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Thursday, 20 March 2014
Page: 1627


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (12:05): 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 speech es read as follows—

QUARANTINE CHARGES (COLLECTION) BILL 2014

The Quarantine Charges (Collection) Bill 2014 is the final Bill being introduced as part of the package to provide appropriate cost recovery arrangements for import services. These arrangements are consistent with the Australian Government Cost Recovery Guidelines.

The Quarantine Charges (Collection) Bill 2014 will provide authority to collect charges imposed under the Quarantine Charges (Imposition-General) Bill 2014, the Quarantine Charges (Imposition-Customs) Bill 2014 and the Quarantine Charges (Imposition-Excise) Bill 2014.

The Bill provides that the regulations will determine the time the charge is due and payable.

The regulations under this Bill will also outline the liability of a person's agent to pay charges on that person's behalf and establish appropriate late payment fees where charges are not paid in the time allowed.

Specifying such matters in regulations, as opposed to the Act itself, provides the department with sufficient flexibility to ensure that these matters are appropriate in all circumstances.

The Bill also provides the Commonwealth with mechanisms to appropriately deal with non-payment. This includes powers to refuse service in relation to a person who is liable to pay a charge or late payment fee; to suspend and revoke import permits; to deal with goods and vessels to recover unpaid charges and late payment fees (including power to create a statutory charge on a good or vessel and withholding goods that are subject to a charge); to, in exceptional circumstances, sell goods and vessels that are subject to a charge or late payment fee to recover outstanding debts owed to the Commonwealth; to deal with goods or vessels that are abandoned or forfeited, including the ability to take possession, cause goods or vessels to be sold, destroyed or otherwise disposed of, and; for quarantine officers to issue directions in relation to goods and vessels that are subject to a charge. Penalties, including fines, imprisonment or both, apply to a person who engages in conduct that contravenes a direction.

Unpaid charges and late payment fees will be considered as debts to the Commonwealth and may be recovered by action in a relevant court.

The Bill sets out provisions for the remitting or refunding of charges or late payment fees if there are exceptional circumstances.

The Bill includes a link to provisions of the Quarantine Act 1908 where it is appropriate for consistency of operation between this Bill and the Quarantine Act. It is not appropriate for different provisions and powers to apply between this Bill and the Quarantine Act.

The Bill sets out provisions for the remitting or refunding of charges or late payment fees if there are exceptional circumstances.

Together these four Bills will ensure biosecurity import services are appropriately and validly supported. As mentioned earlier, funding the biosecurity system is critical for protecting Australia's unique animal and plant health status. It is also essential for maintaining farmers' access to overseas markets and strengthening our position as a net exporter of the highest quality agricultural goods.

QUARANTINE CHARGES (IMPOSITION-GENERAL) BILL 2014

This government is working to boost the competitiveness and productivity of the Australian agriculture sector. A strong biosecurity system is critical to that goal. Australia's enviable pest and disease status gives our producers a unique advantage other markets struggle to provide. Australia's strong biosecurity system works to protect human, plant and animal health from the impact of exotic pests and diseases.

The Department of Agriculture is responsible for safeguarding Australia from unwanted pests and diseases. As well as playing an obvious role protecting Australia's environment; safeguarding Australia from unwanted pests and diseases also protects Australia's economy.

For example, a recent review commissioned by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences looked at the economic impact of hypothetical foot and mouth disease outbreaks in Australia. In the event of a large multi-state foot and mouth disease outbreak, the ABARES estimates revenue losses could be more than $50 billion over 10 years. Reflecting international experience, the economic impact of trade restrictions, including the closure of export markets, would be far greater than the cost of controlling the disease.

Historically, the Department of Agriculture's approach to biosecurity has been shaped by mandatory border intervention targets for specific goods at the border. However, this approach did not take into account the varying levels of risk posed by different goods or whether intervention would be most effective overseas, at our border or on-shore.

In recent years, the department's approach has evolved to one based on risk, which helps officers target higher risk goods, passengers and mail. This has helped the department to more effectively manage the biosecurity risks associated with ever increasing volumes of trade and passengers moving across our border.

