The Australian Greens are very concerned at the very quick
time frame of this inquiry. The issues contained within this Bill are
significant and, in some cases, have significant implications for students,
pensioners, low income families and the not-for-profit sector.
The Bill seeks to undermine two major pieces of reform from
the previous Parliament, by repealing the reforms in the National Gambling
Reform Act 2012 and delaying the implementation of the Charities Act 2013.
It is also completely inappropriate to seek to pass so many
different and complex issues through one Bill, and to give stakeholders less
than a week to contribute to a Senate inquiry, particularly given that none of
the measures considered by this committee were time sensitive.
This minority report does not cover those aspects of the
Bill where the Australian Greens support the majority report. However, on a
range of schedules we disagree with the majority report, and we do not believe
that schedules 1, 1A, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 10 should be passed at this time.
Our concerns are set out below.
Schedule 1 – Gambling
This Schedule effectively repeals the reforms made in the
National Gambling Reform Act 2012 (NGRA). The gambling reforms in the Act were
the result of a long and complex process. The issue was examined in great
detail by the Productivity Commission whose 2010 Gambling report highlighted
the enormous social costs of gambling, particularly with regards to poker
machines. The report highlighted the need for reform and made many detailed and
evidence-backed recommendations for reform.
The last Parliament examined the issue of poker machine
reform in detail. Several inquiries by the Joint Standing Committee on Gambling
Reform took submissions from industry, community groups and members of the
public whose lives have been touched by poker machine addiction. Significant
time was devoted to the discussion of the gambling reforms in the Parliament.
Due to the finely balanced numbers in the House of Representatives and the
agreement between the Government and Mr Andrew Wilkie MP, the matter got
an extraordinary amount of media attention and debate amongst the community.
Throughout this process, the need for reform was made clear as was public
sentiment against the proliferation of poker machines and in favour of reform.
The original proposal put before the Australian public after
2010 was for a scheme of mandatory pre-commitment on all poker machines in
Australia. This policy was a recommendation of the Productivity Commission and
was supported by further evidence gathered during the 43rd Parliament. Despite
this evidence and the groundswell of support for reform, the lobbying efforts
of the gambling industry succeeded in watering down the reform, becoming one of
fitting machines for pre-commitment but not enforcing the use of a
pre-commitment scheme. The NGRA nevertheless had merit as it brought the
Commonwealth Government into the poker machine space and contained some
measures, such as ATM withdrawal limits, that have genuine potential for harm
reduction. The Australian Greens therefore supported the passage of the Act.
Since the passage of the NGRA in late 2012, no significant
new evidence has emerged regarding gambling patterns in Australia, the
effectiveness of pre-commitment, or even the profitability of the industry. The
case for the reforms in the NGRA remain as strong as ever.
The Senate now finds itself considering the Social Services
and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013, which almost entirely repeals the
provisions of the NGRA. This omnibus bill was introduced without public
consultation or fanfare of any kind, and it was left to both parliamentarians
and the public to scrutinise the bill in order to divine that it even had
anything to do with the subject of poker machines. This is a highly
inappropriate way to address a reform of such magnitude and public interest. It
is a betrayal of the public trust and of all sections of the community who
engaged in a long debate on an important subject.
This was borne out in evidence received by this inquiry.
Stakeholders who appeared before the committee were appalled that both the
government and the Opposition would unite to repeal a reform that could reduce the
harms of poker machines. Ms Kelilah Doust of the Gambling Impact Society
(NSW) summed up the sentiment in the community sector:
I honestly feel betrayed by the government, as do my family
and several people that I know who have also been affected by this issue. It is
disgraceful that the first meaningful steps towards reform that our government
has taken will now be removed to be replaced with nothing. You will be giving
vulnerable people back over to the wolves, and there is nothing to prevent them
being taken advantage of. I am absolutely disgusted.
In response to the ostensible reason for the repeal that
poker machine reform is a matter for the states, Ms Kate Roberts, of the
Gambling Impact Society said:
There is an absolute and clear mandate for the federal
government to be involved in this issue. As I have already stated, it is a
health issue. It needs to be treated as a health issue and we need to develop a
very strong public health framework. This has been recommended through the 1999
and 2010 inquiries. That is a federal government responsibility. The conflicts
of interest are rampant at state and territory level and this means that we are
now being thrown back, as Kelilah said, to the wolves.
The churches were also united in their opposition to
Schedule 1 of this bill. Reverend Tim Costello defended the need for regulation
and could explain the repeal – backed by the Labor Party – only 'in terms of
the political power of the pokies lobby in the industry. That is the only way
we can understand this'.
