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Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 94

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (6:06 PM) —I think it is appropriate that I place on record the basis for the government not agreeing to Labor's amendment. It is for the reason that I was beginning to develop in my earlier comments: it really does represent a determination to throw the baby out with the bathwater when you have regard to the objective of this bill, which is to significantly reduce the compliance burden on employers, particularly small business. It is ironic that, having agreed to this very sensible piece of legislation that is going to remove an unnecessary administrative burden on employers, Labor now seem determined to put that at risk by moving this amendment.

It is worth noting that the Commissioner of Taxation currently provides substantial information referred to in the proposed amendment. That information is in the annual report, which is made public on the ATO web site. In the 2003-04 annual report this information appeared on pages 69 to 71: 9,923 employers were audited as a result of employee notifications; 16,200 employers were audited as part of data-matching activities; 2,153 employers identified as high risk were contacted about their quarterly obligations before a liability actually arose; other proactive activity included providing speakers at 14 industry conferences and the issuing of a number of ATO and other publications; and $380.8 million was raised in superannuation guarantee liabilities and $234.6 million was collected. In many instances, the amount remaining uncollected is still being pursued. The ATO estimated that employers paid $37.3 billion in superannuation contributions in 2003-04. This figure was provided by APRA.

For these reasons, conclusively, the government say this amendment is unnecessary, is not well drafted, will add complexity to the law and will of course impose compliance costs on the ATO. All of these drawbacks with the amendment, in our view, make it something that the government are not going to support. I do want to stress that in this whole field of superannuation we have had many debates over the past three years—I have moved on to another portfolio, but I retain a keen interest in the area—and I think we have achieved a great deal by negotiation and by being able to tease out, discuss and debate in this chamber several amendments for the benefit of the system. So I would say, with some justification, I feel, that the government are not being bloody-minded about this. We will not be supporting this amendment. If I could just pass on a little piece of advice to Senator Stephens, who is probably taking this through for Senator Sherry: if Labor is really serious about restoring its relationship with business it should now pass this bill unamended.