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Thursday, 9 August 2007
Page: 22


Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (10:54 AM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

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

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

NATIONAL HEALTH AMENDMENT (NATIONAL HPV VACCINATION PROGRAM REGISTER) BILL 2007

The government is committed to ensuring that Australians can continue to access free vaccines to protect the population against vaccine preventable diseases through the National Immunisation Program (NIP). 

Our immunisation system is world class, with immunisation coverage rates above 90% for 12 month old children for the last six consecutive years. The proof of the success of the program can be measured by the large declines in rates of vaccine preventable diseases, and in the case of polio and smallpox, eradication of the diseases from Australia.

Childhood immunisation rates increased from 53% in 1989-90 to over 90% for children fully immunised at 12 months, following introduction of the Government’s Immunise Australia Program.

In 1996, Australian Government expenditure on vaccines was $13 million a year.  In 2006/07, vaccine expenditure was $283 million.  In April 2007, the National HPV vaccination program commenced with vaccine funding of $475.9 million over five years (from 2006-07 to 2010-11).  On 1 July 2007, rotavirus vaccines will be added to the National Immunisation Program with vaccine funding of $124.4 million over five years (from 2007-08 to 2011-12).  The Australian Government commitment to vaccine funding in 2007-08 is estimated to be over $443 million. 

Along with the announcement of funding for free human papilloma virus vaccine for all Australian girls and women 12 to 26 years of age in November 2006, the government also announced the establishment of a register to support this new initiative.  The National Health Amendment (National HPV Vaccination Program Register) Bill 2007 will amend the National Health Act 1953 to enable the establishment and operation of the National HPV Vaccination Program Register.

HPV is a sexually transmitted virus which has many strains, some of which cause cervical cancers and genital warts.  HPV is so common in the general population that four out of five people will have HPV at some time in their lives.  Only a very small percentage of women who get persistent high risk HPV infection are at risk of developing cervical cancer.  This usually takes about 10 years.  There is no way of knowing which of the individual women infected will end up developing cervical cancer.  For this reason, all girls and young women need to be vaccinated.  Vaccination with HPV vaccine is most effective when it is given to an individual before they are likely to be exposed to HPV. 

The National Cervical Screening Program has been highly successful in reducing the number of deaths from cervical cancer in Australia, however, there are still about 200 deaths and 700 new cases of cervical cancer in Australia every year.

The HPV vaccine, Gardasil┬«, which is the only vaccine currently designated for use in the National Immunisation Program, protects against four different types of HPV.  Two types, types 16 and 18, are responsible for about 70 per cent of cervical cancers in Australia.  The other two types, types 6 and 11, cause about 90 per cent of cases of genital warts.  The vaccine is given as a series of three injections over six months.

It is important that all females, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, continue to get regular Pap smears as the vaccine is not able to prevent all types of HPV that may cause cervical cancer.

In order to vaccinate females before they are likely to become exposed to HPV infection, the ongoing program will target girls in the first year of high school.  The government is also funding a two year catch-up program for all girls in high school through schools, and those 18 to 26 through general practitioners and community immunisation clinics.  The school program has now commenced in all states and territories.

Vaccination remains voluntary in Australia.

The HPV Register is being established for a number of purposes.

It will contain a database of personal and vaccination information about individuals who participate in the HPV Program.  This will allow for statistics to be compiled determining how many persons participate in the HPV Program in relation to the eligible population.

The Register will allow vaccination information to be compared, in the future, to patient outcomes as recorded in Pap smear, cervical cytology or cervical cancer registers.  This cross referencing of information will provide information about the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine in reducing cervical cancers.  This information will in time inform the future directions of the HPV vaccination program. 

In addition to this, the HPV Register will provide a means for contacting participants of the HPV Program to advise them of their vaccination status, certifying the completion of their course of vaccination and informing them if booster doses of vaccine are required.

The Bill also aims to, through the HPV Register, support the health and well being of females by allowing the collection of statistics to inform health authorities, health care providers and the public about the HPV Program.  It will enable females or the parents or guardians of female children and health professionals involved in HPV vaccination to be contacted and informed about new developments with the HPV vaccination program.

The Bill makes a provision for a female, or the parent or guardian of a vaccinated person, to make a request in writing, at any time, to have her details removed from the HPV Register and for that request to be complied with as soon as practicable. 

The HPV Register will also hold information about general practitioners and registered nurses who are recognised for the purposes of the HPV Register as vaccination providers.  Only those vaccination providers will be given access to the HPV Register to allow information to be entered on the register or for checking the vaccination status of a female to whom they are administering a HPV vaccine. 

