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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 5810


Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryMinister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Sport) (17:11): 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—

FISHERIES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (NO.1) 2012

The Fisheries Legislation Amendment Bill (No.1) 2012 will amend the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and the Fisheries Administration Act 1991.

The main amendments will introduce electronic monitoring (e-monitoring) to Australian boats that are authorised to fish under concessions and scientific permits granted by the Commonwealth. E-monitoring can include cameras, global positioning systems and sensors and can generate a range of visual and non-visual information for monitoring fishing and related activities.

Australian fisheries are a valuable natural resource and must be carefully managed to ensure sustainability. Commercial fish catch contributes more than $2 billion per year to the Australian economy. Processors, marketers, retailers, consumers and many allied small businesses benefit directly or indirectly from the industry and increase its contribution to the economy.

As well as protecting the economic value of commercial fish stocks, Australians expect species that are valuable to the economy will not be over-exploited. Accurate scientific data is essential to set catch limits on species to protect their status and maximise the economic returns to Australia. Furthermore, Australians expect that threatened, endangered and protected species, such as sea-lions, dolphins and albatrosses, as well as the marine environment, will be protected from damage. E-monitoring of fishing activities is a cost effective way to check that fishing activities are not damaging these species and habitats.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) is responsible for managing Commonwealth fisheries, which, in general terms, are waters more than three nautical miles from the Australian coastline. The Commonwealth also manages some fisheries within three nautical miles, under agreements with the states and the Northern Territory.

It is vital that AFMA has access to accurate, comprehensive and timely data on the state of fish stocks, and on the impacts of fishing on both fish stocks and the marine environment, to manage fisheries. AFMA also needs to have accurate data to monitor whether fishing activities meet legal requirements.

E-monitoring will provide better, cheaper data. This has been proven by trials of e-monitoring in several Australian fisheries and overseas, and by implementing e-monitoring on some boats in waters off South Australia. Trials and cost-benefit analyses have shown that the more data that is required for a fishery, the cheaper it will become to use e-monitoring systems, rather than observers. E-monitoring also has the benefit of generating more comprehensive data, which complements the information we get from observers, vessel monitoring systems and logbook reporting.

The bill formalises e-monitoring and its use as a fisheries management tool. Specifically, the bill gives AFMA an express power to impose e-monitoring obligations on Commonwealth fishing concession and scientific permit holders. In line with AFMA's legislative objectives, AFMA will be able to require concession and scientific permit holders to monitor not only fishing, but also related activities, such as the impact of fishing on protected species and the broader marine environment.

The bill makes it an offence to hinder the operation of e-monitoring equipment, or to modify, damage, or destroy e-monitoring data. These offences reflect the need to protect the integrity of the e-monitoring scheme and ensure that the data is accurate and complete.

Further to this, the bill adds to the list of matters about which AFMA can issue an evidentiary certificate. The certificates act as prima facie evidence and therefore reduce the time and costs that might otherwise be spent in proving straightforward procedural or administrative matters in court.

Other amendments in the bill will make it clear that fishing concession holders are responsible for the actions of the masters and crew of their boats; will enable the AFMA to waive levies payable for statutory fishing rights that are surrendered; and will make provisions in the legislation about implementing fisheries closures clearer, more consistent and simpler to administer.

The bill will help to hold fishing concession or permit holders responsible for the actions of the masters or crew employed on their boats. Currently, it is too easy for corporations or other persons, such as those that hold concessions or permits for fishing, to claim they are not responsible for the actions of their directors, employees or agents. The amendments will place more responsibility on concession or permit holders to take reasonable precautions and exercise due diligence to ensure that the master and crew comply with their legal obligations.

The bill will allow AFMA to waive a levy payable in respect of a statutory fishing right if the right is surrendered without any fishing having taken place under it. This is already allowed in respect of fishing permits. In this situation, the holder has not and will not benefit from the statutory fishing right in the period to which the levy applies and should therefore be able to surrender it without payment.

The bill will also ensure that fishers are always notified in writing of decisions to close a fishery or part of a fishery to fishing, or to change or revoke such decisions. It will also clarify how a 'part of a fishery' can be defined; for example, by reference to a place, a time or a type or quantity of fishing gear. It will also allow AFMA to make emergency fishery closures without prior consultation, although, because they are legislative instruments, emergency closure directions will still be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

The amendments in this bill will help ensure the sustainably of Australia's fisheries and will provide greater certainty for fishers and the community that Australia's fisheries are being very well managed.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

HEALTH INSURANCE AMENDMENT (EXTENDED MEDICARE SAFETY NET) BILL 2012

More than ever before, we are making the most of every precious health dollar.

We are being guided by the evidence and investing wisely.

We are finding efficiencies and returning the benefits to patients.

Where the evidence said things weren't working, the Government's done things differently. And the bill before the house is part of this. We've looked at the evidence on how the Extended Medicare Safety Net works, and it says we need to close a loophole to protect the integrity of the system.

This bill amends the Health Insurance Act 1973 to allow the application of Extended Medicare Safety Net benefit caps to apply where more than one Medicare service is performed on the same patient on the same occasion and is deemed to be 'one professional service'.

