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Thursday, 17 August 2000
Page: 16559


Senator ELLISON (Special Minister of State) (9:42 AM) —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—

VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING FUND-ING AMENDMENT BILL 2000

The Vocational Education and Training Funding Act 1992 appropriates funds to support vocational education and training which are provided to the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) for distribution to the States and Territories and for National Projects.

This Bill will increase the amount previously appropriated for 2000 by $13.063 million in line with normal price adjustments, giving effect to the Government's commitment to maintain funding in real terms for the three year duration of the Australian National Training Authority Agreement 1998 to 2000.

As a result, total funding for 2000 will be increased to $931.415 million.

The Bill also appropriates the same level of funding for 2001.

This reflects the Commonwealth's proposal to the States and Territories to maintain funding in real terms for a further three years, subject to finalising a satisfactory amended ANTA Agreement.

The current Agreement was founded on a recognition by the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments that a strong national vocational education and training system is essential to develop the skills necessary to increase the productivity and competitiveness of Australian industry, and to enable individual Australians to optimise their potential.

I have every confidence that the Agreement for the next three years will maintain this solid underpinning and will build on the substantial achievements of its predecessor.

In the three years of the current Agreement, 1998 to 2000, there has been a significant expansion of the vocational education and training sector.

State and Territory Ministers have estimated that, by the end of this year, there will be an additional 160,000 training places provided nationally over the planned 1997 level.

In 1999 alone it is estimated that well over one and a half million Australians participated in formal vocational education and training.

This is a splendid achievement.

It represents additional opportunities, particularly for young Australians, to undertake training that will help them to gain real jobs.

It also represents an important contribution to the efforts of Australian businesses to develop and maintain the competitive advantage that up-to-date skills provide.

The Commonwealth funding provided to the States and Territories through ANTA will continue to provide increased training opportunities. At the same time, it will enable the Commonwealth to continue to work with the States, Territories and industry to enhance national consistency, promote higher standards, and encourage greater choice and flexibility in vocational education and training.

It is a key element in the Government's support of the sector and, like the recent Budget, clearly reflects the Commonwealth's continuing commitment to strengthen Australia's vocational education and training system.

Overall, this year's Budget provides a total of $1.7 billion for vocational education and training.

This includes $2 billion over four years to support the popular New Apprenticeships system which is currently providing training for more than a quarter of a million Australians.

The unprecedented expansion of New Apprenticeships is clear evidence that they are delivering training which responds to the needs of businesses and are opening up opportunities for more Australians in a wider range of occupations than ever before.

This momentum will be maintained with funding to allow emerging issues, such as potential skills shortages, to be addressed and will support innovative approaches to the recruitment of New Apprentices in new and challenging markets.

Together with the Government's reforms to vocational training, this funding will provide a sound basis to meet the training challenges that the economy and community will face in the years to come.

Madam President, I commend the Bill to the Senate.

TRADE MARKS AMENDMENT (MADRID PROTO-COL) BILL 2000

The objective of this Bill is to amend the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Trade Marks Act) to give effect to the provisions of the Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks (the Protocol). This is a necessary first step, should a decision later be made for Australia to accede to the Protocol.

This Government has ensured that wide-ranging consultations with State and Federal agencies, and relevant interest groups and individuals, are undertaken before a decision on accession to an international treaty is undertaken. It is also a requirement of the treaty making process that any legislative requirements to give effect to the provisions of the treaty must be in place before accession. This Bill ensures that the legislative steps required, if Australia does accede to the Protocol, have been taken.

The Trade Marks Act provides for the registration of trade marks and sets out and protects the rights deriving from registration. A trade mark is a sign used in the course of trade to distinguish goods or services. The Protocol, a multi-lateral treaty administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), sets up an international registration system for trade marks. The amendments contained in this Bill will enable the Trade Marks Office to process international applications and registrations under the Protocol, should the decision to accede be made. The amendments in this Bill do not involve any substantive changes to our domestic trade marks law however, and overseas applicants designating Australia will need to meet the requirements of the Australian Trade Marks Act before protection is granted here.

The globalisation of commerce and the rise of the new information economy have resulted in an increasing interest from traders in protecting their trade marks not only in their home market but also in markets overseas. Most of Australia's major trading partners are members of the Protocol, or are actively working towards accession. There are currently forty-six contracting States, including Japan, the United Kingdom, European Union countries and China. The United States of America recently announced its intention of proceeding to accession. I understand that Singapore and the Republic of Korea are also making progress towards acceding.

