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Monday, 19 March 2018
Page: 1460


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South WalesMinister for International Development and the Pacific) (17:26): I table revised explanatory memoranda relating to the Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2018 and the Treasury Laws Amendment (National Housing and Homelessness Agreement) Bill 2018 and 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—

BANKRUPTCY AMENDMENT (DEBT AGREEMENT REFORM) BILL 2018

SECOND READING SPEECH

This Bill amends the Bankruptcy Act 1966 to comprehensively reform Australia's debt agreement system.

It will boost confidence in the professionalism of debt agreement administrators, deter unscrupulous practices and enhance transparency. This Bill will ensure that the debt agreement system is accessible to debtors who have the financial capacity to enter into debt agreements.

Debt agreements are a statutory alternative to bankruptcy for eligible insolvent debtors. They provide a viable solution for managing personal debt. Debtors can regain and maintain control over their personal affairs and creditors can receive a portion of what they are owed.

[Modernising the debt agreement]

This Bill is the first major reform of the debt agreement system since 2007. The amendments include measures to modernise debt agreements to suit today's financial environment.

In light of the increasing value of Australia's property market, we are doubling the asset threshold at which debtors can access the debt agreement system. The higher threshold will open the system to debtors with some equity in their family home. However, the system also requires appropriate safeguards.

[Appropriate safeguards for debtors]

Under current arrangements, debt agreements can be proposed or extended to well beyond the five year mark. In some cases, they can extend beyond seven years. Longer debt agreements and subsequent variation of debt agreements is a sign that a debtor is unable to meet or maintain their obligations under the agreement.

This Bill will now require debt agreement proposals to include a payment timeframe that is three years or less. This measure will allow debtors to manage their debts in the short term and work towards a fresh start.

Despite the benefits of the debt agreement system to both debtors and creditors, a minority of debt agreements propose to pay amounts which significantly exceed the debtor's income, imposing substantial financial stress on the debtor and their families. This is a contributing factor to the repeated variations and extensions to debt agreements that the existing scheme permits, keeping debtors in financial stress for longer periods.

This Bill will address this concerning issue in a number of ways:

Firstly, we are introducing the innovative concept of a payment to income ratio - which will ensure proposals to set up or vary a debt agreement include an affordable payment schedule, whereby the total payments to be made do not exceed the debtor's income by a prescribed percentage.

To ensure the ratio is balanced and suited to the market, it will be determined by legislative instrument in close consultation with the debt agreement industry, consumer advocacy groups and creditor representatives.

Secondly, we are bolstering the authority of the Official Receiver in Bankruptcy to intervene in exceptional cases and refuse to accept debt agreement proposals which would cause undue financial hardship to vulnerable debtors.

The reforms will also deter unscrupulous practices of a small minority of debt agreement administrators, by setting stricter practice standards, introducing tougher penalties for wrongdoing, and granting the Inspector-General in Bankruptcy additional investigative powers to address administrator misconduct.

To mitigate the risk to a debtor of debt agreement administrator error or malpractice, we are now requiring administrators to take out and maintain professional indemnity and fidelity insurance as a requirement of their registration.

This brings requirements for debt agreement administrators into line with registered trustees and provides a safety net for affected debtors and creditors.

[Debt agreement administrators]

Debt agreements should be administered by appropriately skilled people to achieve the best outcomes for both debtors and their unsecured creditors.

To boost confidence in the professionalism of the system, this Bill introduces a requirement that only those who meet enhanced registration benchmarks will be eligible to administer a debt agreement.

An unregistered administrator will have 12 months from Royal Assent to the Bill to register as a debt agreement administrator or trustee if they wish to keep administering debt agreements.

The Bill also enhances transparency, providing clarity to debtors and creditors about an administrator's financial and organisational arrangements.

It is essential that debtors and creditors have the opportunity to review any business practices of an administrator that might affect a debt agreement - for example, the administrator's expenses arrangements or any relationships with debt management brokers or referrers that an administrator may have.

Requiring administrators to disclose their relationships is important because any money paid to brokers or referrers is money that could have been paid to creditors.

These amendments provide that a debt agreement proposal must disclose any relationships between administrators and brokers, and detail the types of expenses the administrator can recover, allowing debtors and creditors to make informed choices in proposing or accepting a debt agreement.

The enhanced standards for debt agreement administrators will be further enhanced by the development of industry wide conditions, to be implemented by legislative instrument in conjunction with this Bill.

These conditions will be developed in close consultation with the debt agreement administrator industry, consumer advocacy groups and creditor representatives.

As a whole, these measures will ensure the debt agreement system is an effective, fair and functional debt management option for debtors and creditors alike.

The Bill will commence six months after Royal Assent, giving the debt agreement administrator industry enough time to prepare for the changes.

These long-awaited reforms will revitalise the debt agreement system, providing better outcomes for creditors and supporting Australians living in financial distress to control their personal affairs.

COMMUNICATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (DEREGULATION AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2018

SECOND READING SPEECH

The Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2017 contains a range of measures to reduce red tape applying to the broadcasting and telecommunications sector whilst continuing to maintain important consumer safeguards.

The bill also simplifies regulations by removing redundant or otherwise unnecessary provisions.

I now turn to provide more detail on the amendments in the bill.

Industry based numbering management

The first set of amendments concerns industry based numbering management. The Telecommunications Act 1997 currently requires the Australian Communications and Media Authority, or ACMA, to make a plan for the numbering of carriage services in Australia and the use of numbers in connection with the supply of services to the public. The numbering plan must specify the numbers for use and may set out rules for the allocation of numbers to carriage service providers, the transfer of numbers between carriage service providers, and the surrender of numbers by carriage service providers.

This bill will amend the Telecommunications Act to enable the Minister to appoint a 'numbering scheme manager' to manage numbering resources on behalf of the Commonwealth under a self-managed industry scheme. An industry managed numbering scheme has the potential to deliver faster implementation of new numbering ranges, lower charges and more efficient allocation processes. The scheme will need to achieve key principles specified in the legislation, including an adequate and appropriate supply of numbers, protection of the interests of consumers, the promotion of effective competition, support for the emergency call service and the ongoing collection of numbering charges. Any industry scheme would only commence if and when the Minister was satisfied that the scheme met these and other relevant principles and would be fully funded by industry.

As an important safeguard, the appointment of the numbering scheme manager could be revoked by the Minister if the numbering scheme manager was not managing the numbering scheme in accordance with the principles, or if the Minister was satisfied that the revocation was in the best interests of the telecommunications industry, users of telecommunications services, the general community or national security.

As ACMA will continue to remain responsible for the collection of numbering charges, the bill will include a provision requiring a numbering scheme manager to provide information requested by ACMA in relation to calculating and collecting numbering charges. This would be at no cost to ACMA.

Licensee notification arrangements

The bill will remove the obligation on incoming controllers of regulated media assets to notify ACMA of changes in the control of a licence or publication. This is because the

Broadcasting Services Act 1992 already requires licensees, publishers and controllers of regulated media assets to notify ACMA of such changes.

Single classification scheme for television programs

The bill also deals with a single classification scheme for television programs. It will repeal the present requirement under the Broadcasting Services Act for licensees to use the film classification scheme in the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Gaines) Act 1995 when broadcasting films. This will enable licensees to use the code based television classification guidelines that apply to other television programs. This change will deliver a single classification scheme for all television programs, including films.

