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Tuesday, 12 June 2007
Page: 63


Senator SCULLION (Minister for Community Services) (4:10 PM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

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

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

AGRICULTURAL AND VETERINARY CHEMICALS (ADMINISTRATION) AMENDMENT BILL 2007

The Agricultural And Veterinary Chemicals (Administration) Amendment Bill 2007 amends the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Administration) Act 1992 (the Administration Act) to implement the outcome of the assessment of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) against the Uhrig review templates.

The APVMA is an Australian Government statutory authority established to administer a joint Commonwealth and state/territory regulatory scheme, assuring the safety and effectiveness of agricultural and veterinary chemical products throughout Australia. The APVMA is an independent body corporate. It implements the legislative powers and functions provided to it under the legislation on behalf of all jurisdictions, including powers and functions conferred on it by state and territory legislation.

The amendments will provide for the authority to come into line with the best practice identified in the Australian Government response to the Uhrig review recommendations. The objective of the Uhrig review was to consider existing governance arrangements for statutory authorities and office holders and to develop a best practice template of governance principles that could be applied to all statutory authorities and office holders.

My department carried out an assessment of the APVMA against the Uhrig review templates and concluded that the executive management corporate governance structure is most appropriate for the APVMA. The assessment concluded that the APVMA should retain its independence, but be reconstituted, with the current board of directors being replaced by an executive manager (Chief Executive Officer) supported by an Advisory Board, with a similar range of skills and experiences to those currently specified for the APVMA Board of Directors. The bill before parliament implements these recommendations, which flow from the Uhrig report.

These reforms relate only to changing governance structures. As a result, there would be no significant changes to the day-to-day functions or independence of the APVMA. The APVMA would:

  • remain an independent body corporate called the APVMA,
  • retain its current functions and powers,
  • continue to be funded by cost-recovery from industry,
  • retain the provision for the conferral of powers by a state government law,
  • continue current stakeholder consultative arrangements, and
  • continue to receive policy direction from the Primary Industries Ministerial Council.

Consistent with the executive management governance structure, the APVMA will become subject to the provisions of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997, rather than the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997. Staff of the APVMA will be persons engaged under the provisions of the Public Service Act 1999 rather than persons employed under the ‘Administration Act’. The bill includes provision for these matters and the transitional issues associated with these reforms.

The amendments only affect the governance arrangements for the APVMA and do not impact on the authority’s functions or the administration of the national registration scheme for agricultural and veterinary chemicals.


AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY AMENDMENT (2007 MEASURES No 1) BILL 2007

The red meat processor industry has a value of about $15 billion a year and earns nearly $7 billion in export revenue.

Collectively-funded marketing and research and development (R&D) have underpinned this industry’s value to Australia’s economy and enabled it to meet its whole-of-industry commitments as envisaged under the red meat industry’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

Since the 1998 red meat industry restructure a voluntary contributions system has funded the meat processors’ marketing and research and development programmes.

These programmes have been managed by the industry’s service company, Australian Meat Processor Corporation Ltd (AMPC).

For the past three years the industry has been engaged in discussions on the future of this funding arrangement.

As a result, in December 2006 a clear majority ballot conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission voted in favour of replacing the voluntary contributions system with a statutory levy on the slaughter of cattle, sheep and goats.

The processing sector also made it clear that its preference is to continue using the existing service company, AMPC, to administer the levy funds and not Meat and Livestock Australia Ltd (MLA) as provided for in current legislation and the industry MOU.

The other sectors of the red meat industry also support the preference for AMPC.

The Government believes collectively-funded marketing and R&D programmes is key to continued industry growth and productivity.  Consequently, the Government supports the move to a statutory levy and has no objection to AMPC receiving and administering the funds.

A funding agreement will be drawn up between AMPC and the Commonwealth to ensure the funds are managed in accordance with the Government’s accountability requirements.

The Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997 makes no provision for a meat processor services body to receive levy funds.

It limits the disbursement of levies and charges to an industry body and a livestock export body, namely MLA and the Australian Livestock Export Corporation.

Without amendment to the Act, the funds would automatically flow to, and be administered by, MLA; contrary to the meat processor preference.

The bill amends the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997 to allow the Minister to determine a meat processor marketing body and a meat processor research body and for these bodies to receive revenue derived from statutory levies.

The intention of the Act, whereby MLA is the predominant red meat industry research body and marketing body, remains.

This means the Government will continue its dollar for dollar matching of payments to the industry research body, that is, to MLA, in respect of industry research expenditure.

As was envisaged by the Government under the 1998 restructure, this will preserve the incentive for research services to be provided by the industry research body, while allowing for the meat processor sector to have ownership and control over its own R&D funds.

Under the statutory levy system certain disaggregated levy payer information would not be available to industry as it has been under the voluntary contributions system.

As a separate process, amendments are being proposed to other legislation to allow the information to be disseminated to the red meat industry. 

However, those separate amendments will not make provision for the Commonwealth to control who in the industry can receive statutorily collected levy-payer information or to specify how that information can be used.

Accordingly, this bill makes provision for such a control.  The intention is for the dissemination to be limited only to the red meat industry services companies.  The proposed level of control is similar to that already in place for the dairy industry.

The bill does not change the Act’s broader intentions of viewing the red meat industry as one industry and at the same time providing for autonomy and self-determination for the sectors within.

Rather, the bill responds to specific industry needs.  It gives effect to changes in the face of clear indications from the meat processor sector that existing arrangements are no longer supported and that the new arrangements will enable the sector to continue to meet its own and whole-of-industry commitments.


AUSTRALIAN CENTRE FOR INTERNATIONAL AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH AMENDMENT BILL 2007

This Bill amends the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research Act 1982 by making changes to the governance arrangements of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). 

ACIAR is a statutory authority within the Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio, and its activities are part of Australia’s Aid Program.  ACIAR was established in 1982 to assist and encourage agricultural researchers in Australia to use their skills for the benefit of developing countries, while at the same time working to solve Australia’s own agricultural problems.

The intention of the Bill is to implement the Government’s response to the Review of Corporate Governance of Statutory Authorities and Office Holders conducted by Mr John Uhrig.  The Government has been reviewing all statutory agencies in the context of Mr Uhrig’s recommendations to achieve the most effective accountability and governance structures across the whole of government.

