Save Search

Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 14 June 2005
Page: 76


Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (4:25 PM) —I table a correction to the explanatory memorandum to the Asbestos-related Claims (Management of Commonwealth Liabilities) Bill 2005 and 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—

ASBESTOS-RELATED CLAIMS (MANAGEMENT OF COMMONWEALTH LIABILITIES) (CONSEQUENTIAL AND TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS) BILL 2005

The Asbestos-related Claims (Management of Commonwealth Liabilities) (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2005 provides for the repeal of the Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee legislation. The main Bill will transfer liabilities relating to current claims to Comcare. Following this, the Consequential and Transitional Provisions Bill will transfer any remaining liabilities of SIFC to the Commonwealth.

Once the liabilities have been transferred, Schedule 2 of the Consequential and Transitional Provisions Bill will repeal the following Acts: the Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee Act 1977, the Stevedoring Industry Levy Act 1977, and the Stevedoring Industry Levy Collection Act 1977.

Asbestos-related liabilities which were transferred from SIFC to the Commonwealth will then be capable of being automatically transferred to Comcare under the transfer provisions of the main Bill.

As the Committee will no longer perform any other functions after the transferral of liabilities for asbestos-related claims to Comcare, it is appropriate to repeal the relevant legislation. The stevedoring industry levy collection Acts have been redundant for several years.

There will also be consequential amendments to the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 to take account of Comcare’s new function in managing asbestos-related common law claims.


ASBESTOS-RELATED CLAIMS (MANAGEMENT OF COMMONWEALTH LIABILITIES) BILL 2005

The Asbestos-related Claims (Management of Commonwealth Liabilities) Bill 2005 will allow Comcare to manage all asbestos-related claims brought at common law against the Government. It will achieve this by transferring the liability for such claims from the Commonwealth and Commonwealth authorities to Comcare.

Currently, the majority of common law asbestos claims against the Government are managed by the particular agencies against which the claims are made. This has resulted in some inefficiencies and inconsistencies in case management across portfolios.

Comcare’s current legislative authority allows it to manage asbestos-related disease claims from only current and former employees of the Government, and their dependants.

The bill will give Comcare the legislative authority to manage common law claims against the Government by contractors, tenants, bystanders, etc. Comcare will also have the authority to manage claims from former waterside workers whose asbestos claims are currently managed by the Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee.

It is proposed that Defence-related common law asbestos claims will continue to be managed by the Department of Defence, at the delegation of Comcare, pending a review of these arrangements by July 2006.

Statutory claims made under the Safety, Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 1988, the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 are not included in the application of this bill, and claims made under these Acts will continue to be managed by Comcare and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Integrating the management of asbestos claims against the Government will lead to more consistent decision making and more equitable and efficient outcomes. It will result in a standardised approach to management of asbestos claims. Furthermore, it will facilitate a better understanding of the nature of asbestos claims through improved knowledge and experience. The long latency period for asbestos-related diseases warrants special consideration for managing resulting personal injury claims.

The Government’s asbestos liabilities over the next 50 years have been estimated to be $0.9 billion, the majority of which will be common law claims. Comcare will be fully funded for the cost of managing the claims. While the Government’s 2005-06 Budget proposals provided $86 million to the Employment and Workplace Relations portfolio over a five year period for the costs of asbestos claims, this bill is not expected to have a significant effect on the level of asbestos liabilities.


IMPORT PROCESSING CHARGES AMENDMENT BILL 2005

This bill is the first of two in the legislative package for the restructure of the cost recovery regime for import related services which was originally proposed to support the new management and processing of cargo by customs. Cost recovery for import related services has been in place since 1997.

This bill provides the legislative authority to restructure the import declaration and the warehouse declaration processing charges contained in the Import Processing Charges Act 2001 (the IPC Act 2001). The structure under the existing IPC Act 2001 is based on the value of imported goods and applies the same charge irrespective of the method of importation. It is proposed to change this structure and instead base the charges on the method of importation, either by sea, air or post without reference to the value of the imported goods. This new structure will be the same as the original charging structure currently operating under the Import Processing Charges Act 1997. In addition, the second bill in this package will repeal two cargo reporting charges relating to low value consignments, which will be incorporated into the restructured import declaration and warehouse declaration processing charges.

Consultation with industry in relation to the restructuring proposal has occurred. Industry representatives support the requirement to restructure the charges as proposed and also support the amalgamation of the charges for low value consignments into the import declaration and warehouse declaration processing charges.

As previously stated this bill will ensure that the charges are equitable in their application to the users of import processing services.


CUSTOMS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (IMPORT PROCESSING CHARGES) BILL 2005

This bill is the second of two in the legislative package for the restructure of the cost recovery regime for import related services.

This bill provides the legislative authority to repeal the self assessed clearance declaration charge and the screening charge. These charges apply to the processing of low value consignments that do not require an import declaration or a warehouse declaration. The costs associated with the processing of these low value consignments will be incorporated into the charges being amended by the first Bill of this package. These amendments are consistent with Commonwealth cost recovery guidelines whereby charges that detract from administrative simplicity are eliminated thus enhancing the cost effectiveness of the total Customs cost recovery regime.

Since introduction of the current cost recovery regime in 1997, Customs has consulted with industry on a regular basis under the auspices of the Customs National Consultative Committee. The Committee comprises representatives from the various sectors of the importing community. Due to industry concerns raised in the Committee and in other forums in relation to the charges imposed on low value consignments, the Government has decided to streamline the total charging package.

It is projected that the self assessed clearance declaration charge and the screening charge would apply to two million low value consignments in the financial year 2005-06. These consignments would predominantly be imported by air. Both of these charges will be repealed, resulting in cost reductions in the administrative burden placed on the importing community and significant savings for importers of low value consignments.

