Save Search

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

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 11 March 2002
Page: 439


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (3:58 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—

CRIMINAL CODE AMENDMENT (ANTI-HOAX AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL

The number of recent false alarms involving packages or letters containing apparently hazardous material has highlighted the need for tough penalties to deter such malicious and irresponsible actions.

The Criminal Code Amendment (Anti-hoax and Other Measures) Bill 2002 will ensure that those who create public fear and alarm by sending hoax material or dangerous substances are properly penalised.

The bill gives effect to an undertaking made by the Prime Minister on October 16 last year.

The Prime Minister expressed the Government's concern about the increasing number of security incidents involving letters and packages and undertook to introduce new laws to target persons who seek to exploit community fears by sending hoax material.

Complementing these measures, the bill also contains new offences dealing with the use of postal and similar services to make threats, engage in harassment and send dangerous articles.

These new Criminal Code offences are a significant improvement on the existing outdated offences in the Crimes Act 1914, which they are intended to replace.

The proposed new offences cover the misuse of any postal, courier or other similar service within Commonwealth constitutional power and not just Australia Post.

The proposed offences also increase the penalties for the misuse of those services to more appropriate levels to properly reflect the seriousness of the harm involved.

Anti-hoax and other offences

The bill introduces a new hoax offence directed at those who send an article with the intention of inducing a false belief in the recipient that the article is an explosive or a dangerous or harmful item or that such an article will be left in any place.

The new updated offence will extend to all postal and similar services, rather than being limited to Australia Post.

The maximum penalty for the offence will be increased from 5 to 10 years imprisonment.

The new offence will apply retrospectively, commencing at 2pm on 16 October 2001.

This is the date and time on which the Prime Minister undertook to commence these new measures.

Any person who has engaged in sending hoax material since this date can expect to find themselves subject to the full force of these amendments.

The new offence will send a strong message to those who may be tempted to make spurious threats that this behaviour is not acceptable.

Such actions can have significant consequences, as demonstrated by a number of incidents late last year and early this year in which mail centres and offices had to be decontaminated, security measures enhanced and emergency services diverted from other duties.

The cost of this conduct can also be counted in the fear engendered both in the recipients of the hoax material and in the general community.

The bill will create two new offences concerning the use of a postal or similar service to make a threat to kill or threat to cause serious harm with the intention of causing the recipient to fear that the threat will be carried out.

Under the bill, making a threat to kill attracts a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment and making a threat to cause serious harm carries a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment.

Threats will be covered by the new offence regardless of whether they are express or implied, conditional or unconditional.

The penalty of one year imprisonment that currently applies to the use of the postal service to make threats is clearly inadequate where serious threats are concerned.

Intimidating or frightening people into believing that they will be caused serious injury is reprehensible.

The proposed new threat offences will ensure that this conduct is subject to substantial penalties.

The offence of using a postal or similar service to menace, harass or cause offence is to be extended to all postal and other like services and the penalty increased from 1 to 2 years imprisonment.

The proposed offence will cover material designed to make a person fearful about his or her safety or well-being as well as material containing offensive or abusive language.

The bill makes it an offence for a person to use a postal or similar service to send an article in a way that gives rise to a danger of death or serious harm to another person, where the first person is reckless as to the danger of death or serious harm.

The new offence will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

The proposed offence is concerned with potential rather than actual harm and will apply regardless of the degree of risk involved.

In addition to the general dangerous goods offence, the bill contains a further offence specifically relating to the use of Australia Post.

The offence will apply where a person sends an explosive or a prescribed dangerous or harmful substance through Australia Post and attracts a penalty of 10 years imprisonment.

Australia Post deals with a high volume of mail in accordance with stringent terms and conditions and therefore requires a more prescriptive offence.

Conclusion

Protecting the safety, security and integrity of Australia's information infrastructure, including postal and courier services, is a priority for this Government.

The measures contained in this bill will ensure that these important communication services are not compromised by irresponsible, malicious or destructive behaviour.

