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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 79


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) (5:23 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—

AGED CARE AMENDMENT (TRANSITION CARE AND ASSETS TESTING) BILL 2005

Since coming to office in 1996, the Coalition Government has worked consistently to ensure that older Australians needing long-term care have access to a high quality and affordable aged care system capable of meeting their needs and preferences. The substantial reforms the Government introduced in the Aged Care Act 1997 (the Act) were necessary, wide-ranging and effective, especially in improving the quality of care and accommodation in Government subsidised aged care homes.

While the individual needs of older Australians remain our priority, the Coalition Government recognises that with the ageing of Australia’s population it is necessary that we put in place policies now to ensure the future sustainability of the aged care sector. In relation to residential aged care, the Government commissioned the eminent economist, Professor Warren Hogan to undertake the Review of Pricing Arrangements in Residential Aged Care (the Hogan Review).

In response to the recommendations of the Hogan Review, and to continue its commitment to the provision of quality aged care, the Government is providing $2.2 billion through its Investing in Australia’s Aged Care: More Places, Better Care 2004-05 Budget package. This package will bring the Government’s total investment in the care of older Australians to $30 billion over the next four years; $6.7 billion in 2004-05 rising to $8.2 billion in 2007-08, resulting in a total of $67 billion between 1996 and 2008.

To implement certain measures in the Investing in Australia’s Aged Care: More Places, Better Care package, amendment of the Aged Care Act 1997 is required.

This bill amends the Act, first to support the implementation of the Transition Care Program and secondly to allow the transfer of assets testing to Centrelink and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

In the 2004-05 Federal Budget, the Coalition Government announced the establishment of a national Transition Care Program, comprising 2,000 transition care places, to assist older people, after a hospital stay, who require more time and support in a non-hospital environment to complete their restorative process, optimise their functional capacity and consider their longer term care arrangements.

The aims of the Transition Care Program include ensuring that older Australians receive appropriate care in appropriate settings. The program is designed to better integrate hospital and aged care services across the whole health sector.

The Transition Care Program will ease pressures on health services for older Australians by providing greater access to a full range of aged care services in hospital, residential and community care. Through this program, the Australian Government is ensuring that more older people leaving hospital receive additional rehabilitation support, building on existing services.

This bill includes amendments which provide leave arrangements to allow existing recipients of residential care services to receive transition care following an acute episode requiring hospitalisation and prior to returning to their aged care home. This will be achieved by creating a new category of leave from residential care for the purpose of receiving ‘flexible care’. A subsequent amendment to the Residential Care Subsidy Principles will specify Transition Care as a form of ‘flexible care’ for which leave from residential care is available.

The Coalition Government intends to provide funding for up to 12 weeks transition care and the opportunity to extend the 12 weeks, to 18 weeks, when a person’s clinical care needs require this. The Australian Government will also continue to pay the approved provider of the residential aged care service the subsidy for the care recipient while they are in Transition Care. This enables the approved provider to keep the place available for the care recipient when he or she is ready to return. Consistent with the existing provision for hospital leave, the subsidy will reduce after 30 days.

In the 2004-05 Federal Budget, the Coalition Government also announced the transfer of assets testing for residents and potential residents of aged care facilities from approved providers to Centrelink and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. By removing the necessity for approved providers to undertake assets assessments, approved providers will be relieved of the administrative burden of conducting assessments and will be able to spend more time caring for residents. In addition, approved providers will have greater certainty as to their income due to the experience of Centrelink and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to conduct accurate and consistent assessments.

In most instances, this assessment will be undertaken prior to entry into a residential aged care facility. This will enable residents and prospective residents to be better placed to make decisions about their care needs because they will have greater certainty about their financial situation and status prior to entry. It will also help to reduce the level of paperwork and administration required by the government of aged care providers and free up more time for nursing and other staff to spend caring for older Australians.

The amendments to the Act enable assessment of assets to be carried out by Centrelink and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and ensure the new arrangements work smoothly, by extending the period in which a provider must enter into an agreement with a resident from 7 to 21 days. This is so there is no barrier to providers accepting residents at short notice where the new assessment process of assets has not had time to be completed.

The Coalition Government is delivering on measures in the Investing in Australia’s Aged Care: More Places, Better Care package including:

  • the conditional adjustment payment that will increase residential care subsidies by seven per cent over four years;
  • the payment of a one-off capital payment of $3,500 per resident for fire and safety compliance;
  • increasing the viability supplement paid to rural and remote providers;
  • increasing workforce training places;
  • establishing the Commonwealth Carelink Services Directory website which provides information about aged care homes to assist older Australians, their families and carers to make informed choices about their aged care needs.

