Thursday, 21 February 2019
Future Drought Fund Bill 2018, Future Drought Fund (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2018; Consideration in Detail
by leave—I move amendments (1) to (10) as circulated in my name together:
(1) Clause 2, page 2 (table), omit the table, substitute:
(2) Page 24 (after line 8), at the end of Division 2, add:
27A Publication of information relating to arrangements and grants
(1) The Agriculture Minister must cause the following information to be published on the Agriculture Department's website:
(a) each amount paid by the Commonwealth under a section 21 arrangement or as a section 21 grant;
(b) the total of the amounts referred to in paragraph (a);
(c) the total of the amounts payable, but not yet paid, by the Commonwealth under a section 21 arrangement or as a section 21 grant;
(d) for each section 21 arrangement or section 21 grant:
(i) the name of the person or body with whom the arrangement was made or to whom the grant was made; and
(ii) the purpose of the arrangement or grant;
(e) the date of the most recent amount paid by the Commonwealth under a section 21 arrangement or as a section 21 grant.
(2) The information published under subsection (1) must be kept up-to-date.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), information is up-to-date if it is published as soon as practicable.
(3) Clause 31, page 29 (lines 1 to 3), omit ", but section 42 (disallowance) of the Legislation Act 2003 does not apply to the Plan".
(4) Clause 32, page 29 (after line 18), at the end of paragraph (1) (a), add:
(iii) the final report of the Productivity Commission review relating to the previous Plan (if any); and
(5) Clause 32, page 29 (lines 21 and 22), omit "28 days", substitute "42 days".
(6) Page 29 (after line 23), at the end of Division 4, add:
32A Productivity Commission review of effectiveness of Drought Resilience Funding Plan
(1) Before the end of the period of 3 years after a Drought Resilience Funding Plan comes into force, the Minister administering the Productivity Commission Act 1998 (the Productivity Minister) must, under paragraph 6(1) (a) of that Act, refer to the Productivity Commission for inquiry the matter of the effectiveness of Part 3 of this Act:
(a) including an assessment of the effectiveness of the Drought Resilience Funding Plan; and
(b) having regard to economic, social and environmental outcomes.
(2) In referring the matter to the Productivity Commission for inquiry, the Productivity Minister must:
(a) under paragraph 11(1) (b) of the Productivity Commission Act 1998, specify that the Productivity Commission must submit its report on the inquiry to the Productivity Minister no later than 5 months before the end of the 4 year period that began when the Drought Resilience Funding Plan came into force; and
(b) under paragraph 11(1) (d) of that Act, require the Productivity Commission to make recommendations in relation to the matter.
Note: Under section 12 of the Productivity Commission Act 1998, the Productivity Minister must cause a copy of the Productivity Commission's report to be tabled in each House of the Parliament.
(3) For the purposes of paragraph 6(1) (a) of the Productivity Commission Act 1998, the matter mentioned in subsection (1) of this section is taken to be a matter relating to industry, industry development and productivity.
(7) Page 31 (after line 31), at the end of Part 3, add:
Division 6—Future Drought Fund Consultative Committee
In this Division:
Chair means the Chair of the Committee.
Committee means the Future Drought Fund Consultative Committee.
Subdivision B—Establishment of the Committee
36B Future Drought Fund Consultative Committee
A committee to be known as the Future Drought Fund Consultative Committee is established.
Subdivision C—Functions and powers of the Committee
36C Functions of the Committee
The Committee has the functions conferred on the Committee by this Subdivision.
36D Agriculture Minister must request advice from Committee about draft Drought Resilience Funding Plan
(1) In addition to the requirements of subsection 32(1), before determining a Drought Resilience Funding Plan the Agriculture Minister must:
(a) request the Committee to advise the Agriculture Minister about the draft Plan referred to in that subsection; and
(b) have regard to any advice that the Committee has given to the Agriculture Minister under this section in relation to the draft.
(2) The Committee must comply with a request under subsection (1).
(3) This section does not limit section 17 of the Legislation Act 2003.
36E Agriculture Minister must request advice from the Committee on design relating to arrangements and grants
(1) Before the Agriculture Minister first makes either an arrangement or a grant under section 21, the Agriculture Minister must request the Committee to advise the Agriculture Minister about whether the proposed design of the program of arrangements or grants to be made under that section is consistent with the Drought Resilience Funding Plan.
