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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6156

Dr STONE (Murray) (20:52): There is no doubt at all that Labor wants to shut this debate down because it is all about—

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Murray will resume her seat and her colleagues will graciously leave the chamber so she can be heard in silence. I ask people to quickly and quietly leave the chamber.

Dr STONE: Let me start again and say this is historic in that the Gillard government has not shut down this debate. There are enough people with decency in this House to say we must have the debate here, that this is the most extraordinary grab for cash that this government, and perhaps any federal government, has ever attempted.

Imagine the plight of Morice Holland, an 82-year-old from Picola, a tiny little place nestled against the Murray River. He drives to his nearest bank 54 minutes away in Shepparton. He goes in to take some money out of his bank account. He knows there are thousands of dollars in his bank account. He does not use that account very often because he is saving steadily for his extreme old age. Imagine his shock when the teller tells him, 'I am sorry, Mr Holland, there is no money in your account.' As Morice Holland said, 'It was a kick in the guts for me. I was stunned and shocked. I don't want anyone to have that experience again.'

In a rather touching loyalty to his bank, Mr Holland does not want to name which bank it was in Shepparton but he is stunned and shocked. In all of his 82 years of life he never expected a democratically elected federal government to make a grab for his hard earned cash. He was told he would have to fill in lots of forms. He may get his money back in three months if he is lucky or he could go and check out the ASIC website where he could search for his money on Mr Holland continues to be shocked and disappointed but he is amongst thousands of Australians who just cannot believe that this government has stooped to such a low ebb that it will do anything to try and get some money onto its side of the ledgers.

We are told they would reap about $900 million over a four-year period to 2015-16 by reducing the time before an unoperated or inactive account ends up in Treasury. Can you imagine how many of our older Australians are putting a little bit of money aside for their grandchildren or who want to see their children inherit a little from their hard earned savings? They do not touch those accounts, often for years. Can you imagine the older Australians who are putting aside a funeral fund, hoping that the interest might accumulate over the years so their children do not have to pay for their funerals? Can you think about those who have had some money put aside for a deposit for a house or in another one of the cases of my constituents for a farm? They commit to buying that property, knowing that their bank account has $100,000 or $200,0000 carefully tucked away. They sign the paperwork for the deposit on that property and then, to their shock and horror, they discover that their bank account has been cleaned out. There is no cash there but they have signed up to purchase that property. There was money there. They have not spent it but, unfortunately, they have not activated that account for a shorter period of time than was originally the case.

There are credit ratings that can be trashed in this process. One of the people caught up in this is wondering what will happen with their attempt to buy a property, given that they do not think they will see their cash returned for another six months. This is the most extraordinary grab for cash we have ever seen. We have bank accounts with unclaimed moneys that were going to the federal government after seven years but that has now been reduced to just three years. We have life insurance moneys previously treated as unclaimed after seven years. That is now only three years. Imagine if you think you have life insurance support but you actually do not.

Superannuation accounts with balances of less than $2,000 and accounts of unidentified members that have been inactive for 12 months are required to be transferred to the Commissioner for Taxation. That in particular picks up all of the overseas international backpackers. When they come and pick fruit in the Goulburn Valley, they frequently end up with superannuation accounts of less than $2,000. That happens quite regularly. Now they are going to lose all that money. It is going to go back to revenue even though they have sweated under the sun of the Great Northern Plains picking fruit. They have earned income, they have earned some superannuation, but it is less than $2,000. That is gone.

They are going to also reduce from five years to 12 months the period of inactivity before which the superannuation accounts of unidentified members are transferred to the ATO. It is also about unclaimed properties of corporations. They are caught up in all of this too.

We wonder: why would any government expose themselves to the distress and shock of our hardworking, diligent older and younger Australians? Why would any government do this? It is an extraordinary act. In the case of my great constituent, the 82-year-old Morice Holland, I doubt if he will ever get over the shock of going to the bank and finding that none of his money is there. I don't think the persons who thought they were buying a farm will ever get over the shock of finding that they cannot honour the commitment they made to the seller that they were going to pay a deposit by a certain date.

Why has the government done this? Well, the answer is shocking. We have as a confirmed fact that Wayne Swan, the Treasurer, will break his own $300 billion debt cap sometime very soon. The Treasury said the expected peak of Commonwealth government securities on issue, subject to the cap, will be a massive $340 billion.

