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Thursday, 17 October 1985
Page: 1381

Senator MESSNER(11.31) —I move:

(1) Clause 1, leave out `Loans', insert `Loan'.

Several amendments have been proposed and circulated in my name. The amendments set out the various changes to detail which are required to be made to each part of the Bill in order to return it to the situation which we outlined at the second reading stage; that is, to return it to the status of being an annual Bill. The reason I will be moving each amendment separately is that we have an arrangement with the Australian Democrats that we will move amendments Nos (1) to (8), excluding No. (2), which is the same as the Democrats amendment which they will be moving on behalf of themselves and the Opposition. We plan to divide on that amendment.

Our first amendment merely changes the word `Loans' to the word `Loan'. This might seem a somewhat pedantic move but the point is that all previous Bills that have authorised loans to be raised by the Government in this fashion have been described as the Loan Bill for the particular year for which the moneys are to be raised. The Bill which has been brought forward by the Government is described as a Loans Bill and it gives the Government general authority to raise money by way of borrowings in perpetuity. That is the fulcrum of our objection to this piece of legislation. It is why the Opposition will move the amendments in conjunction with the Australian Democrats to ensure that we return to the annual basis of authorisation.

Firstly, I wish to deal with one or two points raised by the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) which have some relevance to the Committee stage. The Minister made the point-he is quite entitled to use discussion in other places to justify his case-that the Opposition in the House of Representatives said that this measure was somehow an improvement of efficiency of parliament. I make the simple point that it is for parliament to judge what will be efficient for its own uses. It is not a question of the Government telling us what the situation ought to be. Parliament comprises both the House of Representatives and the Senate. It is for those two chambers to decide what way things will be handled in an expeditious or an efficient manner.

The thing that has been clouded throughout the Minister's contribution to the debate at the second reading stage is just what is his justification for doing this other than that case he put down about the efficiency of parliament. What is efficient or otherwise for parliament is not usually a government's concern. Governments are usually concerned about what is efficient for government. It is for the Parliament to decide what its role is in this particular matter. The Senate is seeking, by virtue of these amendments, to ensure that proper authority is exercised over the Government's borrowing programs. But if it is the efficiency of government that is at stake, and that is really what the Minister is saying to us, he has not given us any justification for that stand at all, either in his second reading speech or during his summing up at the end of the debate. Therefore, we are no clearer as to what the Government intended by virtue of its amendments in the first place.

Instead of harping on about differences that the Minister perceives within the Opposition parties, he would do the Parliament a far greater service by standing up and telling us what it is that he intends by this Bill and what he has in mind. Then we might understand what the Government is on about and we might be able to consider very carefully the Minister's legitimate concerns in this matter. But no, he goes about berating the Opposition in such a stupid, polemical and puerile fashion that we have to stand back and accept that nonsense while the real business of Parliament is let go by this Minister who cannot see the wood for the trees. We want to hear from him what it is that the Government wants done with this legislation that will improve the performance of the Parliament under the Government and why it will be more efficient. The Minister has not said one word.

I raise one or two other matters in passing. The Minister continues to stunt about the question of the Opposition's position on expenditure cuts. He will get that information in due course. He will get it when it really counts. I will be there to debate it with him in detail when our policies are released. I give him the undertaking that if he will appear with me on television or in any other forum to discuss them I will be only too happy to accommodate him. In view of all this stunting that he will go on with from now until doomsday, trying to draw out of us our policy before we are good and ready to release it, he can go and jump in the lake. We are not in the business of Cecil B. De Mille or anybody else. We are certainly not here to accommodate Minister Walsh in his fancies trying to make cheap political points when he has nowhere else to go.

Senator Walters —He is ignoring the challenge. He is not game.

Senator MESSNER —Indeed. Let me return to one or two matters that are part and parcel of our amendments. I want to draw the distinction between appropriating money for expenditures by government-which is the proper function of parliament and the basis of the authority which parliament has had over government since the days it was constituted and certainly since the days of King Charles I-and the funding of the government's programs, which is done on a temporary basis by the government entering into the money markets. This may be through the banking system, the Reserve Bank of Australia, the short term money market or whatever it might be involved in. It is that second part which is the concern of this legislation; it is the funding of the Budget deficit, if you like, on an overall pattern over any financial year from 1 July through to 30 June of the following year. That is what I understand this Bill to be about. The question of appropriating moneys for expenditure by government is entirely a different matter. Indeed, that is covered by the Appropriation Bills which are brought forward by the Government each year, which are debated and voted upon in this place and which allow the exercise of parliamentary prerogative over government programs. Those two things are separate. I think that we have to see this Bill in terms of what its real purpose seems to be; that is, to authorise the Government to borrow in order to cover its Budget deficit. That is why my colleagues on this side of the chamber, including Senator Peter Rae and Senator Watson, have been raising very strongly the point about the huge size of this Government's deficit, its lack of economic policy and the problems it is creating for Australians through its high interest rate policies. Those are the issues which surround this Bill. If the Government succeeds in passing it and removing that program from all parliamentary scrutiny forever we will not have the opportunity to debate at all the borrowing program of the Government.

It is all very well for the Government to talk about its expenditure programs and say `There are plenty of opportunities through matters of public importance or first reading debates on tax Bills to discuss these matters', but it obviously would not give us the opportunity to get to the very core of the issues and debate the legislation which authorises this Government to act. If the Government is so concerned about that, why does it not bring into this Parliament as soon as possible the legislation that is required to implement the tax package?

The Government knows of the enormous concern about the capital gains tax, the fringe benefits tax and the disallowance of deductible expenses resulting from that package. Yet we have no detailed information. The Government will not bring forward these matters for debate in this Parliament. We cannot even get a debate on the tax package. The Parliament will rise and it will be another two weeks before we will have an opportunity to debate the tax package although the Government brought it into this place and the House of Representatives four weeks ago. We still have not had any opportunity to debate these issues at all. So how can we rely on Senator Walsh's opinion that we will be able to debate such an important question as the funding of the deficit and the borrowing program of the Government when we hear his kind of say so and promise? It is certainly not on and we will not accept it.

This clause is perhaps the most important. It is the one to which the flagship of the Opposition's amendments are directed insofar as it draws attention to the real nature of this Bill. We have yet to hear the Government's justification for the clause. The Bill, as it is presently drafted, authorises in perpetuity the Government's fund raising program, borrowing program, to continue indefinitely. We are firmly committed to making sure that this position changes. These amendments will certainly return the Government's borrowing program to an annual basis.