Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 23 March 1994
Page: 2102


Senator SHERRY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (5.46 p.m.) —I table the explanatory memoranda relating to the bills and move:

  That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The speeches read as follows

BOUNTY (FUEL ETHANOL) BILL 1994

  This bill proposes the payment of a bounty on the production of certain fuel ethanol in Australia to assist in the development of a competitive, robust and ecologically sustainable fuel ethanol industry.

The bill is part of a package of lead abatement measures announced in the 1993 Budget which will complement initiatives announced in the Prime Minister's Environment Statement of December 1992 relating to a guarantee of the excise free status of alternative fuels for a further four years as well as support for new ethanol production technology.

Ethanol can be blended with petrol and diesel to extend transport fuel and therefore reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Its octane enhancing properties may offer some potential benefits towards reduction of lead in petrol as well as increasing the sustainability of the energy sector through the use of a fuel based on a renewable resource. Ethanol also has the potential to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

The bill proposes that $25 million be provided over the next three years for bounty payments at a rate of 18 cents per litre. $6 million will be dedicated to the first year of the bounty, $8 million to the second year and the remaining $11 million will be used for the third and final year. Where the money apportioned for either of the first two years is not paid out as bounty, it will be rolled over to the next year.

To be eligible for bounty producers must be registered under the scheme. Registration will be effected according to specified criteria under the legislation which will ensure that all registered producers will be able to make a significant contribution to the desired competitive, robust and ecologically sustainable fuel ethanol industry. Under the proposed scheme, all registered producers will be granted a production allocation which will guarantee them an amount of bounty on the condition that they maintain certain production levels and satisfy other specified criteria. The allocation process is intended to provide existing producers with incentive for capital investment whilst also allowing new producers to enter the market.

The Government is confident that the measures in the proposed bounty scheme will encourage the establishment of a competitive ethanol transport fuel industry in Australia developed on an environmentally sustainable basis. The Government will also assist in overcoming the technical and administrative barriers to the use of ethanol as a transport fuel with a $3.94 million Research and Development program over the next two years. That program will develop an ethanol fuel standard, extensively trial the use of ethanol blended fuels in vehicles and develop further improvements in ethanol fuels.

FINANCIAL IMPACT STATEMENT

The measures contained in this bill are expected to result in outlays of:

$6 million in 1994-95;

$8 million in 1995-96; and

$11 million in 1996-97.

I commend the bill to the Senate and present the Explanatory Memorandum to the bill.

SUPERANNUATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1994

  This bill amends the Superannuation Act 1976, the Superannuation Legislation Amendment Act 1990, the Superannuation Act 1990 and the Superannuation Benefits (Supervisory Mechanisms) Act 1990.

These Acts relate to the provision of superannuation benefits to civilian Commonwealth sector employees.

The main purpose of the bill is to make amendments to allow superannuation schemes for Commonwealth civilian employees to comply with the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 (SIS) and associated legislation. The bill also makes some technical corrections.

The Government decided that its own superannuation schemes that were at least partly funded should comply with the occupational superannuation requirements in the SIS legislation in the same way as private sector schemes. Commonwealth schemes that are not funded will be required to comply, in principle, with the major thrust of the controls such as vesting and preservation.

Among other things, the SIS legislation requires that the rules of a superannuation fund may not allow the trustees of the fund to be directed by another person, nor may any other person exercise discretions unilaterally. In addition the rules of the fund should not be able to be amended without the approval of the trustees. All these rules have some exceptions spelled out in the SIS Act itself, and some to be provided for by regulations under that Act. The main exception relates to directions, discretions, etc that would affect the employer's contributions to the fund.

Currently, the Superannuation Act 1976 provides that the Commissioner for Superannuation and a Board of Trustees share the responsibility for the administration for the scheme set up by the Act, the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme (CSS).

The bill gives the responsibility for administration of the CSS completely to the Board of Trustees. All discretionary decisions that were previously made by the commissioner will be made by the Board from 1 July 1994.

