Tuesday, 8 December 2020
Territories Legislation Amendment Bill 2020; Second Reading
Labor will be supporting the Territories Legislation Amendment Bill 2020. I note the presence of the minister in the chamber, and I'd like to thank her and her office for their engagement and consultation on this legislation, as well as for all the important work that the government and this parliament do in relation to external territories.
This legislation we're dealing with here comes in two parts, two bills that we're dealing with and debating cognately. The first is the Territories Legislation Amendment Bill, which amends acts relating to bankruptcy, company registration, copyright, broadcasting and protections for overseas students. The second, a separate bill, is the Bankruptcy (Estate Charges) Amendment (Norfolk Island) Bill, which extends the application of the Bankruptcy (Estate Charges) Act 1997 to Norfolk Island. This bill will ensure that insolvencies administered on Norfolk Island are treated consistently with, and attract the same estate charges as, all other insolvencies administered under the Commonwealth Bankruptcy Act. Together the two bills will aim to ensure that the communities of the external territories have access to the same Commonwealth support as the rest of Australia and are treated consistently when it comes to the implementation of Australian law.
The amendments to the Norfolk Island Act, the Christmas Island Act and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act address the risk of delegation instruments becoming outdated when applied laws in force in the territories are amended or new laws are made by the relevant state or territory government. The Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories is vested with all of the powers, functions and duties applied under state laws. This includes the powers and functions of a local government under the state-based local government acts. The minister has in turn delegated a number of these local government powers and functions to each local government area and its officials through delegation instruments. These amendments will enhance the effectiveness of these delegation arrangements with respect to the functions of local government bodies and others who exercise powers under applied laws in the external territories.
The residents of Norfolk Island, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands have shown their resilience during the pandemic. The challenges that come from living in remote and isolated external territories are extraordinary. This parliament has a duty to ensure that we do what we can to improve access to Commonwealth support and ensure that there's a consistency in the implementation of Australian law to these islands, and these bills are an important step towards ensuring that this happens. I've consulted with the Law Council of Australia and they've indicated their support for this legislation. However, they have noted that it's very important—in fact, essential—that proper consultation occur with the courts, and with the legal profession more broadly, in the implementation of this legislation. Likewise, Labor wants to ensure that these changes are implemented properly and that proper consultation occurs. For that reason, I move the following second reading amendment:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House urges the Government to conduct proper consultation on the implementation of the bill with community stakeholders and members of the legal profession, including the Law Association of Norfolk Island and the Law Council of Australia".
I think this is a fairly straightforward second reading amendment. It doesn't criticise the government; it simply says that the government should do what it should do with all legislation, and that is make sure that it's properly implemented. As I emphasised in my introductory comments, we support the legislation and hope the second reading amendment has the support of the government.
I thank the member opposite for participating in this debate on the Territories Legislation Amendment Bill and the Bankruptcy (Estate Charges) Amendment (Norfolk Island) Bill. The main bill amends a range of Commonwealth legislation to more closely align the legislative frameworks in Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Jervis Bay Territory with the rest of Australia. As was explained to the House upon introduction of the bill, this bill will also improve the governance frameworks in these very important Australian territories. This will make it easier for local government and other officials working in these territories to do their jobs. It will also improve protections for territory residents, improving their privacy rights and giving them more opportunities to seek review of official decisions.
For Norfolk Island, the bill will bring the regulation of companies, bankruptcy, broadcasting and education services for overseas students into line with the rest of Australia. Once the bill is passed, regulatory agencies will engage directly with affected people and businesses to assist them to transition to the new arrangements. The bill will also make provision for the delivery of state-type services, such as health and education, by a state or territory government partner. In this regard, should there be a decision in the future to transfer the jurisdiction of the Norfolk Island court to the courts of a state or territory, then a comprehensive transition plan would be developed which would include engagement at that time with all relevant stakeholders. Bringing Norfolk Island under the national companies and bankruptcy frameworks is especially important—particularly as we face the challenges of rebuilding the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill will also ensure Norfolk Island residents and business owners have easier access to future support packages provided by the government.
I would like to thank the honourable members on the other side for their contribution, including on a proposed second reading amendment. I can assure members that there will be active engagement on the implementation of the bill as that work progresses, including with businesses that will transition to new corporate arrangements. Engagement with the Norfolk Island community will be in accordance with the community engagement framework, which was co-designed with the community in 2019. I would also like to thank the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills for their comments on the main bill.
The Bankruptcy (Estate Charges) Amendment (Norfolk Island) Bill 2020 will extend the application of the Bankruptcy (Estate Charges) Act 1997 to Norfolk Island. The bill is consequential to amendments in the main bill which extend the Commonwealth bankruptcy system to Norfolk Island. Together, the bills will improve provisions for people experiencing bankruptcy and increase protections for creditors. This will ensure people declared bankrupt on Norfolk Island are treated the same way as they would be in the rest of Australia. I also table an addendum to the explanatory memorandum, in response to the comments raised by the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills on the main bill. The changes in the bills represent the government's ongoing commitment to improving services and supporting economic development and sustainability in Australia's territories. I commend the bills to the House.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this, the honourable member for Blaxland has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.
Question agreed to.
Original question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.