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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4140

Mr GARRETT (Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts) (11:02 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989 gives effect to Australia’s international obligations under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to phase out the use of ozone-depleting substances and to minimise the emissions of synthetic greenhouse gases.

The bill will improve the effectiveness of the act by introducing a civil penalty and infringement notice scheme and will address a number of issues that have arisen from the practical application of the act and its subordinate legislation.

The most significant amendment made to the act is in relation to the compliance and enforcement framework. The act currently contains several criminal offences for breaches of the legislation. Experience has shown that prosecution may be overly harsh and inappropriate. For example, the act and regulations prescribe a number of conditions that must be met by holders of the various permits and licences. Currently, the only penalty available for breach is the suspension or cancellation of a permit. The consequence of this is a permit holder can no longer run their business—irrespective of the severity or nature of the breach.

The bill will introduce a civil penalties regime so that there will be, for each offence, an equivalent civil penalty provision. Other enforcement measures include the ability to issue infringement notices for some offences under the act. These measures will ensure that appropriate action can be taken in respect of breaches of the act.

The bill includes measures to improve the enforcement of the act. As it stands the act is difficult to enforce, and after 20 years of operation is out of date. The bill improves the qualification and conduct requirements for inspectors and clarifies the role of the minister in compliance under the act.

The bill will clarify the powers of inspectors, to allow them to assess on site if a breach has occurred. In limited circumstances, an inspector may be assisted. This acknowledges the expertise required to undertake an effective search under the act.

Hand in glove with role clarification, there are new provisions in the act setting out the rights of private individuals, for example, the procedural aspects relating to the collection, handling and return of evidence and warrants and notices for seized and forfeitable material. The bill also fully articulates the way material seized or collected under the act is to be treated—be it returned, used as evidence in a civil or criminal proceeding or forfeited to the Commonwealth. Although these provisions are new within the act they are consistent with other Commonwealth legislation.

When stored in bulk, ozone-depleting substances and synthetic greenhouse gases are stored in pressurised containers. Where an inspector finds an unsafe container, they can make an application to the secretary of the department to have the container dealt with appropriately—including its destruction.

The bill also amends provisions relating to forfeiture of goods, removing the nexus between conviction and forfeiture. The amendment is necessitated by the inclusion of civil penalties as, without this amendment, forfeiture cannot flow from a civil penalty order. As a result, the forfeiture provisions in the act will be amended and expanded, to ensure the system works and has appropriate checks and balances to protect private individuals and companies. As with other amendments covered in this bill, although these provisions are new they are consistent with other Commonwealth legislation.

There are new offences in the bill that arise from amendments to the compliance and enforcement framework. The offences relate to moving, altering or interfering with evidence that has been secured, but not yet seized, in the course of a search to monitor compliance with the act. These provisions have been introduced to ensure that seizure is done only under warrant—as is appropriate in light of the seriousness of the outcome. Criminal provisions have also been introduced to protect the process of obtaining a warrant. While this is a new offence under the act, it is a procedural offence common to other Commonwealth legislation.

The bill also amends existing penalties to align penalties in the act with comparable provisions in Commonwealth legislation and to ensure they reflect the seriousness of the offence and provide an adequate disincentive.

The bill will make several minor amendments to ensure the act is administratively effective and simple for the covered industries.

The bill will ban the import and manufacture of hydrochlorofluorocarbon refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment in order to support Australia’s phase-out of HCFCs, mirroring the successful approach taken to phase out chlorofluorocarbons in the mid 1990s. This policy was widely consulted with industry and is appropriate considering the status of the technology in this industry. A ban is currently imposed for air-conditioning equipment containing HCFCs as a licence condition.

Several minor amendments will be made to the way licences are administered. In light of the introduction of the civil penalty regime, civil penalties can be taken into account when deciding to grant, cancel or suspend a licence under the act. The time limits for reporting under the act will also be amended to allow for flexible and robust reporting.

Licence periods for the import of precharged equipment, for example, a domestic refrigeration unit, will also be altered to reduce cost for the licence holder. The matters to which the minister may have regard are also being amended in light of the new civil penalty regime.

In closing, let me make clear that this bill will strengthen Australia’s implementation of our international commitments to phase out the use of ozone-depleting substances and to minimise the emissions of synthetic greenhouse gases, through industry supported and sensible regulation.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Robert) adjourned.