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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 1011


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaAssistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women) (15:41): I present the revised explanatory memoranda relating to the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 and I 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—

CUSTOMS AMENDMENT (ANTI-DUMPING COMMISSION TRANSFER) BILL 2013

This is a government that strongly supports genuine free and fair trade and an open and dynamic market economy. An effective trade remedies regime is integral to a robust international trading system. It is also critical to our broader plan to boost the competitiveness of Australian manufacturing, as outlined in our August 2013 policy statement.

We are not talking about protectionism, but about creating and maintaining a level playing field for Australian industry.

Australia’s current regime for combatting injurious dumping and subsidisation is transparent and complies with our obligations under World Trade Organization agreements. But there is clearly room to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the system—and that is what we plan to do.

To show we mean business, we are moving responsibility for anti-dumping matters to the industry portfolio. This will allow those considering requests for anti-dumping action to benefit from the considerable experience and knowledge held across the industry portfolio. It will also free up the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service to concentrate on other matters of importance to this government.

Processes have already been put in place to ensure that I, as Minister for Industry, have the power to make decisions on anti-dumping matters. However, under current Customs legislation, the administrator of Australia’s anti-dumping system—the Anti-Dumping Commission—remains part of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.

This bill contains the changes to Customs and other legislation needed to separate the Anti-Dumping Commission from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. This will allow the commission to transfer to the Department of Industry, where it will be better placed.

Speedy passage of this legislation will ensure that the transfer of the anti-dumping function to the industry portfolio is completed as soon as possible.

The transfer of anti-dumping to the industry portfolio is only the first step in our plan to strengthen Australia’s anti-dumping system. We are committed to further improvements to the system that will boost the competitiveness of Australia’s manufacturing sector, enabling it to better perform its critical role in our economy.

 

SOCIAL SERVICES AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2013

This bill will implement the first stage of the government's commitment, foreshadowed during the 2013 election campaign, to adopt a different approach to addressing problem gambling.

The bill will also implement several measures affecting family and parental payments, the closed pension bonus scheme, the rules for receiving certain payments overseas, and certain student entitlements.

Encouraging responsible gambling

This government believes in meaningful and measurable support for problem gamblers. Although most people who gamble do so responsibly, gambling is a major problem for some Australians, and effective measures are needed to help these people.

The amendments in this bill represent the government's first step in reducing bureaucracy and the duplication of functions between the Australian government and state and territory governments in this important area.

The bill will repeal the position and functions of the National Gambling Regulator, along with those provisions relating to the supervisory and gaming machine regulation levies, the automatic teller machine withdrawal limit, dynamic warnings, the trial on mandatory pre commitment, and matters for Productivity Commission review.

The bill will also amend the pre-commitment and gaming machine capability provisions to express clearly the government's commitment to the development and implementation of these measures in the near future, informed fully by consultations with industry, state and territory governments, and other stakeholders.

Continuing income management as part of Cape York Welfare Reform

Cape York Welfare Reform is a partnership between the Australian government, the Queensland government and the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. It aims to restore local Indigenous authority, rebuild social norms, encourage positive behaviours, and improve economic and living conditions in the participating communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge.

Since Cape York Welfare Reform began in July 2008, the participating communities have seen improvements in school attendance, parental responsibility and restoration of local Indigenous authority.

This bill will continue income management as a key element of Cape York Welfare Reform, as part of a two-year continuation of the initiative until 31 December 2015.

Family Tax Benefit and eligibility rules

From 1 January 2014, family tax benefit Part A will be paid to families only up to the end of the calendar year in which their teenager is completing school.

Youth allowance, with its 'learn or earn' provisions that require young people to participate in work, job search, study or training, will continue to be available as the more appropriate payment to help young people transition from school into work or post-secondary study. Exemptions will continue to apply for young people who cannot work or study due to physical, psychiatric, intellectual or learning disability.

Period of Australian working life residence

A further measure in the bill will require age pensioners, and other pensioners with unlimited portability, to have been Australian residents for 35 years during their working life (in place of the current 25-year requirement) to receive their full means tested pension if they choose to retire overseas or travel overseas for longer than 26 weeks. Pensioners will also be paid on their own individual working life residence rather than that of their partner or former partner.

