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Thursday, 21 August 2003
Page: 14229


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) (11:17 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—

EDUCATION SERVICES FOR OVERSEAS STUDENTS (REGISTRATION CHARGES) AMENDMENT BILL 2003

Education exports have grown phenomenally in recent years. As Australia's fastest growing export service sector, international education contributes over $5 billion annually to the economy. Australian education has a global reputation for its high quality and innovation. These attributes, combined with competitive tuition fees and a lower cost of living than its major competitors, make the Australian education and training services export industry a thriving, expanding and vital sector in the Australian economy.

As you would have seen from the recent budget announcements, this Government is committed to protecting this valuable industry, and assisting its development through strong policies and supportive legislation such as the Education Services for Overseas Students (ESOS) Act 2000.

The ESOS legislation established key national elements for the regulation of the international education and training services industry. It addressed problems facing the industry; the uncertain financial protections for students' pre-paid course fees; the emergence of a small minority of unscrupulous providers; and inconsistent quality assurance.

This bill contributes to this system by creating a new fee structure to replace the current inequitable tiered charges structure for the compulsory annual registration charge payable by all providers registered on CRICOS. The new fee structure comprises a $300 base fee per annum together with a charge of only $25.00 per student enrolment per year. No other changes are proposed and providers will still calculate the number of enrolments as one enrolment for a course over 26 weeks and half an enrolment for a course of less than 26 weeks.

The existing tiered charging structure imposes a relatively greater burden on registered providers with small numbers of overseas students. The new base fee and charge per student enrolment means all providers pay the same, on a per capita basis, regardless of size. It also means that those providers that have the most to gain from our reputation as a high quality study destination, will carry a more equitable burden to ensure the quality, integrity and sustainability of the industry.

Importantly, the bill does not impose any further regulatory burden.

From these changes my Department will receive $5.1 million over 4 years on an ongoing basis for increased compliance and enforcement activity. This will allow it to more proactively use the powers that already exist in the ESOS legislation to more speedily remove those providers who are not acting in the best interests of the industry. It will include, for example, looking at making greater use of provisions to deal with registered providers without the financial capacity to stay in the industry; taking more collaborative action with States and Territories; and smarter information matching to better target our compliance activities. More effort will also be put into assisting providers to understand and meet their obligations.

In addition, the extra revenue raised from the new charging structure will support and expand Australia's international education industry. The extra revenue will be apportioned across activities such as quality assurance of providers delivering courses offshore, provider and course benchmarking and providing information to industry and students on the quality assurance framework. This is a very practical demonstration of the Government's commitment to facilitating long term, sustainable growth for this important export industry

Protection and enhancement of Australia's reputation for providing reliable and high quality education is crucial for both providers and their international students who rely on the strength of an Australian qualification as they further their careers, both here and overseas.

This bill continues the Government's support for a strengthened regulatory framework for Australia's education and training export industry and will ensure its integrity and long-term viability.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

—————

COMMUNICATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 3) 2003

The Communications Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2003 makes amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, the Radiocommunications Act 1992 and the Telecommunications Act 1997 in relation to:

· Solus television markets;

· Two-service television markets;

· Transmission of datacasting services;

· Variations to approved national broadcaster implementation plans; and

· Penalties payable instead of prosecution for non-compliance with obligations relating to telecommunications customer equipment and cabling.

Television viewers in capital cities in Australia enjoy three commercial television services, as well as the ABC and SBS. However, many of their counterparts in regional areas only receive two, or sometimes just one, commercial service. When it introduced digital television, the Government made significant changes to the Broadcasting Services Act to encourage incumbent broadcasters to provide additional services in two or single service (“solus”) markets. These changes will help provide viewers in regional areas with better television services.

This bill corrects minor anomalies in the legislative framework relating to the introduction of these new services.

Under section 38A of the Broadcasting Services Act, a commercial television broadcasting licensee in a market with only one commercial service can apply to the Australian Broadcasting Authority for a licence to operate a second analog commercial service in the same licence area. Both these services must ultimately be converted to digital, in accordance with legislation. The Government introduced amendments (which came into effect on 1 January 2001) to give the broadcaster the option of electing to multichannel both digital versions on the same channel, with exemption from HDTV obligations. This will result in cost savings to the broadcasters in terms of transmission and other equipment. Licensees are required to elect whether or not they wish to take up this option “at or about the time” the section 38A licence is allocated.

