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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 13419

Dr JENSEN (Tangney) (11:57): With the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Unclaimed Money and Other Measures) Bill 2012 the government yet again travels down a well-worn path, with another blatant cash grab of Australians' hard-earned income. I have no hesitation in opposing this bill, because of the haste with which this government has chosen to introduce this legislation. Gone is sufficient time to assess the impact and unintended consequences, replaced with a desperate dash to the next budget—framed by creative accounting towards a non-paper surplus.

Again, the people of Tangney and all other Australians are left disregarded by a shambles of naive legislation and ignorant policy. Reforms to the Banking Act 1969 make new arrangements for unclaimed moneys held in deposit-taking institutions. The coalition had sought to refer the bill to the Joint Standing Committee on Corporations and Financial Services for prudent and measured assessment. Why this government has not sent this bill to the parliamentary inquiry lends itself to the question: what are the members of this Labor government seeking to achieve? And do they fully understand the potential implications for Australians? Instead, this bill has been rushed to the House for debate because Labor sees opportunity to profit from those who can least afford it. We are three days from this place rising for 2012. It is quite apparent the government is bent on rushing this and a swathe of other bills to a vote to temper current debt of $252.9 billion. In addition to the Banking Act 1969, this bill also seeks to amend unclaimed money measures which were flagged in the government's 2012-13 MYEFO, to the First Home Savers Account Act 2008, the Life Insurance Act 1985, the Superannuation (Unclaimed Money and Lost Members) Act 1999, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001 and the Corporations Act 2001—the focus: arrangements relating to the transfer of unclaimed moneys to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission for bank accounts and life insurance policies, lost members' accounts at the Australian Taxation Office for superannuation, and unclaimed moneys for companies' moneys.

Similar to most of the economic policies of the current Treasurer, this legislation will bring forward to 2012-13 a significant sum of money that the legislation will recognise as unclaimed, lost or abandoned. This figure is forecast to be $762 million. To do this, changes will reduce the period before an amount payable by an Australian deposit-taking institution is treated as unclaimed moneys from seven years to three.

Let me be clear. If a worker who has money sitting in a bank account accumulating interest and does not make any further deposits or withdrawals for that period of time, at the three-year mark they will have their deposit treated as unclaimed moneys. These funds will then be moved to consolidated revenue. It is towards Orwellian that government would come in and just pluck money from a private account because it has not been active for three years. This is the reverse Robin Hood. It means that 'small' Australians—not the big end of town but the small end of town that Labor purports to support—will be robbed by the biggest institution in the land, the Australian government. This is from the Labor Party, which prides itself on fighting for the little guy. Some fight!

How can an Australian government head down this path—to tap into private funds just because Australians rightly chose to leave money in a particular account? This is not the type of government I want. This is not the type of government the people of Tangney want—and they are telling me just that. Should this bill pass this place, I imagine many people, young and old, will step back 50 years and stuff their money under the mattress—better having it stagnant and not interest bearing than losing the money all together. This policy is archaic, deceptive and impractical.

Schedule 2 of this bill amends the First Home Saver Accounts Act 2008—an amendment to a bill introduced by this government relatively recently to provide for new arrangements for unclaimed moneys held by the first home saver account providers. Amendments change, once again, the unclaimed moneys period from seven years to three years. Again, this schedule makes us question Labor's due diligence when introducing legislation it has drafted, with amendments after just a few years because the government has seen fiscal opportunity and seen fit to amend legislation for government gain at the cost of the individual citizen.

Surely there is a better way to balance the budget—even after this government has produced four of the biggest budget deficits in Australia's history. Prudent, fiscally responsible and competent government should always strive for higher productivity and higher standards of living for all Australians. Pinching $2,000 here and $3,000 there, while unjust, is also bureaucratically implausible. The cost of administering this poorly developed policy surely outweighs the net gain to the government.

Now I go to schedule 3, concerning life insurance. Currently life insurance companies are required to report on and pay unclaimed moneys to the Commonwealth. Unclaimed moneys include sums payable on the maturity of a policy which are not claimed within seven years after the maturity date of that policy. The new arrangements will reduce the period before life insurance moneys are treated as unclaimed moneys from seven to—you guessed it—three years. Once again, we see a reduction in the time frame, and it will allow the government to step in and take that money. If someone legitimately choses to have a bank account and leave money in there for more than three years, and not wish to add to it and not wish to subtract from it, surely they have the right to do that and not be worried that a government is going to step in and appropriate the money.

Schedule 4 of the bill amends the Superannuation (Unclaimed Money and Lost Members) Act. Lost super accounts with balances of less than $2,000 that have until now been active for only three years—currently this is seven—and accounts of unidentifiable members that have been inactive for 12 months are now to be paid to the Australian Taxation Office. Note the figure of less than $2,000. Once again, we are not talking about the big end of town. Schedule 5 deals with the Corporations Act. Once again, the government seeks to move the goalposts so it is easier to get hold of private citizens' money.

This bill just beggars belief. It changes the pillars of our financial services industry. It is clear that the rushed time lines and implementation of this bill have been driven by nothing more than a Treasurer pretending that he can deliver a surplus, a surplus that is at risk without the passing of this bill. The coalition and I will not support or facilitate a government that acts on political interest with disregard for properly considered public policy. Good government is the goal of all members in this place, Labor and Liberal, and it saddens me that the Labor Party have sold what was left of their dignity to manufacture a superficial surplus.

The Leader of the Opposition's team have left this government naked. The bill exposes the wanton greed and lust for power endemic in tired and troubled Labor. This bill generates $762 million, which is a very convenient sum when the surplus is expected to be a wafer thin $1.077 billion. There is no way around it. The Treasurer is robbing not only Peter but also Paul. The only people getting paid are Labor cronies in unions and backroom boys.

In the final analysis, it is difficult to understand not the bill itself but where it is coming from, who is driving it. Is it the Australian Bankers Association? No, because they remain sceptical of its necessity and of the transitional administrative arrangements. Is it the lobby groups and/or academic groups? No, because they point to the lack of any evidence to suggest that three years is the optimal time to take a person's money. The job of a government should be to safeguard and protect the properties of people, not to meander into their bank accounts and confiscate their hard earned treasure. This bill goes to prove the point that the Leader of the Opposition and I have made, time and time again: a government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have.