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Monday, 7 November 2011
Page: 8365


Senator McLUCAS (QueenslandParliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers) (17:18): I present three government responses to committee reports. In accordance with the usual practice, I seek leave to have the documents incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The documents read as follows—

COMMUNITY AFFAIRS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE - NATIONAL REGISTRATION AND ACCREDITATION SCHEME FOR HEALTH PROFESSIONS, AND ITS REPORT, NATIONAL REGISTRATION AND ACCREDITATION SCHEME FOR DOCTORS AND OTHER HEALTH WORKERS

Senator Claire Moore

Committee Chair

Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs

PO Box 6100

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Dear Senator Moore

I am writing in regard to the 2009 Senate Community Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into the design of the then proposed National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (NRAS) for health professions, and its Report, National registration and accreditation scheme for doctors and other health workers.

In particular, I wish to provide you with information on key activities which have been announced and progressed since the tabling of the Committee’s Report on 6 August 2009 and which address in whole or in part the Report’s recommendations, to finalise the Australian Government’s consideration of the Committee’s work.

I wish to acknowledge the significant and welcome interest of the Committee in examining the impact of NRAS on the training, accreditation and qualification of health workforce professionals, and in ensuring the continued delivery of quality healthcare for all Australians. The Report provided an important resource that assisted the Government’s deliberations and contribution to decisions, through the Australian Health Workforce Ministerial Council (Ministerial Council), in respect of NRAS and its implementation.

The delay in the Australian Government’s response to the Committee’s Report is a result of a number of ongoing developments up until recently, in relation to NRAS, in particular the passage of legislation through state Parliaments and the commencement of the NRAS on

1 July 2010. National registration is now in force for practitioners in ten health professions. The professions currently regulated under NRAS are chiropractic, dental practice, medicine, nursing and midwifery, optometry, osteopathy, pharmacy, physiotherapy, podiatry and psychology. More than 529,000 health practitioners across these ten different health professions are now registered under the National Scheme. A further four professions are scheduled to enter NRAS on 1 July 2012, namely Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practice, Chinese medicine practice, medical radiation practice and occupational therapy.

On 26 March 2008, the Council of Australian Governments signed an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) to implement NRAS by 1 July 2010 to align the previously disparate state and territory registration schemes for health practitioners. The intended benefits of NRAS include mobility for health practitioners, consist­ent standards for registration and professional conduct across Australia, administrative efficiency, and transparency through a national public register of health practitioners.

The legislative framework for NRAS is an applied laws model, with Queensland as the lead state. On 25 November 2008, Queensland introduced the Health Practitioner Regulation (Administrative Arrangements) National Law Act 2008, which established the structure and functions of the NRAS, and received Royal Assent in Queensland. On 12 June 2009, the Ministerial Council released the exposure draft of the second stage of legislation for the Scheme, the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Bill 2009 (Bill B) for a five week public consultation period, to 17 July 2009.

On 29 October 2009, Bill B was passed in the Queensland Parliament. On 3 November 2009, the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act 2009, known as the National Law, received Royal Assent in Queensland. Under the applied laws model, each jurisdiction enacted separate pieces of legislation (commonly referred to as Bill C) adopting the National Law, and thereby achieving the Scheme’s objectives. All states and territories, with the exception of Western Australia, passed legislation to adopt and apply the National Law as a law from 1 July 2010. Western Australia passed its corresponding legislation on 18 August 2010 and subsequently joined NRAS on 18 October 2010.

All matters raised by the Committee were considered in the context of the passage of the Queensland legislation and during the development of the Commonwealth’s Bill. However, the Commonwealth was not required to move legislation to introduce the National Scheme because under the Australian Constitution the power to regulate health practitioners resides with the states and territories, not with the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth introduced a Bill on 24 February 2010 (Bill C) to make consequential and transitional amendments to the Health Insurance Act 1973 to streamline Medicare processes and align the Commonwealth legislation with the National Law.

The Commonwealth’s Health Practitioner Regulation (Consequential Amendments) Act 2010 received Royal Assent on 30 March 2010. The amendments to the Commonwealth legislation (and associated regulations) will commence on a date to be proclaimed, once data processes and systems used by both the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and Medicare Australia are fully aligned. Until that time, existing arrangements will continue to apply.

Following the commencement of NRAS on 1 July 2011, there were a number of transitional issues, particularly around access and registration processes within AHPRA, during the transition to the new Scheme. In response to these concerns, Health Ministers agreed at their meeting of 17 February 2011 to provide additional support and expertise to assist AHPRA in managing its registration function, to introduce additional monitoring of AHPRA, and a requirement for AHPRA to provide regular reports to future meetings of Health Ministers.

Further information and updates are available at: www.ahpra.gov.au

Thank you again for the important work the Committee has undertaken.

Yours sincerely

NICOLA ROXON

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE REPORT OF THE PARLIAMENTARY JOINT COMMITTEE ON LAW ENFORCEMENT:

Inquiry into the Adequacy of Aviation and Maritime Security Measures to Combat Serious and Organised Crime

1. Introduction

This document details the Australian Government Response to the recommendations made by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement (PJC): Inquiry into the Adequacy of Aviation and Maritime Security Measures to Combat Serious and Organised Crime. The Government thanks the Committee for its inquiry and the report.

In 2008, as a part of the Prime Minister's inaugural National Security Statement, the Australian Government recognised serious and organised crime as a national security threat and a growing national challenge. In response, the Australian Government launched the Organised Crime Strategic Framework in 2009 which establishes a comprehensive and coordinated response to target organised crime wherever it exists—including at the border.

The Australian Government's approach to border control and law enforcement at airports and seaports is a multi-layered and cooperative effort between Commonwealth, and State and Territory agencies, as well as partnership with the aviation and maritime sectors.

