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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5243

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (11:01 AM) —As indicated earlier, the government opposes this request on the basis that it will, if passed and implemented, in fact increase the take from the public purse. It will be interesting to see what the approach of the Australian Democrats is on this request, given that they are so opposed to the life gold pass and are moving amendments seeking its abolition. I would be astounded if they were to support any amendment or request that would then enhance the life gold pass for those who are currently in the Senate or the House of Representatives. With great respect to the Australian Democrats, if they were to take such a course there would be a gross inconsistency in their approach.

I also remind honourable senators of the definitional problem where the wording refers to `includes another person'. In other words, it is not exclusive; it is inclusive. Therefore the scenario that I put before is a real live issue: it is legally possible for a person to have a married spouse and also a de facto spouse. Under this definition, if the Labor Party and the Democrats were to vote for this request, they would be saying it is appropriate for members and senators who qualify for the life gold pass to be allowed to trip around Australia not only with their married spouse but also with their de facto spouse. I think even the few hairs on Senator Murray's head and my head might curl at such a prospect.

I indicate to the committee, as I said before, that I accept that the likelihood of that occurrence is very limited. If it were a male member or senator, he would be a lot braver man than I would dare to be—I would be more than happy to travel with my wife, of course. It seems to me that that is a possibility under the request and needs to be dealt with. I do not think it would make for a good public image for senators and members if we passed amendments knowing that that was a real possibility. That would be the outcome if this request were acceded to, and I doubt that the government would accede to the request. I do not think it is a good proposition for us to put to our fellow Australians, at a time when this bill is all about limiting life gold pass entitlements, a request seeking to increase the entitlements. The government will be opposing the request.