Tariff filing

The bill also deals with tariff filing. It will repeal tariff filing arrangements applying to the telecommunications industry under divisions 4 and 5 of part XIB of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. Division 4 enables the ACCC to collect certain tariff information from carriers and carriage-service providers that have a substantial degree of market power. Division 5 sets out a tariff filing regime that applies specifically to Telstra. These provisions are no longer necessary, and they impose an unnecessary regulatory burden on industry. In addition, there is considerable pricing information available in the public domain.

Industry monitoring and reporting

The bill contains provisions dealing with industry monitoring and reporting. Specifically, it will reform the statutory information collection and reporting functions of ACMA and the ACCC.

Section 105 of the Telecommunications Act requires ACMA to monitor and report to the Minister each financial year on significant matters related to the performance of carriers and carriage-service providers. ACMA obtains information from industry in preparing the report. The bill will provide more flexibility for ACMA to decide which matters to monitor and report on. ACMA will only be required to report on the operation of part 14 of the Telecommunications Act, regarding national interest matters, and the data retention requirements under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979. The Minister will retain the power to direct ACMA to report on specified matters.

The bill will also remove the requirement for ACMA to provide the report to the Minister and for the Minister to table the report in Parliament. Instead, the bill will require ACMA to prepare and publish the report on its website within six months of the end of the financial year. This change will enable ACMA to provide information to the public in a more timely manner and reduce administrative costs.

Section 151CM of the Competition and Consumer Act requires the ACCC to monitor and report to the Minister annually on charges paid by consumers for listed carriage services, ancillary goods or services. The bill will provide more flexibility to the ACCC by allowing it to decide which charges to monitor and report on, having regard to the most commonly used consumer services supplied using a telecommunications network.

The bill will also remove the requirement for the ACCC to provide the report to the Minister and for the Minister to table it in Parliament, along with a similar requirement under section 151CL for the ACCC's report on competitive safeguards in the telecommunications industry. To enable the more timely provision of information to the public, the bill will require the ACCC to publish the reports on its website within six months of the end of the financial year.

In addition, the bill will require the ACCC to review its record-keeping rules at least.every five years, having regard to whether the information is publicly available, to whether consumer demand for the goods or services to which the information relates has changed and to the usefulness of the information to consumers, the Minister and Parliament.

ACMA consultation on submarine protection cable zones

The bill also deals with consultation by ACMA on submarine protection cable zones. The bill will remove the requirement under the Telecommunications Act for ACMA to consult with an advisory committee before declaring a submarine protection cable zone. This requirement is not needed as ACMA consults with the secretary of the department of the environment and the public in all instances.

NBN Co statements that it is not installing fibre in new developments

The bill deals with statements by NBN Co that it is not installing fibre in new developments. It will remove the ability of NBN Co under the Telecommunications Act to issue and keep a register of statements that it will not be installing fibre in a new real estate development, which in turn removes the obligation on a developer to install fibre-ready pit and pipe. The current provisions require NBN Co, as an industry participant, to make decisions of a regulatory nature. This is not appropriate. The Minister will continue to have the power to exempt developments from the pit-and-pipe rules if required.

NBN Co disposal of surplus assets

The bill also deals with the disposal by NBN Co of surplus assets. It amends the National Broadband Network Companies Act 2011 to provide that NBN Co may dispose of surplus non-communications goods. The changes will allow NBN Co to sell surplus asserts, such as office equipment and vehicles, even where it does not supply services to the buyer of the asset. This will provide NBN Co with greater flexibility to manage its assets in an efficient and financially effective manner.

The Government remains committed to ensuring that regulation is fit for purpose in the light of changing technology and consumer expectations, and to removing outdated regulation which represents an unnecessary drag on the economy. This bill makes a useful contribution in this regard.

I commend the bill.

CORPORATIONS AMENDMENT (CROWD-SOURCED FUNDING FOR PROPRIETARY COMPANIES) BILL 2017

SECOND READING SPEECH

This Bill sets out amendments to the Corporations Act 2001 to enable proprietary companies in Australia to access crowd-sourced equity funding.

This will be a game changer for Australian start-ups and new small businesses.

This is yet another example of the Turnbull Government getting on with the job of backing in business, getting the settings right to create jobs and helping our economy transition.

The extension of Australia's crowd-sourced equity funding framework to proprietary companies delivers on the announcement made in the 2017-18 Budget and demonstrates the Government's commitment to fostering a more innovative and creative Australian economy, by ensuring that start-ups and early stage businesses can access the funding they need.

Facilitating access to crowd-sourced equity is part of the Government's agenda to develop a strong and vibrant FinTech industry in Australia.

That is why this Government introduced the crowd-sourced equity funding framework for public companies late last year. Extending crowd-sourced equity funding to private companies through this Bill will enable more innovative companies and start-ups to obtain funding from a crowd of investors. In return for being able to have an unlimited number of crowdfunding shareholders, participating proprietary companies will have higher governance and reporting obligations to protect the larger number of investors they will be able to have.

Many of the features of the existing public company framework which the Government introduced last year, such as the obligations of intermediaries and the process of making crowdfunding offers, will be the same for proprietary companies. This will reduce complexity for intermediaries, crowdfunding companies and investors.

We have consulted widely and have listened to entrepreneurs and businesses, who tell us that it can be difficult for innovative, early-stage businesses, who are often proprietary companies to access funding from traditional sources. Proprietary companies wanting to access equity crowdfunding will no longer have to convert to public company type, with its more onerous obligations. Instead, founders will be able to crowdfund while retaining the greater flexibility of the proprietary model.

Increasing the attractiveness of equity crowdfunding will also increase the pool of potential investments, giving investors the opportunity to share in the risks and successes of these growing businesses. Recognising that this extension is a new approach to the proprietary company framework in Australia, the Government has balanced the importance of investor protection, transparency and good corporate governance standards with what can be significant costs of compliance.

This Bill complements the Turnbull Government's financial sector and innovation policies such as tax incentives for angel investors in start-ups and announcements in this year's Budget including the Open Banking Review currently underway; the development of an enhanced regulatory sandbox for new and innovative financial services; and changes to the tax treatment of digital currencies.

The Government has consulted at length on this extension of this policy to proprietary companies, releasing a consultation paper in 2015 followed by industry roundtables in 2016. The Government also released the draft legislation for public consultation in May 2017. Submissions expressed widespread support for the extension of the crowd-sourced equity funding framework to proprietary companies.

I would like to thank all of the stakeholders who participated in these consultations over the past two years. It is important that the regulatory framework for crowd-sourced equity funding for proprietary companies operates effectively to maximise the benefit to businesses, intermediaries and investors. Stakeholder feedback has assisted with the development of a framework that achieves this.

I would now like to turn to the provisions of the Bill.

This Bill removes the regulatory barriers preventing eligible proprietary companies from accessing the crowd-sourced equity funding framework.

To ensure proprietary companies can effectively access the framework without breaching the 50 shareholder cap that currently applies to proprietary companies, investors who acquire shares through crowdfunding offers will not be counted towards the cap. Subsequent transfers by crowdfunding investors who on-sell their shares will also be exempt if the company is not listed on a financial market. This will give crowdfunding investors flexibility to exit their investment without causing the company to inadvertently breach the shareholder cap and forcing it to convert to public company type.

Further, the Government is very proud of the flexibility it has built into the regime. Proprietary companies with shareholders who acquire shares through a crowdfunding offer will not be subject to the takeovers rules. For founders contemplating crowd-sourced equity funding, this will give them certainty that they can crowdfund and still seek further funding to grow the business without contravening the costly and complex takeovers provisions. To ensure investors are protected, the Bill includes a regulation making power to allow the Government to respond quickly by imposing additional conditions on this exemption if required.