The Government has assessed ACIAR’s existing governance arrangements against the principles and recommendations of the Uhrig Review.  It considers that the current Board of Management structure is inconsistent with the executive management template recommended by Mr Uhrig for agencies covered by the Finance Management and Accountability Act 1997 (FMA Act).

The Bill creates the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO), in place of the current Director.  The CEO will be directly accountable to the Minister for administrative and financial purposes under the FMA Act.  In addition, the Bill abolishes the Board of Management of the Centre and establishes a seven member expert Commission.  The Commission, which will include the CEO, will provide expert policy and research advice in place of the current Board.  The current Policy Advisory Council (PAC), which includes key overseas stakeholders, will be retained.  However, this Bill will introduce amendments to ensure there will be no duplication of membership between the Commission and the PAC.

The establishment of a Commission and the position of CEO will not alter the functions of ACIAR.  ACIAR will retain its capacity for collective decision making (through the new Commission) while bringing its management under the CEO.  These changes are consistent with the executive management template recommended by the Uhrig review.

On behalf of the Government, I would like to thank the current and previous ACIAR Boards.  I am grateful for their commitment and expertise which have contributed enormously to enabling ACIAR to develop effective and practical research programs to assist developing country partners solve their agricultural problems and build research capacity.  I look forward to working with the new Commission when it is appointed under the provisions of this Bill.


AUSTRALIAN WINE AND BRANDY CORPORATION AMENDMENT BILL (No.1) 2007

The Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Amendment Bill (No.1) 2007 (the Bill) amends the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Act 1980 (the Act) to implement the outcome of the assessment of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation against the Uhrig Review templates.

The Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation (AWBC) is an Australian Government statutory authority established to provide strategic support to the Australian wine industry with its core functions being export regulation and promotion of Australian wine.

The amendments will provide for the AWBC to come into line with the Uhrig Review recommendations.  The objective of the Uhrig Review was to identify issues surrounding existing governance arrangements and to provide options for government to improve the performance of statutory authorities and office holders, and improve their accountability frameworks.

My Department carried out an assessment of the AWBC against the Uhrig Review findings and concluded that a Board is the appropriate management structure for the AWBC. The assessment recommended a small number of changes to bring the AWBC into line with the Uhrig Review recommendations.

The assessment concluded that the current practice of appointing a Government member, typically a public servant, on the AWBC Board should be discontinued. Given the abolition of the specific Government member position the assessment found that the skills set for Board member selection should be expanded to include expertise in public administration. The Bill before the Parliament implements these recommendations which flow from the Uhrig report.

This decision will also address the potential for a conflict of interest for serving public servants.  There will no longer be a potential conflict between their responsibilities to the Government and Parliament and as a Board member to the Board. 

The Bill also includes a provision for the AWBC Selection Committee to provide me with an annual report on its operations. It is proposed that the Committee commence reporting for the 2007-08 financial year and continue in subsequent years. This provision strengthens the governance arrangements and transparency of AWBC operations.


COMMUNICATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (CONTENT SERVICES) BILL 2007

More Australians than ever are using mobile phones and today’s users expect their mobiles to deliver ever increasing types of entertainment and information. Mobile phones and other hand-held devices now offer access to a range of media-rich services including broadcasting, Internet and telephone content. New content services such as live streamed services are also being delivered through subscription Internet portals.

Such services can be expected to bring substantial benefits for Australian consumers and new business opportunities for carriage service providers (CSPs) and content service providers, however, they may also carry potentially offensive or harmful content. The Australian Government takes very seriously its responsibility to protect Australian citizens, particularly children, from exposure to illegal and highly offensive content delivered over convergent devices such as mobile handsets, and also over the Internet more generally.

The Review of the Regulation of Content Delivered Over Convergent Devices (‘the Review’) was conducted by the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts and released in April 2006. It found that there may be a lack of appropriate protections for users, particularly children, from inappropriate audio-visual content on mobile devices and existing regulatory frameworks  may not provide an effective response.

The Communications Legislation Amendment (Content Services) Bill 2007 (the Bill) gives effect to the Government’s commitment to extend the current safeguards to put in place new measures to protect consumers from inappropriate or harmful material on convergent devices such as 3G mobile phones and through subscription Internet portals.

The Bill establishes a framework which aims to regulate emerging content services in a platform and technology neutral manner - it strengthens the regulation of ‘stored’ content where this is delivered on a commercial basis and establishes new rules to address ‘live’ and interactive content services such as chat rooms. The immediate effect of this will be that service providers supplying content services including live, streamed services over a carriage service such as a mobile phone will be subject to these new obligations.

The main focus of the Bill is to extend the general approach adopted by the Government in relation to content regulation to those services where it considers adequate safeguards are not currently in place.

Much of the content for these new services is likely to be based on content created for supply in relation to a range of other existing media services.  The new regulations will be aligned, as far as possible, with the regulation of traditional media content.  At the same time, the framework takes account of the technical and other differences applying to the delivery of content on these new platforms including their impact on the ability of service providers to practically manage the wide range of content being delivered to users.

Under the proposed new framework content that is, or potentially would be, rated X 18+ and above must not be delivered or made available to the public, and access to material that is likely to be rated R18+ must be subject to appropriate age verification mechanisms.

As a general rule, where content is provided by means of a content service that is operated on a commercial basis, and is likely to be classified MA 15+ or above, access must only be made available subject to appropriate age verification mechanisms. This requirement will include content provided to premium mobile services but not to a news or current affairs service, or to electronic books or magazines.

Similar limitations relating to prohibited content and age verification mechanisms will also apply in relation to live streamed services.

In the case of electronic editions of print publications such as books and magazines, where these have been classified ‘Restricted-Category 1’, ‘Restricted - Category 2’ or ‘Refused Classification’ they will be prohibited. Electronic editions of publications which are unrestricted in print form will be excluded from the new regulatory framework and will be able to be made freely available online.

Similarly, certain types of content services, including those which provide content regulated under existing broadcasting regulatory frameworks, and the content of private users’ personal communications will be excluded from the scope of the new regulatory framework. 

Carriage service providers who do no more than provide a carriage service that enables content to be delivered or accessed will not be considered to be providing a content service under the new scheme.

The new regime will be based on a take-down model as used under the existing Online Content Scheme. Under the new scheme, a content service provider will need to remove access to prohibited content or potential prohibited content if ACMA issues them with a ‘take-down’ notice for stored or static content, or a ‘service-cessation’ notice for live content, or a ‘link deletion’ notice for links to content.

