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Thursday, 21 March 2002
Page: 1301

Senator O'BRIEN (5:13 PM) —I was going to present a full speech on the Quarantine Amendment Bill 2002— there are quite a lot of things to say—but I am mindful of the time and the progress we are making. In relation to amendments which have been circulated, I will make contributions on those in the committee stage and seek leave to incorporate my speech on the second reading debate.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows

This Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives only last Thursday.

A draft of the Bill and a short briefing note was provided to me prior to its introduction.

The Minister also offered me a briefing on the legislation. The first opportunity for that briefing was on Tuesday 19 March.

While simple in its form this is an important piece of legislation that should be given proper consideration by this parliament.

The timetable the Government is working to is unacceptable to the Opposition.

As I said the Bill was only introduced into the other place last Thursday.

We are now debating this Bill today just seven days later.

The Government then told us it wanted the Bill treated as non-controversial legislation in this place with both its introduction and passage before question time today.

That is not good government.

This Bill provides for the Minister, following the Governor-General's declaration by proclamation, to provide authority to exercise coordinated response powers to deal with an epidemic, or the danger of an epidemic, which has the potential to affect a primary industry of national significance.

It also amends the scope of quarantine to put beyond doubt that quarantine measures extend to the destruction of animals, plants or other goods or things and the destruction of premises.

The Bill also extends to a range of matters for which the Commonwealth may enter into arrangements with the States and Territories.

It also creates a new offence for commercial smuggling that will carry a maximum penalty 10 years imprisonment and/or 2000 penalty units for individuals and 10,000 penalty units for corporations.

And it makes some technical adjustments to the existing illegal importation and removal offences in the Quarantine Act 1908 in accordance with the Criminal Code 1995.

The Council of Australian Governments agreed in June 2001 to the need for continued high priority review and revision of national whole of government frameworks in relation to a major emergency animal disease outbreak such as foot and mouth disease.

As part of that process the Commonwealth, the States, the Territories and industry have been reviewing these frameworks and legislation in relation to the necessary powers to ensure rapid, effective and nationally consistent response measures.

As animal production and health issues are regarded as the responsibility of the States and Territories, it is predominantly State and Territory animal health Acts which will be utilised in the event of an emergency.

However, any such response will require consistency of approach by the States, Territories and the Commonwealth.

This Bill will amend the Act to provide for the Commonwealth to authorise State and Territory agencies to take necessary actions under Commonwealth quarantine powers known as coordinated response powers.

The coordinated response powers will allow the Minister to authorise persons who are the executive heads of national response agencies to give such directions and take such action as the persons think necessary to control, eradicate or remove the danger of the epidemic by quarantine measures or measures incidental to quarantine.

On the face of it those are wide ranging powers that require careful consideration by this parliament.

According to the Government these are not powers to be imposed on the States and Territories but rather the provision of additional powers to them, if and when they are considered necessary.

According to the Government the guidelines are yet to be formulated by the States, Territories and the Commonwealth to provide processes by which the powers provided in this Bill are to be utilised.

The manner in which this legislation is to operate—that is the shifting of certain powers from the Commonwealth to the states and territories— is therefore yet to be determined.

That detail must be an essential part of the consideration of these proposed new arrangements but we are being asked to tick this off sight unseen.

According to the Government the states and the territories support the amendments.

The important questions for the states and the territories are do they agree on guidelines to be followed in the application of this new power.

That is a question that cannot be answered because negotiations on these guidelines have not yet actually commenced.

The Bill also raises a number of important issues relating to the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States that may have implications beyond the management of an animal disease outbreak.

Labor supported the Bill in the other place and will support it in the Senate.