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Thursday, 22 August 2002
Page: 3537


Senator TROETH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (9:40 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—

HIGHER EDUCATION FUNDING AMENDMENT BILL 2002

This Government is committed to creating an environment that encourages investment in the education and training of our young people, in updating the skills and knowledge of the workforce, in generating knowledge through research and in translating these ideas into economic activity that benefits all Australians.

Despite Australia's total investment in higher education already being above the OECD average, the Government is currently delivering a significant injection of funding through the Backing Australia's Ability initiatives and other measures such as the 2001-02 Budget measure to provide additional places to regional universities. As a result of these initiatives, by 2004 annual Commonwealth funding to universities through the Education, Science and Training portfolio, including HECS, will be $480 million higher than in 2001 at around $6.3 billion (in non cost-adjusted terms) and there will be at least 8,300 more fully funded undergraduate places in 2004 than in 2001.

Many of the key indicators for the health of our higher education sector continue to be very positive. Revenues which are at record levels and growing. Higher education participation is at a record level and increasing. Graduate employment outcomes are improving. Graduate satisfaction is at record levels and our educational exports are more successful than ever.

Nevertheless the Government is not content to sit back. Over the coming months I am undertaking a review of the higher education sector and have invited public discussion on the future policy directions of higher education. We want to bring institutions, students, the general community, and even the Opposition if they are willing, on board to work with us to create best higher education system we, as a nation, possibly can. I am sure that all members would agree that this task is one of considerable national importance and one that should transcend political divisions.

A well-educated and skilled workforce that embraces life-long learning is essential for Australia's economic growth. As part of its commitment to life-long learning, this Government announced the Postgraduate Education Loans Scheme in 2001 as part of Backing Australia's Ability. The Scheme, which commenced this year encourages extended participation in education and helps Australians update and acquire new skills. It is also an important equity measure ensuring that no prospective postgraduate coursework student is prevented from studying by an inability to pay upfront fees. Early indicators suggest that the Scheme has been extremely successful in increasing the number of Australians undertaking postgraduate coursework qualifications. For example, early estimates data shows a 20 percent increase in postgraduate coursework enrolments in 2002 over 2001.

This bill provides for the extension of PELS to four additional institutions—Bond University, Melbourne College of Divinity, Tabor College and Christian Heritage College as promised in the election and announced in the recent Budget. This gives students at these institutions access to postgraduate study loans on the same basis as other students, but does not make the institutions eligible for public funding.

The extension of PELS to these four institutions levels the playing field for competition in fee-paying postgraduate coursework degrees and further extends opportunities for institutions to provide and students to undertake fee-paying postgraduate coursework.

The bill also updates the funding amounts provided for in the Higher Education Legislation Amendment Bill No 2. 2002 which is currently before the House. In doing so it provides additional funding for the establishment of a Graduate Diploma in Environment and Planning at the University of Tasmania with six associated scholarships. This honours an election promise and implements an initiative from the recent Budget. The varied amounts also contain further supplementation for indexation purposes, in accordance with the latest Treasury parameters and reflect a revision of the estimated HECS liability in various years.

The bill also adjusts funding levels in HEFA and the Australian Research Council Act 2001 to permit the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Australian National University to access the competitive funding schemes of the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council. This measure is part of the ongoing efforts of this Government to create a more strategic and internationally competitive research system in Australia.

Finally the bill provides for an additional funding cap for ARC competitive research schemes in 2006, consistent with the current budget forward estimates, so that the Minister can approve ARC grants for a period of four years. The purpose of this measure is to reduce administrative work and to give grant recipients greater certainty in relation to their funding.

There is a technical amendment to correct a previous drafting error in HEFA.

I commend the bill to the Chamber.

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HIGHER EDUCATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 2002

Under the policies of this Government universities have enjoyed an unparalleled opportunity to be key institutions in Australia's social, cultural and economic life. Most have used that opportunity well. Universities are earning record levels of revenue—an estimated $10.4 billion in 2002. The sources of revenue are more diverse than ever before, indicating how far universities have come in engaging with the community. Universities are providing more opportunities for Australians to access higher education in the manner which suits them. There are now around 55,000 more full-time equivalent domestic students in our universities than there were in 1995. The satisfaction level of graduates with their education has also never been higher.

