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Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Page: 1529


Senator FEENEY (Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) (6:36 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—

COMMONWEALTH ELECTORAL AMENDMENT (POLITICAL DONATIONS AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2010

I am pleased to present the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2010, implementing the Government’s recent commitment to the Australian Greens and the Independent Members, to seek immediate reform of donation, disclosure and funding laws for political parties and election campaigns. The Bill aims to improve our system of political donations disclosure and election funding, to help ensure that campaigning is fair and transparent.

The Bill introduces six measures in three key areas: increasing the transparency of political donations disclosure; more frequent and timely reporting of political donations and expenditure; and reforming the public funding of elections.

The measures contained in the Bill are not new. The Government has pursued reform to election funding and political donations since its early days of office, with the first Bill on these issues introduced in May 2008. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) delivered an advisory report on that Bill in October 2008. In December 2008, the Government tabled amendments to the Bill, in response to the JSCEM report. That Bill was rejected by the Senate. In March 2009, the Government introduced another Bill, encompassing the Government amendments. That second Bill lapsed with the end of the 42nd Parliament. The Bill that I am presenting today is in substantially the same form as that introduced in March 2009.

The measures contained in this Bill increase transparency and add to administrative processes for political parties and candidates. It is not the intention of the Government to burden parties and candidates, but to increase the transparency and integrity of the electoral system.

The six measures in this Bill can be summarised as follows.

The first measure would set the donation disclosure threshold level to a flat rate of $1,000, lowering it from the current threshold of $11,500. This rate applies equally to all participants in the electoral process, including donors, registered political parties and candidates.

The second measure relates to anonymous donations. Under the Commonwealth Electoral Act, registered political parties, branches of parties, candidates, Senate groups and people acting on behalf of these categories, can receive anonymous donations below an indexed threshold—currently $11,500. Anonymous donations above this amount are prohibited.

The Bill extends this ban on anonymous donations to all anonymous donations except where the donation is $50 or less and has been received at a ‘general public activity’ (such as a fete where people may place money in a bucket) or at a ‘private event’ (such as a dinner, dance, or quiz night where people might donate small sums of money). These activities and events are defined in the Bill and specified records must be kept in order for the anonymous donations to be retained.

The use of anonymous donations by third parties for political expenditure currently is not restricted under the Commonwealth Electoral Act. The Bill will change this to prohibit the use of certain anonymous donations by third parties for political expenditure. The new prohibition applies to third parties which are required to lodge annual returns of their political expenditure above the current threshold of $11,500. The Bill also changes this threshold to $1,000.

Political expenditure, which is defined under section 314AEB of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, includes expenditure on the public expression of views on a political party, a candidate or a member of the House of Representatives or a Senator; the public expression of views on an issue in an election; the publication of material that requires authorisation under the Electoral Act; the broadcast of political matter; and opinion polls or other research on people’s voting intentions.

Only anonymous donations of $50 or less which have been received by third parties at a general public activity or at a private event will be able to be used for political expenditure by entities required to lodge returns under section 314AEB of the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

The Bill also provides for the Commonwealth to recover unlawful anonymous donations and an amount equal to the amount of unlawful political expenditure as a debt due to the Commonwealth.

Together, these two measures which reduce the disclosure threshold and limit anonymous donations enhance the transparency of political donations and the confidence that the public can have in the integrity of our political process. The Government believes the community has a right to know who is giving what to whom. We wish to end secrecy around donations.

The third measure would ban foreign donations. This helps remove a perception that foreign donors could exert influence over the Australian political process.

The fourth measure would prevent donation-splitting. Large donations may currently be hidden across state or territory branches of the same party, potentially circumventing the disclosure threshold. The Bill would see separate divisions of a political party no longer treated as separate entities, for the purposes of disclosing donations.

The fifth measure would aim to increase public scrutiny of political donations and expenditure by making information available to the Australian public, more quickly, and more frequently. The Bill reduces current timeframes for lodging returns from existing 15, 16 and 20 week periods, down to 8 weeks. More frequent disclosure of political donations and expenditure will also occur. Where returns were previously required every 12 months, they will now need to be lodged once every 6 months.

The sixth measure would reform public funding of elections by ensuring that election funding is tied to genuine election expenditure. This measure will prevent candidates, or any political party, from making a financial gain from the electoral public funding system. Public funding will continue to be paid to registered political parties, unendorsed candidates and unendorsed Senate groups who receive at least four per cent of formal first preference votes at an election. Under the Bill, they will receive the lesser amount of either the electoral expenditure that was actually incurred in an election period between the issuing of the writs and the end of polling day, or the amount awarded per vote. In a technical update from the 2009 Bill, the amount awarded per vote has been indexed for inflation.

