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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1650


Senator FEENEY (VictoriaParliamentary Secretary for Defence) (18:24): 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 Capital Territory (Self Government) Act Amendment Bill 2013

Today I introduce the Australian Capital Territory (Self Government) Act Amendment Bill 2013.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Australian Capital Territory (Self Government) Act 1988 to grant the ACT Legislative Assembly the power to determine its own numbers without reference to the Commonwealth.

The current process to change the number of members of the ACT Legislative Assembly requires a resolution to be passed by the ACT Legislative Assembly and then regulations to be made by the Commonwealth to change the size of the Assembly from the specified number of members under section 8(2) of the Act, that then receive support from the Assembly. This Bill grants the Assembly the power to independently determine and amend its own numbers and removes the Commonwealth role in the process.

The Centenary of Canberra year presents us with a timely opportunity to reflect on Australia’s national capital and all that it has achieved over the last 100 years.

Since the ACT was granted self-government 25 years ago, the ACT has grown into a fully functional, self-governing territory with a vibrant and engaged community and a Legislative Assembly that is recognised as a regional leader.

This Bill acknowledges the capacity of the ACT to run its own affairs, and provides it the power to determine the number of members it requires in its Legislative Assembly to efficiently and effectively perform its functions.

This Bill does not change the size of the Assembly. It amends the mechanism by which the size of the Assembly can be changed by removing the Commonwealth’s role in the process of approving amendments to the size of the Assembly, and vesting this power into the Assembly to independently fulfil this function. The Bill incorporates a requirement for any change to the size of the Assembly to be passed by a two thirds majority of the members of the Assembly. By promoting the need for bipartisan support for such changes to the governance of the territory, a safeguard is present, protecting our democratic traditions.

Questions about size of the ACT Legislative Assembly and the datedness of a mature parliament relying on another parliament to determine its size have been raised on multiple occasions. Only last year the ACT Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Administration and Procedure conducted a review of the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act. The Committee’s report, released in August recommended amending the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act to allow for the Legislative Assembly to determine its size without reference to the Commonwealth.

And this is not only a recommendation of the ACT Assembly.

In his 2011 review of the relationship between the Commonwealth and the ACT, Canberra Capital Place, Dr Allan Hawke AC, provided advice to this Government on how to find the right balance for planning responsibilities between the Commonwealth and the ACT Government.

In response to that review the Australian Government and the ACT Government agreed to work collaboratively to:

improve the structure and expression of matters of national significance

simplify the capital’s planning system

reduce overlap and duplication by better alignment of land management and planning responsibilities;

clarify the National Capital Authority's role in the promotion of the capital; and

take account of both local and national interest through the appointment of an ACT Government nominee from the Canberra community to the board of the National Capital Authority.

I am pleased to report to the House that all these initiatives are underway, but, we also considered the gravity of Dr Hawke’s discussion on political representation in the Territory and the size of the Assembly.

While his review did not make a specific recommendation around the size of the Assembly, because it was outside the terms of reference, Hawke made it clear:

“In light of the importance of robust and accountable democratic processes in the ACT - characterised by high standards of parliamentary debate, a legislative program covering a range of complex issues, and an active Assembly Committee process - and the significant under-representation of the citizens of the ACT, there is an overwhelming case for increasing the size of the Assembly.”

So, this Government is responding to this additional challenge in Dr Hawke’s 2011 report with action.

The reasons for pursuing this Bill are clear and sound.

It is appropriate: the ACT Legislative Assembly is a mature parliament. It is appropriate that it should assume responsibility for determining the number of members needed to ensure its efficient functioning and the mechanism with which the size of the Legislative Assembly is altered.

The ACT Legislative Assembly is capable and ready: the passage of the Bill would provide just recognition of the maturity and capacity that the ACT Legislative Assembly has demonstrated since it attained self-government. It is a vote of confidence in the capacity of the ACT to manage its own affairs and its governance arrangements.

It simplifies a complex process: the Bill reduces administrative effort and streamlines the process to effect change in the numbers of the ACT Legislative Assembly.

The Centenary year is an apt time for the Commonwealth to make this simple yet enduring change for the future of the ACT.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

 

Higher Education Support Amendment (Further Streamlining and Other Measures) Bill 2013

The Bill will introduce a number of measures to further strengthen and streamline the

Higher Education Support Act 2003 (the Act), resulting in more effective and efficient administration of the Australian Government’s Higher Education Loan Program or ‘HELP’, specifically, FEE-HELP and VET FEE-HELP.

The Bill builds on amendments made in the Higher Education Support Amendment (Streamlining and Other Measures) Act 2012, and further supports recommendations made in the Post Implementation Review of the VET FEE-HELP Assistance Scheme Final Report 2011. The amendments follow extensive consultation and contribute to commitments made under the April 2012 COAG National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform.

The Bill will enhance the quality and accountability framework underpinning HELP by providing for the automatic revocation of providers in specific circumstances where there is a high risk to students and public monies. Those circumstances will apply where a provider’s registration with the relevant tertiary education regulator ceases, or if a winding-up order is made by a court against a provider. Importantly, provider protection measures have been included in the Bill as it is a condition that automatic revocation action cannot occur before all review or appeal action by an Administrative Appeal Tribunal or court has been finalised.