This bill delivers two more measures in the Investing in Australia’s Aged Care: More Places, Better Care package. This demonstrates the Coalition Government’s strong commitment to ensuring a robust and viable aged care sector into the future providing high quality and affordable care to older Australians.


NATIONAL SECURITY INFORMATION (CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS) AMENDMENT (APPLICATION) BILL 2005

This bill amends the National Security Information (Criminal Proceedings) Act 2004.

It seeks to clarify how the Act applies to certain federal criminal proceedings.

In particular, the bill reinforces the application of the Act to proceedings that commenced prior to 11 January 2005, that is, the day on which the main provisions of the Act commenced.

This amendment will ensure that the Act can be applied to a number of terrorism-related proceedings that are currently underway, once the prosecutor gives the requisite notice to the court and defendant.

It was not intended that, simply because a person had been charged and a bail hearing had occurred before the commencement of the Act on 11 January 2005, the Act could not be applied to the committal or trial of the person some months or years later.

However, this amendment will not give the Act any retrospective effect.

Rather, it simply ensures that the Act can apply to the future stages of a proceeding that began before 11 January 2005.

It will not affect anything that occurred before the notice was given.

The bill also seeks to clarify how the Act applies to any proceeding (including a proceeding which began after the Act commenced) in which the prosecutor gives the requisite notice to the court and defendant after the proceeding commenced.

This amendment restates the intent of the Act to require a prosecutor to give the requisite notice only once, after which time, the Act will apply to all subsequent parts of the proceeding.

It will not be necessary for the prosecutor to give notice in each subsequent part of the proceeding.

Without these two clarifications, it is possible that the Act may be subject to misinterpretation.

In turn, this may jeopardise the underlying intent of the Act—to facilitate the prosecution of an offence without risk to national security or a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

For this reason, I commend this bill.


NAVIGATION AMENDMENT BILL 2004

This bill amends the Navigation Act 1912, the principal Commonwealth Act relating to the safety of ships.

The bill will:

  • remove the requirement for assessors of nautical experience to advise the Court in a prosecution for a breach of regulations relating to the prevention of collisions and the display on ships of lights and signals;
  • clarify that a breach of regulations relating to prevention of collisions and the display on ships of lights and signals may be prosecuted on indictment; and
  • revise certain penalties in the Navigation Act which relate to navigation near ice and the rendering of assistance following an accident at sea or where persons are in distress at sea.

When proceedings are being heard for an offence against regulations relating to the prevention of collisions and the use of lights and signals on ships, the Navigation Act currently requires a Court to be assisted by “not less than 2 assessors of nautical experience appointed under Part IX” of the Navigation Act.

Part IX was repealed in 1989 and so there is no mechanism for the appointment of nautical assessors. The bill will rectify this anomaly.

The bill will also make it clear that an offence against the regulations which prescribe measures to be observed for the prevention of collisions and the provision and use on ships of lights and signals is an indictable offence.

Currently, the maximum penalty for an offence against the regulations for an individual is a fine of $10,000 and a term of imprisonment of 2 years. In accordance with the Crimes Act 1914, it would appear that this is an indictable offence.

However, in an unreported Victorian County Court ruling in November 2003, the Court found that offences against the regulations can only be prosecuted summarily.

The bill will remove the possibility of confusion.

The Navigation Act requires each person in charge of a ship involved in a collision with another ship to:

  • render practicable and necessary assistance to the other ship;
  • stay by the other ship until there is no need for further assistance; and
  • give information about the ship to the master or person in charge of the other ship.

The maximum penalty for breach of this requirement is currently a fine not exceeding $20,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years, or both. The bill will provide that the maximum penalty is expressed simply as imprisonment for 10 years.

The Navigation Act requires the master of a ship to cause his ship to assist persons on or from a ship or aircraft who are in distress.

The maximum penalty for breach of this requirement is currently a fine not exceeding $10,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 4 years, or both. The bill will provide that the maximum penalty is expressed simply as imprisonment for 4 years.

The Navigation Act provides that the master of a ship or aircraft in distress may requisition the most suitable ships which answer his or her calls for assistance. The master of a requisitioned ship must proceed to the assistance of the persons in distress.

The maximum penalty for breach of this requirement is currently a fine not exceeding $20,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years, or both. The bill will provide that the maximum penalty is expressed simply as imprisonment for 10 years.

The Navigation Act requires a master to keep a record of any information received about a ship or aircraft in distress at sea and, if the master does not proceed to the assistance of persons from that ship or aircraft, the reasons for not proceeding.

The bill will increase the maximum penalty for breach of this requirement from $2,000 to 50 penalty units.

