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Wednesday, 13 March 2002
Page: 717


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Forestry and Conservation) (7:02 PM) —I table a revised explanatory memorandum relating to the Taxation Laws Amendment (Film Incentives) Bill 2002 and move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

AUSTRALIAN CITIZENSHIP LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2002

The purpose of this bill is to update a number of aspects of Australian citizenship law.

The bill was originally introduced into the parliament in August 2001 by my colleague the Hon Philip Ruddock and flows from the government response to the report of the Australian Citizenship Council, Australian Citizenship for a New Century. I commend Philip Ruddock for his significant contribution in this area.

The Australian Citizenship Council reported in February 2000. The government response, Australian Citizenship... a Common Bond, was released in May 2001.

The government response is designed to encourage all Australians to value their citizenship and contains a commitment to update and strengthen aspects of citizenship law.

The government agreed with the Australian Citizenship Council that, in its relatively short 53 years of existence, Australian citizenship has been a major success story.

Apart from giving a new and unique legal status to those in Australia at the time of its introduction, Australian citizenship law has evolved to be one of the most welcoming and inclusive in the world and has been the basis for over 3 million migrants becoming full participants in our society.

The government believes that the overall inclusive and non-discriminatory approach to Australian citizenship, that is premised on welcoming, without undue barriers, migrants and humanitarian entrants who come to Australia as part of the planned migration and humanitarian programs, should continue as the basis for future Australian citizenship law and policy.

Accordingly, there will be no change to the basic criteria for grant of Australian citizenship which, in general, are working well.

Clearly, some aspects of citizenship legislation need, over time, to evolve to reflect the changing realities of the Australian community.

This bill updates aspects of citizenship law, refines and enhances provisions relating to children and young adults, and strengthens existing integrity measures.

Turning firstly to the need to update the law on loss of citizenship, this bill will repeal section 17 of the Australian Citizenship Act 1948, so that adult Australian citizens in future do not lose their Australian citizenship if they acquire another citizenship.

The government's decision to proceed with this change follows widespread community consultation over the last few years, undertaken initially by the Australian citizenship council and, more recently, by the government through the release of a discussion paper.

Submissions to the government strongly supported repeal of section 17: over 800 submissions were received in response to the release of the discussion paper in June 2001; almost all supported repeal of section 17. In fact, since the launch of the government response we have received close to two thousand representations from people expressing support for the early repeal of section 17.

This change will allow the growing numbers of internationally mobile Australians to take advantage of opportunities overseas, while maintaining their links with Australia and bringing back to the Australian community their valuable expertise and knowledge.

It will also bring Australia into line with the citizenship law of many other comparable countries, including the U.K., Canada, New Zealand, USA, France and Italy.

The changes will benefit those adult Australian citizens who acquire another citizenship after the new law is passed and comes into effect.

This bill also introduces a number of enhancements to citizenship legislation in the interests of young Australians.

The bill extends the citizenship by descent provisions to allow children born overseas to an Australian citizen parent to be eligible for registration as an Australian citizen by descent until they turn 25 years of age. Currently the age limit is set at 18 years.

Similarly, the bill extends the resumption provisions to allow young persons who renounce their Australian citizenship in order to retain another citizenship, to be eligible to resume their Australian citizenship until they turn 25 years of age.

Many young people re-examine their identity and future around the ages of 18 to 25. These changes will give young people more opportunities to acquire or resume Australian citizenship.

The bill will also provide for children under 16 who acquire Australian citizenship by grant with their parent, or at a later date, to be given their own citizenship certificate.

Currently the law requires children under 16 to have their names endorsed on the back of their parent's certificate.

Provision of individual citizenship certificates to these children is an appropriate way to recognise their individual citizenship status and will facilitate their having appropriate citizenship documentation upon reaching adulthood.

Turning to integrity issues, this bill strengthens the integrity of the citizenship process in a number of ways.

Firstly, the bill requires persons aged 18 years and over who seek either to be registered as Australian citizens by descent, or to resume Australian citizenship, to be of good character.

