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Monday, 29 March 2004
Page: 22106


Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (4:07 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—

SEX DISCRIMINATION AMENDMENT (TEACHING PROFESSION) BILL 2004

The Government is committed to achieving the best education outcomes for male and female schools students throughout Australia.

The Sex Discrimination Amendment (Teaching Profession) Bill is directed at that end.

The fact is that education outcomes for boys are falling behind education outcomes for girls in Australia.

In fact boys on average are achieving at significantly lower levels than girls in all areas of the assessed cognitive curriculum from early primary to late secondary school in Australia.

A House of Representatives Inquiry into the education of boys in June 2003 Boys: Getting it Right examined the problems particular to the education of boys.

It identified as a significant problem the imbalance in the number of male and female teachers in schools, in particular in primary schools, in Australia.

The figures speak for themselves.

Only 20.9 percent of primary school teachers in Australia are men.

This problem is only getting worse.

In 2003, male teachers constituted 24% of the 55,577 domestic students enrolled in initial teaching courses in Australia.

Males were only 18.8 percent of students training to become primary school teachers.

A mere 3.6 percent of the 7,115 students training to become early childhood teachers in Australia were men.

Research shows that teaching is not an attractive career option for men for reasons including concerns about salary and the perception of a risk of allegations of abusing children in schools.

This bill amends the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to provide that a person may offer scholarships for persons of a particular gender in respect of participation in a teaching course.

The section would apply only if the purpose of doing so is to redress a gender imbalance in teaching, that is, an imbalance in the ratio of male to female teachers in schools in Australia, or in a category of schools or in a particular school.

This bill means that educational authorities and others can offer scholarships to encourage male teachers into the profession in a manner consistent with the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

The bill is drafted in gender neutral language which means that the amendments would allow discrimination in favour of females if a gender imbalance in favour of males were to emerge generally or in a region or sector.

The Government's acknowledgement of the importance of both men and women in teaching in our society, and the Government's commitment to encouraging men into the profession, will help to change people's perceptions about the role of men in the profession for the future.

The Government believes that addressing the imbalance in the number of male and female teachers in the profession is important in providing students with both male and female role models in schools.

The imbalance in the number of male and female teachers in schools, in particular in pre-schools and primary schools, means that boys and girls are without enough male role models in schools.

This has a detrimental impact on education outcomes for boys.

This bill is a vital measure for addressing the existing gender imbalance in the profession.

Students throughout Australia will benefit from having both male and female role models in the teaching profession.

This bill complements the Government's other major strategies for addressing the particular challenge of increasing education outcomes for boys, including:

Boys' education is a priority area for the $159.2 million Australian Government Quality Teacher Programme

This includes $6 million committed to the Boys' Education Lighthouse Schools Programme to identify best practice in boys' education, with a further $500,000 committed to research.

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TRADE PRACTICES AMENDMENT (PERSONAL INJURIES AND DEATH) BILL (No. 2) 2004

This bill will support State and Territory reforms to the law of negligence with the objective of making liability insurance more affordable and available.

In the past two years the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer has chaired six meetings with her State and Territory counterparts to provide leadership and develop a national approach to resolving the issues of rising premiums and a reduction in the availability of insurance cover.

At the May 2002 Ministerial meeting on Public Liability Insurance, the Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers agreed to a range of measures to address these concerns and restore a degree of balance to the laws which compensate Australians for death and personal injuries. These measures included the establishment of a panel of experts to conduct a principled review of the law of negligence (the Panel).

This Review Panel was established to assist the Australian Government and State and Territory Governments to formulate a consistent and principled approach to reforming liability laws.

The members of the Panel were the Honourable Justice David Ipp, Professor Peter Cane, Associate Professor Donald Sheldon and Mr Ian Macintosh.

The Terms of Reference were broad and addressed, amongst other things, the application, effectiveness and operation of common law principles applied in negligence to limit liability arising from personal injuries or death. The Panel was also asked to develop and evaluate principled options to limit liability and the amount of damages awarded in a given case and to limit claims for negligence to within three years of the date of the event were also to be developed and evaluated.

In addition, the Panel was asked to consider the interaction of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (the Act) with the common law principles applied in negligence and recommended a number of changes to the Act.

The Review concluded that, for many cases, a cause of action under the Act is a real alternative to a cause of action in negligence. Thus, any reform by the States and Territories of common law negligence could be undermined unless the Commonwealth made complementary changes to the Act.

The Australian Government has taken action to implement key recommendations of the Review and supporting State and Territory reforms with the introduction of the Trade Practices Amendment (Personal Injuries and Death Bill) 2003. This bill was introduced into this House on 27 March 2003.

The measures contained in the present bill will continue this reform agenda. Specifically, this bill will implement recommendations 17 and 21 of the Review. The Review recommended that the Act be amended to apply rules relating to limitation of actions and quantum of damages to personal injury and death claims brought pursuant to a unconscionable conduct claim (Part IVA), a contravention of the product safety and information provisions (Division 1A of Part V); a supply by a manufacturer or importer of unsatisfactory consumer goods (Division 2A of Part V); or a supply by a manufacturer or importer of defective goods (Part VA).

In addition to these recommendations in relation to the Act, the Review made specific recommendations on the rules on limitation of actions and quantum of damages that should apply across all jurisdictions. There has been some variation between States and Territories in the implementation of the Review recommendations.

