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Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Page: 3924


Senator McLUCAS (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing) (4:30 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—

GREAT BARRIER REEF MARINE PARK AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2008

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 will put in place a modern, future-focused regulatory framework for securing the long-term protection and ecologically sustainable management of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest and most complex coral reef ecosystem and is indeed one of our great national treasures, extending approximately 2 300 kilometres along the Queensland coast and covering an area of over 344 400 square kilometres. The Great Barrier Reef contains unparalleled biological diversity and globally unique ecosystems. Its significant natural values are internationally recognised through its inclusion on the World Heritage List. The Great Barrier Reef supports substantial economic activity. Tourism generates approximately six billion dollars per annum, recreational activities $554 million per annum, and commercial fishing $251 million per annum. It is also used for a wide variety of non-commercial purposes, such as research, public enjoyment, Traditional Owner cultural practices and defence force training.

Coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef, have been specifically identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as areas where climate change impacts will occur - we have already seen this through bleaching events. We are fortunate in Australia that the Great Barrier Reef is well preserved compared to reef systems elsewhere in the world. This makes it a drawcard for domestic and international tourists but its iconic status also has the potential to make it an international symbol for the impacts of climate change.

The government is addressing the impacts of climate change through initiatives aimed at increasing the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef and through measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The release of a vulnerability assessment in relation to climate change and the Great Barrier Reef, a Great Barrier Reef Climate Change Action Plan for 2007 to 2012 and the $200 million Reef Rescue Plan demonstrate the level of importance the Government is giving to this threat.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 is a key component in the framework for protection of the Great Barrier Reef. The Act provides for the creation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and establishes the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. The Authority is responsible for managing the Marine Park and advising government on matters relating to the Marine Park.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act has been in place for over 30 years. It was groundbreaking legislation at its inception and it has served its purpose well. However, a 2006 review of the Act found that it is now starting to show its age, and that substantial updating is required to put in place a regulatory framework capable of meeting the challenges of the next 30 years and beyond.

A great deal has changed since inception of the Act in 1975. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has been progressively established. The Capricornia section of 12 000 square kilometres was the first area to be declared in 1979 and the last ten coastal areas were declared in 2001 to give us the Marine Park of today that covers some 344 400 square kilometres. Use of the Marine Park has steadily increased and will continue to do so.

In 2004, a zoning plan establishing a comprehensive network of zones and a high level of protection was put in place throughout the Marine Park. The zoning plan provides a strong framework for protecting the Great Barrier Reef and ensuring use is ecologically sustainable. Delivery of this framework requires a modern, robust regulatory system providing ‘on the ground’ administrative and enforcement capability. This bill will put in place such a system.

In 1999, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) was established as the Commonwealth’s primary environmental law. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and the EPBC Act are poorly integrated and overlap in places, for example in environmental impact assessment, and this places unnecessary imposts on business and the community. Moreover the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act provides minimal flexibility for enforcement action and for penalties to vary according to circumstances. There are also gaps in the protection offered by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act, for example, in relation to responding to emergencies presenting a risk of serious environment harm. The bill will address these issues.

Finally, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act is simply out of date. For example, it does not recognise the World Heritage status of the Great Barrier Reef nor incorporate concepts such as ecological sustainability and the precautionary principle. The bill will update the Act to reflect modern realities and approaches to environmental protection and management.

This bill will put in place a robust, comprehensive regulatory framework for the Great Barrier Reef, fit for meeting the challenges of the future. It will establish a modern framework for administration of the Act and for management of the Marine Park that is integrated and aligned with the EPBC Act and other relevant legislation. It will put in place robust and streamlined environmental impact assessment and permitting arrangements. It will enhance investigation capacity and allow for a more tailored and flexible approach to enforcement and compliance. It will encourage responsible and ecologically sustainable use of the Marine Park by ensuring appropriate incentives are in place and management tools are available.

I turn now to specific elements of the bill.

The bill places the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act on a modern footing. The objects of the Act are updated to focus on long-term protection and ecologically sustainable management. Administration of the Act and management of the Marine Park will be guided by modern concepts such as ecologically sustainable use and the precautionary principle, as well as protection of the World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef.