The Minister for Finance also has a role under the 1976 Act. Some of the powers exercised by the Minister are to be transferred to the Board. However, other powers which relate to employer costs under the scheme will remain with the Minister.

Certain other powers were exercisable by the Board after consideration of principles issued by the Minister. In the case of these powers, the Act generally has been amended to incorporate any principles that were issued into the legislation and any remaining discretion is to be exercised by agreement between the Minister and the Board.

Similar amendments concerning the powers of the Minister are to be made to the Superannuation Act 1990. The scheme established under the provisions of that Act is already administered by a Board of Trustees so no transfer of power from the Commissioner for Superannuation is necessary.

I emphasise that no changes are to be made to the benefit structure or the scheme design of the schemes covered by the Acts that are being amended.

One of the technical changes being made is to allow certain delegated instruments to operate with retrospective effect and to put the validity of past instruments beyond doubt. These amendments are a response to concerns raised by the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances. The instruments would enable members to continue membership in circumstances where they may have inadvertently been forced to leave the scheme if there was no retrospectivity.

Mr President, the bill also amends the Superannuation Benefits (Supervisory Mechanisms) Act 1990. This Act enables the Minister for Finance to exercise certain discretions to oversight and control superannuation arrangements established by Commonwealth employing authorities, other than the Commonwealth itself.

Consistent with the SIS Act, the existing Ministerial discretions would be replaced with provisions preventing Commonwealth employers from establishing and operating superannuation arrangements unless they are able to satisfy certain pre-determined requirements. An added feature of these requirements is that they will impose an obligation on employers to report annually to the Minister in relation to those arrangements.

I now turn to the financial impact of the bill. As none of the changes result in any change to the benefit design of the superannuation schemes involved, there is no financial impact.

Mr President, I commend the bill to the Senate and I present the Explanatory Memorandum to this bill.

WITNESS PROTECTION BILL 1994

Experience in Australia and overseas has demonstrated that the capacity to protect key witnesses is a vital component in dealing effectively with serious crime, particularly organised crime.

There are numerous ways a person may become a witness. These include being at the scene of a crime (as an accomplice or innocent witnesses) when it occurred or becoming aware of criminal activity and reporting those concerns to the authorities.

However, in the case of serious or organised crime, often it is those persons who have been intimately involved with a criminal activity who are in the best position to provide direct evidence. Alternatively, they may provide information which corroborates evidence obtained from other sources, such as telephone intercepts. They need protection and this protection also needs to be extended to the families of such witnesses.

This bill arose from the Parliamentary Joint Committee Report on Witness Protection. The bill is intended to be the basis of complementary legislation by the States and Territories.

For a number of years the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has operated a witness protection program. Programs are also operated by most police forces, including the New South Wales, Victorian and Western Australian forces and the Queensland Criminal Justice Commission. In the case of custodial protected witnesses, the primary protection is provided by Corrective Services agencies in each jurisdiction. By law these agencies have the care and control of prisoners.

In the case of New South Wales the Department of Corrective Services has established a purpose built high protection prison within the Long Bay Correctional Complex for those prisoners in that State who require a high degree of protection.

The PJC Report recommended that the AFP should assume an expanded national protection role. In addition, the Report recommended that legislation should underpin the scheme and that there be improved co-ordination and co-operation between the various law enforcement agencies and their clients.

A Commonwealth/State/Territory Steering Committee was established which identified the key issues which needed to be addressed in the model Commonwealth Witness Protection . The Steering Committee and its Subcommittees made an invaluable contribution to the development of the bill. In this regard I would like to acknowledge the co-operation and contribution made by the State and Territory Ministers and their agencies and officers to the development of the bill.

As an interim measure, in 1989 the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 was amended to permit the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police to enter into arrangements with the Commissioners of the State and Territory Police forces, the Chairperson of the National Crime Authority and Commonwealth and State/Territory prescribed authorities to provide services for the protection of witnesses. This amendment has enabled the AFP to expand its program.

