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Monday, 20 June 2011
Page: 3255

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (11:36): Firstly, if you would allow me, Mr Acting Deputy President, could I just indicate to Senator Hurley—and I am sure this is on behalf of all the members of the Senate Economics Legislation committee—our thanks for her very competent and very effective chairing of the economics committee over, anyway, the three years that I have been involved. Senator Hurley, you and I have had our moments at the economics committee, but you have always been very true to your views. You have always been extremely keen to make sure that the committee operates in a way that ensures that the issues that are before the committee are dealt with effectively, and it has meant that you have slapped me down on a number of occasions—and I have to say to you that you were right every time you did it. So thanks, Senator Hurley, for the work that you have done over that period of time. I, with the other senators, wish you all the best for your future. Certainly you will not have to continue dealing with these dry issues—or maybe not—that come before the Senate economics committee. You said everyone enjoys them immensely. I think you were being a bit over the top when you said that, but that was a nice way to finish your contribution to the economics committee.

The Tax Laws Amendment (2010 Measures No. 5) Bill 2010 has seven schedules. Schedule 1 relaxes certain eligibility requirements for the film tax offsets, with the aim of enabling more companies to benefit from these offsets. It reduces the minimum qualifying expenditure threshold for the post, digital and visual effects offset from $5 million to $500,000, and it removes the requirement for films with qualifying expenditure of between $15 million and $50 million to have at least 70 per cent of the film's total production expenditure as qualifying Australian production expenditure in order to qualify for the location offset.

I think supporting the Australian film industry is extremely important. The Australian film industry does for this country what the film industry does for many countries, and that is that it actually pushes our culture out to the rest of the world and says, 'This is where we are at; this is what we stand for.' I think it is good that the government continues to support the film industry. The film industry is one of those areas where you cannot measure what the productivity is to the economy, but if you simply look at the economy as being an economy and not a culture as well then you tend to forget these issues. What the government is trying to do here is to make sure that our culture is recognised around the world—a culture that we can be proud of and that is about ensuring that the struggles and tribulations that are in place in this country are recognised around the world. How we have overcome those struggles and tribulations is extremely important, and our film industry is important in doing that. I reckon there are some pretty crook films made from time to time as well, but there are some really good films, and we should be supporting the film industry in this country. Some of the most talented actors around the world come from Australia, and that is because the government took the view that we need to protect and support our culture and promote our culture around the world with the film industry. So I am very supportive and very pleased that the government has removed the requirement for films with qualifying expenditure of between $15 million and $50 million to have at least 70 per cent of the film's total production expenditure as qualifying Australian production expenditure. I think that is a very good part of this bill, and it is extremely important that we continue to support the Australian film industry.

Schedule 2 amends division 247 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to adjust the benchmark interest rate used in the capital protected borrowings provisions to the Reserve Bank of Australia's indicator lending rate for standard variable housing loans plus 100 basis points for capital protected borrowings entered into, amended or extended after 7.30 pm Australian Eastern Standard Time on 13 May 2008—that is, the budget time. The schedule also amends division 247 of the Income Tax (Transitional Provisions) Act 1997 for transitional arrange­ments for capital protected borrow­ings entered into at or before the 2008 budget time to 30 June 2013. This allows capital protected borrowings entered into at or before the 2008 budget time to apply to the benchmark interest rate used prior to the 2008 budget time until 30 June 2013 or for the life of the product, whichever is earlier. Senator Hurley said we deal with some dry issues. There is one of the dry issues that we deal with, but it is an important issue that the government has tackled in schedule 2.

Schedule 3 amends the income tax law to extend the main residence capital gains tax exemption—the CGT exemption—to a CGT event that is a compulsory acquisition or other involuntary realisation of part of a main residence. The extended exemption will apply where part of a main residence—the part being some or all of the dwelling's adjacent land or structure—is compulsorily acquired or subject to a similar arrangement without the dwelling itself also being compulsorily acquired or subject to the similar arrangement. So this is an important amendment to ensure that there is fairness in relation to this application of income tax law.

Schedule 4 amends the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to allow super­annuation funds and retirement saving account providers—RSA providers—to deduct the cost of providing terminal medical condition benefits to members. It also amends certain sections of the ITAA 1997 to reflect the drafting convention that the term 'individual' should be used when referring to a human being. I think there is much more work to be done in relation to superannuation. Superannuation is absolutely fundamental to the ongoing economic growth of this country. The Labor government, when it introduced super­annuation, had a long-term vision to ensure that no-one should have to retire in poverty and that there should be some equality between different groups of workers, different classes of workers, in this country to have access to decent retirement benefits. I remember that when I became a union official in 1981 one of my jobs was to go out and try to get superannuation entitlements for workers around the country, because workers were not getting a fair go on superannuation. What this is about is to make sure we continue to grow the super­annuation industry, make the superannuation industry more flexible in a fair and reasonable way and make sure it is relevant to working people in this country, a rele­vance that is extremely important given the benefits that superannuation has not only to the individual worker but to the overall economy as the basis of providing funding to banks, to investors and to driving this economy.

