for the sitting period
19-29 June 2000
3 July 2000
Orders for production of documents
Orders for production of documents are always a
reliable barometer of the number and intensity of matters of
controversy. The following orders were passed during the
- ATO–AEC correspondence: An order of 20 June required the
production of correspondence between the Taxation Office and the
Electoral Commission on the matter of the attempted misuse of the
electoral roll for GST advertising. Documents were produced on the
following day, and then a further piece of correspondence on 22
June. The latter, according to the Opposition, showed that the
Electoral Commissioner had responded to correspondence the contents
of which he claimed to be unaware of at estimates hearings.
- Nuclear reactor: An order also passed on 20 June required
documents relating to the contract to replace the Lucas Heights
nuclear reactor. Documents were produced on 26 June, but some
were withheld, adding to the tally of the government’s public
interest immunity claims.
- Defence environment plans: An order on 22 June required
environment management plans for defence establishments, and they
were produced on 29 June.
- GST and petrol prices: An order of 27 June for economic
modelling relating to petrol prices under the GST produced the
nearest thing to a flat refusal. The government stated that the
modelling material on the price effects of the GST had already been
made public, but refused to disclose the model itself.
Documents were produced on 20 June in response
to the order relating to heavy trucks.
A very large volume of documents was produced on
22 June in response to the order relating to the Civil Aviation
Safety Authority, but a statement with the documents indicated that
some had been withheld.
A report of the Privileges Committee presented
on 29 June (92nd Report) consisted of advices by the Clerk of the
Senate and by a leading Sydney barrister criticising a judgment in
the Supreme Court of Queensland. The judgment related to a
defamation action taken against a person who supplied information
to a senator for use in the Senate. The taking of this action was
found by the Privileges Committee in an earlier report (67th
Report) to be a contempt of the Senate, but the committee
recommended that the legal proceedings be allowed to take their
course. A very confused judgment of a single judge, not on the
substantive question, found that the supply of the information to
the senator was not protected, but the legal proceedings are
The committee presented on 19 June yet another
response, under the right-of-reply procedures, to remarks made by a
senator on the presentation of earlier responses (see Bulletin No.
141, p. 4). The committee hinted that it would not be willing to
accept another response in the matter.
The committee received another reference on 27
June on an unauthorised disclosure of a submission made to a
committee, the Joint Statutory Committee on Corporations and
Direction to hold hearing
The Senate on 28 June directed that a further
estimates hearing be held to take evidence from the Employment
Advocate, unless the relevant committee, after receipt of questions
taken on notice during the earlier hearing, decides unanimously not
to go ahead with the further hearing. This arose from
dissatisfaction with the evidence of the Employment Advocate and
his refusal to provide information about workplace agreements.
Advice provided to the committee by the Clerk and published in its
report pointed out the unclear basis on which the Employment
Advocate, who claimed to be making his own decisions without
ministerial direction, had declined to provide information.
Declaratory resolution on excise
An unusual resolution passed on 29 June declared
that the Senate would not agree to the rates of excise contained in
an excise tariff proposal tabled in the House of
Provisions in the Customs Act and the Excise Act
allow the collection of customs and excise duties from the time of
announcement of proposals by the government for a period of twelve
months before the passage of legislation to validate the duties.
The purpose of these provisions is to ensure that windfall profits
may not be made between the time of announcement of duties and the
enactment of legislation to levy the duties. There has long been
speculation about what would happen if the Senate declined to pass
legislation after the duties had been collected for some time. This
situation may now arise. The excise tariff proposals in question
relate to the alleged breaking by the government of its undertaking
concerning beer prices under the GST.
The Finance and Public Administration References
Committee presented its report on 26 June relating to the
notice of motion by Senator Murray to require the disclosure on the
Internet of the terms of all government contracts, as an
accountability measure. The committee recommended that alternative
methods of scrutinising contracts be considered before the Senate
passes the proposed motion.
Delegated legislation: disallowance of
regulations already disallowed
The Senate disallowed on 20 June some
regulations under the Customs Act which had been deemed to be
disallowed in the House of Representatives. A notice of
disallowance had been given in the House and had not been dealt
with before the expiration of the statutory time limit after which
instruments the subject of an unresolved notice are deemed to be
disallowed. The reason for the seemingly unnecessary disallowance
by the Senate was that, the regulations having been deemed to be
disallowed in the House, they could be remade by the government
with only the approval of the House. Disallowance in the Senate
ensured that they could not be remade without the approval of the
Senate. The regulations, part of GST implementation, related to the
importation of used diesel engines, and were stated to have
unintended consequences for engine importers.
Legislation: amendments and requests: order for
Previous Bulletins (No. 142, p. 2; No. 143, p.
