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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2302


Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Attorney-General)(4.04) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill continues the practice of introducing an omnibus Bill into each sitting of the Parliament as an expeditious way of making a large number of non-contentious amendments to legislation not otherwise being amended. Some of the amendments made by this Bill tidy up, correct and update existing legislation. Other amendments are of minor policy significance or are matters of routine administration. None of the amendments made by the Bill has any significant financial impact. Many of the proposed amendments will be self-evident or sufficiently explained by the explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill. I propose to confine my comments to addressing the more noteworthy changes included in this Bill.

Anglo-Australian Telescope Agreement 1970

The Act currently restricts the functions of the Anglo-Australian Telescope Board to those specified in the agreement annexed to the Act. The United Kingdom and Australian governments have now agreed that it is desirable for the Board to assume from the United Kingdom authorities responsibility for the future management of some additional facilities already in place at Siding Spring. The amendments will enable the Board to undertake other functions as prescribed by regulations.

Audit Act 1901

The amendments proposed in this Bill are aimed at improving the efficiency of the Commonwealth's financial administration and allowing the Auditor-General discretion in reporting minor breaches of legislation. From the point of view of financial administration, one amendment will simplify the processes by which funds that have already been appropriated by law are subsequently distributed to departments and will save administrative effort. Financial administration will also be improved by another amendment to enable the Minister for Finance to approve methods of performing accounting functions which do not involve written signatures.

The amendments will ensure that departments report to Parliament on their special operations-a requirement which has not existed previously. The Auditor-General will also be given some discretion on which matters are included in his reports. The Auditor-General, when so requested by the Minister, will be able to audit the financial statements of bodies such as incorporated companies controlled by the Commonwealth. Currently there is doubt whether the Act permits such an audit, as the existing provision refers to the audit of accounts and records only. Other amendments will enable regulations to be made to re-establish a policy, adopted by previous governments and arising directly from the policy of self-insurance, that the liability of Commonwealth drivers for the cost of replacing or repairing damaged vehicles should be the same as for a driver in the private sector who is covered by motor vehicle insurance.

Australian Capital Territory Electricity Supply Act 1962

The Act establishes the Australian Capital Territory Electricity Authority consisting of three members, including one elected by the Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly which has been abolished. In order to provide the Authority with a full membership, the amendments empower the Governor-General to appoint a member to the Authority for a maximum term of three years in lieu of the former House of Assembly nominee.

Australian Citizenship Act 1948; Migration Act 1958

The amendments remove from the Migration Act all references to what are called `return endorsements'. A return endorsement gives authority to a non-Australian citizen who is a resident of Australia to return to Australia after a trip overseas. However, since 1 January 1987, return endorsements have been replaced by `resident return visas', and the provisions in the Migration Act relating to return endorsements are no longer required. The amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act are consequential upon this change.

Automotive Industry Authority Act 1984

The amendments will enable automotive companies not incorporated in Australia to be eligible to participate in the motor vehicle and components development grants scheme. The amendments would ensure that the original intent of the scheme was maintained by providing continued access to grant funding to all five local motor vehicle manufacturers including Holden's Motor Co. which, as a result of the restructuring last year of General Motors-Holden's Limited, is a United States subsidiary.

Bass Strait Freight Adjustment Trust Fund Act 1984

The amendments will modify two aspects of the Bass Strait freight adjustment scheme. They will specify that funds are to be disbursed on the basis of crude oil ownership at the refinery gate. This will promote maximum flexibility for refiners by allowing them to arrange between themselves exchanges of crude oil in order to minimise costs. The amendments also provide for a refund of the refiners' contributions to the trust fund in respect of Bass Strait crude oil purchased at import parity prices and subsequently exported by them. Refiners will thus be treated in the same way as Bass Strait producers under the Act.

Commonwealth Prisoners Act 1967

Since 1983, courts in New South Wales are required to set non-probation periods, not non-parole periods, when imposing sentences of three years or less. The amendments will ensure that courts in that State may fix non-probation periods for Federal offenders and that these offenders may continue to be released on parole under the Act. Where a parolee is sentenced to a further term of imprisonment in a State or Territory other than the one in which he was released on parole, the parole order is automatically revoked. The amendments will enable the Attorney-General to request the issue of a warrant to enable such a person also to serve the balance of his first sentence in the place of his second sentence, instead of his having to go back to the State or Territory in which he received that first sentence.

