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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 241


Senator TAMBLING (6.35 p.m.) —We are addressing the Primary Industries and Energy Legislation Amendment Bill 1994. This is an omnibus bill which will amend several pieces of primary industry legislation, including the Quarantine Act 1908, three agricultural and veterinary chemical acts, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act 1949 and the Rural Adjustment Act 1992. The Commonwealth's quarantine service, in regard to fee for service, has suffered many problems. One problem is that many of the customers of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service cannot get an accurate picture of how much the quarantine procedures, which can last up to about 10 years, are likely to cost.

  In recent years we have had a case of the Commonwealth encouraging goat owners to import goats and to place them in quarantine. The original price was quoted as $50 a year per goat with a quarantine period of five years. This blew out to $410 per goat and eight years in quarantine. Of course, the number of goats increased each year through breeding. In 1991 the government threatened to sell some of the goats to pay the bills, but the coalition combined with the Democrats to stop this and we advised all future users of the quarantine service to enter into contracts with the Commonwealth to ensure that their costs were known before putting animals into quarantine.

  I turn to this legislation and the amendments to the Quarantine Act 1908. This act will be amended to provide for the late payment of fees in respect of quarantine service, booking fees and deposits for services provided at quarantine stations, the withholding of quarantine services until fees and any deposits have been paid, the electronic processing of imports for quarantine purposes, the Commonwealth to enter into agreements with other persons for the purpose of carrying out quarantine functions, and notice to be given of imports.   Many of these amendments were recommended by the Auditor-General's report No. 35 1991-92 on quarantine fees and charges. That report regarding the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service made three recommendations on fees and charges, and required legislation for them to be implemented. These recommendations were the withholding of services for non-payment of fees; greater use of monetary penalties; and the introduction of a booking fee deposit system for quarantine.

  Three agricultural and veterinary chemical acts will be amended to extend the time available to the states to pass complementary legislation from July 1994 to July 1996. I am sure this has important implications for the states and territories. Amendments to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act 1949 remove gender specific terminology and enable the appointment of an acting commissioner or acting assistant commissioner of the hydro-electric authority for more than 12 months. The Rural Adjustment Act 1992 is amended to make the annual reporting arrangements for the Rural Adjustment Scheme Advisory Council more appropriate.

  I certainly indicate the coalition's support for this legislation, but I highlight that what is missing from the legislation can perhaps be best typified by an example of a Queensland farming couple who went bankrupt recently and received a re-establishment grant from the Rural Adjustment Scheme Act 1992 which they used to purchase a home to live in. Legal advice from the Attorney-General's Department suggests that this home could be available to creditors, which is against the spirit of the re-establishment grant.

  Section 22 of the Rural Adjustment Act 1992 appears to give protection to such payments. However, the government failed in 1990 and 1992 to also amend the Bankruptcy Act 1966, as it had done with all previous rural adjustment bills in which similar payments were legislated. This case came to light several months ago, but the government has been slow to address it.

  I am sure that it was only after the government heard that we were going to move an amendment that the Minister for Justice (Mr Kerr), in collaboration with the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Collins), gave a commitment to move an amendment to the law and justice legislation which will be debated here this week. But I am pleased at this stage—and I am sure that my colleague Senator Brownhill will also be pleased—to address many issues relating to this legislation.