This bill makes an amendment to the Extended Medicare Safety Net program that was introduced through the Health Legislation Amendment (Medicare) Act 2004.

The Extended Medicare Safety Net provides individuals and families with an additional rebate for their out-of-hospital Medicare services once an annual threshold of out-of-pocket costs for out-of-hospital services is reached.

Out-of-hospital services include GP and specialist attendances and services provided in private clinics and private emergency departments.

Once the relevant annual threshold has been met, Medicare will pay for 80 per cent of any future out-of-pocket costs for Medicare eligible out-of-hospital services for the remainder of the calendar year, except for a number of services where there is an upper limit on the benefit payable through the Extended Medicare Safety Net, known as the 'EMSN benefit cap'.

The Extended Medicare Safety Net program was amended through the Health Legislation Amendment (Extended Medicare Safety Net) Bill 2009, which amended the Health Insurance Act 1973 to enable the Minister to determine, by legislative instrument, the maximum benefit payable under the Extended Medicare Safety Net for a specified Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item.

The items that carry an EMSN benefit cap and the cap amount for each item is set out in the Health Insurance (Extended Medicare Safety Net) Determination 2009. The Health Insurance Act 1973 specifies that a determination made by the Minister to place or amend an existing EMSN benefit cap must be approved by the resolution of each House of Parliament before it can become effective.

Since 1 January 2010, EMSN benefit caps have applied to selected MBS items. These include assisted reproductive technology services, obstetrics services, pregnancy related ultrasounds, cataract surgery, hair transplantation and varicose vein surgery. A further 16 items have since been introduced into the MBS with EMSN benefit caps. Caps were placed on these items to maintain consistency with the existing capped items, or based on recommendations made by the Medicare Services Advisory Committee regarding cost-effectiveness.

The current provisions of the Health Insurance Act 1973 do not allow EMSN benefit caps to apply where more than one item is claimed by the same patient on the same occasion and the items are deemed to constitute one professional service. An example of this occurs under Section 15 of the Health Insurance Act 1973 which describes the Multiple Operations Rule.

There are, of course, many instances where claiming for multiple operations on the same occasion is appropriate. For instance, patients can benefit from having more than one operation at the same time because they do not need to have second anaesthetic. An example is where a patient is having several skin cancers removed by surgical excision. Another is where varicose vein surgery is performed on both legs.

Under the Multiple Operations Rule there is a reduction in the amount of Medicare benefit payable where two or more operations are performed on the same patient on the same occasion, to recognise the efficiencies gained when several procedures are provided on the one occasion. Under legislation, where the Multiple Operations Rule applies, the operations are deemed to be one professional service, rather than a collection of MBS items. However, EMSN benefit caps can only apply to an MBS item and not a professional service.

This means that under the current legislation, where doctors perform multiple procedures on the same patient on the same occasion, any EMSN benefit caps that apply to the individual MBS items that are performed within the operation do not apply, and there is no limit to the Extended Medicare Safety Net benefits that are payable for that professional service. This is not what was originally intended when Parliament approved selected MBS items to have an EMSN benefit cap.

As announced in the 2012-13 Budget, it is proposed that EMSN benefit caps be applied to a further 39 selected MBS items and all consultation services from 1 November 2012. These items have been selected to reduce the Government's exposure to subsidising excessive fee inflation by some doctors, or where there is a risk that practitioners may shift fees on to uncapped items. Thirty five of the items selected to be capped on 1 November 2012 fall under the definition of an operation for the purposes of the Multiple Operations Rule and therefore may be deemed to constitute 'one professional service'.

Currently a doctor can avoid EMSN benefit caps by performing other operations at the same time. If the Government cannot be certain that EMSN benefit caps will apply to selected items, it may not be in a position to introduce funding for important new high cost technologies.

This bill will ensure that where items are deemed to constitute 'one professional service' and all of the original MBS items that are part of that service are capped, the EMSN benefit caps will apply. This will ensure that the full savings announced in the Budget are realised.

Other provisions - family registration for the EMSN

This bill also includes the provision to reduce the administrative burden on patients by removing the requirement for families to confirm the members of their family for Extended Medicare Safety Net purposes in writing. Currently, when families are nearing the Extended Medicare Safety Net threshold, the Department of Human Services - Medicare, contacts the person who registered the family and asks them to confirm in writing the members of their family to ensure that the correct out-of-pocket costs have been attributed to the family Extended Medicare Safety Net threshold. Providing confirmation in writing increases the time families must wait to receive their Extended Medicare Safety Net benefits.

This amendment allows the Chief Executive of Medicare to determine the appropriate manner in which this information is provided and will allow families to confirm their family composition more quickly and easily. Patients will still be required to confirm their identity before this confirmation can take place to ensure the information provided is accurate.

This bill will allow Government to responsibly manage expenditure on Extended Medicare Safety Net and reduce the administrative burden on families. This is important for supporting the sustainability of the Extended Medicare Safety Net so singles and families can continue to receive additional assistance with their out-of-pocket costs.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

Debate adjourned.

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