Industry agrees with elimination of these two charges and there incorporation into the import declaration and warehouse declaration processing charges.

As already stated, this package will streamline the Customs cost recovery regime and significantly reduce administrative complexity.


SUPERANNUATION BILL 2005

The Superannuation Bill 2005 (the bill), together with the Superannuation (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2005 (the Consequential Bill), will provide for the separation of the Public Sector Superannuation Accumulation Plan, the PSSAP, from the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme, the PSS.

The bill will also provide a framework for Australian Government employers to offer employees and office holders with choice of fund.

The PSSAP will be established as a fully funded accumulation scheme for new Australian Government employees and office holders and certain other persons from 1 July 2005. It was established as a sub plan of the PSS by the 20th Amending Deed, which amended the Trust Deed and Rules under the Superannuation Act 1990.

The bill will provide for the PSSAP to commence as a scheme separate from the PSS. This will allow it to operate on the same basis as similar superannuation schemes.

While it exists as part of the PSS, the PSSAP must operate within the framework of a largely unfunded defined benefit scheme, rather than a framework appropriate for a fully funded accumulation scheme. This requires it to include features that are not usual for accumulation schemes

Although the PSSAP will be separate from the PSS, the PSS Board will continue to be responsible for the PSSAP and the Commissioner for Superannuation will continue to provide administrative services to the Board in respect of the new scheme. The PSS Board will also be responsible for the new PSSAP Fund established by the bill.

Like the PSS, the Rules for the PSSAP will be provided for by Trust Deed. Following the passage of the bill a new Trust Deed and Rules will be made for the PSSAP in essentially the same form as the existing Rules for the PSSAP as a sub plan of the PSS.

It is intended that Australian Government employees and office holders will be treated in the separate superannuation scheme in the same way as they would have been treated in the sub plan of the PSS and employer contributions will be payable in the same circumstances.

However the bill, together with the Consequential Bill, will require new Australian Government employees and office holders to be given choice of fund arrangements from 1 July 2006. Their employer may also offer them choice of fund from as early as 1 July 2005. This framework will provide them with unprecedented flexibility for investing their superannuation savings and will address the rigid arrangements currently in place where membership of one scheme is mandated for most employees.

From 1 July 2006, Australian Government employers will be required to comply with the choice requirements of the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992 Act (SG Act), like most private sector employers.

The legislation also provides that the PSSAP will be the employer (or default) fund for Australian Public Service employees and certain other prescribed persons who do not choose a fund. Other employers will have the flexibility to nominate the PSSAP or another appropriate complying superannuation fund or Retirement Savings Account in these circumstances.

The proposed changes do not affect existing Australian Government employees at 30 June 2005, including those employees who are members of the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme or the PSS.

Also the arrangements will not generally affect those new employees who have an existing relevant interest in the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme (CSS) or the PSS, for example where a person has a PSS preserved benefit. Those employees will continue to be eligible to join those schemes as appropriate.


SUPERANNUATION (CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTS) BILL 2005

The Superannuation (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2005 (the bill) will amend eight Acts and the Trust Deed under the Superannuation Act 1990 as a consequence of the establishment of the Public Sector Superannuation Accumulation Plan, the PSSAP, as a separate superannuation scheme and will allow Australian Government employees and office holders to have choice of fund. The Superannuation Bill 2005 will establish the PSSAP as a separate scheme from the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme, the PSS.

The Superannuation Act 1990, which provides for the PSS, will confirm that the PSS will close to new employees from 1 July 2005 with the commencement of the PSSAP.

The Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992 is being amended to allow Australian Government employers to comply with the choice of fund requirements until 1 July 2006 in respect of employees who are PSSAP members. From that date, employers will be required to meet the choice of fund requirements in respect of new employees in the same manner as most private sector employers.

The Superannuation (Productivity Benefit) Act 1988 provides for Superannuation Guarantee type contributions for Australian Government employees and office holders who are not Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme or PSS members. The bill will amend that Act so that it does not apply to new employees and office holders from 1 July 2006. Superannuation will be provided for these persons as agreed with their employer subject to employers providing contributions at least in accordance with the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992. Also, these employees and office holders may join the PSSAP if eligible to do so.

The bill will also amend the Productivity Benefit Act to ensure that the Act does not apply in respect of PSSAP members who have chosen to cease PSSAP membership in accordance with the choice of fund arrangements.

The Governor-General Act 1974 and the Judges’ Pensions Act 1968 are being amended as a consequence of the closure of the Productivity Benefit Act to new employees. The amendments provide safety net Superannuation Guarantee minimum support to the Governor-General and Judges in rare circumstances where the benefit otherwise payable would be less than the Superannuation Guarantee minimum employer superannuation.

The bill makes minor amendments to the Superannuation Benefits (Supervisory Mechanisms) Act 1990, the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 and the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 and to the Trust Deed PSS. These amendments concern the establishment of the PSSAP as a separate scheme. The Superannuation Benefits (Supervisory Mechanisms) Act 1990 also includes minor amendments to allow Australian Government employers to provide employees with choice of funds.


SUPERANNUATION LAWS AMENDMENT (ABOLITION OF SURCHARGE) BILL 2005

Over the past few years the government has made a number of significant announcements and implemented a number of important measures aimed at improving the superannuation and retirement income arrangements for all Australians. These changes have demonstrated the government’s commitment to assisting Australians to build financial self-reliance for their retirement. Initiatives announced in the 2001 policy statement A Better Superannuation System have enhanced the overall attractiveness, accessibility and security of superannuation. This included the introduction of the co-contribution scheme for eligible low-income earners who make voluntary superannuation contributions, and reductions in superannuation surcharge rates. The policy paper A More Flexible and Adaptable Retirement Income System, released on 25 February 2004, outlined further measures to improve the accessibility, flexibility and integrity of the retirement income system and to reduce red tape. This included the removal of work tests for individuals under the age of 65 who wanted to contribute to superannuation.

