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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9512


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Social Services) (12:27): I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

CUSTOMS AMENDMENT BILL 2014

The Customs Amendment Bill 2014 is an omnibus bill that proposes a number of minor changes to the Customs Act 1901 (the Customs Act).

Firstly, the bill will amend the Customs Act to extend Customs powers of examination to the baggage of domestic travellers on international flights and voyages, and to domestic cargo that is carried on an international flight or voyage. Domestic travellers and their personal effects and domestic cargo are often carried on domestic legs of international flights or voyages between Australian ports or airports and places other than proclaimed ports and airports by approved ships and aircraft.

There is a serious vulnerability that dutiable or prohibited goods will be transferred where domestic travellers on international flights can access the sterile areas of airports and mix with international travellers during embarkation and disembarkation processing. The intermingling of domestic cargo and imported goods (or goods for export) also presents risks for diversion of cargo from one stream to the other.

The amendment will ensure that Customs control and powers of examination are provided for the goods of domestic travellers and of domestic cargo on international flights or voyages equal to the powers to examine the goods of international travellers and international cargo. This will close the gap in the treatment of identified border risks and reduce the advantage taken by criminal entities where domestic and international interactions can occur.

This bill will also extend Customs control to those places at which ships and aircraft often arrive in Australia that are not proclaimed ports or airports and where government agencies do not have a strong presence. International ships or aircraft may seek permission to bring a ship or aircraft to a place other than a proclaimed port or airport. For instance, the cruise ship industry regularly seeks permission to visit non-proclaimed areas of the Australian coastline. Industries involved in offshore resource activities do not utilise traditional port facilities and often seek permission to bring vessels direct to an offshore installation. The master of a ship or pilot of an aircraft may also bring the ship or aircraft to a place other than a port or airport due to stress of weather or other reasonable cause.

It is in these instances that vulnerabilities exist when ships or aircraft brought to non-proclaimed places as part of an international journey may also be involved in disembarking travellers or unloading goods in those locations. Extending Customs control and examination powers to these non-proclaimed places will minimise the risks that these activities may pose.

This bill will improve, and make consistent with other parts of the Customs Act, the application processes for permissions to load and unload ships' and aircraft's stores, permissions to transfer goods between certain vessels and applications for a certificate of clearance. These amendments will also support initiatives to enable online applications for industry to seek these permissions.

The bill will also provide greater flexibility in relation to the reporting of the arrival of ships and aircraft in Australia and reporting stores and prohibited goods on such ships and aircraft. These changes will allow earlier assessment and the planning of resources required if the stores or prohibited goods reported present risks, including the management of firearms, weapons and narcotics.

The bill will also correct a technical error in relation to the interaction of Customs and Border Protection's Infringement Notice Scheme and claims process for seized goods under the Customs Act.

Finally, the bill will also improve the administration of the appointment of authorised officers by class under the Customs Act.

 

SAFETY, REHABILITATION AND COMPENSATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2014

Employers operating in multiple states deal with different workers' compensation schemes and work health and safety regulations in each jurisdiction around Australia. This increases red tape for employers and is confusing for workers who are subject to different regulation and benefits depending on which state or territory they are employed in.

While in the past, certain private sector corporations have been able to self-insure for workers' compensation coverage through the Commonwealth's Comcare scheme, a moratorium on new corporations entering the Comcare scheme was imposed in 2007 by Labor. This was despite evidence from the 2004 Productivity Commission inquiry into National Workers' Compensation and Occupational Health and Safety Frameworks which found that the cost for multistate employers of complying with multiple state workers' compensation arrangements was considerable. Those costs could have been used more effectively to create new jobs and improve the safety standards within the enterprise. The Howard government responded to the Productivity Commission inquiry recommendations by allowing eligible private corporations that operated in multiple states to apply for a self-insurance license with the Comcare scheme.

There are currently 30 licenced corporations who are benefiting from the reduced red tape and cost by having one set of workers' compensation arrangements for their national workforce. Ten of these are current or former Commonwealth authorities such as Australia Post and Telstra. The remaining twenty are private corporations such as Optus, TNT, the National Australia Bank and John Holland Corporation. The work health and safety performance of these companies since joining the Comcare scheme has been strong and in most cases has been better than it was under multiple state schemes. These companies have the benefit of significantly reduced red tape, cost and bureaucracy which frees them up to work more effectively with their employees to improve work health and safety in their organisations.

