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Thursday, 26 November 2009
Page: 8975


Senator STEPHENS (Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and Parliamentary Secretary for the Voluntary Sector) (11:07 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—

Australian Centre for Renewable Energy Bill 2009

Australia faces a key challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while ensuring energy security. This Government is committed to implementing a comprehensive response to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, with technology playing a vital role.

The Australian Government believes that the development of affordable and efficient low emission and renewable energy technologies is crucial to addressing this challenge. It is important that a sensible approach is taken to the development of these technologies; there is no simple, “one size fits all” technology that can be applied, either within Australia or globally. The world requires a variety of different clean energy technologies, reflecting different local attributes and circumstances, to draw upon if it is to address this massive challenge.

The Government’s efforts to develop these new low emission energy technologies are directed towards a few broad areas: energy efficiency, low emission coal and renewable energy sources.

Australia is lucky to possess many outstanding renewable energy resources—sun, wind, geothermal, biomass and ocean, just to name a few. While many of these renewable energy sources offer great potential, their reliability must increase and their generation costs must decrease if they are to make a significant contribution to increasing Australian and global energy security. The Australian Government is focussing on these issues so that renewable energy sources can play a key role in the Australian and global energy mix.

The Australian Government has made an unprecedented commitment to the development of new low emissions coal and renewable energy technologies. In May this year, the Government announced its $4.5 billion Clean Energy Initiative. The Clean Energy Initiative contains three key elements to support the research, development and demonstration of low emission and renewable energy technologies, being:

  • the Carbon Capture and Storage Flagships Program, involving funding to support the construction and demonstration of large-scale integrated carbon capture and storage projects in Australia;
  • the Solar Flagships Program, involving funding to support the construction and demonstration of large-scale solar power stations in Australia; and
  • the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy, or ‘ACRE’.

These initiatives, along with others already underway, will create a world-class portfolio of Australian clean energy technology projects.

The Clean Energy Initiative will complement the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and expanded Renewable Energy Target, which will deliver 20 per cent renewable energy generated by 2020. The expanded Renewable Energy Target provides a strong incentive to accelerate the uptake of Australia’s abundant renewable energy sources. However, there are significant technical and commercial issues facing the renewable energy industry that cannot be solved by the operation of the expanded Renewable Energy Target alone. These issues require a complementary effort to develop promising renewable energy and enabling technologies to a point where they can be competitive with existing energy technologies.

It is here that ACRE fills the gap. It provides an injection of funds to help develop and commercialise emerging renewable and enabling energy technologies.

Australian Government support for renewable energy technologies has not been well coordinated, as it has historically been delivered across a range of agencies. This fragmented approach has the potential to confuse industry stakeholders and lead to inefficiencies in delivery.

It is clear that there needs to be a more coordinated focus on renewable energy technology support. This is why the Government is establishing ACRE as the national renewable energy technology body.

ACRE’s objective will be to promote the development, commercialisation and deployment of renewable energy and enabling technologies and to improve their competitiveness. It will achieve this by:

(a)   developing and implementing a funding strategy capable of supporting projects along the innovation chain;

(b)   encouraging additional investments, including investments from the private sector and State and Territory governments;

(c)   managing the cost effective delivery of Government funded renewable energy and enabling technology programs;

(d)   providing support and advice to governments, industry and the community on renewable energy and enabling technologies, strategies and related issues when requested;

(e)   fostering collaboration between governments, industry and the research community on renewable energy projects;

(f)   supporting growth in skills and capacity in renewable technologies for the domestic and international markets; and

(g)   any other activities that it is directed to undertake by the Government to support renewable energy and enabling technologies.

ACRE will be a one-stop shop for Australian renewable energy businesses, drawing together more than $560 million of renewable energy investment. ACRE will also have money for new initiatives, including funds that were allocated to the formerly envisaged Clean Energy Program. The focus for new investments will be on the development, commercialisation and deployment of promising renewable energy and enabling technologies to help improve their competitiveness in the market.

