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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6159


Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Mackellar) (21:06): Having risen to speak to the Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill 2013, I note it does afford the opposition, or indeed aggrieved members of the government benches if they choose to do so, the opportunity to draw attention to the fact that the legislation that said that the government could thieve, purloin, take away and deny people their own money was introduced firstly as the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Unclaimed Money and Other Measures) Bill 2012. This bill before us highlights the fact that there was a severe impediment in that original legislation. What it does, and this is why we will of course be supporting this amendment bill, is actually permit the government to refund money taken from people whose accounts had been so-called 'dormant' as at a date set by banks or deposit-taking institutions but that subsequent to that date had been reactivated—for example, they had transacted business—but because it was after the set date the government still took the money. This bill is to allow that money to be repaid, so, of course, we will be supporting the bill. But the important point to make is that this whole legislation is totally and utterly unprincipled.

The member for Riverina spoke powerfully and strongly when he began his speech by listing the names of famous bushrangers who were, in fact, people who had a reputation for breaking the law. But compared to the actions of this government, they look like principled men. The fact of the matter is that the original legislation which is being amended by this bill, whereby the Banking Act itself is being amended, now means that the time has been shortened from seven years to three years to treat money as unclaimed. But this time the money goes straight into the government coffers and it resulted over the forward estimates in some $900 million being used to prop up the bottom line for the government when it was in its phase of saying, 'We are going to have a surplus.'

Nobody on this side of the chamber ever believed that the government was ever capable of delivering a surplus. After all, they have not delivered a surplus in the entire time that the member for Longman has been alive—and they were certainly not likely to be delivering a surplus in the last budget we received. In fact, we saw the hysterical events whereby we went from hearing the government say there will be a surplus to hearing the government say the deficit would be $7 billion and then, no, it would be $12 billion—and finally, of course, it is $19 billion. But that is only what we have until we see the final figures. When we finally go to the election and we see Treasury's figures, as distinct from the Treasurer's figures, and then we will really know what the extent of the deficit really is.

In their great desire to pretend that they were going to reach a surplus, they decided that they would steal the money out of people's bank accounts, and we have heard such examples that have been given by colleagues who have already spoken. We have heard of the example where a Queensland pensioner emerged from heart surgery to find that the bank had emptied his account and given it to the federal government, as the bank was required to do by law. We have heard of other people who have been entering into transactions knowing that they had money in the bank and yet when they went to complete their transactions they found that the money had been taken away and then they have had to go through the rigmarole of filling out forms and trying to trace their own money to get it back—and for the penalties they might incur in the interim would they ever been recompensed? I think not.

If we go to the explanatory memorandum, the EM, of this amending bill, the Banking Amendment (Unclaimed Money) Bill 2013, and if we go to the section that says 'Financial impact' we see—and isn't this typical of the government:

The financial impact from the Bill is likely to be low but is difficult to quantify due to insufficient data being available.

So isn't that typical of the sort of legislation we see coming into this House on a continuing basis! The fact of the matter is that this government never does its homework properly. Whatever it touches turns to dross and the net result is that we have a country which is not being governed, and the sooner we can go to an election and let the people have their say the better.

Let us go back to what that initial legislation did—and we opposed that legislation. I am talking about, of course, the Treasury Legislation Amendment (Unclaimed Money and Other Measures) Bill 2012, which has since been enacted. What it did was to say that the time periods for accounts to be treated as unclaimed would be shortened, for bank accounts from seven years to three years and for life insurance moneys previously treated as unclaimed, from seven years to three years. Superannuation accounts with balances of less than $2,000 and accounts of unidentifiable members that had been inactive for 12 months were required to be transferred to the Commissioner of Taxation. It was reducing from five years to 12 months—12 months!—the period of inactivity before which the superannuation accounts of unidentifiable members were transferred to the Australian tax office. Also, unclaimed property of corporations was to be taken directly and placed in the Commonwealth Consolidated Revenue Fund, thereby impacting the underlying cash position of the Commonwealth upon receipt by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, as opposed to the companies and unclaimed moneys special account.

