Senate debates

Wednesday, 25 November 2015


Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2015, Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Cargo) Bill 2015, Health Insurance Amendment (Safety Net) Bill 2015, Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill 2015, Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Amendment (Inter-State Voyages) Bill 2015; Second Reading

5:34 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I table a revised explanatory memorandum relating to the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill 2015 and I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—


It is my pleasure to introduce the Bill to this chamber. The Bill reflects this government's ongoing commitment to empowering Indigenous land owners and community members with localised decision making, particularly about the use of their land. It enables Indigenous land owners and community members to play an integral role in fostering economic development in their communities, and move them closer towards owning their own homes.

The Bill also demonstrates the Government's commitment to recognise the ownership of land in the Northern Territory by its traditional owners. To that end, it schedules two parcels of land which will enable that land to be granted as Aboriginal land.

The community of Mutitjulu is located on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory and in 1985 was leased by the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Land Trust to the Director of National Parks for 99 years. Because of the nature of the lease to the Director of National Parks, tenure arrangements in Mutitjulu are irregular, uncertain, and inconsistent with other communities on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory.

In order to resolve this issue, this Government, through the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion, has been working in close cooperation with the Mutitjulu community, traditional owners and the Central Land Council to negotiate a sublease which will provide certainty of tenure in Mutitjulu.

The Bill amends the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 to allow the Executive Director of Township Leasing, on behalf of the Commonwealth, to hold a sublease of Aboriginal land.

The Bill also makes provision for the Executive Director to transfer this sublease of Aboriginal land to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporation, and for that corporation to transfer that sublease back to the Executive Director. Any such transfers will need to be in accordance with the terms of the relevant sublease.

The Bill allows for the Minister for Indigenous Affairs to direct that funds from the Aboriginals Benefit Account be paid to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporation for the purpose of acquiring and administering that sublease. The Minister may also direct that such funds be paid to the Executive Director of Township Leasing if it holds a sublease of Aboriginal land.

Accordingly, the amendments contained in the Bill will allow for the subleasing of the community of Mutitjulu to the Executive Director of Township Leasing. The Bill will also facilitate a robust Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporation, comprised of community members and traditional owners, holding that sublease in the future.

Certainty of tenure in Mutitjulu will allow the Mutitjulu community to take advantage of the unique economic development opportunities offered by its location in close proximity to two of Australia's most visited World Heritage sites, Uluru and Kata Tjuta. These negotiations signal the strong interest of this Government, the Mutitjulu community and traditional owners in their community's economic future.

The Mutitjulu arrangements, which contemplate transferring responsibility for holding the sublease to a community corporation in the future, are also reflective of the Government's direction in township leasing.

Similar negotiations in the Northern Territory are being undertaken between traditional owners, Land Councils and the Government to give communities with economic vision a new way forward for making land decisions. Instead of leasing their community to the Executive Director of Township Leasing, a strong community entity may instead take control of the township lease and have direct responsibility for decisions about land use in their communities. Some communities may wish to lease to the Executive Director with provision for a transfer to a community entity in the future.

Finally, the Bill will add parcels of land in the Wickham River area and in the Simpson Desert to Schedule 1 to the Land Rights Act. These amendments will enable the parcels of land to be granted to the relevant Aboriginal Land Trusts.

I commend the Bill to the chamber.


The Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Cargo) Bill 2015 will amend the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 to ensure Australia's air cargo security arrangements keep pace with international standards. In particular, the amendments will ensure that Australia's $4.8 billion worth of air freight exports to the United States continue without disruption.

The United States obliges all airlines transporting air cargo to the US on passenger flights to examine 100 per cent of air cargo at piece-level. This means that each individual box, carton or other item in a shipment must be examined by technology or physically inspected before it is loaded onto a US-bound aircraft. This is a US Government legislative requirement. . The US has recently re-evaluated Australia's air cargo security arrangements and determined that they do not meet US standards.

