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Thursday, 20 June 1996
Page: 1902

Senator SPINDLER(11.03 a.m.) —The Australian Democrats supported Senator Margetts's amendments when they were introduced into the chamber and passed. The Democrats still support them on the basis of the substantive issue that every opportunity should be taken to advance the cause of rectifying land degradation. The second very important point which touches the taxation issues generally is that farmers who do not show sufficient profit to be able to benefit from a tax deduction should, nevertheless, derive a financial incentive to encourage them to engage in these activities.

I am also in receipt of the letter which Senator Cook mentioned. I am able to assist him and the chamber by directly quoting the comment that was made at the beginning of the letter. It says:

I refer to your facsimile seeking material to assist your Minister to argue against Senator Margetts's proposed amendments.

I share Senator Cook's concerns that here we have a suggestion from the government to a Public Service department to, in effect, adopt a political argument role rather than, as Senator Cook said, to examine the pros and cons of what is being proposed.

I have often been struck by the process that seems to take place whenever an issue, amendment or bill is under debate and when the argument runs back and forth as to the value of that bill. Very often the arguments are based on either defending or attacking a particular position without enough attention being paid to the merits of the case. The temptation to treat it in this political way is not limited to the present government; I had that experience in years gone by with a previous government.

Senator Woodley interjecting

Senator SPINDLER —Senator Woodley, I am sure you have shared that experience. I return to the substance of the bill. The Australian Democrats continue to support what the amendments were seeking to achieve. We were of a mind to press the amendments to force the government to make the necessary adjustments in the taxation legislation.

I cannot see that there is anything wrong with using this opportunity to make necessary adjustments to the amendments to the taxation legislation. Those adjustments should enable, in similar cases, the people who cannot benefit from a tax deduction—because their income or profits are not high enough—to switch the incentive, provided it is a worthwhile cause and one that is approved by the Australian parliament as meriting a tax deduction. It seems to me that the argument for introducing an approach by way of a rebate which makes the incentive real is something that we should pursue.

Senator Woodley —And justice, too, for the battlers.

Senator SPINDLER —As Senator Woodley says, it is justice for the battlers who are not in a position to benefit from tax deductions which would favour them if their income were high enough to enable them to take advantage of the incentive offered. In the circumstances, it is quite clear that the amendments will not be pursued by the Senate. I would like to put on record the position of the Democrats and a request to the government to pursue this particular issue throughout the taxation legislation, in due course to bring before this house and before parliament amendments which take account of the principle and the spirit of the amendments which have been moved.