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Tuesday, 13 June 2006
Page: 94


Senator KEMP (Minister for the Arts and Sport) (5:26 PM) —I table revised explanatory memoranda relating to the Age Discrimination Amendment Bill 2006 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2006 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—

AGE DISCRIMINATION AMENDMENT BILL 2006

The Age Discrimination Act 2004 implemented the Government’s 2001 election commitment to develop legislation to prohibit age discrimination which would eliminate, as far as possible, age discrimination in key areas of public life.

The Act is working well.

The Government believes that the Act is playing an important role in addressing negative stereotypes, particularly assumptions about older workers.

All anti-discrimination laws must strike the right balance between prohibiting unfair discrimination and allowing legitimate differential treatment.

When the Age Discrimination Act commenced, it included various exemptions for Commonwealth laws.

One of these was a general exemption for all Commonwealth Acts and regulations for a period of two years.

The purpose of this general exemption was to present an opportunity for any further legitimate exemptions to be identified.

The general exemption will expire on 23 June 2006.

The general exemption for all Commonwealth laws will be replaced by a much more limited number of exemptions that will continue to protect justifiable age-related provisions in Acts and regulations.

The bill is the result of a comprehensive assessment of Commonwealth laws and programs that examined their consistency with the Age Discrimination Act.

As well as Acts and regulations, this assessment identified other instruments, schemes and programs that use age-based criteria for sound policy reasons.

It also identified areas where the scope of the existing exemptions is uncertain or needs to be adjusted.

The bill addresses these additional issues.

The scope of the new exemptions has been limited by exempting only part of a law if that is sufficient to protect the age-related provisions.

A new Schedule will list Acts, regulations and other instruments and specify which provisions are exempted.

The Government will continue to review the appropriate scope of exemptions so that the Act applies to as wide a field of public activity as possible.

Many of the amendments will provide certainty for measures that are targeted for the benefit of particular age groups.

For example, the bill will ensure that senior citizens can choose to apply for a less expensive passport, and can receive a higher rebate for private health insurance.

It will also help maintain the classification scheme which protects our children from objectionable content in films, computer games and literature.

Other provisions in the bill address Australia’s international obligations in aviation and shipping.

One of the most important objectives of the Age Discrimination Act is to reduce discrimination in employment and remove barriers to workforce participation.

The bill inserts an exemption for some Commonwealth employment programs, to ensure that programs can continue to be designed in the most appropriate way to meet the needs and circumstances of different groups, including different age groups.

To be exempted, an employment program will need to meet certain conditions. 

Providing these conditions are met, an employment program will be able to be designed so that effort is targeted to where it will do the most good.

This bill is a carefully considered package of measures that will further the goal of eliminating age discrimination while allowing genuine age-related needs to be met.


AUSTRALIAN TRADE COMMISSION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2006

This bill amends the Australian Trade Commission Act 1985 by making changes to the governance arrangements of Austrade that will establish an executive management structure with a CEO directly accountable to me, and bring the agency under coverage of the Financial Management and Accountability Act and Public Service Act.

Austrade is responsible for the delivery of valuable assistance to Australian business efforts to export and develop international business. Austrade plays a key role in promoting opportunities to business arising from the Government’s trade negotiations, including Australia’s Free Trade Agreements, and administers the Export Market Development Grant scheme, which last year delivered over 3,200 grants valued at $124 million to small and medium exporters.

The changes introduced in this bill form part of the implementation of the Government’s response to the Review of Corporate Governance of Statutory Authorities and Office Holders that was conducted by Mr John Uhrig. The Government is reviewing all Statutory Agencies in the context of the review recommendations, to ensure that we have the most effective accountability and governance structures across the whole of government.

The Government has assessed Austrade’s existing governance structure against the recommendations and principles of the Uhrig Review and identified that the executive management template is more suitable to Austrade’s role as the Government’s trade facilitation agency.

The changes are of an operational and enabling nature. The amendments do not impact Austrade’s functions, nor Austrade’s delivery of export promotion and facilitation services to Australian business. Austrade will continue to be focussed on assisting Australian businesses to enter and develop export markets.

On behalf of the Government I would like to thank the current and previous Austrade Boards. I am grateful for their time and expertise. The views and interests of Australian business will continue to inform the government’s trade promotion activities. I will be ensuring that appropriate mechanisms exist to ensure that the best possible assistance is provided to Australian business.


ELECTORAL AND REFERENDUM AMENDMENT (ELECTORAL INTEGRITY AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2006

The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2006 (the bill) contains reform measures arising from some of the Government-supported recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters’ report on the 2004 federal election, which was tabled in the Parliament in October 2005, and additional reform measures considered a priority by the Government. The bill amends the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Electoral Act), the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 and the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997.

The amendments cover a number of broad areas including enrolment and timing of the close of rolls, provisional voting, financial disclosure requirements in non-election periods, access to the electoral roll and its use, political party registration and the disclosure of political donations. The most notable amendments in the bill include those that will:

