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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13338


Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (17:52): I rise to speak after my good friend the member for Hughes. I congratulate him on his speech, and I also congratulate the member for Wright who spoke so eloquently before him. Once again, what we are seeing with this bill is that the government, sadly, does not know how to implement policy. It gets a political idea and then the policy flows from that political idea. The trouble is, by the time it has the political idea, it is in trouble. So you have a rushed policy and then, even worse, you have the implementation of the policy rushed.

We have seen lessons, already, over the last two years of what this can bring about. If there has ever been a lesson that everyone in this country should learn from it was the live export debacle where the government thought they had a political problem. They rushed out a policy, they implemented the policy and we have an industry still on its knees as a result. What we have to be careful of here is the unintended consequence, because the devil is always in the detail. Once again, we have had the political problem and the perception in the community that the government cannot manage money. It is a real one, and the reason for it is we have had the four biggest budget deficits in Australia's history. And what is that doing? That is keeping interest rates high because the Reserve Bank cannot move to lower interest rates because they have got to keep an eye on the government or on Wayne's wasteful spending. They cannot bring interest rates down to an international comparative level where we would not see so much money pouring into the country to take advantage of it. As we know, the rest of the world is in deep recession. So they have interest rates that are extremely low. We need to get ours down. We need to keep some pressure on the dollar to bring it down, to help our farmers, to help our manufacturers, to help everyone outside of the mining industry, mainly, so that they can benefit more from a lower dollar.

This is the political problem, and the government, in the 2012-13 MYEFO, thought: 'We have to try to get the budget back into surplus. We have a political problem and we have a real economic problem because of the four years of the largest budget deficits in Australia's history.' So the government sits down and thinks: 'What would be the economically sensible way to do this? What policies should we put in place to bring the budget back into line? Should we take sensible decisions which might cost us because it means reining in all our wasteful spending? Or do we try to use the cloak-and-dagger approach, try to disguise things and use some tricky ways to try and get it sorted?' Unfortunately, what this bill is showing is that the government is looking at the tricky ways. Because this bill has been brought in in such a rushed manner, we are starting to see that there could be implementation issues.

Let's not beat around the bush here: changing all these policies from seven years to three years is designed to give the government $700 million in extra revenue this financial year, to try to help get that budget into surplus; $700 million is a lot of money when you are aiming for only a wafer-slim budget surplus. In doing this, instead of following proper process—having a proper review, bringing stakeholders in, engaging with them and trying to understand what could be some of the implications—they have just made it up as it has gone along.

The sad thing about this is: who, potentially, will suffer as a result? Is it likely to be the government? No. It will be the Australian taxpayer. Some of the unintended consequences that we are worried about are that Australian taxpayers could inadvertently have money taken from their accounts. There are number of ways that this can happen. I would like to go into those.

What are the three schedules of the bill? First, there is the banking element of it. Schedule 1 of this bill calls for changes to section 69 of the Banking Act to provide for new arrangements for unclaimed moneys held by Australian deposit-taking institutions, ADIs. These changes will reduce the period before an amount payable by an ADI is treated as unclaimed monies from seven years to three years.

The potential consequences of that are many and varied, but let's just take a simple one. This is why we wanted the policy looked at; so we could explore this and ensure that this type of thing would not occur if, like me, for instance, you had an overseas posting. They last three years. Often they can be extended for a year to four years. You leave money sitting in a bank account in Australia while you are overseas on that posting. You could find that money that you left while you were overseas serving your country—and think for a moment about military personnel who often go overseas for extended periods—has been taken off you. If you do not make any further deposits or withdrawals for that period, under this bill, it would seem—and I am hoping we will hear the government clarify this; it would have been good for it to be done properly through a review—those funds would be taken from you and they would end up in the government's own account. This is almost Orwellian. That you would have a government that would just come in and suck money out of a private account because it has not been active for three years is Orwellian. I cannot understand why the government would want to head down this path. Surely they must realise that that is not their money and that, just because someone wants to leave money in an account for three years and not touch it, the government has no right to be able to reach in and rip it out. That is not the type of government we want in this country. I am hoping that we will see clarification of that from the government. It is the sort of thing that should have been examined under a proper committee process—but that has not occurred. So I am hoping that, before they rush this bill through to a vote, we will get some sort of explanation around that.