2) referred to difficulties with government amendments to bills
being circulated as requests for amendments. In relation to two
bills, the Indirect Tax Legislation Amendment Bill 2000 and the New
Business Tax System (Miscellaneous) Bill 1999, explanations were
eventually received from the government drafters as to the reasons
for the amendments being framed as requests. It was stated that the
amendments would result in payment of tax refunds out of a standing
appropriation. On this basis the Senate agreed on 26 June to accept
the amendments as requests
An order was passed, however, requiring that all
amendments circulated as requests in future be accompanied by an
explanation of the reasons for them being framed as requests and a
statement by the Clerk of the Senate as to whether they would
normally be treated as requests under the precedents of the Senate.
The first such explanations and statements were produced on 27 June
in relation to non-government amendments.
In relation to another bill, the New Business
Tax System (Alienation of Personal Services Income) Bill 2000, the
explanation from the government drafters indicated that the
amendments would result in taxpayers paying more tax. The Chair of
Committees pointed out that this explanation would make sense only
if the bill were a bill imposing taxation, and on that basis all
the amendments moved were treated as requests. The bill was
eventually passed when the government accepted some amendments,
rejected others and made a substitute for another.
In dealing again with the Youth Allowance
Consolidation Bill 1999 on 22 June, the Senate accepted an
amendment made in the House in place of a Senate request for an
amendment and did not press another request disagreed to by the
House, but made further requests for amendments not relevant to the
matters in disagreement between the Houses. The rule that any
further amendments must be relevant to the matters in disagreement
between the Houses does not apply to requests for amendments,
because section 53 of the Constitution allows the Senate to make
requests for amendments at any stage of the consideration of a
bill, and the Senate’s rules reflect this principle.
The following bills were significantly
- Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Bill 1999: This bill
provided for the establishment of a trust to manage Commonwealth
land in Sydney expected to be transferred to the state. The
government stated that it would not accept the extensive amendments
made in the Senate to the bill, but also indicated that the bill is
not necessary from the government’s point of view because the
Commonwealth has the exclusive management of the lands in
- Social Security and Veterans’ Entitlements
Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Matters) Bill 2000: This
bill "bounced" between the Houses several times before agreement
was finally reached on amendments on 29 June, the Senate eventually
not insisting on some amendments relating to veterans’
- Broadcasting bills: The bills relating to digital
television broadcasting and datacasting were considered at great
length and were the subject of voluminous amendments. Although
opposing some amendments in the Senate, the government eventually
accepted all of them on 29 June, after the bill went back to the
House with some last-minute government amendments which resolved
some of the issues to the government’s satisfaction.
- New Business Tax System (Integrity Measures) Bill
2000: Yet another tax bill relating to the GST package, this
bill was amended on the motion of the Democrats on 29 June in
relation to arts industries.
- New Business Tax System (Miscellaneous) Bill (No. 2)
2000: Large slabs were excised from this bill on 29 June as a
result of a hearing by the Superannuation and Financial Services
Committee in relation to superannuation provisions.
- Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service
Standards) Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2000: Amendments made to
this bill on 29 June on the motion of the Democrats were accepted
by the government.
- Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill
2000: This bill reappeared after a long absence. The
government accepted most of the Senate’s amendments to the
bill, and the Senate agreed on 29 June to some amendments made by
the government in the House.
The Local Government (Financial Assistance)
Amendment Bill 2000 was eventually passed on 19 June, with a
resolution referring to the failure of the Minister for Regional
Services, Territories and Local Government, Senator Ian Macdonald,
to respond appropriately to questions asked by senators. The
resolution referred to advice provided by the Clerk about the
relevance of the questions, the minister at one stage having
claimed that the questions were not relevant to the bill (see
Bulletins No. 141, p. 3; No. 143, p. 2).
During the passage of the Financial Management
and Accountability Amendment Bill 2000 on 22 June, reference was
made to its unusual character. It increases every standing
appropriation in various statutes by indefinite amounts, the
amounts necessary to allow various government departments and
agencies to meet their GST obligations. As such departments and
agencies pass on to their customers the GST they pay and claim
input credits for the GST component of inputs, the bill does not
result in any actual increased expenditure, but is a "bookkeeping"
measure. In debate on the bill, the Opposition did not miss the
opportunity to refer to the complexity arising from the GST.
Many references were made to committees during
the period, indicating that committees will be extremely active
during the winter long adjournment.
Centenary of Federation
The Senate formally accepted on 26 June the
invitation of the Victorian Houses to meet in Melbourne next year
for the Federation Centenary celebrations.
Senate Daily Summary
This bulletin provides Senate staff and others
with a summary of procedurally significant occurrences in the
Senate. The Senate Daily Summary provides more detailed
information on Senate proceedings, including progress of
legislation, committee reports and other documents tabled and major
actions by the Senate. Like this bulletin, Senate Daily
Summary may be reached through the Senate home page at
Inquiries: Clerk's Office
(02) 6277 3364