At both airports and seaports, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (Customs and Border Protection) is responsible for protecting the safety, security and integrity of Australia's border through a wide range of regulatory and enforcement powers. Key functions include preventing and intercepting illegal movements of people and goods (such as illicit drugs and firearms) across the Australian border. In undertaking this role, Customs and Border Protection primarily works with a range of key Commonwealth partners, including the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service.

The Office of Transport Security (OTS) within Department of Infrastructure and Transport (DIT) provides the Australian Government with policy advice and regulatory oversight of preventive transport security in the aviation, maritime, offshore oil and gas and air cargo sectors. This is achieved through the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 (ATSA), the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act 2003 (MTOFSA), and associated regulations. The approach to preventive security embodied within the ATSA and the MTOFSA focuses on the protection of transport assets and those who use them.

OTS follows a risk-based, outcomes-focused approach to regulation through consultation with industry and international engagement. OTS works with industry to ensure compliance with the law and regulations by effecting changes in industry participant behaviour towards their regulatory obligations. Within the international context, OTS contributes to the achievement of Australian Government outcomes on transport security by working closely with the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization, and by subscribing to international treaties and participating to international forums.

AusCheck is a branch within Attorney-General's Department (AGD) responsible for undertaking background checking for the ASIC and MSIC schemes. AusCheck applies a consistent interpretation of statutory requirements, coordinates criminal and security checks

on ASIC and MSIC applicants (and immigration checks where requested) and notifies the relevant bodies on the outcomes of these checks.

The AFP is the primary law-enforcement agency at Australia's 11 major airports through its Unified Policing Model. These airports are Adelaide, Alice Springs, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Darwin, Gold Coast, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. The AFP's role will be strengthened through the move to “All-in” policing at major airports. Law enforcement at regional Australian airports is primarily the responsibility of the States and Territories.

The AFP's key tasks in the aviation environment are targeting organised crime, deterring acts of terrorism, providing a uniformed policing presence, providing a first response to acts of terrorism and emergency incidents, collecting and analysing aviation intelligence and conducting investigations. In undertaking this role, the AFP works closely with airport operators and airlines in addition to Commonwealth, State and Territories agencies.

The States and Territories retain the primary responsibility for enforcing state offences and criminal law at Australian ports. The AFP has the primary responsibility for investigating federal crime in the wider maritime environment. There are arrangements in place to ensure close cooperation between Commonwealth, and State and Territory agencies.

The ACC, as the national criminal intelligence agency, plays an important role in supporting the law enforcement community and the broader government, including at Australia's airports and seaports. This includes the provision of a range of strategic, tactical and operational intelligence products which provide partner agencies with the context to understand serious and organised criminal threats to Australia. In undertaking this role, the ACC utilises its national criminal intelligence holdings, coercive powers and a national legislative and organisational framework that facilitates cooperation on a range of operational outcomes.

2. Response to Recommendations

2.1. Expanding the Scope of transport security legislation

Recommendation 1

The committee recommends that the scope of the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 and the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act 2003 be widened to include serious and organised crime in addition to terrorist activity and unlawful interference.

Noted

The Commonwealth Organised Crime Strategic Framework states that industry “has a key role in understanding its environment and identifying potential opportunities for organised crime exploitation”. The Government's approach to organised and serious crime is based on “preventative partnerships” between government and industry participants.

The ATSA and MTOFSA, administered by the Department of Infrastructure and Transport, are designed to provide a national regulatory framework for the aviation, maritime, and offshore oil and gas sectors. They require industry participants to prepare transport security plans and implement risk based preventive security measures aimed at facilitating transport by reducing the risk of unlawful interference with transport systems under their control. Any amendments to the ATSA and MTOFSA have always been developed in a way that minimises the impact on industry, in line with the Government's objective of achieving an efficient, sustainable, competitive and secure transport system.

Noting the above, it is proposed that the Attorney-General's Department, in close consultation with the Department of Infrastructure and Transport, establish an aviation and maritime industry forum to examine options for organised and serious crime prevention at Australian airports and seaports in partnership with industry. This will include examining legislative change options, such as the potential to enhance powers under the Customs Act 1901, in the context of working with industry to address serious and organised crime in the aviation and maritime border environments. This would be informed by ACC risk assessments relevant to organised and serious crime in Australia's airports and seaports.

2.2. Law enforcement on airports and seaports

Recommendation 2

The committee recommends that security at major airports be undertaken by a suitably trained government security force.

Not agreed

This matter was considered by Government in December 2009 as part of Flight Path to the Future: National Aviation Policy White Paper. This document confirmed that the current industry led and government regulated model provides an “effective, efficient and sustainable security service, notwithstanding evolving threats, increased security requirements, and increases in domestic and international aviation traffic”.

A more centralised model was not supported on the grounds that a government agency screening model would be overly prescriptive, more expensive and less efficient than current arrangements.

The Government continues to work with industry to improve the current system through improved industry guidance, enhanced technology and better training.

Recommendation 3

The committee recommends that joint maritime taskforces, mirroring the functions of the Joint Aviation Investigation Teams and Joint Aviation Intelligence Groups in the maritime sector be established in every state and the Northern Territory. These taskforces should include officers of the Australian Federal Police, state or territory police, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Australian Crime Commission.

Noted

The objective of this recommendation is already being achieved at Australian ports through existing cooperative arrangements between the specified agencies to address security and criminality at the waterfront. Customs and Border Protection has also established a Maritime Intervention Strategy to help detect, deter and disrupt criminal activity and to improve its presence in the port environments through a range of law enforcement functions, targeted operations and campaigns.

Currently, joint multi-agency taskforces are established as needed to deliver targeted operational responses against identified criminal threats. Due to the unique nature of the maritime environment and need for law enforcement responses to be flexible and responsive to direct intelligence, the more rigid model employed in the aviation environment through the Joint Aviation Investigation Teams and Joint Aviation Intelligence Groups is not supported.