(2) The Committee must comply with a request under subsection (1).
36F Powers of the Committee
The Committee has power to do all things that are necessary or convenient to be done for, or in connection with, the performance of its functions.
Subdivision D—Membership etc. of the Committee
36G Membership of the Committee
The Committee consists of the following members:
(a) a Chair;
(b) 4 other members.
36H Appointment of members of the Committee
(1) Each member of the Committee is to be appointed by the Agriculture Minister by written instrument.
Note: A member of the Committee may be reappointed, subject to subsection 36J(2): see section 33AA of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901.
(2) A member of the Committee holds office on a part-time basis.
(3) A person must not be appointed as a member of the Committee unless the person has expertise or experience in at least 2 or more of the following areas:
(a) drought resilience measures;
(b) climate risk;
(c) the agriculture industry;
(d) rural and regional community leadership and resilience;
(e) rural and regional development;
(f) applied research;
(g) agricultural extension;
(4) In appointing a person as a member of the Committee the Agriculture Minister must ensure that, as far as practicable, there is a balance of gender, knowledge and skills among members of the Committee.
36J Period of appointment for members of the Committee
(1) A member of the Committee holds office for the period specified in the instrument of appointment. The period must not exceed 4 years.
(2) A person must not hold office as a member of the Committee for a total of more than 8 years.
36K Acting appointments
(1) The Agriculture Minister may appoint a member of the Committee (other than the Chair) to act as the Chair:
(a) during a vacancy in the office of the Chair (whether or not an appointment has previously been made to the office); or
(b) during any period, or during all periods, when the Chair:
(i) is absent from duty or from Australia; or
(ii) is for any reason, unable to perform the duties of the office.
(2) The Agriculture Minister may appoint a person to act as a member of the Committee (other than the Chair):
(a) during a vacancy in the office of a member (other than the Chair), whether or not an appointment has previously been made to the office; or
(b) during any period, or during all periods, when a member (other than the Chair):
(i) is absent from duty or from Australia; or
(ii) is for any reason, unable to perform the duties of the office.
(3) A person is not eligible for appointment under subsection (2) unless the person is eligible for appointment as a member of the Committee.
(1) A member of the Committee is to be paid, by the Commonwealth, the remuneration that is determined by the Remuneration Tribunal. If no determination of that remuneration by the Tribunal is in operation, a member of the Committee is to be paid, by the Commonwealth, the remuneration that is prescribed by the rules.
(2) A member of the Committee is to be paid, by the Commonwealth, the allowances that are prescribed by the rules.
(3) Subsections 7(9) and (13) of the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973 do not apply in relation to the office of member of the Committee.
Note: The effect of this subsection is that remuneration or allowances of the member will be paid out of money appropriated by the Parliament by an Act other than the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973.
(4) This section has effect subject to the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973 (except as provided by subsection (3)).
36N Disclosure of interests to the Agriculture Minister
A member of the Committee must give written notice to the Agriculture Minister of all interests, pecuniary or otherwise, that the member has or acquires and that conflict or could conflict with the proper performance of the member's functions.
36P Outside work
A member of the Committee must not engage in any paid work that conflicts or may conflict with the proper performance of his or her duties.
36Q Leave of absence
(1) The Agriculture Minister may grant leave of absence to the Chair of the Committee on the terms and conditions that the Agriculture Minister determines.
(2) The Chair of the Committee may grant leave of absence to a member of the Committee (other than the Chair) on the terms and conditions that the Chair determines.
(1) A member of the Committee may resign his or her appointment by giving the Agriculture Minister a written resignation.
(2) The resignation takes effect on the day it is received by the Agriculture Minister or, if a later day is specified in the resignation, on that later day.
36S Termination of appointment
(1) The Agriculture Minister may terminate the appointment of a member of the Committee if the member is unable to perform the duties of his or her office because of physical or mental incapacity.
(2) The Agriculture Minister may terminate the appointment of a member of the Committee if:
(a) the member:
(i) becomes bankrupt; or
(ii) applies to take the benefit of any law for the relief of bankrupt or insolvent debtors; or
(iii) compounds with his or her creditors; or
(iv) makes an assignment of his or her remuneration for the benefit of his or her creditors; or
(b) the member fails, without reasonable excuse, to comply with section 36N; or
(c) the member engages in paid work that conflicts or may conflict with the proper performance of his or her duties (see section 36P); or
(d) the member is absent, except on leave of absence, from 3 consecutive meetings of the Committee.