The maintenance of the integrity and accountability of the program is of vital concern to the Government and the Commissioner. The AFP members involved with the assessment and placement of persons on the program are operationally a discrete unit. This means that the witness's police case officer is not involved in the decision-making process for placement on the program.

The bill provides that some of the key functions, such as removal and placement onto the program may not be delegated below the position of Deputy Commissioner of the AFP.

Protected witnesses may be removed from the program for a number of reasons provided by the Act. For example, they may ask to be taken off the program. Another reason may be that with the passage of time and successful relocation and integration into a new community, they will no longer be in a high risk category. There are other provisions such as breaching the memoranda of understanding (such as taking unnecessary risks with their own lives) or committing offences while under the program. Any removal is subject to review.

The witness protection program currently operated by the AFP is for those small number of key witnesses and their families requiring a high degree of protection because of serious threats to their lives.

Its operation is based on relocation, change of identity and integration back into the community in his/her new identity, thus enabling the witness to give evidence without fear of retribution. It is proposed that the bill give legislative support to the AFP in the operation of its program. The processes and procedures set out in the bill have been honed and tested by the AFP in the operation of its current program. The bill amends the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 to enable the arrangement provisions to be relocated in the bill.

The bill provides that the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police is to operate a National Witness Protection Program (NWPP). The Commissioner will be able to enter into arrangements with State/Territory Commissioners of Police and Chairpersons of bodies such as the National Crime Authority, the New South Wales Independent Commission against Corruption and the Queensland Criminal Justice Commission to enable protection to be provided for witnesses of these authorities. These arrangements will include the recovery of operational costs. Placement on the NWPP is voluntary and is not to be given as a reward.

Procedures are set out for the placement and removal of witnesses from the NWPP; safeguards surrounding the procedures for the issue of new federal documents; procedures to ensure that people on the NWPP do not use the new identity to avoid civil or criminal liability and to enable foreign witnesses to be placed on the program.

The placement of a foreign witness on the program is a further example of the Government's international co-operation in the fight against serious or organised crime. Such a person may be able to give vital evidence in an Australian criminal trial or need to live outside his/her country of origin pending and following the trial coming on for hearing. Special conditions apply to the selection and placement of foreign witnesses on the program.

Paramount consideration needs to be given to the protection of information held by the AFP on those persons on the program, if the witnesses are to be truly safeguarded. The wider the information net extends, the greater the risk that the integrity of the scheme will be jeopardised.

It is for these reasons that the usual administrative law review procedures have been changed. Decisions made under the bill will be exempt from the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977. This approach recognises the absolute security requirements of the program. Questions relating to freedom of information and archives legislation are proposed to be addressed by separate amendments to the relevant legislation.

The AFP officers administering the program are subject to the Complaints (Australian Federal Police) Act 1981. This means that complaints against them may be the subject of investigation by the Ombudsman. To facilitate investigation of such complaints the Ombudsman will have right of access to the relevant program documents. Where a person is involuntarily removed from the program or where a new identity is removed, these decisions will be made by a Deputy Commissioner to enable the person to appeal to the Commissioner against an adverse decision.

The bill does not have any financial impact.

Mr President the more important features of the bill are:-

the Commissioner of the AFP is to operate a National Witness Protection Program (NWPP) to provide protection and assistance to witnesses and their families;

it enables the Commissioner to enter into arrangements with approved authorities eg State Police Commissioners to provide protection and assistance and for this purpose the existing provisions in the Australian Federal Police Act 1979 are being relocated in the bill;

it provides the AFP with statutory procedures to govern the placement on and removal of witnesses from the NWPP, including the signing of a memorandum of understanding, new identities and the restoration of former identities;

it will enable foreign witnesses to be placed on the NWPP. In such a case, the person will not only have to be approved for inclusion on the NWPP by the Commissioner, but have an entry visa. The foreign law enforcement authority will enter into arrangement for the costs of such matters as travel and protection. Where all these requirements have been satisfied, final approval for acceptance in the program is reserved for the Minister for Justice;

