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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7825


Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (10:52): by leave—I move opposition amendments (1), (3), (4) and (6) on sheet 8225 together:

(1) Clause 11, page 10 (lines 6 to 9), omit the note, substitute:

Note: Part 4 of Chapter 3 (sunsetting) of the Legislation Act 2003 does not apply to the directions (see regulations made for the purposes of paragraph 54(2) (b) of that Act).

(3) Clause 11, page 10 (after line 31), at the end of the clause, add:

   (4) Section 42 (Disallowance of legislative instruments) of the Legislation Act 2003 applies to a direction made by the responsible Ministers under subsection (1).

Rules

   (5) The rules must prescribe, in relation to loans or financial assistance to be provided by the Corporation, the eligibility criteria for those loans or that assistance.

(4) Clause 12, page 11 (after line 15), after subclause (3), insert:

   (3A) For the purposes of subsection (3), any terms and conditions to be included in an agreement must be in accordance with the rules.

(6) Clause 12, page 11 (after line 21), at the end of the clause, add:

Ministerial directions—water infrastructure projects

   (6) A direction made by the responsible Ministers under subsection (3) is a notifiable instrument.

   (7) Section 38 (Tabling of legislation instruments) of the Legislation Act 2003 applies to the direction as if the direction were a legislative instrument.

   (8) The Minister must cause a copy of the direction to be published on the internet within 30 days after it is issued by the Minister.

Agreements—water infrastructure projects

   (9) The Corporation must give the Agriculture Minister a copy of an agreement entered into under subsection (3).

   (10) The Minister must cause a copy of the agreement to be tabled in each House of Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after its receipt by the Minister.

   (11) The Minister must cause a copy of the agreement to be published on the internet within 30 days after its receipt by the Minister.

Rules

   (12) The rules must prescribe, in relation to agreements to be entered into under subsection (3):

(a) the terms and conditions, or the kinds of terms and conditions, that may be included in an agreement; and

(b) the matters the Corporation must consider in specifying terms and conditions to be included in an agreement.

These amendments seek to strengthen the current bill. The Scrutiny of Bills Committee report found that the current bill lacked the appropriate high-level guidance as to the types of terms and conditions that states and territories will be required to comply with in order to receive payment of financial assistance for water infrastructure projects. Throughout the committee stage thus far, I haven't received any comfort from the minister's responses to the questions that have been asked. Regarding the water and infrastructure projects, this includes a legislative requirement that any directions made by the responsible ministers under subclause 12(3) and any agreements with the states and territories about these grants of financial assistance are tabled in the parliament within 15 sitting days after being made and published on the internet within 30 days after being made.

The scrutiny committee also expressed concerns about the bill exemption from disallowance and sunsetting. Minister Ruston has claimed that the normal parliamentary oversight and scrutiny will exist with regard to the corporation. However, while the bill provides for the operating mandate to be treated as a legislative instrument and will require it to be tabled, it will not be subject to disallowance and sunsetting.

The minister has sought to reassure the Senate chamber that any directions the corporation receives from the responsible ministers will be published in its annual reports. The government is claiming that this requirement will ensure that there will be appropriate transparency of ministerial directions to the corporation. Non-disallowable instruments do not allow for the proper oversight and parliamentary scrutiny of ministerial directions. Labor's amendments seek to strengthen the proper oversight and parliamentary scrutiny for directions made by the minister.

Minister Ruston also questioned whether Labor had concerns about entities similar to the RIC. This would be a fair question if those entities were indeed established under the exact same legislation that the RIC is to be established under.

We know that there are aspects of this bill that are unique in nature, and this is most likely due to the fact that Minister Joyce is the architect of the bill. It is lacking in detail, and we have seen a number of amendments put forward in an attempt to strengthen the bill. Labor urges all senators to support Labor's amendments to ensure that there is proper parliamentary oversight and scrutiny of the corporation.