Following a campaign from the union bosses, the previous Labor government banned multistate companies from joining the Comcare scheme. Labor refused to lift the ban despite a 2012 review of the Comcare scheme commissioned by Labor led by Dr Allan Hawke AC, which recommended lifting the moratorium preventing multistate employers from joining the Comcare scheme, finding the requirement to insure in multiple states and territories to be inefficient and costly. The Leader of the Opposition sat on his hands and did not enact any recommendations of the report as workplace relations minister.

On 2 December 2013, the Coalition government lifted the moratorium so that multistate employers, which meet rigorous financial and governance criteria and demonstrate suitable work health and safety performance, can apply for a license to self-insure in the Comcare scheme, rather than through multiple schemes. It is the government's intention to also allow the multistate employers who choose to apply to self-insure for workers' compensation arrangements with Comcare, to also have one set of work, health and safety regulation rather than be subject to multiple state requirements and regulators.

This bill seeks to amend the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 (the SRC Act) and the 11 to expand the eligibility of corporations to self-insure through the Commonwealth's Comcare scheme.

The amendments:

remove the need for the minister to declare eligibility to apply for a self-insurance licence while maintaining the ability for the minister to issue directions to the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission. This will streamline the current two-stage approval process;

remove the outdated requirement that a corporation must be in competition with a Commonwealth authority, or former Commonwealth authority, to enter the Comcare scheme; and

broaden the range of corporations that are eligible for a licence to self-insure under the Comcare scheme to 'national employers' defined as an employer that is required to meet workers' compensation obligations under the laws of two or more states or territories.

This approach will reduce red tape while ensuring a strong and robust approval process by the independent Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission.

These important productivity reforms are critical for multistate employers. They will give these employers the option of continuing to operate under multilayered worker's compensation and work health and safety regimes, or to apply to have one set of national arrangements.

It is anticipated that the reduction in red tape and significant savings that could be realised for business could be spent on creating jobs and reinvesting in the economy.

Group licences

Currently, corporations applying to be covered under the Comcare scheme must be assessed individually for eligibility. A feature that business has been seeking for some time is the introduction of group licences to the SRC Act.

The bill provides for the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission to grant a licence to an eligible group of corporations that are owned by the same holding company, in line with the state schemes and the commercial reality of modern multicompany corporate structures.

Introduction of group licences will reduce red tape and costs for corporations as it recognises that groups of interrelated corporations often share return-to-work and work health and safety systems within the group. It will also recognise that each entity that forms part of a group does not individually need to meet the definition of a national employer.

This reform will be better for businesses, better for workers and better for the economy.

Serious and wilful misconduct

Currently under the SRC Act, workers' compensation can be claimed by a worker who is injured while involved in payable employment where an injury caused by the serious and wilful misconduct of the employee results in death or serious and permanent impairment.

The bill removes access to compensation where any injury sustained by an employee is caused by their own serious and wilful misconduct.

While claims in this category are rare, the Australian public rightly expects that employees should take personal responsibility for their actions. The government believes that the workers' compensation scheme should be geared towards people acting in a proper and safe manner and not include a safety net for people who break the rules and put at risk not just themselves but other employees as well.

Offsite recess breaks

Currently workers' compensation is payable for injuries that occur during recess breaks, even if the employee is not at the place of work when the injury occurs, contrary to the position in South Australia and Tasmania.

The SRC Act as originally drafted provided compensation coverage for employees who were injured while absent from their place of work during an ordinary recess. This provision was removed by the coalition government in 2007, and then reintroduced by the Labor government in 2011.

The effect of the previous government's change to the Act is that workers' compensation could be payable, for example, where an employee sustains an injury while shopping, at a restaurant or playing sport away from the employee's place of employment during a lunch break. This is despite the employer having no control over the activities of the employee or the environment in which the employee engages in such activities. The proper avenue for people to seek recompense for injuries under such circumstances is through the owner of the premises where an injury occurred, not through their employer who has no control over the matter.

This bill addresses this unfair arrangement. Workers who are injured at work, even while having a recess or lunch break, will remain fully covered. Injuries that occur while the worker is away from the workplace undertaking activities associated with the employee's employment or at the request or direction of the employer will also still be covered.

Conclusion

This bill will reduce red tape and help to build a stronger and more prosperous economy. The real savings to business that will be realised under this bill can be reinvested in jobs and in the economy.

Debate adjourned.

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