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Thursday, 17 June 2004
Page: 24055

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads) (11:35 AM) —That it is a very useful and constructive suggestion that has been put forward by Senator Murray. The practical and political reality here which will emerge over the next few hours is that there is a fundamental policy difference between the government and the opposition on how you approach some parts of this legislation. The reality is that probably 95 per cent of CLERP 9 has the full support of everybody in the chamber. There are differences of achieving similarly desired outcomes in relation to things like analyst independence and so forth. The government has had, as everyone would attest, significant and lengthy consultation—so lengthy in fact that when I was in charge I was criticised. I was pleased to see that the joint committee also took its time and did a diligent job at reviewing it.

The process that we have gone through as a legislature and as a government has been a far better process than, for example, what occurred in the United States, where they rushed in a bunch of measures because of the looming congressional elections, I suspect, the politics around it all and a desire for that administration to get it off the political agenda. In hindsight what we have done here is a lot better way to approach issues that were front page news, highly politicised and highly focused on by people. When you are making changes to the Corporations Law you should not really be looking at responses that are quick political fixes or that look good for a few weeks. You really have to think about how it is going to affect the way business is done in Australia and how we interact with the rest of the world for, I would like to think, 10 to 20 years in advance.

The process we have gone through has been a very good one, both from the government's point of view when I was running it and when we handed across the legislation and the joint committee started the legislature process. So I think it has been a good process. But, as Senator Conroy has indicated—and he has put his views out there for the world to see well in advance and he has come up with amendments which reflect that Labor policy—there will be substantial differences in this debate. I think what will occur—and I guess it is in our hands here—is that there will be some amendments we will agree to and there will be some we will not agree to. The Labor ones we have strong objections to, and Mr Cameron has indicated that publicly in his own way. So that is one reality we have to deal with.

The other reality is that we are now, by everyone's assessment and according to the normal political timetable, within a few weeks or months of an election. Most people would expect an election before Christmas. The political and practical realities—which tend to merge right now—are that Labor have stated a very clear policy in this area. It is one of the few areas in which they have actually stated a policy, to be frank. They have, to their credit, supported the majority of the CLERP 9 approach, but they have made some significant differences. I think I speak for Mr Cameron and Mr Costello when I say that we would like to see CLERP 9 enacted as close as possible to the government policy, with some minor amendments.

We will not be accepting any of the Labor amendments, and that will be frustrating for Senator Conroy. The reality is that he will be able to say: `I have tried to amend this law. Here is the Labor position. Should a Labor government be elected, this is what we will do to change the law.' Literally within months they could come back, if they win the election, and make the law in the shape they want it to be, undoubtedly with the support of the Democrats. I presume, Senator Murray, you will be indicating support for some of their amendments. So I think there is a democratic solution to this. I presume that we will have a debate here. It will be a well-informed debate because of the work we have done in our own ways. If the Senate amends the legislation in a way that is unacceptable to the government, I presume that in the other place the government will seek to send it back to the Senate. I hope that the CLERP 9 legislation can be enacted in the form in which we get it out of this place. As I said, if Labor win the election, they can bring it back here.

In terms of the report of the joint statutory committee and the process you have outlined, Senator Murray, I will energetically see whether the government is able to pick up some of the easier amendments from the report and put them through the proper processes. They are amendments or changes that I think, without having studied them closely, would probably need to go through normal government processes. That is not to say that, in an environment of cooperation and in the spirit of progressing reform, we cannot seek to go down the course that you have outlined. If it is possible to do that, I will certainly seek to do it, because it will show that the government is fair dinkum about getting the guts of CLERP 9 in place for the benefit of Australian businesses who will have the certainty of knowing what the law will be in the coming financial year. I think your suggestion is a positive one, Senator Murray. I will seek from my perspective to progress that. What I have sought to do in this intervention is to describe the way I think the process should go over the next few hours.