The Australian Government has negotiated a two year timeframe to implement the changes required by the US. This will give Australian-based exporters, freight forwarders and airlines time to adopt new security measures for the preparation of US-bound air cargo. The amendments proposed in the Bill are an important element of the Government's two part strategy to respond to the US requirements, a strategy which will be implemented in partnership with industry.

The first element in the response is already being implemented. Approved businesses are now able to examine air cargo off-airport and have this process recognised under the Aviation Transport Security Regulations 2005. Cargo screened under these arrangements is not required to undergo further examination at the airport cargo terminal.

The second element in the response is the establishment of a Known Consignor scheme under the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004.

Known Consignor is an internationally recognised method of meeting air cargo security requirements that focuses on ensuring the security of goods from early in the supply chain through to their ultimate loading onto an aircraft. It can be an effective, alternative means of securing air cargo from unlawful interference compared to the traditional methods of screening or alternative examination techniques.

The purpose of the known consignor concept is to place the emphasis for the practical implementation of security controls on the actual shipper or originator of the goods and to ensure the security of air cargo and mail as they move through the supply chain. This requires goods to be produced, packaged, stored, transported and handled in a manner that ensures their integrity and protects them from unauthorised interference from the point of origin and throughout the secure supply chain.

The Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 establishes a regulatory framework to safeguard against unlawful interference with aviation. This includes measures to ensure the security of air cargo.

The Act gives effect to Australia's international obligations under the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention, in particular Annex 17 to that Convention which deals with security.

The amendments proposed by the Bill are required to establish the legal authority for the establishment of the Known Consignor category of industry participant.

The amendments clarify what is meant by cargo receiving clearance and being cleared for carriage through a secure supply chain. They will also establish a framework to enable the making of additional regulations and other legislative instruments to provide the details of the new enhanced measures.

The Government has an ongoing commitment to ensuring the safety and security of Australians and Australian interests. The Government is also committing to maintaining and growing Australia's international trade.

This Bill ensures that the Australia is positioned to deal with emerging security risks and continues to have a sound, effective and internationally recognised air cargo security framework.

I commend the Bill to the House.


This bill amends the Health Insurance Act 1973 to remove the two existing Medicare safety nets and the Greatest Permissible Gap, and replace them with a new and simpler Medicare safety net.

This bill will result in savings of around $266.7 million over five years.

This amendment will ensure that a strong safety net continues to protect all Australians from high out-of-pocket costs for medical services provided out-of-hospital. It will also address many of the known equity and complexity issues of the current arrangements.

The current arrangements that assist families with their expenses for medical services include the Extended Medicare Safety Net, the Original Medicare Safety Net and the Greatest Permissible Gap. These arrangements provide additional benefits to individuals and families that have high out-of-pocket costs for out-of-hospital services. The services assisted include GP and specialist attendances and services provided in private clinics and private emergency departments.

Of the three arrangements, the Extended Medicare Safety Net accounts for the majority of the expenditure.

There are a number of problems with the current arrangements which this bill seeks to address.

The current safety nets are complicated and confusing. They all serve the same purpose of assisting patients with out-of-pocket costs for out-of-hospital services. However, they work in different ways and have different thresholds. They interact with each other and can sometimes all be applicable to the same medical service. They are unnecessarily complex and difficult to understand.

The current arrangements are also inconsistent. There is a limit on safety net benefits that will be paid for some but not all out-of-hospital services. Some of these limits are fixed dollar amounts, while others are based on a percentage of the Medicare fee. This inconsistency in arrangements can be very confusing for patients and medical practitioners.

While most doctors charge reasonable fees for their services, some doctors and service providers have used the Extended Medicare Safety Net to underwrite excessive fees. This has led to increased patient out-of-pocket costs in some areas. Evidence of this behaviour was found in two independent reviews of the Extended Medicare Safety Net in 2009 and 2011 which were undertaken by the Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation from the University of Technology, Sydney. Both reviews found that the Extended Medicare Safety Net programme had the unintended consequence of increasing the fees charged by doctors, and that the majority of the benefits available were being paid to people living in high income areas rather than to people with significant medical conditions. The 2009 review found that for some services, for every dollar spent through the Extended Medicare Safety Net, more than 78 cents was going to health providers in the form of fee increases, whilst only 22 cents was assisting patients with their costs. Clearly, this is not an efficient use of Government money.