Acknowledging that proprietary companies that access crowd-sourced equity funding will no longer be closely held, these companies will be required to comply with additional obligations to protect investors.

Proprietary companies with crowdfunding shareholders will be required to prepare financial reports in accordance with accounting standards, with financial statements to be audited once the company raises at least $3 million from crowdfunding offers. Financial transparency will allow investors to monitor progress of companies and make informed decisions about their investment.

Crowdfunding proprietary companies will be required to have a minimum of two directors, rather than the usual one director. This will provide greater transparency and certainty around succession planning. As proprietary companies that use crowdfunding will rely on public funding, the restrictions on related party transactions under Part 2E of the Corporations Act 2001 will be extended to crowdfunding proprietary companies to ensure that individual investors have appropriate protections against the risk of fraud and bias arising from transactions with related parties.

As the Bill enables proprietary companies to access crowd-sourced equity funding, the Bill also removes the temporary concessions from certain public company reporting and governance obligations that were included in the Corporations Amendment (Crowd-sourced Funding) Act 2017. These concessions will be grandfathered for companies that register as or convert to public company status prior to the commencement of the extension of the framework to proprietary companies. However, to ensure consistency for those public companies eligible for the grandfathered concessions, the Bill increases the audit threshold for eligible public companies from $1 million to $3 million.

The Bill further improves the overall crowd-sourced equity funding framework by reducing the withdrawal period after a company issues a supplementary or replacement offer document from one month to 14 days. A 14 day withdrawal period still gives investors adequate time to reconsider their investment, while providing greater certainty about the outcome of the offer for other potential investors and the company.

The extension of the crowd-sourced equity funding framework to proprietary companies will take effect six months from the date the Bill receives Royal Assent. The changes to the crowd-sourced equity funding framework for public companies, excluding the removal of the corporate governance concessions, will commence on Royal Assent.

The 2017-18 Budget provided the Australian Securities and Investments Commission with $4.5 million over four years to implement and monitor the extension of the framework. This funding will be recovered from regulated entities.

The Government proposes to make regulations to support the operation of the measures in this Bill

Introducing this Bill today delivers on the Government's commitment to extend equity crowdfunding to proprietary companies. Unlocking a new source of funding delivers on our commitment to foster innovative economic activity and support the development of the Australian FinTech sector.

Full details of the measure are contained in the explanatory memorandum.

CRIMES AMENDMENT (NATIONAL DISABILITY INSURANCE SCHEME - WORKER SCREENING) BILL 2018

SECOND READING SPEECH

This Bill creates exceptions to the provisions that prevent disclosure of spent, quashed and pardoned conviction for persons who work or seek to work with people with disability in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

This Bill aims to help protect and prevent people with disability from harm from the people working closely with them. It will provide transparency for providers, people with a disability and their families.

The NDIS is one of the largest social and economic policy reforms in Australian history.

At full scheme, the NDIS will be supporting around 460,000 Australians with disability.

At that time, the NDIS will be injecting over $20 billion each year into the Australian economy.

This requires a new, nationally consistent approach to quality and safeguards for the disability sector that ensure the NDIS supports and services are of an appropriate standard and are delivered in a way that promotes choice, control, dignity, and upholds basic human rights.

The protection of people with disability from violence, abuse and neglect is a key priority for all Australian governments.

In December 2016, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) endorsed the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework, setting out a new approach to regulation for the NDIS to protect NDIS participants. The Framework is the result of over three years of consultation with people with disability, carers, and providers.

A nationally consistent approach to worker screening is an important element of this Framework that will help create a safe and trusted workforce in the NDIS, and minimise the risk of harm to people with disability.

All Australian governments are working together to deliver a new NDIS Worker Screening Check.

The new Check is intended to become available in New South Wales and South Australia from July 2018, in Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory from July 2019, and in Western Australia from July 2020.

Workers engaged by registered NDIS providers to deliver higher risk supports and services or supports or services that entail more than incidental contact with an NDIS participant would be required to have an NDIS Worker Screening Check clearance.

Worker screening will provide employers with an important tool for their recruitment, selection and screening processes and help ensure people chosen to work in the NDIS are safe to work with people with disability.

It also provides self-managing NDIS participants and their families important information to help them make informed choices about workers providing their supports.

And importantly worker screening will deter predatory individuals from seeking work in this sector.

The NDIS Worker Screening Check represents a major step forward from the existing fragmented arrangements operating in each state and territory.

Worker clearances will be portable across jurisdictions and employers, reducing duplication and complexity for workers and providers moving between, or operating across, jurisdictions.

Improved information sharing will mean there is visibility of workers' national criminal history records and consistent decisions across all jurisdictions.

Workers who hold an NDIS Worker Screening Check clearance will be subject to ongoing monitoring at a national level for relevant criminal history or Commission records.

A national approach eliminates the opportunity for people to make multiple attempts at gaining a worker screening clearance. It prevents people with adverse records in one state or territory from attempting to gain a clearance to work in the NDIS in another.

This Bill is a major step forward in removing legislative barriers to implementing nationally consistent worker screening and realising these benefits.

This Bill is consistent with arrangements already in place for working with children checks and the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

These amendments will assist worker screening units to make a more accurate and informed assessment of the risk that a person may pose to people with disability in the NDIS.

Recent inquiries and reports have documented the weaknesses of the current safeguards arrangements for disability services, and found that reports of abuse and neglect perpetrated against people with disability may not be pursued for a variety of reasons. This includes difficulties experienced in securing a conviction where the victim is a person with disability, and the challenges faced by people with disability who are victims of crime.

For these reasons, governments have agreed that it is appropriate to consider a person's full criminal history, including spent, quashed and pardoned conviction information, to assess the risk they may pose in working with a person with disability in the NDIS.

This Bill has been informed by the arrangements already in place for working with children checks, and builds on best practice among states and territories, and learnings from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

This Bill strikes a balance between the risk to people with disability with the rights of individual workers to privacy and employment.

The exchange of information permitted by the Bill is subject to the same stringent safeguards in place for Working with Children Checks. Information will only be disclosed to prescribed worker screening units for the purpose of enabling a more accurate and informed decision about whether a person poses a risk to vulnerable people.

The Bill requires the Minister to be satisfied that certain criteria are met before a person or body can be prescribed to deal with Commonwealth criminal history information about persons who work, or seek to work, with a person with a disability. The Minister responsible for prescribing persons or bodies for this purpose will be the Attorney-General.

A person or body will not be able to be prescribed unless the Minister is satisfied that the screening unit has a legislative basis for doing so and complies with applicable privacy, human rights and records management legislation.

Furthermore, the Minister must be satisfied that the person or body complies with the principles of natural justice, and has risk assessment frameworks and appropriately skilled staff to assess risks to the safety of a person with a disability.

This item acts as an important safeguard against the misuse of criminal history information.

In addition to this, based on advice provided by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner to the Department, the Bill contains staged reviews of its operation. The Department will also conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment of the measures proposed in the Bill.

The NDIS Worker Screening Check will be proportionate, risk-based and fair. The Government is fully committed to delivering a quality NDIS.

This is why this Government has taken strong, decisive action by establishing a national independent body, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission, to protect and prevent people with disability from experiencing harm. The Government has provided $209 million over four years to support the Commission.