Complaints (Australian Federal Police) Act 1981

The amendments will provide for a new conciliation and caution procedure for resolution of minor complaints against Australian Federal Police members. They will also introduce greater flexibility in the Commonwealth Ombudsman's options after he receives a report on the investigation of a complaint. The amendments have been developed, in the light of operational experience, jointly by the Australian Federal Police and the Ombudsman, in consultation with the Australian Federal Police Association.

Crimes Act 1914; Removal of Prisoners (Australian Capital Territory) Act 1968; Removal of Prisoners (Territories) Act 1923

One amendment of the Crimes Act will ensure that the offences of disclosure of information, falsification of books or records, false returns or certificates by Commonwealth officers and impersonation of a Commonwealth officer extend to cover persons who perform services for or on behalf of the Commonwealth, a Territory or public authority. At common law, it has been held that where a prisoner escapes while serving a term of imprisonment he cannot be detained under the sentence once the term has expired. Amendments to the Crimes Act and the Removal of Prisoners (Territories) Act will make it clear that sentences of Federal offenders and Territory offenders respectively will cease to run for the period they are at large.

Where a prisoner is accidentally released, for example, by the prison authorities before he is due to be released, he cannot be required to return to prison and serve the balance of his term because, at common law, the warrant under which he was committed to prison is spent. The amendments to the three Acts will enable a constable to arrest a prisoner unlawfully at large and bring him before a magistrate, who will be able to issue a new warrant for his detention. A prisoner will be unlawfully at large for the purposes of the amendments if he is required by law to be in custody.

Customs Act 1901

The Act currently makes provision for the Official Trustee in Bankruptcy to take control of the property of persons penalised for complicity in certain narcotics dealings, in order to recover pecuniary penalties imposed on them. The amendments are designed to provide for indemnification by the Commonwealth of the Official Trustee and officers of that statutory corporation in discharging this responsibility.

Dairy Produce Act 1986

The amendments will prevent persons who are members of the Executive Council of the Australian Dairy Conference, which is the peak policy council of the dairy industry, from being appointed as members of the Australian Dairy Corporation. This change is in accordance with the Government's policy that, where a statutory marketing authority is required to account to the peak industry body, the members of the executive council of that body are not to be eligible for appointment as members of the authority because of the possibility of a conflict of interests.

Director of Public Prosecutions Act 1983

The amendments will enable the Director of Public Prosecutions to file a Commonwealth indictment against a person who has been committed for trial otherwise than in respect of a Commonwealth offence in certain circumstances. These are that the Director is satisfied that the facts or evidence on which the person was committed disclose the commission of an indictable Commonwealth offence, and that if the person's committal for trial for that Commonwealth offence had been sought on the basis of those facts or that evidence it could have succeeded.

The amendments will also enable the Director to give an undertaking to persons who give evidence in Australia in proceedings brought under the Extradition (Commonwealth Countries) Act 1966 and Extradition (Foreign States) Act 1966 and in relation to coronial inquests and inquiries conducted under the laws of the Commonwealth. The undertaking which can be given to such persons is that the evidence to be given by them will not be used against them in civil or criminal proceedings-except for perjury in respect of the evidence.

Export Market Development Grants Act 1974

The Act was introduced to ensure that government assistance to exporters was provided in a more cost effective manner. The amendments are needed to correct an anomaly in the provisions of the Act covering the export of educational services. Currently it specifically excludes Commonwealth, State and Northern Territory governments from claiming grants under the export market development grants scheme. Some colleges promoting educational services are not established as separate legal entities but are part of Commonwealth, State or Territory education departments. As it was clearly intended that such colleges should be encouraged to promote the export of their educational services, it is proposed to amend the Act to allow education departments to claim in respect of those colleges' export activities.

First Home Owners Act 1953

The Act confers on the Secretary of the administering department the discretion to determine for the purposes of an application under the first home owners scheme that the date of the applicant's contract was later than that stated in the contract. The amendments are intended to clarify the extent of that discretion and the circumstances under which a later date can be so determined. Another amendment will enable an intending spouse of an applicant to join in the application. This will overcome a difficulty with the existing legislative provisions which put intending spouses at a cost disadvantage compared with joint applicants who are married couples or are living together in a de facto relationship.

Honey Industry Act 1962

The proposed amendments will enable the Minister to extend the terms of current members of the Australian Honey Board to the end of 1988, by which time it is planned that legislation for reform of the Board will have been passed. The amendments are necessary because that legislation will not be introduced or passed before the expiration of some current members' terms in June 1987. An extension of the terms of existing members will overcome problems caused by the lack of time available to hold a poll of producers to elect new producers' members to serve for the brief period until the projected reforms are fully implemented.

