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Thursday, 12 February 2009
Page: 927


Senator SHERRY (Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law) (9:02 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—

AVIATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (2008 MEASURES No. 1) BILL 2008

Aviation security and safety are high priorities for the Government and are under constant review to ensure the respective regulatory frameworks are responsive to changes in the industry covering security threats and safety needs.

This Bill contains a number of enhancements to the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004, the Civil Aviation Act 1988 and the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003. The amendments will further strengthen Australia’s aviation security and safety.

There are four significant amendments in this Bill.

Firstly, the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 is amended to enable the Secretary of my Department to require aviation industry participants to provide aviation security information, if the Secretary believes, on reasonable grounds, that a participant has such information.

The Secretary is already empowered under the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 to collect security compliance information, which is information that relates to compliance or failure to comply with the Act.

The kinds of information that may be requested by the Secretary would be prescribed under the regulations, and would include, for example, information relating to the screening of passengers and baggage, and information relating to the management and control of airport areas and zones.

It is envisaged that this power would be particularly useful for the Office of Transport Security to obtain the necessary information on screening statistics, should the need arise, particularly in assessing whether new security measures are required, or existing measures need to be modified, as threats to aviation security change.

The measure is unlikely to have financial implications for industry.

Secondly, the Bill extends the Secretary’s delegation powers under the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 to allow the delegation of their functions and responsibilities under the Act to another Agency Head of an agency with national security responsibilities.

This is a necessary amendment to address the vulnerability of the Secretary being unable to delegate certain powers within the Act, especially when there is a time critical element to the action. An example might be the use of the power to direct a plane to land at a certain place.

The delegation is limited to a small number of other Secretaries whose departments are responsible for national security matters.  Certain conditions are placed on the delegation, in particular, that the other Agency Head must agree to the Secretary’s delegation in order for the delegation to have effect.

Thirdly, the Civil Aviation Act 1988 is to be amended to clarify the position with respect to allowing the copying and disclosure of Cockpit Voice Recorder information for testing and maintenance. 

Presently, strict confidentiality requirements are imposed by the Act to seek to ensure the continued availability of Cockpit Voice Recorder information in the future for serious accident and incident investigations by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).  However, the current confidentiality provisions could be, and often are, interpreted as preventing copying and disclosure for legitimate maintenance and testing purposes.

The proposed amendments would clarify the situation while requiring that certain conditions must be met before the Cockpit Voice Recorder is copied or disclosed such as the person doing so being authorised under the regulations.

The need for these amendments is derived from a recommendation made by the ATSB during the investigation of the fatal accident at Lockhart River in Queensland on 7 May 2005 in which all 15 people on board died. 

Fourthly, the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 is to be amended to change the penalties for failing to report transport safety matters in accordance with Part 3 of the Act. 

The Act is also amended to allow the Executive Director of Transport Safety Investigation - who is the Executive Director of the ATSB - to require further information from the industry in relation to transport safety matters after receiving an initial report.

The ability of the Executive Director to require additional information is necessary and desirable in order to be able to ensure that the information in the ATSB’s accident and incident database is adequate and correct with respect to each transport safety matter. Importantly, this additional information will assist with future research and analysis of accidents and incidents, including trend analysis and safety issue identification.  This is consistent with chapter 8 of Annex 13 to the Chicago Convention, a safety annex which includes international civil aviation standards and recommended practices agreed by member states of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The Bill amends the Act to introduce more suitable limitation periods for bringing a prosecution and to ensure the penalties are appropriately weighted to the seriousness of the offence.  In a number of cases the ATSB has only 12 months to bring a prosecution which in the majority of circumstances is too short, as it can be several years before the offence is discovered.  The more serious offences, attracting a penalty of more than six months imprisonment for failing to report, will have an unlimited period to bring a prosecution which is consistent with the Crimes Act 1914.  For the smaller offences, there will be a limitation period of 6 years for bringing a prosecution which would allow a suitable time for discovery of the offence and its investigation.


DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION AND OTHER HUMAN RIGHTS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2008

The Disability Discrimination and Other Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 will implement a package of amendments to improve the operation and effectiveness of our anti-discrimination legislation. 

Disability Discrimination Act 1992

On this, the International Day of People with Disabilities, I am pleased to announce that the Bill will implement key recommendations made by the Productivity Commission in 2004 for improving the operation and effectiveness of the Disability Discrimination Act.

This reaffirms the Rudd Government’s commitment to upholding and strengthening the rights of people with disability—a commitment demonstrated earlier this year with the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

The key amendments to the Disability Discrimination Act will introduce an explicit and positive duty to make reasonable adjustments for people with disability. 

The original intention of the Act was to recognise that positive action may be required to avoid disability discrimination. 

