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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31712


Mr ROSS CAMERON (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (6:04 PM) —I move:

That the amendments made by the Senate in place of the amendments disagreed to by the House be agreed to.

The government has taken prompt action to correct an unintended consequence of an amendment to the Superannuation Budget Measures Bill 2004 debated in the Senate last night and moved by Independent Senator Shayne Murphy. The amendment intended to reduce the superannuation surcharge to 10 per cent in 2006-07, as opposed to the government's proposal to reduce the surcharge to 7.5 per cent in 2006-07. An error in the drafting of the amendment unintentionally removed the superannuation surcharge completely after 2006-07.

The government has not sought to take advantage of this error and has put in place steps to allow Senator Murphy to correct his amendment. I note that a political opportunity has been taken by Senator Sherry and Mr Crean this afternoon in relation to this issue. They have been accusing the Treasurer, who had no involvement in the Senate last night, of being responsible for the error. What an extraordinary claim. Senator Nick Sherry's baseless criticisms are a bit rich, considering that he was not present during the debate on the most significant incentives for Australians to contribute to superannuation since the superannuation guarantee was introduced. These incentives will have the effect of injecting approximately $2.1 billion into the superannuation funds of ordinary Australian workers who are doing the right thing and making voluntary contributions in order to save for their retirement. Labor voted against allowing six million low- and middle-income earners in Australia to access the government's co-contribution.

Senator Sherry made three spectacular goofs this week. In the debate on the choice bill he moved amendments that would have abolished superannuation entitlements for employees working in small business. Another amendment sought to cap fees and charges in a tax bill, a proposal that was unconstitutional. Those goofs were closely followed by a third, when he moved an amendment to change the start date for a measure relating to earnings bases and ordinary times earnings. Senator Sherry's first attempt at an amendment to achieve this would have had no effect on the application date.

Senator Murphy's error was picked up by Senator Coonan's office and contact was made first thing this morning with opposition senators. I note that the error was not picked up by anyone else. It seems that Labor was asleep at the wheel. It was the member for Hotham's office that subsequently called Senator Coonan's office this morning—after the senator's office had alerted people to the error—to offer whatever assistance might be needed to remedy the problem with the Senate amendment.

As I said earlier, the government, with its characteristic good grace, has sought not to take advantage of this error. The Howard government is a responsible government. In fact, the Howard government thought long and hard about whether to give Senator Murphy the opportunity to put his amendments again. Fiscally, the government can afford the sorts of outcomes that Senator Murphy's flawed amendments would have created. The government, of course, has a long track record of reducing taxes on the Australian people, and this measure would have continued its work in that vein. The government, however, identified the issue and recognised a failure of intention in the Senate. This is more than Labor did. We have taken the appropriate steps to allow Senator Murphy to correct his amendment, and the government will support his new amendment.