Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Territories Law Reform Bill 2010
Consideration in Detail
Bill—by leave—taken as a whole.
by leave—I move amendments (1) to (18) together:
(8) Schedule 1, item 155, page 55 (line 4) to item 156, page 55 (line 9), omit the items.
(9) Schedule 1, item 158, page 55 (line 14) to item 190, page 62 (line 9), omit the items.
(10) Schedule 1, item 191, page 62 (line 15), omit the note.
(11) Schedule 1, item 192, page 62 (line 16) to item 198, page 65 (line 26), omit the items.
(12) Schedule 1, item 199, page 65 (line 27) to page 66 (line 15), omit the item, substitute:
199 Section 47B
Before “A document is”, insert “(1)”.
199A At the end of section 47B (before the note)
(2) In this section:
State includes Norfolk Island.
(13) Schedule 1, item 200, page 66 (line 16) to item 203, page 66 (line 29), omit the items.
(14) Schedule 1, item 209, page 67 (line 10) to item 211, page 67 (line 15), omit the items.
(15) Schedule 1, item 214, page 68 (lines 2 to 3), omit the item.
(16) Schedule 1, item 216, page 68 (line 8) to item 236, page 70 (line 21), omit the items.
(17) Schedule 1, item 238, page 70 (line 26) to page 71 (line 2), omit the item.
(18) Schedule 1, before item 243, page 73 (lines 2 to 3), omit the heading (Act name)
(19) Schedule 1, item 243, page 73 (lines 4 to 9), omit the item.
(20) Schedule 1, item 244, page 73 (lines 11 to 14), omit the item.
(21) Schedule 1, item 246, page 73 (line 20) to item 273, page 77 (line 25), omit the items.
(22) Schedule 1, item 275, page 78 (line 4) to item 290, page 80 (line 21), omit the items.
(23) Schedule 1, item 292, page 80 (line 29) to page 81 (line 2), omit the item.
(24) Schedule 1, item 293, page 81 (lines 3 to 32), omit the item, substitute:
293 At the end of section 70
(4) In this section:
State includes Norfolk Island.
(25) Schedule 1, item 294, page 81 (line 33) to item 297, page 82 (line 16), omit the items.
I want to address some of the things the minister said in his contribution. A lot of what he said we do not disagree with. In fact, what he was saying were statements of the obvious. We all understand that there is a need for law reform on Norfolk Island, as the Norfolk Island government reiterated in their dealings with the government and the opposition. It is untrue to say that this bill does not reduce their independence because clearly it does and clearly that is what the government has believed in the past when they have made submissions to the Commonwealth and to the opposition about these matters.
What has changed is that the government of Norfolk Island have found themselves in difficult financial territory. They have therefore come to the Commonwealth and asked for assistance. The Commonwealth have said to them, ‘Sure we’re happy to assist but only on the condition that you endorse wholesale this particular bill.’ Clearly, Norfolk Island is in an extraordinarily difficult situation. As I said in the debate yesterday, they are well and truly over a barrel and the Labor government have taken full advantage of that and insisted that they endorse this bill wholesale.
The minister is correct—which they have done, but, as I said, under duress. The truth is that these amendments are incredibly simple amendments. They reflect what you would hope in this parliament would just be common sense—that is, for a small administrative territory like Norfolk Island, with a limited population and limited administrative capacity, they are going to find it extraordinarily expensive and bureaucratically unnecessary to implement wholesale the provisions of the freedom of information and privacy acts which apply to Australia. They have said so consistently in their submissions to inquiries about this bill.
I take the opportunity to remind the House about what was said. In their submission dated April 2010, the Norfolk Island government reiterated that the format for the FOI proposed within this bill would be unsustainable for Norfolk Island from both a financial and a resource perspective. They further went on to talk about how this bill was going to affect them in relation to the implementation of privacy provisions. Again, they said that they would find the time and resource costs arising from the complexity of such a system, as suggested in this bill, unsustainable. They believe the Commonwealth have underestimated that time and that complexity. They believe that it is unnecessarily bureaucratic and the opposition shares that view. We believe that was a sensible response. They have not said that they are not interested in administrative law reform within Norfolk Island. In fact, they have explicitly said that they are interested in implementing law reform in both of these areas but they would like to develop FOI and privacy regimes that are more suitable for a territory of their size and of that nature.
For me, that is just a statement of the absolute obvious and the government does not have any particular arguments as to why they cannot sit down with the government of Norfolk Island and come up with an arrangement that is more suitable for them. Instead, they are insisting on the wholesale passing of this bill because they can, because they know they have the Norfolk Island government in a position of weakness and therefore they are just going to override what are the sensible objections of that government as expressed to both the government and the committee inquiring into this particular bill. We think that that is just bureaucracy gone mad. Why is it that the 1,500 inhabitants of Norfolk Island need to have privacy and FOI acts wholesale as they apply to the 22 million people of the Commonwealth of Australia? It does not mean that their rights are going to be somehow less than for anyone else in Australia. It means that they could come up with something sensible and more suitable for their own territory.
This approach has been tried in the past. Indeed, this is the approach the Labor government chose to follow with the government of Norfolk Island on some other administrative reforms as related to the role of the Commonwealth Ombudsman on Norfolk Island. They were happy to work with the Commonwealth on that particular reform so that it would apply to Norfolk Island in a way that was more suitable for Norfolk Island. Surely it is the citizens and the government of Norfolk Island who are best placed to judge that. I therefore commend these amendments to the House. (Time expired)
We oppose the amendments. The bill does not remove responsibility from Norfolk Island. It does increase their accountability. It has the support of the Norfolk Island government and it is our view that the sooner this legislation is passed it will enable a more effective engagement with the Norfolk Island government to address its short-term problems and its long-term viability, which is the obligation we are going to discharge as the government of Australia. It follows discussions we have already entered into in good faith with the Chief Minister and his government. We need to be able to proceed on that but with the backing of this legislation.
Bill agreed to.