36T Other terms and conditions
A member of the Committee holds office on the terms and conditions (if any) in relation to matters not covered by this Act that are determined by the Agriculture Minister.
(8) Clause 63, page 46 (line 13), after "Department", insert "who has the expertise appropriate to the power".
(9) Clause 65, page 46 (line 27), before "The", insert "(1)".
(10) Clause 65, page 46 (after line 29), at the end of the clause, add:
(2) The responsible Ministers must cause a copy of:
(a) the terms of reference for the review; and
(b) a report of the review;
to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the tenth anniversary.
(3) The responsible Ministers must also cause a copy of the terms of reference and report to be published on the internet as soon as practicable after the tenth anniversary.
Colleagues, while I support the intent of the Future Drought Fund Bill 2018, I feel that we could make it better. The amendments I move today will ensure that the operation of the fund is more transparent, the minister is accountable to the parliament for expenditure, and good governance and proper processes are followed. The amendments pick up the concerns raised by the scrutiny of bills committee and by the Senate committee inquiry into the bill, and include improvements suggested by the National Farmers' Federation. As part of the Senate committee inquiry, the NFF raised concerns that the future plan and expenditure must incorporate the views of drought and related issue experts. The NFF recommended that the bill be amended to establish a future drought fund consultative committee. I agree.
Amendments (1) to (7) will create a future drought fund consultative committee. This committee will have five members, selected for their expertise or experience in drought resilience, climate risk, agricultural industry, rural and regional community leadership and resilience, rural and regional development, applied research, agricultural extension and economics. The appointments will be for four years with a maximum of eight years in total. There is a requirement for a balance of gender, knowledge and skills among members of the committee. The committee will have a role in providing advice to the minister at two stages: during the development, consultation and drafting of the funding plan, and during the design of arrangements and grant processes delivered on the funding plan. The amendments will mean that we will have some assurance that views of drought and related issue experts will influence the draft plan and implementation.
Amendment (5) will also extend the consultation period on the draft plan from 28 days to 42 days, or six weeks, to ensure regional communities have an opportunity to have a say. The Productivity Commission will review the drought funding plan. Under the current bill, the funding plan is to be reviewed every four years, but there's no mechanism to review the plan's effectiveness. There's no independent review of processes to improve drought resilience or effectiveness. Amendments (4) and (6) will require the Productivity Commission to review the plan before the plan is renewed, and the report is to be circulated as part of the consultation for the next plan. The review will occur as part of each four-year renewal cycle, and the Productivity Commission will be asked to review the effectiveness of the fund, having regard to economic, social and, really importantly, environmental outcomes. This is an important amendment that will provide transparency about the way the $100 million a year is spent.
There are other accountability and transparency amendments. Amendment (3) will make the funding plan a disallowable instrument, which will give the parliament an opportunity to hold the minister accountable to proper processes. Amendments (9) and (10) will require the minister to table the terms of reference and final report of the 10-yearly review of the operation of the act, providing parliament with the opportunity to review and debate the report. After passing this bill, the only point where the parliament could have had a chance to review the effectiveness of the fund would be to review the plan after 10 years of operation. But, as the bill is drafted, this report is not required to be tabled in parliament.
Colleagues, I want to say how important this money is: $100 million a year to be spent in our rural communities on long-term drought prevention. I've been absolutely delighted to work with the minister, to work with his staff, to work with Jeremy—can I name you, Jeremy? It's been a fantastic effort on this. As this is my last speech in parliament on a topic of such importance, I will say that in the six years I've been here this is the only time that the government has accepted my amendments. So, I feel like I'm leaving on a real high point, and I just want to say to the government: at long last, sense has prevailed! Listening to the crossbench gives you such dividends, because I think together we have got a much, much, much better piece of legislation.
The call alternates, but you haven't called our side, despite the fact that the minister was on his feet. I don't want to make a fuss about it, because I want Gai Brodtmann to get her valedictory, so—
In the spirit of that somewhat impromptu agreement, I will be as brief as I possibly can. It's very important that I indicate the opposition's intentions on these amendments and on this bill. We will be supporting the member for Indi's amendments, but we will, in any case, oppose this bill. We do that because this bill is fundamentally flawed. Obviously the government has done a deal with the crossbenchers and this bill will go through the parliament, notwithstanding the fact that the opposition will oppose the bill.