By introducing tough penalties for such behaviour, the Government is making it clear that it views the misuse of the postal system as a serious matter and that offenders will be vigorously prosecuted.

—————

MINISTERS OF STATE AMENDMENT BILL 2002

Section 66 of the Constitution prescribes the maximum annual pool of funds from which salaries of Ministers can be paid, unless the Parliament provides otherwise.

The Ministers of State Act 1952 is the mechanism through which Parliament adjusts the pool of funds available for this purpose. Amendments to the Ministers of State Act are therefore required from time to time to cover changes in the level of Ministerial salaries or in the number of Ministers.

Senators' and Members' base salaries are determined by a reference point to the Principal Executive Officer band in Remuneration Tribunal Determination 15/1999 (as amended).

In 1999, this government adopted the recommendation of the Remuneration Tribunal that the additional salary of Ministers be tied to the Principal Executive Officer band as a percentage of base salary.

On 5 July 2001 (with effect from 1 July 2001) the Remuneration Tribunal determined new rates for the Principal Executive Officer band. These new rates have flowed to Senators and Members and to Ministers.

The Act currently limits the sum appropriated to $2.3m. This sum needs to be increased to $2.8m to meet increases in Ministers' salaries in this financial year and beyond because of the amending determination of the Remuneration Tribunal increasing the base salaries of Senators and Members.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

—————

RADIOCOMMUNICATIONS (TRANSMITTER LICENCE TAX) AMENDMENT BILL 2002

The Radiocommunications (Transmitter Licence Tax) Amendment Bill 2002 seeks to amend the Radiocommunications (Transmitter Licence Tax) Act 1983 to correct an anomaly in that Act.

The Radiocommunications (Transmitter Licence Tax Act) 1983 imposes a tax on persons making an application for a transmitter licence, which authorises the use of the radiofrequency spectrum. The spectrum access tax is levied to encourage efficiency in the use of the spectrum and to provide a return to the community for the use of a scarce community resource.

However, not all transmitter users are required to apply for a transmitter licence. Commercial television and radio broadcasters, community broadcasters and the national broadcasters are automatically entitled to transmitter licences under the licensing and digital conversion provisions of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992.

The Radiocommunications (Transmitter Licence Tax) Amendment Bill is a technical measure to clarify the power to impose a tax on the issue of a transmitter licence regardless of whether an application has been made for that licence. The bill also seeks to validate the imposition of the tax on licences that have been affected by the anomaly. As all affected broadcasting licensees have paid the tax, this will not result in any retrospective payment being necessary.

—————

COMMONWEALTH INSCRIBED STOCK AMENDMENT BILL 2002

Today I introduce a bill to modernise the conduct of the Commonwealth Government Securities market.

The bill will put in place reforms to the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act 1911 to enable Commonwealth Government Securities to be cleared and settled electronically alongside a range of financial products under the Corporations Act 2001, as amended by the Financial Services Reform Act 2001.

The bill will remove regulatory barriers to the electronic transfer of title to Commonwealth Government Securities, including Treasury Bonds and Treasury Notes, by overcoming restrictions in the existing legislation that limit transfers of legal title to Commonwealth Government Securities to paper-based means.

Retail investors such as trustees of self-funded superannuation funds have been pressing for improved access to the CGS market. This bill will create the potential for retail investors to gain the same access to the risk-free, secure investment product that Commonwealth Government Securities represent, that is currently enjoyed by institutional investors.

The Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Amendment bill will complement current market developments aimed at rationalising the provision of clearing and settlement facilities to create a more efficient business environment for participants in financial markets.

While the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act provides for the Treasurer to appoint non-government Registrars of Stock, in addition to, or instead of, the Reserve Bank, the bill will strengthen the regulatory regime by providing that only clearing and settlement facilities licensed and regulated under the Corporations Act may be appointed as Registrars.

