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Friday, 28 November 2003
Page: 18332


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads) (9:04 AM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to incorporate the second reading speeches in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

DEFENCE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2003

This bill makes various amendments to Defence legislation. It also makes consequential amendments to other Commonwealth legislation. The amendments indicate the Government's ongoing commitment to the Defence Organisation and Service personnel.

The bill will:

increase the penalties for breaches of sections 80A and 80B of the Defence Act, relating to persons who falsely represent themselves to be returned service personnel, or improperly use service medals or decorations;

make various amendments to the Defence Force Discipline Act, including the implementation of recommendations made by Brigadier Abadee, the Deputy Judge Advocate General, in relation to the military discipline system;

make amendments to modernise the titles of the Cadet Corps;

clarify the regulation-making powers in relation to Defence inquiries;

make amendments to the Defence Force (Home Loans Assistance) Act to permit certain classes of ex-members of the Australian Defence Force to apply for a home loan subsidy beyond the current 2 year eligibility period for claiming assistance; and

correct two minor drafting errors.

All the measures are outlined in the bill's explanatory memorandum.

There are two major measures included in the bill.

The first relates to changes to increase the penalties for improper use of service medals and decorations and for false representation as returned service personnel. These changes reflect the gravity of the concern of the Government and the wider community with practices that are unlawful, deceitful and disrespectful of our veterans and service personnel.

The bill increases the penalty for wrongly claiming to be a returned soldier, sailor or airman, or for wearing a medal or decoration to which a person is not entitled from a $200 fine, to a maximum penalty of $3300 and/or 6 months imprisonment. The Defence Act already makes it clear that an exception to this penalty is where a family member, who does not claim to have been awarded the medal or decoration, is wearing the medal or decoration. The bill also increases the penalty for destroying or defacing a medal or decoration from a fine of $200, to a maximum fine of $6,600 and/or 12 months imprisonment.

Persons falsely claiming defence service they did not undertake or complete, or medals or decorations they were not entitled to, are disrespectful to real veterans and Defence personnel. Our veterans and serving personnel are held in the highest regard by our community. Their service and sacrifice deserves strong protection from those who wrongly seek to claim the same honour and respect. The Government delivers this protection through these increases in penalties.

The second measure deals with changes to the Defence Force Discipline Act. The most significant changes to the Act give effect to the recommendations of Brigadier Abadee, who is also a Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Brigadier Abadee was commissioned by the Chief of the Defence Force to make recommendations to ensure that the military discipline system satisfies contemporary standards of judicial independence and impartiality. The changes to the Defence Force Discipline Act implement the necessary measures to achieve that aim.

The bill will eliminate the multiple roles of convening authorities to ensure that the officer who convenes a court martial, or refers a charge to a Defence Force magistrate for trial, has no role in the subsequent review of the outcome.

The bill will also provide that the Judge Advocate General will be responsible for nominating officers to act as judge advocates for courts martial and for nominating officers as Defence Force magistrates for trials, rather than the current procedure which involves such appointments being made by the military chain of command.

In addition, the bill will enable the Judge Advocate General to appoint the President and members of courts martial as opposed to the chain of command, and create the statutory position of Chief Judge Advocate. The Chief Judge Advocate will assist the Judge Advocate General in the execution of the functions and powers of the Judge Advocate General's office. This will be in addition to the Chief Judge Advocate sitting as a Defence Force magistrate or a judge advocate at a court martial.

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COMMONWEALTH ELECTORAL AMENDMENT (MEMBERS OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT BODIES) BILL 2002

The bill amends the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and seeks to ensure that eligible members of a local government body do not suffer any penalty arising from their decision to stand as a candidate for election to either the Senate or House of Representatives.

The bill amends section 327 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 by inserting new subsections providing that a law of a State or Territory has no effect to the extent to which the law discriminates against a member of a local government body who has been, is, or is to be nominated or declared as a candidate in a Federal election.