However, the Commonwealth will continue to consider whether there are other options to strengthen existing arrangements.

Recommendation 4

The committee recommends the formation of a Commonwealth maritime crime taskforce that would act as a national Australian Federal Police led “flying squad”, responding to specific intelligence and also conducting randomised audits of maritime and seaport security.

Not agreed

This recommendation largely reflects existing AFP practices in relation to law enforcement and investigations in the maritime environment. These activities also involve a range of Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies.

However, a role for AFP in conducting audits of maritime security is not supported as the AFP does not have sufficient expertise in this area.

Recommendation 5

The committee recommends that the Attorney-General's Department conduct a review of current information sharing arrangements between law enforcement agencies and private organisations in the aviation and maritime sectors.

Agreed

AGD will lead this review in consultation with the AFP, ACC and Customs and Border Protection.

This recommendation is consistent with the Organised Crime Strategic Framework's objectives of strengthening information sharing between law enforcement agencies and working more closely with industry. There is a range of existing partnerships and information sharing practices between law enforcement agencies and with the private sector that the Commonwealth will continue to explore opportunities to improve. This will include additional opportunities for enhanced intelligence sharing between law enforcement agencies and the private sector where appropriate.

2.3. Identity confirmation for domestic passengers

Recommendation 6

The committee recommends that the Crimes (Aviation) Act 1991 be amended so as to create a new offence of deliberately travelling under a false identity.

Agreed

A specific offence of intentionally travelling under a false identity would provide a further tool for combating terrorism and organised crime in the aviation environment. AGD will work with the AFP and DIT to develop an appropriate offence.

Recommendation 7

The committee recommends that it be made a legal requirement to provide photo identification confirming passenger identity immediately prior to boarding an aircraft.

Not agreed

The recommendation as specified is not supported, particularly the requirement for all passengers to provide photographic identification.

The Government acknowledges the need to strike the right balance between facilitating passenger travel at airports and minimising the risk of serious and organised criminal activity. Industry stakeholders have also expressed concerns that an approach such as the one recommended may lead to delays in passenger facilitation (especially at large airports that are close to reaching capacity) and additional costs to industry and the travelling public.

The Government will utilise the aviation industry forum to be established by AGD to examine options for serious and organised crime prevention to further consider the benefit, and the impact on industry and the public, of creating an obligation for individuals of concern to provide appropriate identification prior to boarding an aircraft. Under current arrangements, it would be ineffective and impractical for such activities to be conducted by airport check-in staff who are not trained to recognise fraudulent documents and have no law enforcement powers.

It is also not feasible for a government official, acting as government security officer, to conduct identity checks of all passengers on domestic aircraft services as there is not sufficient capacity to staff each boarding gate in order to conduct identification confirmation.

2.4. Access, information sharing and customs issues

Recommendation 8

The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government review the technical and administrative requirements necessary to facilitate the effective sharing of information between airlines and air cargo agents and law enforcement agencies and the Australian Crime Commission Fusion Centre for the purpose of enhancing aviation security and law enforcement activities. The review should include research into technical requirements for such a scheme, the costs involved and any relevant statutory or other barrier to the sharing of such information. The findings of the review should be reported to the Australian Parliament.

Agreed

The AGD will lead this review in consultation with the AFP, ACC, and Customs and Border Protection.

This recommendation is consistent with the Organised Crime Strategic Framework's objective to continue to strengthen information sharing between law enforcement agencies and working more closely with industry. This work will complement the review to be conducted in response to recommendation 5 on information sharing arrangements between law enforcement agencies and private organisations in the aviation and maritime sectors.

The Commonwealth will consider options for reporting the findings of the review. As the review may contain operational sensitivities that cannot be made public, it may not be possible to report the full findings of the review to Parliament.

Recommendation 9

The committee recommends that the Australian Government provide further resources to support an increased presence for currency and illicit drug detection canine units at Australian airports.

Noted

The Commonwealth considers that current levels of currency and illicit drug detection canine units are sufficient.

The AFP is undertaking a review of whether there is need for additional canine units in the future. The AFP will also review the terminating “Firearms and Explosive Detector Dogs” Budget measure and together with Customs and Border Protection will consider whether additional resources for currency and illicit drug detection canine unit are needed.

Recommendation 10

The committee recommends that access to port security areas prescribed under the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act 2003 should require verification that the Maritime Security Identification Card belongs to the individual seeking access, either through human gate operators, verification by Closed Circuit Television or any other appropriate solution.

Noted

The DIT will assess current preventive security settings to ensure that appropriate outcomes are being met at all security regulated seaports.

The current approach in relation to seaport security is that the preventive security measures at facilities (including access control arrangements) should be commensurate to the security risk particular to the facility. A prospective “one size fits all” approach would incur unnecessary costs for industry that may not be commensurate with local security risk circumstances.

While face to MSIC checks are required at some higher risk facilities, in areas of lower risk, other security approaches, such as electronic swipe access coupled with random inspection and controls may be appropriate.

Recommendation 11

The committee recommends the development of a system that enables the confidential movement and examination of containers that increases the likelihood that trusted insiders involved in serious or organised crime are not alerted to law enforcement agency interest in a container.

Noted

Customs and Border Protection currently has the ability to employ several methods to carry out covert movements and examinations of containers.

Customs and Border Protection will continue to examine changes in the maritime environment and technological advances to enhance its ability to conduct covert operations and reduce the risks presented by trusted insiders involved in organised crime.

Although Customs and Border Protection notes that it is not possible to completely avoid surveillance by interested parties seeking to identify covert activity in the supply chain, options to reduce this visibility will continue to be explored.