The coalition left Labor with a $20 billion surplus, no net debt and an unemployment rate of around four per cent. But now I am afraid we have the Treasurer's recent budget with a $20 billion blow-out in the space of only six months. The government has already increased the debt limit on four occasions—firstly to $75 billion, then to $200 billion, then to $250 billion and then to $300 billion. When you have this circumstance, I guess you can expect to see a government like this stoop very, very low indeed. They have already trashed the economy, they are already heavily in debt, they are already borrowing to curtail the lifetime opportunities of our children and grandchildren. They are already doing extraordinary things like having line items in the budget of some $500 million without any actual description of what the money is for and every cent of it is borrowed.

So when you have this circumstance, when you have promised six years in a row that you will produce a surplus and instead you have had six years of deficit, I guess, if you have a little imagination, you can put your hand in the back pocket of ordinary Australians and take their savings. The trouble is that is not conscionable. It is not what Australians expect a democratically elected government, even a Labor government, to do. The shock, the stress caused to people like Mr Holland is something that, at the age of 82, he is not likely to get over very quickly. It is a tragedy when people in their late 80s who thought that they were going to have money for their funerals hear it may be six months before they can get their money back and they have to fill out a lot of paperwork first.

The banks are not even required under this legislation to tell their account owners when the government is reaching into their accounts because they have not been active for a couple of years. Some banks are electing to tell people, but others are not. So you can imagine the distress and the shock when someone goes to their bank, a bank which has not chosen to inform their clients, and the piggy bank is empty. The people coming to me in shock and despair have particularly been older Australians, and in particular they have mentioned their children's inheritance. They have mentioned their own life insurance. They have mentioned thinking that they had money put aside for a rainy day. What they have instead is a nasty and rude shock.

In my electorate of Murray not many people have ever chosen to vote Labor, but those few who have are now totally disenchanted. When a government starts to behave like this it does describe new lows of behaviour for any democratically elected government. I know there was an expectation that it would be able to cream off some $900 million out of people's bank accounts over a four-year period, but surely it would be much more conscionable to have looked at government savings, to have looked at, for example, less advertising of the NBN—the National Broadband Network. Wouldn't it have been better to have looked at that pork-barrelling prior to the election with that $500 million, not as yet accounted for, and whether that was really something that could be exchanged for raiding ordinary people's bank accounts?

I have to wonder if the people of Australia will forgive the government for these dishonourable acts. I wonder if on 14 September, when people go to the polling booths, people like Mr Holland, if they will have come close to forgiving the government for giving them the shock of their lives when they found their hard earned savings had been taken without their permission? And simply telling people to go off to a website in order to apply to claim their money back is not good enough. Most of the people in my electorate do not have access to a website. In particular, my older Australians do not know how to operate a website and look for lost moneys, and they often do not have an 11-year-old grandson at hand to help them.

This is a disgusting piece of Australian government policy. This particular bill just neatens up what has already been done. The coalition opposed the contracting back of the time frames for when money could be taken out of bank accounts. We opposed it in the Senate and we opposed it in the House of Representatives. It is an unconscionable act for any government to go into people's bank accounts—accounts which, often for very good reasons, have not been activated for long periods of time—and to take money, and to make it difficult for people to get that cash back. Six months is a very long time in the life of an 82-year-old; it can perhaps be too long for those who cannot get back their funeral benefits fund within six months. I call on this government to really think a bit harder about this. It is not too late for it to have a strong attack of conscience and to look again at what it has done. I suspect though it is all locked away. That $900 million is going to be very important for a government that has this massive $300 billion debt cap approaching.

For a government that inherited a $20 billion surplus, no net debt, unemployment rates at around four per cent, this has been an extraordinary performance. We have had things like the pink batts fiasco; the Building the Education Revolution, which gave people schoolrooms they did not want instead of toilet blocks, and in the country areas they were not allowed to make use of local tenderers; the cash-for-clunkers scheme; GroceryWatch; and the NBN, which is not going to come near any of my communities for so very, very long. There are all of those sadnesses, disappointments for a government that does not seem to have learnt from its first term, and now we have this: people who thought they had their life savings tucked away—people who were putting aside money for their children's inheritance, for their life insurance, for their funerals, for that property they wanted to buy—going to the bank and finding, oops, the Treasurer, Mr Swan, has been there first.

I condemn this whole business of the government emptying people's accounts. I think it is a desperate move from a desperate government. It is not the way to behave. It is a tragedy that the government is in such dire straits with the economy. I know so many people in my electorate are counting down the days until 14 September. In the case of Mr Holland, he is just hoping that his money reappears in his bank account. He has been promised it could be there in two or three months if he is lucky. He has filled out the paperwork. He has driven the 50 minutes back to his property at Picola, now he sits and waits—a deeply disappointed man wondering what unAustralian activities or actions might still be in store for him as he continues to live under the regime of the Gillard government.