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Wednesday, 8 August 2001
Page: 29423

Dr LAWRENCE (1:35 PM) —These amendments, as I indicated in my speech during the second reading debate today, were provided to the parliament very late yesterday evening. I understand the exigencies of government but in an area as complex as this I think that is entirely unsatisfactory, not least because it does not enable the opposition—or anyone else, for that matter—to comprehensively examine the impact of these changes. It may be that they are entirely benign, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, who is at the table, has suggested. But there may be unlooked for effects that have not been calculated by the government or its department. It would not be the first time that that had happened.

Mr Entsch —Trust me.

Dr LAWRENCE —I am not suggesting any conspiracy on the part of the parliamentary secretary at the table. Rather, I note that this is a very unsatisfactory way of proceeding. I also indicated when I spoke this morning that it was surprising because when we contacted the responsible minister's office last evening we were informed that his office itself was not aware of these amendments. That gives me even more cause for concern. The amendments seem to have come via the office of another minister—in this case the Assistant Treasurer—without reference to the responsible minister.

As I also indicated this morning, this gives rise to a serious concern about the effectiveness of DISR in ensuring that research and development is conducted in Australia in a way that is beneficial to industry and not simply compliant at a technical level with certain expectations that the tax office may have. Although I will not be in any way voting against or undoing these amendments, for that reason and because of the complexity of the bill we are very keen to ensure that it gets an examination in the Senate—and that will include these amendments. We will be encouraging the various people who have contacted us, including people from accountancy firms and from industry, to make presentations to that committee, should the Senate agree to it, to ensure that unlooked for consequences that may well flow from tax changes as complex as this are not overlooked and are well understood by the government. Equally, if there are further amendments that could be made to improve this bill, particularly its complexity, then I would be very keen for that to be achieved. As I also said this morning, this is a very important matter for this country. These amendments and the bill itself may look benign enough at one level, but we are already picking up some pretty serious consequences for players in the field whom we would want to encourage to undertake R&D. It is fairly clear that some of them will be excluded by these provisions. Those exclusions do not seem to have been taken into account in the development of this bill.

The government says it intends to increase R&D in Australia. Our very real concern is that that will not be the result of these actions. That is really pretty much what I wanted to say, but I have to say that I am conscious of the fact that our next speaker for the second reading of the bill has not yet returned to the chamber. He is watching on the monitor perhaps, but he is not in here. I will conclude my remarks by simply saying that we look forward to the Senate examining these and other changes enacted by the bill and the amendments, because we are very keen to ensure that the provisions do support and assist rather than hamper industry R&D.

Amendments agreed to.

Bill, as amended, agreed to.