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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Page: 7

Senator BARTLETT (9:38 AM) —I will say things now that I have said many times before at precisely this stage on a Thursday morning because they do need to be put on the record every single time. I flag that I will move an amendment to address the issue raised by Senator Milne. Just to make clear to the chamber, the report before us is from the Selection of Bills Committee. The committee considered a proposal—obviously, from the Greens—to refer the Tax Laws Amendment (2007 Measures No. 6) Bill 2007 to the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport but was unable to reach agreement on whether the bill should be referred, which is a nice way of saying that all of us wanted to refer the bill to the committee and the government did not want to refer the bill to the committee so it did not refer the bill to the committee. So I will move an amendment seeking to bring about that end, purely to have it formally on the record by way of a vote.

I do not know whether all that Senator Milne has just said about what is in the bill is what is in the bill. I heard a few interjections from Senator Watson, who I do know understands tax issues pretty well. At least some of the things she was saying he was disputing, so I do not know. That is why you have Senate committee inquiries—to get all the views that different people have about what the bill will do, to hear from experts who actually know, to make sure there are no unintended consequences, at least as far as can be foreseen, and to see whether it is going to achieve what it said it is going to achieve. Then the committee would recommend that the bill be passed or amended to make sure it will do what it says it will do. Now, that is just good practice, good public policy and good public administration, regardless of your policy views about whether we should be having tax incentives for this type of thing or not.

It is a serious problem that we are rushing through a piece of legislation when obviously there are major concerns being raised by some about the potential impacts of it. Tax Laws Amendment (2007 Measures No. 6) Bill 2007 sounds benign—the name does not tell you very much—but anything dealing with tax deductibility relating to carbon sinks and the like will open up an area where we do need to get it as right as possible. The last thing I want to see is tax deductibility relating to carbon sinks that ends up being just a big taxpayer-funded rort for a bunch of people and does not provide any particularly positive greenhouse benefits. Then people will point to it and say: ‘We tried that and it didn’t work, so we won’t bother doing that anymore. We won’t bother trying incentives anymore.’ Let alone the fact that, if we are going to be giving tax incentives for this sort of thing, it will have a cost attached to it, and is that the best use of that money to produce a carbon gain? So there are all those sorts of questions.

It also raises once again the fundamental issue of fixed terms. All of us around here today are asking each other, ‘Are we going to be coming back in three weeks?’ There are a whole bunch of people, me included, who think there is no way in the world we will be coming back in three weeks and there are other people saying that we probably will. Again, it is just bad public policy and bad practice for a law-making body to be rushing something through just because this might be the last chance. We do not even know. We could be unnecessarily rushing this thing through and saying that we cannot refer it to a committee because we might not get the chance to pass it in three weeks time, so we have to put it through now even though it may be seriously flawed. A lot of people will make investment decisions on the basis of what is there so that, by the time you try to fix up the flaws, it is already built into the system and it is potentially too late.

If we had a fixed term we would know whether we are coming back in three weeks time and would be able to do our job properly. The ridiculous scenario is that we may rush this thing through now because we think it is the last possible chance and then find out we are back here in three weeks time and we could have had a good look at it, or at least some look at it, and made sure that it works properly. We do not know because of that simple thing. I repeat the Democrats’ longstanding plea for fixed terms for good public policy. I do not have a view on this bill because I have not had a chance to look at it. That is what Senate committees are for. Unless there is a good argument against it, we should be accepting what used to be the longstanding precedent: if somebody wants to look at a piece of legislation to check it out, we accept that and refer it. So I move:

At the end of the motion, add “and in respect of the Tax Laws Amendment (2007 Measures No. 6) Bill 2007, the bill be referred to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee for inquiry and report by 10 October 2007”.