Where a content service provider fails to comply with a notice from ACMA, civil or criminal penalties may be pursued.

To strengthen the ability of the scheme to respond to repeated and deliberate offences by providers of stored content, such as for example where stored picture or video content is slightly modified or changed but still in breach of the requirements, the Bill proposes to enable ACMA to issue a notice to a hosting service provider to ensure that content that is substantially similar to the stored content already subject to a take-down notice is not made available.

Consistent with the co-regulatory approach which has been implemented for other media such as television, radio and the Internet, the providers of new content services will be given the opportunity to develop industry codes to implement cost-effective mechanisms and rules for meeting their obligations under the regulatory framework.

Different sections of the content services industry will be able to develop codes of practice to give effect to certain content service provider obligations, and where necessary, ACMA will have the power to determine industry standards where it considers that industry codes are deficient in ensuring that content services are provided in accordance with prevailing community standards.

Live content services will be regulated in a manner consistent, as far as possible, with the regulation of traditional media content and the new approach for stored or static content services provided to convergent devices.

Although pre-assessment of live or ‘real time’ services is in many ways impractical, it will be mandatory that codes of practice developed for live services provided on a commercial basis include provisions to deal with the assessment of the likely nature of these services.  Under these mandatory code requirements, commercial content service providers who deliver live services must seek the advice of a trained content assessor on the likely classification before providing the service if there is a reasonable likelihood that the service would be classified as MA15+ or above. If the advice indicates that the service is likely to fall within a restricted category, it is incumbent upon the service provider to deliver the service with appropriate consumer information and age-verification mechanisms.

The Bill also outlines examples of matters which may be addressed in a code of practice including complaint handling procedures, consumer information requirements, promoting the awareness of safety issues including in relation to commercial chat services, and the making and retention of records.

The Bill and subsequent amendments to the Telecommunications Act 1997 will implement measures to require a mobile service account holder’s consent before the location of any handsets operated under the account may be used or disclosed. This will address concerns about the potential for location-based services to be used to facilitate inappropriate contact with minors.

The Communications Legislation Amendment (Content Services) Bill 2007 provides for the timely introduction of a new regulatory framework for a rapidly developing area of the communications sector. It is part of a wide-ranging package of measures introduced by the Australian Government to ensure that Australian consumers have access to new, innovative services. The new framework provides appropriate protections for children from being exposed to content suited only to adults while providing industry with the flexibility to explore the potential of providing entertainment and other services over new technologies.

The Government has also taken the opportunity in this Bill to amend the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 to ensure that Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories comprising Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, can be included in the regular independent reviews of telecommunications services in regional, rural and remote Australia. This will help in ensuring that the adequacy of these territories’ telecommunications services is appropriately assessed.


CORPORATIONS (NZ CLOSER ECONOMIC RELATIONS) AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2007

Today I introduce a Bill which will amend the Corporations Act 2001 to further support initiatives that build closer economic relations between Australia and New Zealand, with the possibility of extending them to other countries.  The Bill also makes important amendments to enable the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to exchange certain information with domestic and international regulators.

The initiatives embodied in the Bill are consistent with the Australia - New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement, which has shaped economic and trade relations between our two countries since 1983.  They also further the work programme attached to the Memorandum of Understanding on the Coordination of Business Law between Australia and New Zealand. 

Importantly, the Bill includes four key measures to implement closer economic relations and reduce duplication in regulatory compliance.

Firstly, the Bill establishes a mutual recognition regime for the issue of securities and interests in managed investment schemes.  This implements the agreement reached in a Treaty between Australia and New Zealand on securities offerings.

Currently, if a New Zealand entity seeks to issue securities to investors in Australia and New Zealand, it must comply with two substantive regulatory regimes - the requirements of the home (New Zealand) regime and the Australian Corporations Act, unless an exemption applies.

Because this duplication imposes additional costs on entities, often securities offers are not extended to Australian investors, which reduces investors’ choice.

The Bill will allow a New Zealand entity to offer securities in Australia and New Zealand, based largely on compliance with New Zealand fundraising laws.  Mutual recognition means that Australian entities will be able to offer securities in New Zealand under reciprocal simpler regulatory arrangements.

There is a role for the regulators of both countries in the regime.  The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) will have primary responsibility for taking action against New Zealand issuers who breach the requirements of the regime, which they have opted into in Australia.  Further the New Zealand regulator will have primary responsibility for supervising a cross-border offer into Australia.

Critically, if a New Zealand entity breaches the requirements of the regulatory regime, ASIC will have the power to stop the offer, prohibit advertisements in Australia and ban the fundraiser from making future offers.  There are also criminal penalties for breaches of the regulatory requirements.

The Bill will continue to protect investors by ensuring that they receive the information they need to make informed investment decisions.  In this context, the regime will apply to fundraising only, and not to the provision of financial advice. 

In the case of breaches of laws relating to fundraising activities, investor remedies will be available in the courts of either jurisdiction.

Overall, the regulatory regime is designed to facilitate investment, enhance competition and provide greater investor choice.

Secondly, the Bill provides for the mutual recognition of companies.  The Bill will exempt entities from those countries specified in the Regulations from being required to lodge specific information or documents with ASIC if that same material is lodged with an equivalent authority in that country.

The Bill will not remove the requirement for entities to register with ASIC to operate in Australia.  However, this initiative will reduce the administrative burden of registration and ongoing lodging requirements.  The Bill will thereby reduce duplication in information that is currently lodged with both ASIC and foreign regulators, which in the first instance will be the equivalent New Zealand regulator. 

New Zealand recently enacted reciprocal arrangements to give the New Zealand regulator the power to make similar exemptions in relation to Australian companies operating in New Zealand. 

Relevant information will continue to be accessible as both ASIC and the New Zealand regulators are able to share information in this context.

Thirdly, the Bill will enhance the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC’s) ability to share information with others, including the New Zealand Commerce Commission.  The ACCC is currently limited in its ability to share important information with others, including its counterpart regulators.

This initiative will place the ACCC in a similar position to that of ASIC with respect to information sharing.  Section 127 of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001 provides for the appropriate disclosure of information by ASIC to Australian, and foreign, governments and agencies, including regulators.  Similarly, this initiative will enable the ACCC to share information with governments and other agencies, where that information will enable or assist them in performing or exercising their functions or powers.

