Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2299


Senator FAULKNER (Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (9.35 p.m.) —I table the explanatory memoranda relating to the bills and 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

BANKING (STATE BANK OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA AND OTHER MATTERS) BILL 1994

  The primary purpose of this bill is to facilitate South Australia's compliance with some of the principal conditions attaching to the special assistance package which the Commonwealth is providing to South Australia over a three year period. These conditions relate to: the sale of the State Bank of South Australia (SBSA); subjecting the bank to Commonwealth taxation; and the transfer by legislation of prudential supervision powers over the bank to the Reserve Bank of Australia.

On 17 February 1993, the Prime Minister issued a press release stating that the Government was prepared to provide special assistance to South Australia with a net present value of $600 million, in recognition of the extraordinary financial burden imposed on the people of South Australia as a consequence of the losses incurred by the SBSA. The severity of this financial burden was such that, in the absence of the special assistance package, South Australia's ability to participate in the economic recovery now underway would have been severely constrained. In return for the provision of the assistance, South Australia gave certain undertakings to the Commonwealth, including that:

the SBSA be sold as quickly as practicable consistent with achieving a fair market price;

the SBSA be brought into the Commonwealth's tax net free of tax losses from 1 July 1994;

the SBSA be subject to the prudential supervision of the Reserve Bank of Australia no later than 1 July 1994 by legislation; and

a debt management strategy designed to restore South Australia's finances to a more sustainable position be implemented.

The South Australian Government is moving to comply with these conditions.

The process of preparing the SBSA for eventual sale involves the creation of a new corporatised entity from 1 July 1994 to be named the Bank of South Australia Limited (or BankSA). BankSA will carry on the core business of the SBSA, including housing loans, credit cards, deposit facilities, and rural and business lending, and will continue to operate some interstate business in areas such as small scale leasing and commercial lending. These activities are being transferred to BankSA under South Australian and complementary interstate legislation.

At the time the conditions of South Australia's special assistance package were being agreed, the previous Commonwealth Treasurer undertook to facilitate South Australia's compliance with the conditions through Commonwealth legislation where necessary or justified. In this context, amendments to Commonwealth legislation are required to accommodate the referral of banking supervision powers over the bank to the Commonwealth and to facilitate the process of subjecting the bank to Commonwealth taxes. In fulfilment of this undertaking, the bill contains amendments to the Banking Act 1959 and the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936.

The bill also contains a number of other minor amendments to various Acts which will streamline and reduce the administrative costs associated with the transfer of assets from the SBSA to BankSA.

Amendments to the Corporations Law will allow bulk notification to the Australian Securities Commission of the change of chargee of a group of registered company charges, and to enable the Australian Securities Commission to deregister subsidiaries of SBSA which have been dissolved under South Australian legislation.

  These amendments have been approved by the Ministerial Council for Corporations for introduction into Parliament.

Amendments to the Privacy Act 1988 provide relief from the provisions relating to the passing of customer information from the SBSA to BankSA.

  The modifications are designed solely to facilitate the corporatisation of the SBSA and do not otherwise affect the operation or interpretation of the Privacy Act.

Amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936, the Fringe Benefits Assessment Act 1986 and the Taxation Laws Amendment Act (No.2) 1992 address transitional issues associated with the transfer of assets from the SBSA to the new bank, including to allow the transfer of SBSA customer tax file numbers to BankSA, and the imposition of Commonwealth taxes.

The amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 include provisions to deny deductions to BankSA for superannuation contributions or eligible termination payments in respect of unfunded liabilities accumulated as at 30 June 1994.

The Government is determined to ensure that the banking system is the most efficient possible. Accordingly, this bill includes a number of minor amendments to the Banking Act 1959 to streamline its administration. These include amendments to:

require branches of foreign banks to notify the Treasurer of any proposed arrangements, agreements or reconstructions of a foreign bank. If the Treasurer and the Governor-General are satisfied that these arrangements would not be in the national interest, this amendment gives the Governor-General in Council power to revoke the foreign bank's licence; and

remove the need for the Treasurer, under section 70, to formally agree to the institution of proceedings against an offence under the Act.