Recommendation 12

The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government further invest in CCTV at airports and ports, with consideration of a number of ongoing improvements, including:

that CCTV cameras should be capable of producing footage of evidential quality;

the continuing lead role of Customs in coordinating the monitoring of CCTV networks; and

that CCTV networks should be complemented with automated number plate recognition, and/or facial recognition technology.

Noted

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) at airports and seaports is operated by a range of businesses and government agencies for a variety of purposes which includes but is not limited to people traffic management, customs and border protection, anti-shoplifting purposes in retail areas, physical security of the facilities, and aviation/maritime security.

Customs and Border Protection installs and maintains CCTV equipment throughout Australia's eight international gateway airports and 63 gazetted seaports to assist in its border management and security objectives.

In consultation with relevant stakeholders, Customs and Border Protection has developed the CCTV Strategic Outlook 2020, a strategy to guide future investment in CCTV at the border. The strategy has been developed in recognition of increasing interest from stakeholders in obtaining access to high quality visual information and the need to update existing CCTV technology that is approaching obsolescence. This strategy has been endorsed by the Border Management Group which comprises a range of Commonwealth partner agencies.

The initiatives identified in the strategy are intended to be progressively implemented by Customs and Border Protection following proof of concept trials to refine business requirements, which includes sharing arrangements with industry.

Within current resource constraints, the implementation of the initiatives is being prioritised according to the business needs of individual Australian's eight international gateway airports and 63 gazetted seaports, and the level of risk presented by existing systems.

In addition to the work of Customs and Border Protection, the National Counter Terrorism Committee, Legal Issues Sub Committee CCTV Working Group is developing a national policy and strategy for CCTV regarding the production of footage of evidential quality and a Practical Guide for law enforcement and national security agencies for use when using CCTV vision in counter terrorism investigations.

Recommendation 13

The committee recommends that Customs be given the power to revoke a depot, warehouse or broker's license if it determines, on the strength of compelling criminal intelligence, that an individual or individuals are involved or strongly associated with significant criminal activity.

Noted

Customs and Border Protection recognises the importance of preventing the likelihood of criminal infiltration in the cargo process. The positions of trust placed on depot, warehouse and broker's license holders is essential to ensuring that Customs and Border Protection controls are effectively enforced and border integrity is maintained.

Customs and Border Protection is strengthening its licensing regime and has been given legislative power to place conditions on depots' licenses that can be applied on a case-by-case basis to require the provision of staff lists for assessment against intelligence holdings.

The Commonwealth considers that a more appropriate step would be to reinforce Customs and Border Protection's power to scrutinise and monitor individuals and companies involved in the licensing regime. Customs and Border Protection will examine options to further strengthen its licensing regime with initiatives such as the power to request and assess staffing data.

2.5. Changes to the ASIC and MSIC schemes

Recommendation 14

The committee recommends that the A attorney- General's Department, in consultation with the Australian Crime Commission, reviews the list of relevant security offences under the ASIC and MSIC schemes to assess whether any further offences are required in order to effectively extend those schemes to protect the aviation and maritime sectors against the threat of infiltration by serious and organised criminal networks.

Agreed

DIT and AGD, in consultation with the ACC, will review the lists of security-relevant offences to assess whether any further offences are required.

Recommendation 15

The committee recommends that the Attorney-General's Department arrange for a suitable law enforcement agency to be given the power to revoke an Aviation Security Identification Card or Maritime Security Identification Card if it is determined that a cardholder is not a fit and proper person to hold a card on the basis of compelling criminal intelligence.

Noted

DIT and AGD will consider options for developing a test that would allow a suitable law enforcement agency to cancel an ASIC or MSIC if it is determined that the card holder is not a fit and proper person based on compelling criminal intelligence. This will include options to appeal any such determination, and a suitable legal mechanism for cancelling such cards.

This policy work will be conducted in conjunction with the proposed review of security-relevant offence criteria to respond to Recommendation 14.

Recommendation 16

The committee recommends that the MSIC eligibility criteria be harmonised with that of the ASIC scheme so as to make two or more convictions of an individual for maritime security relevant offences grounds for disqualification if one of those convictions occurred in the 12 months prior to an application, regardless of whether either conviction led to a term of imprisonment.

Agreed

The DIT will assess the eligibility criteria exclusion mechanisms in the ASIC and MSIC schemes with a view to greater harmonisation if appropriate.

Recommendation 17

The committee recommends the expansion of the coverage of the ASIC and MSIC schemes to capture a greater part of the overall supply chain, including some or all of the following:

staff at cargo unpacking and stuff-unstuff facilities;

transport workers involved in the transmission of cargo between ports, airports and other parts of the logistical chain;

customs brokers that do not access port facilities; and

human resource staff and management at companies with employees that currently must hold ASICs or MSICs.

Noted

The DIT, in conjunction with the AGD and relevant portfolio agencies, will evaluate the potential security benefits of expanding the categories of people required to hold ASICs/MSICs.

Recommendation 18

The committee recommends that AusCheck and CrimTrac work together to develop a database system that enables continual assessment of a cardholder's criminal record in order to ensure that cardholders are disqualified very soon after being convicted of a relevant security offence.

Noted

While there would be many benefits to continuous criminal history checks, there are a number of technical, privacy, legislative and funding issues that need to be resolved to achieve this outcome.

AusCheck and CrimTrac, in close consultation with the States, Territories and other relevant Commonwealth agencies, will work together to explore options which allow for the ability to continually identify those ASIC and MSIC holders who are convicted of security-relevant offences that pose a threat to the aviation and maritime environments.

The Government notes that both the ASIC and MSIC schemes have mandatory self reporting requirements in place which are designed to identify those card-holders who may be convicted of a security-relevant offence in order to reassess their eligibility to hold a card.

Recommendation 19

The committee recommends that use of biometric information, particularly fingerprints, to establish a unique identifier for applicants for the purpose of maintaining an accurate database of cardholders.