In terms of existing renewable energy technology programs, ACRE will consolidate the following:

  • the Renewable Energy Demonstration Program;
  • the $15 million Second Generation Biofuels Research and Development Program;
  • the $50 million Geothermal Drilling Program;
  • the $20 million Advanced Electricity Storage Technologies program;
  • the $14 million Wind Energy Forecasting Capability Program; and
  • the $18 million Renewable Energy Equity Fund.

This consolidation of Australian Government renewable energy and enabling technology programs has many advantages including:

  • it will benefit stakeholders such as researchers and industry as there will now be one central point of Government contact for renewable energy technology development;
  • it will also allow for better tracking and benchmarking of outcomes; and
  • it will centralise information on support for renewable energy technologies.
  • ACRE will consist of three important elements:
  • an independent advisory board, which will provide expert advice to the Government;
  • staff from my Department who will support the board; and
  • a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who will report to the Secretary of my Department, and who will be an ex-officio member of the Board.

The R4242bill I am introducing today establishes the ACRE Board and the position of CEO.

The membership of the Board will draw upon the significant talent we already have in the Australian industry and research community. It is critical that the Board employs a wide range of expertise to maximise the return on the Government’s investment in these key energy technologies.

The key job of the Board will be to advise the Government about how to best support the development of renewable energy and enabling technologies along the innovation chain.

I will be appointing up to six non-executive members to the Board, plus a non-executive Chair. Members will be chosen for their high level skills in areas such as research, venture capital, intellectual property, commercialisation and other fields relevant to the Board’s functions. They will then bring their knowledge and experience forward in advising the Government. The term of appointment will not exceed two years.

As I mentioned earlier, ACRE’s objective is to promote renewable energy and enabling technologies and to improve their competitiveness in Australia. The Board will help to achieve this objective by advising the Government on:

  • strategies to fund and promote renewable energy technologies;
  • funding of promising projects and measures;
  • management of programs and the improvement of existing program delivery;
  • provision of venture capital funding; and
  • priority areas for government support.

In relation to advising on the funding of renewable energy and enabling technology projects and measures, the Board will first apply its expertise in assessing projects and measures which have been referred to it for consideration by Government.

I will be asking the Board to take an innovative approach in providing advice on the design of these strategies and their underpinning programs to ensure that we get the most out of the investments that the Government makes over the next few years.

The Board will also establish links with state and territory government agencies and the private sector with a view to developing strategies for stimulating investment in renewable energy technologies. This is a real opportunity for State and Territory governments and the business community to join with the Australian Government in a common goal.

I expect that the Board will manage its affairs in a manner reflecting the highest standards of probity and the highest ethical standards and governance practices. The legislation includes provisions to help achieve these standards.

The Bill also establishes the position of the CEO, who will be recruited to round out the leadership team for ACRE. The CEO will be an ex-officio member of the Board and will run ACRE on a day to day basis. This person will have an understanding of the issues facing the industry and very strong stakeholder management skills.

In summary, the establishment of ACRE is a significant step forward in the development of affordable and efficient renewable energy and enabling technologies. If Australia is to play its part in addressing the global challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while increasing energy security, it will need to make a significant contribution to the development of a suite of viable renewable energy technologies. ACRE will be central to this contribution.

I commend the Bill.


Aviation Transport Security Amendment (2009 Measures No. 2) Bill 2009

The framework of Australia’s aviation security legislation has a number of layers to ensure the deterrence, detection and prevention of acts of unlawful interference with an aircraft. That framework is under constant review to ensure it is responsive to changing threats to the Australian aviation industry.

The Aviation Transport Security Amendment (2009 Measures No.2) Bill 2009 will tighten the air cargo supply chain in a balanced and strategic way.

It is the Government’s view that cargo which can either be transported by road or air should, where possible, be certified for security purposes early in the supply chain.

An example of this is express parcels that are transported domestically. At present, air cargo security measures such as x-ray examination, physical search and explosive trace detection tests are not used until it is decided that the parcel in question will definitely travel by air, which can be when the relevant package is at the airport.

The Amendments being proposed in this Bill will allow for better security checking earlier in the supply chain, when goods are in a less consolidated state and more easily unpacked and scrutinised if necessary.