The Commission will lead the overall design and broad policy settings for nationally consistent NDIS worker screening. It will also have responsibility for registering NDIS providers, responding to complaints, managing reportable incidents notifications, and providing leadership to reduce and eliminate the use of restrictive practices in the NDIS.

The Commission will be able to pass on substantiated misconduct and disciplinary findings from its reportable incidents and complaints systems to worker screening units to support NDIS worker screening.

Operating as an independent statutory body with integrated functions and powers, the Commission will be a fit-for-purpose, evidence-based, responsive regulator.

In recognising that NDIS participants are amongst the most vulnerable people in the community and that people with disability have the right to be protected from exploitation, violence and abuse, the implementation of the NDIS Worker Screening Policy will:

Reduce the potential for providers to employ workers who pose a high risk of harm to people with disability;

Prohibit those persons who pose a high risk or are proven to have harmed vulnerable people from working in the sector; and

Deter individuals who pose a high risk of harm from seeking work in the sector.

The Government will continue to consult with stakeholders to establish nationally consistent expectations for the conduct of providers, the training and screening of their workers and the quality of supports and services that they deliver under the NDIS. This Bill represents a significant step forward in protections for people with disability, their families and carers.

IMPORTED FOOD CONTROL AMENDMENT (COUNTRY OF ORIGIN) BILL 2017

SECOND READING SPEECH

On 1 July 2016, the Coalition Government delivered reforms to country of origin labelling to provide a clearer, simpler system that enables Australians to clearly see where their food comes from.

Surveys have shown that consumers want this information at their fingertips. 74 per cent of Australians think it's important to be able to identify the country of origin of their food, and 73 per cent agreed that changes to food labelling were required.

We've listened and acted. As a result of the work we've already done, everyday Aussie brands like Sanitarium, KR Castlemaine, Coon Cheese, Cracker barrel, Beechworth Honey and Carman's Muesli are proudly displaying their home grown product with new country of origin labelling.

The Imported Food Control Amendment (Country of Origin) Bill 2017 is an important final step in implementing these reforms for the Agriculture and Water Resources portfolio.

From 1 July 2018, all applicable food must comply with the labelling requirements set out in the Country of Origin Food Labelling Information Standard 2016. This Standard was made under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, and provides a more consumer-focused regulatory framework.

The Standard will replace the existing country of origin labelling requirements for food in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, which will be repealed on 1 July 2018.

This Bill will amend the Imported Food Control Act 1992 to incorporate the Standard made under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

Incorporating the Standard will ensure authorised officers can continue to enforce the country of origin labelling requirements for imported food products. It will also ensure that the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources can continue its role in enforcing country of origin labelling at the border.

The amendments will ensure that it will be business as usual for imported food inspected at the border.

INTELLIGENCE SERVICES AMENDMENT (ESTABLISHMENT OF THE AUSTRALIAN SIGNALS DIRECTORATE) BILL 2018

SECOND READING SPEECH

There is no greater responsibility for any Government than to ensure the safety and security of its people.

Last year the Australian Government announced the most significant reform to Australia's intelligence and security landscape in decades by establishing a new Home Affairs portfolio, creating an Office of National Intelligence (subsuming the existing Office of National Assessments), and transforming the Australian Signals Directorate into a statutory agency.

The Intelligence Services Amendment (Establishment of the Australian Signals Directorate) Bill 2018 implements the recommendations of the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review and fulfils the Government's commitment to establish the Australian Signals Directorate as an independent statutory agency within the Defence portfolio reporting directly to the Minister for Defence.

On 7 November 2016, the Prime Minister announced an independent review of the Australian Intelligence Community.

The timing of the review is consistent with the 2011 Independent Review of the Intelligence Community recommendation that periodic review occur every five years.

On 18 July 2017, the Prime Minister released the unclassified version of the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review report.

The Review made 23 recommendations in relation to the structural, legislation and oversight architecture of the intelligence community, including the establishment of the Australian Signals Directorate as an independent statutory agency within the Defence portfolio.

The Australian Signals Directorate has a long history which goes back to the Second World War, when Australian Navy, Army and Air Force personnel were brought together to support General MacArthur's South-West Pacific campaign by intercepting and decoding enemy radio signals.

After the war, as the wartime signals intelligence units were wound down, Government approval for a new peacetime signals intelligence organisation was given on 23 July 1946.

The new Defence Signals Bureau opened at Albert Park Barracks, Melbourne, on 12 November 1947. Its role was to exploit foreign communications and be responsible for communications security in the armed services and Government departments.

The bureau was renamed the Defence Signals Branch in October 1949, a title it retained until January 1964, when it became the Defence Signals Division.

As a result of an inquiry in 1977 into intelligence and security, the Defence Signals Division was renamed the Defence Signals Directorate and made directly responsible to the Secretary of the Department of Defence.

In June 1988, the Government decided that the Defence Signals Directorate should move to Defence headquarters at Russell Offices, Canberra, to facilitate a closer relationship with Defence, other intelligence agencies and key Government departments.

Recent years have seen a dramatic expansion of the information security role the Signals Directorate plays as a result of the explosive growth of the internet and moves to online service delivery by Australian Governments.

In January 2010, the Defence Signals Directorate established the Cyber Security Operations Centre to develop a comprehensive understanding of ICT security threats to critical Australian systems and coordinate a response to those threats across Government and industry.

In May 2013, the Defence Signals Directorate was renamed the Australian Signals Directorate to reflect its whole-of-government role in support of Australia's national security.

In November 2014, the Cyber Security Operations Centre evolved into the Australian Cyber Security Centre, or the ACSC, which is the next evolution of Australia's cyber security capability.

The ACSC sees the co-location of all contributing agencies' cyber security capabilities, including the Australian Signals Directorate's cyber security mission, the Centre of Emergency Response Team from the Attorney-General's Department, representatives of the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, ASIO, and the Defence Intelligence Organisation.

The ACSC is currently the joint responsibility of the Attorney-General and the Minister for Defence.

It is clear the Australian Signals Directorate has evolved from a primarily Defence signals collection agency after World War II to become Australia's national signals intelligence authority for collecting intelligence, supporting the military and undertaking cyber security, and affects operations through the application of advanced technologies.

The Australian Signals Directorate is now a national asset with a national focus, playing a much broader role than defined by its previously exclusive Defence focus.

In broad terms, this Bill will separate the Australian Signals Directorate from the Department of Defence and establish it as an independent statutory agency under the control of the Director-General of the Australian Signals Directorate from 1 July 2018.

In December 2017, The Prime Minister announced the appointment of Mr Mike Burgess as the Director-General designate of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).

Mr Burgess is a cyber security consultant who was previously the Chief Information Security Officer for Telstra and prior to that, a Deputy Director of the Australian Signals Directorate. Mr Burgess will bring to the Australian Signals Directorate significant experience in intelligence and information and cyber security from both the private and public sectors, particularly as it transitions to a statutory agency within the Defence portfolio. I congratulate him on his appointment and look forward to his ongoing contributions to our national security.

The Bill will also amend the Australian Signals Directorate's functions to bring the ACSC into the Australian Signals Directorate, in accordance with recommendation 3(b) of the Review.

The Centre of Emergency Response Team and its functions relating to cyber policy and security will also be transferred from the Attorney-General's Department to the Australian Signals Directorate.

