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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 1644


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations) (5:30 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—

Combating the Financing of People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2011

Introduction

This government is determined to disrupt and deter people smuggling operations. People smugglers need money to launch ventures. People smugglers charge large sums to vulnerable people for the dangerous and illegal voyages that they organise.

Remittance dealers accept cash, cheques and other forms of payment in one location and arrange the payment of an equivalent amount of cash to someone in another location overseas. Remittance dealers range from global money transfer businesses and their franchisees and agents, to smaller entities that may operate out of a small business, such as a grocery store. There are around 6,500 remittance dealers operating in Australia. We believe that the vast majority of remittance dealers conduct legitimate businesses and provide important services to the community.

We need to make sure that remittance dealers are not misused to give people smugglers the funds they need to organise illegal smuggling ventures, or to support other forms of criminal activity.

Australian law enforcement agencies have indicated to the Government that they are concerned about the role the remittance sector can inadvertently play in facilitating payments for people smuggling. Further, law enforcement agencies have already used financial intelligence to counter people smuggling ventures. For example, AUSTRAC data is relied upon to profile targets that facilitate payments to other countries for people smuggling activities.

This Bill will reduce the risk that remittance dealers will be involved, deliberately or inadvertently, in financing people smuggling, laundering money or financing terrorism. It will improve intelligence and also protect against criminal infiltration of the sector and ensure the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, known as AUSTRAC, can crack down on remitters acting unlawfully and improperly.

These initiatives build upon the legislative changes made in 2010 as part of the Anti-People Smuggling and Other Measures Act. As a result of those laws, those who provide material support to people smuggling face ten years imprisonment, and fines of up to $110,000.

Enhanced regulation of the remittance sector

Enhanced registration scheme

Remitters are already required to register with AUSTRAC. Providing services without being registered is an offence that carries a penalty of 2 years imprisonment or a $55,000 fine, or both. The automatic granting of registration to a remitter upon application, however, affects AUSTRAC’s ability to effectively regulate and supervise the sector.

This Bill will introduce a more comprehensive registration scheme. Remitters applying for registration will be required to provide information relating to their suitability for registration. The AUSTRAC CEO will have the power to refuse, suspend, cancel or impose conditions on registration. Standard internal and external administrative review mechanisms will be available for all registration decisions made by the AUSTRAC CEO.

People who pose an unacceptable risk of people smuggling, money laundering, or terrorism financing risk will not be allowed to provide remittance services in the community.

Enforcement Powers

Sanctions available to AUSTRAC under the existing Act to ensure compliance with AML/CTF obligations require AUSTRAC to initiate civil proceedings or take criminal action. In many cases, particularly where minor breaches are involved, this may not be a proportionate response to the alleged breach. These processes can be costly and time consuming for all parties involved.

The Bill enables the AUSTRAC CEO to issue infringement notices if a person:

  • provides a remittance service without being registered; or
  • fails to advise the AUSTRAC CEO of material changes in circumstances relevant to registration.

The Bill makes provision for the AML/CTF Rules to set tiered penalties for breaches, not exceeding 24 penalty units for an individual or 120 penalty units for a body corporate. The higher end of penalty amounts will apply where: lower amounts would be an insufficient deterrent, or to take account of multiple contraventions, or previous infringements. The infringement notice scheme will provide the AUSTRAC CEO with an efficient enforcement mechanism which will act as an effective deterrent against non-compliance.

Regulation of Providers of Remittance Networks

Networks play a key role in the remittance industry. Currently, large entities that are profiting from providing remittance networks that enable money transfers to and from Australia are not responsible for addressing money laundering and terrorism financing risk within the network. Instead, the AML/CTF Act focuses on the smaller businesses taking and receiving money from customers including the smaller, relatively unsophisticated remittance dealers that are agents of these network providers.

Many remittance network providers already provide considerable support to their agents to assist them to comply with their AML/CTF Act obligations. The proposed reforms will ensure that the regulation of the sector reflects the structure of the industry. It will regulate the remittance sector more efficiently.