  • increase a number of the disclosure thresholds to above $10,000 (with legislated Consumer Price Index (CPI) increases) with effect from date of introduction of this bill;
  • reduce the close of rolls period to provide that, in general, the roll will close at 8.00 pm on the third working day after the issue of the writ. However, persons who are not on the roll (with two exceptions, set out below) will not be added to the roll in the period between 8.00 pm on the day of the issue of the writ and polling day. The exceptions are for persons who are not on the roll who are either: 17 year olds who will turn 18 between the day the writ is issued and polling day; or who will be granted citizenship between the issue of the writ and polling day. Persons in these categories can apply for enrolment up until the close of rolls at 8.00 pm three working days after the day on which the writ is issued;
  • introduce a proof of identity requirement for people enrolling or updating their enrolment by requiring that they provide their driver’s licence number on their enrolment application. If they do not have a driver’s licence, the elector can show a prescribed identity document to a person who is in a prescribed class of electors and who can attest to the identity of the applicant. If an elector does not have a driver’s licence or a prescribed identity document, then they must have their enrolment application signed by two electors who can confirm the applicant’s name and who have known the applicant for at least one month;
  • establish a proof of identity requirement for provisional voting. An elector (other than a silent elector) who wants to cast a provisional vote on polling day will need to show either their driver’s licence or a prescribed identity document (of the same type required for enrolment proof of identity) to an officer either at the time of casting the provisional vote or by close of business on the Friday following polling day. If the elector cannot show the document in person, they may post, fax or email an attested copy to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). Ballot papers will only be admitted to the count if the provisional voter has provided suitable identification and, if they were not enrolled, if their omission from the roll was the result of an AEC error;
  • abolish the requirement for broadcasters and publishers to lodge disclosure returns;
  • require that paid electoral advertising on the Internet be authorised in the same manner as printed electoral advertisements;
  • require third parties (people other than registered political parties, candidates, Members of the House of Representatives, Senators, Senate groups and Commonwealth departments and agencies) to complete annual disclosure returns if they incurred expenditure for a political purpose, or received gifts to enable expenditure to be incurred for that purpose. This includes expressing public views by any means on specified participants in the political process, namely a political party, a candidate in an election or a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate;
  • increase nomination deposits for election candidates to $500 for candidates for the House of Representatives and $1,000 for Senate candidates with the threshold for returning the nomination deposit remaining at four per cent;
  • provide for access to the roll by persons and organisations that verify, or contribute to the verification of the identity of persons for the purposes of the Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988 and provide that such use is not subject to the commercial use prohibition;
  • require that, in the future, divisional offices must be located within divisional boundaries unless otherwise authorised by the Minister;
  • provide for the automatic deregistration of all currently registered political parties six months after Royal Assent, with exceptions for parliamentary parties and parties with past representation in the Federal Parliament. Any political party that is deregistered will be required to re-apply for registration, and must comply with the current requirements in the Electoral Act, including the existing naming provisions. Political parties that re-apply for registration within 12 months of deregistration under this scheme will not be required to pay the $500 application fee;
  • extend the definition of ‘associated entity’ to include entities with financial membership of a registered political party and entities on whose behalf a person exercises voting rights in a registered political party;
  • amend the voting entitlement provisions so that all prisoners serving a sentence of full-time detention will not be entitled to vote, but may remain on the roll, or if not enrolled, apply for enrolment;
  • expand the AEC’s demand power in subsection 92(1) of the Electoral Act to enable access to information held by State and Territory Government agencies for the purpose of preparing, maintaining and revising the rolls; and
  • amend the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to increase the level of tax-deductible contributions and gifts, whether from an individual or corporation, to political parties and independent candidates and members from $100 to $1,500 in any income year.

The bill will amend the Electoral Act to increase the declarable limit for disclosure of all political donations from $1,500 to amounts above $10,000, and this threshold will be indexed to the CPI.

Where the threshold amount is amended due to CPI increases, the threshold amount will be rounded to the nearest $100, where amounts below $50 will be rounded down to the nearest $100 (e.g. $11,048 will be rounded to $11,000). Amounts of $50 and above will be rounded up (e.g. $11,667 will be rounded to $11,700).

Currently, section 155 of the Electoral Act provides for the rolls to close seven days after the writs for an election have been issued. The proposed amendments provide that the date for the close of rolls shall be:

  • for people who are currently enrolled but who need to update their details, 8.00 pm three working days after the day on which the writs are issued (that is, if the writs were issued on a Monday, the rolls would close for such people at 8.00pm on the Thursday); and
  • for new enrolments and re-enrolments (that is, persons who are not currently on the roll, irrespective of whether they have been enrolled previously), 8.00 pm on the day on which the writs are issued.

There are two exceptions to the close of rolls date for new enrolments:

  • for people who have yet to enrol but who will turn 18 between the day on which the writs are issued and polling day; and
  • for people who have yet to enrol but who are eligible to be granted a certificate of Australian citizenship between the day on which the writs are issued and the polling day.

For these people, the roll will close at 8.00 pm three working days after the day on which the writs are issued.

The bill proposes a proof of identity requirement for electoral enrolment, and provides for regulations to be made to implement the proof of identity scheme.

Currently, all claims for enrolment (including transfer of enrolment) must: be in the approved form; be signed by the claimant (with one exception in subsection 98(3) for people who are physically unable to sign their own enrolment form); and be attested by an elector or a person entitled to enrolment, who shall sign the claim as a witness in his or her own handwriting. The witness attests that he/she has satisfied himself or herself, by inquiry from the claimant or otherwise, that the statements contained in the claim are true.

The new scheme will provide that all claims for enrolment (including transfer of enrolment) will be subject to proof of identity requirements. The proof of identity requirement will remove the need for a witness. Instead, persons enrolling to vote or updating their enrolment must provide:

(i)   their driver’s licence number; or

(ii)   if they do not have a driver’s licence, a copy of their ID (such as birth certificate or passport) which must be attested to by an enrolled elector in a prescribed class; or

(iii)   if they do not have a driver’s licence or ID, attestations by two enrolled electors who can confirm the applicant’s name and who have known the elector for more than one month.

The bill provides for the regulations for proof of identity to prescribe additional requirements for identification for enrolment.