The current arrangements may also support less safe medical practice, such as providing complicated surgical services out-of-hospital to take advantage of the unlimited rebate available under the Extended Medicare Safety Net.

Many changes have been made to the programme to address some of these issues since its introduction in 2004, including increases to eligibility thresholds and capping of safety net benefits. Obstetric services, Assisted Reproductive Technology services and a number of other selected items were capped in 2010 to address excessive fees charged by a small number of service providers. All consultation items, including for GPs and specialists and a number of other selected items were capped in 2012. More recently, in January 2015 the upper threshold of the Extended Medicare Safety Net was increased to $2,000.

However, these changes have contributed to the complexity of the programme and have not addressed all issues. At the moment, medical services are not uniformly capped which means excessive fee inflation can still occur to services that are uncapped. For example, immediately after the capping of the safety net benefit for a cataract surgery service, the provider fee for an anaesthetic for cataract surgery increased greatly, in some cases by almost 400 per cent. Furthermore, some people reach their threshold almost immediately due to the unlimited amount of out-of-pocket costs that count towards the threshold. This makes the consumer relatively insensitive to the further fees charged, allowing for fee inflation.

The time is right to replace the complex, inefficient Medicare safety net arrangements with a new Medicare safety net. The new Medicare safety net will strengthen the system for patients into the future while contributing to a more sustainable Medicare system. Its design has been informed by the findings of two independent reviews; ongoing consultation with the medical profession since the introduction of the Extended Medicare Safety Net in 2004; and concerns raised by patients.

The new Medicare safety net will continue to provide an additional benefit to families and singles for out-of-hospital Medicare services once an annual threshold has been reached. Unlike the Extended Medicare Safety Net, the amount of out-of-pocket costs per service that count towards the threshold will have a limit, as will the amount of safety net benefits paid per service to qualified people. This will restrict excessive fee inflation by medical providers. These limits are universal, unlike the ad hoc capping arrangements for the Extended Medicare Safety Net. Importantly, although there will be a limit on the accumulation and benefits payable for each individual service, there is no limit to the total safety net benefits that can be paid to a person in a year.

Currently families are able to pool their out-of-pocket costs to reach the safety net threshold sooner. This arrangement will continue and in addition non-concessional singles will have a lower threshold than most non-concessional families. This acknowledges that people who are single and not part of a family are required to meet their health costs on their own, but do not always have access to the significant Government support provided to Concession Card holders.

The thresholds to access the new Medicare safety net will be significantly lower than the current thresholds for the majority of people. More people will receive a safety net benefit than under the current safety net. The new thresholds in 2016 will be $400 per year for singles and families that are concession card holders, $700 for families eligible for Family Tax Benefit Part A and non-concessional singles and $1,000 for non-concessional families.

In response to concerns about the Extended Medicare Safety Net that have been raised by the public, changes have been made to assist families where members are living apart due to ill health, as often occurs in nursing home arrangements. Under the new Medicare safety net, couples who are living apart because of ill health or infirmity will be able to register as a safety net family and pool their out-of-pocket costs to reach the threshold sooner.

The administration arrangements for families where some members are concession card holders and some are not will be streamlined to the benefit of those families. The definition of a dependent will also expand to allow youths aged 16 to 25 who are temporarily unable to study full time due to ill health to be considered part of the safety net family.

In summary, this bill will introduce a new, carefully designed Medicare safety net which will allow the Government to continue to support singles and families experiencing high out-of-pocket costs, while streamlining the Medicare safety net arrangements and contributing to the sustainability of Medicare.


Australia has the 5th largest shipping task in the world. 99 per cent of our imports and exports are carried by ships. As a Government it is our duty to ensure that our laws for prevention of marine pollution are adequate, up to date and consistent with international law.

