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«[Wednesday, 19 December 2001] 7301 ELECTORAL DISTRIBUTION REPEAL BILL 2001 Third Reading HON N.D. GRIFFITHS (East Metropolitan - Minister for Racing ...»

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[Wednesday, 19 December 2001] 7301


Third Reading

HON N.D. GRIFFITHS (East Metropolitan - Minister for Racing and Gaming) [10.42 am]: I move -

That the Bill be now read a third time.

HON GEORGE CASH (North Metropolitan) [10.42 am]: The Electoral Distribution Repeal Bill 2001 is a part of an

arrangement that we have referred to on numerous occasions as a contrived scheme, the effect of which is to defeat the manner and form provisions of the Electoral Distribution Act 1947 and other Acts that we say impact on these Bills.

The amendments in the Electoral Amendment Bill 2001 could have been incorporated in the Electoral Distribution Act;

however, that course of action would have triggered section 13 of the Electoral Distribution Act, which requires an absolute majority at both the second and third reading stages in the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council. We have always maintained that the purpose of section 13 of the Electoral Distribution Act is to avoid unscrupulous manipulation through devices aimed at circumventing manner and form provisions. It is intended that the Electoral Distribution Repeal Bill 2001 will come into effect on the day on which it receives the royal assent; that is, the Electoral Distribution Act 1947 will be repealed when the royal assent is given to the Electoral Distribution Repeal Bill 2001.

The second stage is the assent and proclamation of the Electoral Amendment Bill 2001. As has been suggested during the debates on both the Electoral Distribution Repeal Bill 2001 and the Electoral Amendment Bill 2001, the Electoral Amendment Bill transfers the provisions of the Electoral Distribution Act 1947 to the Electoral Act 1907. We on this side have maintained that this is, in effect, a substitution, because all the amendments contained in the Electoral Amendment Bill 2001 could have been transferred to and placed in the Electoral Distribution Act 1947. We recognise that the Government has used this scheme because, clearly, it is attempting to avoid manner and form provisions.

If there is some dispute about that, I ask the simple question: why were the amendments contained in the Electoral Amendment Bill 2001 not directly put into the Electoral Distribution Act 1947? It would have been the simplest of all parliamentary procedures. There would have been no need to construct this charade or scheme of arrangement; the process would have been relatively clean. Clearly, the Government does not want to answer the question for me, so let me answer the question for the Government. The answer, of course, is that had it amended the Electoral Distribution Act 1947, it would have triggered section 13, which is one of the manner and form provisions that would have impacted on that Bill.

The only salvation that this side of the House now has is that the Clerk has written to the President and advised him that he intends to seek a declaratory judgment from the Supreme Court of Western Australia on the questions of law that have arisen. I, as one member of the Liberal Party on this side of the House, am pleased that that course of action is to be followed. Members will recall that some months ago I proposed a motion in this House that would have required the Attorney General to seek the views of the Supreme Court. However, because the Attorney General wanted to avoid the question of manner and form provisions, he declined to seek the views of the Supreme Court on these Bills. The good news is that the Clerk, of his own volition, and because the wording of section 13 of the Electoral Distribution Act 1947 places a significant onus on the Clerk to satisfy himself that all lawful procedures have been complied with before he presents a Bill to the Governor for the royal assent, has decided that he will go to the Supreme Court to seek its advice.

We agree with that move on the questions of law that arise. However, I still maintain that the House should have adopted its previous practice of dealing with amendments to the various Bills that have been referred to in past debate the Electoral Districts Bill and the various electoral Bills that were considered in 1904, 1911 and at other times during the past century. My belief is that the House should have made a decision on whether an absolute majority was required at the second and third reading stages. However, that has not been the case, and the President has stated his position on the matter - a position that generally revolves around the fact that the President will make his determination once he knows the decision of the Supreme Court. That position has now caused the Parliament to abrogate some of its authority. However, that has been a decision for the House, and, clearly, we will hear in due course what the Supreme Court thinks.

As we come to the close of debate on this Bill, I reiterate my opinion: the Electoral Amendment Bill 2001 ceased to be a valid Bill when it failed to achieve an absolute majority at the second reading stage in this House, and the same is true of the Electoral Distribution Repeal Bill 2001 given that the second reading of that Bill also failed to achieve an absolute majority. From that point on, both Bills were dead and it was not possible to revive them by any action of this House. We could talk forever about who is right and who is wrong, but that is now a matter for the court. The Liberal Party is happy and satisfied that the Supreme Court will become involved. Members on this side have said from day one that we would accept the decision of the Supreme Court or any other court that might become involved in the case.

I see this as a question of significant academic interest. Constitutional lawyers will be able to look to the decision of the Supreme Court and such other courts that might consider the matter in due course. Academically, people will be interested in the processes that we have gone through in this House. As I said in debate on either this Bill or the other Bill, Presiding Officers, Clerks and members of Parliaments around the world who are concerned about constitutional questions will also look with interest to the eventual fate of these Bills.

7302 [COUNCIL] The Liberal Party does not support the Electoral Distribution Repeal Bill 2001 and will vote against it until it ends up in the Supreme Court. I give notice that, should this Bill not achieve an absolute majority at the third reading stage, I will take a point of order and invite you, Mr President, to confirm your position in respect of the Bill not achieving an absolute majority. Such a point of order has been taken when the question was put on the second and third readings of the Electoral Amendment Bill 2001 and on the second reading of the Electoral Distribution Repeal Bill 2001.

Mr President, I will ask, as a matter of record, that your position be stated again.