Comments of the High Court in the 2003 decision of Purvis cast doubt on this.  The proposed amendments implement the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to remove this uncertainty.

This duty to make such adjustments is balanced by limiting it to measures that would not impose unjustifiable hardship.  The general unjustifiable hardship defence is also being extended to all areas in which discrimination is unlawful under the Act—an amendment also recommended by the Productivity Commission.

The amendments also implement the recommendation to extend the ‘inherent requirements’ defence to most employment contexts.   This extension is only implemented to the extent that it is appropriate for the defence to apply.  It will not apply, for example, when making available promotion opportunities.

The Bill also proposes to rectify discrepancies in the operation of the Disability Discrimination Act highlighted by the Federal Court in the case of Forest.  The amendments provide that discrimination on the grounds of a person having a carer, assistant, assistant animal or disability aid, is equivalent to discrimination on the ground of disability.

The amendments clarify obligations regarding assistance animals, including making it easier to determine what is an assistance animal.  The amended Act will recognise animals accredited under either a State or Territory law, or by a relevant organisation. 

The amendments also extend the scope to make standards to cover all areas of unlawful discrimination, simplify requirements for demonstrating indirect discrimination and place the burden of proving the reasonableness of a requirement or condition on the person who has imposed it. 

These changes will make the Disability Discrimination Act clearer, more comprehensive and more effective.  They will modernise the operation of the Act and further achieve the objects of the Act to eliminate, as far as possible, discrimination against people with disability.

Age Discrimination Act 2004

The Bill also proposes to amend the Age Discrimination Act 2004 to remove the ‘dominant reason’ test.  The amendment will provide that, if a person’s age is one of the reasons for taking discriminatory action that disadvantages them, then this will be sufficient to be considered discrimination.  It will no longer be necessary for a person to prove that age was the dominant reason. 

This will give effect to the 2007 bipartisan recommendation of the House Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, ‘Older People and the Law’.  It will harmonise the Act with other federal anti-discrimination laws, better align it with State and Territory laws and provide a better level of protection from unlawful discrimination for people of any age.  In particular, it will ensure that older Australians will be better protected from age discrimination. 

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Act 1986 and other Acts

The Bill also proposes amendments to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 to formally change the name of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to the ‘Australian Human Rights Commission’.   

Earlier this year, the Commission changed its corporate identity to assist in ensuring that all Australians know that Australia has an independent national institution with the responsibility to protect and promote human rights in Australia. 

The amendments will implement the Government’s agreement to a request by the Commission to also change its legal name.  Consequential amendments to other laws that refer to the Act or the Commission will also be made.

Another key amendment to that Act is to extend from 28 to 60 days, that is, to more than double, the period in which a person can take a complaint to the Federal or Federal Magistrates Court after it is terminated by the Commission.  This gives effect to another recommendation from the Productivity Commission’s report. 

A number of amendments are also proposed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Commission’s complaints-handling process, including allowing the President of the Commission to finalise settled complaints and complaints for which the complainant expresses no intention to pursue the matter.

Other amendments

Finally, amendments of a minor and technical nature are proposed to the Acts already mentioned, as well as the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.  These amendments will remove redundant or unnecessary provisions, improve readability and apply modern drafting conventions.

Conclusion

This Bill is another important step towards promoting greater equality for people with disability and enhancing the human rights and anti-discrimination framework in Australia.

On this, the International Day of People with Disabilities, I commend the Bill.


EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS AMENDMENT BILL 2008

Workers’ compensation - increasing death benefits

The Government will amend the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 to increase the amount of death benefits payable under the Australian Government’s workers’ compensation scheme.

One-off lump sum death benefits will increase from $225,594 to $400,000 and weekly periodic payments for dependent children will increase from $75.10 to $110.00. Both payments will be indexed by the wage price index issued by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The increases will bring death benefits more closely into line with those provided under state workers’ compensation schemes. This will make it fairer for families of employees, particularly for those whose employers have joined Comcare from state schemes.

The estimated increase in death benefits of $6.1 million over four years will be met from Comcare’s existing premium pool. As agencies continue to improve their occupational health and safety practices, it is expected that there will be no net impact on the fiscal balance.

Social Security - expanding the Assurance of Support qualification provisions

The Bill will amend the Social Security Act 1991 to extend to Sickness Allowance and Parenting Payment (single) the provision which prevents a person from receiving payment while there is an Assurance of Support in force and the assurer is willing to support the person.

As a result, a person who is subject to an Assurance of Support will not qualify for Sickness Allowance or Parenting Payment (single) where their assurer is willing and able to provide them with an adequate level of support and it would be reasonable for them to accept that support.