The 25-year requirement has been significantly more generous than the pension rules of other OECD countries, which generally require 35 to 45 years of pension contributions to receive a full pension. Australia's social security system differs markedly from the contributory systems that operate overseas in that payments are made from general tax revenue and are based on the concepts of residence and need. Pensioners with less than 35 years' Australian working life residence will be paid at a proportionally reduced rate. This amendment will apply to pensioners who leave Australia on or after 1 January 2014 and to pensions granted under most social security agreements from that date.

Pensioners who are living overseas immediately before 1 January 2014 will continue to be paid under the previous rules unless they return to Australia for longer than 26 weeks and leave again, after which the new rules will apply.

Interest charge

The bill will allow for an interest charge to be applied to certain debts incurred by recipients of Austudy payment, fares allowance, youth allowance for full-time students and apprentices, and ABSTUDY living allowance. The interest charge will only be applied where the debtor does not have or is not honouring an acceptable repayment arrangement. Debtors who are already making repayments, or who come to a repayment agreement with the Department of Human Services following implementation of the measure, will not be charged interest.

The rate of the interest charge will be based upon on the 90-day bank-accepted-bill rate, plus an additional seven per cent, as is currently applied by the Australian Taxation Office for tax debts under the Taxation Administration Act 1953. Over the last four years, this rate has averaged 11.07 per cent, and currently stands at 9.6 per cent.

Student start-up loans

From 1 January 2014, the bill replaces the current student start-up scholarship with an income-contingent loan, the student start-up loan. There will be a limit of two loans a year of $1,025 each (indexed from 2017). The loans will be available on a voluntary basis, and will be repayable under similar arrangements to Higher Education Loan Program debts. Students will only be required to begin repaying their start-up loan after their Higher Education Loan Program debt has been repaid.

Paid parental leave

To ease administrative burdens on business, the Paid Parental Leave legislation will be amended to remove the requirement for employers to provide government funded parental leave pay to their eligible long-term employees.

From 1 March 2014, employees will be paid directly by the Department of Human Services, unless an employer opts in to provide parental leave pay to its employees and an employee agrees for their employer to pay them.

Pension bonus scheme

From 1 March 2014, the bill will end late registrations for the closed pension bonus scheme. The pension bonus scheme provides a lump sum payment to people who are registered in the scheme and qualified for the age pension, or the equivalent Veterans' Affairs service pension or income support supplement, but who choose to defer their pension and remain in the workforce.

The scheme was closed in 2009, although eligible people who were not registered in the scheme at the time of its closure have still been able to backdate their registration in the scheme if they qualified for the relevant pension before 20 September 2009, but have deferred its receipt and kept working. The work bonus was introduced in 2009 as a different approach to encouraging older Australians to continue working.

Ending late registrations for the pension bonus scheme will simplify and support the flexibility of our substantial system of seniors support. Eligible people have had four years to backdate their registration, and will still have until 1 March 2014 to register in the scheme.

Indexation

This bill will extend the indexation pauses on certain higher income limits for a further three years until 30 June 2017. This means that:

the family tax benefit part B primary earner income limit and the parental leave pay and dad and partner pay individual income limits will each remain at $150,000; and

the current higher income free area for family tax benefit part A also remains at the current level set depending on the number and ages of the family's children—for example, the income cut-out for a family with two children aged under 13 will remain at around $113,000.

In addition, the annual end-of-year family tax benefit supplements will remain at current levels for the next three years—$726 a child for part A and $354 a family for part B.

The bill will also set the annual child care rebate limit at $7,500 for three income years starting from 1 July 2014, with the first indexation of this amount occurring on 1 July 2017. As a result, an individual will be able to receive up to the maximum amount of $7,500 per child per financial year for out of pocket child care costs for those three income years.

Changes to the rules for receiving payments overseas

From 1 July 2014, the length of time that families can be temporarily overseas and continue to receive family and parental payments will reduce from three years to 56 weeks.

In some circumstances, (such as where certain Australian Defence Force and Australian Federal Police personnel are deployed overseas) a person will continue to be eligible for family and parental leave payments for up to three years while temporarily absent from Australia.

Extending the deeming rules to account-based income streams

The Bill will align the income test treatment of account-based superannuation income streams, for products assessed from 1 January 2015, with the deemed income rules applying to other financial assets. Account based income streams held by income support recipients immediately before 1 January 2015 will continue to be assessed under the previous rules unless recipients choose to change to a product that is assessed under the new rules.