The Bill introduces a new designated service into the AML/CTF Act, which will extend regulation to businesses that operate a network of remittance dealers.

Remittance network providers will also have responsibility for undertaking some of the AML/CTF Act reporting obligations on behalf of their agents. This measure takes into account the relationship between network providers and their agents and largely reflects the support already offered by network providers as part of the international funds transfer process.

AML/CTF Rules

In keeping with the tenor of the AML/CTF Act, the amendments in the Bill provide the high-level principles for the enhanced regulation of the remittance sector, with the operational detail to be set out in the AML/CTF Rules. AUSTRAC will develop the Rules in consultation with the remittance sector.

Other Measures

There are a number of other measures contained in the Bill, which are designed to improve Australia’s AML/CTF regime.

Increased information sharing

The December 2008 National Security Statement recognised the growing threat of these transnational activities to Australia’s national security and identified the need for improved coordination among Commonwealth agencies, including enforcement, regulatory and intelligence agencies.

The current arrangements do not fully provide for the contribution financial intelligence could make to the analysis of national security issues, particularly organised crime, terrorism and counter-proliferation.

The measures in this Bill build on the steps already taken by the Government to enhance information sharing between agencies, such as the new Criminal Intelligence Fusion Centre in the Australian Crime Commission, which was launched in July 2010, to generate and share information and intelligence on organised crime.

The Bill will improve information sharing of the financial intelligence prepared by AUSTRAC amongst the Australian Intelligence Community, ensuring a more holistic approach to Australia’s national intelligence effort. The Bill will extend the list of designated agencies with which AUSTRAC can share financial intelligence to include the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation, the Defence Intelligence Organisation, the Defence Signals Directorate and the Office of National Assessments.

This Bill will enhance information sharing to ensure that government agencies work together in a coordinated way to counter threats to Australia’s national security.

Verification of Identity

The Australian Law Reform Commission considered the use of credit reporting information for electronic verification in its 2008 Report, For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice. The verification of identity measures implements one of the recommendations made by the ALRC.

The Bill will also amend the AML/CTF Act and the Privacy Act 1988 to enable reporting entities to use credit-reporting data to verify the identity of their customers. The Bill introduces a number of privacy protections to ensure that information is only used for the purpose of verifying identity.

Firstly, customer consent will be required before a business can verify identity against credit reporting data and alternative verification options must be made available to them.

Secondly, a credit reporting agency will not be permitted to disclose personal information held on the credit information file. It will only be able to report on whether the personal information it was provided matches information that it holds on the file. For example, a person’s full name, date of birth, or current address.

It also requires credit-reporting agencies and reporting entities to retain information about verification requests for 7 years and to delete it at the end of that period. These requirements enhance the transparency of the verification process by ensuring that records can be reviewed to ensure compliance with the Act, and to enable individuals to obtain access to verification requests or assessments that relate to them.

Finally, the Bill establishes the offences of unauthorised access to verification information, obtaining access to verification information by false pretences and unauthorised use or disclosure of verification information. Each offence carries a penalty of 300 penalty units, which currently amounts to $33,000.

The verification of identity measures will make it easier for example for consumers to open bank accounts on line, improving competition between online businesses and those with traditional branch structures.

Exemptions from obligations under the FTR Act

The Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988, which I will refer to as the FTR Act, preceded the AML/CTF Act and imposed reporting controls on the financial, bullion and gambling sectors. The FTR Act continues in force and operates parallel to the AML/CTF Act.

The Bill will introduce into the FTR Act an exemption power that will enable the AUSTRAC CEO to exempt, by way of written instrument, a specified person from one or more provisions of the Act. This will bring the FTR Act in line with the AML/CTF Act.

Conclusion

The enhanced regulation of the remittance sector will reduce the risk of criminal infiltration and abuse of the remittance sector in Australia by giving AUSTRAC greater knowledge of, and control over, those operating in the sector. The reforms will also shift the compliance burden away from small business agents who make up the vast majority of the remittance sector and on to their remittance network providers. This reflects the existing structure and practices of the sector.