This will bring the qualification provisions for Sickness Allowance and Parenting Payment (single) into line with those for most other income support payments which are not payable to a person who is subject to an Assurance of Support.

These changes will protect social security outlays by ensuring that migrants who are subject to an Assurance of Support, and who become the single parent of a young child or become unable to work due to a temporary illness or injury, seek support from their assurer in the first instance rather than turning to the social security system for assistance.

Migrants will still be able to qualify for Sickness Allowance or Parenting Payment (single) if their assurer is unwilling or unable to provide them with an adequate level of support or it would be unreasonable for them to accept that support. This will ensure that migrants and their families are not placed in financial hardship if they are unable to receive support from their assurer.

The extension of the Assurance of Support qualification provisions to Sickness Allowance and Parenting Payment (single) is consistent with the January 2008 reforms to the Assurance of Support scheme, which among other things, added Sickness Allowance and Parenting Payment (single) to the list of payments that are recoverable under the Assurance of Support program.

Social Security - Rent Assistance

The Government will also make minor technical amendments to the Social Security Act 1991 to ensure that Rent Assistance received by the partners of recipients of Austudy is taken into account in the calculation of the recipients’ own Rent Assistance.

The amendment will limit an entitlement to the partnered rate in circumstances where the partner already receives Rent Assistance in their own right and will align the calculation of Rent Assistance for Austudy recipients with the calculation of Rent Assistance for other income support recipients.

The amendment also clarifies that a partner with a rent increased benefit includes a partner who is in receipt of a payment under the ABSTUDY scheme which includes an amount of living allowance which is increased to take account of rent.

There is no impact to the funding for Rent Assistance which was costed at $87 million over 4 years from 1 January 2008.

Other amendments

The Bill will also make other minor technical amendments to the Social Security Act 1991 and the Social Security (Administration) Act 1991 to rectify incorrect, redundant or omitted references, including consequential amendments which were inadvertently omitted from the social security law. Minor technical amendment will also be made to the Social Security (International Agreements) Act 1999.


TAX AGENT SERVICES BILL 2008

This bill will improve the regulatory environment for the provision of tax agent services.

The bill has three main objectives. It aims to improve consistency in the registration of tax agents and other intermediaries in the tax field and to regulate the provision of tax agent services in an appropriate, but flexible way.

Secondly, the bill aims to enhance the protection of consumers of tax agent services, thereby reducing the level of uncertainty for taxpayers and the risks associated with the self assessment tax system.

The third objective is to strengthen the integrity of the tax system and the tax industry.

This bill will replace the existing law regulating tax agents in Part VIIA of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936. This Part was introduced in 1943 and is now out of date and out of step with the current tax and commercial environment.

Indeed, Australia’s tax environment has changed significantly since 1943. For example, the self assessment tax system was introduced during the 1980s. In addition, the tax base has expanded significantly over the past 20 years or so, with an associated increase in the volume of the tax laws and the number of interactions within them. These changes in the tax environment correspond with significant growth in the number of taxpayers seeking professional assistance from tax agents to prepare and lodge their tax returns. In 1980, for example, only around 20 per cent of individuals used tax agents to lodge their tax returns. This figure has now grown to 74 per cent.

Given the number of taxpayers who use agents to comply with their tax obligations, it is important that such agents are appropriately and adequately regulated, that there are mechanisms in place to ensure they are adequately supported, and that there are incentives for new agents to enter the market.

The Tax Agent Services Bill aims to deliver this balance through a number of key elements that I would like to outline.

The bill will establish an independent national Tax Practitioners Board to replace the existing state-based Tax Agents’ Boards. The Board’s key functions will be to register agents and to regulate the provision of tax agent services. The establishment of a single, national Board will make the registration process consistent and standardise the way in which entities providing tax agent services are regulated across the country. It will also enable greater efficiency in the allocation and use of the Board’s resources.

The bill proposes to establish the Board as a statutory authority within the Australian Taxation Office. The Board’s funding will be quarantined from the Tax Office’s annual appropriation and its functions and powers under the bill will be vested independently from the Commissioner of Taxation, thus providing all possible practical independence.

A formal post-implementation review of the proposed governance arrangements for the Board will be conducted in three years’ time to assess whether the independence of the Board is impaired in any way because of its continued connection with the Tax Office, and whether an alternative arrangement should be considered.

The second key element is the requirement for certain entities that provide tax agent services for a fee, to be registered. In addition to requiring tax agents to be registered, the bill introduces a registration requirement for entities providing BAS services. This ensures a level playing field across the industry, by broadening the scope and application of the regulatory framework to reflect the broader scope of services provided, given the expansion in the tax base.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of these bills be adjourned to the first 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.