However, the bill will not preclude the Reserve Bank from continuing to have a role as a Registrar in providing for the electronic recording and transfer of the ownership of Commonwealth Government Securities, in addition to its role in the recording of transfers of ownership of Commonwealth Government Securities in paper form. The Reserve Bank has indicated that it is willing to continue providing registry services to the Commonwealth for Commonwealth Government Securities.

The bill will enable the Commonwealth to create equitable interests in Commonwealth Government Securities. The Treasurer will be able to enter into contracts or arrangements or execute deeds of trust for the purpose of issuing Commonwealth Government Securities to a person, including to a clearing and settlement facility, on trust for other persons. This will include where the clearing and settlement facility is acting in the capacity as a Registrar under the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act.

The bill will provide for regulations to be made under the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act providing for the transfer of legal or equitable interests in Commonwealth Government Securities in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act, or by applying provisions of the Corporations Act, with or without modifications, to the transfer of interests in Commonwealth Government Securities under the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act.

These reforms will underpin the effectiveness of the legislative framework supporting the Commonwealth Government Securities market at a time of rapid change in the operation of financial markets.

—————

STATES GRANTS (PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION ASSISTANCE) AMENDMENT BILL 2002

On 7 December 2000 this Parliament passed the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Act 2000 which, among other things, introduced the new Socioeconomic Status (SES) funding arrangements for non-government schools.

This historic reform provided a more transparent, objective and equitable approach to funding non-government schools. Under the new arrangements, recurrent funding of non-government schools is distributed according to need and schools serving the neediest communities receive the greatest financial support.

That Act also introduced Establishment Grants which are provided to assist new non-government schools with costs incurred in their formative years and to enable them to be more competitive with existing non-government schools.

The legislation containing both the SES funding arrangements and the introduction of Establishment Grants was passed unamended by the Opposition in 2000.

Since then it has become apparent that the Act appropriated insufficient funds to pay Establishment Grant entitlements for all eligible schools. On two occasions the Government has introduced amendments to the Act to provide additional funds for Establishment Grants. Both times the Opposition has failed to pass these amendments.

As a result of these amendments being rejected, 49 schools which have a valid entitlement to Establishment Grants have only been paid around 50% of their entitlement for 2001 and 9 have received around 25% of their 2001 entitlements. About 4,900 students attend the schools at which the funding shortfalls have occurred. Failure to pass this amendment will exacerbate the situation for these schools in 2002 and beyond. It will continue to cause them financial difficulties and adversely affect the quality of their educational provision.

This amendment is framed differently from the two previous attempts to amend the Act. Those amendments sought to increase the total amount available under the Act for Establishment Grants by amending Schedule 7 of the Act.

This amendment establishes eligibility for and payment of Establishment Grants in a way which is consistent with eligibility and payment of General Recurrent Grants under the Act. The amendment specifies per capita rates for Establishment Grants within the legislation. Previously these amounts were set by Ministerial determination. The amendment also sets out the circumstances in which eligibility for Establishment Grants arises for new schools and the method of calculation of that entitlement. As a result the amendment repeals Schedule 7 of the Act. The Appropriation for Establishment Grants will become a Standing Appropriation rather than a Special Appropriation.

The amendment allows for amounts already advanced to schools in 2001 and 2002 to be deducted from their entitlements calculated as a result of the amendment, providing that schools will not receive less than they have already been paid.

The amendment sets the per capita rates for Establishment Grants at $500 per full-time equivalent student (FTE) in the first year of the school's operation and $250 per FTE student in the second year of operation. These amounts will not be supplemented in line with changes in Average Government School Recurrent Costs or AGSRC.

It is estimated that the increased funding available under the Act as a result of the Bill will be $6.9 million. This will bring the total amount provided by the government for establishment grant assistance to non-government schools to $11.9 million for the 2001-2004 funding period.

In passing the original Act the Opposition signalled its support for the policy of paying Establishment Grants to new non-government schools. It should therefore not oppose this Bill which effectively codifies the eligibility and entitlement for each new school to these grants.

If all new schools are to be treated fairly and the quality of their educational provision not compromised, speedy passage of the Bill is necessary.

