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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Page: 4424

Mr DEBUS (Minister for Home Affairs) (12:27 PM) —I thank members for their contribution to the debate, noticing that many of them seem to have neglected to notice that it was necessary for the new Australian government to curtail government expenditure in the face of the extraordinary growth in expenditures for which those opposite had been responsible in the immediately preceding years. The purpose of this Passenger Movement Charge Amendment Bill 2008 is to amend the Passenger Movement Charge Act 1978 to increase the rate of passenger movement charge by $9 to $47 with effect from 1 July this year, and I mention that it is this year because there seemed to be some confusion about that circumstance during the debate. The increase was indeed announced by the Treasurer in the recent budget and it will partially—and I emphasise ‘partially’—fund the national security aviation initiatives that are presently being funded by the Australian government.

Since 2001 the Australian government has spent approximately $1.2 billion implementing the necessary aviation security measures. The passenger movement charge, which is imposed on the departure of a person from Australia, is collected by airlines and shipping companies at the time of ticket sales and then remitted to the Commonwealth. National security aviation initiatives implemented since 2001-02 are expected to cost $2,249 million up until 2011-12. Presently those costs are not recovered as part of the passenger movement charge. The passenger movement charge was last increased in 2001-02 by $8 to offset at that time the increased cost of inspecting passengers and mail and cargo in our international airports.

It is entirely well known that since 2001 government has implemented a significant number of aviation security measures. I have a brief list of them here. There have been a range of measures in relation to enhanced aviation security, including the upgrading of security at airports, implementation of the air security officer program, application of security regulation regimes in all airports, promoting industry awareness and compliance, trained officers on domestic and international flights, improved data access for border control agencies, expanding the detector dog program, improving the security and crime information exchange arrangements for aviation, funding counterterrorism first response teams, community policing at airports, enhanced CCTV monitoring, funding trial X-ray inspection technology, the deployment of explosive trace detection equipment, increased funding for air cargo security, the purchase of mobile X-ray screening vans—and there is much more. As I said, by 2011-12 this will cost government $2.49 billion and it is reasonable and indeed it is economically efficient to suggest that some of those costs should be offset by those who are actually using our aviation facilities. I point out, as it seems to be a matter neglected by those on the other side, that border protection and security measures at airports are absolutely crucial for the safety and security of tourists and therefore for our reputation as a safe destination. It is totally necessary that we should have implemented the security measures that I have described and others, and it is reasonable that those costs should, to some degree—and that is all we are speaking of: some degree—be offset by the passenger movement charge.

I should also make the point that, in the light of all available information, the $9 increase recommended by the Department of Finance and Deregulation (Quorum formed) has been accepted by the government as being broadly consistent with the amount that the passenger management charge would have grown had it been indexed. That is to say, we are not engaged here in what the member for Sturt described as overrecovery of costs; this is a direct reflection of the Department of Finance and Deregulation’s calculation of what the increase would have been if the charge had been indexed over the period since it was last increased by the last government.

There has also been the suggestion in connection with the foreshadowed amendment that somehow or other the Customs department is being subjected to unreasonable cost cutting while at the same time we are seeing this increase in the passenger movement charge. In fact, the Customs budget is around $1 billion this year and, like all agencies within this fiscally responsible government, it has been asked to achieve some efficiency savings. Those savings are nothing like the $51 million that the honourable member for Sturt has mentioned. In any event, and importantly, the efficiency dividend that will apply to Customs has been significantly offset by the injection, following an election promise by the government, of $16 million to provide for increased capacity of Customs to inspect cargoes at four important regional ports: Darwin, Newcastle, Launceston and Townsville.

I am completely confident that the efficiency savings required of Customs—as they have been required across government by an entirely fiscally responsible budget—will in no way undermine the capacity of Customs to work effectively to protect our border and to be as efficient as ever where it matters at the ports and the airports of our nation, protecting us effectively as they do on so many fronts from illegal activity.

I foreshadow that the government will not support the amendment moved by the opposition. We do not accept for a moment that the passenger movement charge is an unfair tax. It merely represents an appropriate indexation of an already existing tax. That in turn is to offset in part the absolutely necessary payments that are being made to improve aviation security, the cost of which is inevitably increasing.

As to the suggestion that the bill should be referred to a joint standing committee, I point out that by no stretch of the imagination can this bill be said to have any relationship whatsoever to a question of noise abatement. I think it is pretty plain that what the opposition is really about in this circumstance is seeking some way to delay an entirely proper tax bill associated with the budget and to do so for no good reason at all. I commend the bill.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Pyne’s amendment) stand part of the question.