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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6152

Mr VAN MANEN (Forde) (20:23): It is always a pleasure to follow the member for Riverina and his very comprehensive expose of why we stand here again tonight debating another piece of legislation in this place. Once again we have a government that has not listened to what the Australian people have to say and has not listened to the sensible ideas of the coalition when it first implemented this legislation some six or seven months ago. This Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill again demonstrates the government's incapacity to introduce legislation that is well thought through and well organised. The original legislation was introduced in a hurry and in a rush, purely to cover up, or to try to mitigate the effects of, its poor budget management. It is a poor policy measure in its original form and it has affected people with bank accounts right across the nation.

But it is not only ordinary bank accounts. As the member for Riverina rightly pointed out, it is also farm deposit accounts and things like mortgage offset accounts and savings accounts for children. There are any number of people who have been affected by this ludicrous grab for people's cash to fix their own budget profligacy. It reminds me of Robin Hood—except this government gets everything upside down. It is a Labor government's version of Robin Hood—take from the pensioners and give to the government! That is a new version of Robin Hood, the 21st century version of Robin Hood for this government across the chamber.

Just to give you an example of one instance that was quite justified in relation to the original legislation and was reported in the The Courier-Mail on 21 May 2013. It reads:

A QUEENSLAND pensioner emerged from a quintuple heart bypass only to find his bank had emptied his account, handing more than $22,000 to the Federal Government.

For what purpose—to make them look good, to try to offset the effects of their budget profligacy. This 75-year-old person had spent 21 days in hospital following quintuple heart bypass surgery and a second operation in April. When he and his wife, 57-year-old Mary Jane, went to check their Suncorp account they discovered their balance had plummeted from $22,600 to zero, and a note on 1 May read: 'Closing WDEL: government unclaimed moneys'. The sad irony of this story is that the couple had saved for 14 years in preparation for major health related costs. These people are the very people that we should be supporting. We want people to save for their own health related costs in retirement or as they get older. We want people to provide for themselves, yet here we have a government that takes people's money when they do exactly what we should be supporting them to do.

Suncorp claims that the letter was sent at the end of March notifying them that the account held in Mrs Duffy's name had been inactive for more than three years and would be closed if no action was taken. It says that attempts were made to call the couple on 16 April, followed by an account closure letter on 30 April. I respectfully suggest that if Mr Duffy was recovering from a quintuple heart bypass that maybe the phone call and this correspondence were not attended to in a timely manner. It is fully understandable given the Duffys' circumstances.

Mrs Duffy is quoted in The Courier-Mail article as saying, 'I call it stealing.' I would have to agree with Mrs Duffy. My understanding of the definition of stealing is to take something without somebody's knowledge and not to tell them. As far as I am concerned, that is exactly what happened. 'The government took it without telling us,' Mr Duffy said. Suncorp to their credit fully refunded the $22,000 out of its own coffers, but if I were Suncorp, I would not be holding my breath waiting for the government to refund that money to me any time soon. The reason the government are so desperate for Mr Duffy's money and other Australians' money is that they have none of their own left to play with.

We have seen six years of profligate spending, resulting in six budget deficits, total accumulated deficits of some $172 billion and gross debt of around $270 billion. We know from the budget papers that, ultimately, we will finish up with gross debt in the region of $340 billion. The government does not even want to admit that to the Australian people. It refuses to acknowledge or refuses to put before this parliament, before it rises for the election, a bill to increase the debt limit to a limit that will accommodate the debt that this government will accrue in the forward estimates, because it does not want to admit to the Australian people its failure and incompetence in managing the budgetary situation of this country.

But, fortunately, the Australian people will have a positive option on 14 September: the coalition, with a positive plan to deliver a diverse powerhouse economy, with legislation and a framework put in place to help create many jobs in the coming years; to return a positive mindset to the Australian economy and to the Australian people, so they know that they will have a positive future to look forward to, not one filled with debt and deficit as they are presently looking forward to with the current government.

I think it is instructive to have a look at a bit of history. When the bill was originally put before this House, for the very reasons we are here today to discuss these issues, the coalition did not support the passage of the original legislation through this parliament. Consequently, as a result of this legislation we now see ADIs either having to commit an offence of not transferring all unclaimed moneys to the Commonwealth or needing to close reactivated accounts and transfer them to the Commonwealth. On the other hand, some ADIs have reported and transferred unclaimed moneys to the Commonwealth, including amounts in reactivated accounts. But, either way, the end result is that Australian people still lose out.

As a result of this government's profligate spending, the Treasury has confirmed that the Treasurer will break his own $300 million debt cap. In an effort to try to mitigate the effects of that, we have seen this government break one of the key tenets our democracy is built on. That tenet is the protection of private property rights. The government in this legislation is trampling on people's private property rights in having initially reduced the term with respect to unclaimed moneys from seven years to three years. We are now seeing directly the unintended consequence of that because, as with many pieces of legislation that go through this House, this government fails to think through the consequences of the legislation that it seeks to pass.

Not only are the government complicit in this, but those on the crossbenches are as well because they have supported the government in the removal of people's assets and private property rights in order to balance the budget to offset their spending profligacy. As I touched on earlier, the government have now refused to admit that, at some point, the debt limit will need to be increased above $300 million. Any increase will be the fifth such increase because, firstly, they increased it to $75 billion, then to $200 billion, then to $250 billion and then to $300 billion. In the 2012 budget, the Treasurer told the House:

We would be at the end of each year within the $250 billion cap.

We are already in excess of that and, given the current government's spending profligacy I do not see us getting back to anywhere under $250 billion, let alone staying under the $300 billion in the forward estimates.

I think it is worthwhile in the context of this matter to give a bit of background to this. The government attempted, in the 2012-13 MYEFO, to find savings to bolster their now defunct commitment of delivering a budget surplus. Interestingly, earlier this year, the budget deficit was going to be in the vicinity of $7 billion. We finished up with a budget deficit of $19 billion. They are just making it up as they are going along.

The government has announced an array of changes relating to unclaimed moneys in bank accounts, which we have already touched on. Not only was the time period reduced from seven years to three years with respect to bank account funds being claimed but also the time period with respect to life insurance moneys, previously treated as unclaimed after seven years, was also reduced to three years. Superannuation accounts, with balances of less than $2,000, and the accounts of unidentified members that had been inactive for 12 months were also required to be transferred to the Commissioner of Taxation. In addition, there was the reduction from five years to 12 months for the period of inactivity before which a superannuation account of identifiable members was transferred to the ATO.

Unclaimed property of corporations is now being recognised directly as Commonwealth consolidated revenue, impacting the underlying cash position of the Commonwealth, upon receipt by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission as opposed to the Companies and Unclaimed Moneys Special Account.

All of this is aimed to boost the budget bottom line by some $900 million. To what effect? If the budget blow-out from earlier this year was from $7 billion to $19 billion, I do not think $900 million is going to make much of a difference. The consequence is it creates issues for ordinary Australians because they did not know and were not advised.

The coalition is an alternative with a positive plan for our economy: to create a powerhouse and diverse economy that is geared towards creating new jobs over a five- and 10-year period, by removing the red weed of regulation that is invading our economy courtesy of this government opposite. It is almost like the Labor government version of War of the Worlds. You see this red weed of regulation spreading throughout the economy, entangling and choking the life out of our business community.

The coalition has a four-point plan for the economy if elected and we will offer consistency and stability in government.

Government members interjecting

Mr VAN MANEN: I thank the members opposite for their contribution, but the coalition is committed to restoring sound public finances. We will get rid of the waste and get Australia back onto a financially responsible track. We will provide hope, reward and opportunity. (Time expired)