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Monday, 18 November 2002
Page: 6645

Senator MURRAY (8:05 PM) —I hope that with the Members of Parliament (Life Gold Pass) Bill 2002 we are going through the motions of watching an entitlements dinosaur thrash its way to a death that will occur in a couple of years time under a new government. The Australian Democrats oppose the life gold pass. It is an anachronism whose time has passed. Unfortunately, it has not been done away with, but at least it is being restricted by the bill and to that extent we welcome the bill.

However, Senator Faulkner and other senators in this debate have been addressing an issue of equity, logic and precedent. It is absolutely clear that the principle established by Senator Faulkner's amendment is explicit not only in the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990 but also in social security law and tax law. Where the judiciary have the discretion it is explicit in jurisprudence. In other words, Senator Faulkner, with the support of the cross-parties, has attempted to put into another piece of law a definition and a description which are thoroughly embedded in Australian state and federal law and practice.

It really defies logic that a government would reject a precedent which many of its own members, ministers and supporters practise, follow and agree with. You have to then ask: why is this happening? This is probably a strange word to use in the context of the people concerned, but it is almost `macho'. It is like standing up and saying: `We know you're not going to hang out for something on which the world does not turn. We know it's an issue of equity. We know it's not going to cost a bean, really, here or there.' We know it's an absolute nonsense that the administration would ever approve mistresses, wives and sundry hangers on to be signed off under this—

Senator Faulkner —All at the same time.

Senator MURRAY —All at the same time—an unholy trinity, the bete noire of the parliamentary circus. It is just a nonsense, and it is disappointing, frankly, that in its response the government has shown a lack of maturity and judgment. My hope is, as I say, that the next government will say: `That's the end of the life gold pass—goodbye. We'll sort out the entitlements overall,' and this is just a hiccup on the way to it.

This kind of discussion is symbolic of when the government loses its touch. It is strange because on one side we are dealing with the stem cell debate, where there has been quite a careful development of a middle position, which probably a majority will end up being comfortable with, and the government has shown a fair bit of a sensitivity, yet here is an issue where you are talking about people being accompanied by those they love, by those who mean a great deal to them and are their permanent partners but happen not to have been sanctified by marriage in a church or registry office. As I say, this is a principle well accepted in social security law and tax law and in most other laws. So I can only express some surprise and disappointment.

If the Labor Party had decided to insist on this amendment, I advise you, Senator Faulkner, that the Australian Democrats would also have insisted. We think it is worth while pushing the point when people are not being as sensible as we think they should be. We will continue to insist, but I do not intend to ask for a division. However, if the Greens wish to divide on this matter, we will be there with them.