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Monday, 11 August 2003
Page: 13053

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (7:57 PM) —I want to respond quickly to some of the points that have been made. Firstly, in relation to the point about consultation that Senator Harradine has made, I think his remarks in relation to the powers of the states are entirely germane to this. I would share with him the philosophy that it is far preferable in a federal system to have decisions made as close to the people as possible and that things should only be brought under the power of the Commonwealth where you can prove that there is benefit to the whole nation and that all people have equal access. A recent example of how that has worked well—and I have to say that I was a sceptic when it was first put through this parliament—was the creation of the then Australian Securities Commission, bringing powers previously exercised by the states in relation to regulating companies under a single national regulatory regime. That has worked particularly well. That was a measure that was supported by the Liberal Party, although I was a less than enthusiastic supporter of it as a new senator in 1990. It was supported by the then shadow spokesman on those matters, a younger Peter Costello.

Senator Jacinta Collins —Did you say you are younger than Peter Costello?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —No, he was a younger Peter Costello. He is still the same guy. He is still young—he was just younger then. That was one of the important reform measures of the then Hawke government and it was a measure that centralised control and regulation over securities regulation, a regime that had previously been run by six state regulatory corporate affairs offices as well as the National Companies and Securities Commission. The parliament in its wisdom deemed that it would be better to have a single system responsible to the Commonwealth parliament, because we had a lot of businesses that operated across the borders of the states and had to potentially comply with half-a-dozen or more different regimes and quite often had to get registered in a number of different states.

That measure that saw power transfer from the states to the Commonwealth was in fact one such transfer that took place in a successful way. You virtually never hear a complaint from a business in a state that they do not get good access to ASIC or that they do not get decisions made by ASIC close to the ground. You have in your own state, Senator Harradine, an office in Hobart serving the business community. You probably have an office in Launceston as well—I will have to check on that. I have not had any complaints out of Tasmania about ASIC not serving the people of Tasmania—nor have I in Perth, where the business community were very concerned, as I am sure the Tasmanians were at the time, about transferring that power from the corporate affairs offices to a new national regulator. That transfer served Australia well. It is a very similar concern that you raise here, and it is entirely appropriate for you to raise it in this debate, but it is one that is misplaced, because of the overwhelming benefit of having a single regime instead of half-a-dozen different systems.

Senator Harradine also raised issues about our consultation. We have in fact consulted with the states. We have had these proposals on the table now for three years. They have been raised at workplace relations ministers' council meetings as recently as 28 March. It is fair to say that the states and territories made their view of the bill known very clearly in the communique from that meeting—they were absolutely overwhelmingly opposed to this bill. But, having said that, we did go through the process of trying to get a common position and, as it is—I think it is fair to say on political lines—the state and territory ministers, who all wear the red, white and blue of the Australian Labor Party, oppose the bill and the federal minister, who wears the blue and white of the Liberal Party, supports the bill. We just have to face that political fact. The reality is that the Commonwealth has the power under the Constitution to pass laws for corporations and it is seeking to do that.

Senator Harradine is raising it from his perspective, but the Labor Party senators are saying we need to find this cosy consensus and have due process and allow discussion. It was, in fact, not that many years ago that the former Keating government sought to impose a uniform national system of laws regulating the termination of employment which relied on the external affairs power over the objections of the then states. I am sure Senator Harradine would have raised similar objections then; I cannot remember them, but I am pretty sure he would have. But clearly Labor Party senators would have been totally silent about the use of the external affairs power to achieve an almost identical policy by the previous Keating government.

There was one other important question in terms of process in the Senate; that is, that we had this listed at No. 3 or 4 on the Notice Paper but, to assist a request by the Labor Party to delay a couple of other bills, we have brought this one up on the Notice Paper quicker than even I anticipated.

Senator Jacinta Collins —Lunchtime today.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Exactly, but it brought it up the Notice Paper, because we acceded to the Labor Party's request to delay one or two other bills.

Senator Jacinta Collins —By one hour.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —No, there are measures on the Notice Paper that could have taken a day or so to debate, and they have been delayed so you can discuss them at your caucus tomorrow. This bill has been on the Notice Paper for quite a while. Having said that about the process, Senator Murray's amendments have been considered by the government, and we are not attracted to them. Our position is that we will not be voting for them.