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Wednesday, 29 May 1996
Page: 1246

Senator SHORT (Assistant Treasurer)(10.16 a.m.) —I do not wish to add a lot to what Senator Woods has said today because I think he has set out very well the logic of our opposition to the motion that has been put forward by Senator Spindler. The one point that I wish to make is that the motion is based on a totally false premise, and that premise is that the government has made decisions affecting the asylum seekers assistance scheme. All of that has emerged because of reports in the press—nothing more.

On behalf of the government I wish to place on record here—and I have confirmed this in the last minute with the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (Mr Ruddock)—that he and the government have never said that the asylum seekers assistance scheme will or will not be affected. The fact is, as we have said time and time again in this chamber and will continue to do until the budget, that all decisions concerning budgetary matters are matters for the budget and not for discussion in advance. That has been a time-honoured convention on both sides of the chamber.

I say in particular to Senator Harradine, who is a very honourable senator who shares many of the views that we do on this side of the chamber in relation to the special needs of asylum seekers, that no decision has been taken in relation to this scheme one way or the other and that any decision will be taken in the budget context.

It is absolutely unconscionable for this parliament to now take a decision—on the basis of some reports in a newspaper, and in contravention of the advice of the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs—which would affect revenue by $31 million by enabling the rorting of the system. I urge the parliament and the Senate to think again about this matter and see what happens in the budget context. When decisions are taken in the budget context, then this matter can be revisited. To take a decision now on the basis of wild speculation, which is not correct, would cast great shame over the decision making ability of this Senate. I urge the Senate to reconsider.