The reforms will ensure that the Government has measures in place to reduce the risk of remittance dealers facilitating access to funds for people smuggling, money laundering, terrorism financing and other serious crimes.

The Bill demonstrates the Government’s commitment to stopping the funding of people smuggling and preventing organisers of these dangerous and inhumane ventures profiting from this serious crime. It will also serve to prevent money laundering, terrorism financing and related criminal activities at home and abroad.


Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Bill 2011

I am pleased to present legislation to repeal the requirement for provisional voters to provide evidence of identity as a pre-condition to these votes being included in the count for an election.

Provisional votes are a type of declaration vote cast at a polling place on polling day.

There are four main reasons a person will be asked to cast a provisional vote. First, the person’s name cannot be found on the certified list. Second, a mark appears on the certified list which indicates the person has already voted. Third, the polling official doubts the person’s identity. Finally, the voter is a silent elector.

When casting a provisional vote, ballot papers are placed in an envelope. Written on the outside of the envelope are the voter’s details including name, address, date of birth and signature. This allows the Australian Electoral Commission to examine the eligibility of the voter before including the vote into the count - this is known as ‘preliminary scrutiny’.

The Electoral Act and the Referendum Act currently require a person casting a provisional vote to provide evidence of identity by the first Friday following polling day. If the voter does not provide evidence of identity by this deadline the vote does not progress to ‘preliminary scrutiny’ and is not counted.

At the 2010 general election over 28,000 provisional votes were rejected because the voter did not provide evidence of identity by the deadline. There might be a number of reasons why a voter has not provided evidence of identity by the deadline. It does not necessarily indicate an attempt to vote fraudulently.

Out of the 28,000 rejected votes, the Australian Electoral Commission found over 12,000 instances where the name of the voter was subsequently found on the certified list. This result is not surprising as a provisional vote is cast in circumstances where a polling official has doubts regarding the voter’s identity or if a mark on the certified list appears to indicate the voter has already voted. It might also indicate a miscommunication between the voter and the polling official, or a simple mistake by the polling official in not finding the voter’s name on the certified list. Whatever the case, the result is that otherwise eligible votes were excluded from preliminary scrutiny.

The requirement for a provisional voter to provide evidence of identity leads to inconsistency in the treatment of different types of declaration votes. Otherwise eligible voters who do not provide evidence of identity by the deadline would have had their vote counted if they had voted by absent vote, postal vote or pre-poll declaration vote. There is no reason why otherwise valid provisional votes should be treated differently to other forms of declaration voting such as postal voting and absent voting.

This bill will repeal the requirement for voters casting a provisional vote to provide evidence of identity. Instead, if there is any doubt as to the bona fides of the elector, the signature on the provisional vote envelope will be compared with the signature of the elector on previously lodged enrolment records.


Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Other Legislation Amendment (Further Election Commitments and Other Measures) Bill 2011

This Bill delivers on three important election commitments made by the Government during the 2010 election campaign to improve support for Australian families and children. These will make the system of family tax benefit advances more flexible to better meet families’ needs, and make sure children have a health check before they start school.

The Bill also includes a measure from the 2010-11 Budget on streamlining notification of compensation payments, along with some minor clarifications to family payments and technical amendments.

An additional two election commitments for Australian families were included in an earlier Bill. These were:

  • improved support for families with teenagers, which will provide substantial increases in family assistance for families with teenagers aged 16 to 19 in secondary school or vocational equivalent; and
  • better access to the baby bonus to assist families with the upfront costs of having a new baby.

Together, these commitments will significantly improve the assistance available to Australian families to assist with the costs of raising children.

More flexible family tax benefit advances

The first election commitment in the Bill being introduced today overhauls the advance payment rules for family tax benefit Part A to better meet families’ needs. This initiative is part of the Government’s Better Access to Family Payments package, which will give families improved and more flexible access to their family payments.

One element of the Better Access to Family Payments package has already been introduced in a recent Bill—a $500 upfront payment of the baby bonus for eligible parents.

