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Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Page: 4750

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia) (18:37): I draw the attention of the chamber to the fact that the government's track record in relation to this whole issue and the implications of the Pape decision by the High Court do not instil a lot of confidence in the way the government handles these matters. The government told us for months that it was very confident about the legal sustainability of its Malaysia people-swap deal and then the High Court threw it out. The Pape decision was some years ago now. Senator Wong is the minister who was at the table during the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee's estimates hearings. I asked questions of the Minister for Finance and Deregulation and the Secretary of the Department of Finance and Deregulation about the checks and balances that are in place to make sure that, when the Commonwealth goes into new areas of expenditure, there are appropriate heads of power—so that the new areas of expenditure are consistent with the Commonwealth's constitutional powers to expend taxpayers' money.

This Labor government has done nothing since the Pape decision to make sure it has its house in order. Now we have this legislation before us. We understand the need to facilitate speedy passage and we are doing that. But we have before us legislation which, quite frankly, some very eminent constitutional lawyers, including Professor Anne Twomey, have expressed serious concerns about. We are offering an opportunity here to say, 'Okay, let us have the quick fix, but let us have the opportunity to revisit this in a more considered fashion.' The sunset clause amendment moved by our colleague the shadow Attorney-General, himself a very eminent and senior lawyer in Australia—a Senior Counsel, as Senator Macdonald has observed—has provided an opportunity to resolve this.

I thought it important to place on record that the performance of the finance minister, in particular, and the finance department in dealing with these issues since the Pape decision has not given us a lot of confidence that the government is properly dealing with these matters. There are of course serious issues with this bill as well.

The CHAIRMAN: The question is that opposition amendment (1) on sheet 7252 be agreed to.