A significant boost to superannuation savings was also provided in the 2004-05 budget, which contained incentives to save for retirement worth $2.8 billion over four years, including an expansion of the co-contribution scheme and further reductions in the superannuation surcharge rates. More recently, the government has secured the passage of legislation to deliver choice of fund and reconfirmed its commitment to the superannuation contribution splitting policy. Unfortunately, both of these measures had been held up in the Senate during the last term of the last parliament. In the 2002-03 budget, the government announced that the superannuation surcharge would be reduced at the rate of 1½ per cent per annum from 2002-03 so that it would have reduced to 10.5 per cent in 2004-05. Unfortunately, that reduction was opposed in the Senate and the government was only able to secure through the Senate a reduction to 13½ per cent in 2004-05. In the 2004-05 budget, however, the government announced a policy to reduce the superannuation surcharge, at a rate of 2½ per cent per annum, to 12½ per cent in 2004-05 and reducing to 7½ per cent in 2006-07. Again, unfortunately, opposition from the Labor Party in the Senate prevented the reduction as announced in that budget. The government undertook at the last election to reduce further the maximum surcharge rates.

In pursuance of the policy that we took to the last election, the government has now reviewed the superannuation surcharge. The government now proposes to remove this impost on superannuation savings and abolish the surcharge payable on individual surchargeable contributions and relevant termination payments with effect from 1 July 2005. Approximately 600,000 Australians will receive a boost to their superannuation savings as a result of this measure. It is estimated to cost $2.5 billion over the forward estimates. The superannuation surcharge was introduced in 1996 at a time when the budget was deeply in deficit as a result of Labor’s economic mismanagement. It was introduced in 1996 in part to drive the budget back into balance. The government laid down a policy in 1996 to drive the budget back into balance from a $10.3 billion deficit which the Labor Party had left in place.

After bringing down 10 budgets and eight surpluses this measure is no longer required to keep the budget in balance. Accordingly, the government is moving in this parliament to abolish it from 1 July 2005. As I said, 600,000 Australians will receive a boost to their superannuation savings as a result of this measure. The measure presented in this bill will also provide incentives for individuals to make additional voluntary savings through the superannuation system and simplify the operation of the superannuation system.

This will be a major improvement in terms of reducing complexity. The government, when it looked at reducing the rates, as it had tried to do in the 2002-03 budget, was minded of the fact that as the rates reduced, and therefore the revenue raised by it reduced, the administration costs as a proportion increased, because there is quite some considerable complexity in the administration of a superannuation surcharge. That is, administration and compliance costs which may have been justified by a rate of 15 per cent could no longer be sustained at lower rates and as a consequence it makes sense to abolish the superannuation surcharge in its entirety.

The bill that I have commended will do that. We look forward to support from all sides of politics in the abolition of the superannuation surcharge. I commend the Superannuation Laws Amendment (Abolition of Surcharge) Bill 2005.


TAX LAWS AMENDMENT (MEDICARE LEVY AND MEDICARE LEVY SURCHARGE) BILL 2005

This bill will increase the Medicare levy low income thresholds for individuals and families in line with increases in the consumer price index. The low income threshold in the Medicare levy surcharge provisions will similarly be increased. These changes will ensure that low income individuals and families will continue not to have to pay the Medicare levy or surcharge.

The bill will also increase the Medicare levy low income threshold for pensioners below age pension age to ensure that where these pensioners do not have a tax liability they will also not have a Medicare levy liability.

The amendments will apply to the 2004-05 year of income and later years of income. Full details of the measures in this bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum. I commend this bill.


AGED CARE AMENDMENT (EXTRA SERVICE) BILL 2005

This bill demonstrates the Government’s strong commitment to ensuring a robust and viable aged care sector for the future where the element of choice is a key ingredient for both residents and providers of aged care services. This bill implements one of the measures from the Australian Government’s 2005-06 Budget package.

Expansion of the Extra Service program will allow the sector to respond to rising consumer expectations through providing residents with increased choice in relation to hotel-type services. At the same time, removing the requirement to renew Extra Service status after five years will both decrease red tape for providers and increase their ability to access capital for rebuilding or refurbishing.

The individual needs of older Australians remain this Government’s priority. This measure seeks to increase the opportunity for consumer choice in residential aged care through the further reform of the Extra Service program. An aged care service with Extra Service status allows residents to choose, and pay for, a higher than average level of hotel-type services, including accommodation, the range and quality of food and the provision of non-care services such as recreational and personal interest activities.

While Government programs, including accreditation and certification, have raised significantly the standards of care and accommodation, Extra Service offers greater choice in non-care related services.

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring that the aged care sector is capable of delivering high quality and affordable care to older Australians. In this bill it removes a significant impediment to expansion of the Extra Service program in aged care by removing some of the red tape involved.

Aged care providers have long felt that the high level of Government regulation of the Extra Service program has stymied its expansion. In particular, they have singled out the requirement that they have to reapply for Extra Service status every five years—notwithstanding that during those five years they may have had no complaints and no problems with compliance. The process of reapplying for Extra Service status is not only time-consuming and expensive, because it involves looking at each and every “extra” service which is offered by the particular home, but prevents long-term planning in relation to the capital needs of the home and may act as a deterrent to financiers and other investors.

Considerable investment in infrastructure is needed over the next decade to ensure the supply and quality of aged care homes grows in line with the increase in the number of older Australians who need care. The Australian Government recognises that over the next decade there will be a continuing need for capital funding so that existing homes can be well maintained, new homes built and existing facilities refurbished.