Managing the household budget can be a delicate balance, especially when something unexpected happens. The fridge or washing machine can break down, or a school uniform can get damaged and need replacing.

The measure in this Bill will ensure that advance payment rules for family tax benefit Part A are more flexible, helping families deal with unexpected expenses.

Under the new rules that will apply from 1 July 2011, families will have more choice over the size and timing of their advance payments.

For some families, this new flexibility will mean avoiding higher credit card bills or small loans from high interest providers such as payday lenders. For others, it will make it easier to manage the family budget around one-off expenses like the car registration or a broken fridge.

Currently the maximum advance amount is fixed at around $330 for six months for all families, and this full amount can only be advanced twice a year—on 1 July and 1 January. This means that families do not have the flexibility to request advances when they actually need them to meet unexpected costs.

Under the new rules, families will be able to choose the value of their advance payment between minimum and maximum amounts. The minimum amount for all families will be 3.75 per cent of the maximum standard rate for a child aged under 13—this would give a minimum advance amount of around $160.

The maximum amount will be linked to the family’s usual annual rate of payment. Generally, a maximum of 7.5 per cent of that rate will be available for advance payment.

For a family not receiving rent assistance, and with one child under 13, this would give a maximum advance amount of around $320. For a family not receiving rent assistance, and with two children under 13, the maximum advance would be around $640.

The maximum advance would be higher for a family receiving rent assistance.

An overall maximum will apply, set initially at $1,000 in 2011-12, and maintained at the same percentage of the maximum rate for one child under 13 as in the first year.

Some families on the base rate of family tax benefit Part A would have access to a smaller advance amount because of their smaller existing entitlements.

Families will repay their advances through adjustments to their ongoing fortnightly family tax benefit Part A entitlement in the following six months.

From 1 July, families will be also able to request advances at any point in the year, and can have multiple advances up to their maximum advance amount.

However, Centrelink will not approve advance payment requests if they would result in financial hardship. Families making repeated requests will also be assessed to see whether they may benefit from financial advice or financial counselling.

There are currently around 1.5 million families that could benefit from this measure if they choose to take these more flexible family tax benefit advances.

These reforms for families are similar to the improvements that this Government has already implemented for age pensioners as part of its historic pension reforms.

Healthy start for school

The second election commitment delivered through this Bill will set up a new requirement for income support recipient parents of four year-olds, to make sure their children have a health check before they start school.

The new arrangement will make payment of the family tax benefit Part A supplement (which is paid to families at the end of a financial year) conditional for these families on the children undergoing a health assessment, such as the Healthy Kids Check.

The new requirements apply to families where either member of a couple has received income support for any part of the year.

The requirement will also apply to non-parent carers who have received family tax benefit for a child in their care for at least 26 weeks, and who also received an income support payment at some time during the financial year. In addition, the new requirement will only apply to non-parent carers who still have the care of the child at the end of the financial year.

Pre-school health checks make sure children are healthy, fit and ready to learn when they start school. These important checks promote early detection of developmental issues and illnesses.

Research indicates that disadvantaged children not only begin school less well prepared, but that early gaps persist and even widen as children progress through school. An early check is critical to help detect any developmental barriers, such as hearing or sight impairment.

The health checks to be included will be set by Ministerial determination. Many children receive health checks through child and maternal health clinics or through other health services. In 2008, the Federal Labor Government also introduced a Healthy Kids Check for four year olds so that families also have the option of receiving these services from a general practitioner or practice nurse.

Parents will need to confirm with Centrelink that the check has been done. There will be an exceptional circumstances provision to waive the new requirement, such as when the child has a severe disability or terminal illness.

This requirement will apply from the entitlement year that begins on 1 July 2011 and it is estimated around 92,000 children aged four, whose families receive income support at some point in the year, will be affected by this measure each year.

This important measure is another example of this Government putting the health and wellbeing of children and families at the centre of our welfare reform agenda.

The Government’s welfare reforms reflect the expectations of the broader Australian community—that people receiving welfare support should take personal responsibility for themselves and their families. People must participate in study, training or work and parents must care for their children.

