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Wednesday, 27 March 1985
Page: 860

Senator DURACK(11.00) —As I indicated in my speech to the second reading motion, the Opposition is opposed to this clause and to clause 17, each of which reverses, in essence, the decision of the Fraser Government to require that all bankrupt estates of over $10,000 be administered by private trustees rather than by the Official Receiver. I have indicated that that is the only area of the Bill to which the Opposition is opposed. I restate that opposition and express my disappointment that apparently the Australian Democrats are not prepared to support us in our opposition. In that event, it will fail and a very large role for the official receivers in the administration of bankrupt estates will be restored.

Just to give emphasis to the point I am making, I refer honourable senators to the explanatory memorandum to the Bill which was circulated. Under the heading 'Financial Impact Statement' the explanatory memorandum states:

The amendments proposed by the Bill will result in an increase in the number of estates administered by the Official Trustee in Bankruptcy. It is estimated that no more than 42 extra staff will be required to absorb the extra workload.

The statement that no more than 42 extra staff would be needed is typical of this Government in every respect. In fact, the cost of the additional 42 people will be $1.275m. Anyone with administrative experience would double that amount pretty quickly. So it all goes on under the Labor administration. The cost of public administration as against private activity is enormous. The cost of public servants, hence public administration, under this Government has increased by hundreds of millions of dollars in one year and each year this Government is in office it will be the same. That is the issue we are concerned about.

We are disappointed that the Australian Democrats will not support us on this issue. Despite the statement of the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), the former Attorney-General, that the Government does not want to squeeze out private trustees, it is clear from experience that they played a very small role in the administration of bankrupt estates. Only the provisions that were implemented by legislative amendment to the Bankruptcy Act in 1981 reversed that position and gave private trustees a significant role. If there were deficiencies in the way in which private trustees carried out their role, they would be rectified in this legislation by other means which the Minister at the table has indicated and which the Democrats have recognised. Those means would be all that would be necessary to overcome these problems and to enable perhaps greater investigation of certain estates and reporting on the conduct of the bankrupt which led to the bankruptcy, and perhaps enforcement proceedings of the Act. Those are undoubtedly proper roles for government officials. But the Opposition does not believe that the ordinary administration of getting in assets and disposing of them, distributing the estate and declaring dividends to creditors and so on, is by any means a necessary or appropriate role for government officials.

We seek to achieve a reasonable balance which we think can be achieved by other amendments in this legislation. It is not necessary virtually to reverse the policy of privatisation which had been initiated and implemented by the Fraser Government. We therefore oppose this clause or any other clauses that have that effect. However, as the decision on this issue presumably can be taken in on this clause, if as indicated our opposition to it is not supported by the Democrats, the Opposition will not persist with further opposition in subsequent clauses. This is really the test case of the issue which is between the Opposition and the Government on this Bill.