Risk based interventions reduce the burden on compliant businesses, enabling faster clearance at the border through better targeting and focus on higher risk goods. The risk based business model allows the free movement of goods where risk is low and cuts costs for clients who actively and conscientiously take account of biosecurity risks. It reduces the cost of delivering frontline services and saves time and money for importing businesses with flow-on benefits to the broader economy.

The government's policy is that agencies should set charges to recover the costs of products or services that they provide. Any charges should reflect the costs of providing the service and should generally be imposed on a fee-for-service basis or, where efficient, as a levy. In line with this policy, the department recovers the costs of providing services to importers under the Quarantine Act 1908 directly and indirectly. This includes indirect services such as intelligence gathering and surveillance that enable targeting of high risk goods for intervention.

This legislation package brings into line an appropriate legislative structure for the recovery of costs associated with indirect biosecurity services undertaken by the department for the benefit of importers. The legislation will sit alongside the existing fee-for-service cost recovery mechanism. Having the appropriate cost recovery mechanisms in place will support Australia's capacity to manage biosecurity risks into the future.

This legislation is designed purely as a cost recovery mechanism. The legislation ensures that the Minister for Agriculture must be satisfied that the amount charged will not be more than the likely costs of delivering the activity.

The legislation has been drafted to be consistent with Australia's international trade obligations. This will also be the case in drafting any delegated legislation.

The Quarantine Charges (Imposition-General) Bill 2014 is the first of four Bills that provide the appropriate cost recovery mechanism for the risk-based approach.

Specifically the Bill will enable cost recovery of activities that provide general benefits to importers - particularly the recovery of costs for surveillance, compliance, risk analysis and intelligence capabilities, which are key features of the risk-based approach.

The amount of the cost recovery charges and who is liable to pay them will be set in regulation under the Bill. As mentioned, the Bill also includes a safeguard regarding the amount of the charge. This will provide clients with confidence that the government will not over recover the costs of its biosecurity services.

Setting the charges through delegated legislation will allow the Minister for Agriculture to make appropriate and timely adjustments to the charges avoiding future over or under recoveries.

The Bill also validates the fees currently in the Quarantine Service Fees Determination 2005.

Three companion Bills are being introduced alongside this Bill, the Quarantine Charges (Imposition-Customs) Bill 2014, the Quarantine Charges (Imposition-Excise) Bill 2014, and the Quarantine Charges (Collection) Bill 2014.

This package of Bills will ensure that appropriate cost recovery mechanisms are in place. Funding the biosecurity system is critical for protecting Australia's unique animal and plant health status. It is also essential for maintaining farmers' access to overseas markets and strengthening our position as a net exporter of the highest quality agricultural goods - a position forecast to be worth $38.0 billion to the Australian economy in the current financial year.

QUARANTINE CHARGES (IMPOSITION-CUSTOMS) BILL 2014

The Quarantine Charges (Imposition-Customs) Bill 2014 is the second of four Bills being introduced to form this legislative package.

The Quarantine Charges (Imposition-Customs) Bill 2014 will impose charges only when they are considered a duty of customs. The key provisions of the Bill mirror those in the Quarantine Charges (Imposition-General) Bill 2014 and have the same operative function and effect.

The Bill does not itself set the amount of the charges and will not impose any financial impacts on businesses. The charges and who is liable and exempt from paying the charges will be set in delegated legislation.

QUARANTINE CHARGES (IMPOSITION-EXCISE) BILL 2014

The Quarantine Charges (Imposition-Excise) Bill 2014 is the third of four Bills being introduced to form this legislative package.

The Quarantine Charges (Imposition-Excise) Bill 2014 will impose charges only when they are considered a duty of excise. The key provisions of the Bill mirror those in the Quarantine Charges (Imposition-General) Bill 2014 and have the same operative function and effect.

The Bill does not itself set the amount of the charges and will not impose any financial impacts on businesses. The charges and who is liable and exempt from paying the charges will be set in delegated legislation. At this point in time there are no proposals to introduce any duties of excise in the delegated legislation.

Senator FIFIELD: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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