The bill also amends the Reserve Bank Act 1959, so that the responsibility for granting leave of absence from Reserve Bank Board meetings passes from the Treasurer to the Reserve Bank Board.

In the past the responsibility of granting leave of absence to Reserve Bank Board members fell to the Treasurer. The arrangements served little useful purpose and were an unnecessary Ministerial burden.

I present the Explanatory Memorandum which contains a more detailed explanation of the provisions of the bill.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER COMMISSION AMENDMENT BILL 1994

  Honourable senators will recall that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Act 1989 (the act) was substantially amended during 1993 to give effect to the recommendations arising from the review of the act by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).

One of the more significant changes was the establishment of the Torres Strait Regional Authority (the authority) which is to exercise ATSIC powers and functions with respect to Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal persons in the Torres Strait area. The authority will commence operating on 1 July this year.

This bill will extend the powers of the TSRA to:

enable the Prime Minister to confer a departmental function on the authority;

enable the minister to confer commission functions on the authority;

give the authority the power to negotiate, co-operate and enter into agreements with other Commonwealth bodies and with state, territory and local government bodies and to make grants and loans to the State of Queensland and its authorities including local government authorities; and

to allow the authority to use monies in the TSRA Land and Resources Fund for the development and implementation of the marine strategy referred to in the Torres Strait Development Plan, or in developing or maintaining real estate or in acquiring an interest in land.

The bill also allows the minister at his or her discretion to make rules for the conduct of elections in the Torres Strait area or in any part of the Torres Strait area by a system of wards including the power to prescribe the maximum number of members per ward.

Two other amendments relate to the Zone Election Rules and clarifies when elections for Regional Councils, Commissioners, the TSRA and any other election are completed for the purposes of filing election petitions.

I turn now to the major provisions of the bill.

Amendments relating to the Torres Strait Regional Authority

Clause 7 enables the Prime Minister to confer departmental functions on the Authority and the minister to confer a function of the Commission on the Authority.

These amendments are necessary as the Authority will from 1 July this year exercise ATSIC powers and functions in the Torres Strait and as ATSIC will no longer operate in the Torres Strait area.

Clauses 8 and 9 give the authority the power to negotiate and co-operate with other Commonwealth, State, Territory and local government bodies and to enter into agreements and make grants and loans to the State of Queensland or an authority of that State including local government bodies. This is essential for the Authority to be able to operate independently from ATSIC in the Torres Strait particularly as the Island Councils which will be major beneficiaries of TSRA funding are local authorities.

Clause 13 enables the Minister to make rules for the conduct of TSRA elections by a system of wards. It should be noted that the provisions allow for maximum flexibility so that rules can be made for the conduct of elections in the Torres Strait area or in any part of the Torres Strait area by a system of wards. The current Notice under section 116 can be continued under section 143S(2)(a) of the Act as amended. This Notice allows the Minister, at his or her discretion, to declare that the Torres Strait Regional Council would best be able to represent the Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal persons living in the Torres Strait area if it consisted of, or included, persons elected to represent particular communities in the Torres Strait.

It should also be noted that TSRA election rules including rules for the conduct of elections by a system of wards can only be made by the Minister after consulting the Authority and the Australian Electoral Commission. Clauses 14 to 23 are consequential to the amendment providing for wards in the Torres Strait area.

Clause 25 broadens the scope of the TSRA Land and Resources Fund. The provision in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Act (No. 3) 1993 establishing the TSRA Land and Resources Fund (section 144W) stipulates that monies in the fund may only be spent in making grants for the acquisition of land and in acquiring land. However, because the Torres Strait is essentially a marine environment, the purposes for which monies in the Fund may be spent should be broadened to include development and on going maintenance of real property, including improvements to such property and the development of marine resources in accordance with the marine strategy to be contained in the Torres Strait Development Plan.