It builds on the new model of non-discriminatory income management already rolled out in the Northern Territory, and the income management trials in Cape York and across metropolitan Perth and the Kimberley. Income management makes sure welfare payments are spent in the best interests of the child.

Income management is having positive results:

  • More welfare money is being spent on food, clothing and school-related expenses and less on alcohol, gambling, cigarettes and drugs.
  • Over half of those who could have left the scheme in the Northern Territory have volunteered to stay on it—they find the Basics Card is a helpful budgeting tool.
  • And in Western Australia, two-thirds of people on compulsory income management and 82 per cent on voluntary income management said they recommended income management to others—a pretty good endorsement.

Strengthening child support compliance

In the third election commitment in this Bill, the compliance regime on the use of default income in child support assessments will be strengthened.

A new, more accurate, default income arrangement will be introduced that uses a parent’s previous taxable income, increased by wages growth, instead of a lower default income in cases where they have not lodged a tax return.

Currently, when a parent has not lodged a tax return, their child support assessment is estimated at two-thirds of the Male Total Average Weekly Earnings. However, this figure often understates the parent’s actual income.

Almost one in four child support cases have incorrect assessments due to late or non-lodgement of tax returns. Some parents have failed to lodge returns for over seven years. This non-compliance with tax obligations works against the policy objective of the Child Support Scheme that parents contribute towards the cost of raising their children according to their capacity to pay.

Under legislative changes made in 2006, and implemented during 2008, a new default income of two-thirds of Male Total Average Weekly Earnings has applied in child support cases where a person does not lodge their tax return for more than two years. This default income is around $39,000 per annum.

Since 1 July 2008, there has been a 570 per cent increase in the use of this default income where it is lower than the person’s previous taxable income.

To ensure a more accurate child support assessment and therefore better support for children in separated families, the new process will generally use the parent’s last known taxable income, indexed by the growth in average wages. However, if the current calculation of two-thirds of Male Total Average Weekly Earnings would produce a higher income, that figure will be used instead.

This measure will help ensure that child support assessments are fairer and more accurate and remove the unintended incentive for parents on higher incomes to benefit from a lower child support assessment if they do not lodge a tax return.

Streamlining of compensation payments notification

A measure from the 2010-11 Budget will also be introduced in this Bill. This measure will streamline the process of notifying Centrelink when payments are made by compensation payers and insurers.

These compensation payers and insurers will now need to tell Centrelink before compensation payments (lump sum payments as well as ongoing periodic payments) are made to compensation recipients or their partners.

The new requirement will help make sure people are paid their correct Centrelink entitlements and avoid overpayments and unnecessary debts accruing.

This measure will help simplify the process of Centrelink notification for recipients of compensation who also receive Centrelink payments.

Minor amendments

Lastly, some minor clarifications will be made to several family assistance and child support provisions. These clarifications do not change current policy.

This Bill delivers on three important election commitments and a measure from last year’s Budget. The measures in this Bill will improve support for Australian families, improve child support assessments and help prevent compensation recipients accruing unnecessary debts with Centrelink.


Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010

The Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Amendment Bill 2010 seeks to make it an offence to advertise tobacco products on the internet and in other electronic media.

This brings electronic means of advertising—whether it be on the internet or by mobile phone—in line with restrictions already in place in other media.

Australia’s comprehensive approach to tobacco control with sustained and coordinated actions from Commonwealth and State governments including excise measures, advertising bans, bans on smoking in workplaces and public spaces and anti-smoking advertising campaigns over several decades have seen smoking rates cut from 30.5 per cent in 1988 to 16.6 per cent in 2007.

But there is still more to do.

Tobacco smoking remains one of the leading causes of preventable death and disease among Australians.

Smoking kills over 15,000 Australians every year and costs around $31.5 billion each year.

In 2007, some 16.6 per cent of Australians aged 14 years and over smoked daily.

That is why in April 2010 the Government announced a comprehensive Anti Smoking Action package aimed at delivering on its commitments to reduce the smoking rate to 10 per cent by 2018 and to halve the rate of smoking among Indigenous Australians.