This is a minor amendment to the operation of superannuation funds, but we should never forget that the superannuation industry is absolutely fundamental and important to working people and the broader economy. This might be a minor amendment but it is an amendment that fits in with the overall growth of the superannuation industry and is so important to making sure that people who need access to their superannuation funds can get access for properly determined issues. And what can be more important than deducting the cost of providing benefits to members with a terminal medical condition. Many workers who have worked in the power industry, as I did, and in the shipbuilding industry, as I did, have ended up with mesothelioma and with their life coming to a horrible and tragic end. We should be doing whatever we can to support those workers and their families as they deal with this great challenge of work related death.

It is important to make sure that people can get access to the best aspects of their superannuation through that period. I take the view that we must continue to monitor the operation of superannuation; we must continue to monitor the effectiveness of superannuation in the Australian economy and we must ensure that every worker gets a fair go when it comes to superannuation. That is why it is so important that when we are introducing the mining tax we ensure that we can increase superannuation for workers in this country. It is about building not just an economy but a good society, a fair society. These are the issues that arise from superannuation.

Schedule 5 amends the GST law to allow non-profit subentities to access the GST concessions available to their parent entity, including the higher registration turnover threshold for non-profit bodies. This amendment confirmed the Commissioner for Taxation's current approach in interpreting the law to allow non-profit subentities to access these concessions.

Schedule 6 amends the Taxation Adminis­tration Act 1953 to provide that it will not be mandatory for the Commissioner for Taxation to apply a payment, credit or running balance account surplus against a tax debt that is a business activity statement unless that amount is due and payable. The amendment applies on and from 1 July 2011.

Schedule 7 expands the education tax refund to include school uniform expenses incurred from 1 July 2011. This was announced by the Prime Minister on 13 July 2010 and will cover expenditure on school uniforms which are required or are otherwise approved by a school, including optional school uniforms and sports or physical education uniforms. The ETR allows eligible families to claim 50 per cent of their eligible education expenses to the maximum claimable amounts which are indexed each year. In 2009-10 the maximum claimable amounts were $780—that is, the maximum refund of $390—for each primary school child and $1,558—that is, a maximum refund of $779—for each secondary school child.

This is an important initiative of the government in ensuring that there is a good society, that there is some fairness and equity out there, and that government recognises the cost of education for families. There is no point in just talking about an education revolution or talking about building a good society if we do not actually focus on the issues that are important for families, many of whom are doing it pretty tough.

In the NSW electorate of Macquarie, in which I live, which covers the Windsor and Blue Mountains areas, we have a great range of schools. We have private schools that are very well resourced and where the families can predominantly afford to look after their kids in the way they want to look after them, but there are also areas in the Macquarie electorate where the families are doing it really, really tough. And, when families are doing it really tough, it is important that the government recognises that and does what it can to help those families. What could be more important than ensuring that children in disadvantaged areas can go to a school with decent facilities and not have to have what happened recently when I was in the Windsor area? It was two degrees in the morning and what did we have? We had an open playground area, where all the school children had to be in order to open up new school buildings for the BER. It was not covered and it was nowhere big enough. It is not a good thing for kids to be out in the open air when it is two degrees on a winter morning in Windsor. There is still much more to be done in the Building the Education Revolution program. There is still much more to be done to ensure that we can have our kids well and truly looked after in the public school system. I am a great supporter of the public school system and I would like to see more funding going into the public school system. What this does is make sure that everyone gets a fair go across both the public and private school systems.

There is a lot more to be done. This initiative will help families in the areas that I look after, in the electorate of Macquarie, that are doing it tough. Parents will look forward to getting this money to ensure their kids have access to a school uniform, even if the family is doing it tough. In these debates in here we sometimes forget that families really do it tough from time to time. We want to make sure that kids can have decent facilities in schools and that they have access to school uniforms.

When I was down at Windsor there were two school kids there with polo shirts on in a temperature of two degrees with the wind blowing off the mountains absolutely freezing. But I do not think it was because their families did not have the money to do anything about it; it was because the kids did not think the school jumper was 'cool'. So we have to make sure that when we do this the school jumpers are 'cool' and the kids actually keep themselves warm.

This part of the bill importantly ensures that we also give our kids access to sport and physical education uniforms. It is a great thing in the seat of Macquarie, where I live, to see the school students out there looking after the sporting facilities and out there proud to be representing their school in their school uniforms and sports uniforms.

I am very pleased with this bill. I think this is another demonstration that the Gillard government has got it right on a range of issues in education: Building the Education Revolution, making sure kids have access to decent technological equipment and more computers into the schools—computers that actually deliver for the generation that is computer savvy, the generation that will leave us for dead in computer skills and the generation that can do work anywhere in Australia or anywhere around the world because they are computer literate. Building the infrastructure that brings schools in this country into the 21st century is a massive benefit to the education system in this country. Everywhere I go people are saying they want more, not less, and I think the combination of amendments, especially the part on school education, in this bill is very important.