As these six reforms are a priority for the Government, the commencement date for the Bill would allow them to operate from 1 July 2011.

The Government is committed to building a dialogue with the Coalition, the Australian Greens and Independent Members, to ensure that real progress can be made in reforming campaign financing.

More than ever, we should move Australia’s electoral laws and processes towards the world’s best practice, so that we can continue to be proud of the inclusive and transparent nature of our political process.

The measures in this Bill provide an important, immediate step that can be taken to maintain the integrity of our electoral system. I look forward to constructive negotiations with the crossbenches and with the Opposition in delivering future reforms to the system. I urge all Members of Parliament to show their support for these reforms and enhance the transparency of political funding and donations in Australia.


TELECOMMUNICATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (COMPETITION AND CONSUMER SAFEGUARDS) BILL 2010

Australian telecommunications is at a crossroads. The government has an ambitious program that will drive future growth, productivity and innovation across all sectors of the economy.

The national broadband network will fundamentally transform the competitive dynamics of the communications sector in this country. NBN Co is a wholesale only telecommunications provider with open access arrangements. The new network represents a nationally significant and long overdue micro-economic reform.

The government is committed to addressing the mistakes of the past and establishing a telecommunications regulatory framework in the interests of all Australians.

The government is therefore reintroducing this bill which will reshape regulation in the telecommunications sector to deliver outcomes which are in the interests of consumers, business and the economy more broadly.

The measures in the bill will position the industry to make a smooth transition to the National Broadband Network, increase competition and improve consumer safeguards.

Consistent with the reforms announced last year, the purpose of the Bill remains to:

  • restructure the telecommunications market to promote greater competition and consumer benefits;
  • strengthen the telecommunications-specific access regime to provide more certain and quicker outcomes for telecommunications companies;
  • streamline the anti-competitive conduct regime by removing procedural impediments that in the past have restricted the effective operation of the regime; and
  • strengthen consumer safeguard measures.
  • This bill has been the subject of a Senate Committee inquiry which involved detailed submissions from stakeholders.

Addressing Telstra’s vertical & horizontal integration

Some of the issues addressed in the bill have been discussed for two decades and are finally delivered in this bill.

In June 2010, Telstra entered into a financial heads of agreement with NBN Co to participate in the roll out of the National Broadband Network.

The agreement is a key milestone to achieve Telstra’s structural separation through the progressive migration of customer services from Telstra’s copper and subscription television cable networks to the new wholesale-only network.

Structural reform is clearly in the national interest. The bill includes provisions to authorise—for the purposes of section 51 of the Competition and Consumer Ac —conduct by Telstra and NBN Co relating to Telstra’s structural separation undertaking.

However, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will make the final decision on acceptance of Telstra’s undertaking to structurally separate.

The bill provides for Telstra’s structural separation undertaking to include a migration plan.

There will be significant consultation on the migration plan which will deal with the processes and timing of migrating Telstra’s customers from its copper network to the NBN.

The Bill now provides more legislative certainty for Telstra in the transition to a retail company.

The Bill sets out a clear process for Telstra to seek approval from its shareholders on a proposal to migrate its customer services to the NBN, with a high degree of certainty about the regulatory outcome.

Telstra will be allowed to acquire specified bands of spectrum, unless the Minister determines in a legislative instrument otherwise.

The bill clarifies the relationship between Telstra’s separation undertaking and the telecommunications access regime.

Other changes to the original Part 1 of the bill include:

  • giving priority to a genuine structural separation process over functional separation;
  • clarifying that the ACCC cannot accept a structural separation undertaking unless it contains effective measures relating to the equivalent supply of regulated services to Telstra’s wholesale customers during the period Telstra is structurally separating; and
  • making Telstra’s compliance with an in-force structural separation undertaking a condition of its carrier licence.

Access & Anti-competitive Conduct

The provisions under Part 2 of the bill, which relate to the telecommunications access regime, have also been reviewed in light of industry feedback.

The most notable change is that the transitional provisions will allow access seekers to have recourse to arbitral determinations which will prevail over access agreements until an access determination is made by the ACCC.

The bill clarifies that binding rules of conduct will only be used in circumstances where, for reasons of urgency, there is insufficient time to make or vary an access determination.

