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Wednesday, 23 May 2001
Page: 26870


Mr ALLAN MORRIS (1:39 PM) —It is very interesting to watch the delivery of these speeches today. The relief on the faces of government members is almost palpable. You can see them almost salivating with relief that somehow they might be off the hook. It is also a bit like the grand old Duke of York marching his soldiers up the hill and marching them down again. The people who have been speaking this morning and who will no doubt speak later today are the very people who are out there defending the government and making very strong speeches in favour of the GST and in defence of the unpaid $1,000 savings bonus and the aged persons bonus. All the things that are now being reversed were defended by those opposite up hill and down dale. The poor old foot soldiers of the government are back into battle. This time they are a bit happier, but they are the very soldiers who were saying the same words when they were defending the matters that are now being reversed. If that was not the case, if the government was actually serious about correcting some of these issues, why is it introducing a whole new system, for example, in relation to the aged persons bonus? Why not make up the payment so that they all get the $1,000? If the government was doing that, it would probably cost no more than the current measure.

What is happening now, of course, is that in most cases the people who got the $1,000 will also get the $300 extra. People were saying to the government, `Just give us $1,000.' So why is that? The answer is very simple: it would have taken a bit more time and a bit more working out to actually mesh the two together. This way was a quick, dirty system for all recipients without having to work out who may have been paid something previously. The lack of foresight, the lack of depth and the lack of detail in that particular measure are monumental. And this is from a government whose most famous label, I suppose, is the core promise. This is the Prime Minister who invented `core' and `non-core'. We now know that the $1,000 for aged persons was not a core promise, but there is now an attempt to resurrect it to a half-core. So we are getting an in-between now: there are core, non-core and somewhere between the two. The government is now retrieving or attempting to retrieve the situation. This reverse gear that the government has discovered in the last six months is quite fascinating. It has different speeds, and it does not always mesh properly, but it is being used an awful lot. All of that simply reinforces the public perception of a government that is tricky, too clever by half, mincing words and trying to find ways to say something or do something but at the same time not doing it wholeheartedly. The mean-spiritedness of this government is monumental, and it still comes through in last night's budget.

These four rushed-in pieces of legislation that we are dealing with today—the Compensation (Japanese Internment) Bill 2001, Family and Community Services and Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Further Assistance for Older Australians) Bill 2001, Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (One-off Payment to the Aged) Bill 2001 and Taxation Laws Amendment (Changes for Senior Australians) Bill 2001— are to go through the parliament this week. We sit and wait for years for legislation that is promised to us. We wait for months to get it up to speed and to get it voted on. But suddenly, within 24 hours, this legislation will be through this House. It was announced last night, and four pieces of legislation will be put through the House today. It is strange, isn't it? Isn't it peculiar how suddenly the drafting processes can all happen? Isn't it fascinating how suddenly the government finds high-speed performance for some of its legislation? And the strange part is that when we try to find out what it is about, we are told that that will come later; we will find out later what it all means. It will all go through, but the interpretation of it will come later.

This government, if nothing else, is marked for its flawed legislation. So many amendments have been made to the GST legislation. What is the figure now: 2,000 amendments? How many pages? How big is the tax act now? How many tens of thousands of pages are there? There are flaws all the way through, and I want to mention to the parliament one particular flaw that I think people might find interesting.

A constituent of mine, Helen Maddison, was quite offended when she and her husband applied for the aged persons savings bonus. Her husband was able to receive $1,000 because he had money in rollover. The government said, `That's his money and not yours. Therefore, you can't get it.' So she received $134. Mrs Maddison was offended by this because she felt that the money in the rollover was their joint money. She had helped him save for it. They spent it jointly. They treated it as being their asset and their money. So she appealed. She went to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, suggesting that this was unfair and wrong. Guess what? She won. The Social Security Appeals Tribunal upheld her appeal and said that the government should give her the same amount of money as it gave her husband.

However, the minister and the government then said, `Sorry, you can't have that money,' and they have now appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which is effectively a court. This constituent is a lady who has no income but who is a pensioner. She is not a lawyer. She cannot afford barristers and lawyers to fight the government. The full weight of the government is now aimed against this lady in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. I wrote to the minister about this in January and said that this goes against all precedent. The income of pensioners is treated as household income, except in this case where the husband's income is deemed to be separate. Superannuation and rollover are treated as the assets of a marriage, except in this case, and now the government wants to say that they are separate.

Why reverse those policies in this particular case? Why use all the resources of government to deny a woman $866? The minister came back to me and said, `Because it's technically wrong. We think there's a misinterpretation.' Do members know why? Because the government is pushing through legislation so quickly, so roughly and so badly that it is constantly flawed. Make no mistake: when people understand these pieces of legislation, they will find flaws in them as well. There has barely been any piece of legislation put through the parliament in the last five years that has not been seriously flawed, and we are having to come back and correct it later. In this mad rush to get legislation through, people will pay for it one way or another, because the parliament will have to come back and correct it.

While rumours abounded about what would be contained in the budget, people were making representations to their local members. One issue that comes to mind is compensation for prisoners of war. I received a letter from one constituent who was offended by this measure because he felt it was unfair that prisoners of war of the Japanese—and he was a prisoner of war in Asia of the Japanese—were being compensated by the Australian taxpayer and not by the Japanese, when Australian taxpayers had not made him a prisoner of war. I agree with the government's point of view in that he was acting for all Australians as a soldier and therefore we have some obligation. However, he was concerned that he would be seen to be taking a benefit from his fellow citizens when in fact the real perpetrators were not being asked to pay compensation. His concern was this: why didn't the government ask the Japanese, not the taxpayers, to compensate me?

Another person who approached me and who was much angrier about the issue was a former prisoner of war of the Germans in Europe. His concerns were that so many of his colleagues suffered as badly and as heinously as did prisoners of the Japanese. He suggests that the idea that prisoners of war in Germany had honourable soldiers looking after them is absolutely and totally wrong. Why single out one group? Why differentiate? Why be so divisive? Why say to prisoners of war, `We'll pay you, but not you'? Why is the government embarking on this kind of divisiveness? This has never been done in this country. We have treated veterans as veterans. We have never said that some are different. Governments on both sides have tried to keep universality, but suddenly the prisoners of war of one enemy are now to receive a payment. Why do that? Why would the government do that? I have heard no explanation. I heard previous speakers saying that the Germans were honourable and the Japanese were not. As I said, many prisoners of war in Germany will tell you that the Germans they dealt with were not so honourable. That is not to defame Germans as a race, but the experiences were very different from prisoner of war to prisoner of war. That is why we have always been so careful to make recognition universal.

The government is attempting to redeem itself in the eyes of the voters. I understand that, and well it needs to for all the massive cuts to services. Cuts to services that I still find the most hurtful were cuts to the dental system. People come into my office now who have waited for four years on a waiting list for dental treatment. The $100 million a year cut from that program was horrendous. All those savings that were made were spent last year as tax cuts. In the main, more than half went to people earning high incomes. All of those cuts were spent. The government is now desperate to buy its way back into office, but I think it underestimates the Australian people. I do not think people will fall for this all that readily. Even though government members are absolutely ecstatic in their excitement and enthusiasm because they suddenly might have a chance of staying in government after the next election, I would not be all that excited if I were them. I am more concerned about doing it properly. Let us get these things right. I support these measures, but they do not do what needs to be done to the fullest extent, but at least the government is now actually helping rather than hurting. The last five years of this government have been tough for many in our community, and if some groups are getting some of it back that is fine. I support the legislation but with those reservations.