The current witness requirement will no longer apply once the new proof of identity scheme comes into effect.

The provisions for third party disclosure on an annual basis, rather than during an election period (the current requirement), will ensure transparency for those people and organisations involved in the political process. In this regard, the bill provides for disclosure by a third party if that third party is required to authorise an advertisement pursuant to Schedule 2 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. This provision will capture disclosure of political content communicated through broadcast media.

Third parties will also be required to report on expenditure incurred for the printing and publication of electoral advertisements, notices and other material that is required to be authorised by section 328 and new 328A of the Electoral Act.

The third party reporting requirements will apply to associated entities as these entities can be actively involved in the political process. Associated entities will continue to be required to provide information under the existing requirements of section 314AEA for annual returns by associated entities.

The threshold for third party reporting will be the same as that proposed for other disclosure thresholds, that is, $10,000.

Currently, prisoners serving a full-time sentence of three years or longer are not entitled to enrol or vote. These persons are removed from the roll by objection following receipt of information from the prison authorities. Prisoners not currently on the roll who are serving a sentence of less than three years are entitled to apply for enrolment, and to vote in federal elections.

The proposed amendments will apply such that all prisoners serving a sentence of full-time detention will not be entitled to vote, but may remain on the roll or enrol if they are not currently enrolled. Those serving alternative sentences such as periodic or home detention, as well as those serving a non-custodial sentence or who have been released on parole, will still be eligible to enrol and vote.

Under current law, a taxpayer cannot claim a tax deduction for more than $100 of contributions to political parties registered under Part XI of the Electoral Act. The proposed amendment to the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 will increase the tax deductibility value of contributions and gifts from an individual or a corporation to registered political parties and independent candidates and members, in relation to Commonwealth, State or Territory elections, from $100 to $1,500 in any income year. The provisions will also ensure parity of tax treatment by allowing tax deductibility for either gifts and/or contributions to both political parties and independent candidates and members.


EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (WELFARE TO WORK AND OTHER MEASURES) (CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTS) BILL 2006

Parliament recently passed the Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (Welfare to Work and Other Measures) Act 2005. To ensure that the policy intention of the Welfare to Work changes contained in the Act are fully realised and consistently applied, a number of additional amendments to the social security law are required.

Terminology and provisions in the social security law need to be replaced, amended or repealed to clarify the policy intention in relation to certain Welfare to Work measures.

This bill will allow parenting payment partnered recipients, who have a temporary incapacity exemption, to have access to pharmaceutical allowance.

It will also allow single principal carer parents who are bereaving the death of a child and are receiving Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance, to continue to receive the same rate they were receiving before their child died for another 14 weeks after the death of the child.

This bill extends the Employment Entry Payment. Income support recipients who are subject to a non payment period, due to compliance, are now able to continue to have access to an Employment Entry Payment. This payment is provided to income support recipients to assist in offsetting the costs associated in commencing employment or increasing the number of hours of work.

These measures and others in the bill build on announced Welfare to Work policy and ensure consistency across working age payments.

The measures in this bill will cost $4.8 million over 4 years.


ENERGY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2006

A secure, reliable and affordable energy supply is a fundamental input to Australia’s economic wellbeing. For this reason, it is critical that the regulatory framework governing our energy sector is sound. The Ministerial Council on Energy is the peak energy policy body in Australia and has made significant progress in its extensive energy market reform program.

In improving the operation of Australia’s electricity and natural gas markets, the Ministerial Council on Energy takes advice from many sources. A key input to its work in natural gas has been the Productivity Commission Review of the Gas Access Regime commissioned by this government. The regime governs the regulation of services provided by means of natural gas pipeline infrastructure, and operates through a co-operative legislative scheme involving the Commonwealth and all of the States and Territories.

The primary aim of the Review was to examine the extent to which existing gas access regime:

  • balances the interests of service providers and gas pipeline users;
  • provides a relevant framework that enables efficient investment in new pipeline infrastructure; and
  • assists in facilitating a competitive market for natural gas.

The Commission found that changes to the regime could assist in the achievement of these goals.

The majority of the Ministerial Council on Energy’s policy responses to the recommendations of the Productivity Commission will be implemented through further amendments to the gas access regime which are intended to come into force in 2007. However, in seeking to ensure there is ongoing efficient investment to meet Australia’s growing energy demand, the Ministerial Council wishes to send a positive signal to market participants as soon as possible.

The Ministerial Council therefore agreed to adopt and build on some of the Commission’s key recommendations ahead of the introduction of the new legislative regime. The Ministerial Council decided to implement in the existing gas access regime two specific incentives aimed at encouraging investment in greenfields pipelines. Legislation implementing these incentives was introduced to the South Australian Parliament on 11 May 2006.

The first incentive allows the proponent of a proposed pipeline to seek a full exemption from regulation under the gas access regime for the pipeline’s first 15 years of operation. The second incentive allows proponents to seek an exemption from price regulation for a proposed international transmission pipeline which will deliver foreign gas to Australia. The key driver for this incentive is the importance of securing Australia’s long term energy security needs, while recognising the additional complexity of international infrastructure projects.

For both incentives, an independent body, the National Competition Council, will undertake an assessment of market power and public interest matters before the relevant Minister makes a decision on whether to grant the incentive. This will ensure the incentives are granted in the appropriate circumstances. Most importantly, the incentives will provide the necessary regulatory certainty for investors where market circumstances indicate the demand for potential new developments.

The amendments I am introducing today will further promote the opportunities to gain that regulatory certainty and thereby enhance the benefits created by the gas access regime. They have the full support of my State and Territory colleagues on the Ministerial Council on Energy.