Each of the above penalty provisions which will be expressed only as a term of imprisonment may, in accordance with a formula in the Crimes Act 1914, be converted into an additional fine for an individual and into a fine only for a body corporate. For an individual, a term of imprisonment for one year means that there is the possibility of an additional fine of $6,600. For a body corporate, a penalty expressed as a term of imprisonment for one year converts to a fine of $33,000.


TAX LAWS AMENDMENT (2004 MEASURES No. 6) BILL 2004

This bill makes amendments to the tax laws to implement a range of changes and improvements to Australia’s taxation system. Most of these amendments lapsed when Parliament was prorogued, but the Government is moving to bring them back as soon as possible, to try to give more certainty to taxpayers waiting for these changes.

Firstly, the Government is continuing with its roll-out of consolidations.

These measures give greater flexibility and certainty to consolidation membership and loss rules. The bill clarifies the consolidation cost setting rules with respect to finance leases, certain types of mining expenditure, and low-value and software development pools. It also reduces compliance costs by relaxing the notice requirements under the inter-entity loss multiplication rules in some circumstances and allowing more flexibility in relation to some previously irrevocable elections. Generally, these amendments take effect from the 1 July 2002, which is the commencement date of the consolidation regime.

Secondly, this bill ensures that copyright collecting societies are not taxed on income they collect on behalf of members.

Broadly, the bill will ensure that copyright collecting societies will be exempt from income tax on copyright income collected and held on behalf of members, before it is distributed. At the same time, the law will further be amended to ensure that the income which is exempt at the society level is included in the assessable income of the members once it is received.

The third measure ensures continues the implementation of the simplified imputation system. It covers anti-avoidance rules in relation to exempt entities that are eligible for a refund of imputation credits; and consequential amendments to replace references to the previous imputation system with references to the new system and to update the terminology for the new system.

Schedule 4 to this bill adds several institutions and funds to the list of specifically-listed deductible gift recipients in the income tax law, including certain fire and emergency services bodies. It also creates a new general category of deductible gift recipient for government schools that provide special education for students with a permanent disability.

The fifth measure will extend the existing transitional rules in the debt/equity rules for at-call loans to 30 June 2005. This will mean that an at-call loan made to a company by a related party before 30 June 2005 (typically a loan by a small business owner to the business) will be treated as being on revenue account. The measure will give businesses more time to assess existing loans and adjust their arrangements if need be.

Schedule 6 extends the water facilities and landcare tax concessions, currently available to primary producers and some rural businesses, to irrigators and rural water providers. As a result of these amendments, irrigators will be able to claim deductions for capital expenditure on water facilities over three years, and rural water providers will be eligible for immediate deductions on landcare operations. The measure will assist irrigators to renew water supply infrastructure and enhance the efficiency of water delivery to primary producers and other users.

The next measure broadens the fringe benefits tax exemption for the costs associated with the purchase of a dwelling by an employee as a result of relocation for work purposes. Currently, the exemption is only available if, within the two year time limit, and after the employee sells his or her old dwelling, the employee buys a new dwelling and the employer pays the incidental purchase costs. The exemption will be extended to cases where the new house is bought before the old one is sold.

Schedule 8 to this bill amends the capital gains tax law so that an administrator of a company, as well as a liquidator, can declare shares and other equity interests in a company to be worthless for capital gains tax purposes. The declaration permits taxpayers who hold those shares or other equity interests to claim a capital loss.

The next measure amends the goods and services tax law, to remove an anomaly that allows supplies of certain services relating to residential property in Australia to be GST-free if the owner is not in Australia at the time of the supply, when the same supply would be taxable if the owner was in Australia. The measure gives the same GST treatment to both residents and non-residents for these property-related services.

Schedule 10 amends the the first child tax offset, or Baby Bonus, in relation to adoptive parents, to ensure that, in line with the Government’s original intention, adoptive parents are not disadvantaged with respect to the Baby Bonus. The amendments will allow adoptive parents, once they become legally responsible for a child, to lodge a retrospective claim for the Baby Bonus to cover the period between commencing care of the child and being given legal responsibility for that child.

This bill will also amend the income tax law to alleviate the unintended tax consequences that arise when a life insurance company transfers some or all of its life insurance business to another life insurance company. The amendments respond to concerns raised by the life insurance industry and will ensure that taxation issues are not a barrier to transfers of life insurance business between life insurance companies.

In addition, there will be technical correction in the commencement provision applying to the franking deficit tax offset provisions for life insurance companies .

Full details of the measures in this bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum.

I commend this bill.

Debate (on motion by Senator Hill) adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.

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