The bill improves integration and alignment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act with other relevant legislation, notably the EPBC Act, but also with Queensland legislation. This will reduce regulatory and administrative ‘red tape’, and facilitate a more consistent and integrated approach to environmental regulation and management by the Australian and Queensland governments.

The bill establishes the EPBC Act as the primary basis for environmental impact assessment and approval arrangements applying to the Marine Park. In doing this, it recognises the Great Barrier Reef as a ‘matter of national environmental significance’, providing a strong legal basis for protection. The best-practice environmental impact assessment provisions of the EPBC Act include streamlined assessment processes, statutory timeframes for decision making, transparency mechanisms and opportunities for public involvement. The changes will remove circuitous and at times duplicative arrangements. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority will continue to be responsible for managing activities in the Marine Park.

The bill establishes a consistent and robust environmental investigations regime for the Marine Park through the EPBC Act. The EPBC Act provisions were reviewed and updated in 2007. Under the changes in the bill, inspectors appointed by the Authority will be able to use a single set of powers to investigate compliance with both Acts.

The bill establishes a broader range of enforcement mechanisms. This includes a civil penalty regime, expanded availability of infringement notices for minor offences, and administrative enforcement options backed by legal enforceability. This provides flexibility so that enforcement action can reflect the particular circumstances of each contravention, allowing legal requirements to be enforced more efficiently, effectively and fairly.

The bill includes a number of measures designed to encourage responsible use of the Marine Park and compliance with relevant laws. Penalties are amended to ensure they are neither too lenient nor too harsh. ‘Aggravated’ offence and civil penalty contraventions are established, carrying higher maximum penalties, differentiated from ‘base’ offences and contraventions, which carry lower penalties. This will help provide adequate deterrence, while ensuring that penalties are not excessive for minor offences. A range of alternative and additional sanctions will be available. For example, a person convicted of an offence could be ordered to take steps to publicise their conviction or remediate any environmental harm caused by their actions. Perverse incentives will be removed by ensuring that people are not able to profit from illegal behaviour. Park users will be expected to be aware of their location within the Park and the rules that apply. Executive officers of corporations, permit holders and fishing licensees will be expected to exercise due diligence in ensuring that people under their supervision comply with legal requirements. Such measures recognise that deterrence is the most efficient approach to compliance.

The bill introduces an environmental duty requiring Marine Park users to take reasonable steps to avoid or minimise any environmental harm associated with their use of the Park. Breach of this duty would not be an offence, but could be enforced through administrative means. As happens at state level, this duty will facilitate a flexible and collaborative approach to the achievement of desired environmental outcomes. Guidelines, best practice standards and industry codes of practice will articulate what is required to meet the duty.

The bill enhances the capacity of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to respond to emergency incidents presenting a risk of serious harm to the environment of the Marine Park. This complements the powers of other emergency response agencies such as the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

Finally, the bill addresses a specific election commitment of the Government to restore an Indigenous member to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. This requirement was removed by the previous government in July 2007. There are more than seventy Traditional Owner groups along the coast from Bundaberg to the Torres Strait who have a long and continuing relationship with the sea country of the Great Barrier Reef. The knowledge and perspective of persons with expertise related to traditional use of the Marine Park, and Indigenous issues more generally, is invaluable in achieving ecologically sustainable management of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is undisputedly one of the world’s most important natural assets. It is the oldest living system in the world and began to form over 600 000 years ago. The Great Barrier Reef as we know it today has evolved since the last Ice Age, that is over a period of 6 000 years. It is the biggest single structure made by living organisms and is large enough to be viewed from space. No wonder that it is one of the richest and most complex natural systems on earth. The Great Barrier Reef is home to 1 500 of the world’s marine fish species, over a third of its soft coral species and six of the seven species of marine turtles. It is also home to one of the world’s remaining populations of dugong, a species that has been listed internationally as vulnerable to extinction.

This bill demonstrates the Australian Government’s commitment to securing the future of the Great Barrier Reef, and strengthens our capacity to preserve this important feature of our nation’s and the world’s heritage for future generations.