Noted

The Government notes the recommendation and will consider the use of biometric information in the context of its work coordinating Australia's National Identity Security Strategy, a cross jurisdictional initiative endorsed by COAG in 2007. One of the key elements of the Strategy is enhancing national inter-operability of biometric identity security measures which is being progressed through the development of a Biometrics Interoperability Framework.

The Biometrics Interoperability Framework is intended to cover the use of biometrics across law enforcement, national security and service delivery purposes, recognising that rapid developments in biometric technologies and advancements in the capture, transfer and storage of digital information is resulting in increased take-up of biometrics across the public sector generally. The framework is exploring specification of the uses of particular biometric types, namely fingerprints and face; the manner in which biometrics information is validated, stored and shared; and the data standards applicable to achieving interoperability.

Recommendation 20

The committee recommends that the Australian Government consider the use of biometric information for the purpose of controlling access to security controlled areas in the aviation and maritime sectors.

Noted

The DIT will in close consultation with relevant government agencies and the aviation and maritime industry sectors consider potential options to introduce biometrics for the purpose of enhancing access control arrangements at Australian airports and seaports. The

Government recognises the link between this recommendation and recommendations 10 and 19.

Recommendation 21

The committee recommends that AusCheck establish memoranda of understanding with the Australian Federal Police and other key law enforcement and intelligence agencies in order to allow the timely provision of information held in the AusCheck database to those agencies.

Agreed

The Government supports the recommendation and actively promotes information sharing within the law enforcement community.

AusCheck already provides law enforcement and intelligence agencies access to its database for law enforcement and national security purposes within the parameters set down in the AusCheck Act 2007. AusCheck publishes publicly accessible guidelines that govern who can receive information from the AusCheck database, the purposes this information can be used for, and the process for requesting this information.

AusCheck has developed and entered into a number of Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with a variety of relevant law enforcement agencies, including the AFP. These MoUs ensure that access to the AusCheck database appropriately addresses the needs of the law enforcement agencies, including the need for fast response times, while conforming to the requirements of the AusCheck legislation and guidelines.

AusCheck regularly reviews its MoUs and is currently engaged in developing new MoUs with additional Commonwealth authorities that have functions relating to law enforcement. AusCheck is exploring the possible extension of its MoUs to incorporate the development of new information sharing capabilities which would provide faster electronic access to AusCheck database information.

Recommendation 22

The committee recommends that current ASIC and MSIC issuing bodies are replaced by a single, government-run, centralised issuing body.

Noted

As part of the Government's response to the Australian National Audit Office Report into the Management of the ASIC and MSIC schemes, DIT has commenced a functional review, in consultation with industry stakeholders, unions and Government agencies to identify preferred issuing body functional models and operational structures for the ASIC and MSIC schemes.

This comprehensive review will undertake a cost benefit analysis of preferred functional models, including the option of a single, government-run, centralised issuing body. It will also seek to identify potential unintended consequences - such as airport and seaport

operational issues - that may arise from the introduction of different models, as well as consider transitional issues should a new model be introduced as Government policy.

 

AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE REPORT ON INQUIRY INTO THE CHANGING ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT IN THE INDIAN OCEAN TERRITORIES BY THE JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE NATIONAL CAPITAL AND EXTERNAL TERRITORIES

MINISTER FOR REGIONAL AUSTRALIA, REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT

OCTOBER 2011

Note: As part of the Administrative Arrangements Orders released on 14 September 2010, responsibility for matters dealing with Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands now falls to the Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government.

Recommendation 1

The committee recommends that the Shire of Christmas Island in partnership with the Christmas Island community and relevant stakeholders examine ways to diversify the local economy, with a focus on developing tourism as part of its economic strategy in response to the possible permanent closure of the Christmas Island phosphate mine. In addition, the Attorney-General ' s Department should provide adequate funding for secretariat support to the Shire for this purpose.

Support. To date, the Shire has been reluctant to take a leadership role in economic development on Christmas Island. The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government has not allocated specific funding to the Shire for this task, but the Shire receives annual funding which in the 2010/2011 financial year was $2.839 million. The Shire has the ability to allocate this funding according to its priorities. The government has previously funded studies on developing tourism (The Christmas Island Destination Development Report of April 2008). The Territories Division, as part of the Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government is also involved in the Inter-Departmental Committee for National Long Term Tourism Strategy and through this will pursue access for the Territories to training, mentoring and advertising.

There is currently no need for the funding of specific secretariat support to the Shire for the purpose of tourism development.

Recommendation 2

The committee recommends the Government provide funding for economic modelling to be undertaken on the impact on the Christmas Island economy of activities associated with the operation of the Christmas Island Immigration Reception and Processing Centre and make this information available in a public report.

Support. The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government has allocated funding for a Social and Economic Impact Assessment of the operation of the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre on the local community, which will include economic modelling. The project has commenced and will be undertaken with input from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Recommendation 3

The committee recommends the Shire of Christmas Island and the Attorney-General ' s Department coordinate a program of price monitoring for the Indian Ocean Territories.

Support. The Department has explored on-island options for collecting the data. However this was not successful. The Department is now considering other methods to collect data in line with the ABS "basket of goods" to enable analysis of cost of living trends and comparisons for both Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Recommendation 4

The committee recommends the Minister for Home Affairs take measures to ensure Corporations Law is applied to the Indian Ocean Territories as soon as possible.

Support. The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and The Treasury are working together on the extension of the operation of Corporations Law to the Indian Ocean Territories. A community consultation process is currently underway. The Administrator of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, as chair of the Economic Development Consultative Groups (EDCG), is leading consultation with relevant stakeholders on both Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Feedback received from the communities on Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands will inform any further consultation to be undertaken with parties directly affected by the extension of Corporations Law to the Territories and amendments to the legislation will be undertaken where required.