No justification has been offered for winding back these
reforms beyond the assertion that it is an issue for the states. The fact that
states have jurisdiction over poker machines is not new information. It is the
failure of the states to act, allowing the social costs to mount as they become
more dependent on the revenue generated, that was the genesis of poker machine
reform in the first place. There is no new prospect that the states will take
action to limit the harms beyond the usual small investment in problem gambling
treatment services, which is already a demonstrated failure. The stated
intention by the Government to work with the states on voluntary pre-commitment
is similarly doomed to failure. It is a fig-leaf that replaces hundreds of
pages of regulation with a single aspirational statement regarding a policy no
credible expert is advocating.
Given that the urgent case for poker machine reform has not
changed since the passage of the National Gambling Reform Act; that there is no
prospect of other meaningful reform by the Commonwealth or State Governments;
and that the evidence received by this Committee succinctly expressed the
dismay felt by the public at the prospect of a liberalisation of poker machine
regulation, the Australian Greens can see no reason to support this Schedule of
Schedule 1A – Charities
The Australian Greens strongly oppose the Government
amendment which delays the implementation of the Charities Act by 9 months.
The definition contained within the Charities Act does not
introduce any significantly new concepts but it rather codifies and
consolidates the growing body of charity case law into a single Act, which
provides greater clarity and certainty to charities. As a result, it clarifies
that working on activities such as housing and indigenous issues can form a
None of the charities who spoke to the Committee were aware
of the Government's intention to postpone the implementation of the Bill and
nor were they aware of any concern across the community about the
implementation of the Act.
Rather, the witnesses noted that refining the definition of
charity has been on the political agenda for over 10 years, and that the
passage of the legislation earlier this year was overwhelmingly welcomed and
accepted by the charitable sector.
None of the submitters to the inquiry could point to a clear
reason why the Government would defer the implementation of the Act.
The Minister has attempted to linked the definition of
charity to the operation of the ACNC through his second reading, but this is
not a reasonable link to make. While it is clear that the Minister intends to
revoke the Charities Regulator and replace it with a Centre for Excellence,
this has no bearing on the substance of the Charities Act itself. It is
misleading of the Government to suggest otherwise.
Furthermore, one of the stated aims of the government is to
reduce red-tape on the charities sector, yet delaying the implementation of the
charities Bill is contrary to that goal. Submitters pointed to the significant
legal costs that charities face in trying to understand the charities case law
- the Charities Act will actually reduce red-tape and uncertainty in the
Uniting Care stated this clearly in their submission:
While the mission or purpose of the Not-for-profit sector is charitable,
it nonetheless operates in the same economic environment as the business sector
and is similarly affected by legislative uncertainty. Delaying implementation
of the Act would cause unnecessary uncertainty.
The other important component of the Charities Act is that
it enshrines in legislation the freedom to advocate, and makes explicit that
advocacy is a legitimate charitable purpose, provided that advocacy is not in
aid of a specific candidate or political party. This directly reflects existing
caselaw, particularly the AidWatch case and subsequent tax ruling (TR2011/4)
but in a way that reduces ambiguity for charities in understanding how advocacy
may fit within their charitable purpose.
Dismantling the legislative protection for advocacy will
only put more pressure on charities who speak upon public policy. One of the
biggest risks that charities face is the revocation of their DGR status for
failing to operate within their state charitable purpose. There were several
attempts during the Howard Government to undermine organisations, such as the
Wilderness Society, by challenging their DGR status. The Australian Greens
would be extremely concerned if the purpose of further consultation is to try
and wind back the advocacy component of the Bills.
For all of the reasons, the Australian Greens do not support
the passage of Schedule 1A.
Schedule 3 – Family Tax Benefit
The Australian Greens agree with the arguments presented by
the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children, who stated that:
Contending with financial hardship and poverty is itself is a
barrier to education and this policy approach does not address the issue but
rather compounds it... hitting the poorest families entrenches poverty and is
counter-productive in obtaining increased school attendance, vocational
participation, further education and engagement in the labour market.
NCSMC cites the new research completed by Suncorp Bank’s
Cost of Kids:
Teenagers take the mantle for being Australia’s most
expensive children, with seventeen being crowned the single most expensive year
in a child’s life, Teenagers cost their parents $227.40 per week. This compares
to $220.15 per week for infants, $184.73 per week for toddlers and $170.70 for
primary school aged children.
Clearly, raising teenagers is an expensive exercise for
low-to-middle income families and access to Government support payments are a
significant factor in their budgets.
In addition, because the payment is not available for
dependent children who are no longer at school, it acts as a ‘penalty’ for 16
to 17 year old children not enrolled at school or university, or in the
There is clearly a cohort of families who will be affected
by this measure, as demonstrated by the predicted saving outline in the
The Australia Greens believe that using the threat of
reduced family payments to motivate families to keep their children in
education counterproductive. It detracts from the purpose of family payments to
ease poverty among children. Furthermore there has been no evidence presented
to the committee to demonstrate that making Family Tax Benefits contingent on
school enrolment has a positive impact on school attendance or transition to
other forms of activity.
