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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1500

Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Acting Leader of the House)(4.17) —I move:

That the time allotted in connection with the Bill be as follows:

(a) For the remainder of the Committee stage, until 4.45 p.m. this day.

(b) For the remaining stages, until 5 p.m. this day.

I make the point that on this occasion the Australia Card Bill has been debated already for some seven hours with 25 speakers participating in the debate. On the previous occasion, the Bill was debated for some nine hours. When this Bill was previously before the House there was no Committee stage and no amendments were moved. On this occasion, no amendments have been moved and the Opposition has made it very clear that it opposes the Bill in toto. For that reason, there is no reason to have any Committee stage. It is a matter of record that in the debate last night the honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter) stated that the coalition remains firmly opposed to the ID card proposal and it will oppose the Bill. That is the context of the debate at present. We are very anxious that the Australian people have a chance to look at the Opposition's position on this matter. There is a mandate for this legislation. We say this is an opportunity--

Mr Porter —Sit down and give us a chance to debate it. We have important issues to raise.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I suggest that the honourable member remain quiet. He has had plenty of time to debate this matter. He was on his feet for a long while.

Mr Porter —Why are you gagging it?

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —We are not gagging it.

Mr Porter —You are gagging it. There are important issues to raise in Committee.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! The honourable member for Barker will cease interjecting.

Mr Porter —You are stopping us.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I warn the honourable member for Barker.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —On the previous occasion, the Opposition did not move one amendment. Has it suddenly found a Committee amendment which it never found before? Where does it suddenly get this rash of intelligence which it never had in the first debate? It never moved one amendment. It has been debating this matter now for seven hours and it has not foreshadowed one amendment. What a hypocritical attitude this is. The Opposition is opposed to this legislation.

Mr Hodgman —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I did move an amendment in the last debate and I have foreshadowed an amendment in this debate.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I will have to deal with the honourable member for Denison. He did not move an amendment on the last occasion and it is wrong for him to mislead the House now. The point at issue in this debate is the fact that a number of people have been able to get away with fraud and deception and take from the public some $400m, $500m or $800m by way of fraudulent action. That is what this Bill is aimed at. The Opposition here is prepared to allow that to go on. It says that it just wants to oppose the Bill but it has put no other proposition forward.

The Government, as I said, has a mandate from the Australian people to introduce this legislation. It is aimed at crooks and fraudulent practices. Many of us, particularly those interested in my portfolio, spend a lot of time looking at the gaol sentences which have been given to people who have robbed this community of thousands of dollars. The cost of that ought to be added to the cost of fraud that has already taken place. All we are saying in this legislation is that people ought to be honest, ought to be able to identify what they want from a govenment in terms of a social security benefit, should not use an alias and, when they receive a benefit from this nation, should not engage in tax evasion or fraud. We make it very clear that all we are trying to do here is guarantee that the revenue will not be defrauded so that innocent taxpayers have to make up the leeway. It is a very simple issue. At least 70 per cent of the Australian people agree with us.

For some extraordinary reason the Opposition is running scared of having this matter debated again in the Senate. Maybe there are some people in the Senate now prepared to agree with the Government's proposition. We want to test the situation. We are very anxious that the legislation get to the Senate without any further delay. The Opposition here has made it very clear that it wants no part of the Bill. It does not want any sense of amendment, so there is no real reason for a Committee stage. We make it very clear that in the Senate we expect to have opposition, but we are a little interested in the attitude of the Queensland Nationals and how they see the situation. Will they agree with one of the more sensible views in the community that the Senate, being a responsible House of review, ought to look at the intent of legislation from the point of view of its benefit to the nation? Despite the fact that the Opposition here is so fragmented, scared of everything and bereft of leadership, in the Senate Liberal and, indeed, National Party senators may well vote for this legislation.

We regard this legislation as being the most effective single weapon to combat tax evasion and welfare fraud. It is for that reason that the Government reluctantly has to move this guillotine. When we add up how many people have participated in the two debates that have taken place on this legislation, we find that 58 speakers have taken part-and not one proposition has come from the Opposition to amend the legislation. It is for that reason that the Government is obliged to move the guillotine. It will mean that the Bill will pass all stages today and will be in the Senate tomorrow. We would expect the Senate to be able to finalise its debate next week.