The Australian Government has taken action to amend relevant Parts of the Act to apply limitation periods and constraints on damages arising from personal injuries and death actions consistently across the country. As a result, this bill will ensure that the Act will not be used to undermine State and Territory laws in relation to actions for damages for personal injuries or death.

With this bill, the Government is introducing limitations periods and constraints on damages.

This approach can be distinguished from that taken in Trade Practices Amendment (Personal Injuries and Death) Bill 2003, which prevents claims for damages for personal injuries or death under Part V Division 1 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.

The rationale for these two different approaches is that Parliament intended that the provisions relating to product safety and information, claims against manufacturers and importers of goods and product liability provide causes of action to individuals who suffer personal injury and death.

In contradistinction it is open to serious question whether Parliament intended the provisions that relate to unconscionable and misleading or deceptive conduct (ie the relevant provisions in Part IVA and Part V Division I) to provide causes of action to individuals who suffer personal injury and death in the absence of any element of fault required to establish misleading and deceptive conduct.

The Panel noted that the element of fault in Part IVA would limit the potential for personal injuries and death claims. For this reason, the Government does not consider it is necessary to remove personal injury and death claims under Part IVA but that limitations on actions and quantum of damages should apply.

The bill I am introducing today is the second tranche of amendments to the Trade Practices Act to support State and Territory reforms to the law of negligence. This bill, will introduce a new Part VIB into the Act. Part VIB will establish limitations and caps on the maximum amounts that can be awarded for different heads of damage in relation to personal injury and death claims.

Part VIB will apply to personal injury and death claims brought pursuant to an unconscionable conduct claim (Part IVA), a contravention of the product safety and information provisions (Division 1A of Part V); a supply by a manufacturer or importer of unsatisfactory consumer goods (Division 2A of Part V); or a supply by a manufacturer or importer of defective goods (Part VA).

Part VIB will also provide a framework for phasing in damage for non-economic loss depending on the severity of an injury. The bill will also introduce new arrangements for limitation periods and mechanisms for establishing damages for loss of earning capacity and damages for gratuitous attendant care services. The bill will also introduce a number of other limits on personal injury damages and will clarify the powers of courts in relevant proceedings to approve structured settlements.

These reforms are aimed at providing a national benchmark for the limitation of actions and quantum of damages in personal injury and death claims as well as giving effect to the program of reforms agreed to by Ministers from all jurisdictions in November 2002.

I commend this bill.

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VETERANS' ENTITLEMENTS AMENDMENT (ELECTRONIC DELIVERY) BILL 2004

This bill is a package of amendments to the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 (the VEA) to enable the electronic lodgement of documents relating to benefits paid by the Department of Veterans' Affairs. It will further improve the delivery of repatriation services to the Australian veteran community and is in line with the Government's commitment to putting all appropriate Government services online.

The need for amendments to the Veterans' Entitlements Act flows from the passage of the Electronics Transactions Act 1999 (the ETA). The stated purpose of that Act was to facilitate the “development of electronic commerce in Australia by broadly removing (the) existing legal impediments that may prevent a person using electronic communications to satisfy obligations under Commonwealth law”.

The ETA had a two-step implementation process. Prior to 1 July 2001 the ETA only applied to those laws of the Commonwealth that were specified in the Regulations. After that date the ETA was to apply to all laws of the Commonwealth unless they had been specifically excluded from the application of the ETA.

In February 2001 the Repatriation Commission advised that certain provisions of the Veterans' Entitlements Act would require exemption. These exemptions entitle the Department of Veterans' Affairs not to accept claims delivered to the Department electronically.

It was intended that these exemptions would be reviewed and repealed as the procedures for the delivery of electronic claims and documents were developed. It was also intended that the appropriate amendments to the VEA would be made to provide for the electronic communication of claims, applications and other documents.

This bill is designed to achieve two purposes: the unification of all existing lodgment provisions in the VEA; and to allow for both the electronic and physical delivery of documents into the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

The existing provisions require that for a claim, application or other document to be lodged, it must have been sent to the Department at an approved address or delivered to a designated person. The amendments will include provisions for such documents to be lodged at an approved electronic address.

The need for the amendments to deal specifically with electronic delivery is due to the importance placed by the VEA on the date of lodgment of a document, as this date forms the basis for the calculation of benefits once a claim is accepted.

Because of this, the amendments will require that an electronic document must not only be sent to an approved electronic address, but must be received to be regarded as having been lodged on the date that it was sent.

The bill provides the Repatriation Commission with broad powers to determine the methods by which documents can be lodged with the Department of Veterans' Affairs, including approved electronic addresses.

These amendments are only applicable to the lodgment of claims, applications, requests and other documents under the VEA and will not apply to any other information that is received into the Department.

Information provided to the Department by telephone will not be subject to the amendments. The VEA contains a number of provisions that refer to the oral communication of information in response to a notice issued by the Department. Other provisions allow for the oral withdrawal of various written applications. These are unchanged.

This bill marks the next step in the Government's ongoing program of improvements to the delivery of services to the veteran community. It builds on the commitment to the use of new technologies in veteran service delivery and a successful trial in Tasmania to allow veterans to lodge information electronically.

The passage of this legislation will ensure that the repatriation system keeps pace with the online age and assist veterans who, like many Australians, are moving to e-business as the way to do business into the future.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of these bills be adjourned to the first day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.

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