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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21332

Mr ROSS CAMERON (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (4:55 PM) —I do not want to prolong the debate, but I need to correct a couple of remarks and an implication made by the member for Kingston. It was suggested that the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Revenue, Senator Coonan, wanted to support the amendments but has been given an instruction by the Treasurer not to. That in fact is not the case, and the Hansard will show that the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Revenue explicitly indicated in the Senate at the time that the government would oppose the amendments.

The member for Kingston has suggested that the construction of events he has offered the House was based on the fact that the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Revenue provided some assistance in the drafting process of the amendments, which is in fact the case. That assistance was offered not as an indication of government support for the measures but in order to save the opposition the embarrassment of introducing amendments which would have consequences diametrically opposed to their intended consequences.

The particular provision in the legislation works by two principal acts—first, removing from the legislation the listing of individual organisations and, second, placing that listing in the regulations. The effect of the amendment, as I understand it, was to effectively excise 200 organisations from the legislation, but it failed to secure their listing in the regulation, which would have cut them loose into a kind of cyberspace with no home at all and they would have no longer been entitled to tax-deductible gift status. So the Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Revenue sought to assist the opposition to correct the technical defects in the drafting. That was not meant to be interpreted as an indication of support for the measure; there has never been an intention to support the opposition amendments.

I would also say two things about the charities bill that the member for Kingston referred to. Firstly, it will have the effect of expanding the definition of a charity under common law and, secondly, if we are to encourage this kind of activity in the community—as the Treasurer himself explicitly endorsed and encouraged in his speech to the Sydney Institute entitled `Building social capital' in July this year—we must go ahead and put in place the practical administrative steps to make it happen. Apart from expanding the definition of a charity and making it easier to qualify, the charities bill clarifies the predominant purpose test. That does not ensure, as the member for Kingston alleged, that those who qualify or seek charitable status should in some way be silenced; it ensures that their predominant purpose must be charitable, and that advocacy or seeking a change of a law or change of government policy—so long as it is incidental to a principal charitable purpose—is entirely within the law. The bill is quite explicit about that, so the charitable sector has nothing to fear in those measures and in fact has much to look forward to. It is for those reasons that the government will oppose Labor's amendments.