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Tuesday, 18 May 1993
Page: 776

Senator LEES (10.31 p.m.) —The fact is that the labour market has deteriorated considerably since the introduction of this rule and it is no longer appropriate, if it were ever appropriate, for this rule to be in place. Senator Bolkus indicated to the Senate late last year that DSS and DEET were going to have another look at this reduced employment prospects rule and that the Government was going to report back around April. I take this opportunity to ask the Minister for Health (Senator Richardson): at what stage is that report? When will we be seeing it? If we could have a look at it before the Budget session it would certainly help us to see what the Government is thinking.

  I turn briefly to the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment Bill 1993. Again, the Democrats support this piece of legislation. We are pleased to see the reduction in the assets test withdrawal rate. We also support the extension of coverage under the Veterans' Affairs Entitlements Act to members of our defence forces who are serving with the United Nations forces in Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, and Cambodia. If we are going to continue to contribute to international peacekeeping efforts, it is only fair and just that we recognise the contributions of those who serve in these very dangerous and certainly highly unpredictable circumstances. I believe that it is something all Australians would agree with.

  I turn to the other amendments the Democrats will be moving tonight. They relate to the issue of pensioner shares. These amendments represent a continuation of the Democrats' efforts to reverse a decision made by the Government last year to treat as income the unrealised capital gain on listed shares for the purpose of income tax for pensioners.

  Last week both the Democrats and the Opposition introduced Bills designed to achieve this end. We ended up supporting Senator Patterson's Bill. Our amendments today use the Bill that was passed, as it is that wording that this House has already accepted. Therefore we will move our amendments tonight in the hope that they will be supported.

  Obviously, with any private senator's Bill there is a problem. It can get through the Senate quite easily—and perhaps not so easily, but at least it can get through—to go nowhere, to sit on the Notice Paper in the other place and gather dust for months.

Senator Patterson —For ever!

Senator LEES —Yes, perhaps for ever and ever and never actually see the light of day and certainly never get to the point where it is on the Notice Paper and is debated. Therefore tonight we will move amendments designed to ensure that the House of Representatives has a further opportunity to review the Bill. The House will actually have to vote on the amendments when the Bill gets back there.

  I know that the Government is going to say all sorts of things about threats to the legislation and the sorts of games that were played last year, but that certainly will not dissuade us from moving these amendments tonight. These amendments give government members in the House of Representatives a chance to look again at this proposal, not just to take the department's word or the Minister's word for what is going on, but actually to look at the measure for themselves. It will also give those people in the community a chance for a week or so at least to put further pressure on the Government, and I am quite happy to say that one of the Democrats' aims is to actually keep pressuring the Labor Government until it does something about this matter.

  The Bill is demonstrably unfair and inequitable and we, the Democrats, are entitled to use every possible means to see this matter resolved. If the Senate amends the Bill along the lines of our amendments and the House of Representatives rejects it, obviously the Senate will deal with it again. But I hope we would not get to the stage where that happens. We will not be bullied by the Government; we will not be threatened by the Government. We will proceed with our amendments tonight. The Senate has had a chance to look at this Bill. Many members of the House of Representatives have never seen it. There are a number of new members in the House of Representatives and they should have the opportunity to look at this legislation again—and, for some, to look at it for the first time.

  I do not think there is any shortage of reasons that the Minister could give for not accepting our amendments, but we will not be moved on this issue. I look forward to some of the Minister's comments. If I look at some of the excuses he gave last time, we should have some interesting discussions in the committee stage.