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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19750

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (6:19 PM) —I hope it is meaningful, Joe, particularly for your entertainment. I rise to speak on two aspects of the Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No. 7) 2003. I went to Denmark some years ago and, being interested in immigration and settlement, I spoke to the relevant bureaucrat there about the degree of opposition that Denmark's intake of refugees was causing at that stage, and the resistance of NGOs and how critical they were. The public servant turned to me and he said, `We have taken them prisoner.' I was a bit nonplussed by this, so I asked, `You have taken the NGOs prisoner?' He said, `Yes, we let them distribute our welfare program to refugees, so they never criticise us.' With this government we have a situation where—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Barresi)—I am listening very carefully, member for Reid.

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON —This is very much related to the bill. The government have learned that philosophy. Over the last few years we have seen the way in which they have brought on board a lot of the charities and private sector organisations interested in the delivery of services, and they are no longer critics at all. This situation is still not good enough for the government, and that is why there is this aspect to the bill. They have still not obtained enough draconian authority over their critics through the measure of having them financially dependent on the government for the delivery of their services, so the government now seek to bring in measures to discipline them through the taxation system. We have had comments from a variety of government ministers that some charities are going too far and that they are too critical in policy areas. It seems that some of these charities—many of them connected with churches—may have the `mistaken' view that it is not only their job to give a few pennies out but also to seek social change so that people are not homeless, are not dependent and are in jobs. They may see governments as a way of accomplishing that.

Over the last month or two we have heard a variety of comments from government ministers that these organisations have stepped over the mark, they are too critical and they are not fulfilling their proper purpose in life. Of course this is part of a broader philosophy from the Institute of Public Affairs, which has instigated a wholesale attack upon non-government organisations in this country, particularly in the foreign aid budget. The previous speaker from the opposition side alluded to the attacks on the ABC, the attempt to bring them into line, and we now have, through the question of charitable deductions, which this bill seeks to tackle—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I thank the member for Reid for coming back to the bill.

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON —With due respect, I think that, fundamentally, the point I am making is that the government is endeavouring, through the charitable deductions taxation area—

Mr Cadman —Gary Johns is doing the inquiry!

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON —Gary Johns might be as discredited as you are. That is not the point.

Mr Hockey —The member for Mitchell is not discredited!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The Minister for Small Business and Tourism will refrain from interjecting and the member for Reid will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON —As indicated, this amendment really seeks to say that the government should not use a taxation power to discipline or force political correctness, to use a term that is favoured by the Prime Minister. These organisations might continue to have the support of the Australian people through donations and should not be persecuted through taxation measures for having views different from this government's. We are seeing this not only, as I said, in the area of welfare policy in this country—and a number of organisations are obviously fearful about their precarious long-term financial situation—but also in the foreign aid area. Organisations such as the IPA have launched a major assault upon them for being politically active or whatever. The IPA has two purposes: the political purpose of disciplining them and, as we have seen recently through their hire by the government to investigate NGOs, self-interest as well. That is one aspect of this amendment I support very strongly.

The other aspect relates to the question of payments to people in other countries for persecution, loss of employment, loss of property et cetera. Tomorrow is a major anniversary of an event of international terrorism. It was 30 years ago that the US instigated the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile. We saw recently on SBS television an exposure of Kissinger's involvement—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Reid has had a lot of latitude in this debate so far.

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON —With due respect, read the amendment. It is about Chile and Uruguay.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Member for Reid, I am well aware of the bill. Please tie your remarks to the bill.

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON —The amendment is related to the question of compensation payments to the victims of the Chilean and Uruguayan regimes in particular. That is what the amendment is about. It is saying that the current provisions, which are exclusively related to victims of the Holocaust—and I do not want in any way to detract from the fact that they should be compensated for the massive number of deaths of people in camps and the seizure of their property—

Mr Hockey —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I want to rescue the honourable member from his dilemma—this is a rescue package. I cannot identify anywhere in the Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (No 7) 2003 any words that refer to Uruguay or Chile. So it is a bit bizarre that the member for Reid gets up and starts talking about an activity that happened 30 years ago. Where is it in the amendment?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I thank the minister.

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON —On the point of order: I think by now the minister might have had time to read the amendment. It refers to similar situations to that of Holocaust victims and compensatory payments of a similar nature in a number of countries. I will move later to correspondence between me and two government ministers about the situation of Uruguay and Chile.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Reid should continue.

