Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 13 February 2019
Page: 295

Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for International Development and the Pacific) (15:39): I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I table three explanatory memoranda relating to the bills and seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—


This Bill amends the Corporations Act 2001 (the Act) to enable mutual and cooperative firms, particularly the mutually-owned financial institutions, to raise the capital they need to compete with investor-owned banks, insurers and other competitors.

Cooperatives, mutuals and member-owned firms have a proud history across the country, providing generations of Australians with customer and community-focused alternatives to profit-driven businesses. The oldest member-owned firms even pre-date the Commonwealth, with some tracing histories that extend back to decades before Australia's Federation.

Over their long history, member-owned firms have been operating reliably and consistently across many industries including agriculture, banking and finance, housing, insurance and retail.

Over 14 million people, nearly 2 in 3 Australians, were members of these organisations in 2017.

Yet despite their value to customers and the community, mutuals and cooperatives in Australia have long been underappreciated and ignored by our federal laws. They face a number of barriers preventing them from growing to their full potential, placing them at a disadvantage.

This Bill represents the outcome of a long and comprehensive process to identify and address the regulatory impediments facing the mutuals sector, starting with the Senate Economics References Committee report on Cooperative, Mutual and Member-owned Firms in 2015. This report highlighted the impediments to competition and consumer choice, caused by uncertainty and a lack of capital raising options for mutual and cooperative firms.

Recognising that our federal laws were effectively forcing mutuals and cooperatives to compete with one arm tied behind their back, in 2017 the then Treasurer, Scott Morrison, commissioned Mr Greg Hammond to advise the Government on regulatory and legislative changes that could remove the barriers facing the sector.

The Government accepted all 11 of the Hammond Report recommendations and we have been working with the mutuals sector, the legal community and regulators to develop this Bill.

The Government has consulted with the Legislative and Governance Forum on Corporations in relation to the Bill, which has approved them as required under the Corporations Agreement 2002.

It is a credit to the Prime Minister who, as Treasurer, pushed these reforms forward and he deserves to be acknowledged as these reforms now come before the Parliament.

This Bill will introduce a definition of a mutual entity into the Corporations Act for the first time. It will remove the uncertainty around demutualisation provisions and disclosure requirements that have prevented mutual Authorised deposit-taking Institutions, otherwise known as "mutual banks", from raising capital in the past, and it will create a new type of bespoke instrument, called a Mutual Capital Instrument, which allows mutuals to raise equity through a specialised capital instrument. The Bill also provides a simple, standardised process for mutuals to amend their constitutions to take advantage of the introduction of Mutual Capital Instruments, should they wish to do so.

With this legislation, the Government will finally ensure that cooperatives and mutuals are recognised in our federal laws.

Our reforms will mean more opportunities for mutual organisations by allowing them to raise the funds they need to make long-term investments for the benefit of their members, and to compete effectively with shareholder-owned companies for the benefit of all Australians.

Full details of the measure are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum.


The Australian Government has been working assiduously to protect and promote our market access and other trade interests with the UK and EU, in the lead up to Brexit.

This extends to the wine industry, where the Australian Government must provide certainty, as market and vintage planning arrangements can be made years in advance before a product is available and ready for export.

The UK is Australia's top wine export market by volume and third largest market by value. It is therefore vital we ensure the continuity of trade with the UK regardless of their Brexit arrangements.

Trade in wine between Australia and the UK is currently facilitated by the Agreement between Australia and the European Community on Trade in Wine. This Agreement is given effect in Australian law by the Wine Australia Act 2013.

The proposed UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement envisages a Brexit transition period, during which, obligations stemming from EU-third country agreements will continue to apply to the UK.

This Bill introduces amendments to the Wine Australia Act to ensure that Australia's wine trade with the UK continues to be covered by the Act during any Brexit transition period, consistent with the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement. Specifically, the Bill will amend the definition of 'EC country' in the Act to include the UK, during a Brexit Transition Period.

The Government is also this week tabling the Agreement between Australia and the United Kingdom on Trade in Wine, which was signed between Australia and the UK in London last month. This new wine trade Agreement with the UK is part of our preparations for a 'no deal' Brexit, whereby the UK leaves the EU without a transition period or other measures in place. In the event of deal or no-deal Brexit, the combined efforts of this legislative amendment and our new Agreement with the UK will ensure that our wine industry can continue to export to the UK, post-Brexit.

These measures will ensure the continued facilitation of trade in wine between Australia and the UK and a mutually beneficial trade relationship, whatever shape Brexit takes.


