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Wednesday, 17 November 1993
Page: 2995


Senator SHERRY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (11.51 a.m.) —I will respond to Senator Harradine's question. The volume of complaints involving death benefits and superannuation is small compared to the total volume of complaints. Evidence given before the committee certainly suggests that it is small. I cannot give Senator Harradine figures on it, but we do know that it tends to be a fairly small area, albeit an important one because people are waiting for money from the resolution of their death benefit case. At present, trustees have an absolute power to determine these issues. There is the common law, but, as I mentioned, it is frankly inaccessible for the member of a fund.

  From past experience, we believe that the proportion of this type of complaint compared to the total volume of complaints to the tribunal is quite small. Therefore, we believe that the likely time of resolution for a death benefit dispute will be six to nine months. That is a delay, but it is not an unreasonable period in which to consider the outcome and adjudicate on a death benefit dispute. So there would be some delay, but it is not significant in terms of time and the volume of the tribunal's work. The tribunal could well decide to give those issues priority because of the urgent nature of a death benefit case and the need to pay the beneficiary. Those problems can be overcome.

  We have to consider that set of problems in the context of what Senator Watson is proposing, which is to cut off altogether the right of some people to have access to the tribunal. I would argue that that is a worse outcome for hundreds of people—we do not know how many—in this category. It is a very difficult principle. I understand Senator Kernot's dilemma, but the government has thought about this a great deal—


Senator Kernot —You did not have an answer until 10 minutes ago.


Senator SHERRY —That was a very unkind comment. We cannot support the amendment. I came in before breakfast this morning and looked long and hard at this issue and at the report. I also read through our previous reports. This is an important issue. The more I have thought about it, the more I think, on balance, that the amendment suggested by Senator Watson is evidence of the wrong approach.