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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7675


Senator GREIG (9:35 AM) —This appalling legislation is in no need of haste. If anything, we need strong and thorough consideration of this Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Special Benefit Activity Test) Bill 2002 to look at its repercussions. The legislation proposes to extend breaching provisions to special benefit recipients, that is, those newly released from detention centres. We are talking about refugees and asylum seekers here, many of whom would have no comprehension of the agreements they would be entering into, particularly if they have little or no English. We Democrats will be proposing amendments to the legislation which also need, I think, proper consideration by the government and the wider community. These amendments would, for example, prevent breaches for at least the first 26 weeks for those people affected by this legislation, thereby enabling that person to take appropriate language and literacy programs. I think that is entirely reasonable and responsible. There is no haste and urgency for this. As it stands, there was an agreement from the major parties, and, I understand, the cross-benches—certainly from the Democrats—that this is not something that we would progress with unseemly haste; it was something that could well rest over the break, as we do, and then we would return to this next year. That was the agreement.

Then we find, at the eleventh hour, that the opposition has backflipped on this and now insists that this legislation is desperately needed. There is absolutely no evidence that that is the case. We need to take time to consider this appropriately and sensibly and we need to thoroughly understand the appalling consequences of the passage of this legislation. This sitting period is not the time to do that. We have a strong legislative program, much of which, at least today, is going to be consumed by the ASIO legislation, whereas this is legislation that can and should be dealt with next year. The Democrats will not support any urgency or requirement for this bill to be dealt with today or, for that matter, tomorrow.