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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 230


Senator CROWLEY (Minister for Family Services) (5.21 p.m.) —As has been made clear by both Senator Patterson and Senator Woodley, the coalition and the Democrats are seeking to omit part 7 from the Social Security Legislation Amendment Bill because they see it, in essence, as being an attack on the rural community. That is simply not true. Indeed, the Social Security Act 1991 already contains very generous asset rules for primary producers. Part 7 of the bill, as Senator Patterson has effectively said, will only clarify the existing policy that has been in place for years. That policy requires that where an asset is exempt from the assets test—for example, a farmhouse on a farm—any debts related to the exempt asset should not be used to reduce the value of other assessable primary production assets.

  I would like to draw the committee's attention, as did Senator Patterson, to the legal advice that has now been received from the Attorney-General's Department to the effect that the existing legislation authorises the department's current policy. As a result, there is strictly no need to proceed with part 7, so the government could live with the amendment which deletes part 7 of the bill.

  However, the government's position has always been that policy should be made explicit in legislation—a position strongly supported by the Attorney-General's Department and, curiously enough, by the opposition. It should be obvious now that there is nothing to gain from obstructing these changes. In fact, there may be real benefits from making perfectly clear how the primary production assets are to be valued.

  Senator Patterson argued, in relation to the penalty interest charge, that there are some things that should not be left to the discretion of the minister or senior bureaucrats, yet she is suggesting just that in relation to part 7 of this bill; in other words, not wanting to proceed to put explicitly in legislation what is the practice. I urge the committee, therefore, to support part 7 of the bill and have the matter clarified so that all farmers know exactly how the assets test affects them; in other words, to put explicitly into legislation what is the practice.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Motion, as amended, agreed to.

  Resolution reported; report adopted.