Amendments Relating to Zone Election Rules

Clause 4 varies the current provisions of the Act which requires that zone elections including supplementary elections must be conducted under the rules in force at the end of the election period for the preceding round of Regional Council elections. The bill provides that a supplementary zone election must be conducted in accordance with the rules in force immediately before the day on which the Minister fixes the last day for the close of the poll for the supplementary election. A supplementary election is defined as:

  "(a)a zone election held to fill a casual vacancy in the office of Commissioner representing the zone; or

   (b)a zone election held in place of a zone election in relation to which the Federal Court of Australia has made an order under Schedule 4."

Clearly it is proper that any supplementary election be held under the rules in force at the time the Minister calls such an election.

The rules in force for a normal round of zone elections following a round of Regional Council elections will continue to be those rules in force at the end of the election period for the preceding round of Regional Council elections.

End of Election Period for Zone and Other Election Purposes

Clause 30 amends Schedule 4 of the Act to provide when petitions may be lodged with the Federal Court of Australia in respect of a round of Regional Council elections, a round of Zone elections, a TSRA election for all the wards, and for any other election. Currently, section 140 provides that the provisions of Schedule 4 apply where there is a dispute in relation to a Regional Council election or a zone election. Item 3(e) of Schedule 4 provides that subject to clause 5 (which deals with petitions by the AEC), every election petition shall be filed in a Registry of the Court within 40 days after the end of the election period. The ATSIC Act does not stipulate what the "end of the election period" is in relation to a zone election. The Attorney General's Department has advised that the Act should be amended to indicate clearly the meaning of paragraph 3(e) of Schedule 4 in relation to elections subject to challenge by virtue of section 140 of the ATSIC Act. Clause 30 of the bill expressly provides that any petition disputing an election (whether a general election or a supplementary election) must be filed in a Registry of the Federal Court within 40 days after the last day on which a poll is declared.

The bill contains non-controversial but essential provisions for the efficient and effective operations of the Torres Strait Regional Authority, provides for supplementary zone elections under rules which are current at the time of the election and clarifies the commencement dates for petition periods for all elections conducted under the Act.

I present the Explanatory Memorandum for the information of honourable senators, and commend the bill to the Senate.

ABORIGINAL LAND (LAKE CONDAH AND FRAMLINGHAM FOREST)AMENDMENT BILL 1994

  This bill provides the means of ensuring that future mining on Aboriginal land in the Lake Condah and Framlingham Forest area will be in carried out in accordance with current Victorian legislation.

The Lake Condah Act was enacted in order to provide for the vesting of certain lands owned by the State of Victoria in certain Aboriginal communities at Lake Condah and Framlingham Forest. At the time of enactment certain mining legislation was in force in Victoria. Mining on Lake Condah and Framlingham Forest Aboriginal land was regulated according to that legislation, which has now been repealed. New legislation has been enacted in its stead.

Mr President, no mining tenements currently exist over these areas and hence no current interests will be in any way affected by the proposed amendment. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that any future mining operations will be carried out in accordance with the Victorian legislation which is currently in force in that State.

There are no financial implications arising from this bill.

Mr President

I commend the bill to the Senate and I present the explanatory memorandum.

INDUSTRY, TECHNOLOGY AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 2)1994

Amendment of the Australian Industry Development Corporation Act 1970.

  The purpose of Part 2 of the bill is to amend the Australian Industry Development Corporation Act 1970 to facilitate the reduction in the Australian Industry Development Corporation's equity in its major subsidiary, AIDC Ltd, from the current level of about 80% to a minimum of 51%, as announced in the 1992-93 Budget. Proceeds from this would flow to the Commonwealth.

The reduction of the Corporation's equity in AIDC Ltd will not affect the Government's guarantee of the Corporation's liabilities.

