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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 7977


Senator JACINTA COLLINS (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) (12:30): 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—

FEDERAL CIRCUIT COURT OF AUSTRALIA LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2012

Introduction

I am pleased to introduce legislation to rename the Federal Magistrates Court and change the title of Federal Magistrates to better reflect the Court’s role in Australia’s judicial system, and its extensive regional circuit work.

The Federal Circuit Court of Australia Legislation Amendment Bill will rename the Federal Magistrates Court as the ‘Federal Circuit Court of Australia’. It will also change the title of Chief Federal Magistrate to ‘Chief Judge’ and Federal Magistrates to ‘Judge’.

This bill amends the Federal Magistrates Act 1999 and other legislation that directly affects entitlements of Federal Magistrates, to implement the changes to name and titles and to ensure that the existing arrangements for the Court, its judicial officers and personnel can continue to operate as they do currently.

Name to reflect Court role

The current name of the Federal Magistrates Court does not adequately capture the vital work undertaken by that Court.

When the Federal Magistrates Court commenced operation in 2000, its name reflected the objective that it would provide an affordable and quick avenue to resolve less complex matters, as an alternative to litigation in the Federal and Family Courts.

Over time the Court has experienced an increasing caseload, and a greater diversity and complexity in the cases coming before it. In 2010 11 alone, the Court finalised over 83,000 cases across matters as diverse as family law, migration, bankruptcy and consumer protection law.

From its early days, the Court actively pursued ways to provide court services to communities that experienced difficulties in accessing justice—whether that be due to low socio-economic conditions, remoteness, or lack of other services and facilities.

Since then, the Court has remained committed to improving access to court services for people living outside the larger metropolitan areas.

During the last financial year, the Court circuited to 33 rural and regional locations and spent the equivalent of approximately 145 weeks (in judicial hours) hearing matters in these areas.

The Gillard Labor government is determined to ensure that the federal court system delivers accessible, equitable and understandable justice.

In this regard, the Court continues to meet a clear need in the community for people to be able to access a court service near to where they live and work—in places like Broken Hill and Bundaberg, Mount Gambier and Burnie—not just Sydney and Melbourne.

As the only federal court with a program of regular court circuits, the Federal Circuit Court of Australia is a name particularly well-suited to highlight this important aspect of the Court’s role.

Federal Magistrates are also clearly not ‘Magistrates’ in the traditional sense of the word. They are Chapter III judicial officers, and their nomenclature is important to ensure the community understands and respects their role in the judicial system.

The new titles of Chief Judge and Judge better reflect Chapter III status and the increasingly complex and difficult work being undertaken by the Court.

Wider court reform package

This retitling of the Court forms one part of this government’s wider federal courts reform package.

The Gillard government recently announced that it is putting the courts back on a firmer financial footing, by directing an additional $38 million over four years to the Federal, Family, and soon-to-be Federal Circuit courts. This injection of new funds, derived from a change to fee structures, will ensure our courts can continue to deliver key services, including regional circuit work, which are vital for disadvantaged litigants and small businesses.

These fee changes also provide clear price signals to court users that courts should not always be their first port of call—increases were weighted to major corporations, while reinstating exemptions and waivers for disadvantaged litigants.

The government has made it clear that our courts should cater to the small, one-off litigant as much as the major corporate player who uses the court as a regular part of business. In recognition that litigation can be costly and damaging for small business, businesses of under 20 employees will be treated as individuals, rather than corporations.

As the Commonwealth is one of the most frequent court users, government agencies will now also pay the corporations rate—the Commonwealth should be leading the way on these changes, so agencies will be encouraged to see if quicker and less formal methods of dispute resolution can be used.

Other important aspects of this package of reforms include:

implementing a transparent complaints process against judicial officers - the legislative framework for which was passed by the House earlier this sitting period;

expanding the diversity judicial appointments, to better reflect the Australian community; and

establishing the Military Court of Australia, so that independent justice is available to Australian Defence Force members.

Other features of the bill

To return to the bill in question—in addition to renaming the Court and providing for the new titles of Chief Judge and Judge, this bill will:

maintain entitlements currently applying to Federal Magistrates

provide for styling of Federal Magistrates under their new title

change statutory position titles, such as the Chief Executive Officer, consequential to the new name of the Court, and

provide for transitional and savings arrangements to ensure continuity of the Federal Magistrates Court and arrangements under which it operates.