What does schedule 2 of the bill show us? It amends the First Home Saver Accounts Act 2008. So this is amending a bill that this government brought in to provide for new arrangements for unclaimed moneys held by the first home saver account providers. The new law amends section 17A and 51C of the act to change the unclaimed moneys period from seven years to three years.

Let us go back a little bit and have a look at this. The government announced the introduction of the first home saver account in the 2008-09 budget—so a relatively new measure introduced by this government. So you would think, for a start, that they could have got it right. You would think that they had probably looked at it all and thought: 'In introducing this legislation, let's make sure that we get everything right. Let's take time and make sure we get it right.' Yet 2½ years later they are looking at this and saying, 'No, we didn't get the detail right,' because some of these accounts are now at risk of being claimed by the government, particularly where holders of these accounts have not been able to afford to contribute to their deposits over the past three years.

We have had the GFC and we have had cost-of-living pressures which this government have not been able to bring under control—as a matter of fact, they have exacerbated them—and people are struggling to put money into these first home saver accounts. If they do not put any money in for three years, this Orwellian government once again, it would seem, can reach in and grab that money. It is very strange that they would be wanting to do this—introducing a policy in 2008-09 and then changing the regulations around it so that the government can now take money out of accounts that they were encouraging people to put money into. I just cannot fathom it. Surely there must be better ways to balance a budget, after producing four of the biggest budget deficits in Australia's history. Surely there must be better ways to do it.

Schedule 3, life insurance, amends section 216 of the Life Insurance Act to provide for the new arrangements for unclaimed life insurance moneys. Currently life insurance companies within the meaning of the act are required to report on and pay unclaimed moneys to the Commonwealth. There are two limbs to the definition of unclaimed moneys in the act. Unclaimed moneys include sums payable on the maturity of a policy which are not claimed within seven years after the maturity date of the policy. The new arrangements will reduce the period before life insurance moneys are treated as unclaimed moneys from seven to three years. Once again we see the reduction of the time frame and it will allow the government to step in and take that money.

Surely there must be a process that is put in place to make sure that everything has been done to ensure that people have not left the money there for their own perfectly valid reasons, that they want the accounts left alone, that they want the money to sit there. People have the right to do that. If I have a bank account and I want to leave money in there for more than three years—I do not want to add to it and I do not want to subtract from it—surely I have the right to do that and not be worried that a government is going to step in and take the money.

Schedule 4 of the bill amends the Superannuation (Unclaimed Money and Lost Members) Act to change arrangements for the transfer of lost member accounts to the Commissioner of Taxation and to provide for the payment of interest on unclaimed superannuation money. Lost super accounts with balances of less than $2,000 that have until now been active for only three years—currently this is seven years—and accounts of unidentifiable members that have been inactive for 12 months will now be required to be paid to the Australian Taxation Office. Once again we see, quite clearly, the government is stepping in and changing the rules so that it can benefit—in this case, so it can get access to people's superannuation. So people work hard, pay their super and, for some reason, they might decide, 'I'm going to leave that super there. I'm not going to touch for a while,' and what happens: the government can help itself.

There is also schedule 5, which deals with the Corporations Act. Once again, what we are seeing is the government manipulating the rules and the law so it is easier for the government to get hold of private citizens' money. I will not go through the details because I am running out of time, but, once again, I could set forth what the process is. This is changing longstanding pillars of our financial services industry. These changes should not be made in a rush; they should be made for a good reason and under proper scrutiny. They are enabling this government to access money from private citizens. What this government are trying to do with this bill seems Orwellian in nature. Their justification for it is poor, because if they had not wasted taxpayers' money over the last four years, like they have, there would be no need for it. Unless it is amended, we will oppose this bill and be right in doing so.