It is important that these people of adult age be of good character to access Australian citizenship.

Secondly, the bill extends the ban on the grant of Australian citizenship from 2 years after release from prison, to 10 years, for a person who is a serious repeat offender.

The government agrees with the Australian citizenship council that a period of 10 years represents a more appropriate length of time for any such applicants for citizenship to demonstrate that they are of good character.

Thirdly, the bill introduces powers for the minister to revoke, in certain circumstances, the grant of a certificate of citizenship before actual conferral of citizenship and also to defer conferral of citizenship for a 12 month period in certain circumstances.

These changes will ensure that a person does not automatically proceed to become an Australian citizen if, in the period between a decision to grant and actual conferral of citizenship, it becomes evident that the person does not, or may not, meet the requirements for grant of Australian citizenship.

Fourthly, the bill provides the minister with a power to revoke the grant of a certificate of Australian citizenship before conferral of citizenship where the person has failed to make the pledge of commitment within 12 months after being notified of the decision to grant citizenship, without an `acceptable reason'.

Acceptable reasons will be prescribed in regulations. Currently the citizenship act leaves open indefinitely the time a person, approved for Australian citizenship, has to make the pledge of commitment.

I believe that in their totality, these initiatives will significantly enhance the integrity of the citizenship process.

This bill also extends concessions in relation to meeting the residence in Australia requirement for grant of Australian citizenship, which have been available for many years to people who have served in the permanent defence force, to people who have served as full time members of an Australian reserve force for at least six months.

Although Australian citizenship is now a requirement for service in the reserve forces, this has not always been the case.

There may, therefore, be some people who have spent substantial periods of time in the reserve forces who have not yet acquired Australian citizenship and such people will benefit from this change.

This change recognises the significant contribution of our reserve forces.

This bill also inserts a note referring to “people smuggling” offences in the provision relating to deprivation of Australian citizenship.

This amendment will not change the existing policy settings for deprivation of Australian citizenship.

Rather, it will highlight that a person who committed a “people smuggling” offence before a decision to grant a citizenship certificate, and is sentenced to imprisonment for a period of not less than 12 months, after lodging the application for the citizenship certificate, may be deprived of Australian citizenship.

The government considers it important to draw attention to the potential for the existing citizenship deprivation provisions to be used in this way as we wish to highlight the seriousness that we attach to people smuggling crimes.

Finally, the bill makes the avenue of review available for decisions on revocation of the grant of a certificate of citizenship before conferral of citizenship; decisions on resumption of Australian citizenship by young people; and decisions on good character in applications for registration of Australian citizenship by descent.

In summary, this bill will update and enhance citizenship law to improve its operation in some important areas.

It is an important bill and one which will help create an even more robust Australian citizenship for the 21st century.

My colleague the Hon Philip Ruddock had great pleasure in introducing the bill into the last parliament and I know that he continues to have a close, personal interest in Australian citizenship and the value these changes will make to a great many Australians.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

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HIGHER EDUCATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 1) 2002

In the May 2001-2002 budget, the Government announced the establishment of an interest-free loan scheme designed to expand opportunities for overseas-trained professionals to meet the formal recognition requirements of their professions in Australia. The purpose of this Bill is to establish this loan scheme, called the Bridging for Overseas-Trained Professionals Loan Scheme (BOTPLS) to assist overseas trained professionals to cover the costs of bridging training.

Australia attracts a significant number of overseas-trained professionals, most of whom intend to work in their profession in Australia. Many professions have regulations associated with employment, some of which are legal while others are a matter of employment practice. All such professions require the assessment of qualifications and, in some cases an examination is required. For many overseas trained professionals, bridging courses are recommended, either as preparation for the examination or to make up knowledge gaps that have been identified through the assessment process. For example, a dentist or medical practitioner might take a clinical bridging course to prepare for the examination while an overseas trained lawyer or an accountant might be required to take a unit in Australian taxation law.

