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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 229

Senator PATTERSON (5.17 p.m.) —Other than amendment No. 8, all of the amendments mentioned in the message from the House of Representatives relate to the penalty units system. The coalition supports all the government amendments, other than amendment No. 8 in this message, as they are relatively minor and maintain the spirit of the Senate's improvements to the penalty units system. However, the coalition does not support that part of the message relating to Senate amendment No. 8. During the last session, the Senate opposed those provisions in the government's bill relating to apportioning encumbrances on primary production assets when assessing deductions from the social security assets test.

  The coalition opposed those provisions as a matter of principle. We contend that the current assets test is overly harsh in its treatment of assets held by primary producers. We contend that there is a need to take greater account of the special and often adverse circumstances of primary producers. Given these beliefs, it would be hypocritical of us to support such a provision which would effectively reiterate the current exclusion of certain farm assets from deductions under the current assets test. The coalition recognises that opposing the government's provision will not substantively impact on primary producers because the department already assumes that such a situation exists when it administers the assets test.

  I am also aware that the government has obtained legal advice from the Attorney-General's Department indicating that it will be able to continue to administer the assets test in this way even if these provisions are rejected by the Senate. While I am not in a position to comment in detail on this advice, I certainly do not reject it outright. However, this should not prevent those of us in the Senate who remain fundamentally opposed to the current application of the assets test to primary producers from not supporting this provision. On behalf of the opposition, I move:

  Omit paragraph (a), substitute:

  "(a)insists upon the Senate's amendment no. 8 to which the House of Representatives has disagreed; and

  (aa)does not insist upon the Senate's amendment no. 5 to which the House of Representatives has disagreed; and"