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Thursday, 12 December 2013
Page: 1629


Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (13:07): I had hoped to simply talk about the government's findings during the inquiries that we had on these bills, but I think there are perhaps a few misconceptions that I should first counter. Out of the 13 schedules for this bill, 10 were referred to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee. The other three, which were around education and legal matters, were referred to other committees which had the expertise to deal with those particular issues. I do not see what is so terrible, as Senator Siewert would have us believe, in referring matters to the committees that have the expertise to deal with them.

If you look at the complaints made by both the Greens and Labor about the time spent on these inquiries, you find that the schedules split into two types of matters. Some of them are matters that were proposed by the former Labor government. In their dying days, they discovered economy and found some ways to look for savings. But for their problems with who the Prime Minister was on a day-to-day basis, many of these provisions would already be passed into law. The previous government were unable to get a legislative table, schedule or program happening in a coherent way because they were so poorly organised at the time. That means that a significant number of these matters are coming to us now.

The other matters all fall into the category of election promises made by this government. So it is scarcely true to say that no-one had heard about these ideas until a few days ago. Every matter here was canvassed by the now government during the election campaign, and I look at things like the move to take the impost off employers of having to pay parental leave to employees who are on leave. Despite the best efforts of the Labor government to force that onto employers, there is no coherent reason why that should be the case.

Looking through the amendments, which we were told by the Greens were not urgent, is interesting. If you look at the 13 schedules of the bill, three of them are due to start on 1 January 2014. One of them is due to start the minute schedule 5 starts on 1 January 2014. So four of them are due to start on 1 January 2014. If they are interested in orderly government, I would have thought we would require a certain amount of timeliness in the passing of legislation by this house. Three of the measures are due to start on 1 March 2014. Again, it would seem quite sensible for those measures, all of which have been discussed in some depth in various forums within the parliament, to be passed as soon as possible. There is no reason why any of these bills cannot be put through today.

We certainly hear the objections of people such as Senator Xenophon, who has been a great champion in the area of gambling reform, but we would make the point that there is nothing in the schedule that we have developed that (a) was not something we took to the last election or (b) raises a need for concern. We are simply giving the states and territories the jobs that the states and territories should always have. Labor governments may try to develop a centralised nanny state, but that is no reason why we should follow them.

I want to speak briefly so that we have a chance to get to a vote, hopefully, on this legislation, but I will just single out, for example, the opposition of both the Greens and the Labor Party to the development and imposition of an interest charge on students who owe money to Centrelink for loans. These are not people who just automatically owe the money. This is an interest charge for people who refuse to enter into a repayment scheme with Centrelink. If you look at the quantum of this, according to Department of Social Services officials during the inquiry that we held, there would be $72 million covered by this particular measure. There are 33,000 debts owed by 22,000 people. So some of these people are in fact repeat offenders in this area.

We were advised by the department that all students are told about the status of the loans they have and what to do about the repayment of them once they are in work and leave whatever studies they were undertaking. So there is no reason for students not to know that they owe taxpayer money back to the government. We are talking about people who are asked to start paying this back when they have a job. If they agree to enter into a repayment scheme with Centrelink, they are not charged interest. The interest charge only applies when people refuse to engage in paying back money that we loaned them so that they could do their studies and get a job. It is not unreasonable to expect that people will pay that money back. But, of course we have the Greens position and the Labor position whereby they want to offer all the carrots and never, ever suggest that there would be a stick because—goodness!—that might lead to some savings. And the Treasury has suggested that we would save over $33½ million over three years just by introducing that one measure.

There are many small measures covered in this bill that would lead to significant savings immediately for the government. Some of them were even savings that the Labor Party, in its dying days as a government, discovered would lead to savings and were going to introduce themselves if they had got their act together. That did not happen. But there is no way that anyone can claim that any of the measures in this bill have not been well rehearsed and well discussed. There were over six hours of hearings held into any aspect of this bill that the Greens and the opposition wanted to look at, and given, as everybody has said, that almost every area in this bill has been dealt with significantly in previous inquiries, hearings and consultations there is absolutely no reason why this bill should not be passed today.