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Thursday, 16 August 2007
Page: 37


Senator ELLISON (Minister for Human Services) (11:33 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—

TELECOMMUNICATIONS (INTERCEPTION AND ACCESS) AMENDMENT BILL 2007

This Bill amends the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 to implement the second stage of recommendations of the report of the review of the regulation of access to communications, undertaken by Mr Tony Blunn AO.

The review examined the issue of how best to regulate access to telecommunications in the rapidly changing world of telecommunications technology.

A core finding of Mr Blunn’s review was the desirability of a single comprehensive legislative regime dealing with access to telecommunications information for law enforcement purposes.   This bill is the second step in implementing that recommendation and follows the passage of the Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Act 2006 .

  [Transfer of provisions from the Telecommunications Act]

The bill transfers key security and law enforcement provisions from the Telecommunications Act 1997 to the Interception Act.   The transferred provisions relate to access to telecommunications data, and provisions regulating telecommunications industry interception obligations.

In doing this the Bill creates a clearer regime for accessing telecommunications data for national security and law enforcement purposes.   Telecommunications data refers to information about a communication, as distinct from its content, and includes the sending and receiving parties, and the date, time and duration of the communication.   Agencies currently access telecommunications data using provisions of the Telecommunications Act.

In transferring these powers to the Interception Act, the Bill consolidates and clarifies these provisions to better protect the privacy of telecommunications users.   Changing technology is broadening the range of communications transmitted over the telecommunications network, and thereby changing the effective scope of the existing provisions.   In particular, the capacity for the delivery of telecommunications information in real-time involves a much greater impact on privacy.

For this reason, the Bill creates a new two-tier access regime. The first tier encompasses the traditional access to existing telecommunications data.   The second tier, which would be limited to a narrower range of agencies and require a higher threshold of authorisation, allows for access to future telecommunications data.   Consistent with similar provisions in other parts of the interception and access regime, this bill creates offences for unlawful disclosure or use of telecommunications data.

The bill also establishes new record keeping and reporting obligations for law-enforcement bodies including a requirement to report annually on the number of authorisations.

It is important to stress that this proposal does not represent new powers for security and law enforcement agencies.   Rather it creates new, more systematic and appropriate controls over the existing access framework.

The bill also transfers existing provisions relating to cooperation between telecommunications carriers and government agencies.

This includes the transfer of the existing obligation on carriers to ensure that communications passing over their network are capable of interception, the capacity to make determinations in relation to interception capability and to grant exemptions from the obligations.

The Bill preserves existing arrangements while at the same time simplifying provisions wherever possible.

The Bill clarifies and streamlines arrangements in relation to interception capability plans submitted by the telecommunications industry and the making of interception related determinations.

In transferring provisions from the Telecommunications Act, the Bill retains the existing framework for cost-sharing between the government and industry.

[Amendments to interception provisions]

The Bill also contains a number of minor amendments to refine the operation of the interception regime.

The Bill will broaden the offences for which interception warrants may be sought to include all child pornography offences.

The availability of interception in relation to the investigation of child pornography offences is crucial because of the central role that the internet and telecommunications plays in the exchange and possession of child pornography.   This Bill will ensure that interception warrants are available to assist in the investigation of any offence relating to child pornography.

This Bill also permits the disclosure of lawfully accessed stored communications to assist the Australian Communications and Media Authority with the enforcement of the Spam Act 2003; and allowing agencies to disclose stored communications material to each other in relation to investigations into police misconduct.

The bill also changes provisions relating to network protection and security.   In 2006, the Act was amended to ensure that the Australian Federal Police could adequately protect its network infrastructure.  

The new Bill expands this capacity to a Commonwealth agency, security agency or eligible state agency to ensure that their network administrators can protect network infrastructure without the risk of being in breach of the Act.   The provision acknowledges the seriousness that the Government accords to ensuring network security.   This amendment would be subject to the existing sunset clause.

The bill will also allow security authorities, which have functions that include developing or testing technologies, to seek authorisation from the Attorney-General to intercept communications for the limited purposes of that development or testing.

This power is highly specific, tightly regulated and necessary in certain circumstances to ensure new equipment actually functions as intended.

[Conclusion]

The key parts of this bill effect the direct transfer of an existing regime from one Act to another.   This consolidation will create a more effective legislative framework for accessing telecommunications information for law enforcement and national security.  

By centralising, modernising and simplifying several important provisions, it will introduce greater clarity of responsibilities, rights and obligations for all those who use the provisions.


MARITIME LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2007

The Bill will enable the integration of the Australian Maritime College (the College) with the University of Tasmania to proceed.  The integration is strongly supported by both organisations as a means of facilitating greater leveraging of capabilities, broadening course offerings and generating cost reductions through rationalisation of facilities.  This will ensure that Australia and the region continue to have access to a world-class maritime research, education and training institute.  The College has gained recognition as an international leader in maritime education, training and research.   The College’s expertise is recognised worldwide and it has established a reputation for the provision of quality services to the maritime industries in Australia and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

The Bill includes the repeal of the Maritime College Act 1978, under which the College was established and currently operates, and the transfer of all assets and liabilities from the College to the University.  In return, the University will be subject to conditions on certain funding it receives from the Commonwealth under the Higher Education Support Act 2003 for a period of five years.  During that period the University will be required to report on key aspects of the College’s operations within the University, including governance, financial, and academic arrangements.  The terms of the integration will ensure that the rights and privileges of current staff and students of the College are protected in the transition to the University.