Specifically, the Bill implements the recommendations of the Review by:

amending the Australian Signals Directorate's functions to include providing material, advice and other assistance to any person on matters relating to the security and integrity of information that is processed, stored or communicated by electronic or similar means; and cybersecurity, which will allow the ACSC to liaise with industry;

amending ASD's functions to include combating cybercrime;

providing provisions for the establishment of the Australian Signals Directorate on a statutory basis, and the appointment of the Director-General of the Australian Signals Directorate to control the Australian Signals Directorate and its staff;

providing provisions that the Director-General of the Australian Signals Directorate must brief the Leader of the Opposition about matters relating to the Australian Signals Directorate;

giving the Director-General of the Australian Signals Directorate powers to employ persons as employees of the Australian Signals Directorate outside the frame of the Public Service Act 1999;

amending other legislation as appropriate to replace references to the Director of the Australian Signals Directorate with the Director-General of the Australian Signals Directorate and to remove references to the Department of Defence.

In relation to the employment of staff, the Australian Signals Directorate would operate outside of the Public Service Act framework. This will provide the Australian Signals Directorate with greater flexibility to recognise the skills of its specialised workforce. This structure will reflect the need to retain those individuals with highly sought after skills, such as those with science, technology, engineering and maths qualifications.

The Australian Signals Directorate will be required under the Bill to adopt the principles of the Public Service Act in relation to employees of the Australian Signals Directorate to the extent the Director-General of the Australian Signals Directorate considers they are consistent with the effective performance of the functions of the Australian Signals Directorate.

The Bill also includes an additional function for the Australian Signals Directorate to protect the specialised technologies and capabilities acquired in the performance of its other functions. The Australian Signals Directorate cannot perform its important functions without being able to protect its tools to ensure their ongoing utility and protect Australia's national interests.

The Bill also includes provisions to amend the Crimes Act to include the Australian Signals Directorate in the assumed identities regime set out in Part IAC of the Crimes Act. This Part provides for the acquisition and use of assumed identities by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

This allows authorised officers of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to act under false identities, enabling them to undertake obscure sensitive activities that would be undermined if they were to be connected with law enforcement or intelligence agencies and protects the true identity of individual officers.

The Australian Signals Directorate relies on the use of assumed identities to perform activities related to its functions in circumstances where the Australian Signals Directorate's operations would be compromised were the activities to be connected to the Australian Signals Directorate.

Currently, ASIS and ASIO operate assumed identities on the Australian Signals Directorate's behalf. The inclusion of the Australian Signals Directorate in the assumed identities scheme will increase transparency and accountability for the Australian Signals Directorate officers using assumed identities.

While the Director-General of the Australian Signals Directorate will be able to authorise the use of an assumed identity, the acquisition of evidence of an assumed identity will be authorised and done on the Australian Signals Directorate's behalf by either ASIO or ASIS.

The Bill also makes a number of transitional provisions to ensure the good governance of the Australian Signals Directorate continues during the implementation of the new arrangements.

The establishment of the Australian Signals Directorate as a statutory authority puts the agency on a similar footing to ASIS and ASIO as a national security and intelligence asset.

Given the Australian Signals Directorate's increased national responsibilities in relation to cyber security and the critical operational support it provides to the Australian Defence Force, the Australian Signals Directorate will now have the appropriate statutory functions to ensure it is well placed to support Australian Defence Force operations and its national responsibility for combating cyber-crime, including the provision of advice to the private sector into the future.

There is no greater responsibility for any Government and Parliament than to ensure the safety and security of all Australians - and this Bill will help make the Australian Signals Directorate a major part in delivering this responsibility into the future.

I commend the Bill.

MIGRATION AND OTHER LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (ENHANCED INTEGRITY) BILL 2017

SECOND READING SPEECH

The Migration and Other Legislation Amendment (Enhanced Integrity) Bill 2017 ("the Bill") amends the Migration Act 1958, the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936, and the Taxation Administration Act 1953 to implement measures to support the integrity of the temporary and permanent employer sponsored skilled visa programmes.

The measures in this Bill will:

allow the public disclosure of sponsor sanctions;

allow the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (the Department) to collect, record, store and use the tax file numbers of certain visa holders for compliance and research purposes;

provide certainty around when merits review is available for visas that require an approved nomination; and

allow the Department to enter into an enforceable undertaking with a sponsor who has breached their sponsor obligations.

These measures complement and are part of the significant reform package to abolish the subclass 457 visa and replace it with a new Temporary Skill Shortage visa. The measures in this Bill will apply to temporary and permanent sponsored skilled work visas, which include the 457 visa and its replacement, the Temporary Skill Shortage visa.

These measures strengthen the integrity of these visa programmes, and protect Australian and overseas workers.

Tax file number sharing and the disclosure of sponsor sanctions will also give effect to recommendations made in Robust New Foundations: An Independent Review into Integrity in the Subclass 457 Programme.

I now turn to examine the Bill in more detail.

The Bill proposes to amend the Migration Act to allow the public disclosure information concerning businesses that are sanctioned for breaching their sponsor obligations. This information will be published on the Department's website. Information released will include the sponsorship obligation that was breached, the sanction that was imposed, and details of the business.

Sponsor obligations are in place to protect the wages and conditions of Australian and overseas workers, and to ensure skilled work programmes are only used when an Australian is not available.

Currently, the Department is only able to publicly release limited information regarding breaches. Whilst the Department's annual report includes aggregate data on sponsor sanctions, it does not contain details of the companies that breached their obligations, or the penalty that was issued.

This information is not enough to inform the public about businesses that do the wrong thing.

The publication of detailed sanction information will deter businesses from breaching their obligations. It will allow Australians and overseas workers to inform themselves about breaches, and will increase public confidence in the integrity of our visa programmes.

The Bill also proposes to amend the Migration Act to provide certainty around when merits review is available for visas that require an approved nomination.

This measure will clarify the situations in which review rights are available. It will clarify that review rights are determined at the time a decision to refuse a visa is made.

The Bill also proposes to amend the Migration Act, the Income Tax Assessment Act and the Taxation Administration Act to allow the Department to collect, record, store and use the tax file numbers associated with temporary and permanent skilled visas for compliance and research purposes.

It is proposed that the Migration Regulations will provide for tax file number sharing associated with temporary and permanent skilled visas, including the subclass 457 visa.

Tax file numbers will improve the Department's ability to verify that businesses who sponsor overseas workers are complying with their sponsorship obligations, and that skilled visa holders comply with their visa conditions.

The Department will use tax file numbers to match and access data, including salary data, held by the Australian Taxation Office. Whilst the Department already conducts data sharing with the Australian Taxation Office, it does not have the authority to collect or store tax file numbers for this purpose.

This data will assist the Department to undertake more streamlined, targeted and effective compliance activity to identify employers who breach their obligations, including by underpaying visa holders, and visa holders working for more than one employer in breach of their visa conditions.

Tax file numbers will also improve the Department's ability to undertake research and trend analysis. This will provide an additional evidence base for the Department in developing skilled visa policy.

In order to achieve these goals, it is also proposed that the Department would be able to store tax file numbers if they are provided during the visa application process.

Finally, the Bill proposes to amend to amend the Migration Act so the Department can enter into enforceable undertakings with sponsors who have breached their obligations. This provides the Department and sponsors with an additional remedy to address breaches.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the measures in this Bill will protect Australian and overseas workers, by strengthening the integrity of Australia's temporary and permanent sponsored skilled work visas.