The enactment of the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018 in December 2018 was a critical step to combat terrorists and serious criminals using digital technology to hide their illegal activities.

Australia's law enforcement and national security agencies are now equipped with the tools they need to keep Australians safe, while operating in an increasingly complex modern communications environment.

The Assistance and Access Act established a framework for national security and law enforcement agencies to seek assistance from the communications industry — to support investigations and operations that would otherwise be delayed or stymied by suspects' use of encrypted communications. The legislation also introduced new computer access powers to ensure that our agencies can access lawfully obtained content and data.

The Government is keenly aware that the legitimate use of encryption keeps the data of all Australians safe and secure when they interact with digital platforms. Maintaining the security of networks and devices is paramount to ensuring Australians can harness the potential of modern technology. I reiterate the words of the Attorney-General in his second reading speech on the then Assistance and Access Bill — the legislation prohibits the creation of so-called back doors.

Commissions are empowered to use the industry assistance measures. This The legislation does not allow for mass surveillance. Access to personal information must be authorised by existing warrants and authorisations, which are subject to their own safeguards, including judicial oversight.

The Assistance and Access Act itself contains important safeguard and oversight measures to protect the privacy of Australians, maintain the security of the digital ecosystem and ensure powers are exercised responsibly. A key purpose of the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2019 is to further strengthen these oversight mechanisms.

This Bill amends the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor Act 2010 to bring forward the review of the Assistance and Access Act by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor — to provide timely assurance that the Assistance and Access Act is operating as intended.

The Assistance and Access Act already requires the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor to review the operation, effectiveness and implications of the Act. The Bill expedites the timeframes for this review — so that it will be finished before the end of, rather than after, the 18-month period beginning on 8 December 2018 when the Act received Royal Assent.

Bringing forward the review by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor will bolster the effective, timely and expert monitoring of the Assistance and Access Act — to make sure this framework is working and is striking the right balance.

Aside from bringing forward the timing, this amendment does not change the purpose and nature of the review by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor.

The Bill also amends the Telecommunications Act 1997 to ensure Commonwealth and State anti-corruption bodies and Investigative Commissions are empowered to use the industry assistance measures. This will help these bodies identify and investigate serious crime, and law enforcement misconduct and corruption across the public sector.

Commonwealth and State anti-corruption bodies and Investigative Commissions were included in the original Assistance and Access Bill that was introduced into the House on 20 September 2018. These agencies were, however, subsequently excluded from the scope of the industry assistance measures in accordance with a recommendation from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS). The exclusion of these bodies was recommended as an interim measure while the Committee continued its consideration of the Act.

The Chair of the PJCIS informed the House yesterday that it is now the consensus view of the Committee that the Act be extended to these agencies.

Anti-corruption agencies and Investigative Commissions have an important oversight function and typically have access to intrusive powers, like interception warrants and telecommunications. The use of interception and surveillance powers has enabled these bodies to collect vital, and often powerful evidence. However, similar to the experience of interception agencies, the evolving technological environment has created challenges for anti-corruption bodies and investigative commissions. Increasingly, their capacity to rely on these important tools is being undermined.

A joint submission from the Commissioners of eight State anti-corruption and Crime Commissions plus the Commissioner of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity to the PJCIS' Inquiry into the Act has called for the urgent extension of the Act's industry assistance measures to these agencies. The Commissioners note that these powers are crucial in their fight against organised crime and corruption. Their argument for the need for these powers is compelling.

Access to the industry assistance measures will ensure anti-corruption bodies and investigative commissions can overcome the issues caused by technologies such as encryption. Specifically, anti-corruption bodies and investigative commissions will be empowered to obtain legitimate and necessary assistance from domestic and international communications providers in accordance with the existing safeguards and limitations in Part 15 of the Telecommunications Act 1997. Importantly, the use of the industry assistance powers remains subject to oversight from the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

The Bill ensures that anti-corruption bodies and investigative commissions are able continue to fulfil their function and have access to the same powers as the law enforcement and national security agencies that they oversee. The Bill does not provide anti-corruption bodies and investigative commissions with unfettered powers. Indeed, these bodies will be included within a framework that is currently operating and is subject to strong safeguards and oversight measures.

It is vital that such national security legislation is supported by appropriate safeguards and oversight measures. This Bill enhances the already strong measures in the Assistance and Access Act to ensure the powers are proportionate to the threats they are designed to counter, that these powers are used appropriately, and that the privacy and data security of innocent Australians is preserved. Importantly, the Bill also increases the accountability of those public officers that Australians entrust to keep them safe and secure.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of these bills be adjourned to the first sitting day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.

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