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Wednesday, 23 March 1994
Page: 2034


Senator O'CHEE (12.01 p.m.) —I have heard what Senator Coulter has said. He is correct that there are two concerns. If I may address the first concern raised by Senator Coulter, I think this point is very important. The government sees these additional measures which are contained in the requests for amendments as having the effect of imposing taxation and, therefore, has brought them before this chamber as requests for amendments. That is the correct way to deal with such a measure.

  The problem—and I wish to draw Senator Coulter's attention to this—is that, of course, the bill was initiated in this chamber. There is a further complication, which is that if the measures in question have the effect of imposing taxation by virtue of requests for amendments, and the government's form of bringing the requests for amendments recognises that, it becomes a taxing bill. Upon becoming a taxing bill, the difficulty is that it is a bill which could not be introduced in this place. So I think there is that added complication of which Senator Coulter was not aware. The consequence might be that, even if the House of Representatives were to agree to the requests—and we assume that it would—the bill could subsequently be invalid.

  The government has argued this matter should be dealt with expeditiously; that it should be dealt with now. The government says there is $5 billion that it wishes to ensure it can bring into its coffers. But the problem is this: this bill was introduced in this chamber on 3 March. That is when it received its first reading. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, Senator Sherry, said to us today, `This bill must be dealt with by the end of the week'. The reason the parliamentary secretary wants the bill dealt with by the end of the week is that he knows this is the last scheduled sitting week. But those requests for amendments were introduced after 3 March. If the government seriously had the proposals for the amendments circulating in the community in December last year, why is it that the bill did not receive a first reading until 3 March? Further, why is it that the requests for amendments did not come in at that point; they came in at a later point?

  If the government is so concerned about getting $5 billion worth of taxation revenue, it ought to do a decent job and bring the bill in on time, especially if it had circulated the proposals for amendments in the community in December. I say to Senator Sherry that there is no excuse for not bringing the bill in on time and not bringing these amendments in as part of a substantive bill. There is certainly no excuse for this bill being introduced in the Senate when the government's intention was always to use this bill as a mechanism for increasing the tax burden. It should have been brought in in the lower house. I say to Senator Coulter that the answer as to why it was not brought in in the lower house is that it was not sitting, because the House of Representatives does not carry the same workload as the Senate. The House of Representatives is, as the Democrats would recognise, the electoral college of the government.

  If the government is serious about ensuring the safety of the $5 billion of tax revenue it seeks to get by virtue of this bill, the only way in which the government can responsibly do that is to accede to the request of Senator Watson and defer consideration of these points until the government has at least tabled the advice it has received.

  We have this extraordinary situation in which Senator Sherry has brought before the chamber requests for amendments which I assume had been written on the basis of this advice, otherwise the government would not have brought them in as requests for amendments. So the government had the advice at the time at which the requests for amendments were prepared, before they were even tabled in this parliament. Yet the parliamentary secretary comes before us and says, `We have got the advice, but we can't give it to you right now. In fact, we probably can't give it to you until after we pass the bill. But pass the bill and trust us'. These are the same people who ask us to help them, because of the seriousness of the situation, to get the $5 billion secured for the government. That is an extraordinary proposition. It is utterly extraordinary. It really shows a grave degree of incompetence.

  Mr Chairman, you, Senator Coulter and Senator Harradine will note the importance of the fact that these requests for amendments recognise that the provisions will increase the tax burden. Therefore, there is the added complication of an inconsistency of a bill which, by virtue of these requests for amendments, will become a taxing bill, being introduced in the Senate. That is contrary to the constitution. I believe Senator Watson's request should be acceded to.