This Bill will strengthen the government’s commitment to the health of Australians by further improving on Australia’s world class immunisation system.


CUSTOMS TARIFF AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 1) 2007

The Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2007 contains two amendments to the Customs Tariff Act 1995.

The Customs Tariff Amendment (2007 Harmonized System Changes) Act 2006 implemented approximately 1,200 amendments to the Customs Tariff.  These amendments incorporated changes that resulted from the third review, by the World Customs Organization, of the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System that forms the basis of Australia’s Customs Tariff.

As part of this review the chemical “binapacryl” was classified under its own subheading.  The separate identification of this chemical is required under the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, to which Australia is a signatory.

Schedule 1 of the Bill will repeal the current subheading for binapacryl and create a new subheading for this chemical.  This amendment comes as a result of further information received from the World Customs Organization acknowledging that binapacryl was originally classified incorrectly in the review of the Harmonized System.

This measure will take effect on the day the Act receives the Royal Assent.

Also, as part of the 2007 review, the text of the new subheading created for microbiological culture media referred to “prepared culture media for the development or maintenance of viruses and the like” and applied a duty rate of 5% to these goods.  However, existing arrangements in the Australian Customs Tariff provided for a rate of customs duty of Free for these culture media.

Schedule 2 of the Bill will amend the text of this subheading to remove the reference to culture media for viruses.  This amendment will ensure that the rate of customs duty of Free will continue to apply to prepared culture media for the development or maintenance of viruses.

This measure was implemented via Customs Tariff Notice in December 2006 and then included in Customs Tariff Proposal No. 1 of 2007, which was tabled in the House of Representatives on 15 February 2007.  The measure contained in this Bill will take effect from 1 January 2007.


CORPORATIONS AMENDMENT (INSOLVENCY) BILL 2007

The Corporations Amendment (Insolvency) Bill 2007 contains an integrated package of reforms to improve the operation of Australia’s insolvency laws.

Australia’s corporate insolvency regime is a critical part of our economic infrastructure.  Insolvency law underpins the system of financial and contractual relationships that enable trade and commerce to take place.

A modern credit-based economy requires predictable, transparent and affordable means for enforcing secured and unsecured credit claims.  A well-designed insolvency system helps business obtain finance more easily, and at a lower cost.

The reforms aim to improve the efficiency and the cost effectiveness of insolvency processes, strengthen the rights of creditors, enhance their capacity to participate in the insolvency process and maximise their returns.

They aim to minimise the economic and social costs resulting from corporate failure.  Such costs can include the disruption of trade and commerce, the loss of employment, loss of capital, damage to suppliers and customers, and the expenses of the insolvency process itself. 

The reforms also seek to ensure that the corporate insolvency regime contributes to an efficient and informed market without imposing costly new regulatory requirements on company directors, creditors or practitioners. 

This is the first time that this area of law has been comprehensively updated since 1992. Australia’s insolvency framework is still well-regarded internationally, with jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom using our laws as a model for reform.  However a number of public inquiries into the corporate insolvency framework, in particular by the Corporations and Markets Advisory Committee (CAMAC) and by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, have identified opportunities to update and fine-tune the framework.

The Government has considered these recommendations, and after consulting with industry through the Insolvency Law Advisory Group and subsequently through the public release of exposure draft amendments in November 2006, has responded by introducing this Bill to Parliament today.

The reforms in the Bill have been developed around four themes: strengthening creditor protections; deterring misconduct by company officers; enhancing the regulation of insolvency practitioners; and fine-tuning the voluntary administration procedure.

Strengthening Creditor Protections

The Bill includes a number of measures that have the specific aim of strengthening the protection of employee entitlements.  It will make it mandatory for a deed of company arrangement to preserve the priority available to employee creditors in a winding up, unless the employees agree to waive this priority or the court makes an order. 

It will clarify the treatment of the Superannuation Guarantee Charge (SGC) in insolvency.  Under the Corporations Act, employee entitlements already rank highly in the distribution of the property of an insolvent company.  However, under the current law there is some uncertainty about the standing of SGC in different forms of insolvency proceedings.  The proposed measures will therefore clarify the status and priority of the SGC in insolvency.  They will give SGC the highest priority, along with wages and superannuation, that employee entitlements enjoy under the law. 

These measures will significantly improve the prospect of recovering outstanding superannuation entitlements if an employer becomes insolvent.  They will address a source of cost and uncertainty for practitioners in many proceedings. 