In building this impressive record, universities have been able to rely on a strong and undiminished commitment of public funding. The Bill currently before the Senate is a clear expression of that commitment. The major measure in this Bill is the provision of university funding for the year 2004, the final year of the current funding triennium. In keeping with the Government's commitment to higher education the monies we seek to appropriate through the Parliament for that year are significantly increased. In 2004 universities will receive operating funding through the Education, Science and Training portfolio totalling $6.35 billion, some $480 million more than in 2001.

Last year the Prime Minister made the most significant set of policy and funding announcements in support of innovation that has ever been made in this country. It should be obvious that innovation has become a vital driver of economic growth, and the key to economic prosperity. Universities produce much of the knowledge and skilled workforce that sustain the innovation system.

The benefits of that package are already being enjoyed by universities. This Bill puts in place the next stage of that commitment. I would like to remind the Senate of the extent of that commitment. The Government's Innovation Action Plan, Backing Australia's Ability, commits an additional $3 billion over 5 years for science, research and innovation. It includes an additional $1.5 billion for the university sector.

The funding is comprised of an additional $736 million to double the Australian Research Council's national competitive grant schemes. It includes $583 million to build up the research infrastructure in our universities and an extra $151 million over five years for additional university places in the priority areas of information and communications technology, mathematics and science.

The Bill provides for a number of legislative housekeeping measures. It updates the funding amounts in the Higher Education Funding Act1988 and the Australian Research Council Act 2001 in accordance with indexation arrangements. It also varies funding amounts to reflect revised estimates for HECS contributions, the Commonwealth's superannuation liability and the provision and repayment of an advance of operating grant to the University of Adelaide.

The Bill provides for internal transfer of funding amounts between sections of the Act that will enable the Institute of Advanced Studies of the Australian National University to participate in the Government's performance based block research funding schemes. This is an important step in building a more integrated and competitive higher education research system.

The Bill reduces the compliance burden on universities in relation to the accountability of Commonwealth funding. As it stands, universities are required to meet separate, and sometimes inconsistent, acquittal of requirements for different types of grant. These will be replaced with a single consistent provision applying to all funds provided under the Act.

The requirement for institutions to send a `notice of liability' to overseas fee-paying students will be removed under the Bill. There is currently no requirement to send liability notices to domestic fee-payers. The Government thinks it is best left to each institution to determine such administrative processes.

The Bill contains two measures to streamline the administration of ARC grants and the provision of expert advice to the ARC Board. The amendments to the ARC Act will enable the Minister to formally approve research grants for a period of four years, rather than the two currently allowed by the Act. This will reduce the amount of paperwork involved in administering grants and provide certainty to grant holders.

They will also allow the ARC Board to create advisory committees, other than those specifically involving advice on funding allocations, without the approval of the Minister, thus streamlining the processes for the ARC Board to acquire expert advice on other matters.

In minor technical amendments, the Bill changes two sections of HEFA to reflect changes in taxation legislation. It also amends the name of Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education in Schedule 1 of HEFA, which is currently listed as `Batchelor College'. It remedies a minor drafting oversight in relation to the post-graduate education loan scheme.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

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CUSTOMS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 1) 2002

The Customs Legislation Amendment Bill (No 1) 2002 contains amendments to the Customs Act 1901, the Customs Legislation Amendment and Repeal (International Trade Modernisation) Act 2001 and the Passenger Movement Charge Collection Act 1978.

The bill continues the process of harmonising Customs offences with the Criminal Code; restores the way imported goods are valued to make it consistent with Australia's international trade obligations; improves Customs border security measures by allowing seizure of certain goods in the Torres Strait and providing for simplified reporting of re-mail; and makes a number of amendments as a result of the Customs Legislation Amendment and Repeal (International Trade Modernisation) Act 2001.

The bill also makes minor changes to the exemptions available under the Passenger Movement Charge Collection Act.

First, the bill contains amendments to offence provisions in the Customs Act to make them consistent with amendments to other Customs offences made by the Law and Justice Amendment (Application of the Criminal Code) Act 2001.

The amendments will ensure that where a fault element is not required, offences are expressly described as strict liability offences.

The amendments will also redraft some offences to clarify that an exception to the offence is not an element of the offence to be proved but can be raised as a defence.

The bill also provides for amendments to ensure consistency in the way financial penalties are expressed in the Customs Act by replacing references to dollar amounts with the equivalent penalty units.

The next set of amendments deals with the provisions for determining the customs value of imported goods for the purposes of assessing the duty payable.