Recommendation 5

The committee recommends that Government agencies sourcing goods and services from businesses of the Indian Ocean Territories ensure payment of accounts within 30 days of the receipt of invoice.

Support. It is Government policy to pay invoices within 30 days.  The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government makes every effort to comply with this policy.

Recommendation 6

The committee recommends that arrangements be progressed as far as possible between the Attorney-General ' s Department and the Government of Western Australia to place a health and safety inspectorate on Christmas Island.

Do not support. Occupational Health and Safety inspections and compliance are provided by Worksafe WA under a Service Delivery Arrangement. Worksafe WA inspectors regularly travel to the Indian Ocean Territories to conduct inspections. A permanent inspector is not needed and not consistent with comparable remote communities on the mainland.

Recommendation 7

The committee recommends that the building codes currently applied to the Indian Ocean Territories be reviewed with the aim of making them more suitable to the physical environment and climate.

Support. The Indian Ocean Territories are subject to the same building code that applies throughout mainland Australia: the Building Code of Australia.  The provisions of the Code are appropriate to a range of environments, including coastal and tropical climates. 

The code only applies different standards to regions with different perceived risk of cyclone or high wind action, as determined by Australian Standard 1170.2:2002.  The Standard rates the Cocos (Keeling) Islands as region B (cyclonic) and Christmas Island as region C (non-cyclonic).  The Standard was compiled in 2002 and it may be appropriate to reconsider these ratings with regard to current data.  The Department has written to Standards Australia supporting a review of the Standard.

Requirements relating to plot ratios, car parking and limits on land use are found with the Town Planning Schemes of each Territory.  The Schemes are the responsibility of the relevant local governments and are compiled through the same process as is used in remote and regional Western Australia.  Both the Shire of Christmas Island and the Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands are in the process of reviewing their Town Planning Schemes.

Recommendation 8

The committee recommends the Government provide funding to the Shire of Christmas Island and the Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands for the establishment of local economic development officers.

Noted. The Australian Government provides funding for an economic development officer for the Indian Ocean Territories.  The officer works with the Shires on local issues, however, is attached to the Indian Ocean Territories Administrator for funding and oversight purposes.  Both Shires have access to the services of the economic development officer.

Recommendation 9

The committee recommends that:

the Minister for Home Affairs provide discretionary grant approval authority to the Indian Ocean Territories Economic Development Consultative Groups for approval of individual grants under the economic development funding program; and

the former Indian Ocean Territories incorporated advisory bodies be dissolved.

Do not support. The Australian Government has Commonwealth Grants Guidelines that are designed to ensure probity in the administration of grants programs.  These guidelines require decisions about discretionary grant funding to be made by Commonwealth Ministers or delegated senior officials after receiving agency advice on the merits of the grant application.  The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government complies with these guidelines and submits applications for grant funding to the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government.

Noted. Dissolution of the former Indian Ocean Territories incorporated advisory bodies is a matter for the membership of those bodies.

Recommendation 10

The committee recommends that the application process required under the economic development funding program be reviewed with the aim of streamlining the application process.

Support. The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government has completed a review of the economic development grants program, including related policy and processes. The review included 7 recommendations for streamlining and further developing the economic development grants program. The review contains input from relevant stakeholders.

The Department commenced new arrangements as of 1 July 2011, including reviewing the Terms of Reference for the Economic Development Consultative Groups, increasing the amount of funding available through the program to $150,000.00 and implementing a complaints process, dispute resolution process and an appeals process.

Recommendation 11

The committee recommends the amount of funds available under the economic development funding program be increased to $150 000 per annum for each of the Indian Ocean Territories.

Support. Following a review of the economic development funding program, the Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government has increased the amount available under the program to $150 000 per annum for each of the Indian Ocean Territories.  This will enable applicants with larger projects to apply for funding through the program.

Recommendation 12

The committee recommends that on finalisation of the feasibility study into the upgrade of the road that runs to the North West Point Detention Centre on Christmas Island (not withstanding any recommendations and findings contained in the report) that, funds be made available without delay for the upgrade of the road to commence as soon as possible.

Noted. The Indian Ocean Territories Taskforce has commissioned WA Main Roads to undertake a feasibility study on the road to North West Point.  The study has been completed. The Shire of Christmas Island has negotiated funding support to maintain the road with the Department of Immigration.

Recommendation 13

The committee recommends the Shire of Christmas Island and the Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands put into place a practical, administrative complaints handling process. In addition, the Attorney-General ' s Department should provide ongoing adequate funding for secretariat support for this purpose.

Support.  Local governments are required to have a designated complaints officer under the Local Government Act 1995 (WA) (CI) & (CKI).  Local governments are encouraged to supplement this position with a complaints process and policy.  These are useful mechanisms for improving customer service and identifying and responding to problems.

As this is a core function of local government, it should be funded from with existing operating budgets.

Recommendation 14

The committee recommends the Government examine the feasibility (including cost and security considerations) of implementing a tourist or short stay visa waiver scheme to encourage international tourists to visit the Indian Ocean Territories.

Do not support. Australia has a universal visa requirement for all non-Australian citizens intending to enter Australia. Australia's visa system is non-discriminatory and visitors from anywhere in the world need to apply for a visa.

Australia is committed to facilitating the movement of people across the Australian border, while protecting the community and maintaining appropriate compliance. Australia does not operate a visa waiver program for any country and our visa arrangements are not based on reciprocity.

Recommendation 15

The committee recommends the Steering Committee responsible for implementation of the Christmas Island tourism plan in consultation with the Attorney-General ' s Department, develop a service delivery arrangement with Tourism Australia to review, revise and implement the Christmas Island Destination Development Report.

Support. The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government supports the operation of the Steering Committee.  However, the Steering Committee has not met for some time and has not taken an active role in developing the tourism market on Christmas Island.