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON —The situation is that both Chile and Uruguay have instigated payments of compensation to residents of their nations around the world. Can I say at the outset that I congratulate both governments' diplomatic representatives in this country for actually engaging and being involved in the cause of their nationals in this country. Without wanting to create too much tension with the Minister for Small Business and Tourism, briefly, in 1973 there was a Uruguayan military coup and a significant number of Uruguayans lost their employment. Out of three million people, 150,000 managed to get themselves detained. Many were tortured and murdered. One of these people is my constituent Maria Bielli. In August 2001, I took up her issues with the then minister because of the preferential situation here for Holocaust victims alone. That has not been widened to any other groups.

Before the minister for small business gets too excited, I would cite comments from the Deputy Consul-General of Germany, Dr Christian Brecht, in February 2001. He made the point that part of the payments from Germany were `for damages to the advancement in careers or wealth development as well as certain hardship cases'. Clearly the payments of Uruguay and Chile fall within those same provisions. I do not see any logical reason why there should not be an extension of this principle to these payments.

I was heartened in 2001 when I had correspondence with Senator Vanstone—and I think earlier than that I had correspondence with Senator Newman. I had letters from both of them thanking me for clarifying certain measures. In the words of Senator Vanstone of 17 September 2001:

The information is most useful. It has given us a sufficient understanding of the payments to approach the Uruguay authorities, through the Ambassador of Uruguay, to obtain the further material necessary for a full consideration of the social security treatment of the pensions.

When the material including the relevant Uruguayan legislation is received, consideration can be given to exempting the Uruguayan pensions from income test. Consideration will be given at the same time to similar pensions paid by the government of Chile.

The minister for small business might be asking why these two countries were being singled out, but the government of this country at that time had some interest, saw some parallels in the situation and seemed to be considering the matter. In May 2001, Minister Vanstone said:

As you are aware, the Government has asked for further information about the Chilean Government payments. The income test treatment of these payments will receive serious consideration when this information is available.

Obviously it did not get much serious interest from some members opposite, given their lack of knowledge of this matter.

As I say, the Ambassador of Chile in July 2001 wrote personally to Minister Vanstone to indicate his interest and also his belief that the practice in Australia was erroneous. He noted:

These Pensions of Mercy without Contribution, as its name implies, are not taxed in Chile, nor are they affected by any reductions of any kind since it deals with a compensation for damages and detriments received.

He further noted that in December 2000 there were only 3,500 people worldwide who were receiving them. Because Australia was the recipient of a significant number of those people, it does have some impact here—but, as I say, in December 2000 there were 3,500 internationally. He noted in that correspondence the activity of Chilean nationals and their concern at the treatment of these payments in Australia. He—that is, Cristobal Valdes—concluded by saying:

I would like to thank you for your interest in the situation and I would like to ask you once again to reconsider the situation affecting Chilean citizens or citizens of Chilean origin who are receiving Pensions of Mercy without Contribution. I will be happy to answer any questions ...

This matter has been in the government's hands since at least 2001. There were indications that some serious consideration was being given to rectifying that. They are nationals here. Their families are in South America. Their diplomatic representatives see it as an anomaly.

We were all obviously very deeply affected after the Second World War by the plight of the victims of Nazism, most particularly the Jews. We are aware of payments by Germany and a number of other European countries. At the time it might have seemed a very singular, unparalleled systematic persecution and attempt to eliminate a race of people. That is probably why at the time the government thought that these people alone should be exempted. However, as history has moved on, we have situations where in some countries very brutal military governments detained large numbers of people, excluded them from their employment, incarcerated them for times on end and adopted some of their children into military families, unknown to the parents and children themselves. It was systematic persecution, at that time in the seventies, of fairly monumental proportions.

I very strongly support this amendment. I know that Spanish speakers in Western Sydney and throughout the country are keenly interested in this matter. It is time that the government really did face this situation. The words of the German Deputy Consul-General give indication that there is a direct connection between the reasons for some of the payments to victims of Germany and the reasons for those to the victims of Chile and Uruguay. Both of those countries are still going through traumatic processes of reconciliation, particularly in the case of Chile because of the failure of the government at an earlier stage to really face up to pursuing some of the culprits. Part of these processes is payments to these people. The Australian government should recognise that and duly make sure these people are given justice. I second the amendment.