The Full Federal Court in CEO of Customs v AMI Toyota Ltd held in September 2000 that the warranty component of the price paid for imported vehicles should be deducted from the customs value for the purpose of assessing duty.

The Government considers that decision to be inconsistent with the World Trade Organization Agreement on Implementation of Article VII of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994, to which Australia is a party.

The WTO Valuation Agreement requires the customs value of imported goods to be the total of payments made for the goods, with specific exceptions.

Those exceptions do not cover payments for warranty costs.

The reasoning of the Full Federal Court is potentially applicable to the valuation of a wide variety of goods.

The amendments will align the Government's policy objective with the WTO Valuation Agreement by clarifying that the warranty component of the price paid for imported goods is included in the customs value.

A transitional provision included in the bill ensures that these amendments affect only the valuation of goods entered for home consumption after the date of commencement of the amendments.

The next set of amendments will insert a power to seize without warrant prohibited imports and prohibited exports found onboard certain vessels in the Torres Strait Protected Zone established under the Torres Strait Treaty 1978.

Traditional inhabitants of the Torres Strait using vessels in the conduct of traditional activities in the Torres Strait Protected Zone do not have to comply with the normal Customs reporting requirements when travelling between Papua New Guinea and Australia.

However, to maintain control over the movement of prohibited imports and prohibited exports into and out of Australia, Customs officers intercept and board these vessels.

Under current legislation if prohibited goods are found on a vessel, an application for a seizure warrant must first be made to a Magistrate.

This poses considerable operational and safety problems until the warrant is obtained.

The amendments will allow for the seizure of prohibited imports and exports without a warrant in these circumstances.

Customs has consulted with and received support from the Torres Strait Regional Authority for this proposal.

The bill also proposes to amend the cargo reporting provisions for simplified arrangements for the reporting of cargo known as `re-mail'.

Re-mail relates to bulk business mail such as periodic newsletters, bank statements and subscription publications.

The nature of re-mail items, as defined, is such that the potential for them to harbour prohibited goods is low.

To require standard Customs reporting of detailed data for this class of mail is considered unnecessary.

It is therefore proposed to amend the Act to enable a person who registers as a re-mail reporter to provide fewer details for the report of re-mail cargo.

The bill also contains amendments to the Customs Legislation Amendment and Repeal (International Trade Modernisation) Act 2001.

The provisions of that Act are to commence by Proclamation within a two-year period dating from Royal Assent.

The Trade Modernisation Act received Royal Assent on 20 July 2001 therefore all provisions must commence by 20 July 2003.

Many provisions of the Trade Modernisation Act depend directly or indirectly on the introduction of Customs new cargo management computer system—the Integrated Cargo System.

The two-year `Proclamation period' was to allow sufficient time for the trading community to be ready for the procedural and computer system changes that the amendments support.

However, since enactment it has become apparent that the trading community may not be ready to use the Integrated Cargo System by July 2003.

To avoid uncertainty for industry, the bill therefore allows up to a further one year (until 20 July 2004) for the relevant provisions to commence.

The bill also amends the Trade Modernisation Act to allow the repeal of the provisions in the Customs Act that govern the operation of Customs current cargo management computer systems to commence on different days.

Currently the Trade Modernisation Act requires all those provisions to be repealed on the same day.

Given the scale of change involved in the replacement of the current systems with the Integrated Cargo System, Customs intends, in consultation with industry, to introduce the new system in a phased manner.

The bill also includes some minor and technical amendments to the Trade Modernisation Act, the majority of which are to more closely align some of the provisions to the development of the new computer systems.

Finally, the bill clarifies an existing exemption to the Passenger Movement Charge as it applies to persons making more than one departure from Australia while on a journey that incorporates both air and sea legs.

The bill also extends the exemption from the Passenger Movement Charge to the small number of persons covered under the Overseas Missions (Privileges and Immunities) Act 1995.

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IMPORT PROCESSING CHARGES (AMENDMENT AND REPEAL) BILL 2002

The main purpose of this bill is to continue the imposition of the import processing charges imposed by the Import Processing Charges Act 1997 which is to be repealed by the Customs Legislation Amendment and Repeal (International Trade Modernisation) Act 2001.

The Trade Modernisation Act introduces substantial new import reporting and entry processes under the Customs Act 1901 as part of the Integrated Cargo System.

The charges for these new reporting requirements are contained in the Import Processing Charges Act 2001.