This bill does not alter the remuneration or entitlements available to the Court’s judicial officers. Salaries and allowances for judicial officers across all federal courts are determined by the independent Remuneration Tribunal, and are subject to annual review. In making this name and title change, it is not the government’s intent that the usual range of factors considered by the Tribunal in making its determinations would be expanded. The newly titled Judges will also remain on the current generous superannuation arrangements. The employer superannuation contribution increased from 13.1 per cent to 15.4 per cent in July last year.

While a name change might appear straightforward to implement, the Commonwealth statute book reflects the expanded jurisdiction of the Federal Magistrates Court and contains extensive references to the Court and to Federal Magistrates.

Consequential amendments affecting these other pieces of Commonwealth legislation will be included in a separate bill to be introduced into the parliament at a later time.

It is then planned for commencement of the two bills to occur concurrently to ensure the changes are implemented consistently and effectively across all relevant legislation.

Consultation

The government has consulted with the federal courts and key legal organisations in selecting the new name for the Court and titles for Federal Magistrates, and is grateful for the input provided by stakeholders, particularly views and suggestions contributed by Chief Federal Magistrate John Pascoe AO CVO, on behalf of his Court.

Conclusion

Australia is well-served by a Court that continues to provide affordable, accessible and streamlined pathways for people to resolve their disputes.

The unique character and broad reach of the Court means it plays a vital part in the federal justice system, and is integral to assisting people in regional communities to access federal court services.

Through this bill the new name for the Court and titles for its judicial officers will serve to recognise and better reflect the Court’s role in the Australian judicial system.

It also acts as a concrete demonstration of the government’s renewed constructive relationship with the Court, which can only benefit the Australian community.

Higher Education Support Amendment (Maximum Payment Amounts and Other Measures) Bill 2012

The Higher Education Support Amendment (Maximum Payment Amounts and Other Measures) Bill 2012 amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA) to update the maximum payment amounts for Other Grants and Commonwealth scholarships and to authorise wider use and disclosure of personal information collected for the purposes of the act.

The maximum amounts for Other Grants under section 41-45, and Commonwealth scholarships under section 46-40 of the act are being updated to provide for indexation and other variations to funding amounts and to include the next funding year.

The bill will allow the minister to determine, by legislative instrument, the maximum payment amounts for Other Grants and Commonwealth Scholarships from 2013 onwards.

There have been annual administrative amendments to the act since its enactment in 2003 to provide for indexation. The continual cycle of amendments is not the most efficient method of updating these appropriation amounts. Allowing the maximum payment amounts to be determined by legislative instrument will avoid the need for recurrent amendments to the act.

The bill would also allow my department to disclose personal information required for a range of regulatory, quality assurance and planning purposes to a limited number of bodies only.

Currently, the Higher Education Support Act (HESA) does not allow the disclosure of personal information outside of my department. Information that can be used to identify individuals is considered to be personal information as defined by the Privacy Act. However, the government’s higher education reforms have highlighted the legitimate demand from a number of bodies for unit record level data relating to university staff and students.

The government established the Tertiary Education and Quality Standards Authority (TEQSA) to provide assurance about the quality of the higher education system. TEQSA has written to my department requesting access to unit record data to assist it in undertaking risk assessments of higher education providers. This bill will enable TEQSA to fulfil its regulatory functions in 2012 without the need for a separate data collection.

The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) requires access to unit record data to assess vocational education and training providers whose students are eligible for VET FEE-HELP loans.

Higher education and vocational education and training providers, their representative peak bodies, Tertiary Admission Centres and state and territory governments require access to detailed information for the purposes of planning and quality assurance. The amendments aim to reduce the regulatory burden on providers who would otherwise have to supply the information to the department and national regulators.

In addition, my department proposes to conduct surveys for the purposes of measuring the quality of teaching and learning. This will require my department to give a third party services provider access to personal information to construct accurate and robust sample frames for surveys of staff, student and former students funded by the Australian government.

This approach has been endorsed by the Advancing Quality in Higher Education (AQHE) Reference Group in their report released in June 2012, and follows extensive consultation with the sector. Universities Australia has also advocated this approach to reduce the reporting burden on universities.

The bill includes strong provisions to ensure the personal information of staff and students is not misused or released publicly.

First, personal information will only be disclosed to organisations that have a legitimate need for access.

Second, recipients may only use the personal information for the purposes I have outlined, and they will not be permitted to ‘on disclose’ the information.

Third, recipients of personal information will remain bound by the Information Privacy Principles in the Privacy Act, HESA and by the Higher Education Data Protocols administered by my department.

All higher education and vocational education and training providers will need to ensure their privacy agreements are up to date so that students and staff are informed about potential uses and disclosure of their personal information.