SOCIAL SERVICES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (14-MONTH REGIONAL INDEPENDENCE CRITERIA) BILL 2018

SECOND READING SPEECH

This Bill makes a minor technical amendment to the Simplifying Student Payments Act 2017.

The Simplifying Student Payments Act supported regional and remote students by amending the rules governing when a person will be regarded as independent for the purposes of Youth Allowance. It intended to reduce the period young people from regional and remote areas of Australia have to earn the amount required to satisfy the workforce independence provisions from 18 months to 14 months. This measure commenced from 1 January 2018.

The reduction to 14 months was an election commitment by the Government and part of a package to support regional students' access to education.

Students whose family home is in a regional or remote location can access Youth Allowance on the basis of being independent under concessional workforce participation arrangements.

One way in which students can demonstrate they have supported themselves is through a period or periods of employment over 14 months since leaving secondary school, with earnings totalling at least 75 per cent of Wage Level A of the National Training Wage. This is $24,836 for the 2017-18 financial year.

In addition, to access these arrangements students' parental income must be below $150,000, they must be undertaking full-time study and they must be required to live away from home to study.

This measure recognised that regional and remote students face additional costs in pursuing tertiary education and have much lower participation rates in higher education than students from major cities.

The reduced period from 18 months to 14 months allows students to qualify for Youth Allowance four months sooner than under previous arrangements.

Students are now able to take a gap year at the end of secondary school, and subject to them satisfying the other qualification requirements for Youth Allowance, receive payment as independent the following year. Students who are considered independent for Youth Allowance purposes do not have their rate of payment affected by parental income, as is the case for dependent recipients.

Previously, students who qualified for Youth Allowance under these arrangements may have commenced study prior to qualifying for student payments or have taken two gap years in order to satisfy the 18-month criteria before commencing study and qualifying for payment.

The longer students are disengaged from study after completing secondary school, the less likely they will be to commence or complete tertiary study.

It is estimated that over the forward estimates approximately 3,700 regional and remote students will qualify for Youth Allowance as independent under the 14-month period. Approximately 2,500 would become eligible for payment as independent four months earlier than under the previous 18-month period.

Approximately 1,200 would become eligible for payment as independent, who otherwise would not have met the independence criteria. This includes students who choose to take a gap year, who may have not undertaken a gap year otherwise.

These young people are expected to change their employment and study patterns in order to earn the required amount in 14 months.

Despite this measure commencing on 1 January 2018, an unintended consequence of the Act meant that a small group of approximately 300 students have not been able to take advantage of the reduced 14-month period.

Young people who were receiving Youth Allowance prior to 1 January 2018 were unintentionally left behind. This group remained under the old 18-month rule.

For example, a young person who finished school in 2016 and worked throughout 2017 hoping to qualify as independent and went on Youth Allowance as a dependent recipient, would have the 18-month period apply to them.

For a young person from a regional area, who requires the full rate of Youth Allowance in order to move away from home to study, having the 18-month period apply to them could mean that they have to delay university for an extra year.

This Bill will correct the unintended consequence of the Act and will mean that the 14-month period is available for all students seeking independence for Youth Allowance under the workforce independence provisions for regional and remote tertiary students.

This Bill will ensure that the 14-month period is applied consistently to all tertiary students from regional areas.

TREASURY LAWS AMENDMENT (2018 MEASURES NO. 1) BILL 2018

SECOND READING SPEECH

Schedule 1 to this Bill makes a number of regulatory improvements to Treasury portfolio laws.

This measure forms part of the Government's Regulatory Reform Agenda, which is focussed on renewing our existing regulatory systems, to ensure that they are fit-for-purpose, flexible and capable of adapting to new business models as they emerge.

The regulatory improvements found in Schedule 1 include:

amending the superannuation laws to enable the Commissioner of Taxation to pay certain superannuation amounts directly to individuals with a terminal medical condition;

amending the Corporations Act 2001 to modify the notification and reporting obligations applying to certain corporations that have property in receivership or property in respect of which a controller is acting; and

repealing several inoperative Acts as well as amending the taxation law to remove a number of inoperative or spent provisions.

These measures were previously introduced in Treasury Legislation Amendment (Repeal Day 2015) Bill 2015 and Omnibus Repeal Day (Spring 2015) Bill 2015 which lapsed on the calling of the 2016 Election.

These amendments will reduce compliance costs for both individuals and business.

Schedule 2 to this Bill extends tax relief for merging superannuation funds.

When superannuation funds merge, assets need to be transferred to the new merged fund. When these assets are transferred, tax liabilities could arise which would reduce the balances of superannuation members.

The tax relief allows superannuation funds to defer tax consequences on the transfer of assets to the new merged fund. It also allows the transfer of valuable tax losses made in previous years, which would otherwise be lost when funds merged. This tax relief has been in place since December 2008 and was due to lapse in July 2017. Extending the tax relief will ensure that tax isn't an impediment to superannuation funds merging where the mergers are otherwise in the best interests of members. It will also ensure that members' balances are protected when mergers take place.

Schedule 3 to this bill also provides ongoing funding, on a cost recovery basis, to the Gateway Network Governance Body to ensure the efficient operation of the Superannuation Transaction Network. This funding model continues the arrangements used to establish the Superannuation Transaction Network which will expire on 30 June 2018.

Schedule 4 to this Bill transfers the regulatory role for early release of superannuation benefits on compassionate grounds from the Chief Executive Medicare (Department of Human Services) to the Commissioner of Taxation (Australian Taxation Office).

The transfer is intended to streamline the process around the release of these benefits to individuals through their superannuation fund. The ATO already administers several programs relating to the release of superannuation benefits and has existing interactions with both superannuation fund members and the superannuation industry.

Schedule 5 to this Bill amends the A New Tax System (Goods and Services) Act 1999, Tax Administration Act 1953 and the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to give effect to the 2017-18 Budget measure to improve the integrity of GST on certain kinds of property transactions.

This schedule is designed to protect GST revenue and stop tax evasion by unscrupulous property developers. From 1 July 2018, purchasers of new residential premises or new residential subdivisions will be responsible for remitting the GST on the purchase price directly to the Australian Taxation Office as part of the settlement process. Currently, purchasers of such properties pay the GST as part of the purchase price to the developers, who in turn are required to remit the GST to the ATO through their next Business Activity Statement.

As the payment to the ATO can occur up to three months after collecting the GST, some developers exploit this time-lag by 'phoenixing' - they dissolve their business and set up new entities to avoid remitting the GST to the ATO.

As an unsecured creditor, the ATO is unable to recover the GST owed because the company carrying the GST liability has been stripped of all its assets.

The level of this phoenixing to avoid paying GST has grown significantly over the last decade.

According to ATO data, over the past five years more than 3,700 individuals have been identified as engaged in this sort of activity. These individuals controlled over 12,000 insolvent entities responsible for $1.8 billion in debt written off. The insolvent entities also claimed $1.2 billion in GST credits between 2013 and 2017.

By making purchasers pay the GST to the ATO at the point of settlement, the measure will remove the time-lag in GST payment which is the main enabler of current evasion activity.

Contracts entered into before 1 July 2018 will not be affected by this change as long as the transaction settles before 1 July 2020. The Government has worked closely with property developers, lawyers, conveyancers and financiers to develop an effective implementation model that also has minimal impact on the industry and on purchasers.

This schedule is part of a broader package of tax integrity measures that the Government announced in the 2017-18 Budget to ensure that all entities pay the right amount of tax. These measures include tackling GST fraud in the precious metals industry, improving the integrity of small business capital gains tax concessions, and toughening the multinational anti-avoidance law.

