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Tuesday, 18 June 1996
Page: 1693

Senator MARGETTS(3.25 p.m.) —It is extremely disturbing to hear anybody in the Senate suggest that words of legislation are a joke. If the implication is that it depends on who you need to inform as to whether or not the law and the words of the law need to be complied with, then that is a real problem in relation to contempt of the parliamentary and democratic process. Basically, it is not a selective law, you cannot decide whether or not you think it is a good tax. It has nothing to do with whether it is a good tax or a bad tax.

Many of us think that the way in which it was put together was probably not very wise. However, the idea is also not about who the people are who are interested in the outcomes of the tax. It is not a selective bill that says that you can choose who you inform. Section 130B of the Sales Tax Assessment Act clearly says:

Where a Minister makes a public statement which announces that it is the intention of the Government to introduce into a House of the Parliament a bill . . .

The reality is that there will always be groups in our society who will want to change the decision of a government. We do agree that the states have a greater lobbying ability, obviously, than most other groups in the community. However, in this case they acted as lobbyists. The fact that this was a meeting with an obviously very influential group of people—albeit state government lobbyists and premiers—is not sufficient to say that the announcement did not take place. The announcement did take place. The very influential lobbyists, that is, the state premiers, had a difference of opinion.

There is nothing in the act which indicates that it depends on whether the announcement is to be presented to an influential group of lobbyists or not. That is not in there. There is nothing in it which says anything about whether it affects people in government or in government positions.

If we are to have respect for the parliamentary process, perhaps the government needs to speak to its departments and com municate. I am sure that there must have been somebody within one of the departments trying to present this concern to the minister, saying that this was the statutory requirement. If this communication did not happen, then one wonders on how many other occasions communication between departments and the minister may be so bad that the opportunity for ministers to fulfil their statutory requirements is not met.

To base a defence on whether or not a group, albeit a very influential group, agreed with this announcement is not a defence relating to this government abiding by its statutory requirements. Therefore, I rise to support what has been stated here today by the opposition.

Of course we rise to support it, because it was, in fact, the amendment of the Greens (WA) in the fist place. We believe that the community did have the right to know about the implications for taxation, especially such things as sales tax. A government press release is not good enough. People in the community do have the right to know. They have the right to know when a change has occurred. They do have the right to know in simple terms what the implications of this change are.

Even government employees have the right to know. Of course, the implications of these changes not only affect government employees but also the revenue and services provided to all states and territories in Australia. That has become quite clear. The arguments that have been put by the government in this case are not sufficient. I believe that they have to admit before this Senate that they have made an error. They have to work out a way of purging that error to this place and to the democracy of Australia.