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Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Page: 6768

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) (5:13 PM) —Senator Brandis, I do have regard for the position you have taken in relation to this bill. But I have to say, in relation to doing the right thing, that for the opposition to lecture the government about delay in enacting these rights is really quite extraordinary—after so many years of government, and after the fact that these bills were delayed as a result of the opposition having difficulty with its own position—as it is for Senator Brandis to come in here and essentially criticise the government for not wanting, for very good policy reasons, to support a retrospectivity amendment which, in large part, is being put by the opposition as a result of their own delay and inaction on this issue.

Senator Brandis, I appreciate that you are a lawyer and I appreciate your views about the legal position in relation to the acquisition issue. I make the point that I raised a number of issues in relation to retrospectivity, of which that was one. For example, the adverse consequences for members of self-managed superannuation funds was also an issue raised. We do believe that there are legal complexities which would arise from the passage of this amendment. On this issue I would invite senators to consider that we are debating legislation which we regard as being overdue. This is really not the time to be introducing amendments, when the minister in the chamber has indicated very clearly that these particular amendments, in our view, would create legal complexity in terms of these reforms. For those senators who are genuinely seeking the passage of these reforms, I would invite consideration of the avenue that the government is proposing, whereby application could be made, and would be enabled to be made, to the finance minister.

Senator Brandis commenced his remarks by saying that such payments would be within the discretion of the finance minister. That is the case. That is precisely what I indicated the nature of the amendments would be. But I again say that the government’s view is that the retrospective operation of the bill and the amendments to the trust deeds would give rise to significant legal complications. We are proposing an alternative mechanism by which, I suppose, unfairness might be remedied. We would ask that senators in the chamber consider that approach rather than supporting an amendment which, in our view, may have significant legal complications as well as unintended consequences.