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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5240

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (10:47 AM) —The approach the Democrats are taking on this is somewhat interesting. They have just moved some amendments to abolish the life gold pass for any future senators or members, and then in their next brief they are moving amendments that will enhance the benefits for current serving senators and members. With respect, I do see some inconsistency in that. Saying, `Life gold passes are bad and therefore ought to be abolished in the future, but whilst we are at it, just in case we might qualify, we will ramp up the benefits to ourselves,' is not something that I think is conducive to capturing the support and confidence of the public in discussing these matters. Make no doubt about it: this proposal will in fact mean a greater take from the public purse. An extra cost will be occasioned to the Australian taxpayer and, while the purpose of this bill is to try to limit the cost, I know a follow-up amendment is being put forward by the opposition which would have the same effect.

Can I also draw the attention of honourable senators to a defect which I believe is contained in both Senator Murray's and Senator Faulkner's amendments. Where the amendment says `spouse in relation to a person, includes' it must be considering the possibility of other definitions or possibilities. It is not trying to cover the field; therefore, potentially under both Senator Murray's and Senator Faulkner's amendments you could have the possibility of somebody being legally married still and having a de facto spouse, and both of them benefiting from the amendments that are being put forward today. I accept as a matter of practicality that those circumstances would be limited. Given that spouse travel has to be on the basis of accompanying the spouse somewhere, it is unlikely that the married spouse plus the de facto would accompany the senator or member to a particular destination, but the way these clauses are drafted—somewhat clumsily, might I suggest respectfully—does allow for that possibility.

More seriously than that, though, I would draw honourable senators' attention to clause 31 of the bill, which deals with the appropriation. To make the amendments the Senate can at best, in my respectful view, request under section 53 of the Constitution that such a change be made. I do not believe that it is within the province of the Senate to simply move an amendment to a bill which will have monetary consequences and thereby seek to overcome section 53 of the Constitution. Merely expanding the definition of spouse would appear to lead to a greater amount being paid out under the bill when it is passed by the parliament, if it were to be passed. If that is the case, in accordance with the terms of section 53, the Senate may not make such an amendment. However, in accordance with section 53, the Senate may request that such a change to the definition of spouse be made.

It also seems that the possible change to the definition of spouse would probably be a law for the appropriation of revenue or moneys within the meaning of section 56. This would be on the basis that, irrespective of whether any proposed changes to the bill in the Senate would lead to an overall increase in the amount being paid out under the bill when it is passed by the parliament, there has been a change to the destination of the appropriation because another class of persons will share in the entitlements conferred under the bill. On the basis that section 56 was applicable, another message from the Governor-General would be required. I draw those matters to the attention of Senator Murray because we are currently discussing his amendment, but I also submit that to Senator Faulkner for his reflection if and when we come to his amendment.