It was intended that the repeal of the 1997 Charges Act and the new processes would commence on a day to be fixed by Proclamation and if the provisions were not Proclaimed, they would commence automatically two years after the Trade Modernisation Act received the Royal Assent.

Many provisions of the Trade Modernisation Act depend directly or indirectly on the introduction of Customs new Integrated Cargo System.

The two year proclamation period was to allow sufficient time for the trading community to be ready for the procedural and computer system changes.

Since the Trade Modernisation Act was enacted, it has become apparent that industry would not be in a position to implement its computer system changes by July 2003.

The Customs Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2002 will extend the time in which those provisions can be Proclaimed to commence to three years to allow the trading community the extra time it would need to be ready.

This bill ensures that the 1997 Charges Act will continue to apply in respect of import reports and processing made under the old systems.

These charges will continue to apply until all of the new import reporting and entry processes have commenced.

The bill also continues the imposition of charges for documentary cargo reports made during the 6 months general moratorium period, or any further moratorium period granted by the Chief Executive Officer of Customs.

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PLANT HEALTH AUSTRALIA (PLANT INDUSTRIES) FUNDING BILL 2002

This bill will enable new levies and charges to be paid to Plant Health Australia Limited (PHA) through the normal appropriation from Consolidated Revenue. The bill also provides a mechanism for monies collected in excess of a plant industry's liability to PHA, to be appropriated for research and development activities.

PHA was established in April 2000 as a Corporations Law company responsible for coordinating national plant health matters. The Commonwealth, all States and Territories, and a number of plant industries are members. PHA's running costs of approximately $1.5 million per annum are shared between its members. The purpose of the bill is to help plant industries fund their share of PHA's costs.

Industry members of PHA cover the grains, cotton, vegetable and potato, sugar, winegrape, nursery, apple and pear, rice, banana, fresh stone fruit, nut, honey and strawberry industries.

To date, as an interim measure pending the development of these new arrangements, industry members of PHA have been funding their share of PHA's costs either directly from industry association monies or through their industry's Research and Development Corporation. When these arrangements are in place, industry funding of PHA using research and development funds will no longer be necessary.

Plant industries' share of PHA's costs is approximately $500,000 per annum. Under PHA's constitution, these costs are shared between its plant industry members based in part on the value of production of the various crops.

The legislative mechanism was developed in consultation with PHA plant industry members. It is designed to limit the appropriation made to PHA to exactly that of each plant industry member's share of PHA's annual costs.

Given seasonal variations in crop production levels and revenue from sales, it is impossible to set operative levy and charge rates that will collect a fixed sum of money, whereby the levy and charge burden is shared equitably by levy and charge payers.

Accordingly, once an industry's share of its annual contributions to PHA have been met, the bill provides for monies collected in excess of this amount to be redirected to that industry's R&D Corporation and be deemed to be R&D levy or charge. This R&D component will be matched by the Commonwealth, as is currently the case. The new PHA levies and charges component will not be matched.

Clearly, the benefit of returning any excess levy collections to research activities is that the industries will benefit from the Government's matching dollar for dollar research and development funding.

The bill also contains measures that will enable a plant industry member to raise additional funds for special projects that the member wishes to be undertaken by PHA on its behalf. In accordance with PHA's constitution, PHA's members have to agree to these before the start of the year.

While the plant industries have sought to pay for their yearly contribution to PHA from a new PHA levy and charge, there will be no increase in the overall levy and charge burden on industry members. This is because the proposed operative rate of PHA levy or charge for initial participants will be exactly offset by a corresponding decrease in that industry's existing R&D levy and charge rate.

In addition, the impact on business will be minimised as existing levy and charge collection arrangements are to be used with no change to the paperwork required of businesses/producers already paying levies and charges.

This legislation has the full support of industry groups and producers. It establishes arrangements for the long term funding of PHA's plant health activities. It facilitates plant industry members of PHA contributing to the development of an internationally outstanding plant health management system that enhances Australia's plant health status and the profitability and sustainability of plant industries.

Debate (on motion by Senator Mackay) adjourned.

Ordered that the Higher Education Funding Amendment Bill 2002 and the Higher Education Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2002; and the Customs Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2002 and the Import Processing Charges (Amendment and Repeal) Bill 2002 be listed on the Notice Paper as two orders of the day, and the Plant Health Australia (Plant Industries) Funding Bill 2002 be listed as a separate order of the day.