Other amendments

Other minor amendments in the bill include improving the administration of debt recovery under the Student Financial Supplement Scheme, clarifying the provisions relating to the time period for lodging tax returns for family assistance purposes, and ensuring that funding under the National Disability Insurance Scheme paid into a person's account, which is set up for the purpose of managing the funding for supports for a participant's plan, cannot be garnisheed for debt recovery purposes.

TELECOMMUNICATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (SUBMARINE CABLE PROTECTION) BILL 2013

Submarine cables are an important component of Australia's telecommunications infrastructure. They carry the bulk of Australia's international voice and data traffic. Submarine cables provide a vital link for Australia to the global telecommunications network and the global digital economy.

Submarine cables have been in use for over 150 years, beginning with submarine telegraph cables. The first connection between Australia and the rest of the world by submarine cable was the Java to Port Darwin telegraph link in 1872. This in turn was connected to the populous southern capitals by the iconic Overland Telegraph Line built by Charles Todd.

In the 20th century, submarine cable technology evolved as the demand for alternative and faster communication grew. In 1956, the first submarine cable incorporating repeaters came into operation across the Atlantic. In 1988, developments in high-speed and high-capacity transmission over fibre optic cables enabled the transmission of vast quantities of information. Modern submarine cables typically provide multiple terabits per second of capacity when deployed and can be further upgraded, well positioning them to meet future traffic levels.

As an island nation, Australia and its economy is especially dependent on submarine cables. As such, damage to submarine cables can have a significant impact. There are currently seven international submarine cables connecting to Australia that are in operation. The main players are Southern Cross Cable Ltd which operates the Southern Cross Cable, PIPE International which operates PPC-1, Telstra which operates APNG-2 and Telstra Endeavour, and Singtel and Reach which operate the SEA-ME-WE 3 cable.

That is why in 2005 the previous coalition government established a regime for the protection of international submarine cables landing in Australia, in the form of Schedule 3A of the Telecommunications Act 1997.

The regime gives the industry regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority or the ACMA, the power to establish protection zones around international submarine cables of national significance. In protection zones, certain activities are prohibited or restricted from taking place including some kinds of fishing, trawling and mining.

The regime also establishes an installation permit system. Carriers seeking to install an international submarine cable that will land in Australia must apply for a permit to install the cable.

To date, the ACMA has declared three protection zones—the North and South Sydney Protection Zones and the Perth Protection Zone. Since the introduction of the regime, there have been no reported incidents of cable damage in Australian waters.

Australia's regime has been praised by both the International Cable Protection Committee and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation as a global best practice regulatory example for the protection of submarine cables.

In 2010, the ACMA undertook a statutory review of Schedule 3A. Based on feedback received from industry, the ACMA made several recommendations to improve the operation of the regime.

These recommendations form the basis of the amendments proposed in the bill, along with other proposals that have been identified by the Government and stakeholders that will further enhance the regime.

The amendments fall into five categories.

First, the bill will ensure consistency between the regime and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, also known as UNCLOS. UNCLOS sets out coastal nations' rights and obligations in relation to the seas and oceans, including Australia's right to regulate foreign ships and persons beyond its territorial sea.

While it has not been a practical issue to date because the ACMA is required to consider UNCLOS when it exercises its powers, some concerns have been expressed that the regime may seek to regulate foreign nationals for certain actions in waters of the Exclusive Economic Zone or Continental Shelf in a manner inconsistent with international law, including UNCLOS. To the extent that the regime is used as a model by other jurisdictions, this carries the risk that other jurisdictions may replicate this model.

The bill addresses this by modifying the regime's application, including criminal and civil enforcement options, to foreign ships and nationals in the waters beyond Australia's territorial sea.

Second, the bill will provide a structured process for the consideration of matters within the Attorney-General's portfolio in relation to submarine cable installation permit applications by:

requiring the ACMA to consult with the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department on installation permit applications; and

giving the Attorney-General power, after consultation with the Minister for Communications and the Prime Minister, to direct the ACMA to refuse a permit on security grounds.

During the consultation period, the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department may make a submission on the permit application, which may include a recommendation about the conditions that should be specified in the permit.

These are mechanisms to enable matters including security, international law and native title that may affect submarine cable installations to be considered.