The Minister for Transport and Regional Services will issue a certificate indicating whether the University has satisfactorily complied with the funding conditions, and if the certificate indicates unsatisfactory performance the Education Minister may require repayment of a portion of the Commonwealth funding going to the University.  In addition to the conditions specified in the legislation, an agreement is to be negotiated between the Department of Transport and Regional Services and the University defining how the University will deal with the land assets to be transferred to it as a result of the integration.  The special conditions will be in place for five years, after which time a review is to be conducted of the operations of the College within the University with a view to determining if further special conditions are warranted as part of the ongoing funding agreements in place between the Department of Education, Science and Training and the University.

The Government believes these safeguards provide an appropriate balance between protecting the Commonwealth’s interests and not inhibiting the flexibility of the new merged entity to pursue the opportunities that will arise as a result of the integration.  There are no direct resource implications from the Bill.  The 2007-08 Budget includes a figure of $61.4m representing the consolidated net assets that will be gifted to the University as a result of the integration.

The Bill also authorises the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) to share its information with other Australian, State and Territory government agencies and other parties for the specific purposes of maritime domain awareness, maritime safety, protection of the marine environment, and efficiency of maritime transportation.  This information includes data from a new international long range identification and tracking system for ships, which comes into force on 1 January 2008.  AMSA has been tasked to receive information from the new system on behalf of Australia for distribution to other government agencies through the Australian Maritime Identification System (AMIS).  AMSA receives vessel movement information from other sources, which also is to be fed into AMIS for distribution to other Government agencies, including security, intelligence, police, customs, immigration, environment, transport and fisheries agencies, to improve whole of government maritime domain awareness.  Agencies are already seeking access to live data feeds from AMSA for their own functions and for development and testing of AMIS.  There is currently no specific legal authority for AMSA to share information gathered for its purposes with other parties.

In addition to the benefit to Australian Government agencies in sharing in AMSA’s information sources, States and Territories, port authorities and coastal pilot service providers could use AMSA’s information to improve navigation safety, environment protection and transport efficiency, including such areas as improved vessel traffic management, port infrastructure planning and operations.  The information will be released only for the purposes specified in the Bill.


AUSTRALIAN TECHNICAL COLLEGES (FLEXIBILITY IN ACHIEVING AUSTRALIA’S SKILLS NEEDS) AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 2007

This Bill provides funding to expand the highly successful Australian Technical Colleges initiative, as announced by the Treasurer in the 2007 Budget.  The additional funding provided under this Bill will allow a further three Australian Technical Colleges to be established in the regions of greater Penrith, northern Perth and southern Brisbane.  This brings the total number of Colleges being established by this Government to 28, with each College servicing critical regions in Australia where industry is experiencing skills shortages.

The further expansion of the Australian Technical Colleges initiative once again demonstrates the commitment of the Australian Government in investing in the skills needs of Australia.

20 Australian Technical Colleges are currently operating, with one more to open in the Pilbara region of Western Australia in July.  More than 1800 students across Australia were attending the Colleges as at the census date of 31 March this year.  Four more Colleges will commence in 2008.  These three new Colleges will open no later than 2009.

Once all 28 Colleges are fully operational, approximately 8400 students will be trained at the Colleges each year.

Given that the legislation appropriating funds for this initiative only became available in late October 2005, this is a fantastic achievement by the Government, with the initiative implemented well ahead of schedule. 

It normally takes an average of about three years to establish a new school.  This Government established 20 Australian Technical Colleges in less than 18 months. 

The success of the Australian Technical Colleges programme is reflected by the way that communities have embraced the Colleges.  Local industry, business, education and community representatives are making important contributions to the establishment of the Colleges, including through their representation on the Colleges’ governing councils. 

The fact that more than 1800 families have decided to place their students in Australian Technical Colleges, in their very first year of operation, highlights the attractiveness of the concept to both students and employers.

The Australian Government is committed to raising the profile of vocational and technical education.  The Australian Technical Colleges programme will restore the true value of technical and vocational training in the community and produce a pool of highly trained tradespeople that will play an important role in ensuring the future of a number of key industries.

The value of this initiative extends beyond just the College students and their employers.  The leadership shown by the Government has been a key driver towards reform in school-based training.  Not only have a number of States and Territories removed regulatory and industrial barriers that previously prevented the offering of school-based apprenticeships, several States and Territories have followed the Australian Government’s lead and are establishing their own State based trade schools.  The States and Territories are recognising the importance of encouraging young people to consider the merits of pursuing a trade based career.

