we have is this abrogation of ministerial responsibility by placing the power with others.

Three times the minister has been asked to table documents—and not just for the coalition to see; by being tabled, documentation pointing out the financial advantage and benefit would enable members of the gallery and, indeed, members of the public at large to see for themselves exactly where these proposed financial benefits are. Again we call on the minister to table those documents to make them a public paper, free for all to see. There is nothing to hide in this investment decision. There will be no forecast allocation of money to any individual fund or any individual portfolio that would in any way create a commercial-in-confidence issue. So we call on the minister to table the documentation.

The coalition has finished its debate. We are very disappointed, but we will not be discussing the other three bills any further; we have said what we had to say in this debate. We will be opposing the legislation here and in the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill, as amended, agreed to.

Bill read a second time.