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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7034


Mr ROBB (Goldstein) (17:59): I rise to speak on Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012. This bill seeks to make technical amendments to 21 acts across six portfolios. It forms part of an ongoing program of improving the financial framework as issues arise. The coalition supports the program in principle. This is the 10th financial framework amendment bill since 2004. It seeks to correct anomalies, to add clarity and to ensure consistency across government acts. It aims to ensure legislation is up to date and properly reflects actual and efficient financial practices. The program also seeks to ensure financial arrangements are consistent with constitutional requirements.

It is tedious work, but it is important work. Making the financial framework more efficient is, of course, a good thing. There are 140 items of amendment in this bill alone to achieve both clarity and efficiency across a raft of legislation. It would be a good thing if this level of rigour was also extended to the government's deregulation agenda. The government promised a one-in one-out approach to new regulation. Of course, instead, we have seen 18,089 new pieces of regulation introduced and just 86 items repealed—just a little margin of error of about 18,000 pieces of legislation that have not been removed!

This particular bill is broad in its reach. The amendments are technical but vigilance is required. We have to be mindful of unintended consequences or inequitable outcomes. We do not want to see changes that make people worse off. The coalition has closely examined amendments associated with various acts under the agriculture portfolio, as well as those related to the validation of certain benefits under the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act 1973 which were made as a result of Commonwealth administrative breaches.

There are also amendments proposed across various superannuation related acts. These would put in place provisions for the Commonwealth to recover inadvertent overpayments, in line with provisions under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. Other amendments in the superannuation area would allow payments made between a recipient's death and the time when the Commonwealth is notified to be recoverable from the deceased's estate. Of course, the government has some form when it comes to sending out cheques to the deceased. Previous Treasury figures showed that, of $12 billion worth of $900 cheques that went out as stimulus payments, $40 million worth were sent out to 16,000 dead people and 27,000 expatriates. So these provisions of this bill are well placed.

There are also provisions under the Taxation Administration Act 1953 which would allow the Commissioner of Taxation or their delegate to make discretionary recoverable advance payments. This relates to benefits that may be in dispute but for which entitlement is likely to be established or re-established. This would only be applied if the Commonwealth was satisfied that the eventual costs associated with halting payments would be greater than if the advances were made. This is designed to require considerations of 'efficient, effective and economical factors' in making payments consistent with the FMA Act.

In the agriculture portfolio there are amendments which clarify the arrangements around Commonwealth support payments to industry bodies. These payments are subject to a limit of 0.5 per cent of an industry's annual gross value of production. They are based on data prepared by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences. In practice, the most up-to-date ABARES data may not be available until after payments are required. As a result, payments made could inadvertently exceed the 0.5 per cent limit. The amendments would allow for determinations to be made by 31 October. If the amount paid ultimately exceeds 0.5 per cent, the recipient body will pay to the Commonwealth an amount equal to the excess. If an amount has not been determined by 31 October, the payment will be based on the industry's gross value of production from the previous year. It has been highlighted that payments made during the year which exceed 0.5 per cent risk breaching section 83 of the Constitution. The shadow minister for agriculture has been consulting with relevant groups, and no concerns have emerged.

In the agriculture portfolio there are also amendments which put in place more efficient ways of recovering administrative costs associated with making payments to agencies. Under the National Residue Survey Administration Act 1992 there are amendments which align payment approval requirements with actual practice. The NRS is entrusted with monitoring for harmful residues in Australian agricultural products and is funded through industry levies.

In relation to amendments in the DFRDB and other areas of superannuation it is important that the government commits to fully communicating any changes to scheme members—for example, the changes associated with provisions to recover overpayments for deceased estates. The amendments under schedule 2 of the bill in relation to the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act, importantly, have provisions in place to offset debts owed by members as a consequence of previous administrative breaches.

The changes in this bill are reasonable. There has been a genuine effort to improve the efficiency of the financial framework. It is a shame that the rather forensic and technical nature of the amendments in this bill does not reflect the broader approach to financing of this government. For example, this bill gets into the weeds of the financial framework and does some effective work. It is an ongoing program to dot the i's and cross the t's. Yet, on the other hand, you have a government that refuses to subject the $50 billion NBN project—the biggest infrastructure project in the nation's history—to cost-benefit analysis. So here we are, spending important, appropriate, time in this House, and we have spent not one minute on looking at the outcome of a cost-benefit analysis of a $50 billion project. It beggars belief. And the government is prepared to risk $10 billion of borrowed taxpayer dollars on speculative clean energy projects.

These are the sorts of things which confuse the community. They are a reason for the crisis of confidence in the community: they see no consistency. They see a government that is prepared to back its bureaucracy in doing forensic and detailed work at this micro level, and yet where the big bucks are spent we see a very amateur approach being taken. If only the government took this approach to its broader financial activities, we would not be lumbered with $144 billion of net debt and we would be far more resilient to any further shockwaves that might come from Europe or elsewhere. We support the bill.