In particular, the Energy Legislation Amendment Bill 2006 implements key changes to Commonwealth legislation to ensure that the incentives can function properly. First, they remove the possible application of regulation under Part IIIA of the Trade Practices Act to a pipeline granted one of the incentives. Secondly, they ensure that the gas access regime can remain a certified effective access regime, notwithstanding the availability of these incentives.

Finally, I am introducing some machinery changes to the gas access regime and the electricity regime. These include:

  • amendments to the Trade Practices Act and the Gas Pipelines Access (Commonwealth) Act that update the provisions which allow the National Competition Council and Commonwealth Minister to have functions, powers and duties imposed on them under the State and Territory gas access regime; and
  • amendments to incorrect references in Commonwealth legislation to parts of the National Electricity Law.

I commend the bill to the Senate.


EXPORT MARKET DEVELOPMENT GRANTS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2006

With the introduction of the Export Market Development Grants Legislation Amendment Bill 2006 the Government is delivering on its commitment to extend the EMDG scheme for another five years and provide a number of enhancements to the scheme.

The EMDG scheme, administered by Austrade, assists small and medium Australian businesses to enter into export and grow to export sustainability by partially reimbursing their eligible export promotion expenses.

It is a popular scheme that has been regularly reviewed and consistently shown to benefit Australia by supporting our exporters.

Last year the EMDG scheme delivered over 3,200 grants and paid out around $124 million to small and medium exporters. These businesses generated approximately $3.1 billion in exports.

Of the grants delivered last year, 77 per cent went to small businesses with annual incomes of $5 million or less. Twenty-three per cent of grants were paid to businesses in rural and regional Australia.

Demand for grants is even stronger this year, demonstrating the continued success of the scheme.

In accordance with the EMDG Act, in 2004 I asked Austrade to review the EMDG scheme and report on whether the scheme should be extended, and if so, options for the improved performance of the scheme.

Austrade conducted a comprehensive review of the scheme, considering 394 public submissions, feedback from 70 consultation meetings and the results of independent research conducted by the Centre for International Economics.

The review found that the EMDG scheme is an effective tool for encouraging businesses to seek out and develop export markets and that it enjoys very strong support from Australian businesses across a wide range of industries.

For example, the Eaglereach Wilderness Resort, an award-winning eco-tourism resort located in the Hunter region of NSW, told the review that ‘the scheme encourages small companies such as ours to enter into the export market’.

And GAP Agrifood Exports, a successful exporter of meat, fruit, vegetables and fish to Asia and the Pacific Islands, said in its review submission that the EMDG program ‘is essential to the new exporter’.

This positive industry feedback was supported by the independent research which showed that the EMDG scheme induces export promotion, boosts exports, improves the sustainability of small and medium businesses and has a positive impact on Australia’s export culture.

In response to the review’s findings, the Government decided to extend the EMDG scheme for a further five years and introduce some changes to enhance the effectiveness of the scheme.

The Export Market Development Grants Legislation Amendment Bill 2006 implements these Government decisions.

The bill provides certainty for Australia’s current and future exporters by extending the EMDG scheme until 2010-11, with grants in relation to export promotion expenditure incurred in 2010-11 to be paid in 2011-12.

In addition the bill contains a number of amendments to the scheme.

The proposed amendment to increase the claimable overseas visit allowance from $200 to $300 per day will be of particular benefit to new and emerging exporters. The amendment will increase the incentive for this group to take the crucial step of visiting overseas markets to meet new customers and learn how export business is done.

The amendments to the rules of the scheme in relation to the origin of eligible products, disposal of intellectual property, principal status and export earnings will make the scheme more flexible and more relevant in terms of modern business practices and emerging export industries.

Removal of the export earnings test will also address anomalies that have resulted in some SMEs and emerging exporters being denied grants or having their grant entitlement reduced.

For example, removing the test addresses the anomaly that businesses spending on export promotion in one year but not receiving export earnings until the following year might be denied a grant, simply because there was a time lag between promoting their products and receiving export sales revenue.

The other amendments in the bill will assist in streamlining administration of the scheme and enhancing risk management.

The proposed changes are to take effect for EMDG applications from the 2006-07 grant year onwards—that is, to applications received and grants paid from 1 July 2007.

I am confident that the amendments contained in the EMDG Legislation Amendment Bill 2006 will be of considerable assistance to Australia’s small and emerging exporters and will be warmly welcomed by the business community.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the individuals, businesses and organisations that contributed to the review of the EMDG scheme. Their input has enabled the Government to tailor a package of measures that will both deliver significant benefits to small and emerging exporters and further secure Australia’s exporting future.


FAMILIES, COMMUNITY SERVICES AND INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS AND OTHER LEGISLATION (2006 BUDGET AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2006

This bill gives effect to several measures from the 2006 Budget, as well as various other important Government initiatives, covering a wide range of portfolio matters.

The Budget measures are mainly to give further support to Australian families. Family tax benefit Part A is the primary financial support given by the community to low-income families. These families will now be paid more family tax benefit Part A through an increase to $40,000 (up from $33,361 in 2005-06) in the amount of income they can earn each year before their payment is affected. This measure will raise the Part A payment of about half a million families by up to $9.60 per week, delivering over $993 million in additional payments over four years.

A further significant benefit will go to families with three children. These families will have the large family supplement, currently valued at $248 annually and available only to families with four or more children, included in their family tax benefit Part A.