The ability of the aged care industry to make this investment will depend on its ability to raise capital. The Report on the Review of Pricing Arrangements in Aged Care by Professor Warren Hogan noted that there were significant levels of investment in new buildings and upgrading older buildings. It was reported that in 2002-03, $821.4 million of new building, refurbishment and upgrading work in aged care was completed, involving an estimated 22.8 per cent of all residential aged care services. A further $2 billion of building work was completed or underway in 2003-04 with 25 per cent of all homes planning new work.

The Australian Government has invested almost $1 billion in aged care homes for capital improvements or as increases in subsidy payments. This included over $513 million (or $3,500 per resident) as a one-off payment to providers of residential services in recognition of the forward plan for improved building standards for aged care homes.

Aged care providers have argued that a lack of access to capital has been an impediment to the expansion of the Extra Service program. As well as building new homes, capital can be used to upgrade existing aged care homes to better provide quality buildings, furniture, fittings and equipment that enhance the comfort and amenity of residents. Services may choose to focus on delivering higher standards of amenity for those residents who elect to pay for these higher standards.

Growing demand, as the population ages, means that we must ensure that the aged care sector is sustainable over the long term. The challenge is to balance cost-sharing with equity of access, while continuing to improve the quality of care and the fabric of the buildings in which such care is delivered.

This measure, in allowing certainty for Extra Service providers and increasing their access to capital, will ultimately allow increased choice for consumers. This will not come at the expense of people who cannot afford to pay. The current limit of a maximum of 15 per cent of residential aged care places in each State or Territory will remain to ensure that access to care is not affected for people who cannot afford to pay for Extra Service or do not desire such extra services.

These changes are the result of the government listening to and responding to address these issues. We have acted in a timely and sensitive way to keep the benefits of the aged care reforms flowing to older Australians now and into the future.


CIVIL AVIATION AMENDMENT BILL 2005

The Civil Aviation Amendment Bill (the bill) will make a number of amendments to the Civil Aviation Act 1988 (the Act).

Firstly, this bill will amend the Governor-General’s regulation-making power to allow regulations to be made that are inconsistent with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (SDA), if the inconsistency is necessary for aviation safety.

In terms of allowing existing and future regulations to be inconsistent with the SDA, the bill will limit this inconsistency to regulations relating to medical standards, where necessary for aviation safety. For example, there may be a need to impose special conditions on pregnant pilots in their final trimester, to minimise any risk to aviation safety arising as a result of sudden complications.

On the other hand, in terms of allowing existing and future regulations to be inconsistent with the DDA, the inconsistency will unavoidably need to be broader. For example, passengers sitting next to aircraft emergency exits should not be suffering from any disability which would render them incapable of opening the exit hatch in an emergency. Aircraft must conform to onerous design standards which may, in a limited number of cases, render them incapable of being modified to provide unassisted access for some disabled passengers. These types of provisions are important for aviation safety, and should not be construed as being unlawfully discriminatory.

The bill also includes provisions that put beyond doubt the validity of existing regulations and past actions based on those regulations. This amendment is necessary to clarify existing uncertainty in relation to the validity of actions carried out in accordance with existing safety regulations where such actions may appear to have been inconsistent with either the DDA or the SDA.

However, the amendments regarding inconsistency with the DDA and SDA, build in a consultation mechanism requiring the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to consult the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in the preparation of future regulations that contain provisions that are inconsistent with the DDA and the SDA. This was a recommendation of the Senate Legal and Constitutional References and Legislation Committee that conducted an inquiry into the bill in June 2004.

In addition, regulations which have the potential to be inconsistent with the DDA and SDA will be subject to clearance by the Human Rights Branch of the Attorney-General’s Department, and will undergo comprehensive consultation and Parliamentary scrutiny.

Although the Government acknowledges that these amendments will allow inconsistency between aviation safety regulations and anti-discrimination legislation, it is the Government’s belief that any such regulations will not be unnecessarily restrictive or discriminatory, especially when viewed in the context of the Government’s obligation to protect the safety of flight crew, fare-paying passengers, other aircraft and people on the ground.

These elements of the bill re-introduce the content of the Civil Aviation (Relationship with Anti-Discrimination Legislation) Bill 2004, which lapsed with the August 2004 dissolution of Parliament.

The amendments will allow Australia to harmonise its aviation safety regulations with international standards and meet its international obligations as a member State of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The bill will also insert a reference note into both the DDA and the SDA to inform members of the public about the amendments to the Governor-General’s regulation-making power that this bill is introducing.

Lastly, the bill will make a range of minor technical amendments that will correct errors and standardise references in the Act in relation to aircraft that are registered in countries other than Australia. The amendments will also create a requirement in the Act that the holders of an Air Operator Certificate (AOC) must continue to satisfy CASA that they meet the conditions in their AOC. At present, this requirement is included in a Civil Aviation Order and it is more appropriate for it to be included in the provisions relating to AOCs that are in the Act. These amendments were being progressed under the Civil Aviation Legislation Amendment (Mutual Recognition with New Zealand and Other Matters) Bill 2003 which also lapsed when Parliament was prorogued on 31 August 2004.

Each one of the amendments in this bill is testimony to the Government’s commitment to measured reform which ensures efficient and effective regulation, accessibility and a world class standard of safety for operators and consumers alike.


CRIMES AMENDMENT BILL 2005

This bill amends the Crimes Act 1914 to enable Commonwealth participating agencies to request assumed identity documents from State and Territory issuing agencies in accordance with legislation in force in those jurisdictions.

Assumed identities are false identities adopted to facilitate intelligence and investigative functions, or the infiltration of a criminal, hostile or insecure environment with a view to collecting information and investigating offences.

