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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 108


Dr LEIGH (Fenner) (19:11): It is day No. 1 of the 2017 sittings year and the government have run out of business. Not only are they running out of senators; they are running out of business. With this bill, Labor will do the right thing and support the passage of the bill, despite the drama, despite the chaos, despite the dysfunction in this government. This bill contains five measures addressing a wide variety of issues: terrorism insurance, employee share schemes, deductible gift recipient status, fairer tax treatment of disaster payments for New Zealanders, and protecting client moneys. I shall not detain the House by going through the detail of each of these measures, but it is worth touching on each of them briefly.

Honourable members interjecting

Dr LEIGH: Well, maybe I shall.

Mr Husic: You've got 29 minutes.

Dr LEIGH: Twenty-nine minutes. The member for Chifley is keen for me to see out my full duration. The terrorism insurance scheme has received bipartisan support since its introduction in 2001. The act requires the scheme to be reviewed every three years at a minimum, with the minister preparing a report on the scheme's continued operation. Labor supports that process. The terrorism insurance scheme was established to minimise the wider economic impacts that flowed from the withdrawal of terrorism insurance in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The Terrorism Insurance Act 2003 ensured continued provision of terrorism insurance coverage for commercial property and associated business interruption, losses and public liability claims. As Abadie and Gardeazabal found in their European Economic Review paper, 'Terrorism and the World Economy,' terrorism can have profound economic effects beyond the immediate physical damage. Terrorism insurance is part of the way in which we ameliorate those effects should such atrocious acts happen in future. This bill carries the original intent of the scheme and ensures that losses resulting from chemical and biological terrorist attacks are unequivocally covered. The additional certainty that provides is welcomed by this side of the House.

Schedule 2 deals with the public availability of employee share scheme documents. Last November, I was pleased to announce Labor's reform commitments to grow worker owned firms and member owned firms. A range of economists, including Thomas Piketty and Joseph Stiglitz, have spoken on the importance of participatory governance and worker ownership. Employee share schemes are part of this. There are good moral arguments and good economic arguments in favour of worker ownership. Indeed, as the conservative British Prime Minister, Teresa May, has noted, success and solidarity should not be incompatible. From a productivity perspective, we know from work by Harvard's Richard Freeman that employees with ownership tend to be more productive and tend to have higher levels of workplace satisfaction. Labor supports start-ups and, naturally, we support removing unnecessary impediments for those start-ups to have employee share schemes.

We do at this stage put on record certain concerns about the way the government has approached this particular schedule. On its face, it is straightforward but deals with an issue that has not received widespread airplay. We have not seen a spate of stories in the press suggesting that the requirement to lodge disclosure documents with ASIC has discouraged start-ups from using employee share schemes in their formative stages. The government has apparently carried out consultation, but, as is its want, has not shared with the Australian people the result of that consultation. The member for Chifley—this House knows no greater champion of start-ups—will deal in his remarks with this particular issue. Labor wishes to have more detail from the government as to this particular schedule and the reason that the government has chosen to bring it forward at this stage.

Schedule 3 deals with deductible gift recipients. I would be remiss if I did not deal with this schedule and mention that, as shadow minister for charities and not-for-profits, I am the first person on either side of the House to hold that title. Labor has seen fit to have a shadow minister for charities and not-for-profits because we believe that this is a critical sector. Labor is committed to arresting the decline in social capital that has occurred in Australia over the past generation—the way in which Australians have become more disconnected and less likely to volunteer, to cast a valid vote, to give charitable donations and to join civic organisations, ranging from the Scouts and the Guides to Rotary clubs and Lions clubs. Labor is keen to foster a national conversation about the way in which charities can learn from one another to turn around that national problem. But we also need to ensure that the charities that need it get deductible gift recipient status.

This reform extends deductible gift recipient status to a range of different charities. It adds six organisations to those that have specific listing. As members know, there are two ways of getting deductible gift recipient status: either endorsement by the Australian Taxation Office or listing by name in taxation law. Labor extends a warm welcome to six organisations whose DGR status has bipartisan support: the Australasian College of Dermatologists, the College of Intensive Care Medicine of Australia and New Zealand, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists, Australian Science Innovations Incorporated, The Ethics Centre Incorporated, and Cambridge Australia Scholarships Limited.

The coalition went to the 2013 election with an attack on charities in the form of wanting to scrap the charities commission. Labor welcomes the coalition's backflip. We welcome the fact that the government have gone from being public enemy No. 1 to the charities commission to wanting to work with the charities commission. I commend the government on their welcome backflip, ceasing their attack on the charities and not-for-profit sector and now looking for ways to work with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission in order to reduce the paperwork burden on Australian charities. ACNC head, Susan Pascoe, has done an outstanding job over recent years, during a period in which the government wanted to abolish her organisation. She had to contend with a quarter of her staff leaving every year—not unreasonably because they were concerned about the uncertainty that hung over their heads. That uncertainty has now been removed. The coalition needs to work harder to ensure that states and territories remove duplicate regulation and make the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission a one-stop shop for charities, just as the corporate law reforms of the early 1990s made ASIC a one-stop shop for corporations regulation.

Schedule 4 of the bill deals with income tax relief to New Zealanders impacted by disasters. Labor welcomes the simplification regarding disaster payments for affected New Zealanders working in Australia. The Australian government makes certain payments to eligible people to assist when a major disaster happens, and these payments are exempt from income tax, or an income tax rebate is available.

This measure amends the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 to provide a tax rebate for recipients of the income support allowance and amends the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to provide an income tax exemption for the disaster recovery payment—in both cases, for New Zealanders on the special category visa that allows them to reside, work and study indefinitely in Australia, as long as they remain New Zealand citizens.

Tax relief for those in need is a rare occasion for this government. Let's face it: it marks something very different for a government whose No. 1 tax priority these days seems to be to give a $50 billion tax cut to some of the biggest companies in Australia, of whom, as we heard last December, one in three pay no tax.

Schedule 5 deals with client money for over-the-counter derivatives. It is welcomed by those of us on this side of the House, who have long stood on the side of investors. This provides additional protections when an investor may not be fully able to assess the risks of their money being used by the financial service licensee to meet other obligations of the licensee. This is a measure which will protect consumers and it is a measure which is of a range of Labor pro-consumer reforms.

We introduced the Future of Financial Advice reforms, which the coalition voted against and then tried to scrap under the guise of repealing red tape. Only a Liberal would say that consumer protections against dodgy rip-offs like Storm or Trio is red tape. We are pleased that we managed to force the government to back down on scrapping FoFA.

The protection of consumers is why Labor went to the last election arguing for higher penalties under the Australian Consumer Law. We believe that penalties like the $1.1 million fines available to the judge in the Nurofen case were too low. We believe that these fines should be increased to $10 million, and we are still waiting for the government to follow what the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Productivity Commission have said is the right course: to raise the penalties for ripping off consumers.

Supporting this pro-consumer measure is also a natural step for a Labor Party that has continued to fight for a royal commission into the banking and financial services sector. A royal commission is the only way in which victims' stories can be heard and in which systematic reforms can be developed. We on this side of the House support the bill, bearing in mind the reservations, which the member for Chifley will detail, relating to employee share ownership.