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Thursday, 11 May 2006
Page: 22


Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (10:49 AM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

PROTECTION OF THE SEA (POWERS OF INTERVENTION) AMENDMENT BILL 2006

The Protection of the Sea (Powers of Intervention) Amendment Bill 2006 amends the Protection of the Sea (Powers of Intervention) Act 1981 (the Intervention Act). This is the Australian legislation giving effect to the provisions of the International Convention Relating to Intervention on the High Seas in Cases of Oil Pollution Casualties, 1969 (the Intervention Convention). The Intervention Act enables the Australian Government to intervene in the event of any threat of pollution from a ship in Australian waters or on the high seas.

The proposed amendments demonstrate the Government’s proactive approach to ensuring that we have policies and frameworks to support safe shipping practices which are sensitive to our pristine environment. The overall standard of shipping in Australian waters is steadily improving and, thankfully, significant incidents are rare and becoming less frequent. Australia to date has avoided a major pollution problem.

Nevertheless, we need to be mindful that there is always the risk of an event occurring, and overseas examples show that even a single incident can have major harmful consequences. While international compensation regimes for damages are generally highly effective, on occasions the cost of responding to a major incident can exceed the available liability and compensation limits. Governments and affected citizens may have to bear the costs of a major incident which may be hundreds of millions of dollars.

It is clear that governments need proper powers of intervention to prevent, mitigate or eliminate the dangers of a major pollution incident. Without these powers we may not be able take effective actions to counter such a threat, especially when a co-ordinated response involving many different players is required.

While the Intervention Act currently provides the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) with wide general powers, the Australian Transport Council (ATC), involving Ministers from the Australian, State and Northern Territory governments, agreed in November 2005 to a national approach to maritime emergency response, that recognised the need to strengthen the Intervention Act to enable an effective and co-ordinated response in a maritime situation involving a serious threat of pollution.

The amendments proposed in this bill will clarify the scope of the Government’s powers, updating and clarifying the provisions of the Intervention Act to address matters that have arisen since its enactment some twenty five years ago.

The most important clarification is in relation to AMSA’s powers of intervention in our exclusive economic zone (EEZ), coastal seas, and on the ‘high seas’. The contemporary concepts in relation to maritime zones were introduced by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982), after the Act was enacted in 1981.

This bill will update the Act to the current international approach, separately identifying the EEZ and enabling earlier intervention within it to prevent a casualty from becoming a major pollution threat.

The bill implements the ATC agreement on emergency response arrangements for AMSA to be the single national decision-maker with responsibility for intervention in incidents involving threats of significant pollution, covering all ship types in all waters. It also clarifies AMSA’s powers of direction to persons whose cooperation would be vital to preventing and mitigating pollution.

The bill proposes legal immunity for all persons acting under the direction of AMSA, while ensuring consistency with the international conventions. The bill also provides for compensation on just terms for any requisition of property by the Authority and sets new penalty levels to deter a person from breaching a direction issued in the national interest.

The measures in the bill have no budgetary implications.


DEFENCE HOUSING AUTHORITY AMENDMENT BILL 2006

This bill makes various amendments to the Defence Housing Authority Act 1987 including the creation of a smaller, more commercially focused board and the establishment of an advisory committee. The amendments reinforce the Government’s ongoing commitment to the provision of high quality housing to our Defence Force personnel and their families. The Commonwealth will also benefit from the DHA being given the capacity to provide services to other Commonwealth agencies, and to provide ancillary services to both Defence and other Commonwealth agencies. The Commonwealth will be able to achieve best value for money outcomes by utilising the DHA’s expertise in housing provision. The increase in the DHA’s capacity will also underpin its long term viability as a Government Business Enterprise.

The amendments in the bill are consistent with the Australian Government’s response to the recommendations of an inter-departmental review into the governance arrangements and legislative framework of the DHA. This review took account of the recommendations outlined in the Review of the Corporate Governance of Statutory Authorities and Office Holders by Mr John Uhrig, AC.

Turning now to the specific amendments, I will outline the key changes in the bill.

Firstly, the bill introduces a change of name for the authority to Defence Housing Australia. This change better reflects the DHA’s commerciality and establishes a brand name that is readily recognised with the activities of DHA throughout Australia. An appropriate brand name is important to the ongoing commercial success of the DHA.

Secondly, the bill reorientates the structure of the board by reducing its size and creating an advisory committee. These changes reflect a more commercial arrangement which also takes into account the better practice guidance on board size contained in the Uhrig review. The DHA board will now have a more commercial focus and greater freedom to operate commercially. Given the importance of housing to Defence’s operational effectiveness, Defence representation on the board will be retained although reduced from five to two. The Secretary of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Force will each nominate a representative to serve on the Board. These nominees will be approved by the Minister for Defence. A nominee of the Secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration, who is approved by the Minister for Finance and Administration, will be added to the Board to enhance its commercial focus.

In line with recommendations of the Uhrig Review, representatives from each of Navy, Army, Air Force and Defence Families Australia will be appointed to the advisory committee. This committee will now be the primary vehicle for the representations of Defence and Defence families to the DHA Board. The committee will assist and support the board in its primary role as the provider of housing to meet the operational requirements of Defence.

Thirdly, the bill also makes provision for the DHA, subject to Ministerial approval, to expand its operations to provide housing and housing-related services to other Commonwealth agencies. This amendment, in particular, will promote the efficient use of the DHA’s housing stock and maximise the benefit to the Commonwealth from the DHA’s expertise in the provision of housing and housing-related services. The DHA will have greater scope in its operations which will assist the DHA to achieve its outcomes as a Government Business Enterprise.

For these additional services to other agencies, a volume limit has been set, which is a percentage of the DHA’s total revenue. Initially, revenue from expanded services cannot equate to more than 25% of the DHA’s total revenue. A review of the revenue limit will occur in three years to evaluate the suitability, or otherwise, of this limit. The requirement for Ministerial approval and the volume limit are designed to safeguard the interests of Defence.

Fourthly, this bill also allows the DHA, subject to Ministerial approval, to provide services that are ancillary to the housing and housing-related services it provides. Ancillary services could include, but would not be limited to, services associated with the care and control of residential premises and services to facilitate the access to community support or community services. The Minister will be required to approve the ancillary services that DHA can provide to ensure they are appropriate and in the best interests of Defence and the Commonwealth.

The fifth key amendment will make the DHA liable for Commonwealth taxation, from which it was previously exempt. The DHA will remain exempt from State and Territory taxation but will be required to make tax-equivalent payments in respect of State and Territory taxation to the Commonwealth.

Finally, there are a number of amendments proposed in this bill that will improve the harmonisation of the DHA Act with the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 , under which DHA also operates. These amendments are necessary to remove outdated provisions from the DHA Act. The Government’s expectations of the DHA will have greater clarity as a result of these amendments. The commercial focus of the DHA’s legislative framework will be strengthened and the DHA’s governance arrangements will now be more closely aligned with that of other Government Business Enterprises.

All of the amendments proposed in this bill herald the beginning of an exciting new phase for the Defence Housing Authority.

Debate (on motion by Senator Ellison) 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.