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Monday, 4 September 2000
Page: 17234


Senator ELLISON (Special Minister of State) (4:27 PM) —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—

AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 1) 2000

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Quarantine Act 1908 and the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Act 1980.

A new Part VA will be introduced into the Quarantine Act 1908 to cater for the use of a computerised system for the quarantine clearance of imported goods.

The Government, in its Response to the report, Australian Quarantine: A Shared Responsibility, accepted recommendation 63 of the report which proposed the development and increased use of electronic information systems to speed the clearance of cargo, subject to the development of satisfactory quality assurance systems and audit procedures.

The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) has made considerable advances in the development of a computer based system for the clearance of cargo in response to this recommendation. The system will be programmed to issue notices which, under the Quarantine Act 1908 in its present form, can only be done by the Director of Quarantine or a quarantine officer.

The new Part VA provides a legislative framework for this system supported by offence provisions. This framework provides for notices to be issued by computer in respect of imported goods to order goods into quarantine, to release goods from quarantine, to require goods to be treated in a certain manner, to require goods to be left at a specified place, to require goods to be moved to a specified place and to indicate the extent (if any) to which goods may be dealt with.

To ensure that the computerised system operates within the scope of the Act, a provision has been inserted in Part VA stating that the Director of Animal and Plant Quarantine must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the computer program concerned does not result in electronic notices ordering goods into quarantine unless there are reasonable grounds to believe there is an unacceptably high level of quarantine risk in respect of the goods.

A number of minor amendments to the Act are also proposed. One of the amendments clarifies that sections 6C and 14A extend to both the regulations and Proclamation. Another amendment clarifies that a person may be appointed under section 9AA to be both a quarantine officer plants as well as a quarantine officer animals.

The amendments recognise that quarantinable pests and quarantinable diseases may themselves be matters of quarantine concern by amending sections 18, 35, 48AB and 66AA of the Act. At present the Act only recognises the risk arising from goods infected with a quarantinable pest or a quarantinable disease. The amendments confirm that for the purposes of section 46A of the Act, offences against the laws of a State or Territory (in addition to offences against the laws of the Commonwealth) may be relevant to a person's suitability to manage a place where goods subject to quarantine may be treated or otherwise dealt with. The amendments also allow for directions to be given to the person in control of a vehicle under section 48AB of the Act. The present situation, that directions may only be given to the owner, is impractical as the person in control of the vehicle may not be the owner and searching for the owner could interfere with the timely and efficient management of the quarantine risk.

The amendments also clarify that arrangements with persons under section 46A and 66B of the Act may extend to the performance of certain quarantine activities in respect of vessels.

The amendments allow seizure notices to be given to consignees under section 68 of the Act. At present the notice of seizure must be given to the importer. However, particularly in the case of mail items, the only person with any interest in the item in Australia may be the person to whom the item is addressed. In practice, this person (the consignee) is not always the importer. This amendment will ensure that the requirements of section 68 are satisfied by the giving notice of the seizure to the consignee.

The amendments to the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Act 1980 are to address inconsistencies between the voting arrangements for payers of the wine grapes levy and payers of the wine export charge at the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation's Annual General Meeting.

These inconsistencies arose in 1997 when the wine export charge was introduced and inadvertently not all relevant sections of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Act were amended at that time.

The repeal of Section 29Z and amendments to subparagraph 46(1)(a) allow rules on voting arrangements to be made by regulation.

It has always been the intention that the payers of the wine export charge have the same voting rights at Annual General Meetings as the payers of the wine grapes levy. These amendments will ensure this occurs.

VETERANS' AFFAIRS LEGISLATION AMEND-MENT (BUDGET MEASURES) BILL 2000

Australia owes perhaps its greatest debt to the men and women who have served their nation and given their lives in times of war and conflict.

This bill gives effect to a range of measures announced in the Budget as part of this Government's commitment to honouring that debt.

It includes initiatives to respond to the findings of the Vietnam Veterans' Health Study and to properly recognise the service of veterans in a number of conflicts and deployments in South East Asia.

The Vietnam Veterans' Health Study found that Vietnam veterans and their children are more likely to have some adverse health conditions than the general population.

In response the Government has developed a range of treatment and support initiatives to meet the long term health needs of Vietnam veterans and their families.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs will fast-track access to treatment for Vietnam veterans diagnosed as suffering major clinical depression and severe anxiety disorders. This will enable Vietnam veterans to receive help when it is needed, irrespective of whether the veteran has made a claim for pension or the outcome of any such claim.

Veterans' partners will be given access to free psychiatric assessments. Until now, dependent partners have had access to counselling services, but not to psychiatric assessments. This initiative will ensure that partners have access to appropriate mental health assessment and counselling.

And, in recognition that the need for counselling does not end with the end of a relationship, access to counselling services will be extended to include former partners of Vietnam veterans for up to five years after the end of the relationship.

The tragic problem of suicide is one of the most important and most difficult issues facing Australia today.

The Vietnam Veterans' Health Study indicated that the incidence of suicide among Vietnam veterans' children is three times that found in the general community.

But, suicide is not only a Veterans' Affairs issue - it is something that must be addressed through a coordinated approach by Federal, State and Local Governments working with the community.

Therefore, in addressing the findings of the Health Study, the Department of Veterans' Affairs has extended the focus of its support programs, to bring them into line with the National Suicide Prevention Strategy and National Mental Health Strategy.

Access to counselling services will be extended to cover Vietnam veterans' children up to their 36th birthday. Free psychiatric assessments will also be provided to these children until their 36th birthday to ensure they are referred to the most appropriate treatment and support.

Education and educational support have been shown to play a crucial role in suicide prevention. Therefore, the Repatriation Commission will extend eligibility for the Veterans' Children Education Scheme to include Vietnam veterans' children who are identified as vulnerable to self harm or suicide.

There are other important measures, not requiring legislative change, that substantially increase the number and range of programs directed at improving the health, in particular the mental health, of these veterans and their families. These include health promotion and other preventive strategies to address lifestyle illnesses, such as heart disease and alcohol abuse in veterans. Bursaries will be provided to assist children to enter tertiary study. Additional group programs will address the needs of veterans and their families.

This bill also gives effect to the Government's decision to rectify a series of anomalies affecting the service eligibility of certain veterans of conflicts in South East Asia between 1955 and 1975, following the review by Justice Robert Mohr.

The Government has decided to grant qualifying service to more than 2600 veterans of a number of conflicts, including the Malayan Emergency and the Indonesian Confrontation.

This means that they will be eligible to apply for full repatriation benefits, including the service pension.

An additional 1500 veterans will become eligible to apply for a disability pension in respect of their service aboard HMAS Sydney, Vampire, Parramatta and Yarra in Malaysian waters during the Indonesian Confrontation.

These extensions of qualifying service and operational service in this bill will align service in South-East Asia with the criteria of "warlike" and "non-warlike" service applied to modern Australian Defence Force deployments.

It will also change some dates of eligible service to align them with the dates of the actual operations.

In other areas of the Veterans' Affairs portfolio, this bill includes a change in the calculation of the fortnightly payment of the disability pension and war widow's pension, to align the calculation of grants and increases with the service pension and other income support payments.

This bill also excludes ABSTUDY allowance payments from the income test for the service pension and other income support payments. This will ensure that a Veterans' Affairs pension recipient whose partner receives ABSTUDY payments is treated in the same way as other income support recipients with an AUSTUDY partner.

The veteran community deserves our greatest admiration, gratitude and assistance for their contribution to this nation. This Government is firmly committed to honouring their service and to ensuring that their needs are met.

Debate (on motion by Senator Ludwig) adjourned.

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