Under the current provisions of the Crimes Act, officers from specified Commonwealth and State agencies, such as the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the police forces of each State, may acquire evidence of an assumed identity from a Commonwealth agency.

This covers documentation such as passports and Medicare cards.

However, the acquisition of evidence of identity from the States and Territories such as birth certificates and drivers licences has generally proceeded in the absence of a legislative framework.

Most States and Territories are now in the process of considering the enactment of legislation to regulate the acquisition and use of evidence of assumed identities.

Victoria has enacted their legislation and may look to commence the provisions in July.

It is therefore necessary to make consequential amendments to the Commonwealth legislation to ensure that our Commonwealth agencies are able to access evidence from State authorities in accordance with the legislation in each State or Territory.

The amendments do not alter the provisions that control the use of assumed identities; existing requirements for authorisation, offences, and reporting and accountability measures remain fully in place.

The amendments do, however, reflect the recognition that crime knows no boundaries and law enforcement and national security agencies are continually having to work in a cooperative matter to detect and eliminate criminal activity.


HEALTH LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (AUSTRALIAN COMMUNITY PHARMACY AUTHORITY) BILL 2005

This bill amends the National Health Act 1953 to extend the existing arrangements for approving pharmacists to supply medicines subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The National Health Act 1953 currently provides for the establishment of the Australian Community Pharmacy Authority (the ACPA), whose role is to consider applications by pharmacists to supply PBS medicines, and to make recommendations as to whether or not an application be approved.

In making its recommendations, the ACPA must comply with a set of rules determined by the Minister for Health and Ageing, in accordance with the Act. These rules, known as the Pharmacy Location Rules, prescribe location-based criteria which must be satisfied in order for a pharmacist to obtain approval to supply PBS medicines from particular premises.

The provisions for the Pharmacy Location Rules and the ACPA will cease to operate after 30 June 2005.

The bill amends the Act to provide for the Pharmacy Location Rules and their administration by the ACPA to continue to operate until 31 December 2005.

In accordance with a commitment made in the Third Community Pharmacy Agreement between the Commonwealth and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, a joint review of the Pharmacy Location Rules is being undertaken.

The review is expected to report before 30 June 2005, however, in order to allow Government time to consider the findings and recommendations of the review, the Government has decided to extend the existing arrangements until 31 December 2005.

The Pharmacy Location Rules currently in force will therefore remain in effect until 31 December 2004, and the Australian Community Pharmacy Authority will continue to administer them.

This bill also makes a technical amendment to the Health Legislation Amendment (Podiatric Surgery and Other Matters) Act 2004 to correct a misdescription.


HIGHER EDUCATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (2005 MEASURES No. 2) BILL 2005

I am pleased to announce that the major components of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 have come into effect as of 1 January this year. The reforms contained in the new legislative framework give universities access to the funding they need to deliver world-class higher education, with a focus on quality learning outcomes. Laying the foundation for this is an increase in public investment in the sector of around $2.6 billion over five years from 2004. The Australian Government will provide some $11 billion over ten years in new support for the higher education sector from 2004.

There will be almost 36,000 new Commonwealth supported student places added to the higher education sector over the next five years and more funding for each Commonwealth supported student, linked to improvements in how universities are managed. In addition, there are extra funds for regional universities and new schemes and funding to encourage excellence in teaching, more collaboration between institutions and a renewed focus on equity. There will also be new places for the National Priority areas of nursing and teaching and special fee arrangements to encourage people to enrol in these fields.

The benefits to the Australian higher education system will become increasingly apparent as students and higher education providers take full advantage of the opportunities that the reforms provide.

The Australian Government is taking this opportunity to make a number of technical revisions to refine and enhance the effective implementation of the Act and give certainty to higher education providers and students.

This bill now before us will, in particular, enable higher education providers to respond to changes in student demand in a more flexible way. They also ensure that students are properly informed and protected about decisions made by higher education providers which affect them.

Included in the bill are a series of measures designed to clarify the requirements for the review of decisions made by higher education providers in relation to students. The amendments will ensure that providers have clear advice on their responsibilities, and students will be well informed of their rights and the procedure they need to follow if they wish to seek a review of a decision.

The bill also includes amendments to the Act which will give higher education providers more flexibility to deal with changes in demand and supply for particular courses or units of study. The changes will enable providers to publish more than one schedule of student contribution amounts and tuition fees per year, and specify more than one date for the publishing of Census Date and Equivalent Full Time Student Load values.

The bill also includes technical amendments to the Higher Education Support Act 2003 and the Taxation Administration Act 1953 which clarify the tax file number requirements for students.

These amendments will build on the implementation of the new arrangements under Our Universities: Backing Australia’s Future package of reforms.

Full details of the measures in the bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum circulated to honourable senators.

I commend the bill to the Senate.


INDIGENOUS EDUCATION (TARGETED ASSISTANCE) AMENDMENT BILL 2005

The primary purpose of this bill is to amend the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000 to appropriate additional funding to support the provision of high quality tutorial assistance to Indigenous students who move away from their remote community to attend school.

The Australian Government places great importance on achieving better educational outcomes for Indigenous students. It is strategically targeting funding to maximise school performance and to more heavily support Indigenous students of greatest disadvantage—those from remote areas.

For many Indigenous children in remote areas, their best chance for educational success is to leave their community and attend a school in a non-remote location. For some Indigenous children, it is the only option they have. This transition can however be difficult. Failure to keep pace with peers academically can be a key reason for Indigenous students not settling into a new school or dropping out of school early and returning to their community. Students from remote communities require significant levels of support to make an effective transition.