In addition, the bill will include a provision that personal information obtained from a higher education or vocational education and training provider can only be disclosed to other providers and bodies with the consent of that provider. This provision will not apply to TEQSA, ASQA or state and territory governments since they require access to personal information to fulfil their regulatory or legislative functions.

Recipients of personal information will be working to enhance the standard of teaching and learning provided at all higher education providers.

This is part of the government’s commitment to maintaining the quality of our tertiary education system, while at the same time making the benefits of education and training available to an unprecedented number of Australians.

Australian Research Council

The bill also amends the Australian Research Council Act 2001 in order to provide administered funding to allow the ARC continue to support the highest-quality fundamental and applied research and research training through competitive selection processes across all disciplines, with the exception of clinical medicine and dentistry.

The appropriation bill supports the ongoing operations of the ARC to fund the high-quality research we need to address the great challenges of our time, to improve the quality of people’s lives, to support the development of new industries and to remain competitive in the global knowledge economy.

The ARC is the major source of funding for the innovative, investigator-driven research that has underpinned inventions ranging from the Synchrotron, and is supporting research into tomorrow’s breakthrough technologies such as the bionic eye.

ARC funded research has and continues to play an important role in improving the lives of Australians and addressing the big issues of our time. This includes, for example, our need to transform our manufacturing industries to create greener, healthier and more resilient processes and products. The government is proud that stronger steel and cleaner, safer cars could soon be manufactured in Australia thanks to research made possible with funding from the ARC.

On-going funding for the ARC is essential to the vitality of the Australian higher education system and our commitment to strengthen Australia’s research workforce. Excellent researchers across all areas of the university system must be able to compete for funding if we are to keep world-class academics in Australia, working in our universities and teaching the next generation.

It is important to note the key role the ARC has been and is playing in attracting more Indigenous Australians to academia and keeping more women in research careers. This includes through the Discovery Indigenous scheme, the addition of two new Australian Laureate Fellowships specifically for women and the introduction of Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence (ROPE) to enable assessors to take into account any career interruptions, including those for childbirth and caring responsibilities.

Through these initiatives and through the whole NCGP, the ARC is helping us to reduce research career barriers and ensure the nation reaps the benefit of all of its research talent.

The ARC is not only supporting quality research and research careers, it is helping the government measure our research investment and assure taxpayers that their money is being invested wisely.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPORT AMENDMENT (STREAMLINING A ND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2012

The bill will introduce a number of measures to strengthen and streamline the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (the Act), resulting in more effective and efficient administration of the Australian government's Higher Education Loan Program or 'HELP' schemes, namely FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP. The bill will enable the government to act on recommendations made in the Post Implementation Review of the VET FEE-HELP Assistance Scheme Final Report 2011 and its commitments made under the April 2012 COAG National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform. It will position the government to deliver timely improvements to the HELP schemes, creating a more accessible, transparent, responsive and robust tertiary sector.

The bill will enhance the quality and accountability framework through new provisions that allow the minister to consider investigation reports from the national and non-referring jurisdiction education regulators when making a decision to approve, revoke or suspend approval under the HELP schemes. The bill will further strengthen the government's ability to manage risk to the administration of public monies and better protect students by strengthening the suspension and revocation provisions for approved providers. This will ensure that decisions under the provisions of the act to revoke or suspend a low quality provider can take effect on the day the notice is registered on the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments, offering increased protections to students.

The amendments will also improve the tertiary sector's ability to deliver education and training in a more responsive and flexible manner by moving the census date requirements into the legislative guidelines. This will allow the sector to offer rolling enrolments and be more responsive to student and industry needs without onerous administrative requirements. The bill will also allow for a managed trial of VET FEE-HELP for specified certificate IV level qualifications by amending the definition of a VET course of study.

Further, the bill will reduce complexity and duplication through consolidating and streamlining three sets of legislative guidelines into a single set. In doing so, provider obligations and responsibilities will be clarified and information further streamlined. Delegation powers will be enhanced to allow for the minister and secretary to delegate powers to an APS employee. This will ensure that programs and funding requirements under the Act can continue uninterrupted regardless of which department holds responsibility for the schemes.

Finally, the bill will enable a streamlined approach to approvals and administrative compliance for low-risk applicants and providers already approved under the schemes. The amendments will allow the minister to determine a category of providers and financial reporting requirements for low-risk VET FEE-HELP applicants and approved providers. This approach will further reduce the administrative and regulatory burden placed on applicants and providers and encourage increased uptake of the scheme by quality providers, and ultimately students.