This initiative will assist the ACCC and other bodies to efficiently and effectively enforce the law.  It will also assist in reducing the regulatory burden on business by enhancing co-operation and co-ordination between agencies.

The fourth initiative in the Bill will provide for the protection of certain information given, or obtained, by the ACCC, including from a foreign government body.  Importantly, the Bill will not allow an ACCC official to disclose protected information, except in the performance of their duties or functions or as otherwise permitted by law.

The ACCC information-sharing initiatives implement recommendations made in the 2004 Productivity Commission (PC) Research Report entitled Australian and New Zealand Competition and Consumer Protection Regimes.  The PC recommended that the Trade Practices Act 1974, and corresponding legislation in New Zealand, should be amended to allow the ACCC and the New Zealand Commerce Commission to exchange information obtained through their information gathering powers.  The Bill will also implement the recommended safeguards to ensure against the unauthorised use and disclosure of confidential or protected information.

Clearly this Bill fosters better and enhanced cooperation between Australia and New Zealand.  Its measures are deregulatory in nature, whilst preserving important consumer protections.  In this way, the Bill can only help facilitate better economic outcomes for the benefit of all Australians.


DEFENCE FORCE (HOME LOANS ASSISTANCE) AMENDMENT BILL 2007

This Bill seeks to further extend the operation of the Defence HomeOwner Scheme (the Scheme), from 31 December 2007 to 30 June 2008.  The legislative basis for the Scheme is the Defence Force (Home Loans Assistance) Act 1990.

Late last year Parliament approved the Defence Force (Home Loans Assistance) Amendment Act 2006 which extended the operation of the Scheme from 31 December 2006 to 31 December 2007. 

The extension of the end date was required to enable Defence enough time to review the current Scheme and develop a home ownership assistance scheme that is more contemporary to meet the needs of both Defence and ADF members.

Defence has completed this review of home ownership assistance and the results were announced on 9 May by the Government as part of the 2007 Budget.

The scheme is:

Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme

Value?

  • $864 million over the next 10 years.

Why is this important?

  • This provides ADF members with assistance to achieve home ownership recognising the difficulty members may have in purchasing a home due to the nature of their career.
  • This will have a significant retention benefit to the ADF - it is a targeted measure involving progressively higher loan subsidies for those who serve beyond critical separation points.

What will this proposal do?

  • Replace the old home loans assistance scheme;
  • Provide contemporary and relevant home loan assistance pitched at a level that reflects current prices; 
  • Provide increasing entitlements as members serve beyond key exit points based on a 37.5 per cent interest subsidy of a three tiered loan subsidy limit:
  • four years - $160,000 ($241 per month);
  • eight years - $234,000 ($353 per month); and
  • 12 years - $312,000 ($470 per month);
  • Be responsive to changes in the housing market;
  • Provide flexibility and choice—giving the ADF member choice of mortgage providers—instead of the single provider under the old scheme; and
  • Involves a reduced entitlement on discharge equivalent to the four year entitlement ($241 per month), unless the member has served 20 years or more before discharge.
  • Who will benefit?
  • All ADF members—including Reservists—and their families.

The extension that I seek today will allow time for action consequent to the Government’s announcement to appropriately formalise the introduction of the new scheme.  I seek to further extend the end date of the scheme from 31 December 2007 to 30 June 2008.

The extension will provide the National Australia Bank with continuance of its existing rights as sole loan provider under the Act until 30 June 2008, however, and more importantly, ensure that ADF members’ eligibility to home ownership assistance is preserved.


FORESTRY MARKETING AND RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT SERVICES BILL 2007

The Forestry Marketing and Research and Development Services Bill 2007 (the Bill) establishes the mechanism for the Commonwealth Government to make payments to a new industry owned company which will replace and augment the functions of the Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation (the Corporation). 

The Australian forest and wood products industry is facing some critical challenges in the years ahead.

These include: an undersupply of both softwood and hardwood sawlogs; increasing restrictions on resource harvesting in native forests; challenges in developing new plantations; competitive pressures from imports of international products and substitutes in traditional market sectors; a lack of domestic processing capacity; and a relatively flat per capita consumption trend for forest and wood products.

Consultation with industry confirms that there are some limits to our capacity to respond to these challenges, and one important gap is the need for a more effective commercial structure to deliver industry wide research and development and marketing and promotional programs.

The establishment of a new industry services body will enable the fine work and achievements of the Corporation to continue under industry ownership, and will deliver added flexibility to the body to undertake generic marketing and promotion, while still delivering the current benefits of the government matched funding for R&D. 

Under these new arrangements, the R&D levy base, and therefore the funding available to the industry, will be broadened through regulations to be made under the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Act 1999 and the Primary Industries (Customs) Charges Act 1999, to include a new forest grower/Managed Investment Scheme manager levy and to bring the hardwood sawlog levy in line with the current softwood sawlog levy.  The existing import charge imposed on logs and certain classes of primary processed forest products imported into Australia will also now be eligible for Commonwealth Government matching funding when spent on eligible research and development expenditure by the industry services body.

The new company will also receive equivalent contract payments from state/territory forest growers, which will be eligible for matching funding by the Commonwealth Government when spent on eligible research and development, which is not currently the case.  This arrangement assures equity between private and government owned forest growers.  

One important new activity of the new entity will be to promote the sustainable nature of the timber industry in both domestic and international markets, by promoting wood products’ real environmental values. 

This will be achieved through promotion of the inherent natural properties of wood products from managed forests, such as its recycling potential, sustainability, positive greenhouse impacts and potential to contribute to improved biodiversity as well as mitigation of environmental problems.

This legislation has the overwhelming support of the forest industry, including forest growers, wood processors and timber importers.  It establishes arrangements for the continued funding of the new entity and so assists in providing certainty for R&D and marketing and promotional activities into the future.

The Government’s intention in introducing this bill is to strengthen the forest industries capacity to maintain its competiveness through ongoing research and development and adoption of innovative practices, as well as to enable the provision of industry wide marketing and promotional programmes.  The bill and the associated regulations regarding the levies and charges will enable the new industry services body to generate additional revenue for these activities.  The Government’s intention is to ensure that funding for R&D is maintained at the current levels, at a minimum, under the new arrangements.