The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government continues to support tourism in the Indian Ocean Territories through funding both the Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands Tourism Associations to provide destination marketing, visitor information services, member support and other initiatives. Both Associations are implementing their recently completed destination marketing plans.

The Christmas Island Destination Development Report still provides a basis for tourism growth. It is used by organisations and individuals including the Economic Development Officer, employed through the Department, and the two economic development consultative groups to promote tourism opportunities.

Additionally, the Indian Ocean Territories are part of the Mid-West Gascoyne Regional Development Australia committee who in conjunction with the Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government are funding various tourism initiatives for the Indian Ocean Territories.

Recommendation 16

The committee recommends the Shire of Christmas Island and the Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands in consultation with the Attorney-General ' s Department, explore the viability of establishing sources of renewable energy to supplement the power needs of the Indian Ocean Territories, taking into consideration infrastructure requirements and costs.

Support. The Indian Ocean Territories Power Authority continues to investigate possible alternative energy sources in the Indian Ocean Territories.  A report has been received and the recommendations are being considered. This information will be used in future capital and infrastructure planning.

Recommendation 17

The committee recommends the Shire of Christmas Island and the Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands in consultation with the Attorney-General ' s Department, draft and implement a land release and development plan to attract investment and stimulate the construction industries of the Indian Ocean Territories. In addition, the Attorney-General ' s Department should provide ongoing adequate funding for secretariat support for this purpose.

Noted. The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government has completed a Crown Land Management Plan Report, which will be used to guide land management decisions.  The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government has also commissioned Outline Development Plans for high value areas in the Territories, such as the Q Station, CI Light Industrial Area, Poon Saan residential area and Buffett Close extension.  The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government is in the process of releasing land on Christmas Island for both residential and commercial use.  Most land on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands is under the control of the Shire, through the Cocos Land Trust arrangements.

Any disposal of Commonwealth land, must comply with the Commonwealth Property Disposals Policy.

Recommendation 18

The committee recommends that the Commonwealth transfer ownership of the accommodation and facilities located at the former Quarantine Station site on West Island to the Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands to ease pressure on housing supply.

Do not support.  The Government acknowledges a shortage of housing exists on West Island in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.  The majority of land in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, including land on West Island, is held on trust by the Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands for the benefit of the Cocos community.

The Government does not support transferring the former Quarantine Station site on West Island to the Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands.  In the short term, the accommodation buildings at the former Quarantine Station are being used to house the workers for the Rumah Baru port project.  Once this project is completed, the Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government expects the accommodation buildings to be used by workers for the runway refurbishment project.  Storage buildings at the former Quarantine Station are being used by the Shire of Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government recently completed an Outline Development Plan (ODP) for the former Quarantine Station site.  The ODP acknowledged that, in the first instance, residential development on West Island should occur closer to the settled area to take advantage of existing infrastructure.  The ODP proposed a number of options for the former Quarantine Station, which were developed in close consultation with the Cocos community.  Options include short term accommodation, but not residential accommodation.

The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government is in the process of building housing on Commonwealth owned blocks in Buffet Close.  Other blocks are privately held and have not been built on.  In 2010/11, the Department will commission a plan to expand Buffett Close to provide additional residential blocks close to the existing settled area. 

Any disposal of Commonwealth land, must comply with the Commonwealth Property Disposals Policy.

Recommendation 19

The committee recommends that the potential effects of climate change be acknowledged as they will affect future economic development, especially on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and that the Economic Development Consultative Groups and other stakeholders are fully briefed on these, and an appropriate risk evaluation built into any proposals relating to economic development.

Support. The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government is undertaking this work in close consultation with the Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands communities.  The Indian Ocean Territories Climate Change Adaptation Strategy has been developed and released for initial comment. Community consultation regarding implementation of this strategy commenced on the Islands in November. This work is ongoing and will continue to inform the Government's activities in the Territories.

Recommendation 20

The committee recommends the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy in consultation with the Attorney-General ' s Department review the operation of the Australian Broadband Guarantee as it applies to the Indian Ocean Territories.

Do not support. The Australian Broadband Guarantee program has now closed. Services meeting the Australian Broadband Guarantee's defined standard for a metro-comparable broadband service are available commercially in the Indian Ocean Territories through the Christmas Island Internet Administration (CIIA).

Access to high speed broadband services will be improved in the Indian Ocean Territories with the launch of the National Broadband Network Long Term Satellite Service which is scheduled to commence in 2015. NBN Co is working to deploy two Ka-band satellites to provide access to peak download speeds of 12 megabits per second and upload speeds of 1-4 megabits per second. This represents a step-change over speeds experienced by users of these technologies today.

Recommendation 21

The committee recommends the Government subsidise improvements to the satellite link for the Indian Ocean Territories to enable improved communication links with the mainland and to assist with business and service delivery.

Noted. The government's decision to create NBN Co Limited (NBN Co) will allow all Australians to obtain access to affordable high-speed broadband services. The new services will be delivered via a range of technologies, and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has advised that, in remote locations such as the Indian Ocean territories, the National Broadband Network (NBN) will be provided via next generation satellite technologies capable of delivering peak download speeds of at least 12 megabits per second.

Next-generation satellite technologies are capable of providing excellent broadband services in areas with low population density and will provide vastly superior satellite broadband services to those available today.

NBN Co is progressing the development and rollout of next-generation satellite broadband services. On 20 December 2010, NBN Co released its Corporate Plan which indicates that it will take approximately four years to design, build and launch two next generation Ka-band satellites. NBN Co anticipates long term satellite services commencing in financial year 2015.

Whilst this process is underway, the Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government is investigating alternatives to improve the current accessibility.

Recommendation 22

The committee recommends the Government provide assistance for the urgent upgrade of mobile telephony infrastructure and services on the Indian Ocean Territories in line with service standards available in metropolitan areas on the mainland.

