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Wednesday, 14 June 1989
Page: 4020

Senator POWELL(6.28) —Senator Bishop has expressed concern about not being able to take things through due process. I must say that we do have a problem in the Senate in the dying days of both of the parliamentary sessions. The Government sends its House of government home and then says to the Senate, `But you are only a House of review. Don't change anything. You are not there to look at legislation again'. The Opposition sends home its lot in the other place-the `A' team as I think it calls itself-as well. The Opposition is effectively saying to us, `Well, of course, we will stay here and collect our money, but don't dish up any amendments to us because we can't get a party meeting together'. There are a lot of unicameralists around in the last couple of weeks of a session, whether it is the end of the autumn session or the end of the Budget session. As far as I am concerned, we in this chamber are here to do our work. The Australian Democrats are here to do our work, and we will continue to do it.

I did get to Senator Bishop a summary of our proposed amendments last week. I am sorry that they were not in fully drafted form, but I had no communication asking me to explain them. I would have been happy to do so. I thought she would be able to contact the relevant people in her party. If she now says that absolute caucus democracy is essential before any decision can be made, then I suppose I have to believe her. But I think we have to think about what the role of the Senate is.

The Minister for Consumer Affairs (Senator Bolkus) makes the rather feeble excuse that we cannot index half-yearly because it would be awkward-there are all sorts of income tests, take-up problems and so on. We index the age pension half-yearly and we seem to manage. Therefore, I suggest that other benefits should be able to be indexed half-yearly as well.

Before I even made a maiden speech in this place I called for indexation. I am really flattered to think that honourable senators have bothered to dig my speech out. It caused some uproar in this chamber and I think it caused Senator Walsh to find the appellation `fairies at the bottom of the garden' for us at that early stage. The fact that I called for indexation as soon as I came into this chamber does not mean that that was all that we were calling for then or all that we would have continued to call for. That is a rather ridiculous argument. It does not exclude the possibility of asking for indexation and adequacy. We continue to do that. I did that in my speech in the second reading debate. While I acknowledge what the Government is doing, there are other issues. One of them is more frequent indexation and another is adequacy. I will refer to Bettina Cass and the Social Security Review. What has happened to age pensions in the legislation is good, and I acknowledge that. It is overdue, but it is good. But it is not even adequate yet. Cass says that and the Government admits it. We all know it. But we do not just say that we cannot have indexation in case it muddies the waters as far as adequacy is concerned. That would be ridiculous. We will continue to push for both, I can assure the Government, and we will divide on these amendments. I will tell honourable senators why. In 1986 we were the only members who divided on the question of the delay to the age pensions. Finally, after all this time, that delay has been redressed. We will divide again on this issue to be firmly on the record that we believe that more frequent indexation is necessary and possible.