The Bill is a demonstration of the partnership approach to forestry matters between the Government and industry.  It will further help maintain the competitiveness of Australia’s forest industries through the development of an enhanced industry led R&D, marketing and promotional company.


FORESTRY MARKETING AND RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT SERVICES (TRANSITIONAL AND CONSEQUENTIAL PROVISIONS) BILL 2007

The Forestry Marketing and Research and Development Services (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2007 (the Bill) facilitates the transition envisaged in the Forestry Marketing and Research and Development Services Bill 2007 of the current Government owned Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation (the Corporation) to a new industry owned services body.

The Government and the Forest Industry have identified the need for the current Corporation to be replaced by a new industry services body to enhance the involvement of industry in their future development and to enable industry-wide marketing and promotional activities to be undertaken.

The new industry services body will continue to develop the competitiveness of Australia’s forest industries through the development of an enhanced R&D, marketing and promotional company.  R&D will be jointly funded by the Government and industry with marketing and promotional activities funded solely by industry.

The Bill deals with the transitional arrangements required to enable the smooth transferral of responsibilities from the Corporation to the new body.  In particular, the provisions will ensure that the new organisation has staff from day one of its operation and that important ongoing existing R&D contracts can continue. 

Amongst a range of administrative matters the Bill facilitates the transfer of assets and liabilities of the Corporation to the new body, the transfer of employees and their entitlements, and other provisions including the operation of the Archives Act and the production of Corporation’s final annual report.

The Bill also contains a number of consequential amendments to other legislation as a result of the cessation of the Corporation and the establishment of the new body.

This legislation has overwhelming support from industry groups and producers in providing for the transition from the Corporation to the new body and is a further demonstration of the partnership approach between the Government and Forest Industry.


GOVERNANCE REVIEW IMPLEMENTATION (SCIENCE RESEARCH AGENCIES) BILL 2007

The Governance Review Implementation (Science Research Agencies) Bill 2007 amends the Australian Institute of Marine Science Act 1987 (“the AIMS Act”), the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Act 1987 (“the ANSTO Act”) and the Science and Industry Research Act 1949 (“the SIR Act”) to implement changes to the governance arrangements of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS); the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

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 all three science research agencies against the recommendations of the Uhrig Review found that their functions are best suited to the Board template.  However, a number of minor changes are required to legislation for each agency to enhance their governance arrangements and make them fully consistent with the Board template. 

The current arrangements in relation to the appointment of future CEOs for AIMS and CSIRO are being amended to reflect the Uhrig Review recommendations that the CEO should be appointed by the Board, rather than the Governor-General.  This arrangement is already in place in ANSTO.

A number of consequential amendments are also being made to ensure that other relevant provisions, including provisions relating to termination of the appointment of the future CEOs, are consistent with this arrangement.

In recognition of the responsibilities and workload of the Chairperson of the CSIRO Board, a position of Deputy Chairperson has been created.  Again, this is consistent with the arrangements that already apply to ANSTO.

Consistent with the Uhrig Review recommendations regarding the powers of a governing body, the legislative requirement for Ministerial approval of contracts above a prescribed value will be removed from the Acts for all three agencies.  This will be replaced by a requirement, set out in the Minister’s Statement of Expectations that the Minister is notified in advance of the agencies entering into significant contracts.

The ANSTO Act will also be amended to reflect Uhrig Review recommendations in regard to best practice for boards by specifying that the Board will consist of 6-9 members, including the Executive Director.  This increase in the size of the Board will enable a wider range of expertise to be brought to bear on corporate governance of ANSTO and is commensurate with the extent and technical complexity of its operations.

For consistency with commercial practice, the title of the chief executive of ANSTO will be changed to “Chief Executive Officer” rather than the current “Executive Director”.

In relation to CSIRO, the legislation is being amended to provide that the Chief Executive seek the Board’s approval for the payment of bonuses or IP rewards to CSIRO staff, rather than the Minister’s approval.

Section 9A of the SIR Act is also being amended to remove the need for Ministerial approval of the acceptance of gifts.

The legislative enhancements to the science agencies’ governance arrangements will be complemented by the issuance of Statements of Expectations by the Minister for Education, Science and Training to the AIMS Council and the ANSTO and CSIRO Boards outlining the Government’s current objectives relevant to these agencies, as well as any broad expectations that she has for them.  The AIMS Council and the ANSTO and CSIRO Boards will each reply to the Statement of Expectations with a Statement of Intent, outlining how they propose to meet the expectations of the Minister.  The Statements of Expectations and the Statements of Intent will be made public.

The Statement of Expectations will augment the 2007-08 to 2010-11 Quadrennium Funding Agreements (which replace the former Triennium Funding Agreements), which also serve to document key understandings about the agencies operations over this period.  The Agreements will be entered into by the agencies, the Minister for Finance and Administration and the Minister for Education, Science and Training.

Finally, I would like to draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that the Deputy Secretary of DEST has resigned from the ANSTO Board and the Secretary of DEST has resigned from the CSIRO Board to remove the potential for conflict of interest for serving public servants between their responsibilities to the minister and the board.

The amendments to the sciences agencies’ Acts are part of a suite of changes that are being implemented by the government to improve the governance arrangements for various statutory agencies within the Education, Science and Training Portfolio.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.


GREAT BARRIER REEF MARINE PARK AMENDMENT BILL 2007

The purpose of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2007 is to amend the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 to implement priority recommendations of the 2006 Review of the Act.

The Great Barrier Reef is an Australian icon. In 1975 the Australian Government enacted the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 to establish a Marine Park in the Great Barrier Reef Region and to set up an Authority to manage the Park. At the time the government stated that ‘the protection of our unique Barrier Reef is of paramount importance to Australia and the world’.  The Act had bipartisan support in the Parliament and was ground breaking legislation. In providing for ‘reasonable use’ to coexist with conservation, it established the concept of a multiple-use park, and has since been an exemplar for marine management and conservation.

The Australian Government has remained committed to the long term protection of the Great Barrier Reef. Since 1975 much has been achieved and the Great Barrier Reef is in relatively good shape compared to other coral systems around the world. In 1981 the conservation values of the Great Barrier Reef were internationally recognised with its inscription on the World Heritage list. Between 1979 and 2001, thirty-three sections of the Marine Park were formally proclaimed. Throughout this period the Australian and Queensland Governments have worked together collaboratively to protect the environmental, social and economic values of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Marine Park now extends over 344 400 square kilometres. Following the introduction in July 2004 of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003, the Marine Park is now covered by a single zoning plan that has significantly increased the area and level of protection. This Zoning Plan has been recognised, both nationally and internationally, as an important milestone in the ecosystem-based approach to conserving marine biodiversity.