Rather, it has been demonstrated through the application of
other programs, such as SEAM and welfare quarantining, that the pressure on
families that results from reduced payments can in fact act as a source of
further dysfunction and negatively impact the family relationships.
A more progressive and reasonable method would allow Family
Tax Benefits to continue until the child turns 18 years and/or completes their
final secondary year and becomes eligible for Youth Allowance.
On the weight of this evidence, it is the view of the
Australian Greens that the family tax benefit eligibility criteria should not
be modified at this time.
Schedule 4 – Period of Australian working life residence
This schedule will affect approximately 23 per cent of those
pensioners who leave Australia permanently each year and who are not paid under
social security agreements with New Zealand and Greece.
While the Australian Greens note the evidence from COTA
which demonstrates that this measure will bring Australia closer into line with
other OECD countries,
we share the concerns of Australian Seniors, that this measure will affect
those who are currently overseas – having made their retirement plans on the 25
The experience of the Australian Greens with respect to
changing portability arrangements, such as the recent changes to Disability
Support Pension portability, is that it has a significantly disruptive effect
on those who have already begun to reside overseas, if applied without
As these measures will be applied to anyone who returns to
Australia for a period greater than 26 weeks, after Jan 1, 2014, there will be
a number of people who will be caught out by these provisions.
On the weight of the evidence, the Australian Greens oppose
Schedule 5 – Interest charge (on unresolved overpayments to youth allowance
Schedule 5 introduces interest charges on unresolved
overpayments of student support payments such as Youth Allowance, Austudy and
The Australian Greens note that the explanatory memorandum
justifies charging interest on debts by threatening a penalty to encourage
repayment. Most former recipients of the applicable payments are either young
people from disadvantaged backgrounds or members of the Indigenous community.
Given that the people in these groups come from disadvantaged backgrounds and
are beginning to establish themselves in the job market and broader community,
threatening these groups with financial penalties is socially irresponsible.
We note that the disincentives of penalties, such as
interest charges, rely on a certain ideal conception of rational action. Yet it
is well documented that financial stress impedes rational cognitive function.
This is not an inherent trait in people, but a consequence of their environment.
A recent study in this field argues that poverty-related concerns consume
mental resources, which explains “diminished cognitive performance.”
Young and Indigenous people who have just exited social
security payments are likely to be under significant financial pressure. Thus
the signal of a disincentive, such as an interest charge, is less likely to be
received in a rational way by these groups. Indeed, the Department of Social
Services estimates that only half of the affected debtors will begin to pay
their debt when threatened with the penalty.
Improving the accessibility and affordability of repayment
mechanisms should be explored as an alternative to interest charges and other
On the weight of the evidence, the Australian Greens do not
support passing this schedule at this time.
Schedule 7 – Paid Parental Leave
After 30 years of campaigning, women won the right to keep
their jobs and economic security when they have a baby. The 18 week federal
scheme, which began in 2011, is an important social reform giving assistance to
families to adjust to a major life event – the birth of a baby. There are also
two weeks of paid parental leave available to all new fathers and partners as
The current PPL scheme is funded by the government but can
be topped up by employers. For eligible employees, those who have been employed
for 10 of the previous 13 months, the payment is paid to employees by their
This is an important economic right that has taken a long
time to achieve.
Given the significance of paid parental rights for workers,
the Australian Council of Trade Unions have argued that now altering the
payment mechanism of the Paid Parental Leave scheme, so that payments are paid
via Centrelink rather than employers, will have the unintended consequence of
turning what should be viewed as a workforce entitlement into a welfare
This perspective has been reinforced by large not-for-profit
employer, Uniting Care, who stated in their submission to the inquiry:
This issue has particular relevance to the Not-for-profit
sector as its workforce is predominately made up of women. It is essential that
any Paid Parental Leave scheme encourages ongoing workforce participation in
this vital social services sector.
The Paid Parental Leave was specifically designed to
maintain the role of employers in delivering parenting payments. The
Productivity Commission found this arrangement to be the most suitable after
weighing all the evidence from a range of stakeholders including businesses and
In their final report, the Productivity Commission states:
Overall, the Commission continues to consider that the
administrative and signalling benefits from assigning payment responsibility to
employers are sufficient to favour that approach over direct government payment
in most cases.
The ACTU also note that this Bill may result in significant
numbers of parents receiving separate payments from Centrelink and their
employer, where employees have secured additional paid parental leave rights as
a result of their enterprise bargaining agreements.
On the weight of this evidence, it is the view of the
Australian Greens that these arrangements should not be modified at this time.
The Australian Greens recommend that Schedules 1, 1A, 3, 4, 5 and 7 not
Senator Rachel Siewert
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page