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Tuesday, 25 March 1997
Page: 2448

Senator KEMP (Assistant Treasurer)(11.04 p.m.) —We now are voting on the third reading and it will be an interesting test for the Senate. This bill was to put into effect a clear election policy of the government—a policy that the government went to the election on.

If the Senate fails to pass that, it will be attempting to force the government to break a clear election commitment. Of course, if the third reading failed, the onus would be on the Senate and the obstruction which has been shown in the course of today, some five hours, by Senator Harradine and others. Senator Harradine knows that we sought discussions on the RSAs. The reality is that those were fairly cursory, I think due to time constraints on your part. There was no lack of effort to carry out consultations.

The bill of course has passed all stages except the third reading stage. The Senate has expressed its view on all stages of the bill. We saw today an attempt by particularly the opposition and others to prevent, in a range of amendments, the government from being able to offer RSAs in a competitively neutral fashion with superannuation products. The Labor Party has never accepted that. The Labor Party has never accepted the policy of RSAs. The Hansard will show how appropriate, in expressing the Labor Party policies, were the comments of Senator Murphy in his very brief remarks in the course of this debate.

I hope the third reading stage does not fail. The government has answered all the questions which were put forward. The vast range of amendments that were being posed were, essentially—if you could sum them up in one word—to make RSAs uncompetitive. The test that was used, time and time again, was the regulatory framework that has been put in relation to RSAs similar to other superannuation products. The answer, time and time again, was yes. Time and time again, we had Senator Sherry lead the attack in attempting to blatantly undermine the substance of the bill.

I hope other parties will reconsider. If I remember correctly, the Democrats went to an election to `keep the bastards honest'. I thought that was their approach. Nothing could be more honest, Senator Allison, than keeping your election commitments. No-one has argued that this is not a clear election commitment. In all this, Labor has been determined to protect what it sees as a particular special interest group—particularly industry funds. For all the weasel words you uttered, Senator Sherry, why should we ignore the fact that what you did time and time again with your amendments was ensure—which you openly admitted—that RSAs would not be competitive with other superannuation products. That was your clear intention through all your amendments—and openly admitted.

I regard it as a pity, to be quite frank, that the Democrats have chosen to cooperate with the Labor Party in this particular action. I regard it as a pity because I would have thought that the Democrats would have been able to mark out a singular position. The fact is they should have recognised there was an election commitment. The Democrats should also have recognised that this has been extensively debated through the chamber and that the issues which they raised had been discussed. Talk about raising issues which are hardly of mighty substance—whether it should be 14 or 28 or 30 days! The reality is that we were putting in place exactly the same arrangements which you put in place under the SI(S) Act. That is exactly what we were putting in place.

To pretend that this is some awful arrangement that we have proposed is frankly absurd. If this fails, the opposition's action tonight should be seen for what it is: a deliberate and blatant attempt to obstruct a clear election promise. I regret that the Democrats have apparently chosen to assist the Labor Party in this particular action. I think that is a pity. I think it is correct to say that the Greens did not take any part in this particular debate—I do not blame them for that. They made no particular contribution to the debate but, nonetheless, they have chosen to assist the Labor Party in attempting to prevent the government putting its election promise into effect.

What we put before this chamber was perfectly reasonable: it was to design a regulatory framework for RSAs which, as far as practicable, was similar to the SIS act where relevant. Even that could not be accepted. What we are hearing here in the pious words of Senator Sherry is nothing more than a blatant effort to prevent the government putting its election promise into effect.

Senator Sherry interjecting

Senator KEMP —Yes, it is. It is blatant, and it should be seen for exactly what it is, Senator Sherry. I believe it is protecting a particular constituency and its union mates. Frankly, that other groupings in the Senate give any comfort to this is a great pity. Senator Harradine, I accept your attitude on this. I think it is pity that it has turned out this way. I am not sure what can be done, but I am sorry that comfort has been given to the Labor Party. The Labor Party could not win this debate in the election and could not win it up to this stage in the Senate. But, through a particular action proposed by Senator Sherry, it will seek to defeat, I believe, a perfectly reasonable and appropriate bill.

If the third reading should fail, I believe it will be seen as a blatant piece of Senate obstruction; a particularly serious one because of the nature of the bill and because it would give effect to an election promise. I urge those senators who are not tied to their union mates and their union funds to support this bill and the third reading.

Question put.

The Senate divided.

   Question put:

   That the bills be now read a third time.