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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6137


Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (19:16): I am very pleased to be able to follow the very eloquent contribution by my friend and colleague the member for Hughes, who spoke with such passion on the Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill 2013. It is important to point out this evening, in this place, the context around the bill that has been presented to the parliament. It is important to point out the context because it says everything you need to know about the government, the Treasurer and the Prime Minister.

For those who are not aware, late last year the government decided to make a change to unclaimed moneys. The government decided to make this change after the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook Statement in order to prop up its budget bottom line. The government was claiming, even at that point, that it was going to be delivering just over a $1 billion surplus this coming budget. They had downgraded that forecast from $1.5 billion, but said that they would be able to get just over $1 billion. It is important to understand this because the government has made much of what they call their 'economic competence'—the Treasurer goes on and on about it; in fact, he rather likes the description of 'world's greatest Treasurer'—but when you examine the facts, nothing could be further from the truth.

We have seen a complete reversal in the fiscal position from the previous coalition government to the current government. The current government inherited $70 billion in net assets in the Future Fund and a $20 billion surplus with no net debt. We had repaid $96 billion of Labor's debt and we were paying no interest bill because we had no borrowings. Under the current Treasurer, the situation has been radically reversed. In each budget he delivered a deficit, and it is now adding up to more than $192 billion. We have most recently seen a net debt of more than $150 billion, and we are told that, before the end of this year, we could well see the gross debt ceiling of $300 billion broken. This is after the government had already increased the ceiling from $75 billion. It increased it another four times up to $300 billion and said it would never get past that point. The government is now paying an interest bill of around $8 billion each year, which is almost enough to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The reason I say this is that the government maintained that it was going to get back to surplus. In fact, it promised it more than 500 times. This embarrassed the Assistant Treasurer because he had put out a piece of paper to his electorate saying that they had delivered a surplus—and the current Treasurer, in the previous budget, also made a similar claim. When they realised that it was going to be very difficult to deliver a surplus because they had not reigned in a lot of the wasteful and reckless spending that they had been conducting, they realised that they needed to find a new source of funds, and what better source of funds than the Australian people yet again. This is a government that has no respect for the Australian people, and it demonstrated that by bringing forward the unclaimed moneys bill last year. The unclaimed moneys bill allowed the government to appropriate just under $1 billion over four years—$900 million, about the same amount that they said would be the surplus. It was a desperate attempt to shore up the budget bottom line. How did they set about doing this? They set about raiding money from bank accounts, from life insurance, from superannuation and from corporations.

The key changes were these: in bank accounts, moneys were deemed to be unclaimed if no money went into or out of the account within a three-year period—it was previously seven years, but they dropped that to three years—and interest did not count as activity. At this point, the money was directly appropriated by the government to go into consolidated revenue. With life insurance, money was previously treated as unclaimed after seven years but that has now been reduced to three years.

Like with bank accounts, with life insurance moneys there is no limit. The government could not just take out $500, $2,000 or even $500,000

There is no limit to what the government can appropriate. If you had $2 million sitting in your account and you had not touched it for three years for whatever reason, the government could raid the lot. Superannuation accounts with balances of less than $2,000 could be appropriated if there had been no activity for 12 months and, if there was no identifiable member of a superannuation account, the time period was reduced from five years to 12 months before the money can be transferred to the ATO. Finally, unclaimed property of corporations is now recognised directly as a result of this change in the Consolidated Revenue Fund, propping up the budget bottom line, upon receipt by ASIC, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, instead of being put separately in the companies and unclaimed money special account.

Why is this meaningful? It is meaningful for several reasons. It is meaningful because it goes to Australians who are doing the right thing, saving money not only for their future but also for the future of their families. Through no fault of their own, through no wrong doing, government seeks to come in and claim the money for the most tawdry of political reasons—that is to prop up its budget to disguise its fiscal incompetence.

Let me just give you a couple of scenarios as to how this money can raided by the government. Imagine the birth of a new child. The parents or grandparents may decide to give that child a great start in life by putting some money aside perhaps to be given to them on their 21st birthday or to save up for their future education expenses. It may well be that there is no money put into that account for a period of three years. Under this legislation and under the legislation previously passed by the government, that money can be directly appropriated by the government. This is quite wrong.

Let me give you another example of a young couple saving up for their mortgage, wanting to purchase their first home. They may have put money aside separate from their normal day-to-day accounts so that it would not be touched and not drawn down. They may have had different periods throughout their lives where they have been able to make contributions to that savings account. Again, if it is untouched for three years the government can take the money.

We might have an example of an elderly couple where one member of that couple needs to go into an aged-care facility. They sell the family home and invest some of that money into an account to provide for the care of both—one in the aged-care facility and the other perhaps in a smaller unit or in a family member's home. Again, if the money is not touched for three years, they may wake up to find on the day that they really need that money it has gone. It is no longer there.

Recently I was contacted by a very concerned parent who was notified by his son he no longer had any savings in his savings account. This is quite remarkable. This very concerned parent called me up and said, 'My son who has been working overseas in London for four years, and who had put some money aside as part of his savings and was going to be coming back to Australia in November of this year, checked his account only to find all of the money gone.' After making some inquiries, he realised this was as a result of the unclaimed moneys bill and set about trying to recover the money.

It is not easy to recover money. Firstly, this parent who has power of attorney for his young adult child trying to make a go of it overseas has had to provide passport information and a drivers licence. He has had to fill in quite a number of forms. He has had to not only prove his power of attorney but also get evidence of the fact that the power of attorney has not been revoked. In fact, it has been too difficult for this very educated man and his son to get the money back and so much so that his son is not going to bother to recover these funds until he comes back in November. This is indeed a great shame. There are multiple examples of offset accounts that could be appropriated by the government. In fact, there are so many examples that they are too numerous to mention.

What I want to come to now is exactly why there is another bill before the House in order to make further amendments to the original unclaimed moneys bill. This bill has been brought forward because the government in its haste to get its hands on people's money pushed the bill through the parliament in a record amount of time with little scrutiny. As a result, this bill is riddled with errors. Some of the amendments that are being made here in this bill today include the fact that there is now no minimum amount that can be transferred out as part of the unclaimed moneys bill. There is no longer a $100 limit before the money can be transferred. No, the government wants to take it all. It does not matter if it is less than $100, the Labor government still wants to get its hands on your money.

We have also had the ridiculous situation where an account may have activity but, if an assessment has already been made, the banks—the authorised deposit institutions—have to transfer the money. They are forced under the previous legislation to transfer that money through to the government, irrespective of the fact that there may well be activity after this assessment date. This is a travesty. At least this bill before the parliament now will correct that; it will stop that transfer. It will also make amendment to the refunds that authorised deposit institutions require as a result of keeping accounts open when in fact they have transferred the money through to the government. It rectifies this great injustice as well.

This government has been reckless with the finances of our nation, and it is the Australian people who have paid the price for that. Children, young people, elderly people—it does not discriminate. It is prepared to take anyone's money. You simply ask yourself the question: why? One can only say that the culture that is across the aisle here—and we have heard of members of unions using funds for their own purposes—has infected this parliament and that the Labor Party thinks it is within its rights to be able to utilise the money of ordinary Australian taxpayers—and it is wrong. (Time expired)