The bill also delivers on a 2005 Budget commitment, to set up a maintenance income credit for family tax benefit Part A. This recognises that child support payees receiving family tax benefit Part A have little control over when they receive their child support payments and may be disadvantaged if they receive child support arrears in a lump sum in a year later than when they were due. This is because they do not get the benefit of the maintenance income free area for the year when the arrears were due. This measure will allow families to access their unused maintenance income free area from previous years to offset any late child support payments, thus increasing family tax benefit entitlements.

The government announced in the 2006 Budget a one-off payment for certain older Australians, equal to the annual rate of utilities allowance, currently $102.80. This bonus payment will generally be paid before the end of June 2006, including to recipients of mature age, widow or partner allowance, who do not currently attract utilities allowance itself. To supplement this one-off payment, this bill provides for recipients of those three allowances an ongoing entitlement to utilities allowance, which is already available to other older Australians to assist them in meeting their everyday household expenses such as gas and electricity.

Of significant community interest will be the measure in this bill that introduces a streamlined, flexible and coordinated payment, the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment, which could provide emergency assistance for offshore disasters, similar to the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, the 2004 Asian Tsunami and the 2005 London bombings, or onshore disasters, such as the 2005 Eyre Peninsula bushfires or Tropical Cyclone Larry in 2006. The new payment will standardise the successful type of ex-gratia government assistance that was provided in response to these events.

The Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment will give the government a flexible response option for Australians affected by onshore and offshore disaster events, complementing existing arrangements and providing choice in the way the government may wish to respond to a disaster. Adult Australian residents who are affected by an eligible natural or non-natural disaster, whether within Australia or offshore, can claim the payment. Initially, a person adversely affected by a major disaster will be able to claim up to $1,000 for him or herself and $400 for each child in his or her care.

The bill also extends carer payment to parents of children with severe intellectual, psychiatric or behavioural disabilities. Some of these parents may currently receive parenting payment and, therefore, under the Welfare to Work reforms, may be expected to work part-time. However, the demands of caring for these children are often significant, especially if the children cannot attend school, or if their behaviour is a risk to the safety of themselves or others. To recognise that these demands prevent many parents from supporting themselves through workforce participation, parents of these children may now be able to access carer payment under the expanded eligibility criteria.

A further measure in the bill will help families make private financial provision, through a special disability trust, for the future care and accommodation needs of their family members with severe disabilities. It will help to provide certainty for parents who are concerned that their family members may not have the financial support to take care of their accommodation or care needs when the parents are no longer able.

This measure will allow immediate family members to establish a special disability trust for the current and future care of the severely disabled person. All trust income and trust assets up to the value of $500,000 will not affect the severely disabled person’s social security payments, such as disability support pension. Also, gifts to the trust, to a total of $500,000, from immediate family members of age pension age, will not affect the donor’s social security payments. Under the social security law and the Veterans’ Entitlements Act, there are limits to the assets a person can hold or give away without those assets affecting their entitlement to social security payments.

The bill amends the Family Law Act to implement changes to the governance arrangements of the Australian Institute of Family Studies. These changes form part of the government’s response to the recommendations of the Review of the Corporate Governance of Statutory Authorities and Office Holders, conducted by Mr John Uhrig.

The assessment of the Institute against the recommendations of the Uhrig Review found that the functions of the Institute are best suited to the executive management governance arrangements. The bill will enhance the Institute’s governance arrangements to make them fully consistent with executive management governance arrangements. For example, the Institute will become a prescribed agency under the Financial Management and Accountability Act. In keeping with the Government’s knowledge and innovation policy announcement of 2001, the Institute will remain a statutory agency separate from the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

Lastly, the bill makes a small number of minor family assistance and social security refinements in line with current policy.


FISHERIES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (FOREIGN FISHING OFFENCES) BILL 2006

The purpose of this bill is to amend relevant fisheries legislation to provide for custodial penalties for foreign fishing offences in Australia’s territorial sea.

This measure should be welcomed by all who are affected adversely by illegal foreign fishing—governments, industry, non-governmental groups and individual people—who wish to preserve and protect Australia’s ecologically unique and economically important fish stocks and other living marine resources.

At present Australia’s main fisheries legislation, the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the Torres Strait Fisheries Act 1984, do provide for custodial sentences for some specific ‘secondary’ offences, whether committed on board an Australian or foreign boat, such as for failure to comply with certain court orders, falsification of information, or obstructing a fisheries officer.

However, the legislation does not currently provide for custodial penalties for the ‘primary’ foreign fishing offences of fishing illegally from a foreign fishing boat, or being in control of a foreign fishing boat without legal excuse, in our waters.

The bill addresses this issue to the extent possible consistent with international law and the current jurisdictional arrangements for fisheries management as between the Commonwealth and the States and the Northern Territory.

Illegal foreign vessel incursions threaten Australia’s sovereign interests. They pose a range of threats, such as serious quarantine risks, illegal immigration, importation of prohibited goods, depletion of fish stocks, degradation of marine protected areas and the targeting of endangered species.

The Government has committed very substantial resources to address and reduce these risks, including the additional $388.9 million package to combat illegal foreign fishing announced on Budget night.

The custodial penalties proposed in the present Bill would be a significant additional deterrent to illegal foreign fishing vessel incursions.

The key feature of the bill is that it would provide for custodial penalties of from two years to three years, depending on the specific offence, together with substantial fines. The terms of imprisonment proposed would be broadly consistent with the terms for the existing ‘secondary’ offences in Commonwealth fisheries law and with the terms of imprisonment in some States for similar ‘primary’ foreign fishing offences in their coastal waters.

In deciding the lengths of the custodial penalties regard has, however, also been had to the inherent sovereignty violation in foreign fishing boat incursions, giving rise to more substantial penalties than would otherwise have been considered appropriate.