When announcing the decision in August 1992 to reduce the share holding in AIDC Ltd, the Government said that this would be undertaken when the full value of the underlying assets of AIDC Ltd could be obtained and the sale of the shares would be effected in a manner that would ensure minimal disruption to the share price and the company's operations. That statement was in recognition that AIDC Ltd shares were then grossly undervalued when trading at less than $0.70, and to inform the financial markets of the Government's intentions.

AIDC Ltd's share price has since rebounded as a result of its vastly improved performance, and the financial analysts have given strong support to its shares. In recent times AIDC Ltd shares have been trading well above the issue price of $2.00, and indications are that the market forecasts of its profitability will continue to translate into strong market support for AIDC Ltd shares.

At recent share prices, the sale of this portion of AIDC Ltd shares would raise around $100 million.

I shall now briefly outline the measures contained in this part of the bill.

The amendments provide for a reduction in AIDC's holding in AIDC Ltd to not less than 51% by transferring shares to the Commonwealth, which would subsequently sell them. It is important to note that the bill stipulates that the Corporation cannot reduce its shareholding to below 51%. This will ensure that the Commonwealth will continue to retain beneficial majority ownership of AIDC Ltd.

An amendment is also contained in the bill to ensure that the Corporation's statutory borrowing constraint will not be breached as a result of the transfer of shares to the Commonwealth. This is to cover a technicality arising from accounting standards, that would not have operated if the Corporation itself undertook the sale of the shares. A further amendment is required, as a result of a technicality in the AIDC Act, to enable the Corporation to pass on dividends it may receive from AIDC Ltd despite technically posting a loss as a result of shares it transfers to the Commonwealth.

The transfer of shares to the Commonwealth and subsequent sale by the Commonwealth could involve these transactions being subject to certain State and Territory taxes and charges, in particular stamp duty. In the absence of any action, this would depress the expected returns to the Commonwealth (and hence to all taxpayers) from the sale of these assets and would benefit only the taxpayers in the particular State or Territory where the taxes are paid. It would also complicate the sale process.

To avoid these issues the bill provides that the sale of the initial transfer of AIDC Ltd shares from the Corporation to the Commonwealth, and the subsequent sale by the Commonwealth and any related transactions will be exempted from State and Territory taxes and charges.

The amendments contained in Part 2 of the bill will allow for the sell down of AIDC Ltd shares announced by the Government in August 1992, and ensure that the benefits of this accrue to Australian taxpayers. At the same time, the Corporation will continue to maintain its existing relationship with AIDC Ltd, including its role of principal borrower on behalf of the AIDC Group.

Amendment of the National Measurement Act 1960

The objects of the National Measurement Act 1960 include establishing a national system of units and standards of measurement of physical quantities and providing for their uniform use. The National Measurement Act is administered by the National Standards Commission, a Commonwealth statutory authority established in 1950.

This bill will amend the National Measurement Act by increasing the number of Commissioners serving on the National Standards Commission, by giving the Commission the power to invest its money, to provide financial assistance, and by making other changes of an administrative nature.

The Commission currently comprises a Chairperson, the Executive Director and six other members. The Chairperson is usually an eminent scientist or technologist while the members bring to the Commission a great breadth of experience at a very senior level. These members represent high technology industry, CSIRO, consumer interests, the trade measurement industry, the National Association of Testing Authorities, trade measurement authorities and academia.

A Program evaluation of the Commission was carried out between December 1991 and March 1992 by Dr Kevin Foley, who was chosen by the Evaluation Steering Committee which comprised representatives of the Department of Industry, Technology and Regional Development, the Department of Finance, the Bureau of Industry Economics and the National Standards Commission.

Recommendation six of the evaluation report dealt with expanding the skills, perspective and experience of the Commission by increasing their numbers by two to a total of ten Commissioners. This bill implements that recommendation.

