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Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Page: 3371

Senator BARNETT (Tasmania) (12:40): I stand on this side of the chamber to associate my remarks with those of our shadow Attorney, Senator Brandis. I refer to the additional comments of the Liberal senators on the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, of which I am deputy chair, in the report that was tabled in the Senate yesterday afternoon. It had a range of recommendations in it, but can I say upfront that we are very strongly in support of the bill before us, the Australian Trans­action Reports and Analysis Centre Super­visory Cost Recovery Levy Bill 2011, though we believe there are areas that have been overlooked and areas for improvement.

It has been noted at Senate estimates and in other places that this country incurs an estimated cost to the community of some $15 billion a year as a result of the social and economic impact of organised crime. The type of measures in this bill will assist the government and our community in combat­ing organised crime, people smuggling and other untoward activities by untoward people and groups.

It is noted that the government indicates the supervisory levy will collect some $118.3 million over the forward estimates period, which is the four-year period 2011-15. It is also noted that there was a discussion paper and there was consultation with key stakeholders last year, and that was made available for public comment. Senator Brandis referred to some of the feedback from the community, including to our Senate committee inquiry, which had to be short, sharp and to the point. It was advertised on 25 May. We got 12 submissions, considered those and then delivered our report.

I refer specifically to the report of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee. This Senate is very well served by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee. They have made some observations which we Liberal senators picked up in our additional comments. They sought the minister's advice as follows:

… as to whether consideration has been given to including a safeguard in the legislation to provide that any overcollection will be adjusted.

They indicated that in respect to the retrospective application of the bill that the clear intention of the bill is that the levy imposed may be charged to cover a period that precedes the commencement of the relevant legislation, and they drew that to the Senate's attention. Obviously, when they do that it is very important.

That is one of the reasons one of our amendments ensures there is a proper, full and comprehensive review of how this legislation will roll out in practice. It is all very well to stand here in the Senate or in government and say, 'This is what we want to do.' We know that this will have implications for business right around Australia, not just for the large entities that will be paying the bulk of the charges that are flowing from this legislation but for the small businesses. In that regard, the advice I have received is based on government information that 199 of the large entities will be paying the bulk of the charges, their levy component. They will be paying between $14,000 and $425,000 per entity in the 2011-12 year, according to the summary of charging arrangements set out in the cost recovery impact statement by the government. It also identifies some specific information about AUSTRAC's projected recovery of the levy. It also refers to and identifies 8,500 other entities that will be subject to the base component, remembering there are some 17,000 entities across the country that relate to this legislation. This legislation specifically targets the 199 that will be paying the bulk, those whose turnover is $100 million or over. But the smaller entities, which are small businesses of five to 20 employees—the definition of a small business is one of 20 employees or fewer—will be paying $284 each. That is the base component for the first year of operations in 2011-12.

We are saying that it will have an impact, and not just on the 199 entities who will be paying the bulk. I am very thankful for the information I received through the committee secretariat. I put on the record my thanks to the committee secretary and the wonderful support of the committee. I want to acknowledge Sandra Kennedy for her good work and her assistance in pulling the Liberal senators report together in very quick time; under challenging circumstances she made it happen as swiftly as possible. For that, on behalf of the Liberal senators, I am thankful. The smaller entities, according to that advice, will pay $284 in the first year. We want to know the impact of the costs of compliance and regulation for those smaller businesses. We think that should be reviewed very carefully.

Another thing we have recommended in the report is that there be a proper education and information campaign as soon as possible, remembering that this bill is meant to commence from 1 July. When is that? I will tell you when it is: it is Friday week. We are talking a matter of days. In one week and a couple of days this bill will commence and the relevant entities will be responsible for paying the fees. The government has indicated in this legislation that any fees that are paid late will incur a late payment fee. That is why we have recommended a moratorium on any late payment fees for six months following passage of the legislation. Let us give these businesses a chance to get their heads around and understand how this system is going to work. This is new to them. Yes, there was public consultation last year, but the fact is we are here debating this legislation today, it is going to start Friday week and they are going to have to start paying these levies from that day. That is why we have made a recommendation with regard to a moratorium.

We have also made a recommendation with regard to the urgent need for an education, information and awareness campaign designed to advise affected entities of their new obligations. That should be rolled out immediately. Based on the advice I have received, it is not simply about sending a letter to the 199 major entities. If that is not correct, could the minister please prove me and the coalition wrong. The advice we have is that the smaller entities will be paying $284 a year in the first year, and that is why they need to know. And why should they pay late penalties? Why should small businesses across this country have to suffer those consequences? That is the other thing. We are the party of small business, and that is why we have made that recommendation, No. 2, which says:

Given the unknown impact that the introduction of the levy will have on small and micro businesses, Liberal senators recommend that, in that initial review, the government investigate the impact of the legislation on these businesses and in particular, its effects on the costs to them of complying with regulation and red-tape.

Surely that is fair, reasonable and understandable, and I urge the government to seriously consider that recommendation. We have also had concern expressed in the Scrutiny of Bills report. This is a highly regarded committee in this Senate and in this parliament. It has indicated there are con­cerns regarding overcharging and over­collecting by the government.

All that being said, I want to put on record my thanks for the chairmanship by Senator Trish Crossin of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee during this inquiry. As I said the other day in my valedictory speech—and I want to say it again—it has been an absolute honour and a pleasure to work on the committee, both as chair of the references committee and as deputy chair of the legislation committee. I thank all of the members of that committee, including Senator Crossin for her leadership, cooperation and professionalism in the relationship that we have had over the past few years in those roles. I also want to put on the record my thanks to the secretariat for their good work not only on this matter but on all the other matters over many years. There is professionalism across the board in the Senate committee. The secretariats are wonderful, professional people who do fantastic jobs, under a great deal of pressure with time constraints in challenging circumstances. I have the highest regard for those people and the service that they offer, not just the current members of the various committees but the past members and, no doubt, the future members.

In conclusion, I stand here supporting the coalition and the recommendations that we have made in this report. I hope they are considered positively by the government and I look forward to hearing the government's response. I stand with Senator Brandis in supporting, firstly, the bill and, secondly, the coalition amendments. I thank the Senate.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Trood ): Senator Xenophon, do you wish to be recognised in this debate?