To give effect to the agreement reached between Telstra and NBN Co, Part 2 of the bill now contains changes to the facilities access regime.

The measures will ensure that Telstra can meet the requirements set out in its structural separation undertaking, migration plan, and other related agreements.

Consumer Safeguards

There have been changes to strengthen the consumer safeguards in the original bill. These broaden the ACMA’s record keeping powers to allow it to obtain regular reports about carriers’ and service providers’ compliance with their obligations.

Other changes will enable the Minister to direct the ACMA to determine an industry standard to enable a more effective regulatory response where industry codes do not adequately deal with consumer issues.

The strengthening of the consumer safeguards contained in this bill will ensure that consumers are protected and service standards are maintained at a high level during the transition to the NBN.

Conclusion

In closing, the government has listened closely to the feedback it has received.

The Government recognises the strong public interest in the proposed reforms and has been mindful to balance strong measures with appropriate safeguards and incentives.

The measures in this bill are ambitious, but the Government is determined to implement this long overdue reform to drive growth and productivity, regional development, social equity and innovation.

This bill is an important step on the road to an improved telecommunications industry structure, with better competitive outcomes and stronger safeguards for consumers.


TERRITORIES LAW REFORM BILL 2010

Introduction

The Territories Law Reform Bill will implement reforms to strengthen Norfolk Island’s governance arrangements.

The Bill will improve transparency and accountability in Norfolk Island’s governance and financial management, and will facilitate access to administrative law processes on Norfolk Island.

This is important for the future sustainability of Norfolk Island.

It is part of our commitment to improving the lives of Australians living in regional and remote locations.

It is important to note that the administrative arrangements of Norfolk Island have been subject to numerous Parliamentary inquiries, including the most recent Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories.

These reports have overwhelmingly recommended the need for reforms to Norfolk Island’s administration, law, governance, electoral and financial structures

We are now taking the leadership to ensure the people of Norfolk Island can start an effective program of economic and financial reform.

The Bill was passed by the House of Representatives in June 2010 but lapsed when the election was called.

I am aware that the Norfolk Island Government has concerns with this Bill, and I will address these concerns today.

It is important to note that this Bill does not remove responsibilities for the Norfolk Island Government but provides increased community confidence in the Norfolk Island’s governance and enable the community to better scrutinise the actions of the Norfolk Island Government.

Extended legislative authority is intended to be used as a last resort if the Norfolk Island Government does not undertake action.

The Bill will strengthen the accountability and transparency in these key areas.

The Bill will amend the Norfolk Island Act to:

  • reform the voting system for the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly and provide more certainty about when elections are held,
  • introduce a range of reforms to ensure higher levels of accountability and transparency in the procedures and practices of the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly, and
  • allow the Governor-General and the Commonwealth Minister responsible for Territories to take a more active role in the introduction and passage of Norfolk Island legislation.

The Bill will also amend the Norfolk Island Act to implement a contemporary financial management framework that will assist that Government to meet the expectations of its community and to plan for the future.

The Bill will also improve the accountability and transparency of the Norfolk Island Government and Administration by implementing an administrative law regime equivalent to that available to residents on the mainland.

The Commonwealth has made a commitment to continue to work with the Norfolk Island Government and Administration to implement these reforms on Norfolk Island.

In addition to the Norfolk Island reforms, the Territories Law Reform Bill amends the Christmas Island Act and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act. These amendments provide a vesting mechanism for powers and functions under Western Australian laws applied in the territories.

Powers and functions are automatically vested in Western Australian officers and authorities where an agreement with the Australian government exists for those officers and authorities to act in the territories.

Background to the Norfolk Island Reforms

The Bill will implement the reforms announced by the Australian Government in May 2009. The Australian Parliament and the Norfolk Island Government have long been aware of the need for the reforms contained in this Bill.

The reforms implement a number of recommendations from the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories 2003 Report: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? [Pronounced: Kee cuss toad-ee-eht ihp-sews cuhs-TOE-dehs]: Inquiry into Governance on Norfolk Island.

The report identified key features of good governance which have been adopted through the development of formal mechanisms by the Australian Government and other western democracies.

These include ensuring public accountability through finance and performance audits, access to an Ombudsman, protecting the disclosure of personal information to public agencies and the availability of merits review of decisions which affect rights and entitlements.

The Norfolk Island Government and Administration have implemented some informal mechanisms to facilitate good governance. However, the Report concluded ‘the absence of formal and effective mechanisms of accountability and transparency, seriously undermine the quality of governance on the Island’.