THERAPEUTIC GOODS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (ANNUAL CHARGES) BILL 2008

The bill makes a number of amendments to the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 and the Therapeutic Goods (Charges) Act 1989 relating to the collection and imposition of annual charges, and the implementation of exemptions from a liability to pay annual charges because of low value turnover of therapeutic goods.

Generally, therapeutic goods are required to be registered, listed or included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods before they can be lawfully imported into, manufactured in, supplied in, or exported from Australia. The Therapeutic Goods Act usually requires a person to obtain a manufacturing licence in order to manufacture therapeutic goods in Australia. Annual charges are payable for maintaining entries in the Register and for manufacturing licences issued under the Therapeutic Goods Act.

The current provisions fix the dates for payment of annual charges on the commencement of the registration, listing or inclusion of a medical device in the Register, or on the commencement of the issuing of a manufacturing licence. In subsequent years, the annual charges are payable on these anniversary dates. In general, these due dates can only be amended with the consent of the relevant sponsor or the manufacturer of therapeutic goods.

Currently there are around 50,000 registrations, listings and inclusions in the Register that are liable for an annual charge. In addition, a significant number of new entries are made in the Register every year. It is therefore an arduous task for the Therapeutic Goods Administration—the TGA—to issue a separate invoice for each Register entry and to seek payment of the annual charge on the date of regulatory approval in the first financial year, and on the anniversary date in the subsequent years.

The bill therefore proposes amendments to include the fixing of a uniform date for the payment of annual charges for all financial years after the year in which the initial charge is paid. For newly entered goods in the Register, the bill allows some flexibility for working out the payment dates in accordance with the Regulations, instead of on the commencement dates for the entry of goods in the Register. Some of these changes have already been implemented administratively, such as setting the date for payment of annual charges for goods already entered in the Register as 1 October of the relevant financial year, and therefore would not affect stakeholders adversely. These changes will provide administrative efficiency for both the TGA and stakeholders.

Sponsors with low value turnover of therapeutic goods are currently entitled to an exemption from the liability to pay annual charges in relation those goods. Some concerns have been raised in relation to the transparency of the exemption. The Australian National Audit Office also recently raised some concerns on the lack of ability of the TGA to review the eligibility of sponsors applying for, or who have been granted, exemptions. Under the current provisions, the TGA does not have power to seek evidence verifying the eligibility of persons applying for, or who have been granted, the exemption for paying annual charges for low turnover of therapeutic goods.

The amendments set out in the bill are proposed to address those concerns and will provide for greater clarity, transparency and accountability in the processing and the granting of this exemption. New provisions allow the making of regulations to require a statement by an approved person supporting claims for the exemption, and provide powers to obtain additional information from the applicant or the person who has already been granted an exemption.

In addition to other technical and consequential amendments, the bill also makes it clear that an annual charge can be set at nil amounts. The amendments set out in the bill are proposed to commence on 1 July 2009.


FINANCIAL FRAMEWORK LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2008

The Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 primarily amends the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (the FMA Act) to further simplify the financial management framework. This bill will reduce red tape in the Government’s internal administration of the 100 agencies that are governed by the FMA Act, including 19 Departments of State and a range of statutory and executive agencies. The bill also sets out consequential amendments and corrects minor errors in other laws.

This is the fifth financial framework bill since 2004, being part of an ongoing approach to maintaining the financial framework of the Australian Government. This ongoing process of monitoring and review, and clarifying issues as they arise, is consistent with responsible Government.

The bill’s proposed amendments primarily clarify the operation of the law, rather than change it substantively and allow for more efficient processes.

For example, a key reform included in this bill relates to contracts that involve non-Commonwealth entities handling public money. The current law allows these entities, called “outsiders”, to receive or hold public money, and thus effectively only remit that money to the Commonwealth. There are cases, however, where outsiders legitimately need to make payments of public money, but this can only occur currently through an unnecessarily complex process.

Accordingly, an amendment is proposed to section 12 of the FMA Act that will allow outsiders to make payments of public money, where the relevant arrangement is authorised by me, as the Finance Minister, or by my delegate, or by the Parliament. This is an important deregulation initiative that, by definition, benefits not only the Commonwealth, but also contractors, trustees and other outsiders, who are in a position of handling public money that could also involve the making of payments.

