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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1470

Senator HARRADINE(4.38) —I thank the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Walsh). I point out that perhaps the Taxation Office should have regard to what is in the second reading speech. If those Medicare levy guidelines are different from those stated in the second reading speech that is a matter which must raise in departmental officers' minds certain legal problems because, they would know, as I know, that the second reading speech is an extrinsic aid at best to the interpretation of the law. I am not sure it is a guideline to the administration of the law. At least in respect of the interpretation of the law when it comes to matters which judges may take into consideration, the second reading speech of a Minister is such a guide. Under these circumstances it is clear that after having stated there would be the extension to persons living in a de facto relationship of an entitlement now peculiar to a legally married spouse it is stated, and I reiterate:

Recognition of a de facto relationship will benefit couples who, for some time, have been treated for social security purposes on the same basis as those legally married.

There are two occasions when that occurs-one in respect of people who have been legally married for more than three years. That is covered in section 18 of the old Social Services Act. The definition in section 18 has now been changed and the new provision does not specify a three-year period. That makes matters even worse in regard to its application by the Department. It will be interesting to see how the Department applies the provision. The new provision in the Social Security Act, as amended, reads:

'de facto spouse' means a person who is living with another person of the opposite sex as the spouse of that other person on a bona fide domestic basis although not legally married to that other person.

The purpose of that provision, as explained in the freedom of information document, was to ensure that a legally married spouse was not placed at a disadvantage to a de facto spouse. I will table this document in the hope that people will look at it because it contains a number of examples which show what the departmental officers were required to do. It also shows the letters they were required to write to persons who were suspected of living in a de facto relationship but who were receiving two single pensions and thus were at an advantage compared with a bona fide legally married couple. The whole point of the recognition of the de facto relationship in the social security area is not to place a de facto relationship on the same status as a married relationship, but to ensure that a de facto couple is not placed at an advantage compared to a legally married couple. That is not the case with this provision. Either the Government has tried to hoodwink us all--

Senator Coleman —Oh, come on.

Senator HARRADINE —Well, I will put it another way. Either the Government does not understand the basis of the social security provisions which are outlined in the information I have received from the Social Security Department files or, alternatively, the Government is putting the Taxation Office in an impossible position. The Government is almost requesting the Taxation Office to recognise for the purposes of a spouse rebate any de facto relationship. I raise that matter because I feel it will give the Office a great deal of headache. I believe that the matter could be open to serious question. I seek leave to table the document to which I have referred.

Leave granted.

Remainder of Bill agreed to.

Bill, as amended, agreed to.


Bill-by leave-taken as a whole, and agreed to.

Bills reported with amendments; report adopted.