The Bill will strengthen the compliance framework underpinning HELP by enabling the Minister to issue a provider with a compliance notice. This will enhance the range of provider compliance actions available to the Government in circumstances that present risk to students and public monies where suspension or revocation action is not warranted.

The amendments will also provide for the streamlining of administrative arrangements to allow the Government to amend a provider’s approval when informed of a change in business entity name, in a more efficient manner.

The existing arrangements for seeking information from the relevant tertiary education regulators are further enhanced by consolidating these provisions into one general provision. This amendment will also have the added benefit of reducing the complexity of the Act.

Further, the Bill will enable individuals to continue to repay their HELP debt based on appropriately calculated repayment thresholds by updating the calculation of indexation to apply to HELP repayment thresholds. This amendment reflects the move by the Australian Bureau of Statistics from quarterly to biannual publication of average weekly earnings data.

Finally, the Bill will improve consistency across the tertiary sector by updating qualification definitions in the Act to align with changes to the Australian Qualifications Framework.

 

Royal Commissions Amendment Bill 2013

In January this year, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, the Governor-General issued Letters Patent appointing six commissioners who will work together as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This Bill makes important changes to the Royal Commission Act to assist the Commission in conducting its inquiry.

Speaker, this Government has a proud track record of helping the vulnerable, and working to deliver reforms that will help future generations of Australians.

The Gillard Labor Government has not shied away from the big challenges. It has not been afraid to take action and introduce the reforms, for example the Clean Energy Future Plan, National Disability Insurance Scheme and Gonski education reforms, which will shape this country for years to come.

Establishing a Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse is another of these important initiatives — one which will shine a light on the injustices that have occurred in places where the most vulnerable in our society should have been cared for and protected.

The Commission will investigate and make recommendations on how to improve laws, policies and practices to prevent and better respond to child sexual abuse in institutions. Its recommendations will provide an opportunity to make sure that the failings of those institutions in the past is never allowed to happen again, and that" survivors receive the support and justice they deserve.

The establishment of this Commission is the Government's recognition of all those who have tried to bring the horrors of institutional child abuse out into the open and been ignored, scorned, shunned or simply disbelieved.

The voices of these individuals must be heard. Victims must feel properly supported to stand up to tell their stories, and the Government must acknowledge how such horrific crimes have affected their lives.

The Government recognises that for many people this will be very difficult. It is not going to be an easy process, but that does not mean that any of us should shy away from the challenge. We need to do away with the culture of silence. We need to listen to what has gone before so we can do everything possible to stop these crimes happening again.

Those affected should draw strength from the knowledge that, through their bravery, the Royal Commission will truly understand the horrors it is dealing with and be assisted in developing recommendations on what institutions and governments should do in the future to better protect children against child sexual abuse.

In developing the Terms of Reference for the Commission, the Government worked with people from all parts of Australia. The Government listened to organisations representing survivors of child abuse, community and legal leaders, law enforcement, governments and religious organisations.

One of the key themes that arose in this consultation process was the importance of having hearing processes sensitive to the needs of victims, so that they feel supported in preparing and giving evidence. And this bill will assist the Commission to put into place the most appropriate processes to hear the stories of those affected.

The bill will allow the Chair of the Commission, the Honourable Justice Peter McClellan AM, to authorise a fellow commissioner to hold a private session to receive information from victims and others affected by child sexual abuse. A traditional Royal Commission hearing setting will not generally serve as the best way to facilitate participation in the Royal Commission by those people affected by child sexual abuse.

For many, telling their story will be deeply personal and traumatic. While we cannot know at this time how many people will wish to participate, sadly we know that this crime has affected many in our community.

In order to carry out its inquiry, the private session mechanism will give the Royal Commission greater flexibility to directly hear from a potentially large number of people. Participants will not need to tell their accounts on oath or affirmation. These private sessions will not be open to the public and participation will be voluntary.

Acknowledging the distressing nature of these personal accounts, the Commissioners will be able to authorise support people to attend with witnesses giving information at a private session. Importantly, the Bill will also establish protections for those giving information at a private session. These protections are in essence the same as would apply when a witness is giving evidence at a hearing.

The second main purpose of the Bill is to enable the Chair of a Royal Commission to authorise one or more members to hold a hearing to take evidence. The Bill refers to this measure as an `authorised member hearing'. Currently under the Royal Commissions Act 1902 a hearing can only be held by the Commission as a whole or by a quorum.

In the case of multi-member Commissions, the proposed amendment will give a Chair Commissioner the means to efficiently distribute hearing workload where he or she is satisfied that this would be appropriate. This measure would have general application to Royal Commissions, including the Royal

Commission into Institutional Reponses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The Royal Commission must be thorough, but it must also move as quickly as possible to cover the masses of evidence, and personal stories, to help craft the necessary institutional reforms. This amendment will help to achieve that goal.

Child sexual abuse is a terrible crime. The Royal Commission will expose the far-reaching consequences of children affected by this abuse. It takes away the right of every child to grow up safe and happy. But as a community we have previously refused to face the fact that the systems and processes in place may not have only allowed this crime to occur in institutions where children should have been safe, but also assisted in making sure that the crime never came to light.

The Government cannot undo the past. It cannot take away the pain. But we can listen and we can bear witness. And, when the Royal Commission has completed its work, we can act to prevent these crimes and injustices from happening again.

Debate adjourned.

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