The new funding appropriated by this bill will provide Indigenous students from remote communities with tutorial support in their first year of schooling when they move to a non-remote location to continue their education. These students will receive up to four hours tuition per week for up to 32 weeks in their first year away from home.

Between 2006 and 2008, this extra tutorial assistance will help an estimated 2,040 students undertake and complete their schooling.

A further purpose of this bill is to facilitate improved vocational education and training arrangements for Indigenous Australians. The move to a new national training system from 1 July 2005 and the negotiation of a new Commonwealth-State vocational education and training funding agreement with States and Territories present us with a valuable opportunity to make significant improvements to the economic, social and personal lives of Indigenous Australians.

The bill will transfer $3.7 million per year from appropriations under the Act to the Commonwealth-State Agreement for Skilling Australia’s Workforce to establish a joint funding pool to improve outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

This funding is currently provided to four Independent Indigenous vocational education and training providers as transitional assistance under the Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Programme. By transferring this funding to the new Commonwealth-State funding agreement, States and Territories will be required to match the funding.

This initiative will provide funding certainty for the life of the Agreement to providers that are achieving good outcomes for Indigenous clients, allowing them to establish sustainable services. It will link ongoing funding to improved performance and outcomes for Indigenous clients.

I commend the bill to the Senate.


MARITIME TRANSPORT SECURITY AMENDMENT BILL 2005

It is a reality that national security remains a high priority for this Government. It is essential that we continue to protect the maritime industry from very real threats. It is in this context that I present this bill for the Parliament’s consideration.

Maritime security is under constant review to ensure that measures remain appropriate given current intelligence threats to the Australian maritime industry. During 2004 a review of maritime security was undertaken and a range of measures to further strengthen Australia’s preventative maritime security arrangements were recommended.

This included the establishment of a special taskforce to undertake a comprehensive review of the security arrangements for offshore oil and gas facilities, and the introduction of the Maritime Security Identification Card (MSIC). The MSIC will be issued to persons requiring unmonitored access to maritime security zones on completion of satisfactory background checks.

The Maritime Transport Security Amendment Bill 2005 has two parts. The first part will security regulate Australia’s offshore oil and gas industry, and is necessary for the protection of offshore oil and gas industry personnel, to safeguard oil and gas supplies, and for the protection of offshore oil and gas infrastructure. The second part introduces a range of minor amendments to support the introduction of the MSIC Scheme.

There is evidence to suggest that Australia’s offshore oil and gas industry is a potential terrorist target. Indeed, in newspaper reports this year the following statement appeared:

In 2002, Ubeid al-Qurashi, a pseudonym of an Osama Bin Laden lieutenant, wrote an article saying that Western economies cannot stand high oil prices. One way to strike fear into the West, he wrote is by repeated attacks on oil installations or on tankers. After the attack on the French tanker Limburg, in October 2002, the al-Qa’eda political bureau described the attack as not merely an attack on a tanker. Rather, al-Qaeda said, it was an attack against international transport lines and an attack on the West’s commercial lifeline, petroleum.

In addition, in April 2004 terrorists attacked two offshore oil facilities south of the Iraqi city of Basra, using multiple boat borne explosives. Three coalition sailors died intercepting this attack. Al-Qa’ida has recently threatened to target western economies, including the oil and gas industry. There is therefore a need for the implementation of effective security measures to limit the capacity of terrorists to adversely affect the Australian offshore oil and gas industry.

The potential impacts of a terrorist attack on an Australian offshore oil and gas facility include economic loss, loss of life, and the disruption of Australia’s domestic and international oil and gas supplies. The annual contribution of the oil and gas sector to the Australian economy exceeds 18 billion dollars. Victorian industrial and residential gas supplies were interrupted for two weeks, following the 1998 Longford gas explosion. The impact of this disaster and the substantial contribution of the oil and gas sector to the Australian economy emphasise the need for the implementation of appropriate offshore oil and gas preventive security measures.

Given the intent and potential capability terrorist groups have to target offshore oil and gas facilities, the Australian Government decided to establish the Taskforce on Offshore Maritime Security. This taskforce reviewed the security arrangements of offshore oil and gas facilities. In December 2004, following the recommendations of that Taskforce, the Australian Government announced it would be extending the Maritime Transport Security Act 2003; to security regulate Australia’s offshore oil and gas industry.

The Maritime Transport Security Amendment Bill 2005 security regulates offshore oil and gas facilities located within the boundaries of Australia’s territorial sea, the Exclusive Economic Zone and the continental shelf. The bill applies to offshore oil and gas facilities used in the extraction of oil and gas, including fixed production platforms, and floating production and storage facilities. The bill also security regulates offshore oil and gas service providers, such as helicopter and supply vessel operators servicing offshore oil and gas facilities. The security regulation of offshore oil and gas facilities will contribute to the secure transit of security regulated ships currently interacting with offshore oil and gas facilities.

The Maritime Transport Security Amendment Bill 2005 establishes an outcomes based security framework for Australia’s offshore oil and gas industry. Offshore oil and gas industry participants will be required to submit security plans that consider the practical needs of the operators, as well as the special nature and location of individual facilities. These security plans will need to be based on the findings of offshore facility site specific security risk assessments, and should complement, rather than duplicate existing management and safety plans.

The Department of Transport and Regional Services will be responsible for regulating the offshore oil and gas industry’s security arrangements. Offshore oil and gas industry participants will be required to submit security plans to the Department of Transport and Regional Services for approval. This Department will also be responsible for auditing offshore oil and gas facilities to ensure these facilities are compliant with the requirements set out in their approved security plans.

Like maritime industry participants, offshore oil and gas industry participants will be responsible for funding the security measures specified in their security plans. The Australian Government recognises this may impose costs on offshore oil and gas facility operators, however given the global security environment, these costs are now part of the cost of doing business.