Noted. Mobile telephony is currently provided by the private sector.  The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government is considering what support might be available for these activities. However, there are significant areas of mainland Australia that do not have mobile telephony infrastructure and services to the same level as metropolitan areas.

As stated in its responses to questions on notice to the Committee in October 2009, the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy understands the Indian Ocean Territories do not have access to mainland mobile networks. There is currently no Australian Government funding available for the extension of mobile telephony infrastructure.

The provision of mobile phone coverage in a particular area is primarily a commercial decision made by mobile phone carriers. In making the decision to extend coverage to a particular area, carriers consider a range of factors, including site availability, cost structures, likely levels of demand from users and overall economic viability of the service.

Carriers partly base this decision on how many people live and travel through the area, placing towers where there is a higher level of use. The cost to install towers in the Indian Ocean Territories could be great, especially given that the underlying infrastructure may also require an upgrade.

It may be useful for organisations or communities in the Indian Ocean Territories to identify for carriers the potential demand for mobile services in the area. Information such as current and projected growth of population, together with records of traffic volumes can be helpful in assisting carriers to make informed decisions about whether to extend coverage to certain areas.

Currently satellite mobile phone services cover the Indian Ocean Territories and are available from a number of providers. The Australian Government's Satellite Phone Subsidy Scheme improves the affordability of mobile communications for people living and working in areas without handheld terrestrial mobile coverage, by providing subsidies for the purchase of satellite phone handsets.

As there is no reliable terrestrial mobile coverage in the Indian Ocean Territories, people who permanently live there or spend significant amounts of time on or around the islands are eligible to apply.

Recommendation 23

The committee recommends the Government explore the possibility of funding ' self help ' transmitters in the Indian Ocean Territories to enable live sporting events to be received.

Noted. The Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government currently provides a range of analog radio and television services to the Indian Ocean Territories as a community service. The television service features the same content that is currently transmitted in analog to regional and remote Western Australia by the commercial and national broadcasters. This means those served by the community television service provided by the Department have access to a similar level of live sports coverage that is available to regional and remote Western Australian analog television viewers.

The Territories have been included in the national plans for the transition to digital television. This will roll out via the Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) service, with a government subsidy scheme for individual households. The transition from analog to digital television across Australia is due for completion by the end of 2013. The subsidy will be available to Territories' viewers in November 2012, at the same time as Western Australia. The Territories are scheduled to have full access to digital television, utilising the satellite installation subsidy, between November 2012 and the end of 2013. Digital television provides viewers with access to 16 channels, some of which feature sports coverage not available to analog television viewers.

Recommendation 24

The committee recommends the Government provide a subsidy aimed at reducing the cost of sea freight and shipping services for the Indian Ocean Territories.

Do not support. The Government has not considered offering a subsidy on sea freight for the Indian Ocean Territories and does not consider that the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme (TFES) is an appropriate model for any such general sea freight subsidy. The TFES is targeted at goods of Australian origin shipped to Tasmania as inputs to production for selected industries only and for goods transported to mainland Australia from Tasmania (but not for international export).  TFES does not assist the movement of fuel or private consumables such as household goods or food.

Further, under Part VI of the Navigation Act 1912, ships carrying domestic cargoes across Bass Strait are required to obtain a coasting trade licence or permit - licences require that crew are paid Australian wages and permits are only issued when a licensed ship is not available.  In contrast, the carriage of cargo or passengers between Cocos (Keeling) Islands or Christmas Island and ports in the Commonwealth or Territory are exempt from the provisions of Part VI of the Navigation Act 1912.  The exemption of Cocos (Keeling) Islands has been in place since 28 June 1956 and the exemption of Christmas Island has been in place since 1998. 

The Government already provides significant support in the form of subsidised port fees and an underwritten air service that includes freight.

Recommendation 25

The committee recommends the Government continue to underwrite domestic air services to the Indian Ocean Territories in response to demand for services.

Support. The Government engaged Virgin Australia on 1 April 2010 to provide an underwritten air service to the Indian Ocean Territories for the next three years, with an option to renew for a further two years. This service currently consists of three flights a week from Perth to Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. A fourth flight also operates between Perth and Christmas Island on Thursdays.

To meet the Indian Ocean Territories freight demand, the Department is investigating the introduction of a dedicated air freighter to service both Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. A dedicated fortnightly air freighter service, using a 737-300, currently operates between Perth and Christmas Island.

Recommendation 26

The committee recommends that cabotage restrictions should be removed for the Indian Ocean Territories (IOTs) and that prior to this the Government undertake an assessment of the infrastructure and administrative requirements for the IOTs, taking into consideration asset and funding needs, and time frames for upgrades and restructures particularly in regard to the runway and immigration facility upgrades.

Noted. In 2009, the Australian Government released the National Aviation Policy White Paper (White Paper), which provides a comprehensive long-term aviation policy framework for the Australian aviation industry. The Government's position on cabotage is discussed at page 44 of the White Paper, which provides that:

' As a general rule, the Australian Government does not intend to permit cabotage. [However]...the Government may consider unilateral cabotage in exceptional circumstances: for example...on a more long term basis when a foreign carrier may seek to operate on a route which is not currently served by scheduled domestic airlines or which requires a government subsidy (such as routes between some of Australia ' s external territories and the mainland). '

Noting the variety of possible costs and benefits the Joint Standing Committee's Report has identified in the event of removal of cabotage restriction for the Indian Ocean Territories, any application to allow a foreign operator to carry domestic passengerswould only ever be considered on a case-by-case basis.  Safety is the Government's first aviation priority, and any decision to grant cabotage to a foreign airline would only be taken should exceptional circumstances exist and after full consideration, assessment and agreement by Australia's aviation safety regulator, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. 

(Quorum formed)