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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8127

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) (6:16 AM) —I think I should respond briefly and try to make this crystal clear. I have heard some of the debate and it does appear as though some speakers believe that they can just pursue this line and they will be successful in getting changes to the broader breaching arrangements. They have not understood the consequence of pursuing things outside the client group that we are talking about. I have tried to make that crystal clear. I do not know whether the early hour of the morning has made it unclear to people what you are in fact doing. You may come back in February and say that you have had a rethink but what you are doing, if not actually postponing, is casting away forever a working credit and the other changes. I hope you understand that. Anyone who looks at the Hansard record will not be able to say that it was not made clear to you.

I hope you understand that we have before us a bill that is very positive for welfare recipients. You are, in effect, saying that you are going to refuse to pass it in order to have some other changes in another area, a related area. You will refuse to pass a bill that will spend hundreds of millions of dollars on welfare recipients—investing in them, giving them greater opportunities and more incentive—and you will again refuse to pass that bill because you would like some other matters dealt with. That is the position you are taking.

Without seeking to inflame the debate, Senator Cherry, let me say to you as nicely as possible, that pomposity does not actually suit you—it does suit some people, but it does not wear well on you; you are not known for it. To simply assert that your view is the right view and not give any credence to people simply having a different view about achieving the same goal, I personally find terribly unattractive and unbecoming for someone of your reputation. And there is your assertion that the government's desire to continue with the breaching regime as it is is a revenue raising procedure.

Senator Cherry —That is what you said!

Senator VANSTONE —I notice that Senator Cherry interjects and says, `That is what you said.' Again, I invite anyone who bothers to read the Hansard to go and look at it. I said that we could not afford to make the change. Quite the opposite from breaching being a revenue raising exercise, it is a compliance activity, and when you go soft on compliance it does cost you more. We are not talking about wanting to raise more money; we are talking about the cost of going softer. That is what I said—that we could not afford these changes. I stand by that—we cannot. That is not to say that breaching is some revenue raising exercise.

Senator Cherry, it might have done your reputation a bit more good if, when you referred to the Ombudsman's report and other reports, you had indicated that you were referring to a time period now long past and that significant changes have been made since then. But it is not my job to assist you in that; my job is simply to make it very clear to you what is going to happen if you proceed. You are looking at a bill whereby a government in a tight budgetary situation is wanting to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on people on welfare. We want to spend hundreds of millions, and all we are saying to you is that we do not have a few more hundred million to spend. You can put it at risk if you wish—that will be your choice—but the Hansard record will make it very clear that we are happy to pass this bill tonight, spend the money, introduce the working credit in April and proceed with the other changes; but that will not happen if you insist on these other changes.

We have already agreed to changes recommended by the Labor Party. I note, Senator Cherry, that you said you were willing to discuss that. That has not been my experience with you. Discussion with you is usually a case of: `We want this, and if you won't give it to us it is not worth talking.' It is quite the opposite with the Labor Party. Even though I fundamentally disagree with the proposition that they are putting, they have at least been prepared to listen and accept variations and we are grateful for that. That, at least, has been welcome—albeit that it appears that the bill is going nowhere anyway. Senator Cherry, I make it abundantly clear to you what you are doing.

The CHAIRMAN —Senator Bishop has asked for the question to be divided and he has listed the amendments in two groups. In checking through the amendments listed, we cannot place amendments (47), (49), (50) and (54) into either of those groups. We have flagged this with Senator Bishop, and I hope we will be able to sort it out.