Now, moving on to the Maritime Security Identity Card. Currently there are no legislative requirements to check the background of people working in Australian Ports, Ships and Offshore Oil and Gas Facilities, as is the case in the Aviation Industry. The MSIC Scheme will provide the maritime and offshore sectors, with assurance that personnel requiring unmonitored access to sensitive areas have met background checking requirements.

Whilst the current provisions in the Maritime Transport Security Act 2003 provides the power to make most of the regulations required to introduce and implement the MSIC Scheme, the Amendment Bill clarifies and makes explicit two aspects of the scheme. The bill ensures that any reasonable costs incurred by MSIC Issuing Bodies in the issue and production of an MSIC can be recovered.

The second amendment enables regulation making powers in the disclosure of information between entities involved in coordinating and conducting background checks of applicants for the purpose of determining if a person is eligible to hold an MSIC.

The Maritime Transport Security Amendment Bill 2005 is vital for the protection of Australia’s offshore oil and gas infrastructure, the protection of offshore oil and gas industry personnel, and for ensuring the uninterrupted supply of Australian oil and gas to both the domestic and international energy markets. The bill also includes amendments to support the introduction of the MSIC Scheme. The MSIC Scheme will require maritime and offshore oil and gas personnel to undergo background checking before they can be granted unmonitored access to maritime security zones.


PAYMENT SYSTEMS (REGULATION) AMENDMENT BILL 2005

The Payment Systems (Regulation) Act 1998 sets out the regulatory framework governing the operation of Australia’s payments system.

The Act allows the Reserve Bank to designate a payment system where this is in the public interest.

Designation of a payment system allows the Reserve Bank to establish rules of access for participants, determine standards, give enforceable directions to participants and arbitrate disputes on technical standards.

The Reserve Bank has used its powers under the Act to establish standards for interchange fees for the credit card schemes operated by Visa, MasterCard and Bankcard.

These standards came into effect on 1 July 2003.

The Reserve Bank’s reforms to the credit card payments system have three objectives.

Firstly, they aim to ensure that fees charged to merchants and consumers for credit card services reflect the costs of their provision.

Secondly, they aim to ensure that fees and charges are transparent to the consumer.

Thirdly, they aim to promote competition between credit card service providers.

Information released by the Reserve Bank shows that these reforms have delivered significant reductions in credit card merchant service fees.

This has resulted in an estimated annual saving to business of over $500 million.

This amount is $100 million more than originally forecast.

Consumers can expect the benefits of these savings to flow through due to the competitive nature of Australian retailing.

The purpose of this bill is to ensure that financial institutions will not contravene the competition provisions in Part IV of the Trade Practices Act 1974 by complying with the Reserve Bank’s standards for credit card interchange fees.

It does this by specifically authorising conduct carried out in compliance with the Reserve Bank standards.

An exemption from Part IV of the Trade Practices Act is currently contained in the Payment Systems (Regulation) Regulations 2003.

However, it will cease to operate after 30 June 2005.

This bill provides a permanent replacement for the current regulations.

It would also enable a similar authorisation to be extended to conduct carried out in compliance with Reserve Bank standards for other payment systems, such as EFTPOS or Visa Debit, in the event that such standards are made.

The amendments contained in this bill are technical in nature.

They do not represent a change in Government policy.

The bill will provide ongoing commercial certainty for payments system participants.

I commend the bill.


PRIMARY INDUSTRIES (EXCISE) LEVIES AMENDMENT (RICE) BILL 2005

The primary purpose of this bill is to increase the existing maximum allowable rate for the rice research and development (R&D) levy from $2 to $3 per tonne. This proposed increase has been progressed after a request from the rice industry.

The rice industry is now facing a third year of significant drought related production downturns which have placed financial pressures on the industry’s R&D programmes due to subsequent reductions in levy revenue. The rice industry is seeking an increase in the maximum allowable levy rate to provide them with the flexibility to better manage future fluctuations in levy revenue. This will allow the industry to ensure adequate funding is maintained for core R&D programmes.

The Government believes that by using innovation to drive productivity growth and boost profitability on farms, Australia’s rural industries can continue to play a key part in maintaining our national prosperity. Australia’s rural industries have also long recognised this principle and have shown a longstanding and widespread willingness to invest in innovation through industry-wide levies. In this context the Government was happy to put forward these changes to assist the rice industry manage their R&D programmes into the future and for producers to continue to take up R&D outputs, whether they be to adopt new practices or bring out new products.

The bill will also provide mechanisms for the introduction of regulations for the implementation of the operative rate of the rice R&D levy. Currently, changes to the rate of the levy are done through a Ministerial Declaration published in the Gazette. This bill enables these functions to be rolled into new regulations which will be tabled soon after this bill receives Royal Assent. By switching to regulations it will bring the operation of the rice levy into line with the majority of other primary industry levies. It will also provide a greater level of scrutiny by Parliament than is available under the existing arrangements.

The Government will only favourably consider a request to raise the operative levy rate beyond the current $2 cap if the request demonstrates compliance with the Government’s Levy Principles and Guidelines. These guidelines include a requirement that there be widespread industry support for such a request. The current operative levy rate will not be affected by this bill.

This bill reflects the Government’s willingness to assist rural industries develop internal capacity to manage significant threats to ongoing sustainability, such as drought.


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.

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.

That Report noted that boys are not achieving as well as girls across abroad spectrum of measures of educational attainment.

The report identified significant public concern about the decline in the number of male teachers in schools, in particular in primary schools, in Australia, and expressed support for more men in schools.

The figures speak for themselves.

In 2003, only 20.9 percent of primary teaching staff in Australia were men.

This problem is only getting worse.

