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Friday, 15 November 2002
Page: 6523

Senator MURRAY (1:39 PM) —Listening to the Special Minister of State, I was reminded how you can be caught by one argument you put one day and by another argument you put another day.

Senator Abetz —You weren't even listening; you were talking.

Senator MURRAY —I was only talking for part of the listening. But I accept the interjection. Yesterday, the minister asked why on earth would you want to remove something which had been in the act for, I think, 30 years and railed against it because it was a solid and integral part of the legislation, and here he is wanting to reduce something which has been in the legislation for 10 years and is a solid and integral part of the legislation. Minister, I just remind you that an argument one day can be turned against you— or can be attempted to be turned against you.

Early discharge is already limited to low-income bankrupts. It ensures that low-income people are able to get the relief which can result from that. In saying that, I stress that we are not without sympathy for the policy position of the government wanting to reduce the incentive or to reduce the attractiveness of using bankruptcy provisions when they would otherwise have undertaken better planning to find an alternative to the position they are in. But I should make it clear that the Labor Party amendment does reduce that incentive and attractiveness without going as far as the government have. It seems to me that having an early discharge provision is still an advantageous principle to retain for ITSA and the Federal Court, as it does reduce bureaucracy and does ensure that low-income bankrupts can recover more quickly. I do not think the Labor Party amendment rejects the government proposition; it simply puts forward a different time frame.

When it comes to low-income earners, anything that prolongs the crisis can result in very severe emotional and relationship issues for the bankrupt, their family and the community. The issue of credit availability is of serious concern to the Australian Democrats. We moved a second reading amendment yesterday to hopefully get some data and ideas on the table for dealing with this, especially for the increasing number of low-income earners. I am reminded a little of the imprisonment provisions, which for ease of administration were lifted from three months to six months. Anyone who has been imprisoned for a day knows that it is a long period, and I think two years under bankruptcy provisions is quite a long period for low-income earners.

In the numerous representations that have been made to me and to our political party, I am continually given the same message about the real problem of ready availability of high interest rate credit to the working poor and the lack of low interest rate credit to the working poor for sensible, well thought out purposes. This is an unfortunate situation. It is a matter of judgment. In my opinion, the government's inclination is right, their solution is wrong, and the Labor Party proposition is to be preferred and we will support it.