Illegal foreign fishing harms the interests of the States and the Northern Territory as well as the Commonwealth and the need for an effective response by all governments is clear. Commonwealth-State consultations on a more coordinated strategy are continuing. Among other things, these discussions may in time result a more seamless approach across all jurisdictions.

In order, however, to put in place, as a matter of urgency, the penalties now proposed, the bill provides for the penalties, at this stage, to operate in those parts of Australia’s territorial sea that are subject to Commonwealth fisheries jurisdiction and not in the coastal or internal waters of the States or the Northern Territory.

Accordingly, the custodial penalties proposed in the bill would operate generally in the band of water that begins three nautical miles seaward of the coastline and extends to twelve nautical miles from the coast. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea prohibits the imposition of custodial penalties for foreign fishing offences beyond the twelve nautical mile territorial sea limit.

Importantly, also, consistent with the Commonwealth’s well established principles of criminal justice, the bill would ensure that the custodial penalties are associated only with new fault based indictable offences and would not be applied to any of the strict liability offences in the existing fisheries laws of the Commonwealth.

The custodial penalties in the bill, if enacted, will strengthen the Government’s overall policy response to illegal foreign fishing. Taken alone, they will not provide a total ‘answer’ to this complex matter, but they will represent an important new element in the Government’s ongoing action to protect Australia’s sovereignty and its fish stocks and other living marine resources.


PLANT HEALTH AUSTRALIA (PLANT INDUSTRIES) FUNDING AMENDMENT BILL 2006

The Plant Health Australia (Plant Industries) Funding Amendment Bill 2006 (the bill) provides a mechanism to enable plant industries to fund their liabilities under the Government and Plant Industry Cost Sharing Deed in respect of Emergency Plant Pest Responses (the Deed).

The Deed commenced on 26 October 2005 with the Australian Government, state and territory governments and plant industries as parties. There are now 14 plant industry signatories to the Deed. It provides certainty in funding for emergency plant pest threats to Australia and certainty in providing rapid and effective responses.

Under the terms of the Deed, the Government may be required to underwrite a plant industry’s share of the costs of an emergency plant pest response. The Government has agreed to do this on the proviso plant industries agree to an appropriate repayment scheme.

The amendments will give plant industries the flexibility to either accumulate funds in advance of an Emergency Plant Pest response or to activate levy and charge arrangements following a response.

The plant industries will fund their obligations under the Deed through the imposition of new Emergency Plant Pest Response levies and charges.

Amendments to the Plant Health Australia (Plant Industries) Funding Act 2002 will provide the machinery for the appropriation and application of the new Emergency Plant Pest Response levies and charges.

Firstly, the Amendment Bill provides for amounts equal to new Emergency Plant Pest Response levies and charges to be paid to Plant Health Australia from the Consolidated Revenue Fund through the normal appropriation process.

Secondly, the Amendment Bill authorises Plant Health Australia to hold and manage these funds on behalf of a plant industry. Plant Health Australia will utilise the funds to discharge any obligations that the industry may incur under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed in relation to the plant product or products on which the Emergency Plant Pest Response levy or charge is raised.

If at any time a plant industry has no obligations under the Deed, it may request Plant Health Australia to apply the funds for other emergency plant pest-related purposes. However, it is not proposed that funds directed to an industry’s Research and Development Corporation be matchable by the Government.

If there is no present occasion to apply the funds, they may be held for the industry by Plant Health Australia and supplemented by any interest and other income.

This legislation has the full support of industry groups and producers. It establishes arrangements for the long term funding of emergency plant pest outbreaks and so assists in providing certainty in responding to such outbreaks.

The bill is further demonstration of the partnership approach to plant health matters between the government and industry. It will further help maintain the competitiveness of Australia’s agricultural industries through an outstanding animal and plant health status.


TAX LAWS AMENDMENT (2006 MEASURES No. 2) BILL 2006

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

Schedule 1 exempts from income tax ex-gratia lump sum payments made to certain F-111 aircraft maintenance personnel by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. This will ensure that those who receive this ex-gratia payment will receive the full benefit of the payment.

The Government is making the one off ex-gratia lump sum payments from the 2005-06 income year to certain personnel who experienced a unique working environment in the maintenance of F-111 aircraft fuel tanks.

The payments are made in recognition of the difficulties eligible personnel suffered in the environment in which they worked regardless of whether there is evidence of any adverse health impacts from that work environment. The amendments apply from the 2005-06 year.

Schedule 2 amends the lists of deductible gift recipients in the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997. Deductible gift recipient status will assist the listed organisations to attract public support for their activities.

Schedule 3 amends the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to correct unintended consequences from the rewrite of the capital gains tax provisions completed as part of the Tax Law Improvement Project. This measure broadly reinstates the position in the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 in relation to options exercised on or after 27 May 2005 this being the date of announcement of these amendments.

Schedule 4 extends the scope of what is considered to be a compulsory acquisition for capital gains tax and uniform capital allowance purposes. It will extend the existing compulsory acquisition provisions to cases where a private acquirer compulsorily acquires an asset through recourse to a statutory power.

Schedule 5 to this bill amends the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to limit the circumstances in which the franking deficit tax offset is reduced. These amendments will apply from 1 July 2002, this being the commencement of the simplified imputation system.

Schedule 6 amends the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act 1992 to allow more employees to choose the fund to which their employer makes compulsory superannuation contributions on their behalf.

The Government will override state laws which require employers that are constitutional corporations to make contributions to a superannuation fund specified in that law. This will particularly benefit coal miners in Queensland, Western Australia and NSW as employers will be able to contribute to a superannuation fund of an employee’s choosing from 1 July 2006.