Governments have long recognised the value to the community of assisting overseas trained professionals to undertake bridging courses and the Commonwealth Government took over responsibility for funding such courses from the State Governments in the early 1990's. While the current programme has benefited approximately 500 people per year, the demand for bridging courses has exceeded the supply because the number of places has been limited by the programme budget. Some course providers have restricted their offerings in line with the availability of government-funded places. It is expected that the new programme will make it possible for more people to take advantage of bridging courses and providers may respond by making the courses more accessible.

The purpose of this Bill is to expand the opportunities for overseas-trained professionals to undertake such bridging courses without increasing the burden on Australian taxpayers. To be eligible for the loan, the applicant must hold professional qualifications that have been awarded in another country. In effect this means that these people will be post-graduate students and it is in line with current trends in higher education funding that students pay full fees for post-graduate courses. Last year, in order to improve Australia's skills base, the Post-graduate Education Loan Scheme (PELS) was introduced to give post-graduates access to the same sort of financial assistance that is available to undergraduates who defer their education costs through HECS.

The proposed bridging loan scheme will provide similar assistance to overseas-trained professionals who enrol in bridging courses. As the courses are limited to non-award courses of no more than one year's full-time study, these people are likely to enter the work force and begin repaying their loans more quickly than either HECS or PELS recipients. Participants repay their loan through the taxation system once their income reaches the minimum threshold for compulsory repayment.

Australian permanent residents who hold a Centrelink concession card will still have access to the Assessment Fee Subsidy For Disadvantaged Overseas-Trained Australian Residents (ASDOT) programme, which will not be affected by this Bill.

It is expected that implementation of the bridging loan scheme will provide overseas trained professionals with a cost-effective pathway to recognition. Under the new scheme clients will not be prevented from enrolling in bridging courses due to limitations on the number of government-funded places. Nor will they be dissuaded from pursuing training because they are unable to pay course costs at the time of enrolment.

To be eligible for the new scheme applicants will require an assessment statement from the relevant gazetted assessing authority and this will specify the nature of the additional training that is required.

Based on the numbers who have participated in the current bridging programme and predicting an increase over time, it is estimated that the loans provided under the proposed scheme will amount to some $12 million over the next five years and will assist in the order of 3,000 participants to enter their profession in Australia.

It is the Government's intention that the new bridging loan scheme will commence on 1 July 2002. The Bill allows for transition arrangements for participants who started their bridging course in first semester 2002.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

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HUMAN RIGHTS AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION AMENDMENT BILL 2002

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Amendment Bill 2002 will ensure that the States are bound by the complaints and remedies provisions in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986.

The bill is needed to rectify a drafting oversight that was identified in a Federal Magistrates Service case late last year called Rainsford v State of Victoria [2001] FMCA 115.

The oversight occurred in amendments in the Act that commenced on 13 April 2000.

These amendments were made in the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1) 1999 (the Amendment Act).

Prior to the commencement of the Amendment Act on 13 April 2000, the legislative structure for handling complaints alleging unlawful discrimination was set out in each of the Acts dealing with the specific areas of sex, disability and race discrimination.

That is, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 respectively.

The complaints and remedies provisions in each of these Acts bound the States prior to the commencement of the Amendment Act.

When the complaint handling structure was moved from the three specific Acts into the Act, no provision was made to ensure that the Act bound the States in relation to complaints and applications to courts.

The provisions in each of the anti-discrimination acts continued to apply to the Sates in the same way as before—but the complaint handling structure did not.

This was an unintended drafting oversight in the Amendment Act.

The reforms in the bill will make sure that actions for unlawful discrimination under Commonwealth anti-discrimination law can be brought against a State in the same way as before the Amendment Act.

These amendments have retrospective effect from 13 April 2000 so that there is no gap in coverage.

Individuals who believe that they have been discriminated against by a State since that time will be able to pursue a complaint after commencement of the bill—as if the drafting oversight had not occurred.

