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Wednesday, 29 March 2006
Page: 159

Senator MURRAY (8:06 PM) —In making my remarks on the Bankruptcy Legislation Amendment (Fees and Charges) Bill 2006 I want to start by saying that I do not like this Senate process that we are under way with one bit. We do not need a guillotine if senators are going to treat debate on important bills relatively lightly. Without reflecting on any other senators, I wish the government had advised senators of the likelihood of us sitting later today, so that people with other engagements were able to rearrange their affairs and enter the chamber to address these matters.

This bill, however, could well have ended up in the non-controversial slot. I do not think it is contentious. The Bankruptcy Legislation Amendment (Fees and Charges) Bill 2006 simply repeals the Bankruptcy (Registration Charges) Act 1997 and amends the Bankruptcy Act 1966 and the Bankruptcy (Estate Charges) Act 1997 to implement cost recovery arrangements for Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia by enabling the minister to make regulations to determine fees and charges on a cost recovery basis. It amends sections which impede electronic service delivery where currently only cheques are accepted—which seems somewhat outdated. These amendments allow for EFTPOS transactions and do away with some requirements for signatures so that electronic service delivery is streamlined—a useful modernisation measure—and provide for an annual payment by bankruptcy trustees of realisations, charges and interest charges at the end of the financial year rather than the current twice-yearly payment.

There is a chance that creditors might object to the fact that they will now have to pay to access documentation relating to bankruptcy, although it is often entities with a capacity to pay for this kind of service who do want to access documents. It might in theory prove a disincentive for personal creditors but the fees are set at a cost recovery rate—so hopefully not. A fee will be payable to access the National Personal Insolvency Index. This will mostly impact on creditor providers, such as banks, who wish to access the NPII to determine credit worthiness. Again, all these fees are on a cost recovery basis, so hopefully they will not blow out.

The regulations may provide the inspector general with a discretion re payment of fees, which would be a good thing as there may be an opportunity for the fee to be waived in some circumstances, which is hard to say prior to the drafting of the regulations. One of the reasons that I wish to speak to the bill rather than wave it through is that I hope that the minister in closing the debate will indicate whether there might be an opportunity when the regulations are drafted for the fee to be waived in hardship cases, which is a common practice in many jurisdictions and circumstances. The Democrats strongly support this bill.