We support the amendments because the amendments will improve a bad bill. They introduce some accountability into the bill and put some constraints on a National Party that is out of control. They can't fix the bill because the fundamental flaw in the bill is that it's robbing money from regional road projects to fund a drought fund. We welcome the fact that, after five years, they are prepared on the other side to embrace a long-term, sensible way of addressing drought. But if that project is worthy, it should be funded in the budget, as the opposition is committed to doing. We have an alternative plan to spend the same amount of money, but in a responsible way that is quicker and more efficient.
Ms McGowan interjecting—
I do take the interjection from the member for Indi. I have had a great working relationship with her. I have no doubt that she comes into this place with all of the right intentions and she comes with great energy, but sadly on this occasion she has been conned by this government. What she doesn't understand is that they will now go to this election campaign and they will have that first tranche of $100 million spent in the first week. They will pick the marginal seats and they will say, 'If we do this project, this is drought resilience.' They will make the promises. I'm sorry, Member for Indi. They will make the commitments before the end of the election campaign. There will be no panel of experts making the decisions. If they win government, it will just be a tick. You have made a bad mistake. I'm sorry, Member for Indi.
I rise to indicate, as well, my supports for the amendments, which do introduce some level of transparency. I must say that the member for Indi has a triumph of hope over experience in saying that the Productivity Commission is going to look at environmental outcomes—I mean, seriously. That is not what the Productivity Commission do. If you look at any of their reports on any issue, at any time, under any government, you would know that.
What you are doing, in supporting this legislation, is taking over $3 billion of infrastructure investment away. That is what you are doing. You are undermining Infrastructure Australia through the abolition of the Building Australia Fund. There is no link between the Building Australia Fund and drought resilience, just like there was no link when they tried to abolish the Building Australia Fund to fund the NDIS or to fund the privatisation of assets through the recycling scheme. This mob have hated the Building Australia Fund because it's not a slush fund. It has to be used for infrastructure that's on the priority list.
I say to the honourable members who have approached me about infrastructure commitments that you've just reduced the budget by $3 billion on infrastructure if we are elected or if they are elected, for that matter. That is what you are doing with this legislation. Bear that in mind next time there's a request, because it's very clear that this is a con by the government. There is no linkage between the drought fund and infrastructure except that they both have National Party ministers. That's all it is. Michael McCormack, the Deputy Prime Minister, is so weak. He couldn't stand up to this bloke. He has allowed him to rip $3 billion out of the infrastructure investment that is there, that is protected and that is for priority projects.
The hollowness of the principles of the Australian Labor Party knows no bounds. They sit there and they say that there will be more under them. Let me tell you: there's another rolled-gold promise, another $100 million that they're going to continue to pump into it. We are legislating this money so it has to be paid. It's not at the whim of the next government, and God forbid that that might be the Australian Labor Party.
The reality is this is a sound policy with great principles. I have to admire the member for Indi for the constructive way that she has worked with my office to make sure that we do get the accountability that those opposite believe there is not, and we are going to achieve that. There have been no deals. It's been predicated on fact, on actually trying to work for the betterment of this nation, not for cheap political points that those opposite have tried to score all day on dairy and on drought. Their hypocrisy knows no bounds, so they become irrelevant to this whole debate. I say to the member for Indi: thank you for the constructive way that you have set future drought policy for this nation. It is a legacy we will leave together, and I thank you. I acknowledge that we will be supporting the amendments.
I want to make sure that the House is very clear that the projects under this bill actually won't start until 2020, so I think we need to make sure that we are accurate in what we're saying here. I say to the member for Grayndler: with the greatest of respect, no deal has been done in relation to this. I have, in my electorate, very sadly, farmers who are taking their lives, and we do not have the drought that is in Queensland and New South Wales.
I would also like to say with respect to the amendments from the member from Indi that this shows why we have a crossbench. You have a piece of legislation, and we see it as our role to work with the government of the day to make that legislation better. That is something that has happened in the Senate for many, many years. We see that as our role here. Everyone has the right in this House to vote as they please with respect to how their constituents expect them to vote on legislation.
I would like to say that the member for Indi is leaving us in this great place, and it has been a great pleasure to work with her on these amendments. I give great respect to her for the work she's done on this. We do this as a crossbench with very limited resources. Congratulations to the member, and I look forward to this bill proceeding in the House.