This will be welcome news to applicants in Commonwealth anti-discrimination cases against States.

Since the Amendment Act States have acted as if they were bound by Commonwealth anti-discrimination law—as indeed they were intended to be.

The measures in the bill simply re-instate the situation that was believed by all to be the case prior to the Rainsford decision.

Consistently with this Government's commitment to the effective operation of Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws, the Government has moved quickly to remedy this unintended drafting oversight.

The bill will have little, if any, financial impact.

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COAL INDUSTRY REPEAL (VALIDATION OF PROCLAMATION) BILL 2002

The purpose of this bill is twofold: firstly to confirm that the Coal Industry Repeal Act 2001 commenced on 1 January 2002 as intended; and secondly to validate all actions taken on the assumption that it commenced on 1 January 2002. Last December the Governor-General in Executive Council made a Proclamation setting the commencement date at 1 January 2002, but because of an administrative oversight the Proclamation was not Gazetted before that date, which means the Act may not have commenced on 1 January as intended.

This has ramifications for actions taken by New South Wales which rely on the commencement of the Coal Industry Repeal Act 2001.

The Coal Industry Repeal Act 2001 provides for the dissolution of the Joint Coal Board and enables New South Wales to transfer all of its functions, staff, assets and liabilities to a new body established under New South Wales law. This removal of unnecessary Commonwealth involvement in the New South Wales coal industry has been supported by all parties. The commencement by Proclamation of the Coal Industry Repeal Act 2001 was timed to coincide with the commencement of New South Wales legislation—the Coal Industry Act 2001- establishing a new body to take over the properties and functions of the Joint Coal Board. As well as allowing for a seamless transition, the coordinated commencement date also reflects a Parliamentary undertaking that the Government would not proclaim the Coal Industry Repeal Act 2001 until New South Wales was ready to go ahead.

From 1 January 2002, New South Wales has acted as if the Proclamation fixing the commencement date of Coal Industry Repeal Act 2001 had been properly constituted. The legal basis of many of the actions taken by the New South Wales Government and the ongoing activities of Coal Services Pty Ltd—the new body established by New South Wales to take over the properties and functions of the Joint Coal Board—is uncertain.

While this uncertainty remains, it can act to constraint on the activities of Coal Services Pty Ltd in providing essential services to the New South Wales coal industry. There is an urgent need to remedy this situation and to put beyond doubt the validity of all actions taken on the assumption that the Coal Industry Repeal Act 2001 had come into force on 1 January 2002.

The Government has taken urgent action to remedy the situation and provide certainty to the operations of the New South Wales coal industry.

As an interim measure, the Governor-General's Proclamation was gazetted on 1 February 2002. This provides a signal confirming the Commonwealth's intent that the Coal Industry Repeal Act 2001 commenced on 1 January 2002. However, the validity of the Proclamation and hence the commencement of the Act still remains uncertain.

This bill is necessary to put beyond doubt that 1 January 2002 is the date of commencement for the Coal Industry Repeal Act 2001 and to validate all actions taken on the assumption that the Act had come into force on that date. I seek the full support of this Parliament in progressing this bill quickly.

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FAMILY AND COMMUNITY SERVICES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (FURTHER SIMPLIFICATION OF INTERNATIONAL PAYMENTS) BILL 2002

The purpose of the bill is to give effect to the 2001-02 Budget initiative to bring the payment of Australian pensions to people overseas long-term in line with international standards. It also equalises the rules under which overpayments are recovered from people receiving foreign pensions.

The rate of Australian pensions paid in Australia does not depend on a person's length of Australian residence. However, Australian pensioners residing overseas on a long-term basis are paid a `proportional' rate that reflects their length of Australian residence. Currently, to be paid a full pension after an absence of longer than 26 weeks, pensioners overseas are required to have 25 years of Australian working life residence. Other countries require that people contribute for around 40 years before the full rate of pension can be paid, and often there are further restrictions on the payability of these pensions outside those countries. To bring Australia in line with international standards this bill extends the required residence period to 30 years under the Social Security Act 1991.

