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Wednesday, 8 June 1994
Page: 1542

Senator BELL (6.31 p.m.) —The response of the Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction (Senator Schacht) to our insistence on these amendments was not convincing; it was simply a re-run of the previous arguments.

Senator Schacht —You were running yours five times, Robert. Goodness me, we are not Robinson Crusoe!

Senator BELL —I accept the interjection because the minister suggests that these arguments have been run five times. I tried to introduce a new one and we had a new contribution from the minister trying to ascribe some sort of blame if this legislation dies. Senator Teague described it as the government cutting off its nose to spite its face. I would describe it more bluntly as a perversity—the government introduces some legislation for some benefit but then wants to take its bat and ball simply because part of it is challenged. It is well within the government's capacity to see the advantage of that part of the legislation with which we all agree and to introduce that in whatever form is necessary. We will be told about all sorts of time limits and drafting constraints. But it is the government which has the capacity if it believes in aspects of the legislation that bring advantages. The government should persist and be creative, rather than trot out the previous arguments. A little bit of creativity would be appreciated here.

  The isolated children's regulations that are in place will not be threatened by the non-passage or the rejection of this bill or the non-persistence with it, or whatever it is that the government intends doing. The regulations will not be threatened, so the government should not throw that blame back onto us. It should also be recognised that if this legislation founders, it will be entirely the government's fault. In fact, these aspects which these amendments attempt to alter were initiated by the government anyway.

  All we are doing is saying, `It was a good idea, stick with it. If it was a good idea, it won't have the penalties you imagine.' I return to that point. There has been no justification for the guess of $10 million. There has been no calculation; no figures have been introduced which would inspire me to think that it is anything but a guess. I have suggested ways in which the guess can be qualified considerably. The assertion that there are hordes of Collins Street farmers out there juggling their books so that they can get a measly health care card is ludicrous.

  Senator Schacht interjecting

Senator BELL —The outcome was established and publicised. I remind the minister that Senator Boswell listed the publicity that had occurred before. Is the minister going to tell me that that was such an abject failure, that the handful of people who trotted along and made application was a good reflection of the government's publicity at the time? If a couple of us talking about it for a few minutes in this chamber is going to publicise it to such an extent that the government is going to be overwhelmed by these fast accountants, I really think one must question the value of any publicity that the government gives. Senator Boswell reminded the minister that it was printed in the booklets that were distributed right to the target audience, right into the place where the people who were concerned would find out. The effect was a handful of people.

  Senator Schacht interjecting

Senator BELL —The minister can multiply that handful by 10, and it will not be a scrap towards the progress to this $10 million fiction that the government has been putting to us. The equity that would be delivered by sticking to the original concept would vastly outweigh the heartache which is at present being felt by those people who are unable to access tertiary education. The government would do itself a heck of a big favour if it recognised the benefit of the original idea, which is represented by these amendments which we are insisting upon.

  Question put:

  That the motion (Senator Schacht's) be agreed to.