The Act has now been in place for over thirty years and the 2003 Zoning Plan formed a transition point in the management and protection of the Marine Park. In 2004, the Australian Government undertook to review the Act to improve the performance of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, its office holders and its accountability frameworks.

The review commenced in August 2005. It encompassed the outcomes of the 2003 Uhrig Review of corporate governance of statutory authorities, changes in the Commonwealth’s financial management frameworks that were introduced in 1997 and the need for better integration with the government’s key environmental legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Some 227 public submissions were made to the review, and during its course there were 36 meetings with a wide range of stakeholders. The report from the review was publicly released in October 2006. The Australian Government endorsed the review’s findings and recommendations and the review outcomes were widely welcomed by stakeholders.

The implementation of the review recommendations will deliver modern legislation for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, capable of responding to the long-term protection needs of the future. This Bill delivers the first tranche of changes that will strengthen governance arrangements and improve transparency and accountability, particularly in relation to the zoning plan process. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority will have an improved ability to engage effectively and transparently with stakeholders. Later there will also be changes to better integrate the Act’s environmental assessment and compliance and enforcement measures with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Equally important are the review recommendations that enhance the relationship with Queensland through an updated intergovernmental agreement with a clear charter for the Ministerial Council, but these do not require legislative change.

The amendments to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 contained within this Bill can be categorised as amendments aimed at improving transparency and accountability and strengthening the governance of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

The amendments will ensure that the current zoning plan for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park cannot be amended for at least seven years from the date it came into force. This will provide stability for business, communities and biological systems. A process to allow for the correction of typographical errors in a zoning plan is provided.

A regular and reliable means of assessing the protection of the Great Barrier Reef will be provided through a formal “Outlook Report” that is tabled in Parliament every 5 years. This Report will cover the management of the Marine Park, the overall condition of the ecosystem and the longer term outlook for the Great Barrier Reef. It will be peer reviewed by an appropriately qualified panel of experts appointed by the Minister.

The Minister will be responsible for any future decision to amend the zoning plan, and any such decision will be based on the Outlook Report and advice from the Authority.

Engagement with stakeholders on the development of a new zoning plan will be improved and the process made more transparent, with comprehensive information being made publicly available throughout the process.  This will include the rationale for amending the zoning plan, the principles on which the development of the zoning plan will be based, socio-economic information, and a report on the final zoning plan and its outcomes.

In addition, each of the two public consultation periods will be increased from one month to three months.

The Authority will remain a statutory authority and body corporate.  The Authority will become subject to the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 recognising that its funding is predominantly sourced from public monies rather than commercial activities.

The role of the Great Barrier Reef Consultative Committee has been superseded by consultation mechanisms of the Authority.  This Committee will be replaced by a non-statutory advisory board to the Minister to provide a means of engaging with representational bodies and key experts.

Under the Act, the Authority comprises a minimum of two and a maximum of four members. This will be increased to a maximum of five members who will be selected for their relevant expertise.  This will allow for a broader range of appointments to the Authority.

In commissioning the review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act, and endorsing the comprehensive outcomes of that review, the Australian Government has recognised the evolving needs and challenges for safeguarding the Great Barrier Reef into the future.

Meeting these challenges requires up-to-date, relevant legislation and an approach that provides for continued protection for marine life and biodiversity, as well as for ongoing sustainable economic and recreational activity, and engagement with all stakeholders.

The Australian Government is committed to the long-term protection and wise use of the Great Barrier Reef. This Bill will bring about changes that set a clear direction for the future management of one of Australia’s most precious assets.


LIQUID FUEL EMERGENCY AMENDMENT BILL 2007

Mr President, in 2004 the Australian Government commissioned a review of the Liquid Fuel Emergency Act 1984. 

The review was conducted by ACIL Tasman and proposed a number of changes to improve the economic and administrative efficiency of preparations for and management of a national liquid fuel emergency. 

Many of the recommendations were accepted by the Ministerial Council on Energy and by the Government in its response in December 2005.  This Liquid Fuel Emergency Amendment Bill 2007 will give effect to those recommendations.

Mr President, Australian suppliers of petroleum products are adept at managing supply chains to efficiently and reliably provide liquid fuels to the Australian market.  Disruptions at any point in the supply chain can affect the capacity of suppliers to provide fuel to the end user, but anything more than a minor inconvenience has been rare. In most cases, the end fuel user has been oblivious to any problem.  In situations where there has been pressure on supply, the normal operation of the market has effectively managed the shortfall.

In the rare circumstance where intervention could be necessary, each State and Territory Government has its own liquid fuel emergency legislation and response plan.  Where the crisis is beyond the capacity of either the fuel industry or the relevant State and Territory Government to manage on their own, a national liquid fuel emergency may be declared.  However, Mr President, no such emergency has been declared since the Liquid Fuel Emergency Act came into force nearly 23 years ago.

However, the existence of the Act recognises that such an emergency is possible and this Amendment Bill improves its arrangements. There are many potential triggers and it is not possible to predict which could require the use of the Act’s powers.  While I do not wish to limit the ability of present and future Governments to deal with a national liquid fuel emergency caused by an unforeseen event, such emergency could conceivably be brought about by a terrorist attack against one or more oil refineries, an accident caused by human error, long-term industrial action at our ports, or even a major disruption in places like Singapore or the Middle East.

Mr President, while the Government accepts its responsibility to prepare contingency plans for a potential national liquid fuel emergency, the Act does not, and was never intended to, manage or reduce fuel supply risks for fuel users.  If such an emergency does occur, the Government cannot guarantee that all fuel users will have access to the fuel that they desire.  Although the Act provides the Government with extensive powers to control the distribution and sale of fuel, a finite amount of fuel available means it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that it goes to those fuel users that need it the most, without causing any further disruption to the community than is necessary. 

All businesses with operations that rely on an uninterrupted supply of liquid fuel should understand that there is a remote possibility that their fuel supply could potentially be disrupted, and consider how they would cope if such disruption occurred. 

Mr President, I now turn to some of the major elements of this Bill.