This Bill increases the funding under the Australian Technical Colleges programme by $74.7 million over the period from 2008 to 2011.  The three new Colleges are expected to be operational no later than 2009 and will provide more opportunities for young people to consider a trade based education.  The level of funding available to support the establishment of these Colleges will ensure that they are resourced to provide high levels of support to both students and the employers who engage students as School-based Apprentices.

The Australian Technical Colleges offer a high quality integrated education and training programme that has not been available to young Australians through existing education providers.  The input of industry into the operations of the Colleges ensures that the training provision is reflective of industry needs.  Students are trained using the latest tools and equipment to ensure they are as work-ready as possible.

Each College is developing a delivery model that best meets the needs of the region in which they are established.  In some cases, this involves the College working closely with existing education and training providers.  In other cases, the College governing board has determined that industry needs will be best met by the College providing a full programme comprising both academic education and trade training.  The flexibility of the Australian Technical Colleges programme has allowed for such diversity in delivery models and has been a key to the success of the programme to date.

I commend this bill to the Senate.


FAMILIES, COMMUNITY SERVICES AND INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (FURTHER 2007 BUDGET MEASURES) BILL 2007

This bill provides the legislative basis for several 2007 Budget measures in the Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs portfolio, building on other recent Budget legislation for older Australians and families with children.

Older Australians in retirement are again among the beneficiaries of this new bill, as the Government continues to spend more on Age Pension than on any other single program - around $24 billion next financial year in pension payments to around two million people.

The Pension Bonus Scheme recognises the important role played by older Australians in the workforce, and supports their choice to participate. The scheme gives an incentive for people who choose to defer claiming Age Pension, or the veterans’ entitlements equivalent, and keep working. The incentive takes the form of a one-off, tax-free payment of up to around $32,000 for a single person and $27,000 for each member of a couple, which is paid when they eventually claim and receive Age Pension.

This bill will make the Pension Bonus Scheme even better and more flexible in several ways. For example, scheme members who take certain types of leave from work will be able to stay in the scheme as non-accruing members for up to 26 weeks without failing the work test. Also, if people do fail the work test, there will be greater discretion for the usual 13 week claim lodgement period to be extended, so special circumstances such as serious illness of a close family member can be taken into account if a person claims late.

A new pension bonus ‘top up’ will be allowed if a person’s pension rate increases within 13 weeks after being granted, because their income or assets have decreased. This will help people whose retirement investments are not settled until shortly after grant of their Age Pension and bonus, to get the most out of their bonus. Lastly, new rules will allow the bonus accrued, but not claimed, by a scheme member who dies, to be paid to their surviving partner.

In a further measure targeted at older Australians, the existing social security income and assets test exemption threshold for funeral bonds will be increased from $5,000 to $10,000. The new threshold will be indexed in line with inflation so that it maintains its real value. This measure is also designed to allow individuals or couples to have a second funeral bond subject to the exemption, so that those with existing bonds can take advantage of the new threshold. This initiative will help Australians make better provision for their funeral arrangements without seeing their income support payments affected.

Families with higher order multiple births - triplets, quadruplets, or larger birth sets - will benefit from the extension by this bill of multiple birth allowance. Multiple birth allowance is an additional component of family tax benefit Part A for families with three or more children born together. It is worth over $3,000 per year for triplets and over $4,000 for quadruplets and larger birth sets. Multiple birth families face a significantly increased financial burden over most other families, both in the direct costs of raising their children and in the indirect costs of reduced workforce participation. Multiple birth allowance aims to relieve some of this financial pressure.

The allowance currently stops when the children turn six. However, the Government has listened to families, who have pointed out that this is one of their most expensive times, with the need to buy multiple school uniforms and supplies, and not having the capacity of many other families to save costs—through hand-me-downs, for example. This pattern of financial pressure continues throughout their schooling. Therefore, multiple birth allowance will now continue to be paid until the children turn 16, or generally until the end of the year in which they turn 18 if they remain full time students. Over 1,000 Australian families will benefit from this extension - some will continue to receive the allowance past the children’s sixth birthday, when it would otherwise have stopped, and many others not currently being paid the allowance will start to receive it.

Crisis payment is a one-off payment, equal to a week’s worth of income support, for people in severe financial hardship in certain circumstances. People recently released from prison, victims of domestic violence, and people affected by extreme circumstances such as a natural disaster currently may receive a crisis payment. This bill adds newly-arrived humanitarian entrants to Australia to that list, to give extra support to refugees managing the immediate costs of settling into the Australian community, especially in finding long-term accommodation. Under this measure, around 6,800 humanitarian entrants will be assisted by crisis payment each year.

An assurance of support is a form of guarantee that allows people who are at higher risk of requiring income support to migrate to Australia if an assurer promises to provide financial support for the person for two years after arrival, or ten years in the case of parent migrants. The assurance of support program protects public outlays, while not interfering overly with the migration program for financial reasons. This bill will improve and simplify the scheme’s operation. For example, the bill will remove the existing capacity for an assurer to withdraw an assurance of support after a visa has been granted to the person covered by the assurance.

The measures in this bill will commence on 1 January 2008.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of these bills be adjourned to the first sitting day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.

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