Full details of this Bill are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum.

TREASURY LAWS AMENDMENT (ILLICIT TOBACCO OFFENCES) BILL 2018

SECOND READING SPEECH

This Bill reforms the penalty and offence framework in the Excise Act 1901 (Excise Act) to more effectively combat the illicit tobacco market. With this Bill the Government is delivering on its 2016-17 Budget commitment to address the growing risk of illicit tobacco and criminal activity.

Through effective tobacco control policy, Australia has become a world leader in reducing smoking rates. This has improved the health and well-being of Australians and reduced the social costs associated with smoking.

To continue reducing the prevalence of smoking, and to ensure tobacco products are taxed correctly, it is important to support these tobacco control policies with effective tobacco offences that combat the illicit tobacco market.

This Bill improves the enforcement of illicit tobacco offences by providing officers with access to tiered offences and strengthened penalties. Introducing tiered offences will give prosecutors more flexibility to bring charges against persons who have committed an illicit tobacco offence.

The Bill also confirms that tobacco offences apply when the origin of the illicit tobacco cannot be established. This addresses an issue where uncertainty about whether illicit tobacco had been produced domestically or imported, has created a barrier to effective enforcement due to the requirement to determine which of the Excise Act or Customs Act was applicable.

By providing enforcement agencies appropriate powers and the threat of significant penalties, the Government will be able to more effectively stamp out the illicit tobacco market. This will improve the health of Australians by reducing their exposure to tobacco products. It will ensure that tobacco products consumed domestically are fully taxed and comply with Australian regulations including safety standards.

Full details of the measure are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum.

TREASURY LAWS AMENDMENT (INCOME TAX CONSOLIDATION INTEGRITY) BILL 2018

SECOND READING SPEECH

This Bill implements a package of measures to improve the efficiency and equity of Australia's business tax system by strengthening the integrity and operation of the consolidation regime and removing unintended outcomes.

The consolidation regime was introduced in 2002 and is a fundamental component of Australia's business tax system. There are approximately 12,000 consolidated taxpayers in Australia, including the majority of our largest businesses.

Consolidation allows a wholly-owned corporate group to be treated as a single entity for income tax purposes. A consolidated group generally consists of an Australian resident head company and its wholly owned subsidiaries. This reduces compliance costs for business, removes impediments to the most efficient business structures, and improves the integrity of the tax system. Benefits of tax consolidation for businesses include:

allowing intra-group transactions to be ignored;

the pooling of losses, franking credits and foreign tax credits; and

the removal of impediments to group restructuring.

The Government's changes, outlined in Schedule 1 of this Bill, follow recommendations made by the Board of Taxation in its post-implementation reviews of the consolidation regime.

In these reviews, the Board of Taxation identified a number of loopholes that create unintended tax outcomes, often arising when an entity joins or leaves a consolidated group. The Government is taking action to address these integrity issues in order to improve the fairness of the business tax system, simplify compliance and ensure the ongoing effectiveness of the consolidation rules.

In particular, this Bill improves the integrity and operation of the consolidation regime by:

removing a double tax benefit that can arise when an entity with a deductible liability joins a consolidated group, with effect from 1 July 2016;

simplifying the operation of the entry and exit tax cost setting rules by ensuring that deferred tax liabilities are disregarded, with effect from today;

preventing a double benefit from arising when an entity joins or leaves a consolidated group where the entity has securitised an asset, with effect from 13 May 2014 for authorised deposit taking institutions and 3 May 2016 for other entities;

preventing non-residents churning assets between different consolidated groups to access double deductions, with effect from 14 May 2013;

clarifying the interaction between the consolidation regime and the taxation of financial arrangements regime by ensuring that the tax treatment of certain intra-group liabilities and assets between a continuing member of a consolidated group and an exiting member of the consolidated group, is consistent with the economic substance of the relevant transaction, with effect from 14 May 2013; and

closing a loophole that allows consolidated groups to access double deductions by shifting value across entities in the group, with effect from 14 May 2013.

These measures were announced in the 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2016-17 Budgets.

In recognising the complex nature of the consolidation rules, we have consulted extensively on these measures over a number of years, including through the Board of Taxation's post-implementation review. The Government has listened carefully to stakeholders to ensure that these changes are well designed and fairly balance the need for additional integrity without unduly burdening business with compliance costs.

Together these measures will protect the corporate tax base by strengthening the integrity of the consolidation regime. These measures will also provide greater clarity for businesses and provide a level playing field for businesses outside the consolidation regime.

Full details of these measures are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum.

TREASURY LAWS AMENDMENT (NATIONAL HOUSING AND HOMELESSNESS AGREEMENT) BILL 2017

SECOND READING SPEECH

This Bill enacts the Government's budget announcement to reform the way that the Commonwealth makes housing related payments to the States and Territories. It supports improved housing and homelessness outcomes by requiring jurisdictions to develop detailed housing and homelessness strategies and commit to improved data collection and reporting in exchange for Commonwealth funding. This approach will secure improved outcomes but in a way the Government believes is reasonable, that is achievable for the States and Territories and does not jeopardise the funding of core social housing and homelessness services.

The Bill replaces the National Specific Purpose Payment for Housing Services that supports the National Affordable Housing Agreement, or NAHA; and introduces new, conditional funding arrangements from 1 July 2018.

Housing is fundamental to the wellbeing of all Australians. It is a driver of social and economic participation and promotes better employment, education and health outcomes.

The Government's comprehensive housing affordability plan announced in this year's Budget includes measures that will support improved outcomes for Australians across the housing spectrum, from first home buyers and renters to those in need of crisis accommodation and those at risk of, or experiencing homelessness.

As part of this housing affordability plan, the Government announced that it would be working with State and Territory governments to introduce a new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement to replace the NAHA. Since then, the Government has engaged in a series of productive discussions with all States and Territories.

Despite contributing over $9 billion to States and Territories since 2009 to support the provision of social and affordable housing, the Council of Australian Governments' 2016 Report on Performance found that the current NAHA has completely failed to deliver on three of its four key benchmarks and is unlikely to meet them.

These three benchmarks include a 10 per cent reduction nationally in the proportion of low-income renter households in rental stress from 2007-08 to 2015-16; a 7 per cent reduction nationally in the number of homeless Australians from 2006 to 2013; and a 10 per cent increase nationally in the proportion of Indigenous households owning or purchasing a home from 2008 to 2017-18.

Other indicators confirm the extent of this failure. Growth in the size of the social housing stock has stagnated and numbers on waiting lists have increased.

The new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement will replace the NAHA and the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. It will not only maintain the current level of funding under these Agreements but will also, for the first time, ensure that funding allocated to homelessness services will be permanent and indexed. Between 1 July 2018 and 30 June 2021, this equates to total funding of around $4.6 billion, including $375.3 million of new funding for homelessness that will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the States and Territories.

The new funding arrangements for homelessness will provide certainty to organisations that provide frontline homelessness services and will continue to support priority cohorts, including domestic violence victims and vulnerable young Australians.

The new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement will ensure that each State or Territory acknowledges and addresses the challenges specific to their jurisdiction through comprehensive housing and homelessness strategies. It will contribute to the development of a comprehensive evidence base through improved collection and reporting of housing and homelessness related data. It will secure ongoing and indexed funding for homelessness services, and ensure that States and Territories match the Commonwealth's funding contribution for homelessness services dollar-for-dollar. Under this new Agreement, all we ask of the States and Territories is that they set out how they intend to implement their housing and homelessness strategies and assist the Commonwealth to improve the collection and reporting of relevant housing data.

