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Thursday, 16 August 2007
Page: 302


Senator ABETZ (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) (4:31 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—

PRODUCT STEWARDSHIP (OIL) AMENDMENT BILL 2007

The Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000 is designed to ensure the environmentally sustainable management, recycling and reuse of Australia’s used oil. It provides for the payment of benefits to used oil recyclers as an incentive to increase the volume of used oil collected and recycled in Australia.

The Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000 establishes the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council, and provides that an independent review of the operation of the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000 be undertaken every four years.

The purpose of the Product Stewardship (Oil) Amendment Bill 2007 is to amend the Product Stewardship (Oil) Act 2000 to give effect to the recommendations of the first review of the Act.

In particular, this Bill gives effect to the recommendations arising from that review concerning the constitution and operation of the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council which provides advice on matters relating to product stewardship arrangements for oil.

The Bill provides that the members of the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council, other than the members appointed to represent the Commonwealth and the Commissioner for Taxation, will be appointed on the basis of their knowledge of, or experience in, a range of prescribed subject areas relevant to product stewardship arrangements for oil. Currently members are appointed to the Council as representatives of specified bodies relevant to the product stewardship for oil arrangements. This amendment will enable members with a wider range of expertise to be appointed to the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council than is the case at present.

In addition, the Bill provides that the members of the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council appointed to represent the Commonwealth and the Commissioner for Taxation will become non-voting members. This amendment will remove the potential for these members to have a conflict of the interest between their roles as Commonwealth employees and as members of the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council.

Finally, the measures contained within the Bill will provide clear and more rigorous procedures for the disclosure of pecuniary interests by members of the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council and for ensuring that any pecuniary interests that members may disclose do not compromise the advice provided by the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council.

This Bill will strengthen the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council’s role as a source of independent expert advice which in turn will enhance its contribution towards ensuring that the objects of the Act are met.


SOCIAL SECURITY AMENDMENT (2007 MEASURES NO. 1) BILL 2007

This Bill contains amendments to the Social Security Act 1991 to give effect to policy announcements made in the Budget. These announcements build on the Welfare to Work reforms already introduced, ensuring even greater fairness, consistency and equity between groups with similar needs, in line with the Government’s commitment to make it easier for unemployed people to engage with the labour market.

This Bill makes eligibility for Mobility Allowance more consistent and provides greater assistance for people with disability to obtain or retain employment. It extends eligibility for standard rate Mobility Allowance to people participating in a Vocational Rehabilitation programme, provided base qualifications for Mobility Allowance are met. The current standard rate is $74.30 per fortnight. People participating in a Vocational Rehabilitation programme are already eligible for higher rate Mobility Allowance, if they meet base qualifications and work, or look for work of, 15 hours or more at or above the relevant minimum wage.

Higher rate Mobility Allowance was introduced as part of the Welfare to Work reforms to encourage people with disability into the open labour market. Eligibility for the higher rate of Mobility Allowance is now being extended to Parenting Payment recipients working 15 hours or more at or above the relevant minimum wage. Eligibility for the higher rate of Mobility Allowance is also being extended to people working for 15 hours or more in open employment and receiving wages assessed in accordance with the supported wage system. The current higher rate is $104.00 per fortnight.

The Bill makes treatment of people receiving Youth Allowance more equitable by ensuring fast connection with employment assistance, and encouraging greater engagement with the labour market for young people once they cease study.

Partnered parenting payment recipients who have a partial work capacity due to disability will be treated more consistently, with the extension of access to a range of benefits including the pharmaceutical allowance, pensioner education supplement, pensioner concession card and telephone allowance. This is consistent with benefits received by disability support pensioners.

The Bill removes disincentives in the income support system for people with shared care of a child, without reducing incentives to take up paid work. Increased access to payment rates is provided for people with dependent children, reflecting the important recommendations of the 2006 Ministerial taskforce report on child support.

A minor amendment is also included to ensure that mature age job seekers can combine self-employment, as well as other types of employment, with voluntary work in order to meet their income support participation requirements.

These amendments continue the focus on supporting people being engaged by the Welfare to Work reforms. The changes will improve access to assistance, ensuring fairness and consistency in treatment, and making it easier for these groups to engage with the labour market.

There are minimal financial implications for these measures, with the total impact of the Bill over four years being $18.2 million.

The Bill also contains minor technical corrections to the social security law.


COMMUNICATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (INFORMATION SHARING AND DATACASTING) BILL 2007

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) frequently receives information through the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers as the Australian Government regulatory body responsible for broadcasting, telecommunications and radiocommunications matters.

The Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, and certain other Australian Government regulatory bodies have a legitimate interest in receiving information that is obtained by ACMA.

At present, the circumstances in which ACMA can legitimately pass on information are uncertain.  The amendments in this Bill will provide ACMA with an appropriate level of certainty and in so doing, will enhance the efficiency of the regulator’s enforcement activities.

The amendments will be of particular benefit to ACMA in the context of its role in the Government’s media ownership reforms that took effect from 4 April 2007.

In dealing with industry in relation to a proposed merger, both the Australian Competitions and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and ACMA are likely to receive evidence relating to the question of control of commercial broadcasting licences.  As arrangements currently stand, ACMA would be unable to share such information with the ACCC, even though it is relevant to the performance of the ACCC’s statutory functions under the Trade Practices Act 1974 in considering and approving proposed media mergers.

Amendments to the Trade Practices Act 1974 to provide the ACCC with powers to disclose protected information have also been brought before the Parliament.  However, no similar powers exist for ACMA.

ACMA has also established close relationships with overseas regulatory agencies in developing cooperative arrangements for the regulation of the Internet industry.  The global nature of the Internet means that liaison with regulatory and other relevant bodies overseas is a vital part of addressing offensive Internet material and working towards securing child-safety online.

This Bill will make clear ACMA’s ability to share important information it has gathered pursuant to its online content responsibilities with overseas regulatory agencies.  It will also authorise ACMA to share relevant material with domestic law enforcement agencies, including the Australian Federal Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

In addition, the removal of potential barriers to information sharing with regulatory and other agencies will go some way to helping reduce duplication and the reporting burden on industry.  There have been instances in which regulators have requested similar information from industry, creating an undesirable overlap and otherwise avoidable burden for industry.

The kinds of information that ACMA will be authorised to share will include information given in confidence to ACMA in connection with the performance of its functions or the exercise of its powers.

In addition, ACMA will be authorised to disclose information it has obtained as a result of its coercive information-gathering powers, as set out in applicable broadcasting, radiocommunications and telecommunications legislation.

ACMA will also be authorised to disclose information that is already in the public domain.  ACMA will also be free to disclose information in summarised or statistical form, provided appropriate privacy protections are in place.

The Bill will provide ACMA with clear authority to disclose information to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.  In the past, there has been some uncertainty regarding the ability of ACMA to share important information it has obtained in connection with its regulatory activities, with the Minister.

The range of ACMA’s regulatory functions often necessitates close consultation and liaison across a range of ministerial portfolios.  Accordingly, ACMA will also be able to disclose information to another Minister, if that information relates to matters arising under an Act administered by that Minister.  ACMA will also be able to disclose that information to the Secretary of the relevant Minister’s department, or an authorised officer of that department.

The Bill also makes provision for ACMA to disclose information to a Royal Commission where that information will assist the Commission in its inquiries.

Clearly, the information ACMA receives from regulated entities has the potential to be commercially sensitive and it is therefore appropriate that the list of agencies ACMA will be authorised to share information with will be limited to those with which ACMA has an ongoing cooperative role.

Furthermore, disclosure will only be permitted in circumstances where the ACMA Chair is satisfied that the information will assist or enable the other party to perform any of its functions or exercise any of its powers.  The Bill also makes provision for the Chair of ACMA to impose conditions to be complied with in relation to the disclosure of information.

The provisions in this Bill will enable ACMA to cooperate to the greatest extent possible with the Minister, government Departments and other key regulatory agencies in performing its vital functions in relation to the regulation of broadcasting, the Internet, radiocommunications and telecommunications.

The public interest in good governance would not be served by restricting the ability of regulators to work cooperatively and share information on related issues.

The Bill also includes provisions to relating to the Government’s decisions concerning Channel A and Channel B datacasting transmitter licences.

Channel A licences can be used for fixed, in-home, free to air digital services, while Channel B licences can be used for a wider range of services, including mobile TV.

The Bill will give ACMA greater flexibility in carrying out its spectrum management functions in relation to these licences.

The provisions in this Bill will permit ACMA to vary a condition of a datacasting transmitter licence that relates to radiofrequency spectrum after such a licence has been allocated.

This will allow ACMA to address a range of technical issues as they arise.

Such technical issues could include addressing potential interference with existing services and optimising spectrum for particular services such as mobile TV.

The Government announced that Channel B licences would not be subject to an annual licence fee.

However, under the Datacasting Charge (Imposition) Act 1998, an annual licence fee could potentially be imposed on a Channel B licensee.

