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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5659


Senator BROWN (9:33 AM) —This government motion is to exempt about 10 bills from the requirement under standing order 111 that the Senate give time in any session for the proper evaluation of legislation coming from the House of Representatives or otherwise introduced here, so that we are able to go to our constituencies, get feedback on the legislation and properly handle it from that informed basis. We have here a list of bills which in the main do not fit the requirement of urgency, and they have been put before us now to be dealt with as bills that are exempt from the cut-off largely because the government has not done its homework.

Let us look at the bills. The first one, which is the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2002, is to enable the people of Harry Creek East in the Northern Territory to be relocated, with freehold title, onto traditional land of theirs that is located elsewhere, because the Alice Springs-Darwin railway construction is taking place in their current habitat. We are not going to oppose that bill being given rapid passage through the parliament, because this group of Indigenous people are being effectively dispossessed of their houses by the rapid progress of that railway line. Of course, it is legitimate that they be given freehold title to their own lands at another site.

When we look at the next piece of legislation, which is the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2002, we see that the government is introducing a piece of legislation effectively to cover the failure on the part of those who have gained from last year's broadcasting legislation to provide the services that we were promised Australians were going to get under that legislation. I am sure, Mr President, you will remember that debate; it was a very heated one in the Senate. Big media organisations are being given a large part of the spectrum for a pittance in order to bring in high definition television broadcasting and, effectively, at the same time, new players are being excluded from acquiring that broadcast band. New players could give Australians expanded options in a whole range of information and broadcast services.

In the government brief it is proposed that the commencement date of 1 January 2003 for a 20-hour-a-week high definition television quota obligation on those broadcasters who got the spectrum be delayed by six months. The big media organisations are using this rushed legislation to cover their own commercial interests. They have shut out other players. The government supported that. It was supported by Labor. They have now got an obligation to provide the services which they said were essential and for which the legislation was needed.

High definition television is being introduced at a great rate. We warned that new sets would cost $8,000 to $10,000 and that there would not be the rapid uptake that the companies were talking about. Mr President, you will remember the display here in Parliament House when we were told that this technology was here, it was now on the go— `Let's get it.' It is not here, it is not now on the go and people are not getting it. This is a delaying tactic to give the lucky licence holders for that spectrum more time. There is no legitimate argument here. The government have not presented any reason for that other than to say that they are not ready. Why aren't they ready? They wanted the legislation passed urgently last year. They said they had to get this through or we would be left behind. Without an explanation for that, it is not legitimate that we now drop the provisions of proper Senate process which would allow us to better investigate this matter. We should have an informed debate instead of a rushed one in the interests of people who have apparently defaulted on their intention of providing those services to the Australian public.

The next pieces of legislation are the Egg Industry Service Provision Bill 2002 and the Egg Industry Service Provision (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2002. The reasons for urgency provided by the government to the Senate state that the Australian Egg Industry Association consulted widely on this proposal between April and September 2001 and that an industry vote revealed widespread support for a new company and promotional levy—that is, to promote the sale of eggs in the country. That is fine; I will support that. But we are talking about a process whereby the industry adopted this and said to the government, `Go ahead,' more than 12 months ago. The problem is that the minister, Senator Ian Macdonald, has not done his job. He should be here now—he is not—to explain why this is required. He has failed in his job. He has had more than 12 months to get that legislation ready; indeed, it should have been introduced at the end of last year. But we are getting it 12 months later, and we are being told it has to be rushed through because it is urgent.

We are being told to drop provisions which allow the other parties in here to go out as independent arbiters and speak to people who are affected by this legislation in order to make sure that it cannot be improved or altered in the interests of the industry and the buying public. It is not good enough for ministers who do not do their job on behalf of the industries and the public whom they represent to come in here at this stage of the political calendar and suddenly say, `We want the proper processes'—which the Senate has put into law and which give the Senate time to properly consult with the community—`dropped because we were either too lazy or we have been ineffective or dilatory in our job of making sure that legislation is brought in in a timely fashion so that the Senate can look at it with due diligence.'

Then we have the Excise Laws Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2002 and the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2002. The reason for urgency from the government is stated in one sentence:

The alcohol labelling and excise payment measure is retrospective to the time of the announcement, 14 May 2002, and it is desirable to provide certainty to affected taxpayers.

May 2002 was five months ago. Suddenly, we are getting this bill and we are effectively asked that it be made an urgent bill—again, because the Treasurer, Mr Costello, has not ensured that the legislation was introduced here in time for a proper perusal by the Senate. It does have an impact on the industry, it is not proper process, and the government have only themselves to blame. Effectively, what they are saying is, `We haven't prepared this on time; the Senate should make up for our default.'