Today I introduce to the house the Maritime Legislation Amendment Bill (the bill) that will implement measures to amend and correct errors in Australia's maritime legislation ensuring our domestic obligations are aligned with various international conventions under our international obligations stemming from the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The bill will amend four principle acts, namely the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships Act 1983), known as the POTS Act; the Navigation Act 2012, known as the Navigation Act; the Protection of the Sea (Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage) Act 2008, known as the Bunkers Act; and the Protection of the Sea (Civil Liability) Act 1981, known as the CLC Act.

Of particular importance is the amendment to the Navigation Act, wherebythe definition of 'dangerous goods' is amended to align with the current definition of dangerous goods as defined in Chapter VII (Chapter 7) of the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea, commonly referred to as SOLAS.

This bill also corrects minor drafting errors identified from the original drafting of the Navigation Act.

The bill will make amendments the POTS Act to replace the definition of "sea-near-a-state" that was amended as an unintended consequence of a drafting error in the Maritime Legislation Amendment Act 2012.

Importantly this bill will include an additional measure to close a loophole that has been identified in relation to the carriage of heavy grade oil (HGO) in Antarctic waters. In 2014, the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO was made aware that a fishing vessel sank in the Antarctic while carrying HGO in its ballast tank for later use as fuel once the ship had left the Antarctic Area (a ballast tank assists with ship stability and would ordinarily hold water). The flag State of this vessel did not take action, as they interpreted the regulation as not extending to banning HGO carried as ballast. This interpretation / loophole is inconsistent with the original intent to minimise the presence of HGO in Antarctic waters to the maximum extent practicable. It also highlighted the real risk to the Antarctic area since this loophole was brought to light as a result of this serious incident. As such, this amendment will close that loophole ensuring Australia's Domestic legislation is consistent with our obligations at the International level.

The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development identified a drafting error in the Bunkers and CLC Acts that affects the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's (AMSA) ability to take enforcement action against vessel operators who do not carry appropriate insurance certificates. This bill will correct the errors in the legislation, which will allow action to be taken by AMSA against non-compliant vessel operators. Currently the Bunkers and CLC Acts do not accurately specify the appropriate certificate which is to be maintained by a vessel operator.

I commend this bill to the House.


This Bill reiterates this Government's efforts to boost productivity by reducing the cost of regulation on Australian industry.

The Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Amendment (Inter-State Voyages) Bill 2015 will amend the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act 2003 to remove Australian regulated ships that are used solely for inter-State voyages from the existing regulatory regime.

The Act establishes a regulatory framework to safeguard against unlawful interference with Australian ports, maritime transport and offshore facilities. It gives effect to Australia's international obligations under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 and the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code.

Currently under the Act, all Australian flagged ships of 500 gross tons or more; or that carry 13 or more passengers on international and interstate voyages are security regulated. They must have a Ship Security Plan which includes a security assessment of their operations that provides information on the security measures that the ship has put in place to prevent unlawful interference and the action they would take if an incident occurs.

At present, Australian flagged ships that travel on domestic interstate voyages incur costs due to security regulation that are not incurred by (unregulated) Australian flagged ships that only undertake intrastate voyages. This is despite there being arguably no increase in security risk as a result of crossing a domestic state border.

Australia has no obligation to security regulate interstate shipping and there is limited benefit in continuing to do so. The security risks will not change if the existing regulatory regime is removed. The proposed deregulation action will remove the disparity between intrastate and interstate shipping and provide an estimated saving to industry of $938,000 per year.

It is in the public interest to continue security regulating passenger and vehicle ferries used for inter-State voyages due to the nature of their operations in transporting large numbers of passengers and vehicles. Therefore, it is proposed to develop appropriate amendments to the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Regulations 2003 to continue the security regulation of such ships.

The Government is committed to ensuring the safety of the travelling public and advancing our maritime trade interests.

Ensuring Australia's maritime transport sector is secure and efficient is central to those outcomes. As such, the maritime transport security regulatory framework is regularly reviewed to ensure it is responsive to changes in the maritime security environment.

This Bill has no impact on the security obligations of foreign-flagged ships under the Act.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.

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