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986; Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1986; Intelligence and Security (Consequential Amendments) Act 1986

The amendments will replace references in the Inspector-General Act to the former Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Commission Act 1981 with references to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986. The amendments will also make it clear that the Inspector-General may inquire into an act or practice of an intelligence agency that is or may be contrary to any human right, may constitute discrimination or may be unlawful under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 or the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 where it has been referred to the Inspector-General by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The term discrimination is given the same meaning as in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act.

National Companies and Securities Commission Act 1979

The amendments will enable the Ministerial Council for Companies and Securities to make determinations about superannuation benefits for full time members of the Commission. They will also empower the Commission to make disbursements pursuant to any superannuation arrangements so determined by the Council for full time Commission members.

National Crime Authority Act 1984

The amendments will extend the scope of the secrecy provision of the Act to include certain persons who at any given time might be engaged in the operational work of the National Crime Authority without being employed by the Authority. A new provision is inserted to enable the issue of warrants for the arrest of absconding witnesses, and to enable execution of such warrants even if not in the possession of the relevant officer when making the arrest.

National Measurement Act 1960

As part of the ongoing process of metrication, imperial units used in the real estate industry will be withdrawn as legal units of measurement on 1 July 1987. Since it is unclear whether the Act currently applies to real estate contracts, a new provision will be inserted specifically relating to real estate contracts. The new provision will provide that real estate contracts will be void unless entered into by reference to Australian legal units of measurement or additional legal units of measurement. The voiding provision will not apply, however, where the units of measurement which are referred to in the contract are the units of measurement which are referred to in the documents of title for that land, or in a plan referred to in the documents of title.

The amendments will specifically except futures contracts from the requirement that only Australian legal units of measurement of any physical quantity be used. It is recognised that futures contracts can cover matters in countries which have non-metric units of physical measurement. The amendments will also create the office of the Executive Director of the National Standards Commission, who will also be an ex officio member of the Commission. He or she will be appointed by the Commission, not by the Governor-General.

The appointment of the Executive Director will add to the Commission's expertise and enhance its effectiveness. It will also be consistent with the findings of the Committee of Inquiry into Commonwealth Laboratories-the Ross Committee-and with the `Policy Discussion Paper concerning the Efficiency and Accountability of Commonwealth Statutory Authorities and Government Business Enterprises'. Another amendment, which will also implement that policy discussion paper, will raise from $50,000 to $100,000 the limit on contracts which the Commission may enter into without ministerial approval.

National Museum of Australia Act 1980

The amendment is being made to rectify an anomaly. The Act at present does not give the Council of the museum the power to dispose of historical material owned by, or in the possession of, the museum which does not, however, form part of the national historical collection as defined in the Act. The amendment will confer on the museum largely the same power to dispose of such material as it now has over material that is in the national historical collection.

Navigation Act 1912; Shipping Registration Act 1981

The most noteworthy amendments of the Navigation Act will benefit the maritime industry by eliminating unnecessary duplication of certificating of ships. The amendments of the Shipping Registration Act are intended to promote the prompt provision to the Registrar of Shipping of accurate information on ships entitled to be registered in Australia.

Pig Industry Act 1986

This amendment removes the restriction on the Australian Pork Corporation Selection Committee which prevents it from nominating for appointment to the Corporation anyone who is a member of the executive of an eligible industry body, that is, the Australian Pork Producers Federation or the National Meat Processors Association. A person will still be ineligible for actual appointment to the Corporation if he or she is such a member. Removal of this restriction will mean that such a person will not need to resign his or her position in the Federation or Association when nominated for appointment; he or she will have to do so only if and when offered appointment to the Corporation by the Minister. This amendment will bring the selection procedures for the Corporation into line with those for other statutory marketing authorities.

Quarantine Act 1908

The Act does not at present authorise the search of luggage and cargo entering mainland Australia from the Torres Strait area on Australian ships and aircraft. The amendment will close this loophole in the law.

Trade Practices Act 1974

The object of this amendment is to eliminate overlap and possible conflict between the provisions of the Act that import certain terms into contracts for the sale of goods and those of the 1980 Vienna Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods. Legislation implementing the provisions of the Convention is being enacted in each State and Territory. Once that legislation is in place and the amendment now proposed has been made, Australia will be in position to accede to the Convention. I commend the Bill to the House, and I present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Spender) adjourned.