The amendments allowing the Commission to enter into contracts involving amounts up to $250,000 without Ministerial approval, and allowing it to invest surplus funds resulting from cost recoverable activities, brings it into line with other similar government bodies. Provision of a granting power to the Commission will enable it to make grants of financial assistance for purposes related to metrology.

The amendments will result in one additional staff member at a total cost of $100,000 per year.

Amendment of the Patents Act 1990

The amendment to the Patents Act 1990 brings that Act in line with recent amendments made to the Seas and Submerged Lands Act 1973 by the Maritime Legislation Amendment Act 1994. The Seas and Submerged Lands Act 1973 now defines Australia's Continental Shelf by reference to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, not the earlier (1958) Convention on the Continental Shelf. Consequential amendments to other Commonwealth legislation were included in a Schedule to the Maritime Legislation Amendment Act 1994.

Amendment of the Pooled Development Funds Act 1992

The purpose of the amendment to s24(5)(b) of the Pooled Development Funds (PDF) Act 1992 is to extend the period for which the most recent audited accounts can be used to determine the value of the total assets of an investee business before a Pooled Development Fund (PDF) invests from 12 months to 18 months. This change reflects the fact that audited accounts for the previous financial year are generally not available for up to six months into the current financial year.

Currently section 24 of the Pooled Development Funds Act specifies that the size of the investee company at the time of the initial investment by a PDF must not exceed $30 million total assets.

Section 24(5)(b) requires that the audited accounts, used to determine the value of the total assets of the investee business, must relate to a period that ended not more than 12 months before the investment is made.

The amendment of the period from 12 months to 18 months in section 24(5)(b) permits, where necessary, the use of the investee company's most recent audited accounts to determine the value of the total assets. At present PDFs are prevented from investing in investee companies typically for up to the first six months of any current financial year, because audited accounts for the previous year are not available.

The other timing constraints of section 24(5) remain unchanged.

The amendment to the Pooled Development Funds Act 1992 will have no impact on Commonwealth expenditure.

A detailed explanation of the changes made by the bill is contained in the Explanatory Memorandum.

I commend this bill to honourable senators and I present the Explanatory Memorandum to this bill.

LAW AND JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1994

  The Law and Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 1994 will amend seven Acts coming within the Attorney-General's portfolio.

The bill contains amendments of a minor policy nature, makes minor technical amendments to existing legislation and corrects a drafting error. None of the amendments concerns major policy proposals or sensitive policy issues. They are explained in the Explanatory Memorandum circulated with the bill.

The proposed amendments will not have any significant financial impact. However, the amendments to the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 may lead to some minor savings in the administration of delegations.

The amendment to the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 will ensure that a delegation to a class of offices will include offices created after the instrument of delegation was made.

The amendments in the bill to the Cheques and Payment Orders Act 1986 will improve procedures for the physical and electronic presentment of cheques. The amendments will facilitate greater use of electronic presentments. The amendments were sought by the Australian Payments Clearing Association.

The Cheques and Payment Orders Act currently enables a demand for the payment of a cheque (`presentment') to be made electronically by the collecting bank to the drawee or paying bank without the physical movement of the cheque itself between the two banks. However, electronic presentment has not been widely used. This has been partly because the banking industry, in considering how to implement electronic presentment at the practical level, has concluded that the Act should clearly distinguish between electronic presentments within the one bank and those between different banks.

Therefore, the proposed amendments will provide for a distinction between the internal and external presentment of cheques. This will enable a drawee or paying bank to present internally to itself, without the restrictions set out in the amendments as to places, times and means of communication, which will apply to external presentment between banks.

The new provisions applying to internal and external presentment will also apply to the presentment of payment orders drawn on non-bank financial institutions.

The amendment to the Family Law Act 1975 will correct a drafting error in section 22.

The bill will amend the Federal Court of Australia Act 1976 to widen the powers of a single judge in appeal procedures. The bill will confer upon a single judge the power to:

join or remove parties of an appeal;

make orders by consent disposing of an appeal, including orders for costs; and

give directions relating to the conduct of an appeal generally.