The Bill also includes measures to ensure that creditors are in a position to make an informed decision about key proposals, such as whom to appoint as an administrator and what they will be paid.  Administrators will be required to disclose certain relationships before taking an appointment.  Insolvency practitioners will be required to explain the basis for their remuneration proposals when seeking approval.  These reforms will address some of the most common public criticisms of our insolvency framework.

The Bill includes a number of measures intended to increase the efficiency and reduce the cost of insolvency processes.  Amendments in the Bill remove redundant meeting requirements, allow greater use of modern communication technology for communication with creditors, and reduce costly advertising requirements.

The reforms facilitate the winding up of companies in corporate groups.  Pooling will permit creditors to agree, or a court to make an order, that the liquidation of related companies should be combined and managed as if they were one company.  This facility will allow scope for significant cost reductions in these circumstances, for example through more streamlined administration, consolidated accounts, and removing unnecessary duplication such as for meetings and minutes.

Deterring misconduct by company officers

The Government has already implemented some enhancements to its insolvency law programme.  Most notably, the Government has allocated $23 million over four years for the assetless administration fund and complementary enforcement programmes.  The assetless administration fund finances preliminary investigations by expert liquidators, of companies selected by ASIC that have been left insolvent with little or no assets, when it appears to ASIC that it may be able to take enforcement action as a result of the investigation and reports.

In support of ASIC’s important enforcement work in this area, the Government will legislate to restore the longstanding position that the privilege against exposure to a penalty does not apply in proceedings where ASIC is seeking disqualification or banning orders and no other penalty. 

Banning and disqualification orders, and orders to cancel or suspend a licence under the Corporations Act, are important tools for deterring corporate misconduct.  They serve a protective function, by allowing the removal of unwanted participants from the market.  One of their main benefits is that they allow for an expeditious response to corporate misconduct.

This reform will provide significant assistance to ASIC’s work in discouraging company misconduct, including unlawful ‘phoenix company’ activity.

Enhancing the regulation of insolvency practitioners

To enhance the regulation of insolvency practitioners, the current prohibition on inducements for the referral of work will be extended to directors and other persons. 

Creditors will be provided the power to appoint a new person as liquidator if the company proceeds to liquidation after an administration or deed of administration ceases.  This will allow creditors to appoint a new practitioner to investigate the conduct of the previous directors and administrator, if they are concerned about the performance or independence of the administrator. 

The registration regime for liquidators will be updated, by introducing more regular reporting requirements and a requirement to hold adequate insurance.

The reforms will also introduce greater flexibility into the processes of the Companies Auditors and Liquidators Disciplinary Board, or CALDB, expediting disciplinary matters in this area.  I note that the High Court has recently dismissed appeals which argued that the CALDB powers to suspend a liquidator were unconstitutional.

Fine-tuning the voluntary administration procedure

After more than ten years’ experience with voluntary administration, a number of amendments are included to improve and fine-tune this procedure.  The reforms will enhance efficiency and clarify the operation of the administration provisions. 

The most important changes concern the timing of meetings, the quality of reporting to creditors, and the facilitation of fund-raising in administration. 

The Bill also grants administrators new powers to sell property subject to a retention-of-title clause, pledge or lien, in the ordinary course of business.  These new powers will assist in the rescue of viable companies, for the benefit of creditors and other stakeholders.

Response to PJC Inquiry into the Exposure Draft Bill

As I mentioned earlier, this Bill also reflects the adoption by the Government of many of the PJC’s 2004 recommendations. A small number of recommendations have not been adopted, on the basis that a strong case has not been made at this time.

The PJC initiated an inquiry into the exposure draft Bill, and tabled its report on 29 March 2007.  To the extent that these recommendations mirrored those made by the PJC in 2004 that the Government did not earlier accept, the Bill has not been amended. 

In relation to the prospect for future law reform in the area of corporate insolvency, I note that a number of new issues were identified by stakeholders in drafting this Bill.  Some of these have been referred to CAMAC for further advice.  In addition, CAMAC is currently considering the implications of the Sons of Gwalia decision and the issue of long tail liabilities. 

In conclusion, I note that the current Bill has been developed after extensive consultation.  The Government appreciates the assistance of members of the Insolvency Law Advisory Group, and the Insolvency Practitioners Association of Australia, in the preparation of the Bill.  The Bill was exposed for public comment.  Under the Corporations Agreement between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories, the Bill needed to be approved by the Ministerial Council for Corporations.  The Ministerial Council has approved the Bill.

Debate (on motion by Senator Coonan) adjourned.

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

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