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Thursday, 10 May 2007
Page: 47

Mr FARMER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, Science and Training) (12:07 PM) —I rise to conclude the debate on the Governance Review Implementation (Science Research Agencies) Bill 2007. I thank the members for Ballarat and Oxley for speaking in the second reading debate and for their support of the Howard government’s introduction of the bill. I would also like to make special mention of the member for Bass and his very learned contribution to this bill. I know the people of Tasmania appreciate his support for this bill and the work he does in this place.

The bill makes relatively minor amendments to the Australian Institute of Marine Science Act 1972, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation Act 1987 and the Science and Industry Research Act 1949. The amendments implement changes to the governance arrangements of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, better known as AIMS; the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, known to all of us as ANSTO; and the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation, which is the CSIRO. The bill is part of a broader exercise within the Australian government to improve transparency and consistency in relation to governance arrangements for statutory authorities and office holders, further to the government’s endorsement of the recommendations of the Review of the corporate governance of statutory authorities and office holders, better known to all of us here and to the wider sector as the Uhrig review.

AIMS, ANSTO and CSIRO were assessed in detail against the recommendations of the Uhrig review. The assessments indicated that the agencies’ current governance was largely consistent with the Uhrig board template. The government concluded that the governance of each agency should continue in accordance with that template but determined that a number of minor changes would enhance the government’s arrangements for these agencies and better align them with the board template.

The most significant amendments include removing the requirement for ministerial approval of contracts above a prescribed value for each of the agencies. This is consistent with the Uhrig review’s recommendation that the boards should have a wide power to act. Accountability will be maintained by requiring each agency—as in the Minister for Education, Science and Training’s statement of expectations—to notify the minister in advance of the agency entering into significant contracts. This is also consistent with the provisions of section 15 of the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997. The Uhrig review recommended that a board should have wide power to act. This includes the powers to appoint and terminate the appointment of the CEO and to monitor and assess his or her performance. Accordingly, the bill includes amendments that will enable the AIMS council and the CSIRO board to appoint or terminate the appointment of their CEO. The ANSTO board already has this power. The bill also contains amendments that will provide the AIMS council and the ANSTO and CSIRO boards with additional discretion to terminate the appointment of their CEO if satisfied that his or her performance has been unsatisfactory for a significant period.

A position of deputy chairperson for CSIRO will be created. This is in recognition of the responsibilities and the workload of the chairperson of the CSIRO board. It is consistent with the arrangements that already apply to ANSTO and to many other large statutory bodies. The remuneration for the deputy chairperson will be set by the Remuneration Tribunal. The cost will be met out of the CSIRO’s existing budget and therefore will have no financial impact. Membership of the board of ANSTO will also be set at between six and nine members. This increase in the size of the board will enable a wide range of expertise to be brought to bear on corporate governance of ANSTO and is commensurate with the extent of technical complexity of its operations.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasise that the changes to the agencies’ governance arrangements do not reduce their accountability. While the amendments provide greater freedom for the agencies’ governing boards or councils to act, as recommended by the Uhrig report, there are still requirements for each agency in the enabling legislation and in the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 which ensure an appropriate level of accountability. In addition, the statement of expectation for each agency will require the agency to keep the minister fully informed of significant events and to consult with her on significant matters.

The amendments reflect the recommendations of the Uhrig review and align each agency’s governance arrangements with current best practice. This will ensure that the administration of the recently announced government funding for AIMS, ANSTO and CSIRO for the next quadrennium, their largest research budgets ever, will be efficient, effective and accountable.

I commend the Governance Review Implementation (Science Research Agencies) Bill 2007 to the House.

Bill read a second time.