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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 1724

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (11:07 AM) —At the outset I should say that this bill from the opposition, the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Amendment (Fair Indexation) Bill 2010, is consistent with the Australian Greens policy at the last election. Therefore we take seriously the role we have in considering this legislation and its potential passage through the Senate and the parliament. It does raise the questions of financing that have been put before the Senate by Minister Evans and by Senator Feeney. That has put onto the opposition an onus—which the Greens have maintained is necessary with legislation that costs taxpayers—to find a means of funding such a bill. That said, the opposition has today come forward with a potential funding mechanism. The opposition’s document begins:

The purpose of this document is to outline a savings offset of $175 million squared to fund the coalition’s military indexation election commitment. This will be achieved by reducing the growth of APS fulltime equivalents in the Department of Defence including DMO by 33 per cent. This will still see the number of staff in the Department of Defence including DMO grow in size by 8.3 per cent by financial year 2013-14 compared to a budgeted 12. 6 per cent.

Then the figures are as outlined by Senator Ronaldson.

A serious proposition has come before the Senate. In these circumstances what do we do about it? I foreshadow the amendment I have had circulated that the Greens believe that the better option is for the funding to come through a reconfiguration of the mining resource rent tax. The amendment reads:

At the end of the motion, add “but:

(a)   the Senate is of the opinion that these reforms should be funded through a reconfigured mining resource rent tax, as recommended by the Treasury, that would generate sufficient additional revenue to cover the costs; and

(b)   a message be sent to the House of Representatives informing it of this resolution and requesting its concurrence in the resolution”.

The Treasury figures that we are most recently acquainted with do indicate that, if a proper superprofits tax were placed on the burgeoning iron ore and coal sectors of the mining industry in Australia, an extra $100 billion would come into the public purse over the next 10 years. That is an average of $10 billion per annum. We believe that is a fair tax. It is still going to leave the industry very profitable but it is going to make sure that money from the once-only exploitation of the nation’s resources is available to fund the liabilities that government has for the future—whether they be in education, housing, transport or defence. We do not dismiss lightly the need for that tax to be levied and I note that the opposition does not want to raise one cent of tax. It would forgo $145 billion over the next 10 years, $14.5 billion per annum.

Senator Back interjecting—

Senator BOB BROWN —I notice interjections. It is recommended by Treasury, rejected by the opposition, but supported by the Greens. As far as the responsibility of it goes, that speaks for itself. So I foreshadow that amendment and we will be supporting that as the primary option.

I come back again to the challenge to the opposition and to all of us—if we have private senators’ legislation—to flag a reasonable means of funding the costs incurred. On the face of it the opposition has done that. It has now before the Senate—and therefore before the parliament—an alternative means of covering the cost of the new indexation which has been Greens policy, as well as the policy of the opposition since it left government, for military pensions.

What reasonably should be done here—because it is a large sum of money and it is also a large appropriation—is for that spending option by the opposition to be tested by a Senate committee. I am in support of a Senate committee looking at that. If the matter goes to a committee, this would involve the Greens supporting the second reading of the legislation. If it goes to committee we will do that. But I need to make it clear that our support for the further passage of the legislation will depend upon but not be confined to the recommendations of the committee. It is a big issue. There is a lot of money at stake here. We need to assess it in a sober and qualified fashion and that is something that a Senate committee should do.

I note also the proposal by Senator Xenophon, flagged in his circulated amendment, for the matter to go to a Senate committee. I foreshadow that his proposal be amended as on my circulated amendment on sheet 7059:

After “sheet 7027”, insert “and proposed mechanisms for funding the bill”.

Clearly, this is to keep up with the pace of the innovation that is going on in the Senate, so that the committee would look at the funding mechanism put forward by the opposition as well as by the Greens, although I suppose it is unlikely that both would pass in the vote coming down the line.

In the short time left to me I will go to the constitutional issues, because they have been flagged briefly by previous speakers. We are in new territory. We now have a functioning private members’ time, which I think is a fantastic and long-overdue innovation in this parliament. We are following other parliaments which went this way long ago. What it means, effectively, is that the nous, the innovation and the representation of the community is extended beyond the government ranks to include everybody in the parliament. You get a better result for the people of Australia coming out of that. But with that, of course, comes the responsibility—we cannot take over Treasury benches and have no intention of doing that—to be looking at how government can be helped to adjust to private members’ legislation coming through the parliament. Some of that legislation will be ethical or legal—maybe even international treaty mechanisms, to name a few—and may not have a significant cost; others will have significant cost. I, on behalf of the Greens, and other parties are looking at how we can establish some set of baseline rules to guide the parliament in the absence of standing orders or, indeed, constitutional direction on this matter. It is a big responsibility on our shoulders. This legislation is pre-empting that agreement as to how such legislation should be promulgated in the interests of the Australian people. I assure you, Madam Acting Deputy President, it is something the Australian Greens are putting a lot of mind to and hope to come up with good dividends for the parliament and the people in the coming months.