The Bill changes the definition of “essential” user to relate more specifically to the health, safety and welfare of the community, and removes the concept of “high priority” user from the Act.  These changes narrow the types of fuel users with preferential access to fuels in the event of a national liquid fuel emergency, and therefore encourage appropriate investment in risk management.  The Government retains the power to identify additional “essential” users under the Act, and to tailor the list of essential users to the specific circumstances of a disruption.

The Bill amends the compensation provisions of the Act to establish a more equitable regime.  Compensation will be payable under: 

  • Section 45, where compensation for an acquisition of property must be on just terms; and under
  • Section 46, where a fuel industry corporation or person can be compensated if forced to comply with a Government direction prior to the emergency. A claimant must demonstrate that they have suffered a loss as a result of the direction and that they have been unable to recover that loss from the market.

No compensation will be payable for any losses suffered as a result of compliance with a direction during a national liquid fuel emergency.

Other changes to these provisions extend the exemption from a law suit for a breach of contract, and for officials exercising a power or performing a function under the Act reasonably and in good faith.

The Bill will enable certain legislative instruments under the Act to take effect prior to their registration, or to prevent the Parliament from disallowing or sun-setting certain legislative instruments.  These changes will enable the Government to respond as quickly as possible to changing circumstances in a national liquid fuel emergency.  In most cases, these exemptions will not be necessary.  However, fuel supply disruptions are inherently unpredictable, and there must be a high degree of flexibility in the Government’s ability to respond.

The Bill introduces an exemption from prosecution for conduct during a national liquid fuel emergency that would breach Part IV of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (which deals with anti-competitive conduct) if that conduct is required by a direction under the Act.  The Government is relying on the cooperation of fuel corporations to help it respond to a national liquid fuel emergency, and the inclusion of this clause will provide greater certainty of a corporation’s potential liability.

Mr President, this change is not intended to signal open season on anti-competitive practices.  It is the intention that a direction will specify acceptable conduct or arrangements if there is a risk of anti-competitive effect.  In any event, the Minister will retain the power to revoke a direction if it is not achieving its intended purpose.

The Bill extends the capacity of the Minister to delegate his or her powers and functions under the Act, enabling a more devolved emergency response that can better adapt to changing circumstances.

It also amends the enforcement provisions of the Act to require a search warrant to be issued by a magistrate rather than a justice of the peace, as well as outlining the requirements for consent and clarifying some of the powers of authorised persons appointed under the Act. 

The Australian Capital Territory will now be a legal entity within the terms of the Act, and the penalty provisions updated to reflect current drafting practices and criminal law policy. 

Mr President, this Liquid Fuel Emergency Amendment Bill is intended to facilitate two outcomes:

  • to encourage the more effective management of fuel supply risks by those persons or organisations that have the capacity to do so; and
  • to ensure that administrative arrangements remain efficient, effective and sufficiently flexible, reflecting the many different circumstances that could trigger the exercise of the Government’s powers under the Act.

The changes to the Liquid Fuel Emergency Act which will be given effect by this Bill will strike an appropriate balance between these two objectives.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.


SCHOOLS ASSISTANCE (LEARNING TOGETHER - ACHIEVEMENT THROUGH CHOICE AND OPPORTUNITY) AMENDMENT (2007 BUDGET MEASURES) BILL 2007

The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Schools Assistance (Learning Together - Achievement Through Choice and Opportunity) Act 2004 (the Act).  Through this legislation the Australian Government provides significant funding to support government and non-government schools.

Over 2005-2008 some $33 billion will be provided for schooling across Australia. The Australian Government believes that this investment of taxpayer funds should offer assurance to parents that their children will receive quality education, regardless of which school they attend.

The Australian Government is boosting this significant investment by delivering more than $843 million over four years to schools through the Realising Our Potential package announced as part of the Australian Government’s 2007-08 Budget package.

The schools Budget will provide over $9.7 billion for the 2007-08 financial year.  This funding demonstrates that the Australian Government has increased its investment in schools since 1996 by around 172%.  Around 3.4 million students from over 9,600 schools and school communities across Australia will benefit from the range of significant education initiatives. 

This Amendment Bill will implement two important Budget measures for schools. 

This Bill will provide funding for regional and remote non-government schools in addition to current funding.  Students in more than 400 regional and remote non-government schools will be supported to achieve better educational outcomes.

This additional funding will come in the form of a loading in addition to general recurrent funding provided by the Australian Government.  Eligibility for the loading will be determined using a remoteness classification as defined in the Remoteness Structure under the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Australian Standard Geographical Classification and according to the remoteness of the Census Collection District in which the school campus is located.  The delimitation criteria for remoteness areas are based on the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA).

Non-government schools, or campuses of schools, located within areas classified as ‘Moderately Accessible’, ‘Remote’ or ‘Very Remote’ will receive an additional 5 percent, 10 percent or 20 percent respectively of the funding entitlement associated with their socioeconomic status score.  This additional funding will be available for schools from 1 January 2008.

A loading provided to non-government regional and remote schools recognises the higher cost of delivering schooling in regional and remote Australia.  Schools will be able to direct the increased funding to improve the educational opportunities for students in these regions.  The funding could be directed to additional resources, attracting quality teachers, increasing staff retention or improving teacher access to professional development.  The Australian Government recognises the unique hardships regional and remote schools face and these funds will enable schools to target those areas that most seriously affect their capacity to enhance educational outcomes for their students.

The next schools funding agreement will require state and territory governments to provide an equivalent increase in funding for regional and remote government schools from 2009.

The second Bill measure implements an Humanitarian settlement initiative.  The Bill will provide increased per capita funding to assist with intensive English as a Second Language tuition for students entering Australia under the humanitarian programme. 

The Australian Government is committed to supporting newly arrived humanitarian entrants and acknowledges that English proficiency is a vital aspect of successful settlement.   The Budget initiative will double the per capita rate of funding paid to government and non-government education authorities for students in primary and secondary schools who enter Australia on a humanitarian visa. 

For humanitarian entrants in Australian primary and secondary schools, intensive support to improve English language skills is one of the best ways to improve the educational outcomes and future employability so that they can participate more broadly in Australian society.

The Realising Our Potential package will ensure that the Australian education system better meets the needs of students, enabling them to prosper economically and socially in a global environment. It will improve quality, ensure consistency and assist students falling behind in literacy and numeracy. 

