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Wednesday, 11 September 1985
Page: 416


Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(10.17) —I move:

That the Bills be now read a second time.

STUDENT ASSISTANCE (LOANS GUARANTEE AND SUBSIDY) REPEAL BILL 1985

The purpose of the Student Assistance (Loans Guarantee and Subsidy) Repeal Bill 1985 is to repeal the Student Assistance (Loans Guarantee and Subsidy) Act 1982. The Student Assistance (Loans Guarantee and Subsidy) Act 1982 provides for the giving of guarantees and subsidies by the Commonwealth in respect of certain loans made to eligible students. However, since the Act was assented to on 31 December 1982, no loans have been made and no guarantees or subsidies given in pursuance of the Act. Furthermore, the Government has made a commitment not to proceed with the student loans scheme proposed by the Fraser Government. The present Bill fulfills that commitment. The Bill has no expenditure implications. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

STUDENT ASSISTANCE AMENDMENT BILL 1985

This Bill seeks to amend the Student Assistance Act 1973, which provides the legislative basis for the tertiary education assistance scheme and for the postgraduate awards scheme. The Bill does not raise any major policy matters and is confined essentially to questions of an administrative nature. The Bill proposes to restructure the student assistance review tribunals-SARTs-which at present consist of a number of tribunals each with a chairperson and two other members. It is proposed to have a single Student Assistance Review Tribunal, comprising a panel of convenors and a panel of other members, with the SART at any particular hearing being constituted by a convenor and two members. This is similar to the structure of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and will streamline administrative arrangements, such as those involved in the appointment of SART members. It is intended to re-appoint all present chairpersons and members of existing SARTs as convenors and members of the new tribunal.

Other amendments concerning the SART will enable the appointment of acting convenors, will allow the SART to remit matters to the Department for reconsideration in accordance with the SART's directions or recommendations, and will provide for a more flexible procedure in cases where it is not possible to give a student the necessary notice of the SART hearing. An amendment is also proposed in relation to the protection of Australian Taxation Office and other confidential documents made available to the SART. The amendment will insert a new provision, proposed section 29B, which will substantially repeal the existing provisions at present contained in section 25 (2), with the following modifications: It will be clarified that documents are to be protected during a SART hearing as well as at the pre-hearing stage; oral disclosure of a document's contents will be prohibited where disclosure of the document itself is prohibited; and the restriction on the disclosure of a document dealing with a person's affairs will not generally apply if the person agrees to the disclosure. I should perhaps add that the Government appreciates that it is necessary to balance privacy considerations with open access to documents, and that it is recognised the proposed section 29B may need to be re-examined in the context of future reviews of non-disclosure provisions in Commonwealth legislation or of the confidentiality provisions of the Income Tax Act.

The amendments also include a provision, proposed section 34A, to enable the delegation to some ministerial powers. A delegation may be made in relation to arrangements concerning the assessment of applications for student assistance, the method of paying benefits, the giving of public notice of ministerial decisions and any powers conferred by the student assistance regulations. Delegations will be restricted to the Secretary to the Department, to Senior Executive Service officers of the Department or to an acting secretary or acting Senior Executive Service officer.

As the Student Assistance Act at present makes no provision for a time limit for prosecuting offences, section 21 (1) (c) of the Crimes Act operates to require that prosecutions under the student assistance regulations must be commenced within one year of the offence being committed. It has proved very difficult to complete the necessary procedures of identification and investigation within this period and the Bill therefore includes an amendment, proposed section 35A, to enable prosecutions to be brought within two years of the offence being committed. This provision will not apply to offences committed before the amendment comes into force. The intention is to facilitate the prosecution of serious abuses only and the proposed amendment will not lead to a major increase in the overall prosecution activity under the student assistance regulations. The Bill has no significant financial implications. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Chaney) adjourned.