Such an amendment is necessary following the enactment of section 224A(b) of the Queensland Local Government Act 1993 which purported to declare vacant the office of a local councillor at the point of their nomination as a candidate in a Federal election. Following a challenge to this provision, the Queensland Court of Appeal ruled, in November 2001, that section 224A(b) was beyond the legislative competence of the Queensland Parliament and was unconstitutional.

This amendment to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 is necessary to reinforce the Commonwealth's authority to legislate exhaustively (subject to the Constitution) on qualifications for election to the Commonwealth Parliament.

The Government considers that eligible people should be able to stand for election without suffering any penalty. The Government is acting to defend eligible people's rights to take part in Australia's democratic processes, and will not permit States or Territories to restrict this fundamental right.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

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ABORIGINAL LAND GRANT (JERVIS BAY TERRITORY) AMENDMENT BILL 2003

The primary purpose of this bill is to give effect to a request by the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council (`the Council') for legislative changes to certain administrative procedures that are provided for in the Aboriginal Land Grant (Jervis Bay Territory) Act 1986 (`the Land Grant Act'). The bill includes amendments to the Council's quorum requirements and the provisions relating to the presentation of by-laws.

The Land Grant Act establishes the Council for the purposes of holding land, providing community services, managing and maintaining Aboriginal land and related functions at Wreck Bay. The Jervis Bay Territory is located near Nowra on the southeast coast of New South Wales. Approximately 92% of the Jervis Bay Territory has already been granted as Aboriginal land under the Land Grant Act and the remaining 8% is currently the subject of a claim under the Act.

Sections 20 to 24 of the Land Grant Act make provision for the calling of general meetings, through which the Council elects its membership and executive, sets its annual budget and transacts its business. Section 25 requires that a majority of members must attend in order to form a quorum. The Council has advised that they have experienced difficulties in securing the required quorum at such meetings. There are currently 257 members of Council and achieving the required quorum of 129 members has proven virtually impossible.

Section 26A of the Act provides for a diminished quorum of members in the case of reconvened annual general meetings, where the initial AGM has failed due to no quorum. The Council has advised that even the lower quorum provisions for reconvened AGMs have proven unworkable and that rarely is it possible to achieve an attendance of more than 50 to 60 members. Therefore even the reconvened meetings have failed to attract sufficient numbers to enable the Council to conduct its meetings and to effect urgent business. This has disrupted the effective operation of the Council.

In order to increase the likelihood that a quorum will be achieved at the first reconvened meeting and to reduce the risk of a succession of failed reconvened general meetings this bill will amend the provisions of section 26A to provide that if the annual or a special general meeting fail to convene because of the lack of a quorum, the quorum for the purposes of any reconvened general meeting will be 40 members.

The simple majority provisions will be retained for the purposes of constituting a quorum at all general meetings when first called because the Council is of the view that all, or at least the greatest possible number of, members should be invited and encouraged to attend any and all general meetings of Council.

The bill will also amend the provisions of subsection 52A(10) of the Land Grant Act. Section 52A provides the Council with the power to make by-laws that govern matters of concern to the people of the Wreck Bay Community, such as: cultural activities; management, access, development and use of Aboriginal land; declaration of sacred or significant sites; control of visitors; and hunting, shooting and fishing on Aboriginal land.

Subsection 52A(10) requires that the Council provide the Minister administering the Land Grant Act with a copy of any by-law that it has made within 7 days of making it. The Minister is to then gazette and table the by-laws. The 7 day period has proved difficult to work with, especially over public holiday periods.

The proposed amendments will extend this period to 21 days, which the Council views as a more realistic timeframe in which to comply with this requirement. It will apply to any by-law that has been made after the commencement of the Schedule to this bill or that was made within a period of 7 days prior to commencement.

The bill also amends provisions relating to the position of Registrar of the Council. At present the Registrar is to be an officer within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). As the Government has recently established Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services, the Act will be amended to enable the Minister to appoint an APS employee within a portfolio Agency or an officer within ATSIC as the Registrar.

This bill reflects the on-going commitment by this Government to assist in achieving positive outcomes in respect of the Land Grant Act.

There are no financial implications arising from this bill.

Debate (on motion by Senator Ludwig) adjourned.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.