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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 673

Senator BELL (6.09 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

10.Schedule, item 50, page 17, omit proposed paragraph 49 (1) (ba).

11.Schedule, item 53, pages 17 and 18, omit proposed subsection 49(1A).

I wish to make sure that these amendments are understood. The first list of amendments distributed under my name—some honourable senators may have a copy—contained 14 amendments. I subsequently amended that and distributed a list which contained only 11. It is the second list that I am referring to, and I am referring to those amendments numbered 10 and 11. I ask honourable senators to disregard any other lists that they might have.

  The effect of amendments Nos 10 and 11 is to delete the government's provisions contained in the Student Assistance Amendment Bill which would have had the effect of reversing the onus of proof, and presuming students to be guilty of all sorts of offences with regard to receiving overpayments or whatever, and requiring them to set about proving their innocence. This is contrary to the normal provisions of our system of government whereby we presume people to be innocent until proven guilty. This is also a marked departure from what we understand to be fair play.

  Also, as I indicated in my speech during the second reading debate, I think this is a drastic case of overkill because the offences are likely to be in the order of a few dollars here and there, perhaps a couple of hundred in extreme cases; they are certainly not likely to be great crimes against humanity or things which will affect hundreds of other people. It is a particularly heavy sledgehammer which has been brought to bear upon this walnut, and we argue—I think successfully—that the government's proposition should be rejected.

  We are not alone in this. The scrutiny of bills committee was able to identify this, as it is able to identify many attempts to reverse the onus of proof. It found in this case that such an attempt was unjustified. The Australian Democrats believe that that finding was necessary to bring it to this place and to ensure that it did not occur. I am relieved to understand that the government accepts that position, as I think it should.