The Realising our Potential Budget package also includes:

  • the National Literacy and Numeracy Vouchers programme which will provide assistance to parents of students who have not achieved minimum literacy or numeracy standards in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9;
  • a new Australian Government Summer Schools for Teachers programme;
  • grants for schools of up to $50,000 under the Rewarding Schools for Improving Literacy and Numeracy Outcomes initiative;
  • the Improving the Practical Component of Teacher Education initiative, to ensure the practical experience of student teachers is of high quality
  • a new pilot programme to trial the use of aptitude tests by universities for assessing Year 12 students seeking tertiary entrance each year; and
  • funding to work with states and territories to develop core curricula standards in English and towards developing national teacher training and registrations standards.

In addition to the total funding provided for schools in this year’s Budget, the Australian Government will, from 2009, require that government and non-government education authorities focus on improving school standards and quality including through:

  • introducing national teacher training and registration standards to improve the skills of new teachers;
  • including external assessment as part of Year 12 certificates and common descriptions of levels of achievement;
  • introducing greater principal autonomy in school management and teacher employment arrangements;
  • introducing performance-based pay for teachers to encourage and reward excellent teaching;
  • reporting school and student performance against national benchmarks (including literacy and numeracy results), with school and state comparisons; and
  • encouraging states to establish selective high schools.

The Australian Government is putting measures in place to ensure all Australian schools focus on improving quality, so that parents can be confident their children will receive a high quality education and develop the core skills to be successful in their careers or in further education and training.  The Realising Our Potential package will drive quality improvements in Australian schooling for all students.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.


VETERANS’ AFFAIRS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (2007 MEASURES NO. 1) BILL 2007

I am pleased to present legislation that will enhance and streamline Veterans’ Affairs administrative practices and further align the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 with the Social Security Act 1991. The legislation also makes some minor changes to certain income support regimes and contains a number of minor and technical amendments to remove potential ambiguities and anomalies.

The Bill includes consequential amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 to include the income support supplement among the payments which can be exempt from providing a tax file number.

Amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 are included to clarify and give effect to the taxable status of Defence Force Income Support Allowance payments.

Technical amendments to the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation  Act 2004 will correct some anomalies in the Act. The amendments relate to injuries or diseases that are sustained or aggravated as a result of treatment for a service injury or disease. Previously some injuries or diseases sustained as a result of treatment for a service related injury or disease were not considered to be a service injury or disease if they were an expected consequence of the treatment.  Under the changes, such conditions will be considered a service injury or disease.

A further amendment to the MRCA will clarify issues concerning the onus of proof for liability claims. The MRCA will be amended to show that there is no onus of proof for acceptance of liability claims. This is in line with the policy intention and was an oversight in the original legislation.

Amendments to the VEA Income and Assets test will be enhanced by allowing the disposal of assets provisions to be disregarded in circumstances where the asset is subsequently returned or adequate consideration is subsequently received. This will address some potentially unfair outcomes, including the possibility of double-counting of assets in some situations.

Amendments will also be made to include supplementary payments, such as telephone allowance, advance pharmaceutical allowance and education entry payments, in the definition of ‘compensation-affected pension’. This will allow for the recovery of such payments from the compensation payment where the reduction in the income support pension is retrospective. Previously, the supplementary payments have had to be recovered directly from the recipient under the general overpayment provisions of the VEA. This amendment will simplify the recovery of overpayments under the compensation recovery provisions and will align VEA arrangements with those in place under the Social Security Act.

In addition, the Bill amends the definition of ‘compensation-affected pension’ to reflect that income support supplement will cease to be a compensation-affected pension from qualifying age, rather than pension age. Qualifying age for DVA pensions is five years earlier than the pension age under the Social Security Act. This amendment reflects the policy intention and will ensure that all income support supplement recipients are treated equally, regardless of whether or not the person is a veteran.

Currently, the VEA does not include detailed requirements for the Repatriation Commission on providing written advice to claimants for certain determinations. The amendments in this Bill rectify that situation and include amendments that explicitly identify the determinations for which the Repatriation Commission must provide a claimant with written notification.

The Bill also seeks to clarify arrangements for the payment of pensions and the provision of treatment for a person in gaol. Under the current arrangements, if a person is in prison on a pension payday, the entire pension instalment may be forfeited.  The amendments in this Bill will align the VEA with the Social Security Act under which pension is not payable only in respect to the days the person is in gaol, not necessarily the full pension period. Further amendments will clarify that treatment under the VEA is not provided to persons in prison as this is the responsibility of the relevant State.  The definition of gaol is also being expanded and will include being lawfully detained in a prison or elsewhere pending trial or sentencing, and will take account of those in psychiatric confinement after having been charged with an offence.

The amendments will also rectify a mis-alignment between certain criteria of the Income/Assets Limit Reduction Limits rates which has occurred as a result of rounding. The rates affected are Income/Assets Reduction Limit with regard to treatment eligibility and dependant children. These will be addressed by varying the calculation methods.

Amendments are also made to the Defence Force Income Support Allowance which include changes to recovery of overpayment provisions, and providing for an increase to the bereavement payment provisions of the Social Security Act to take account of the DFISA amount payable to a carer payment recipient in certain circumstances. Further amendments rectify an oversight in the legislation which has meant that the DFISA pension bonus would not be paid after the eligible person died if their claim had not been determined at the time of death.

The Bill includes amendment to the rent assistance provisions which will clarify criteria for accessing rent assistance and extends rent assistance eligibility to Special Rate Disability Pension recipients.

Finally, this Bill also includes numerous technical amendments to the Veterans’ Entitlements Act. These include clarifying that Family Assistance Payments are exempt from the Veterans’ Entitlements income test. This will align the VEA with the Social Security Act and is in keeping with the intention of the Family Assistance Payments.   The Bill also includes an amendment to extend the time period for lodging claims for travel reimbursement from 3 months to 12 months.  This will assist ageing veterans who have difficulty lodging claims within the current timeframe.

This Bill continues the Government’s ongoing commitment to supporting Australia’s current and former service personnel and ensuring their future well-being.

Debate (on motion by Senator Scullion) adjourned.

Ordered that the Forestry Marketing and Research and Development Services Bill 2007 and the Forestry Marketing and Research and Development Services (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2007 be listed on the Notice Paper as one order of the day, and the remaining bills be listed as separate orders of the day.