Therefore, the Bill includes provisions to ensure that the datacasting charge would not be imposed in relation to the provision of services under a Channel B licence.


INTERNATIONAL TRADE INTEGRITY BILL 2007

The International Trade Integrity Bill 2007 continues Australia’s tough stance against foreign bribery and contravention of UN sanctions.

Australia is a significant player in international trade.

We have a reputation as a corruption free trading partner and an important participant in enforcing UN sanctions against states which seek to avoid their international responsibilities.

This Bill creates new offences and penalties against those who seek to get around UN sanctions and further restricts bribery of foreign officials.

The International Trade Integrity Bill 2007 contains the legislative changes arising from the recommendations made by Commissioner Terence Cole QC, who chaired an Inquiry into certain Australian Companies in relation to the UN Oil-for-Food Programme. Commissioner Cole’s inquiry led the world as an  open, transparent and independent public inquiry with Royal Commission powers into corruption of the UN Oil-for-Food Programme in Iraq.

The Report of the Cole Inquiry was tabled in Parliament on 27 November 2006, with five principal recommendations.

On 3 May 2007 I presented the Government’s response to Parliament on recommendations 1-3 of the report.

The Bill in fact goes further than the Cole Inquiry recommendations, which focussed on Australian law in the context of the Iraq sanctions regime.

The Government considers that Commissioner Cole’s recommendations can apply to all UN sanctions enforced in Australia regardless of what countries or goods they apply to.

Enforcement of UN Sanctions

The Bill introduces a new offence to the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945 for contravening a Commonwealth law that enforces UN sanctions, with severe penalties as recommended by Commissioner Cole.

The Bill also increases penalties for existing offences for acting in contravention of UN Security Council sanctions relating to terrorist financing.

The Bill introduces a separate criminal offence for providing false or misleading information in connection with the administration of a UN sanction enforcement law.

Companies and their officers must certify the accuracy of information provided in connection with trading activities subject to UN sanctions.

If false or misleading information is provided it will be grounds for invalidating any authorisation to conduct business under UN sanction regimes.

As Commissioner Cole recommended, criminal consequences can also apply.

Agencies that administer UN sanction regimes in Australia will be granted an information gathering power for the purpose of investigating whether companies and individuals are complying with UN sanctions.

Customs Act 1901

The Bill introduces new offences to the Customs Act for individuals or companies who import or export prohibited goods without proper authorisation. 

These offences carry identical penalties to the new offences in the Charter of the UN Act, to effectively deter and punish any contravention of UN sanctions by Australian companies or individuals.

Applications for authorisation to import or export UN sanctioned goods will be made on approved forms and false or misleading applications will attract criminal liability and invalidate authorisations.

Bribery of Foreign Officials

Criminal Code Act 1995

The Bill amends the Criminal Code Act 1995 to clarify the circumstances in which a payment to a foreign public official is not a bribe. 

In future, a payment to a foreign public official will be allowed only if that payment is required or permitted by the written law of the place or country that governs the foreign official. 

This will be so regardless of the outcome of the payment or whether it was purported to be necessary for any other reason.

Income Tax Assessment Act 1997

The Bill will similarly amend the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to provide that an amount paid to a foreign public official is not a bribe only in circumstances where it was required or permitted by the written law that governs the foreign public official.

The failure to obtain the advantage sought by the bribe will not be relevant to determining whether a benefit paid is a bribe to a foreign public official.

The definition of ‘facilitation payment’ in the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 will also be aligned with the definition in the Criminal Code Act 1995.

Facilitation payments are tax deductible and are not a bribe to a foreign public official.

This will clarify the current law by ensuring that a benefit paid to a foreign public official will be considered a facilitation payment only if it is minor in value and for the sole or dominant purpose of securing a routine government action of a minor nature.

Consultation

These are significant changes to the law but they accord with common sense.

Australian exporters and importers must obey sanctions and not make false and misleading statements.

To inform the public about these changes the Government will commence a consultation program, focussing particularly on the financial sector and those businesses importing and exporting goods and services.

To allow sufficient time for this consultation to take place, amendments to the Charter of the UN Act and to the Customs Act will commence on a day to be fixed by Proclamation or six months after the Bill receives the Royal Assent.

The Government will also refer the Bill to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for consideration.

The Government is committed to promoting a culture of ethical dealing in connection with UN sanctions and international trade.

Legislation alone cannot accomplish this and it falls on Australian businesses to maintain their reputation of ethical dealing and integrity.  Australia and our trading partners will benefit from seeking to eliminate the cancer of corruption in international trade.

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.