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Tuesday, 26 June 2001
Page: 25101

Senator WOODLEY (4:57 PM) —Hopefully, this will be my last contribution in terms of these requests—that is, requests (6) to (9)—that I have moved. I want to quote from the Labor Party's supplementary comment in the Senate committee report on this legislation. I also want to draw the Senate's attention to the fact that, in answering my question last night, the minister indicated that between 300 and 400 dairy farmers will possibly be recipients of the discretionary payments. Under the DSAP—that is, under the original legislation—there were 729 applications for determination, because those people were unable to access the full payment under the original scheme, but only 107 of them were granted. Under the anomalous circumstances provisions, there were 402 appeals, and of those only 36 were granted. Out of 1,131 applications and appeals, 143 were upheld—only 10 per cent of the original appeals. If the same number of people appeal again—obviously, the majority of them are still concerned about this issue—we will have almost 1,000 farmers who were not helped under the DSAP and who had to appeal the decisions that were given. If the government estimates that 300 or 400 people will be helped by the new legislation, we will still help fewer than half of those who had a complaint last time. That means that we have a problem.

I would point out also that in the committee's report to the Senate this comment about appeal rights was made:

The Committee remains concerned at the nature and extent of current appeal rights. While there exists a right of appeal under the current Scheme and that such a right of appeal will also be available under the additional scheme, it appears difficult to establish a ground of appeal—in practical terms an appeal right may be limited.

I would go further and say it is severely limited, given the numbers which the government, in answer to my question last night, gave this committee. It is quite clear that the appeal rights are still going to be a problem—if fewer than half of those who appealed last time are going to be covered under this new legislation. We are looking at a very big problem. For that reason I am urging both the government and the Labor Party to accept either these amendments which I am moving or, if they fail to pass, some other amendments on the lessor/lessee issue so that we can make sure that the government's rhetoric about the right of appeal and the provision of appeal processes will in fact be fulfilled.

The problem is that, because of the very limited and restricted guidelines which last time governed the Dairy Adjustment Authority in terms of its ability to hear and grant appeals, most of the appeals were dismissed. The minister may say, `Well, there is a process in place.' That is true, but if there are no grounds on which those appeals can proceed then we have a problem. It is not much use having a process if the process itself is based on very limited grounds. It means that, as before, a person can go to the Dairy Adjustment Authority, be knocked back, and ask for a review by the Dairy Adjustment Authority. When that review is dismissed they can then go to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, but I point out that it will cost them $500 just to get into the tribunal, with no hope of their appeal being upheld by that body either, because the same guidelines will apply. Despite having paid $500, it is virtually wasted because there are no grounds to proceed to an appeal because of the very limited and restricted basis on which the appeal can be granted.

The other issue is the issue of lessors taking lessees to court. Because the minister has been a solicitor I am sure he knows just how difficult it is for a landlord or anyone to whom rent is owed to actually recover it. I have had personal experience of going through a small claims court trying to collect rent, and it really is a futile exercise.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Collect it or pay it?

Senator WOODLEY —I paid as much money as I was owed and still got no result at the end. That is the problem. What the minister said is correct, but what I am pointing out is that there is a real difficulty in processing these kinds of appeals. And why would we want to put people through that kind of process when the government says it wants to help? It needs to simplify the process. It needs to make the guidelines very flexible. I am not sure that we actually have the guidelines yet, or the scheme that will apply. We have seen some draft guidelines. I am not sure that they are finalised. So in a sense we are working in the dark.

In concluding my remarks—and, hopefully, this will conclude what I want to say on these amendments—I think the Labor Party got it right in their supplementary comment on this legislation. It says:

The Opposition appreciates the situation that many lessors now find themselves in and is not satisfied that the additional package will address their concerns.

Further, it is now clear that one of the consequences of the Government's first package has been to change fundamentally the balance of the relationship of lessors and lessees in the dairy industry.

The impact of the package in lessors and in some cases lessees clearly illustrates the Government's lack of vision for the future of the dairy industry.

That might be a little harsh, but it is part of the debate and the government has to answer that accusation. To continue:

Rather than enhance the future prospects of the industry the Government's package has, in fact, laid waste a number of productive dairy farms.

Really, it was deregulation rather than the government's package. It is just that the government's package proved to be inadequate in a number of cases. With those comments, I ask the Senate to support my amendments (6) to (9) because I believe they will meet the issue that we are debating here.