The changes formalise existing practice. The proposed provisions are based on the current carrier licence application provisions under the Telecommunications Act and are familiar to industry.

Third, the bill will enable significant domestic submarine cables—that is cables that connect two places in Australia—to be brought under the regime and be suitably protected under the regime if appropriate. The bill will give the Governor-General power to specify in regulations that a domestic cable or route warrants protection. The ACMA would then have discretion to decide whether a protection zone should be declared around that cable or route. Consultation would be required before any regulations were made and any new protection zones specified. Carriers will also be able to install domestic submarine cables in protection zones by applying for a permit to do so. This is something not currently possible under the regime as currently in force.

Fourth, the bill will streamline the installation permit process so that:

carriers only need to apply for and obtain one type of permit to land a cable in Australia (whereas now they could require two applications, one for a permit zone and one for outside it);

the default timeframe for processing a non-protection zone permit application will be reduced from 180 days to 60 business days; and

processes under the regime that duplicate existing processes under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 are removed.

These amendments will reduce red and green tape—a key focus of our new government and something I will have a lot more to say about in the coming months with regards to the telecommunications sector.

Fifth, the bill will make several administrative and technical amendments to enhance the overall operation of the Bill. This includes:

expanding the list of authorities the ACMA must notify when it declares, varies or revokes a protection zone to include relevant authorities involved in sea monitoring, offshore law enforcement and management activities; for example the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service;

permitting minor deviations to the routes of submarine cables;

requiring permit applicants to notify the ACMA of any changes to their application;

permitting the ACMA to publish a summary of a proposal to declare, vary or revoke a protection zone in the newspapers and the electronic Commonwealth Gazette, while ensuring the full proposal to be published on its website;

requiring the ACMA to provide reasons if it declares a protection zone that is different to the original request; and

clarifying that prohibited or restricted activities in a protection zone do not include activities associated with maintenance or repair of a submarine cable.

To support the legislative framework, the government continues to work with stakeholders both domestically and internationally to increase the resilience of submarine cables to disruption. Australia is the first government member of the International Cable Protection Committee, a peak international body that brings together submarine cable owners and operators and national governments to discuss issues associated with submarine cables.

Australia is one of only a handful of nations that has a dedicated regime for the protection of submarine cables. The bill will ensure that Australia's regime continues to be a best practice regime and the protection the regime affords to this vital infrastructure is maintained.

Submarine cables ensure our connectedness to the rest of the world. They are vital components of our telecommunications infrastructure.

The private sector has responded well to growth in the demand for international submarine cable capacity, and is well aware of the potential for future traffic growth. Further investments in cables, especially on the Perth to Singapore route, have been announced by the Nextgen Group, SubPartners and Trident. Several cables off the east coast of Australia have also been announced. SubPartners and Hawaiki Pty Ltd have announced proposals to construct cables that connecting Australia and the US. Telstra, Vodafone NZ and Telecom NZ have recently announced a joint venture to build a cable to connect Australia and New Zealand.

But connectedness isn't just about ensuring our submarine cables or satellite links or even backhaul fibre are of a high standard - it is just as much about ensuring that Australian mums and dads, school kids or small business people can take advantage of the resources and opportunities of the internet.

That is why our government is delivering a better NBN. Our NBN will deliver fast internet sooner to Australians at less cost to taxpayers and at a more affordable price for consumers.

Unlike Labor, we commit to prioritising the NBN rollout in areas with the poorest services so that those who currently can't connect, or have the poorest speeds, get fast broadband sooner. Under Labor many areas with poor broadband services would have been waiting for 10 or more years before being connected while many with access to fast broadband received further upgrades ahead of those in need.

Plainly, Labor's priorities were wrong and they simply failed to deliver.

By rolling out a more affordable NBN with greater potential for competition we will also ensure that more families will be able to afford a home internet connection. More affordable services will mean that more kids can do their homework, more online entertainment can be streamed and more innovative digital services can be accessed. The biggest impediment to internet access in Australia is, of course, cost—with our smarter approach fewer families will be priced out of the digital economy.

The coalition's approach has connectedness at its core. I'm pleased that this bill will strengthen laws relating to the submarine cables that connected us to the world and I am excited about our plan for a better NBN which will mean that more Australians will be able to connect to and take part in the digital economy.

Debate adjourned.