This motion also includes the Excise Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2002 and the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2002. The reason for urgency this time was reduced to two sentences. I quote from the advice provided by Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Ellison, who is not here to put the case for urgency:

Enactment of the bills prior to 1 February 2003 is required to avoid further indexation taking effect on the Product Stewardship Oil Levy. Further, Excise Tariff Proposal No.1 (2002) must be validated within 12 months of the date of tabling which is 20 February 2003.

The question is: why wasn't this legislation brought in earlier? What is the reason for removing the indexation? Is it a gift to the oil industry? If it is a gift to the oil industry and it is going to reduce money going into the product stewardship oil levy—which, amongst other things, I was told, during the opportunity I had overnight to look at this matter, involves helping the legitimate business of recycling oil in the country—the question is: why should we deal with this legislation without having more time to consider it? As you know, Mr President, there are people in Tasmania who have excellent expertise in recycling oil. I do not know whether their industry is depending on this levy, and I do not know whether indexation is going to reduce the levy and therefore not fund their work as well as it could. I want the minister to be present to explain why we need this now and why he did not introduce this legislation earlier. He has obviously had plenty of warning.

Then we have the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Budget Initiatives and Other Measures) Bill 2002. I do not need to remind you, Mr President, that the budget was brought down in May. The Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Vanstone—who is also not here at the moment—said:

The Bill will also amend the social security law to streamline the process to allow more people caring for certain terminally ill children to qualify for carer payment.

The Greens do not want to delay the passage of this legislation but what we say is: why wasn't this legislation brought in earlier? This is a budget flow-on matter. The reason for urgency given by Senator Vanstone was as follows:

The Bill needs to be passed in the spring sittings to allow finalisation of supporting administration ahead of the proposed July next year commencement date for the nominees initiative. Early passage of the bill would also enable more people caring for certain terminally ill children to qualify for carer payment.

Please, where is the minister? She should explain why she did not get this legislation in earlier. Why was it not here five months ago? The payment is obviously going to be very important to some individuals out in the community, but the minister is treating it as though it were not important—as though it were just something that the Senate should rubber-stamp. We have a function of review in this important house, and that involves our being able to consult with people in the community who are affected. We should not simply take the minister's word when she says, `This is urgent; I haven't been able to get to it for five months for reasons unspecified but I want you now to deal with it without community consultation.'

On the list is the Inspector-General of Taxation Bill 2002. This time it is Senator Coonan's responsibility. She also is not here. The reason for urgency given by Senator Coonan states:

The office of Inspector-General of Taxation is intended to be operational by the end of 2002 and funding was included in the 2002-03 Budget for the establishment of the office.

There is a government commitment and community expectation that the office will be established and operational by the end of 2002.

Why didn't Senator Coonan bring in that legislation months ago? She set the deadline. She should set in place the process that properly recognises the role that this house has in debating an issue which has had quite a lot of media coverage, rather than just dump legislation in here and expect it to be rubber-stamped.

We have another bill from Senator Ian Macdonald, who is not here, titled the Insurance and Aviation Liability Legislation Amendment Bill 2002. Amongst the reasons for urgency, in writing, Senator Macdonald tells the Senate:

Since September 2001, the government has been providing indemnities to cover the difference between the amount of cover commercially available ... and that held by aviation enterprises before the terrorist attacks.

He was referring to the attacks in New York. He went on to state:

Passage of the amending legislation is also likely to significantly reduce the number and size of indemnities provided by the Commonwealth.

We are talking about the government's emergency provisions of September last year—13 months ago. The question that Senator Macdonald should be answering for us is: why didn't he have that legislation in here last year? I am not going to simply say, `Well, the Senate doesn't count,' like these government ministers make out. I am not simply going to allow this process, which is getting worse month by month and year by year, to flout the Senate's proper role as a house of review. The problem is with the executive; it is not with the Senate. The Senate has to take a stand on this. We concede that there is urgency in regard to some measures; we do not want to penalise people because of the ministers' lack of diligence, but in the other matters we see absolutely no reason for supporting the government's failure to get this legislation in here on time. In some cases it should have been in here 12 months ago. We want to support the Senate's right to have adequate time to consult with the community on these matters. I move:

Omit:

Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2002

Egg Industry Service Provision Bill 2002

Egg Industry Service Provision (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2002

Excise Laws Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2002

Excise Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2002

Excise Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2002

Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2002

Inspector-General of Taxation Bill 2002

Insurance and Aviation Liability Legislation Amendment Bill 2002.