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Thursday, 13 September 2007
Page: 137

Mr NAIRN (Special Minister of State) (10:50 AM) —I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill and I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Australian Postal Corporation Amendment (Quarantine Inspection and Other Measures) Bill 2007 amends the Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989 to provide for the inspection and examination of postal articles carried by Australia Post for interstate quarantine purposes.

The bill will implement recommendation 13 of the November 2005 report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry entitled Taking control: a national approach to pest animals.

The bill will also make other minor amendments to clarify the operation of certain provisions of the Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989.

The Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989 currently prohibits the opening of postal articles except in specified circumstances. These exceptions include the opening of articles suspected of containing drugs or articles on which customs duty is payable.

Incoming international mail may also be opened in accordance with powers set out in the Quarantine Act 1908. However, opening the postal articles for interstate quarantine purposes is currently not allowed under the Australian Postal Corporation Act.

The inspection regime proposed in the bill provides that certain procedures must be followed by state or territory quarantine inspection authorities and that specified records be kept. The record-keeping requirements will be set out in amendments to the Australian Postal Corporation Regulations 1996, which will be prepared with a view to commencing at the same time the interstate quarantine measures commence.

The bill has been developed in consultation with state and territory governments and Australia Post. There is general consensus about the proposal, including that the reserved services be exempted from inspection under the scheme because of the low risk of standard letters carrying quarantine material and to ensure that Australia Post’s ability to meet its regulated performance standards is not adversely affected.

The scheme will allow prescribed state and territory inspection agencies to identify and examine articles in the course of normal mail processing and enable them to deal with the article under the applicable state and territory laws. It is expected that participating quarantine inspection agencies will bear the cost of inspection and will assume responsibility for identifying and isolating articles which are believed to contain quarantine material.

The bill also addresses the concern that Australia Post is currently treated differently from other delivery agents whose articles are potentially already able to be inspected under the applicable state and territory law. It is expected that, once the bill is enacted, Australia Post will no longer be treated differently to other private delivery agents.

At this stage, Western Australia, Tasmania and Northern Territory have indicated a wish to be prescribed in the regulations, which will enable them to take advantage of the bill’s provisions to inspect postal articles carried by Australia Post for interstate quarantine purposes. The other jurisdictions have taken the view that they consider the biosecurity risks associated with the interstate mailing system to be relatively low and that their focus is better directed at the general risk posed by people and personal effects moving across state borders. The bill will enable them to participate in the scheme by the making of further regulations, should they later decide to participate.

It is proposed that the interstate quarantine provisions and other provisions in schedule 1 to the bill will commence on proclamation but not later than six months after royal assent. This will allow sufficient time for those quarantine inspection authorities which intend to implement an interstate quarantine inspection scheme to make appropriate administrative arrangements.

The bill also contains a number of other amendments.

The bill includes amendments to allow compliance agencies such as the Australian Customs Service and the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service a discretion to pass information to Australia Post regarding seized articles. This information will, in turn, be able to be passed to other postal administrations. This will ensure that Australia Post is not unnecessarily liable to other postal administrations under the acts of the Universal Postal Union and is better able to respond to queries about missing mail.

The bill also contains a measure which will streamline the disclosure of scam mail to consumer protection agencies. Once the bill is enacted, Australia Post will be able to hold suspected scam mail for inspection by a consumer protection agency. If upon inspection the mail is found to be evidence of a breach of a consumer protection law, the mail will be able to be dealt with by the relevant consumer protection agency in accordance with the laws they administer. If mail is not found to be scam mail, it will be returned to the mail system as soon as possible. These changes will better protect consumers by allowing the earlier interception of scam mail than is currently possible.

The bill also contains minor technical amendments to ensure that the Australian Postal Corporation Act reflects the introduction of the GST and wine tax.

A further measure will provide the minister with the flexibility to exempt Australia Post from the current requirement to prepare a service improvement plan where the minister considers the preparation of the plan is unnecessary in the circumstances. These would include circumstances where the failure to meet a performance standard was beyond the control of Australia Post or if Australia Post had already implemented measures to address any drop in performance.

The bill also includes an amendment to allow regulations made under the act to deal with determining the level of mail delivery service. For example, this would enable a regulation to set out processes to be used by Australia Post for polling communities to determine whether delivery services should be provided ‘to the property’ if regulation in this area became necessary. I commend the bill to the House.