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Monday, 22 November 1993
Page: 3364

Senator KERNOT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (8.07 p.m.) —It was with some reluctance that I considered the Australian Democrats' position on this matter. I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Sherry), who is at the table, how we are going to maintain the independence and the right to representation of consumers. Sure, the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal is going to do its best, and it will have 18 people, but it is under the umbrella of the ISC, which is the government's Insurance and Superannuation Commission. How will we ensure that consumers can be dealt with fairly? How is the tribunal going to balance its responsibilities to both the government and the consumers at the same time?

  I am disappointed that the government wishes to bring this amendment back to this chamber. I just do not accept that consumers will be best served by a rejection of our amendment. It is true that the Senate Select Committee on Superannuation recommended the legal centre's approach as a cost-effective alternative to expanding the rights of representation. We are being asked to monitor the tribunal for a year. I accept Senator Watson's argument that it is better for the Senate select committee to monitor the tribunal for a year. My problem is: at the end of that year, how do we get the government to do anything about it? It is a fine notion to say, `Let's monitor it for a year'.

Senator Watson —We can't get them to do it.

Senator KERNOT —We can get the government to do things; it is the coalition which is now changing its mind on this, which I think is very disappointing.

Senator Watson —There is another house.

Senator KERNOT —There is another house, and I cannot understand why Senator Watson's colleagues in the other house were not able to support his actions on this legislation. But that is another issue.

  We cannot deny the fact that we are talking about $169 billion in funds, we are talking about 70 per cent of Australian workers, and we are saying that the government is not prepared to look at something like $660,000 in the short term, because we were prepared to put a sunset clause in here and say that this gives time for government and industry to work together. It is a very weak compromise and I am disappointed that the coalition has had to review its position on this amendment. I am waiting to hear Senator Sherry's answer as to how the tribunal, even with the best will in the world, can fairly represent both government and consumer.