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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7937

Senator MARK BISHOP (5:02 PM) —I rise to make a few comments about the message from the House on the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Australians Working Together and other 2001 Budget Measures) Bill 2002 and about the Australian Democrat amendment proposed by Senator Cherry. The Senate has received a message from the House requesting that the bill be considered as a whole. We have come to this point because the government did not wish to support its own measures in the House. This in itself was extraordinary. The government had an opportunity to pass the parts of the bill on which there was no disagreement in order to expedite these measures but it baulked. The government got itself into a position of having a split bill, because it did not wish to discuss any amendments whatsoever. This was not an acceptable way to deal with the bill and now, if anything, the split bill has focused the government on the issues of disagreement and has sparked a real debate. This is a positive development and, ultimately, the reason why Labor will agree to consider the bill as a whole today.

Shortly, Labor will move two broad groups of amendments in the committee. Labor's first group of amendments go to the provisions in the bill. These amendments put in place safeguards for the two new groups who will be subject to new participation arrangements. For certain parenting payment recipients and the mature age unemployed, the amendments will provide for more appropriate exemptions, more tailored activity agreements, clear expectations of requirements and assistance and better steps before breaches may be applied. Other amendments improve the administrative processes in Centrelink in relation to these groups and to other job seekers, with requirements for reasonable periods of notice, more thorough steps before breaching and more thorough formulation of activity agreements. These agreements are comprehensive and carefully drafted. We hope the government and minor parties will agree to these changes in due course.

This brings us to the second broad group of amendments, which propose substantive changes to the breaching regime as recommended by the Pearce report. At the end of the day, this second package of amendments is where the battle with this bill will be. The government has indicated that it will not support these changes, but Labor is determined to put forward these amendments and debate them through. They are badly needed, and Labor is determined to pursue them to the fullest extent. If that means the bill has to return to the lower house on a number of occasions before some agreement is reached, then so be it. Let us hope that we can have a rational, mature and fair outcome for those people whom this bill and these amendments will affect. Senator Cherry's amendment seeks to add to the motion:

“but the Senate reasserts the principle that the division of any bill by the Senate is a form of amendment of a bill, not different in principle from any other form of amendment, and should be considered as such”.

After the bill was split some two or three weeks ago, the opposition received some advice from the Clerk of the Senate, Mr Evans; I think it was the same advice that Senator Cherry referred to, or similar. That advice made it quite clear that the splitting of a bill in the Senate is not without precedent, that it is indeed to be regarded as an amendment to the bill. To the extent that this amendment replicates the advice received from the Clerk and circulated to the Labor Party, we do not have any problem with it and we will not oppose it.

Question agreed to.

Original question, as amended, agreed to.