In 1996 a second service was established in Griffith under the section 38A provisions. Since the 2001 amendment came into force, the ABA has allocated second licences under section 38A in the remaining four solus markets, and in each case the licensees have elected to multichannel digital transmissions of both services. However, because the Griffith licence was established before 2001, the broadcaster in that market was unable to meet the requirement that it elect `at or about the time' its section 38A licence was granted, whether it wished to multichannel its digital simulcast services.

The bill corrects this anomaly by allowing a licensee in a solus market, where a second licence was allocated under section 38A prior to 1 January 2001, to elect within 90 days of the relevant provision of the bill coming into effect to multichannel the digital transmission of the original and section 38A services.

The bill also contains provisions to facilitate the earlier potential availability of new commercial television services in regional markets with only two existing commercial services.

Licence areas outside the capital cities are classified as regional or remote, depending on their location. In some areas of Australia there is overlap between a regional licence area and a remote area.

Under section 38B of the Broadcasting Services Act, commercial broadcasters in two-service regional markets can elect to provide a third service in digital mode. The Act currently provides that, where these markets overlap with remote licence areas, the date on which the broadcasters can elect to provide a third service under section 38B is set in the context of the digital conversion arrangements for the overlapping remote area. As arrangements are yet to be finalised for the introduction of digital television services in remote areas, this is likely to delay the availability of new services in the relevant regional markets.

The bill breaks this nexus by allowing the ABA to determine separate dates in overlapping regional and remote markets from which licensees can elect to provide a third service under section 38B.

The Radiocommunications Act currently prevents free to air broadcasters from transmitting datacasting services until the earlier of 12 months after the commencement of the simulcast period in their area, or the first time a datacasting service was transmitted by an independent datacasting transmitter licensee. The Government originally introduced these provisions to help ensure a level playing field in the provision of datacasting services.

These provisions are no longer necessary, given that, following the recent datacasting review, the Government decided not to proceed with allocation of datacasting transmitter licences at this stage. The retention of these provisions could slow the ability of regional free to air broadcasters to provide datacasting services until, in some cases, the end of 2004. The bill therefore removes these provisions.

The national broadcasters must develop implementation plans in relation to the conversion of their television services from analog to digital transmission mode. Implementation plans prescribe, amongst other things, the commencement dates and technical specifications for particular digital television services. The legislation requires the ABC and SBS to rollout their digital television services in accordance with implementation plans approved by the Minister or variations to such plans that have been subsequently approved by the Minister.

There are over 600 national broadcaster television services requiring conversion and variations are often required because of delays in the arrival of equipment from overseas, changes to timetables to coordinate rollout with other broadcasters and minor changes to technical specifications. Under the current provisions, the Minister must approve each variation.

The bill contains amendments to allow the Minister to delegate the power to approve proposed variations to approved implementation plans to the Secretary or senior officers of the Department.

The bill also contains provisions relating to penalties payable as an alternative to prosecution under Part 21 of the Telecommunications Act.

Part 21 of the Telecommunications Act sets out a number of obligations relating to the manufacture and importation of customer equipment and customer cabling, and the installation of customer cabling, which are intended to ensure appropriate levels of service delivery, product performance and safety. Non-compliance with these requirements has the potential to cause significant detriment to consumers.

Prosecuting an individual or a body corporate for offences under Part 21 is, however, often inappropriate because there is a potential for harm to reputation if a conviction is recorded. Prosecution also involves a significant diversion of the time and resources of the Australian Communications Authority (the ACA).

The bill provides for the establishment of an infringement notice scheme whereby the alleged offender has the option of paying to the Commonwealth, as an alternative to prosecution, a penalty that is less than that which would apply if the matter were dealt with by a court and a contravention of an offence established. It is anticipated that this medium level regulatory response will enable the ACA to act more quickly to address non-compliance, and thereby encourage improved compliance.

Consumers are expected to benefit through reduced risk of physical injury and poor service delivery arising from non-compliance, lower prices and greater confidence in the quality of cabling and customer equipment.

A similar penalty in lieu of prosecution scheme currently exists under section 315 of the Radiocommunications Act and has been effective in encouraging increased compliance with provisions under that Act that are similar in nature to those included in the proposed penalty in lieu of prosecution scheme in the bill.

The amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act and the Radiocommunications Act represent sensible minor adjustments to the digital television and datacasting regulatory framework to remove anomalies or unnecessary prohibitions and to streamline implementation arrangements for national broadcasters. The amendments to the Telecommunications Act will improve compliance with the technical requirements that apply to customer equipment and cabling.

Debate (on motion by Senator Buckland) adjourned.

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