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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 943

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (11:51): I want to move the following revised amendment to the Selection Bills Committee report, which I have circulated in the chamber. I move:

At the end of the motion, add "but, in respect of:

(a)   the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013, provisions of the bill be referred immediately to committees for inquiry and report by 11 February 2014 as follows:

   (i)   the provisions of Schedules 6 and 9 of the bill, to the Education and Employment Legislation Committee,

   (ii)   the provisions of Schedule 2 of the bill, to the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee, and

   (iii)   the remaining provisions of the bill, to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee; and

(b)   the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Submarine Cable Protection) Bill 2013, the provisions of the bill be referred immediately to the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 31 March 2014.".

The PRESIDENT: Senator Siewert, there is a little bit of confusion. We do not have copies of the revised amendment.

Senator SIEWERT: I understand they are being circulated in the chamber. Perhaps I should explain the revised amendment—I presume you have seen the original amendment that was circulated? I apologise, we were just working out the details and hence its late circulation.

The difference is that we are splitting out some of the provisions of the bills, sending the ones that relate to child care and to the student start-up loans off to the education and employment committee, and the provisions that deal with the Cape York income management process get sent off to the Finance and Public Administration Committee.

The point is that the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 has 12 provisions in it, many of which are far-reaching provisions that have implications for many Australians, and these provisions need adequate time and adequate consideration. Because there are so many provisions some of them are not actually appropriate to be sent off to the Community Affairs Committee for inquiry, particularly those that relate to student start-up loans and the issues that relate to the indexation of the childcare rebate. Those issues were originally looked at, as I understand it, by the employment and education committee and it is appropriate that that committee consider those provisions.

Similarly with the Cape York income management process. Now that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues are dealt with by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Finance and Public Administration Committee now has responsibility for inquiry into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues. So it is more appropriate that that bill, because it deals specifically with the Cape York trial, goes off to finance and public administration. Given the complex nature of these issues it is more appropriate that the committees that are tasked with looking into those issues are the committees that review those particular issues.

But to go back to the substantive matter: the government and, at that stage, the opposition—and I am hoping that we have managed to persuade the opposition to change their minds—felt that these very important amendments should not have any committee review. These provisions, for example, are provisions that are going to start charging interest on certain Centrelink debts—these relate to ABSTUDY and Austudy. In other words, once again this is targeting the most vulnerable Australians. These are vulnerable Australians, Australians who are trying to get by on allowances that are condemning them to live in poverty to begin with. And now the government wants to charge interest on their debts.

We believe that needs to be looked into. We believe that the impacts of these provisions need to be considered, particularly, for example, student start-up loans. These are taking a billion dollars out of support for students: is the government saying that does not need to be inquired into? These are provisions that take millions and millions of dollars out of support for child care and childcare rebate. Again, is this government saying that does not need to be inquired into? These have an enormous ramifications, not to mention—and I am sure my colleagues will want to speak on this as well—the backflip on, or the removal of, the gambling provisions.

We have just had a very informative debate in this place about the impacts of gambling on Australia, and now this government wants to unwind the even very modest changes that the previous government made. It thinks it is perfectly okay for us not to have an inquiry into those provisions. The Greens do not agree. We say that this bill, with such an enormous ramifications, should be inquired into.

My colleague Senator Ludlam will look at the submarine-cabling provisions. When we were first asked to consider this bill in the Selection of Bills Committee, the provisions had not even been properly put up on the website so we did not even know what we were supposed to be considering in the first place. And when I sought to have this referred to committee last night, the government did not want to have that looked into either. I am sure Senator Ludlam will highlight the significant problems with these bills. This government has only been in for a couple of months, and already it is running away from scrutiny of legislation that can have significant impacts. It is not good enough, which is why we have moved to get these provisions referred to committee for proper consideration.