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Wednesday, 15 March 2000
Page: 12885


Senator O'BRIEN (6:26 PM) —It may be that there are many circumstances where what the parliamentary secretary has said is entirely appropriate and pertinent. However, the legislation committee took evidence from lessors that pointed to anomalies that arise. The fact of the matter is that the Senate knows of the anomalies and so does the government. I think the opposition are taking the view that everyone would accept unintended consequences and unintended inequities. The government cannot with a crystal ball necessarily pick up every anomaly that might occur, but this is not a case of asking the government to foresee what might happen. What we are asking the government to do is to look at the things that, in evidence before the Senate committee, we were told will happen; to do a bit of extrapolating from those examples and the evidence that the Senate committee took; and to come to the realisation that there is inequity in the provision and that there are going to be anomalies in the provision.

As I said in my contribution to the second reading debate, the opposition are not asking for you to amend the bill today. We are not asking for specific commitments. What the opposition would like to hear from the government is that it will genuinely review the sharing provisions—and there may be others that need to be reviewed—that relate to the lessor and the lessee. We would like the government to look at it in the context of the evidence that exists, which the opposition think shows that there are anomalies, and, if it finds that those anomalies do exist, to undertake to the Senate to investigate and implement ways of avoiding those anomalies.

These are examples, and I would not want it to be suggested that these were the only ways that this matter might be addressed, but the government might want to look at, for example, the issues that Senator Forshaw raised—that is, both the issue of the period of a lease applicable to the lessee, who is the beneficiary under the scheme; and the issue of what might have been the lessee's reasonable expectation of participation in the industry under that lease. The government might want to look at the issue of the value of the labour component of the lease compared with the capital component and any labour maintenance or other factors that the lessor might provide. The government might want to look at whether the lease includes not just the farm and the dairy but the herd as well. These are issues which are before the committee. The government might say, `Yes, there are specific provisions about the sharing of the market milk premium.' But we are really focusing on provisions that, in our view, in terms of the number of farmers and farms, apply to the majority of the industry. We know that the largest part of the industry—almost two-thirds of it—is in Victoria. Victoria does not have a market quota system, and it has a very small component of production that might be market milk. My state of Tasmania is in the same boat.

We are asking the government to do some more work on this matter and to consult with the industry. The industry, if it did not already have it, is gaining a good idea of some of the anomalies that exist. I think the industry would take the position, provided there was not a scrambling of other provisions, that it would be happy for this matter to be dealt with in another way that was equitable. The government may well find that the industry is happy, for example, for issues such as sharing between the lessor and the lessee to be resolved with reference to the DAA and, ultimately, to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. It is possible that the industry would be happy to encourage the resolution by negotiation of some of those disputes with the nonpayment of the adjustment package, in those areas where a dispute exists, until the matter is resolved. Those are issues that the government can investigate and discuss whilst continuing with the legislative program that is before the Senate at the moment. The government would be in a position, for example, to say to the industry, `We are investigating this,' and to quickly come back before 1 July to say, `We're going to have to make this particular change,' thereby advising people who have an expectation of the payment, before they make their plans based upon the legislation, that there might be a change if they are in a lessor-lessee situation. That is what the opposition are saying.

Amendments have been circulated by Senator Harris. They propose other measures which relate in part to this issue. I do not want to pre-empt what the opposition say about those at the moment, but our preference is that this matter be dealt with carefully and thoughtfully. I do not think it is unreasonable for the opposition to be asking for an undertaking from the government in this debate that they will work that issue through, given that the material which was before the Senate committee was not—as far as I am aware—available to the government at the time the legislation was dealt with in the House of Representatives. I do not think it is an onerous obligation to place upon the government to ask that they look at this issue again, that they take advice and that they look to see whether there is an alternative and more equitable method of dealing with some of these situations. As I said to the parliamentary secretary, we are not in the business of trying to frustrate this process. We are trying to help it.