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Wednesday, 21 April 1999
Page: 4062

Senator MARGETTS (5:58 PM) —I guess what we have seen today is a certain amount of theatre. In the House of Representatives the opposition has put a number of substantive amendments to the tax package. I understand that they included a number of amendments in relation to transparency in pricing, on which our office have been talking about Labor advisers. That means whether or not people, when they are looking at the package or at the changes that have occurred as this policy changes, will be able to find out just what is the actual increase in the goods and services that they are purchasing.

We are left in a position now where we still have not seen any amendments in relation to such things as transparency in pricing. I do not know, and I have not heard in anything Senator Faulkner has said, whether or not we will see from the Labor Party anything akin to the amendments that Labor moved in the House of Representatives. This means that there is some confusion. I guess we may ourselves have to draft amendments which we thought or assumed may have been moved by the ALP.

The fact that this extra week was negotiated to give extra time for the ANTS package of bills to get through does not mean to say we will not get time to debate other bills. But the reality is we still have not seen from the government the total program they want to get through before the end of June. We have not seen from the opposition any interest in having a meeting to discuss the matter so that we know what the total program is that the government want to get through before the end of June.

The reality is that if we go on with other bills we are still progressing the government's program—we have not lost time in the Senate if we go on with other bills. It is a nonsense for either side to suggest that if we go on with other bills that somehow or other we are not making progress in the program. We would like to see what the program is. What is it that the government want to get through by the end of June? It would be nice to understand what it is, the time allocated and how important the government see various bills, including the tax package.

The reality is that this is a very complex package of bills, but unfortunately we have seen great emphasis on only the economic aspects of these bills. I call it the 40-minute club—the members of the Senate select committee who consider that the issues of the dollar economics are the real issues. Unfortunately that comes both from the opposition and the government—we have heard today that the opposition wanted the Senate select committee to look at only those aspects of the tax package. The Greens and many people in the community have said that the social issues—the issues of education, community groups and the arts, and the incredibly negative impact on the environment this tax package will force on Australia—ought to be given at least equal consideration with the things that are visible in terms of dollars.

Unfortunately, the approach that has been taken here, with the opposition saying they are not going to participate in widening that debate, is going to potentially let the government off the hook on the wider social, economic and environmental issues and the issues to do with community. I am not entirely sure what the opposition's agenda is that they want to deal with it now, when their amendments—if there are any—on transparency and other issues have not been circulated. Are they never going to move the same amendments they moved in the House of Representatives?

We have heard that there are 128 amendments from the government. I do think it reasonable that we get a chance to look at those. For proper committee process we ought to make sure that those people who are playing important roles in this debate have a chance to deal with this properly. Forcing a debate on any Senate when there are still uncirculated amendments—incomplete amendments for very good reasons—is stupidity. I have always said that it does not progress the debate at all.

What we have seen here is theatre. We will not lose total time in this session if we go on with other bills. We will, however, still be left in the dark about what the government want to get through in this program. I suggest it would be in everybody's interest if at some stage in the next few days we have an agreement from all parties to have some kind of leaders' and whips' meeting so the govern ment can put on the table what it is they want to get through by the end of June—so that we do not continually have these farces and theatre in the Senate. If we know what we are being asked to deal with we can make consideration of the debating program and, when we do get to deal with the important committee stage, we can do it in a state of proper preparation.