The Bill is part of this package which included:

  • the 25% tobacco excise increase introduced on 29 April 2010,
  • record investments in anti-smoking social marketing campaigns, and
  • legislation to mandate plain packaging of tobacco products by 2012.

We all acknowledge that messages and images promoting the use of tobacco products can “normalise” tobacco use, increase uptake of smoking by youth and act as disincentives to quit.

A national ban on tobacco advertising—that is, direct cigarette advertising on radio or television—first came into effect in 1973.

At that time, Australia also introduced mandatory health warnings on cigarette packs.

Over a decade later, the Smoking and Tobacco Products Advertisements (Prohibition) Act 1989 nationally banned tobacco advertising in newspapers and magazines.

In 1992, the Commonwealth introduced a more rigid ban with the passage of the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992 (the Act).

The Act serves as the primary vehicle governing advertising of tobacco products in Australia.

It makes it an offence to give publicity to, or promote tobacco products. While much of the emphasis is on cigarettes, the Act applies to all tobacco products including cigars, pipes and pipe tobacco, loose tobacco, cigarette papers, etc.

Since the passage of the Act in 1992, the use of the internet as an advertising medium has become increasingly widespread.

The media platforms accessed by young people today are continually evolving.

The internet is clearly becoming a major vehicle by which young people can be exposed to tobacco advertising.

Unregulated internet advertising and promotion of tobacco products undermines the effectiveness of the Act and fosters the false perception that smoking is the norm.

Unregulated retail activity on the internet can also undermine tax pricing policies aimed at deterring smoking, facilitate the purchase of tobacco products without appropriate graphic health warnings and contribute to the promotion of smoking more generally.

At the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy (MCDS) in 2007, the States and Territories expressed their support for the Commonwealth to seek to regulate tobacco advertising on the internet.

National and international efforts signal the level of concern surrounding tobacco advertising on the Internet.

Australia is a signatory to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

Guidelines developed under Article 13 of the WHO FCTC require that, where internet sales of tobacco products are not yet banned, restrictions should be imposed, allowing only textual listings of products with prices, with no pictures or promotion features.

I note that a complete ban on internet retail sales has not been included in this Bill.

This is consistent with the policy of consecutive governments that the internet should be maintained on the same footing as, and not be disadvantaged, compared to other retail points of sale.

This helps ensure, for example, that people living in rural and regional areas are not disadvantaged when purchasing grocery items including tobacco products over the internet.

Currently, ambiguity exists as to how the provisions of the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992 may be applied to the advertising of tobacco products on the internet and whether or not advertising of tobacco products over the internet is permitted.

The intended effect of the amendments is to make it a specific offence to advertise tobacco products on the internet and all other electronic media and future technologies, unless such advertising complies with State or Territory legislation or with Commonwealth regulations.

Section 34 of the Act allows the Governor-General to make regulations prescribing matters required or permitted by this Act to be prescribed, or necessary or convenient to be prescribed, for carrying out or giving effect to this Act.

It is proposed that regulations will be made under the Act to prescribe specific requirements as to:

  • the size, content, format and location of tobacco advertisements;
  • the inclusion of health warnings, warnings about age restrictions on the sale of tobacco products, information about any fees, taxes and charges payable in relation to tobacco products; and
  • age restricted access systems for access to tobacco advertisements.

The maximum penalty for each offence under these amendments is 120 penalty units, which is $13,200.

This is consistent with the penalty units for other offences under this Act and for legislation of a similar nature, such as the Interactive Gambling Act 2001.

The Gillard Government remains concerned about the harms and subsequent health costs relating to the consumption of tobacco.

As a consequence the Government is committed to reducing the effects of tobacco on Australia’s population.

This Bill will bring restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotion on the internet into line with restrictions in other media and at physical points of sale.

It creates a level playing field—the restrictions placed on over the counter sales and on-line sales will no longer be different.

This legislation and the proposed regulations are part of this comprehensive approach to tobacco control which is helping to give Australia one of the lowest smoking rates in the world.

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.