I commend the Bill to the Chamber.

—————

WORKPLACE RELATIONS AMENDMENT (FAIR DISMISSAL) BILL 2002

This Bill proposes to amend the Workplace Relations Act 1996 to protect small businesses from the costs and administrative burden of unfair dismissal claims and thereby to increase employment opportunities in the small business sector.

This protection will be provided by exempting small businesses from the unfair dismissal provisions in the Act and by requiring the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to order that an unfair dismissal application is not valid if it relates to a small business employer.

The Workplace Relations Act has made the federal workplace relations system more accessible and responsive to the needs of small business. However, further reform is needed to maximize its benefits. Dismissal laws have an important role in providing a safety net for employees but they need to be made fairer for both employers and employees and should be improved where they still prevent jobs being created.

This is certainly the case with the current unfair dismissal provisions which continue to deter many small businesses from employing more staff.

The Coalition will continue its generation of strong and sustained jobs growth through sound economic policies, sound fiscal management, and workplace relations reforms to help small business. It is vital to maximize the opportunities for growth and innovation for the one million private sector, non-agricultural, small businesses in Australia. These businesses account for 96 per cent of all businesses, and our workplace relations system must be more responsive to their needs. This Bill is an important step along that path.

What is good for Australian small businesses is good for Australian jobs. Small business is the engine room for jobs growth in the Australian economy. And the Government believes that it is in the public interest to open the door to the new jobs that can be created by small business by easing the pressure that excessive workplace regulation puts on Australia's hard working small business men and women. If one in twenty small business employers in Australia took on an additional employee because of a changed legislative framework for unfair dismissal, then an extra 53,000 jobs would result.

Exemption from current unfair dismissal provisions

For the purposes of the small business exemption, a small business is a business with fewer than 20 employees. The proposal would not affect existing employees and would not exclude new employees from making claims for unlawful dismissal, for example, dismissal for discriminatory reasons. Trainees and apprentices would also be unaffected.

The same exemption was contained in a Bill which was introduced in 2001 but not considered by Parliament before the election. The Coalition pledged in its election policies to exempt small businesses from unfair dismissal laws when employing new employees. The relevant section from our small business election policy stated:

A re-elected Coalition Government will pursue a full exemption from Unfair Dismissal claims for small business employers. The Coalition has introduced legislation into the Parliament to secure a full exemption for all small businesses with less than 20 employees from unfair dismissal claims when employing new staff. (Getting on with Business, p.21)

The Government has an undeniable duty to pursue the mandate it received on 10 November 2001, including this explicit commitment in its small business election policy. This commitment directly addresses the views of the many small businesses who, when surveyed, have indicated that they would be more likely to recruit new employees if they were exempted from current unfair dismissal laws.

Invalid applications by excluded small business employees

The Bill contains an essential complement to the proposed small business unfair dismissal exclusion in the form of a simple and appropriate means for dealing with invalid applications by excluded small business employees.

Under current arrangements, once an unfair dismissal claim is lodged, the Commission has no power to reject it without holding at least one hearing which the employer or the employer's representative is required to attend.

The Bill would require the Commission to order that an unfair dismissal application is invalid if it is satisfied that the application is outside its jurisdiction because of the small business exemption.

The Commission would have the power to make such an order without holding a hearing. If it needed more information to satisfy itself, the Commission would be able to seek further particulars from an applicant or a response from the small employer in writing, rather than having the parties appear in person.

The objective is to free small business employers from the unnecessary and often costly burden of having to attend or secure representation at Commission hearings to defend unfair dismissal applications which can clearly be determined, on the basis of documents provided to the Commission, to be outside its jurisdiction because of the small business exemption.

Conclusion

In introducing this Bill, the Government is continuing to demonstrate its commitment to addressing the special needs and circumstances of the small business sector. The Bill will assist in creating more small business jobs and in reducing workplace relations red tape for this vital sector of the Australian economy.

I commend the bill.

Debate (on motion by Senator Ludwig) adjourned.

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