In 2003, males constituted 26.5% of the 37,530 domestic students enrolled in initial teaching courses specifically for primary and secondary teaching in Australia.

In 2003, males were only 18.8 percent of domestic students training to become primary school teachers.

The Government’s Sex Discrimination Amendment (Teaching Profession) Bill will assist in addressing the problem by amending 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.

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

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

It 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 Program; and
  • The provision of $27 million over six years to 2008 for boys’ education, including over $19 million for the Success for Boys initiative, through which grants will be provided to 1600 schools to implement projects focussing particularly on opportunities for boys to benefit from positive male role models, around $8 million already committed for initiatives such as the Boys’ Education Lighthouse Schools (BELS) initiative and research into significant areas of education relevant to boys’ education.

SUPERANNUATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (CHOICE OF SUPERANNUATION FUNDS) BILL 2005

This bill gives effect to announcements made by the Government earlier this year to ease the transition to superannuation choice for businesses and employees, and minimise the burden on employers in complying with their choice obligations.

The Superannuation Holding Account Special Account was originally established to receive small superannuation amounts from employers who cannot find a superannuation fund. This facility is no longer needed, as Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs) offer similar low-cost benefits for employers. This bill will amend the legislation to make the Superannuation Holding Account Special Account an eligible choice fund until 30 June 2006, giving employers a further year to make arrangements to contribute to a superannuation fund or retirement savings account. From 1 July 2006, the Superannuation Holding Account Special Account will be closed to new employer deposits.

This bill will amend the choice of fund legislation to specify additional circumstances where an employer does not have to provide an employee with the standard choice form, thus avoiding the imposition of unnecessary cost on some employers.

It is important that employees are not discouraged from exercising their right to choose a fund through the actions of their employer. This bill ensures that employers can not recoup part or all of the administrative costs associated with implementing their choice of fund obligations by charging employees.

The choice legislation ensures that fund trustees do not try to inappropriately induce employers to move their employee’s contributions to the trustee’s fund by offering them personal incentives. This bill will make the Australian Securities and Investment Commission the agency that administers this provision.

The bill clarifies a number of matters, such as the test for whether a defined benefit fund is in surplus, the obligation on the employer to contribute to the fund specified as the default fund on the standard choice form, and the choice of fund penalty provisions.

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


TAX LAWS AMENDMENT (2005 MEASURES No. 3) BILL 2005

This bill amends various taxation laws to implement a range of changes and improvements to Australia’s taxation system.

Firstly, the bill will implement a number of proposals to increase flexibility for charitable funds, ancillary funds and prescribed private funds, and hence further encourage charitable giving in Australia. The bill expands the concessions relating to the capital gains tax provisions, distributions by charitable funds, the income tax exemption for charities and the refund of franking credits provisions. The measure gives effect to the Government’s announcement in the 2004-05 Budget.

The amendment in Schedule 2 to this bill is technical in nature and deals with of the recently expanded foreign branch profits exemption. The expanded exemption, in conjunction with Australia’s treaties, could have resulted in foreign branch income and gains derived from the operation of ships or aircraft in international traffic not being taxed in Australia or the country in which the company operates. Schedule 2 to this bill reinstates the way Australian companies with foreign branch income and gains from the operation of ships or aircraft in international traffic were taxed prior to the implementation of the expanded foreign branch income exemption. This will ensure that such amounts continue to be taxed in Australia.

The Commissioner of Taxation can release taxpayer information to certain law enforcement agencies such as police forces and various Crime Commissions, if the Commissioner is satisfied that the information is relevant to establishing whether a serious offence has been committed or to the making of a proceeds of crime order. The third measure will add the Corruption and Crime Commission of Western Australia to the list of law enforcement agencies to which taxpayer information can be provided.

The fourth measure will amend the Fringe Benefits Tax Assessment Act 1986 to make a technical correction, to clarify that certain government institutions that are charitable institutions at law are not eligible fringe benefits tax rebatable employer status from 1 July 2005. This amendment will ensure that the status quo is not changed.

Finally, this bill introduces a standard definition of a dependant: a child less than 21 years or a full-time student less than 25 years. This means there will be a single set of age criteria for the housekeeper, child housekeeper, medical expenses and zone tax offsets, as well as the Medicare levy and Medicare levy surcharge. It will provide consistency for taxpayers and will allow more taxpayers to access the dependant-related offsets, the concessional Medicare levy and Medicare levy surcharge thresholds offsets and the Medicare levy and Medicare levy surcharge family thresholds.

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

Debate (on motion by Senator Abetz) adjourned.

Ordered that the following bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate packages:

Asbestos-related Claims (Management of Commonwealth Liabilities) (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2005

Asbestos-related Claims (Management of Commonwealth Liabilities) Bill 2005


Import Processing Charges Amendment Bill 2005

Customs Legislation Amendment (Import Processing Charges) Bill 2005


Superannuation Bill 2005

Superannuation (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2005

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

Superannuation Laws Amendment (Abolition of Surcharge) Bill 2005

Tax Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy and Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2005

Aged Care Amendment (Extra Service) Bill 2005

Civil Aviation Amendment Bill 2005

Crimes Amendment Bill 2005

Health Legislation Amendment (Australian Community Pharmacy Authority) Bill 2005

Higher Education Legislation Amendment (2005 Measures No. 2) Bill 2005

Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment Bill 2005

Maritime Transport Security Amendment Bill 2005

Payment Systems (Regulation) Amendment Bill 2005

Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Amendment (Rice) Bill 2005

Sex Discrimination Amendment (Teaching Profession) Bill 2004

Superannuation Legislation Amendment (Choice of Superannuation Funds) Bill 2005

Tax Laws Amendment (2005 Measures No. 3) Bill 2005