Schedule 7 makes various technical corrections and amendments to the taxation laws and also some general improvements to the law of a minor nature. These corrections and amendments include fixing duplicated definitions, missing asterisks from defined terms, incorrect numbering and referencing and outdated guide material.

While not implementing any new policy, the technical corrections and amendments in this bill are an important part of the Government's commitment to improving the taxation laws.

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

EXCISE LAWS AMENDMENT (FUEL TAX REFORM AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2006

This bill, along with the Excise Tariff Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform And Other Measures) Bill 2006, Customs Tariff Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2006 and Customs Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2006 gives effect to the Government’s announcement in its energy white paper Securing Australia’s Energy Future of 15 June 2004, that the current complex system of fuel tax concessions will be replaced by a single fuel tax credit system from 1 July 2006. In particular the decision to remove effective excise from burner fuels resulted in the need to amend the excise tariff, and the customs tariff for imported equivalent products.

This bill makes changes to the Excise Act 1901 to so that the mechanism of fuel tax relief for eligible users is through the fuel tax credit system, legislated through the Fuel Tax Bill 2006, and not through concessions within the excise system.

The companion bill, the Excise Tariff Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2006, removes the various rates that applied to fuel and replaces them with only two rates—one for aviation fuels, which are not part of the fuel tax credit system, and one for other fuels. The Customs Tariff Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2006 and Customs Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2006 make complementary changes to Customs legislation so that imported fuels receive the same treatment as locally produced fuel.

Both the Excise and Customs legislation is unlike other taxing legislation, in that a fundamental principle of the legislation is the control of the revenue authority over goods that are in scope. Where possible, and within this constrain, requirements that are redundant or inconsistent with modern business practice are removed. In certain other cases, this concept of control is drawn upon in measures to protect the revenue.

The bill clarifies the arrangements for using imported inputs to excise manufacture. In conjunction with complementary changes in the Customs bills, the import duty that would be payable on imported goods, that would be excisable if manufactured in Australia, is extinguished when the imported goods are used to manufacture, in Australia, excisable goods. The import duty is extinguished when an excise liability is created. This will provide a seamless transition from the Customs regime to the excise regime for imported products used in excise manufacture while protecting the revenue.

The arrangements for concessional spirits, that is spirits that are free of duty because they will be used for certain purposes (other than making excisable beverages) are streamlined. The complex arrangements that are currently contained in the Excise Tariff Act 1921, the Excise Act 1901, the Spirits Act 1906, the Distillation Act 1901 and the relevant regulations are replaced with simpler provisions in the Excise Tariff Act and the Excise Act. The new arrangements do not change the eligible uses of concessional spirit but streamline the administration and clarify the factors under which spirits do not attract excise duty.

Changes are made to the licensing regime so that all excise licences will now have an expiry date and application for renewal must be made. This means some licences that currently do not expire will now expire every three years and that current licences that expire every year will expire every three years. This is a balance between reducing the burden on business and protecting the revenue.

There are also changes to the factors that can be taken into account when deciding to grant or cancel a licence. These factors build on existing factors that are directed at ensuring persons who would be likely to pose a risk in terms of whether all the excisable goods or tobacco leaf is correctly accounted for, are kept out of the excise system. Tobacco plants, leaf and seed are not excisable but their production is directed towards producing excisable tobacco. Controls are necessary to ensure that tobacco does not enter the illicit market. Provisions ensuring that tobacco leaf is correctly accounted for have been amended to provide clarity and alignment with controls on excisable goods.

The bill also amends the Excise Act 1901 in a number of areas to reduce a number of prescriptive and interventionist requirements that are no longer in step with modern administration. For example the current legislation contains complex rules for establishing the volume of beer. This is replaced by a provision that the CEO may make determinations on rules for measuring quantities, weights and strengths of excisable goods. This will allow the ATO to recognise changes in commercial business operations and adopt industry standards for measuring excisable goods. The ATO will actively consult with affected industry in determining such rules.

The bill repeals the following Acts; the Fuel (Penalty Surcharges) Administration Act 1997, the Fuel Blending (Penalty Surcharge) Act 1997, the Fuel Misuse (Penalty Surcharge) Act 1997 and the Fuel Sale (Penalty Surcharge) Act 1997. The introduction of the fuel tax credit system will mean that the penalty surcharges system is no longer required.

The Coal Excise Act 1949 is also repealed. Coal has attracted a free rate of excise since 1992 but coal producers have been required to be licensed and keep records and provide returns relating to coal production. The companion bill Excise Tariff Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2006 removes coal from the schedule of excisable goods and so it is no longer necessary to have the controls provided for in the Coal Excise Act 1949.

The Distillation Act 1901 and the Spirits Act 1906 are also repealed. These acts contain provisions relating to the manufacture of spirits. Many of the provisions are already adequately covered in the Excise Act as the manufacture of spirits also is the manufacture of excisable goods. Certain provisions required to protect the revenue or ensure product standards are inserted into the Excise Act 1901. These include provisions for the maturation of brandy, whisky and rum.

The bill also provides for a grant under the Energy Grants (Cleaner Fuels) Scheme Act 2004 for renewable diesel manufactured through a process of hydrogenating animal fats or vegetable oils. This will ensure that fuel produced by this process will receive the same effective tax treatment as biodiesel.

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


EXCISE TARIFF AMENDMENT (FUEL TAX REFORM AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2006

This bill is a companion bill to the Excise Laws Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2006.