Further, under the current legislative arrangements, only aircraft operators may certify air cargo even though other industry participants earlier in the supply chain apply security measures such as X-ray screening or explosive trace detection tests. This means that an aircraft operator may have to certify something which has been examined and packed by someone else earlier in the supply chain.

The amendments in the Bill will allow for the certification of cargo at the appropriate point in the supply chain. The Bill expands the classes of industry participants who may certify cargo for carriage on an aircraft, meaning the person who examines the cargo can also certify it at the same time.

In the example of an express parcel, these amendments mean the parcel can be inspected and cleared before it is sealed, allowing for a greater amount of certainty that its contents do not pose a threat to aviation security.

Specifically, this Bill contains six key amendments to the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 to expand the regulatory scope for supply chain security by the Office of Transport Security, Australia’s aviation security regulator.

Firstly, the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 will expand the definition of cargo to include circumstances where cargo is reasonably likely to be transported by aircraft.

The Regulations would then provide that goods are considered to be ‘reasonably likely’ to be transported by aircraft when, for example, they are identified by the consignor as express or priority freight or goods accompanied by a dangerous goods statement as required by the Civil Aviation Act 1988.

The amendment will ensure all cargo likely to be transported by aircraft is dealt with by parties who are regulated and obliged to apply measures at each stage, consistent with their operations.

The second amendment will expand the scope of industry participants who may certify cargo through a revised definition of the term ‘certified’. The revised definition will allow certification of cargo by Regulated Air Cargo Agents, Accredited Air Cargo Agents and Aircraft Operators. This amendment will reflect the expanded scope of industry participants who may certify cargo.

Thirdly, the Bill will allow regulation-making powers to prescribe the circumstances in which cargo may be certified. The scope of industry participants who may certify cargo will be expanded to include Regulated Air Cargo Agents and Accredited Air Cargo Agents. This amendment will allow certification to take place along the supply chain in line with cargo examination processes performed by industry participants and enhance compliance to these processes by industry participants.

The fourth amendment in this Bill will allow the Secretary to issue a notice describing the circumstances in which cargo may be certified. The Secretary will be empowered to specify criteria for certification appropriate to the changes in the threat to aviation security, technological advancements and international obligations. This amendment will provide greater flexibility and alter certification criteria to ensure they are fit for circumstance and carried out by appropriately regulated industry participants.

The fifth amendment will introduce a transitional provision for Transport Security Programs to ensure a consistent application of measures in line with the amended definition of cargo proposed in this Bill. Transport Security Programs with the existing definition of cargo will be taken to be amended as if they included the new definition of cargo.

The final amendment will preserve existing Regulations until such time as new regulations take effect.

In summary, the proposed amendments will clarify the obligations of aviation industry participants in applying security measures along the cargo supply chain and empower the Secretary to specify criteria for cargo certification appropriate to prevailing circumstances.

These amendments will enhance the security of the air cargo supply chain and, as a result, strengthen aviation security in Australia.


Native Title Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2009

The Rudd Government has a genuine commitment to improving the lives of Indigenous Australians through progressing an agenda that aims to close the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.

Housing is at the centre of to this commitment.

It is vital to achieving the advances needed in health, education, and employment participation outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

The Native Title Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2009 contains an important measure to complement and assist the agenda to close the gap by facilitating the timely provision of quality public housing and associated infrastructure.

It will facilitate the construction of housing on land in indigenous communities which is or may be subject to native title.

The Government has committed an unprecedented $5.5 billion over 10 years to address historic under-funding of housing in remote Indigenous communities.

Further, the Government is determined to ensure that Indigenous communities can benefit as quickly as possible from this historic investment.

To ensure the new delivery model for Indigenous housing avoids the pitfalls of the past, secure tenure arrangements are now a requirement of all major investment in housing and other infrastructure.

This makes government responsible and accountable for effective management and maintenance of these assets.

However, some state governments have indicated that uncertainty in relation to native title can be a barrier to meeting housing and service delivery targets. This is creating delays.

This Bill introduces a new process specifically for public housing and a limited class of community facilities including education, health and emergency services facilities.

It will apply primarily to acts of State, Territory and local government bodies.

