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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 10081

Mr RUDDOCK (BerowraChief Government Whip) (11:32): I rise to speak on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australia Fund Bill 2014 proposed joint committee on the Australia Fund. It is a bill, interestingly, to establish a joint committee and it is to look at this question as to whether an Australia Fund would be useful. I think the origins of it are well known: the member for Fairfax, as leader of the Palmer United Party, asked us to look at the concept of this. The terms of reference are quite wide, but I think one can understand why a motion of this type is being moved: from time to time Queensland in particular has been affected by drought and floods, which we are all very familiar with, and the manner in which we deal with these issues has always required government assistance in one form or another to deal with the very significant disadvantage that people are sometimes afflicted with as a result of national emergencies of that type.

The question is: how should you look after people's needs? How might you respond to them? It is being suggested that we should have a committee to inquire into the need for a rural and manufacturing industries fund to deal with crises and natural disasters and to look at matters relating to emergency or ongoing financial relief. It would look at loans—whether guarantors might be necessary to purchase all or part of an existing loan, whether to waive interest or to capitalise it, whether to assume control of a business for a particular period, whether to grant funds to an appropriate industry body and whether to grant funds to a business for the purposes of purchasing new technology to make it more economically viable—and also look at bankruptcy and insolvency laws and how they might impact.

Let me make it very clear. This is an inquiry to look into issues that we all regard as important and that governments have over a long period of time responded to. It is really a question of whether there are better ways of undertaking that task.

Committees provide an opportunity for organisations and individuals to put views to us and to have those matters dealt with on the public record. Parliament's committee system has significantly strengthened our parliamentary arrangements here in Australia for dealing with these sorts of issues. The make-up of this particular committee will include a balance of government and non-government members and senators, and obviously any position that might be adopted would require cross-party support. Having a committee with broad representation is likely to ensure that we get a thorough investigation, particularly as to whether there is a need for a fund. Such a committee would be able to undertake inquiries around Australia, not just in Queensland but where natural disasters occur frequently. And, of course, we will treat with respect the committee's views, just as we do with all other committees.

In the end, the response will be a matter for government. Nobody knows where an inquiry of this sort might lead, but I am sure all of those who sit on the committee will bring their conscientious efforts to produce an outcome that is worthy of consideration. I would simply note that, in terms of some of the media commentary around industry subsidies and handouts, the government has expressed some views and the Treasurer had something to say. I think it is useful to quote because it may help to inform the committee and the way in which they look at this issue. He says the government believes that 'industry, being in the business of relying on its own enterprise, should not become reliant on taxpayer support, because ultimately industry assistance is revenue from another person'. I think the Treasurer was making it clear that the government does not necessarily support the creation of a new government owned industry assistance bank. The members who are giving consideration to this matter ought to have, I think, some regard to those thoughts.

The issues raised in the terms of reference are challenging, and I am sure there will be a wide range of submissions put. I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that we cannot predetermine the outcome of an inquiry of any committee, but the government will await the recommendations of the report and will obviously give proper consideration to the matters that the committee raises.