The bill will also amend the Federal Court Act to give the Federal Court the ability to take evidence by video link, telephone or other appropriate means.

The bill will also provide the Federal Court with a discretion to take unsworn evidence by video link, telephone or other appropriate means from a person in another country. This will allow the Federal Court to overcome the difficulty of taking foreign evidence, particularly where the laws or conventions of other countries prevent the administration of an oath or affirmation by Australian courts. Where unsworn evidence is taken, the Court can give such weight to that evidence as it thinks fit in the circumstances.

The Federal Court Act will also be amended to enable Rules of Court to be made so that the Court will have a discretion to amend documents in a proceeding even though the effect of the amendment would be to raise a new cause of action that would, if proceedings in relation to it were commenced at the time of the amendment, be out of time. The amendment will put the Federal Court in a similar position to most other State and Territory Supreme Courts, which already have this power. It will also overcome the rule in Weldon v Neal (1887) 19 QBD 394, which prevents such amendments being made. Comments by the Hon. Justice Toohey in the decision of the High Court in Wardley Australia Ltd v Western Australia (1992) 175 CLR 514 suggest that an amendment to the Act is needed to enable Rules of Court to be made to overcome any doubt there may be about the Court's rule making power.

The amendment to the Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988 will give the Director of the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) the powers of a Departmental Secretary in relation to certain matters. The Director will be provided with equivalent powers to those which a Departmental Secretary possesses under the Public Service Act 1922. This amendment will also allow AUSTRAC to be prescribed under the Audit Act 1901 so that it will be responsible for the management of its funds and financial reporting.

The bill also contains a number of amendments to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act). In 1991, section 27A of the Act was amended to remove a precondition to the requirement to consult individuals where an application was made under the Act for a document that contained personal information that related to that individual. The precondition was that the individual to whom the information related might reasonably wish to contend that the document was exempt. The requirement to consult has become unduly onerous. The bill will provide for the reinsertion of the precondition and will contain guidance on matters to be taken into account in making the decision whether an individual might reasonably wish to object to disclosure.

The bill will amend the sections of the FOI Act which provide for internal review of decisions and appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to overcome a difficulty raised by a decision of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal which denied an applicant a right of appeal where the agency claimed that it had given access to all the documents requested but the applicant claimed that there were further documents.

Part II of Schedule 2 of the FOI Act will be amended to include specified documents of the Australian Statistician and documents in relation to the competitive commercial activities of Comcare and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) amongst those which may not be obtained under the Act. The bill will amend Part III of Schedule 2 to delete a reference to the repealed Honey Marketing Act 1988. The bill will include CSIRO in Schedule 4 of the Act with the effect that certain research documents of CSIRO will be exempt from applications under the Act.

The protection given by sections 91 and 92 of the FOI Act will be extended to situations where agencies are required to consult third parties before releasing documents to applicants. Section 91 of the Act provides protection against specified civil actions where applicants are given access to documents in accordance with that section. Section 92 of the Act provides protection against prosecution for criminal offences in the same circumstances.

The FOI Act will also be amended to extend the exemption under the Act for information which identifies confidential informants to persons protected under the National Witness Protection Program.

The bill will also make miscellaneous amendments to the FOI Act to improve the administration of the Act. These include:

the clarification of the requirement that agencies publish a statement of the categories of documents that are in their possession;

applying the Act to `official documents of a Parliamentary Secretary' to the same extent that it applies to `official documents of a Minister';

extending the requirement on an agency to give reasons and other particulars to decisions on reducing or not imposing charges and on remitting application fees;

further standardising time limits for various actions under the Act at 30 days; and

making specific provision for forwarding notifications and documents by post.

The amendment to the Judiciary Act 1903 will allow for judgments of the Full Court of the High Court of Australia to be delivered by one Justice.