The new process strikes a balance between the urgent need for these services and the need to engage meaningfully with native title parties and protect native title rights and interests.

It also contains important safeguards to ensure genuine consultation with native title parties.

It sets in place a framework for meaningful engagement with key stakeholders in decisions about housing and other services for Indigenous communities.

The new process sets out reasonable and specific periods for comment and consultation, and provides flexibility to allow native title parties to choose the level of engagement they feel is appropriate for each individual project.

It will be subject to State and Territory heritage processes.

The Bill also enables the Attorney-General to prescribe how consultations with native title parties should occur, including general guidance on the issues to be included in consultation.

This includes the capacity to set more detailed requirements such as face to face meetings and provision of interpreters.

The Bill also requires that reports on consultation be provided to the Attorney-General.

The Commonwealth may make these reports public, providing for public scrutiny on the new process.

Acts covered by the new process will be invalid if there is a failure to notify, provide a consultation report or observe the minimum specified time periods.

This ensures that a proper process is followed and that governments can then be certain that the investment has been validly applied.

Finally, the new process will sunset after 10 years.

The 10 year period approximates the duration of the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing under which $5.5 billion has been committed.

Conclusion

The Government is determined to continue on the course of resetting the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and to recognise and respect native title.

Alleviating poverty and improving housing and infrastructure in Indigenous communities is paramount to this effort.


Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill 2009

The Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (SRC Act) establishes a statutory framework of workers’ compensation and rehabilitation for employers and employees in the Commonwealth jurisdiction. It also covers private corporations that are licensed to self-insure their workers’ compensation liabilities under the Commonwealth scheme.

These self-insurance arrangements were introduced in the SRC Act in 1992 and enabled privatised Commonwealth government business enterprises to remain under the scheme for workers’ compensation and rehabilitation purposes. For reasons of competitive neutrality, corporations competing in the marketplace with Commonwealth-owned or formerly Commonwealth-owned businesses could also apply to join the scheme for workers’ compensation purposes.

For a number of years, all self-insurers under the SRC Act were either current or formerly-owned Commonwealth authorities. The previous government made a decision to declare Optus eligible to apply for a self-insurance licence. The High Court in 2007, in Attorney-General (Vic) v Andrews, upheld the validity of the SRC Act’s self-insurance provisions. Following that decision, a number of corporations with no prior connection to the Commonwealth were granted licences to self-insure under the SRC Act.

Following changes to the Commonwealth’s Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991 by the previous government in March 2007, licensed private sector self-insurers under the SRC Act have also been subject to a single national workplace health and safety regime under Comcare.

In the last 18 months of the previous government, there was a 45 per cent increase in the number of employees covered by the Comcare scheme for workers’ compensation and OHS purposes. The increase means the Comcare scheme covers more employees than previously in industries such as transport and logistics, construction, security, banking and communications. There are currently 29 licensees under the scheme.

With the expansion of the types of industries covered by Comcare, the Rudd Government has been concerned to ensure that all employees under the scheme are protected by rigorous OHS safeguards and appropriate workers’ compensation benefits.

To this end, on 11 December 2007, I announced a review of the Comcare scheme. The purpose of the review was to ensure that Comcare is a suitable OHS and workers’ compensation system for self-insurers and their employees. I also announced a moratorium on new companies joining the scheme.

The review entailed an analysis of 80 written submissions, and consultations with 20 stakeholders including government, non-government, employer, union and legal bodies.

Since the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations provided its report on the review to me, there have been a number of significant developments that have a bearing on the issues canvassed in the review.

Significant progress has been made under this Government towards nationally harmonised OHS arrangements. In July 2008 the Council of Australian Governments signed an historic Inter-Governmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety. This agreement provides for the development of a nationally uniform OHS legislative framework. It also provides for the establishment of a new national tripartite body with primary responsibility for driving national policy development in respect of OHS and workers’ compensation, including the development of harmonised OHS laws. All states, territories and the Commonwealth have committed to adopt uniform OHS laws by 2011, complemented by nationally consistent approaches to compliance and enforcement.

The Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council in May 2009 decided on the optimal structure and content of a model OHS Act to be uniformly adopted by the Commonwealth, state and territory jurisdictions. Safe Work Australia, the new tripartite national body established to drive the reform process, is developing the draft model OHS laws. An exposure draft model OHS Act is currently undergoing a six week period of public consultation.

In June 2009 the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council noted the Commonwealth’s intent to transfer OHS coverage of self-insured licensees from the Comcare scheme to state and territory jurisdictions, following the implementation of uniform OHS laws in all jurisdictions.

The rationale for this is that uniform OHS laws and nationally consistent approaches to compliance and enforcement will remove the need for Comcare’s OHS coverage of licensees. The transfer of OHS coverage would also reduce the number of dual jurisdiction worksites.

On 7 September 2009, the Senate passed the Safe Work Australia Act 2008. Safe Work Australia will now be established as an independent statutory agency with primary responsibility to improve occupational health and safety and workers’ compensation arrangements across Australia. It is expected that the new statutory agency will become operational from 1 November 2009. Prior to its legislative establishment, Safe Work Australia was established administratively from April 2009 to progress the OHS reform process without undue delay.

Given the proposed transfer of OHS coverage for Comcare self-insurers to states and territories, I announced on 25 September 2009 that the Government will maintain the current moratorium on new companies joining the scheme until 2011 when uniform OHS laws have been implemented in all jurisdictions. To do otherwise would cause unnecessary dislocation in that, if new entrants were permitted to join the scheme, they would need to adapt to Comcare and then quickly change again to adapt to the new model laws.

I also announced on 25 September 2009 a number of improvements to the Comcare scheme. These include introduction of a statutory time limit for the consideration of workers’ compensation claims; reinstatement of workers’ compensation coverage for off-site recess breaks; and continuation of payment of medical and related costs where a workers’ weekly compensation benefits are suspended for refusing to participate in the rehabilitation process.

The Government also recently increased substantially the lump sum and weekly death benefits under the Comcare scheme to align them more closely with death benefits payable under state workers’ compensation schemes.

Furthermore, Comcare is undertaking a review of the permanent impairment arrangements in the scheme, in particular the current Permanent Impairment guide. The purpose of this review is to determine whether the scheme provides reasonable access to, and reasonable levels of, compensation in the case of workplace injuries which result in permanent impairment.

I have also announced that I will direct Comcare to strengthen its OHS enforcement approach. This is to include development of guidance material which reflects a proactive enforcement policy, and to increase the expertise of its investigators. Furthermore, I will be writing to Comcare regarding the issuing of guidance material which encourages employers, as part of their health and safety management arrangements, to consult with all workers at or near the workplace, not just their direct employees. The guidance material will emphasise that consultation should be an ongoing process.

The proposed amendment to section 100 of the SRC Act needs to be viewed against the background of progress with OHS harmonisation. It also needs to be viewed against the Commonwealth’s intent to transfer OHS coverage of licensees to state and territory jurisdictions after uniform OHS laws have been implemented in all jurisdictions. Section 100 provides for the Minister to declare corporations that meet certain criteria to be eligible to apply for a self-insurance licence. The amendment will give the Minister greater flexibility in dealing with applications under section 100 of the SRC Act.

When the Government first announced the moratorium on new companies joining the scheme, it was in the context of the establishment of the Comcare review. Now that the moratorium is to continue for a further period, the Government considers that it is appropriate to formalise the arrangements for the moratorium through legislation.

The proposed amendment provides that the Minister is not compelled to consider a request for a declaration of eligibility under section 100 by corporations seeking to join the Comcare scheme as self-insurers. This would apply to new requests or applications, and any existing applications that have been made but not determined.

The Bill will provide the Minister with a clear discretion on whether or not to consider a request for a declaration. It makes it explicit that section 100 of the SRC Act empowers, but does not oblige, the Minister to consider requests for declarations of eligibility.

The proposed amendment to section 100 contained in this Bill will enable the Minister to consider important developments, such as progress with OHS harmonisation, in deciding whether to consider any applications to join the Comcare scheme. Importantly, under the proposed amendment the Minister will retain the flexibility to consider applications to join the scheme.

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.