The Report recommended a wide range of reforms, many of which have been adapted and incorporated into the reforms package implemented by this Bill.

Machinery of Government and Electoral Reforms

Parts 1 and 2 of Schedule 1 of the Territories Law Reform Bill make general governance and electoral amendments to the Norfolk Island Act.

The Bill proposes key governance reforms including:

  • prescribing a process for selecting and dismissing a Chief Minister and Ministers, as well as determining their roles and responsibilities
  • establishing a no-confidence motion process for the Chief Minister, and
  • allowing the Governor-General and the Minister responsible for Territories to take a more active role in the introduction and passage of Norfolk Island legislation.

The Bill also establishes the framework for the reform of the voting system for the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly. These amendments will allow the Norfolk Island Chief Minister to enter into an arrangement with the Australian Electoral Commission in relation to general elections of members of the Legislative Assembly and the filling of a casual vacancy in the office of a member of the Legislative Assembly.

The amendments will also provide Norfolk Island residents with greater transparency in electoral processes and certainty about when elections are held. This is critical if we are to empower the residents of Norfolk Island and ensure their voices are heard.

The Bill establishes the foundations for such a process, which will be supplemented by regulations to be developed in consultation with Norfolk Island.

The amendments will extend the Australian Government’s oversight of Norfolk Island legislation to include Schedule 2 matters, as well as enable the Commonwealth Minister and Governor-General to introduce legislation into the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly.

The proposed amendments do not restrict the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly’s almost unlimited power to ‘make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Territory’.

The right of the Australian Government to intervene in Norfolk Island legislation is an existing part of the Island’s governance system.

The need for this amendment can be linked to the number of additional matters transferred to the Norfolk Island Government’s authority under Schedule 2 since 1979.

In the absence of this legislation, none of these reforms will be possible as the current legislation is inadequate.

The Bill will enable the Australian Government to carry out the checks and balances necessary to ensure that Norfolk Island legislation complies with Australian Government policy objectives and Australia’s national obligations under international law.

Amendments allowing the Minister to appoint the Deputy Administrator of Norfolk Island are consistent with the power already provided to me as the responsible Commonwealth Minister to appoint the Deputy Administrator of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

The amendments allow for flexible and timely appointments to be made in the event that the Administrator is unable to perform one or all of the functions of the office. The position of Deputy Administrator is not intended to be a position involving remuneration.

Amendments in the Bill that provide for the Administrator to exercise certain powers in the event of the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly provide a practical and effective arrangement to ensure the continuity of business of government including the provision of services to the Norfolk Island community. The Administrator would be required to exercise these powers in accordance with any direction given by the Governor-General.

Financial Frameworks

Part 3 of Schedule 1 makes further amendments to the Norfolk Island Act to enable the implementation of a contemporary financial management framework.

The Bill establishes a customised and proportionate financial framework which provides for the responsible management of public money and public property, preparation of budgets, financial reporting, annual reports and procurement. The framework provided by the Bill will be supplemented by subordinate legislation which will ensure that the financial scheme is adapted to the unique requirements of Norfolk Island and can be effectively implemented.

The Commonwealth Government is committed to assisting Norfolk Island in implementing this framework effectively and to this end the amendments also provide for the appointment by the Commonwealth of a Commonwealth Financial Officer for Norfolk Island should this be required.

The Commonwealth Financial Officer does not have any specific powers under the amendments proposed in the Bill. The Commonwealth Financial Officer’s functions are required to be flexible and adaptable, to enable the best possible assistance to be provided to the Norfolk Island Government and Administration in implementing the Bill.

Additionally, the Bill amends the Norfolk Island Act to provide for the appointment of the Commonwealth Auditor-General to conduct audits of the Norfolk Island Administration’s financial statements.

The Australian Government has agreed to fund the Commonwealth Auditor-General to provide financial statement audits for three years. Any further funding after this period will be subject to budget considerations. I note that other territories including the ACT and the Northern Territory have established their own Auditor-General and do not receive funding for these positions.

Administrative Law Reforms

The last key part of the Norfolk Island reform package implemented by the Bill is the application of Commonwealth administrative law accountability and oversight mechanisms to Norfolk Island.

Part 4 of the Bill proposes amendments to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act which will confer on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal merits review jurisdiction for specified decisions under Norfolk Island legislation. In essence the reforms will mean that where specified under regulations, administrative decisions which are made under Norfolk Island laws can be reviewed by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on request by an affected party.