HON N.F. MOORE (Mining and Pastoral - Leader of the Opposition) [10.53 am]: I will take two minutes of the House’s time to put on the record, in case there is any doubt, that there is seething anger in many parts of Western Australia about this Bill and its sister Bill, the Electoral Amendment Bill. That anger exists for two reasons: first, because of what these two Bills do to country Western Australia and its representation in the State Parliament and, secondly, because of the shonky way in which this Government has dealt with these two Bills in the Parliament and the shonky scheme of arrangement that has resulted in our having the matter referred to the courts to resolve the Parliament’s capacity to pass them. That anger has been tempered in recent weeks by the Clerk’s decision to refer the Bills to the Supreme Court for its consideration. If the Clerk had not made that decision, the passage of this Bill would have been significantly more difficult for the Government than it has been. The Opposition has argued the case in the same way that Kim Beazley argued that he won the last election but lost the vote. This side of politics has won the argument about these Bills hands down, but it has not won the war - yet. The anger that people feel has been muted because of the Clerk’s very sensible decision.

In the event that the Supreme Court rules that the Government has been operating validly to have these Bills passed and one vote, one value is introduced in Western Australia, that anger will become manifest throughout the State. The anger will become particularly obvious to the Government the day that the Western Australian Electoral Commission draws the boundaries under the new legislation and people in country Western Australia see what this Government intends to do to them. The anger will become very obvious indeed when people see the net result of this legislation in the event that it becomes law in Western Australia.

I remind the Government that although the legislation has had a reasonably easy passage through the Legislative Council and the Government has not been confronted with the sort of anger that sometimes our Government was confronted with on a number of issues, that anger is still out there. The anger may not be obvious to many government members, but I tell you, Mr President, and I tell government members, the day the electoral boundaries are redrawn, if that happens, that anger will become very obvious indeed to this Government and it will suffer the consequences. I concur very strongly with the comments of Hon George Cash. The Liberal Party is vigorously opposed to this legislation, and we will do all we can to make sure it does not come to fruition.

HON JOHN FISCHER (Mining and Pastoral) [10.57 am]: I will be brief. I merely wish to reiterate One Nation’s position. We have voted against this Bill and the one vote, one value principle in previous divisions. We remain totally opposed to the Bill and will vote against the third reading.

Question put and a division taken with the following result Ayes (13) <

–  –  –

Point of Order Hon GEORGE CASH: Mr President, on the occasion of the second reading of this Bill, the Bill did not achieve an absolute majority and a point of order was taken to determine your position on the matter. I take the same point of order on the third reading, as this Bill has not achieved an absolute majority of the Legislative Council.

President’s Ruling The PRESIDENT: Once again, I indicate the same view that I expressed at the conclusion of the second reading; that is, section 13 of the Electoral Distribution Act 1947 does not require the intervention of the President to prevent either a second or third reading. If it is applicable, it may require that the Bill not be presented to the Governor, but that will be determined by the Supreme Court.

REVENUE LAWS AMENDMENT (ASSESSMENT) BILL (NO. 2) 2001 REVENUE LAWS AMENDMENT (TAXATION) BILL (NO. 2) 2001 Cognate Debate On motion by Hon N.D. Griffiths (Minister for Racing and Gaming), resolved That the Bills be dealt with cognately.

Second Reading Resumed from 27 November.

HON GEORGE CASH (North Metropolitan) [11.02 am]: We are dealing with the Revenue Laws Amendment (Assessment) Bill (No. 2) 2001, which amends the Land Tax Assessment Act 1976, the Pay-roll Tax Assessment Act 1971, the Stamp Act 1921 and for related purposes; and, cognately, the Revenue Laws Amendment (Taxation) Bill (No. 2) 2001, which amends the Land Tax Act 1976, the Pay-roll Tax Act 1971 and the Stamp Act 1921.

I intend to deal first with the Revenue Laws Amendment (Assessment) Bill (No. 2). The Bill comprises six parts and within it are a number of amendments to the Land Tax Assessment Act and the Pay-roll Tax Act in particular. The first part of the Bill deals with the preliminaries, the short title and the commencement. Part 2 of the Bill deals with the Land Tax Assessment Act 1976; that is, that part of the Bill that deals with the principal place of residence exemptions.

The Government has decided that it wants to remove the sole or principal place of residence land tax exemption for land owned by companies in trust from the 2002-03 year of assessment. Members will be aware that currently properties that are occupied as the principal place of residence of the shareholders of a company that owns the land or a trustee of a trust on whose behalf the land is owned are able to receive a residential tax exemption. From 1 July 2002, property that is held by companies or trusts will no longer qualify for a principal place of residence exemption. In future, trustees will be able to access the exemption in only very limited circumstances. The Government argues that this will broaden the land tax base. It also argues that placing these properties in trust, particularly principal places of residence, will minimise taxation and ensure that the property is protected from the claims of creditors and claims against individual family members. It is the Government’s view that companies and trusts, which have been structured in the main for tax minimisation purposes, should not enjoy the same land tax exemptions as a natural person. Briefings with officers from the Department of Treasury and Finance and their various notes provided to me indicate that the Government does not believe that the state taxation laws should be structured to allow shareholders of private companies and trustees of trusts to enjoy the best of both worlds. Should the changes come into effect, it is estimated that the Government will raise an additional $10.7 million in 2002-03; $11.4 million in 2003-04; and $12.3 million in 2004-05. Over the next three years, the total amount of additional revenue the Government will enjoy because of its decision to remove the exemption that currently applies to companies and trusts in respect of principal places of residence is in excess of $34.4 million. The Department of Treasury and Finance has indicated to me that around 1 400 companies and trusts that currently receive an exemption for the principal place of residence will be affected. Treasury also indicates that the measure will have no impact on direct owner-occupiers, who will continue to enjoy the land tax exemption on their principal place of residence.

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