The bill also further recognises the valuable contribution that senior Australians make to our community. The bill allows people who defer their age pensions and register with the Pension Bonus Scheme to add their bonus periods under the Scheme to the Australian working life residence period they accrued before they reached age pension age. As a result they may be paid a higher long-term overseas rate.

The amendments made to the Social Security Act 1991, in relation to the Australian working life residence, will only apply to anyone who departs Australia after the commencement day of the amendments. A person who is absent from Australia on the commencement day will be subject to these amendments only if they return to Australia and stay for 26 weeks or more.

The bill also equalises the treatment of debts incurred by people who receive lump sum payments of foreign pension.

Where a person receives lump sum arrears, of a comparable foreign payment from a country with which Australia has an international social security agreement, the overpayment of Australian pension, for the period covered by lump sum, is recovered. In contrast, where the same type of lump sum payment is received from other countries, no debt is currently incurred. The new debt recovery provision in the Social Security Act 1991 ensures that overpayments of Australian social security payments arising from these arrears payments are debts and that they are recoverable.

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TAXATION LAWS AMENDMENT (SUPERANNUATION) BILL (No. 1) 2002

The Government announced in its `A Better Superannuation System' statement last year that temporary residents permanently departing Australia would be able to access their superannuation. The taxation arrangements for this measure are set out in this bill. There are only a very limited number of situations where people are able to access their superannuation funds before preservation age. Temporary residents who have permanently departed Australia will not be retiring in Australia and often wish to take their superannuation benefits with them to the country in which they live, but are currently unable to do so. The Government is proposing amendments to the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Regulations, which will in future allow such persons to access their superannuation on departing Australia.

However, as the payment will be to a temporary resident who will not be using the payment for retirement in Australia it would not be appropriate for the payment to receive concessional taxation treatment. Accordingly, this bill, in conjunction with the Income Tax (Superannuation Payments Withholding Tax) Bill 2002, imposes special rates of taxation on superannuation paid to temporary residents permanently departing Australia, and requires funds to withhold taxation from such payments at those rates. These amendments will claw back the taxation concessions on these payments while still allowing temporary residents permanently departing Australia to take their superannuation, rather than requiring them to leave it in Australia until retirement.

Full details of the measures in this bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

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INCOME TAX (SUPERANNUATION PAYMENTS WITHHOLDING TAX) BILL 2002

This bill, in conjunction with the Taxation Laws Amendment (Superannuation) Bill 2002, imposes special rates of taxation on superannuation paid to temporary residents permanently departing Australia. Together with proposed amendments to the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Regulations, these amendments will claw back the taxation concessions on these payments while still allowing temporary residents permanently departing Australia to take their superannuation, rather than requiring them to leave it in Australia until retirement.

Full details of the measures in this bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

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TAXATION LAWS AMENDMENT (FILM INCENTIVES) BILL 2002

This bill creates a refundable tax offset for film production in Australia. This was announced by the Government on 4 September 2001 as part of its `Integrated Film Package'.

These measures are designed to give effect to the Government's strategy to provide an incentive to attract expenditure on large budget film productions to Australia. This is aimed at providing increased opportunities for Australian casts, crew, post-production and other services to participate in large budget productions, and to showcase Australian talent—with concomitant benefits for employment and skills transfer.

The incentive has a number of eligibility criteria, which are aimed at large budget film productions that have significant production expenditure in Australia. In particular films will have to meet a minimum requirement of at least $15 million in qualifying Australian expenditure to be eligible. Films with at least $15 million but less than $50 million in qualifying Australian expenditure will have to spend seventy per cent of their total expenditure in Australia. Films with qualifying Australian production expenditure of $50 million or over will not have to meet the seventy per cent requirement.

The provision of a refundable tax offset will allow Australia to compete internationally for large budget film productions. The refundable tax offset is to be applied at a rate of twelve and a half per cent to qualifying Australian expenditure of a film project. This incentive is expected to amount to approximately 10 per cent of a film's cost of production, varying as qualifying Australian expenditure is more or less of the total production expenditure.