The new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement will promote better outcomes for the Commonwealth's housing and homelessness funding, but in a way that acknowledges the different priorities and challenges faced by each State or Territory without jeopardising the funding of crucial social housing and homelessness services.

Full details of the measure are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum.

VETERANS' AFFAIRS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (VETERAN-CENTRIC REFORMS NO. 1) BILL 2018

SECOND READING SPEECH

I am pleased to introduce the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Veteran-centric Reforms No. 1) Bill 2018. The Bill comprises eight Schedules and will implement several new initiatives to deliver a range of services to the veteran community and their families.

There are more than 300,000 Australians who have served in our Defence Forces - in peace time and in conflict, both in Australia and abroad.

Each year more than 5,000 will leave service and move onto the next chapter in their life, some voluntarily, some for reasons not of their choosing. How we help these men and women and their families in the next stage of theirs lives is vital.

These veterans have given so much to our country and it is only right we support those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our great nation and way of life.

In 2016 this Government made a commitment to ensure current and future veterans and their families have the support they need.

I am proud to be introducing these measures today to deliver these initiatives.

These measures will not only assist those who have served our nation but also their husbands, wives, partners, fathers, mothers and children - their families.

Schedule 1 of the Bill will introduce a range of measures in the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 aimed at providing Family Support to veterans and their families.

Family plays an essential role in supporting current and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members and more support is needed for partners and families. Families make a significant contribution to the health and wellbeing of our Australian Defence Force members throughout their careers and through the transition process when they become civilians. The role of family can be particularly important in the treatment and recovery of ill or injured individuals throughout their lifetime.

To build on existing support provided in the 2017-18 Budget, $7.1 million is being provided over four years to extend the support available to families of veterans. This additional support will include greater access to childcare, additional home care and counselling and will help families to maintain their connections to community and employment and improve social function.

It will also recognise partners who have the pressure of having to care for a severely incapacitated veteran in addition to their other home duties such as child rearing and any work or other activities they may undertake. Partners also need support to develop skills to care for a veteran who is incapacitated (both physically and mentally) and to be able to identify when to seek professional help for a veteran who may be at imminent risk of self-harm or harm to others.

Amendments to the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 are required to deliver key psychosocial interventions, such as greater access to childcare and counselling for veterans with complex needs and to assist in reducing family pressure which at times may contribute to veteran suicide.

The Family Support amendments will provide three practical services designed to improve a veteran's health and wellbeing and provide services to the family of a veteran so they can also support the veteran. The services include:

increased child care assistance to veterans who receive incapacity payments and have served in recent overseas conflicts and the partner of veterans who served in a recent conflict who have died (either through the recent conflict or by suicide),

extending brief intervention counselling, for up to five years post discharge for veterans with a current rehabilitation plan, their partners and immediate family, and

childcare, homecare assistance and counselling for those partners and families of a veteran who has served in a recent conflict and died, either as a result of the recent conflict or by suicide. This assistance will be provided for two years from the death of the veteran.

Schedule 2 of the proposed amendments to the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 will create a new Veteran Payment. The Veteran Payment will help address concerns raised by the Final Report of the Senate Inquiry into Suicide by Veterans and Ex-Service Personnel, which suggested the military compensation system may contribute to the risk of veteran suicide. Veteran Payment will benefit approximately 830 veterans and 690 partners (total 1,520 people) in the 2018/19 financial year.

Veteran Payment is a new income support payment providing vulnerable veterans with interim financial support until their claims for liability for a mental health condition are determined. Veteran Payment will provide early access to financial support prior to a claim for liability for a mental health condition being determined. Veterans will be required to commence participation in vocational and psychosocial rehabilitation, which would include financial counselling and budgeting, whilst receiving the Veteran Payment.

Partners of veterans may also be eligible for Veteran Payment, and veterans with dependent children will be entitled to the maximum rates of Family Tax Benefit Part A without being subject to the Family Tax Benefit means test while they receive Veteran Payment.

Schedule 3 will enable selected white card holders to participate in the new Coordinated Veterans' Care Program Mental Health Pilot. The 2017-18 Budget allocated $3.6 million for the Pilot, which is for veterans with mild to moderate anxiety, depression or posttraumatic stress disorder and co-morbid physical health problems, in particular musculo-skeletal with pain. The Pilot will be embedded in the existing Coordinated Veterans' Care Program, which uses a team-based model of care, led by a general practitioner and supported by a practice nurse.

Under this Pilot clients can access a digital coach application on a smart phone or smart device. The digital application is based upon cognitive behavioural therapy principles. Clinical oversight of the Pilot will be provided by a health call monitoring facility staffed by registered nurses and supervised by a mental health nurse.

The Coordinated Veterans' Care Program is currently available to Gold Card holders under the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004.Legislative amendments will ensure selected white card holders will also be able to participate in the Pilot, as well as gold card holders who are already eligible.

Schedule 4 will amend the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 to align it with the changes to the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 and Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988 relating to catastrophic injuries or disease, and ensure veterans with catastrophic injury or disease receive at least the same entitlements as civilian employees.

Currently the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission pays for household and attendant care services above the legislated statutory rate for clients with catastrophic injury or disease, through an exceptional circumstances determination under section 144(c) of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988 or section 287(2) of the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004.

These amendments will clarify the legislative basis for payments for household and attendant care services for veterans with a catastrophic injury or disease.

Schedule 5 amends the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 in relation to a claim for Qualifying Service. The amendments will enable the automation of a qualifying service determination prior to or at the time a veteran engages with the Department of Veterans' Affairs or before the veteran makes an application for any service pension. This removes a step in the process a veteran must currently complete in order to make an application for some service pension.

This is the first legislative amendment to support the implementation of the Veteran-centric reforms and is part of the broader improvement strategy to ease the transition process for veterans. The Veteran-centric reforms aim to put veterans and their needs at the front of Departmental processes and systems.

Schedule 6 amends the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988 by making technical amendments to that Act fully ensuring it is a military specific Act. References to Comcare and other redundant bodies will be changed to the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission or the Commonwealth as required.

There are no changes to the eligibility requirements, entitlements or benefits veterans may receive under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988. These amendments would give effect to the policy intention of fully removing any obligations or functions of either Comcare or the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission with regard to defence-related claims under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988.

Schedule 7 makes a series of minor amendments to the Specialist Medical Review Council provisions of the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 to ensure all references are consistent. The amendments will change references to 'the Council' to 'the Review Council'.

Schedule 8 contains a number of technical amendments being made to streamline the legislation. For example the Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests and British Commonwealth Occupation Force (Treatment) Act 2006 will be amended to extend medical treatment eligibility to Australian Defence Force members who served in Japan after the cessation of hostilities of World War II and before the formation of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs reports that there is at least one veteran who, under the current rules, is not entitled to a treatment card (Gold Card) as he does not satisfy the definition of British Commonwealth Occupation Force participant although he was in Japan as an Australian Defence Force member after the cessation of hostilities and before the formation of British Commonwealth Occupation Force. This amendment will correct such a circumstance and provide this veteran and others like him the medical treatment they deserve.

Each of the sets of amendments will mean better outcomes for veterans.

I commend this Bill.

Debate adjourned.

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