Coalition members, those on this side of the House, attempted to amend that bill and sought to delay the implementation of the schedules which related to bank accounts and first home saver accounts for a full year so it would not commence until 31 December 2013, which would be after the election and would allow the people to be able to vote on that issue as one of the items that went before the coming election. That would have been a reasonable thing to do, to allow people to have a say on whether or not the government should be stealing the money. We also sought to delay schedule 4 of that bill, relating to superannuation accounts, for a full year to align with the deadline of the autoconsolidations necessary under the previously announced SuperStream reforms which were to commence from 1 January 2014.

There was the Senate economics committee report where the coalition brought in a dissenting report as to whether or not this legislation should be passed before the coming election. The government, however, brought in its own amendments. They sought to amend the commencement date of the schedules in order to provide for more time for authorised deposit-taking institutions, first homeowner savings account providers, life insurers and superannuation funds to implement the changes with no financial impact as a result of the change in commencement. There are a number of other alterations they made to their own legislation. It is not an uncommon practice for this government to have to amend its own legislation simply because it has not done sufficient work in the first place to make it acceptable.

I think it is important to understand just how heinous and draconian the legislation is as it affects individuals. This piece of legislation before us right now says that it will exclude reactivated accounts—that is, accounts that have been assessed unclaimed but are transacted prior to being transferred to the Commonwealth—from being transferred to the Commonwealth and to allow the Commonwealth to return the moneys collected. Under the initial legislation there was no power for the government to return money. So they could thieve it, but they could not return it.

Where the reactivation of the account has taken place after the so-called date from which it was meant to be transferred many of the banks in fact have themselves transferred their own money to the Commonwealth and left their customers' money in their bank accounts, because they thought that morally that was the correct thing to do. Whether or not subsequently the Commonwealth is going to be liable for paying interest on that money remains a question to be determined. Hence, the explanatory memorandum to this bill says they really cannot quantify what the effect of this bill will be. As I said, this is typical of the way this government organises itself.

But let us look at that moral question. An authorised deposit-taking institution has decided that it will use its own money to remit money to the Commonwealth so as not to commit an offence under the legislation as passed and so their own customers will not have their money stolen by the Commonwealth and so that when they went to utilise their money they would not find it was simply not there. The government has given way and brought in this bill to enable two things to occur: that where the account has been reactivated, they are not obliged to in fact transfer the money; and that where the ADIs have in fact sent the money they can actually repay it.

What an extraordinary tale of woe it is in dealing with individuals' property. But, again, why should we be surprised? Because the Labor government, as a collectivist government, always believes that it can spend individuals' money more wisely than the individuals can themselves. That is why it is a high-taxing party. It believes that, if it takes people's money compulsorily by way of taxation, it will spend that more wisely than the individual if it is left in their own hands. That is a big demarcation between Labor and Liberal principles. We believe that an individual will always spend their own money more wisely than a government which says it is spending it on their behalf and for better causes.

This bill—this whole raft of legislation—is quite in line with that philosophy that says that the more money we can take from individuals and spend according to what we believe in, then that is a better outcome for Australia. We reject that proposition and say that money that is left in the control of individual Australians—with the ability to use their own judgement, their own innovation and their own ability—will always be money which is spent more wisely than a government that pretends to spend it on your behalf.

In a way this legislation is iconic in the way that it highlights the difference between the two approaches to government. This Labor government spends recklessly to the extent that we now have a gross debt of $300 billion and we have an annual interest bill of $12 a year. That is $300 billion and $12 billion a year in interest repayments. Yet, at the time they took office from us, we left them with no debt, we had a surplus and we had money in the bank. And you had an increase in revenue of between $70 billion and $80 billion, but your expenditure has been $120 billion. This has meant, quite frankly, that at every turn you have overspent the amount of money that is coming in by recklessly choosing to base it on projections for incoming revenue—projections which have been so out of kilter with reality that we now have this huge accumulated deficit, which is the gift of the Labor Party to the Australian people and the generations that are going to have to repay it!

This is an appalling package of legislation and this bill actually tries to remedy some of the damage you have already done. As I said, why are we surprised that we would support this bill when we rejected the original legislation? I put to you, Deputy Speaker Lyons, that we are seeing a very clear differentiation between the two parties and one which the electorate will certainly consider when we go to the election. (Time expired)