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Monday, 23 June 2008
Page: 5557

Mr SLIPPER (1:54 PM) —As other honourable members have indicated, the Judiciary Amendment Bill 2008 seeks to respond to the High Court decision in British American Tobacco v Western Australia. It is an indication, as the member for Blair indicated, of the cooperation which can occur between the various levels of government in Australia. This bill is designed to safeguard the states against claims for recovery of incorrectly collected taxes well beyond what is a reasonable time frame allowable for the recovery of such taxes. It is important that governments at all levels have an understanding of the dollars they have to deliver the social outcomes needed by their communities, and state governments need to be able to be aware of the revenues that they will have available to them so that they are able to meet their constitutional responsibilities.

The member for Blair indicated that this bill would mean that the state and territory governments would have more money. I suspect that we are not really talking about a lot of money at all, but I suppose the principle is that if the state and territory governments do not have to pay out funds many years down the track they will be able to spend dollars on improving infrastructure, which of course is a very desirable outcome. The Queensland state government wants to fast-track development of land in south-east Queensland and as yet has not indicated that it is prepared to assist councils, such as the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, to provide the necessary infrastructure for the services that people require when they move to a new area. So, while the member for Blair might indicate that the Judiciary Amendment Bill does in fact give extra dollars to the state government, it really is important that the state government uses those dollars, however few, wisely. I would urge that the state government uses its windfall from the GST to provide the infrastructure so desperately needed by the state of Queensland, particularly south-east Queensland, which people move to from other parts of the country—in particular, the infrastructure needed by the Sunshine Coast, which is one of the fastest growing areas in Australia.

It is always a challenge to provide services and it is generally accepted that governments at any level ought not to be able to spend more money than they earn. The Judiciary Amendment Bill will enable the states to be able to plan with a greater degree of certainty so that they will not be hit with large claims from many years ago. It is only right, of course, that if people wrongly pay moneys to governments, whether they are state or federal, that they are able to recover those moneys, but the aim of the Judiciary Amendment Bill is to impose a reasonable time frame on any such refunds. The threat of potential claims for the recovery of taxes is not conducive to the sound economic management of any government at any level. The virtue of this particular bill, the genesis of which was during the term of the prior government, will mean that states will be able to plan their financial activities with a greater degree of certainty.

It was originally planned that the former, Howard government would bring this legislation into the parliament, but, as was indicated by the honourable member for Blair, there were disagreements between the Australian government and the various state governments, resulting in the legislation not proceeding through the parliament prior to the election, which was held, as we all know, on 24 November last year. It is appropriate that we as a civilised society ought to impose appropriate time frames on people who want to seek refunds from various governments.

The British American Tobacco company decided to attempt to recover taxes in the light of a decision of the High Court, which ruled that similar licence fees imposed by New South Wales were in fact excise fees and therefore unconstitutional. This decision opened the door for the British American Tobacco company to seek a refund but, when negotiations with Western Australia to obtain a refund of $7 million in taxes paid failed to reach a solution satisfactory to the company, legal action was implemented.

So the legislation we currently have before the chamber is simply legislation to make changes to the act so as to place the states and territories in the legal position that they believed they were in prior to the British American Tobacco case. These changes were drafted by the former coalition government and it is good to see this legislation before the chamber at this time. It is somewhat later than we would have liked, but the reality is that it is better late than never. I am very pleased to be able to commend the Judiciary Amendment Bill 2008 to the House.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour. The member for Fisher will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.