Eligible films must have been completed on or after 4 September 2001. The refundable tax offset for film production expenditure in Australia is effective from the announcement date and can be claimed from the income year ended 30 June 2002.

Since the Government announced its plan to provide a refundable tax offset for film production in Australia, consultation has occurred with domestic and international large film studios, film producers, and film industry peak bodies.

The Government considers the consultation process involved with this measure to have been a very positive and worthwhile process. I would like to thank all those involved in that process for their effort in contributing to the development of this bill.

Full details of the measures in this bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

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PROTECTION OF THE SEA (PREVENTION OF POLLUTION FROM SHIPS) AMENDMENT BILL 2002

The Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Amendment Bill will amend the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983 (the “Pollution Prevention Act”). The Pollution Prevention Act implements the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, commonly known as MARPOL, and it is therefore the principal Commonwealth Act intended to prevent pollution from ships.

Recent amendments to the Pollution Prevention Act revised the offence and penalty provisions. These were implemented by the International Maritime Conventions Legislation Amendment Act 2001 (the “IMCLA Act”) most of which commenced on 1 October 2001.

Prior to the commencement of the IMCLA Act amendments only owners and masters of ships could be prosecuted for discharges of pollutants, such as oil, noxious substances or garbage from their ships. The IMCLA Act amended provisions in the Pollution Prevention Act to ensure that any person, rather than just the ship's master or owner, whose negligent or reckless conduct causes an unlawful discharge of pollutants from a ship into the sea is guilty of an offence. Owners and masters of ships remain strictly liable for discharges of pollutants from their ships, whether or not other persons have recklessly or negligently discharged pollutants, although owners and masters, because they are held strictly liable, are subject to lesser penalties.

An unintentional consequence of the IMCLA Act amendments to the Pollution Prevention Act was to exclude the offence provisions from taking affect in Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone. In accordance with the original policy intent behind the IMCLA Act the current bill provides that the offence provisions in the Pollution Prevention Act have effect in the Exclusive Economic Zone.

In relation to the offences of strict liability there are a number of existing defences set out in the relevant provisions of the Pollution Prevention Act. For example, there is no strict liability offence if a discharge occurs for the purpose of securing the safety of the ship or saving life at sea or the discharge occurs in accordance with the strict conditions set out in MARPOL.

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STUDENT ASSISTANCE AMENDMENT BILL 2002

The purpose of the bill is to amend the Student Assistance Act 1973 (the Act). The ABSTUDY and Assistance for Isolated Children (AIC) schemes are non-statutory (executive) schemes funded through the Appropriation Acts. The Student Assistance Act 1973 provides the statutory mechanism in relation to debt recovery and administrative appeals for these schemes.

The first amendment is to permit Social Security, Veterans' and Family Assistance legislation overpayments to be offset against benefits payable under the AIC scheme and the ABSTUDY scheme, as had previously been permitted until 1998.

The second amendment is a minor change to update the definitions in the Act to reflect that the Aboriginal Overseas Study Assistance Scheme no longer exists.

The third and final amendment is to increase the 7-day notification period within which students are obliged to notify of certain prescribed events in Section 48 and related sections of the Act to a 14 day period. This amendment will align Section 48 of the Act with Section 344 of the Act, which relates to the notification period for a change of address. It will also provide a consistent approach to the administration of the AIC and ABSTUDY schemes and other Commonwealth programs administered by Centrelink.

These proposed amendments will ensure greater consistency in arrangements between the Student Assistance Act and the Social Security Act in terms of permitting the recovery of overpayments and also the required notification period.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Mackay) adjourned.

Ordered that the Taxation Laws Amendment (Superannuation) Bill (No. 1) 2002 and the Income Tax (Superannuation Payments Withholding Tax) Bill 2002 be listed on the Notice Paper as one order of the day, and the remaining bills be listed as separate orders of the day.