The amendments in the reform Bill will be supplemented by regulations. The regulations will specify which Norfolk Island laws may be subject to Administrative Appeals Tribunal merits review. This will enable a staged implementation of the reforms to be undertaken in consultation with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and Norfolk Island.

Part 5 of the Bill proposes amendments to the Freedom of Information Act to apply that Act to Norfolk Island. The scope of the application of the Act to Norfolk Island will be consistent with its application to Commonwealth Government agencies. The amendments will give individuals on Norfolk Island the right to:

  • seek access to documents held by the public sector and to official documents of Norfolk Island government ministers, and
  • to ask for their personal information in such documents to be changed if it is incomplete, incorrect, out of date or misleading.

Part 6 of the Bill proposes minor amendments to the Norfolk Island Act and the Ombudsman Act. The amendments will enable the Commonwealth Ombudsman to assume the function of the Norfolk Island Ombudsman under Norfolk Island legislation.

Part 7 of the Bill proposes amendments to the Privacy Act to apply that Act to the Norfolk Island public sector. The Bill will provide that the Norfolk Island public sector will be required to adhere to the Information Privacy Principles in the same manner as Australian Government public sector agencies.

It is expected that relevant Australian Government agencies will play a significant and ongoing educative role about the rights and obligations established by the administrative law amendments in relation to the community of Norfolk Island and its public sector.

Much has been made of the different approach which has been taken in relation to the ombudsman reforms. I agree that these reforms are a positive example of what can be achieved through cooperation between the Commonwealth and Norfolk Island/

However, the approach taken in the ombudsman reforms should be distinguished from the remaining administrative reforms for a number of key reasons:

(i) there was existing precedent for this approach as the Commonwealth Ombudsman already undertakes the role of ACT Ombudsman under ACT legislation, and

(ii) the Norfolk Island Government introduced ombudsman legislation into the Legislative Assembly in 2009.

The need for administrative law reform on Norfolk Island has been the subject of numerous reports and recommendations since 1991. However, to date, the Norfolk Island Government has failed to initiate Norfolk Island legislation in the area of FOI or privacy.

The approach taken in the Bill is specifically designed to take into account the ongoing concerns raised by the Norfolk Island Government about resourcing and capacity constraints on island.

The existing Commonwealth legislation is adaptable to Norfolk Island, and is currently applied across Commonwealth agencies of varying sizes, including those equivalent to the size of the Norfolk Island Administration.

The extension of Commonwealth administrative law mechanisms will enable the Norfolk Island Government and community to access the Commonwealth’s expert knowledge, experience and resources. Funding has already been allocated to Commonwealth agencies to assist in the implementation of these reforms on Norfolk Island.

The Bill will ensure that the standards of administrative law enjoyed by Australians on the mainland are extended to Norfolk Islanders.

Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands Reforms

In addition to the Norfolk Island reforms, the Territories Law Reform Bill amends the Christmas Island Act and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act. These amendments provide a vesting mechanism for powers and functions under Western Australian laws applied in the Territories. Powers and functions are automatically vested in Western Australian officers and authorities where an agreement with the Australian Government exists for those officers and authorities to act in the Territories.

The automatic vesting mechanism will reduce administrative burden and improve efficiency under the service delivery agreements by enabling Western Australian officers to have faster access to newly created powers.

Conclusion

The Norfolk Island reforms included in this Bill are a first step towards improving transparency and accountability in Norfolk Island governance and financial frameworks, and in administrative decision making.

These reforms will increase community confidence and allow the community to better scrutinise the actions of the Norfolk Island Government and Administration. They will better empower the local community of Norfolk Island and give them a say in how their community is being governed.

It will extend to the people of Norfolk Island access to the Ombudsman, and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal—these are not special privileges but basic protections that provide citizens with greater transparency of government decisions.

This Bill will provide Norfolk Island with the tools necessary to ensure ongoing stability and to sustain strong and effective self-government under the Norfolk Island Act.

I have advocated for a better regional development framework which empowers local communities and gives them a greater say on how their local challenges can be met.

I also say that this is a two way street and local communities must find ways to develop strategic local plans.

We have to work in partnership to ensure we get the governance right and support the most effective solutions.

The Norfolk Island reforms, together with those related to the Indian Ocean Territories are positive changes which reflect the Australian Government’s responsibility to ensure an equitable and sustainable future for Australia’s regional communities, including our external territories.

I commend the Bill.

Debate (on motion by Senator Feeney) adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.

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