it establishes a Register of persons who are or who have been on the program, which must include certain information including the old and new identity as well as the criminal record of the person, if any;

it provides safeguards regarding the processes for issuing new identity documents and mechanisms to ensure that persons on the NWPP do not use the new identity to avoid civil or criminal liability;

it is proposed that the bill form the basis of complementary legislation. To safeguard the integrity of federal documents, 12 months after the bill commences, federal agencies will not be able to issue documents for persons on State/Territory witness protection programs unless there is complementary legislation in place and there are arrangements in place with the State/Territory in question;

the Ombudsman's powers to investigate complaints under the Complaints (Australian Federal Police) Act 1981 are retained. For this purpose it is proposed that the Ombudsman has a right of access to documents and records held by the AFP in relation to the NWPP.

it creates offences relating to divulging information without lawful authority about the NWPP and persons who have been assessed for the program or who are or have been on the program;

the Commissioner and the Ombudsman are not required to disclose information or produce documents in proceedings in the performance of functions under the bill, unless it is essential to the determination of the proceedings.

where in any proceedings the issue of the identity of the person on the NWPP arises, unless the court considers in the interest of justice otherwise, the proceedings must be held in camera and suppression orders issued.

the schedule to the bill includes an amendment to the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 to provide that decisions made under the legislation will be exempt from the Act.

I present the explanatory memorandum for the bill.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

CUSTOMS TARIFF AMENDMENT BILL 1994

The Customs Tariff Amendment Bill 1994, which is now before the chamber, contains a number of amendments to the Customs Tariff Act 1987.

I will briefly outline the changes of substance.

Schedule 3 is operative from the first of September 1993. It designates Eritrea as a developing country under the Australian system of tariff preferences. This follows Australia's formal recognition of Eritrea as an independent country on the fourth of May 1993. Prior to that date, Eritrea was considered to be part of Ethiopia. This action will allow imports of Eritrean origin to enter Australia at concessional rates of duty.

Further amendments contained in this schedule give effect to the government's decision, as announced in the 1993/94 federal budget, to increase the customs duty on aviation gasoline and aviation kerosene by 0.264 cents per litre. These changes will enable the civil aviation authority to recover part of the cost of aviation safety regulation from the industry. The balance of the industry's contribution will be phased in over the next two years.

There is a complementary change contained in section six of this bill which inserts the tariff subheading for aviation kerosene in the table to section 26(1) of the Principal Act. As a result consumer price index increases will be applied to the rate of duty for this product.

Schedule 4 of the bill will operate from fourteen days after the bill receives royal assent and creates item 63 in schedule 4 to the Principal Act. Reference materials are materials with accurately known composition which are used as the standard against which like materials, processes and apparatus are calibrated. Access to reference materials at world prices, without the added impost of duty, is important if Australian industry is to be internationally competitive. Most of the analytical standards used in Australia for a range of testing purposes are not produced locally and must be imported. Concessional entry can be best delivered through a new policy item. This approach has industry support.

In its 1991 Building a Better Australia statement, the government announced that commencing on the first of July 1992 it would phase out the bounty payable on the production of certain textile yarn over the following three years. In its stead the government would introduce from the first of July 1995 a 5 per cent tariff duty on the subject yarn. The amendments contained in schedule 5 put in place the new tariff rate.

Other changes are of an administrative and technical nature and have no duty implications.

Summaries of the amendments contained in this bill have been prepared and are being circulated for the information of honourable senators.

I commend the bill.

  Debate (on motion by Senator Panizza) adjourned.

  Motion (by Senator Sherry) agreed to:

  That these bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.


Senator SHERRY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) —I advise senators that the Witness Protection Bill 1994, whilst introduced in these sittings, will not be debated until the winter sittings. This will give interested parties an opportunity to comment on the bill.