Second, and also affecting contracting processes, the bill adds a short note in section 44 explaining that the obligation on chief executives to promote the “proper use” of Commonwealth resources includes an implied capacity for chief executives to enter contracts. By definition, such contracts are made on behalf of the Commonwealth, using the executive power of the Commonwealth, but this process has not necessarily been sufficiently clear to date.

The ability for other officials in agencies to enter contracts can then also more clearly be seen as requiring a delegation, or an authorisation, made to them by their Chief Executive, in relation to that agency. Similarly, a relevant chief executive or an appropriately authorised official can enter arrangements on behalf of agencies as well as their own, such as relating to whole-of-Government procurement initiatives and the “proper use” of Commonwealth resources across the Government generally.

A third important reform in the bill relates to the definition of “proper use” of Commonwealth resources in section 44. The current reference to “efficient, effective and ethical use” of Commonwealth resources will be expanded to refer to efficient, effective and ethical use “that is not inconsistent with the policies of the Commonwealth”.

A proper use of resources would, in many ways, already take account of relevant Commonwealth policies. There are several benefits in this being stated expressly.

For a start, it reinforces the clear role that policy plays in agencies ascertaining the efficient, effective and ethical use of Commonwealth resources. Also, it helps ensure that contracts entered into by FMA Act agency chief executives, or their officials, are not inconsistent with Commonwealth policy. Next, it reinforces the long-standing requirement in regulations made under the FMA Act that require approvers of proposals for procurement and grants etc, to ensure that the spending proposal is efficient, effective and in accordance with Commonwealth policy. And, last, but not least, it places an appropriate emphasis on how policies are developed, implemented and maintained in and across agencies.

Another important proposal in the bill involves an explicit recognition that Ministers responsible for FMA Act agencies may request information relating to that agency’s operations. This requirement is implied in the exercise of responsible government, but has not been explicitly articulated on the face of the FMA Act. The new proposed section 44A will, however, mirror equivalent provisions that already apply to bodies governed by the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 (colloquially known as the “CAC Act”), thereby improving consistency between the FMA Act and the CAC Act.

Some other clarifications proposed by the bill to the FMA Act include: the way that payments supported by appropriations can occur between and within FMA Act agencies; simplifying requirements for drawing rights that support payments of public money; updating penalty provisions; clarifying the application of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003; moving certain requirements to the FMA regulations to allow more efficient placement and updating; and simplifying how investments are made on behalf of the Commonwealth, by removing two archaic bodies corporate from section 39 of the FMA Act.

The bill also updates or affects five other laws, of which two are a consequence of updates being made to the FMA Act in this bill.

First, the bill amends the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme Act 2008, as a consequence of the reforms relating to “outsiders” that I mentioned are being made in this bill. And, second, the bill makes an appropriations-related amendment to an explanatory note in the Public Service Act 1999, which mirrors a similar update being made by the bill to the act of grace provisions in the FMA Act.

Turning to other Acts being amended, the bill corrects references in the Reserve Bank Act 1959 to the CAC Act, that have been outdated since changes to the CAC Act occurred in 1999. Fourth, the bill amends the Act supporting the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation to place that organisation under the CAC Act, as one of the two accepted frameworks supporting Commonwealth-created entities. And, fifth, the bill implements a transfer of funding for the Water Smart Australia program, which is moving from the National Water Commission to the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.

In summary, this bill reflects the filet that the FMA Act and the CAC Act comprise a robust financial framework. Since their commencement in 1998, both have accommodated a number of different policy imperatives, including devolution and the introduction of accrual budgeting. The present reforms will ensure the financial framework remains responsive to the needs of the government and of the Parliament.

In that regard, this bill is consistent with updates made to the CAC Act that I introduced into this House on 13 February 2008, and which will commence on 1 July 2008, including an important clarification to the mechanism by which general policies of the Government apply, and are made transparent to, over 80 relevant bodies under the CAC Act.

Overall, this work demonstrates this Government’s ongoing commitment to deregulation, where appropriate, of the financial framework, while optimising the accountability and transparency of the operations of government generally.

I commend the bill.

Debate (on motion by Senator McLucas) adjourned.

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