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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21330

Mr ROSS CAMERON (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (4:42 PM) —I move:

That the amendments be disagreed to.

These are amendments which have been moved by the Democrats, with the support of the ALP, in the Senate. The measure in the bill as introduced by the government is intended to make it easier for organisations to achieve tax-deductible gift status. Under the current law, if an organisation wishes to receive tax-deductible gifts there are two paths to that outcome. The first flows from qualifying under the general tax law, and that results in the Australian Taxation Office making a declaration that the organisation is a qualifying tax-deductible gift recipient. The second measure, and the one which the bill concerns, is for those who do not qualify under the general taxation law but who are nonetheless in the public interest worthy of tax-deductible gift status. That group of organisations must make a specific application to government for what in the end is a political decision taken by the Minister for Revenue. Frankly, it has been a difficult outcome to win for organisations. It is fair to say that the government has placed a pretty heavy onus on those seeking it to demonstrate why, in spite of the fact that they do not qualify under the general tax law, there is some overwhelming public benefit to be had from their listing as a tax-deductible gift recipient.

It is nonetheless the case that each year a number of organisations, perhaps a couple of dozen, qualify under that process, but it is a lengthy, laborious and difficult process. As a procedural matter, one of the complications associated with it is that it then requires the substantive tax law to be amended in this place and the other place. That process often involves a significant efflux of time in between the announcement by the Minister for Revenue that an organisation has qualified and the opportunity to introduce an amendment bill to the taxation law into one or the other house. I want to cite just one example from my own electorate of Parramatta. Members will remember that about a week before the 1996 federal election the Parramatta cathedral of the Roman Catholic Church was burnt to the ground by an arsonist. There was that great photograph on the front page of the Daily Telegraph where the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, was virtually mobbed by the schoolgirls from Our Lady of Mercy College over the road. I am pleased to say that, in spite of that demonstration of public support, the Australian electorate voted with wisdom on that occasion.

While the government made no cash contribution to the rebuilding of the cathedral, the then Minister for Revenue, Senator Rod Kemp, did agree that the rebuilding fund for the cathedral at Parramatta should be entitled to tax-deductible gift status, which it would otherwise not have qualified for. The point I want to make today is that it took almost 18 months between the announcement by the minister that the cathedral rebuilding fund would qualify and the opportunity to introduce a bill into the two houses and have it passed into law. This measure is simply designed to streamline the administrative process by which these things are done. The government is frankly surprised and disappointed that the opposition is going to oppose these amendments, which are clearly intended to make it easier to list the great not-for-profit organisations that are labouring away for the good of other citizens. The measure the government is introducing is intended to make it easier for those organisations to be listed in a schedule to the regulations rather than having to wait until we can get legislation introduced into the House. I see that the member for Werriwa has joined us in the chamber. (Time expired)