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Tuesday, 3 April 2001
Page: 23559


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (3:36 PM) —I table the explanatory memorandum and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted

The speech read as follows—

This bill amends the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Act 1994 and has largely been necessitated by the High Court's decision in R v. Hughes. That decision casts doubt on the duties, functions and powers of Commonwealth authorities and officers within the National Registration Scheme for Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals and a key purpose of this bill is to remedy that situation.

The National Registration Scheme is a cooperative Commonwealth-state legislative scheme which has been operating successfully since 1995. Within the scheme, a number of Commonwealth authorities and officers have significant duties, functions and powers conferred on them by state laws. These include the National Registration Authority for Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals, which is the primary regulatory agency in relation to the importation, manufacture and supply of agricultural and veterinary chemicals in Australia. Other Commonwealth authorities and officers include the DPP, the AAT, and inspectors and analysts appointed under Commonwealth laws who play a key role in the NRA's compliance program.

The High Court's decision in Hughes questions the capacity of Commonwealth authorities and officers to exercise powers and functions conferred on them by state legislation, in situations where a power or function is coupled with a duty and there is no clear federal head of power to support that duty.

The bill amends the relevant Commonwealth act to clarify that the Commonwealth authorises the conferral by state law of duties, as well as functions and powers, on Commonwealth officials and authorities to the fullest extent possible within the legislative powers of the Commonwealth under the Constitution. The bill will also ensure that where there is found to be a lack of state constitutional capacity to confer a duty, function or power on a Commonwealth authority or officer, that the duty, function or power will be conferred by Commonwealth law to the fullest extent possible within the Commonwealth's legislative power.

The bill will also specifically confirm, both prospectively and retrospectively, that a state law may confer duties, functions and powers on the AAT and on inspectors and analysts appointed under Commonwealth law. This addresses certain legislative gaps which have been identified in the conferral of state functions on these authorities and officers, in addition to the problem arising from Hughes.

It is intended that following the enactment of this bill corresponding state laws will be enacted to validate the past actions of Commonwealth authorities and officers under the scheme which may be in doubt following Hughes or in light of the legislative gaps.

The amendments will ensure that the important roles of Commonwealth authorities and officers within the National Registration Scheme are not put at risk as a result of the High Court's decision in Hughes.

Ordered that further consideration of this bill be adjourned to the first day of the 2001 budget sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.