NATIONAL HEALTH SECURITY AMENDMENT BILL 2012

The National Health Security Amendment Bill 2012 amends the National Health Security Act 2007 to enhance Australia's obligations for securing certain biological agents such as anthrax and foot-and-mouth disease virus. These agents are called security sensitive biological agents (SSBAs).

The SSBA Regulatory Scheme includes stringent requirements relating to the notification of the type and location of SSBAs, along with Standards that must be met by entities handling SSBAs. The Standards relate to matters such as the secure handling, storage and transport of SSBAs along with personnel security requirements and risk management strategies.

Over the three years that the SSBA Regulatory Scheme has been operational, the government has worked closely with entities that handle SSBAs, along with other experts in the field, to ensure smooth administration of the legislation. A number of areas have been highlighted where improvements to the regulatory scheme might be made. The bill I am introducing today enhances the SSBA Regulatory Scheme in two important ways.

First, the proposed amendments provide a streamlined reporting scheme for entities, such as hospital diagnostic facilities, that are not registered under the SSBA Regulatory Scheme and only need to handle SSBAs for less than seven consecutive days, known as temporary handlings. These facilities do not register because they are unable to meet the SSBA Standards for registered facilities and compliance would impose a large regulatory burden on them for such a short period of handling. The entities may be sent SSBAs to perform specific tests, for example antibiotic sensitivity testing, after which the SSBAs are sent to a registered facility or destroyed.

An entity that only handles SSBAs temporarily will be required to report the receipt of the SSBA and the purpose for handling the SSBA to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Ageing (the Secretary), within two business days of starting to handle. These entities will also need to report the disposal (that is the transfer to a registered facility or destruction of the SSBA) which must occur within seven days of receipt or a longer period approved by the Secretary. Specific SSBA Standards will apply to the entity during the handling period to ensure the security of the agent is maintained during the temporary handling.

Second, the amendments will allow the secretary to better manage potential security risks for entities undertaking emergency facility maintenance. Entities may be required to move the SSBA out of the registered facility and into a storage area or an unregistered facility when the emergency occurs and may have to do so in a very short timeframe to ensure the SSBA remains viable.

Under these measures, entities will be required to inform the secretary of the emergency arrangements including security measures and proposed timeframes for completion. In order to ensure the security of the SSBA is maintained during the emergency maintenance, the secretary will be able to impose conditions such as a direction to the entity not to handle the SSBA for any purpose other than to store the SSBA, or impose a condition that if the repairs are not completed within a certain timeframe, the SSBA must be moved to a registered facility. The secretary will also be able to suspend some or all regulatory requirements including application of the relevant areas of the SSBA Standards, during the time taken to undertake the maintenance and appropriate to each unique emergency maintenance situation.

The amending bill also makes some amendments to improve the operation of the legislation and provide greater clarity for those working with SSBAs.

The first of these changes relates to the imposing of conditions to ensure the security of SSBAs is maintained in facilities required to undertake corrective actions following an inspection.

Under the SSBA Regulatory Scheme, a failure to comply with the standards is dealt with by the issue of notices for compliance which define the required corrective actions and the timeframes within which the entity is to achieve compliance. It is intended that the secretary should be able to impose conditions during the period of non-compliance on the entity's SSBA handlings based on any risks presented by the non-compliance. These conditions will assist in the reduction of risk during the time provided for corrective action to be taken.

The conditions would be guided by the general principle that when imposing conditions, the entity's circumstances are considered and the level of security applied is proportionate to the level of risk presented by the handling of the SSBA. The kinds of conditions that will be imposed will relate to the broad security areas included in the SSBA Standards of physical security, including storage, personnel security and information security.

Other measures in the bill deal with the clarification of reporting requirements by registered entities for biological agents suspected to be an SSBA. These measures will ensure that registered entities undertaking in-house confirmatory testing complete the reporting cycle for suspected SSBAs and report negative confirmatory testing results from the in-house tests. Measures will also ensure that the application of exemptions for certain entities are consistent between known and suspected SSBAs.

These changes have been the subject of consultation with agencies responsible for obtaining and assessing information about the risks and threats posed by biological agents (such as ASIO and other intelligence agencies), public and animal health laboratories, state and territory government agencies and other experts in SSBA.

I am confident that the Bill addresses the issues identified during the operational period of the scheme and from stakeholder liaison and ensures that we continue to deliver on our international commitments and the national imperative to actively improve our capacity to maintain adequate controls on security sensitive biological agents.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: In accordance with standing order 111, further consideration of these bills is now adjourned to the first day of the next period of sittings, which commences in 2013.