Access to the benefits of the Protocol would enhance the ability of Australian business enterprises to compete effectively in overseas markets. By investigating accession, the Government is demonstrating its commitment to helping Australian business to compete internationally by `cutting costs and red tape' wherever possible. Australian traders seeking to protect their trade marks in overseas markets would benefit from a considerable saving of time and expense (a study in the United States reports that cost savings of more than 67% can be expected).

The international registration system allows a trade mark owner to file one application and pay one set of fees to cover multiple countries that are party to the Protocol—at present, Australian traders seeking to protect their trade marks in export markets need to file several applications, in different languages according to where protection is sought, and pay separate fees in the relevant foreign currencies.

Apart from obtaining international protection, the streamlining of procedures and the resultant cost savings under the international registration system is equally applicable to maintaining that protection. For medium to large enterprises with large numbers of trade marks, this represents a great saving of time and expense. To illustrate—under the Protocol, the protection granted in all designated member countries may be renewed simultaneously through the payment of the appropriate fee to the International Bureau of WIPO. Similarly, any changes to registration details, such as a change of address, may be actioned by a single notification to the Bureau. Currently, an Australian enterprise with multiple registrations in a host of different countries would need to file numerous amendment applications. Under the Protocol, a single amendment application could be filed with WIPO.

Accession to the Protocol would also assist Australian businesses to take advantage of the opportunities offered by electronic commerce, by making it easier for them to secure widespread protection of their trade marks at a lower cost. In the borderless marketplace of the Internet, the ability to protect and promote Australian brands and trade marks, more cheaply and with less red tape, and in as many markets as possible, is necessary if innovative and entrepreneurial Australian enterprises are to take full advantage of electronic commerce.

Australia's accession to the Protocol would not only be advantageous to Australian business enterprises, it would also serve to enhance Australia's reputation as a leading member of the intellectual property (IP) community regionally. Australia has always been at the forefront in acceding to international agreements aimed at harmonising and normalising the administration of IP rights. Accession to the Protocol would be consistent with this history. By investigating accession, the Government is demonstrating its commitment to maintaining a competitively excellent IP system that ensures our traders are able to protect their IP rights both domestically and abroad. If Australia accedes to the Protocol, this step would most likely trigger increasing interest in the treaty in our immediate region, and undoubtedly more and more countries in the Asia Pacific would progressively come on line.

There are no contributions payable to WIPO by contracting States to the Madrid Protocol. There will be no additional cost to the Government of administering this legislation, and the cost recovery nature of operation of the Trade Marks Office will be maintained. The implementation costs arising from the development of new practices and procedures, as well as staff training and modifications to the Trade Marks Office computer system, could be met within current budgetary arrangements.

Consultation to date has revealed that there is strong general support for Australia's accession to the Protocol, particularly amongst users of the trade marks system. However, further close consultations will be held with all interest groups and stakeholders before a final decision on whether to accede to the Protocol is made.

CUSTOMS TARIFF AMENDMENT BILL (No. 3) 2000.

Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2000 which is now before the chamber contains a number of amendments to the Customs Tariff Act 1995. Most of the amendments have been previously tabled in the other house as customs tariff proposals and have been effective for some time. They now require incorporation in The Customs Tariff Act. I wish to outline the major amendments.

Schedule one is operative from the fifteenth of December 1999 and removes the customs duty on two hundred and sixty eight nuisance tariff items.

Nuisance tariff items attract a duty of five per cent or less, each raise less than $100,000 in annual revenue and represent goods where there are few or no local producers.

These reductions in tariff rates lower business input costs which in turn enable Australian manufacturers to be more competitive in world trade.

Schedule two imposes an excise equivalent duty on imported chemical grade toluene, benzene, xylenes and mixed alkylbenzenes from the tenth of March 2000. The imposition of the duty on these products combats duty evasion through the illegal blending of petroleum products with toluene, a product which had not previously been subject to an excise equivalent duty.

The effect of these amendments is to close off this avenue of illicit activity. While there was no evidence that chemicals other than toluene were being used in fuel substitution activity, there was the potential for this to occur, particularly if this duty was not imposed.

Regulations and administrative measures have been implemented to ensure that legitimate users of these chemicals are not disadvantaged.

I commend the bill.

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

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