This bill makes changes to the Excise Tariff Act 1921 so that the mechanism of fuel tax relief for eligible users is through the fuel tax credit system, legislated through the Fuel Tax Bill 2006, and not through concessions within the excise system. In particular, the fuel items in the Schedule to the Excise Tariff Act 1921 are amended so that there are only two rates of duty, one for aviation fuel and one for other fuels. In conjunction with the fuel tax credit system this will remove the effective excise on burner fuels and provide effective excise relief for a wide range of business users of fuel, including where fuel is used other than as a fuel.

The fuel items of the tariff are also amended to recognise that fuels can now be manufactured from sources other than petroleum, oil shale or coal.

This bill streamlines the existing Schedule by removing redundant provisions and also removes certain free items where the items are for use by certain third parties. These concessions will still be available to those third parties through changes to the Excise Regulations 1926. There will be no changes to the eligibility for these concessions except for a tightening of conditions under which tobacco can be used, free of excise duty, for research purposes. The changes are directed at simplifying the Schedule and making it, as far as possible, concerned with classifying goods and not providing concessional rates in the Schedule.

The excise rate for snuff tobacco is aligned with the rate for other tobacco. Snuff is not manufactured in Australia however the complementary changes in the Customs Tariff Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2006 will ensure that importers of snuff tobacco pay the same duty as other tobacco users.

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


CUSTOMS AMENDMENT (FUEL TAX REFORM AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2006

The Customs Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2006 contains several amendments to the Customs Act 1901 (the Act). This bill is part of a package of Bills dealing with fuel tax and excise reform.

First, the bill will repeal provisions in the Customs Act designed to address fuel penalty surcharge legislation. These amendments will ensure that the Act is consistent with the Government’s proposals to replace all existing rebates and subsidies for fuel products, including concessional and free rates of duty, with a fuel tax credit scheme.

Secondly, the bill will amend the Act to strengthen and clarify the compliance and other arrangements that apply to the use of imported excise-equivalent goods in the manufacture of excisable goods. These amendments will ensure that the revenue is more adequately protected, and will bring existing practices into line with the conditions under the Excise Act 1901.

The bill will establish that the manufacture of excisable goods may occur in a customs warehouse and will provide that such manufacture using excise equivalent goods must occur at a place licensed under both customs and excise legislation. The bill will also establish that Customs control of excise-equivalent goods continues until such a time that an excisable liability has been created under the Excise Act, or the goods are entered into home consumption and relevant duties paid, or the goods are exported.

Other amendments will identify when liability is extinguished for Customs duty on excise equivalent goods used in excise manufacture, and how owners of these goods will account for such goods to Customs.

The bill will include a provision that deals with the maturation period of certain imported spirits. This provision currently resides in the Spirits Act 1906, which will be repealed by the Excise Laws Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2006.


CUSTOMS TARIFF AMENDMENT (FUEL TAX REFORM AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2006

The Customs Tariff Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform And Other Measures) Bill 2006 contains amendments to the Customs Tariff Act 1995 (the Customs Tariff).

These amendments implement changes that are complementary to amendments contained in the Customs Tariff Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform And Other Measures) Bill 2006, and are part of a package of Bills dealing with fuel tax and excise reform.

Schedule 1 of the bill contains amendments to the Customs Tariff to decrease the customs duty applied to aviation turbine fuel (kerosene) and aviation gasoline. These measures were previously tabled in the House of Representatives in Customs Tariff Proposal Number No. 5 of 2005 and took effect from 1 November 2005. They now require incorporation in the Customs Tariff Act. Complementary changes are being made to the Excise Tariff Act 1921 through the Excise Tariff Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform And Other Measures) Bill 2006.

Schedule 2 of the bill contains amendments to the Customs Tariff Act 1995 to complement amendments to the Customs Act 1901 and to reflect amendments to the Excise Tariff Act 1921.

In brief, the amendments to the Customs Tariff Act impose a uniform rate of customs duty of 38.143 cents per litre on most fuel products. The amendments also remove a number of redundant provisions from the Customs Tariff, including the duty differentials for petroleum products based on container size, sulphur content, and whether a petroleum product contains a fuel marker.

Schedule 2 of the bill also contains a number of related consequential amendments to the Customs Tariff to ensure that it aligns with the Excise Tariff. This includes aligning the rate of snuff with the ordinary tobacco rate.

Schedule 2 of the bill also includes some technical changes that are of a minor or machinery nature. These include:

  • a change to the definition of mead to ensure greater consistency with the Wine Equalisation Tax legislation;
  • a change of classification for biodiesel to ensure conformity with a World Customs Organization classification decision; and
  • amendments to definitions of beer to align with the Excise Tariff definition and clarify when the different rates of Customs duty apply for different types of beer.

Finally, Schedule 2 of the bill incorporates a range of measures designed to strengthen Customs control over certain goods that are used in excise manufacture. These include the repeal of concessional items 44 and 67 of Schedule 4 to the Customs Tariff. These items currently provide the mechanism for excise manufacturers that use excise equivalent goods—petrol, alcohol and tobacco—to remit their customs duty liabilities, except for ad valorem duty on certain spirit and fuel products.

The bill will also attach a rate of customs duty of $290.74 per kilogram to tobacco leaf (not stemmed or stripped) to ensure that if any leaf is not accounted for before excise manufacture, Customs has the legislative ability to recover the appropriate duties. The Australian Tax Office already has that ability through Section 105 of the Excise Act 1921.

Debate (on motion by Senator Kemp) adjourned.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as follows: Excise Laws Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2006, Excise Tariff Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2006, Customs Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2006 and Customs Tariff Amendment (Fuel Tax Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2006 as one order of the day and the remainder of the bills as separate orders of the day.