I table the explanatory memorandum for the bill.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

PLANT BREEDER'S RIGHTS BILL 1994

  The purpose of this bill is to replace the Plant Variety Rights Act 1987 with new legislation to enable plant breeders to apply for and receive proprietary rights for new varieties of plants they develop.

Essentially the Breeder's Rights Bill (`the PBR bill') falls within the scope of public policy established over 15 years from 1971 to 1986 by extensive public inquiry that included an exhaustive inquiry in 1986 by a Senate Standing Committee on Natural Resources.

That Senate standing committee recommended, among other things, that a plant variety rights scheme be established, that legislation be drafted to conform to the 1978 Convention of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of plants, known as `UPOV', and that Australia accede to the 1978 UPOV Convention.

The aim of re-writing and re-naming the legislation is principally to conform to the 1991 revision of the UPOV convention.

PBR legislation conforming to the 1991 UPOV Convention is expected to provide a greater stimulus than the Plant Variety Rights Act 1987 to innovation by encouraging increased investment in plant breeding and technology transfer.

Continued innovation is needed to maintain Australia's competitiveness in agricultural and horticultural industries and the stimulation of technology transfer is crucial to maintaining Australia's access to new plant varieties for all plant industries.

These aims will be more easily achieved if Australia, harmonises its legislation and accedes to the 1991 UPOV Convention because other member countries of UPOV are preparing to do so and amending their legislation.

The legislation when harmonised with that of other member countries under the 1991 UPOV Convention, from which some reciprocal rights are possible, is also expected to provide a stimulus to the seed export trade.

The opportunity was also taken whilst the new bill was in preparation to introduce other provisions that would further increase the efficiency of the plant variety rights scheme (PVR scheme) and the effectiveness of varietal protection without going beyond the limits of the 1991 UPOV Convention or compromising the public interest provisions of the Plant Variety Rights Act.

The plain English used in the PBR bill should promote a better understanding of, and a wider interest in, the legislation on which the plant breeders rights scheme will be based.

The change in the name of the legislation to plant breeder's rights brings it into line with the new UPOV convention and common usage internationally for this form of intellectual property protection.

The unit administering the legislation and the scheme will be re-named the plant breeders rights office.

The Plant Variety Rights Act 1987 will be repealed following the successful passage and proclamation of the Plant Breeder's Rights bill.

Transitional arrangements to the new legislation will be convenient and simple to implement. All of the approximately 1000 applications that have been made for plant variety rights in the five years since the commencement of the scheme will be either deemed to have been granted PBR or, should they be in the process of being examined on the day of proclamation, they will continue to be examined under the old act and, if successful, they will be granted PBR. No grantee of PVR under the old act will be disadvantaged by the transition arrangements.

The important changes to the legislation in the PBR bill have been developed in consultation with the National Farmers Federation, the Grains Council of Australia, the Seed Industry Association of Australia and the Nursery Industry Association of Australia, and has their support.

I would like to point out in this regard the efforts made by the Grains Council of Australia on behalf of grain growers to find solutions, using PBR legislation, to stimulate investment in breeding our principal grain crops which that industry knows is an important element in maintaining our international trading competitiveness.

The PBR bill provides for increased scope and effectiveness of the breeder's right on protected varieties and it is envisaged that, in the national interest, all sectors of the agriculture and horticulture industries, including public and private plant breeders, will jointly use the strategic business assets that PBR provides to develop marketing and breeder royalty systems appropriate to their industry sectors.

The plant breeder's rights scheme is complementary to the government's policies geared to promote innovation in Australia's plant industries by encouraging research and development using production levies and tax concessions.

In addition, the PBR bill is consistent with Australia's obligations under the UPOV Convention and it is also in harmony with the United Nations Agenda 21, the International Convention for the Conservation of Biological Diversity, the FAO `undertaking on plant genetic resources' and with GATT.

In conclusion, I would like to reassure the Senate that all the public interest features of the Plant Variety Rights Act 1978 have been retained and even extended in the PBR bill and thus the essential balance between the public interest and the extended breeder's right has been maintained.

I commend the bill to the Senate and present the explanatory memorandum to this bill.

PRIMARY INDUSTRIES AND ENERGY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 1994

  The purpose of this bill is to introduce amendments to the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Act 1988, Agricultural and Veterinary Chemical Products (Collection of Levy) Act 1994, the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Administration) Act 1992, the Quarantine Act 1908, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act 1949 and the Rural Adjustment Act 1992.

The amendments will extend the sunset provision in the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Act 1988 Act from 30 June 1994 to 30 June 1996. This is a contingency measure in the event that the states do not pass legislation for the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code to commence in their jurisdiction on 1 July 1994. The 1988 Act is repealed upon commencement of the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Act 1994 which was passed by parliament on 1 March 1994 as part of a package of agricultural and veterinary chemicals legislation.

Within this bill there are three amendments to the Quarantine Act 1908. Two of these amendments provide legislative support for practices developed to enable the resources of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) to be directed towards higher risk imports and the third gives effect to certain recommendations of the Auditor-General.

Two of the three amendments of the Quarantine Act 1908 build on the successful partnership between industry and government in quarantine protection. They underpin arrangements entered into between AQIS and imported goods handlers such as customs agents, freight forwarders, some importers of goods and those contracted to handle ships waste, to ensure an appropriate degree of quarantine surveillance is maintained over imported cargo.

The electronic entry and clearance of cargo for quarantine purposes is progressively being implemented at major ports around Australia. AQIS, customs and industry have worked together closely to develop and implement a system that provides necessary quarantine security but at minimal cost to industry. This bill, by inserting in the Quarantine Act 1908 provisions to permit the electronic entry of goods for quarantine purposes, and the processing, recording and notification of quarantine decisions about those goods, gives legislative backing to the electronic systems being introduced. Existing customs and industry systems are used and no new administrative burdens will be placed on importers nor on the Australian Customs Service. The regulation-making powers included in the new provisions are intended to allow the flexibility required to meet technological and organisational developments in industry. To ensure that the system can operate effectively, it has been necessary to require that all imports be notified. Again, existing practices will be recognised.

These amendments for electronic processing also clarify the responsibility for compliance with directions given by a quarantine officer in the importation process. A clearance system based on documentation requires compliance where the documentation indicates a possible quarantine risk. The importer, agent or broker seeking quarantine clearance who is given a quarantine direction will be responsible for meeting the direction.

These amendments also make provision for compliance agreements. These are arrangements effected between the Commonwealth and industry, on an individual basis, permitting industry to undertake certain quarantine procedures. Quarantine security is not jeopardised. AQIS conducts regular audits of operations and is responsible for final quarantine clearance of goods, and severe penalties are imposed for wilful non-compliance.

Consistent with debt management practice in the AQIS food inspection programs, this legislation will enable AQIS to withhold services where debts remain outstanding, and to charge a penalty fee for late payment. AQIS will also be able to take a deposit or charge a booking fee, or both, for a place at quarantine stations. These measures give legislative effect to relevant recommendations of the 1992 report on the efficiency audit of the quarantine division of AQIS by the Australian National Audit Office. Incorporation of these provisions in the act is an interim measure pending the development, in consultation with industry, of a revised legislative basis for the collection of AQIS fees and charges.

Mr President, the remaining amendments included in this bill are of a procedural nature directed to improving the administration of the issues dealt with in those acts. The amendments to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Power Act 1949 will remove gender specific terminology and enable the appointment of an acting commissioner, or acting assistant commissioner, for the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority for more than 12 months.

The Rural Adjustment Act 1992 will be amended to make the annual reporting arrangements for the Rural Adjustment Scheme Advisory Council (RASAC) more appropriate.

  Debate (on motion by Senator O'Chee) adjourned.

  Motion (by Senator Faulkner) agreed to:

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