Tuesday, 13 February 2018
Prime Minister and Cabinet Legislation Amendment (2017 Measures No. 1) Bill 2017; Second Reading
Patrick Dodson (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (Senate)) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I rise to speak on the Prime Minister and Cabinet Legislation Amendment (2017 Measures No. 1) Bill 2017. The purpose of the bill is to amend various acts within the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio, including the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, to update outdated provisions, repeal redundant acts, align annual reporting requirements of the Auditor-General with his or her responsibilities to the parliament and amend the Royal Commissions Act 1902 to increase penalties relevant to offences in relation to a royal commission and provide commissioners with the additional power to require a person to give a written statement.
We've looked very closely at these amendments, and Labor will support the passage of the legislation. Most of the amendments are clearly legislative housekeeping. We support the timely and effective management of legislation which is on the books but which has become outmoded or redundant. However, there are some key issues that I wish to draw the attention of the Senate to in relation to this bill. The bill contains five schedules outlined in the memorandum of understanding, and I will give attention to each of these in sequence.
Schedule 1 amends the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act 2005, the ATSI Act, to remove the requirement for the Indigenous Business Australia, IBA, corporate plan to be tabled in the parliament. We do not want to minimise the process of accountability, and we have pursued this issue with the minister and the Attorney-General's Department. The minister has informed us that this reporting requirement is no longer needed. IBA has existing reporting requirements under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. This act currently requires that the corporate plan must be published on the entity's website by the last day of the second month of the reporting period for which the plan is prepared. We are assured there is therefore no loss of transparency. Schedule 1 also removes the requirement for the minister to notify parliament of any ministerial request to change their corporate plan. Correspondence between the minister and the IBA's sister body, the Indigenous Land Corporation, on the content of the ILC's corporate documents has previously been the topic of extended questioning in Senate estimates, as senators will recall, so we'll be watching the use of this particular provision very carefully.
Schedule 2 amends the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Act 2005, the ATSIC Amendment Act, to enable the Commonwealth, the IBA and the Indigenous Land Corporation, ILC, to waive the requirement that an organisation or individual who acquired land or assets with assistance from the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, ATSIC, to get permission before disposing of those assets. These are properties that were purchased by ATSIC using taxpayer funds for the benefit of first nations, so we have considered the implications of this schedule very carefully.
The shadow Attorney-General and I have expressed concern to the minister that there may be unintended consequences that create a risk that the schedule may allow assets, such as houses and buildings purchased by ATSIC before its demise and now in the hands of Indigenous communities, to be lost to the Indigenous estate. I have been concerned about the potential for the department or the minister to make decisions over any rights or interests held by other consenting authorities, such as the IBA or the ILC. Over several months in the last half of last year, Mr Dreyfus and I have repeatedly asked the minister for assurances on this issue. I am pleased to report that the minister and his officials have worked with us to provide assurances on this issue, and we're now in a position to support the schedule. The bill explicitly states:
The appropriate consenting authority may give the individual or body written notice stating that the appropriate … consent is not required in relation to any disposal of the interest by the individual or body.
The minister has committed to making it clear today that only the authority that holds the caveat over the asset can give notice that the consent is not required. This will allow some degree of flexibility for first nations and their organisations holding assets to strategically buy, sell and lease their properties without a complicated bureaucratic process to ensure that any waivers on the property are managed. My information from the minister is that this approach has been supported by a range of organisations, importantly including the IBA and the ILC.
I'm also informed by the minister that this will assist organisations such as the Murchison R egional Aboriginal Corporation. That corporation is a not-for-profit community-managed housing organisation that has been providing housing opportunities for Aboriginal people in the Mid W est and Gascoyne region since 1986. It is based in Geraldton. It provides long-term housing for Aboriginal people and their families residing in these region s, and holds some 51 properties that could be more flexibly and strategically managed if the waiver provisions were relaxed.
Schedule 3 repeals the redundant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (Queensland Reserves and Communities Self-management) Act 1978 and—an act I know very well — the Council f or Aboriginal Reconciliation Act ; and makes consequent amendments to the Age Discrimination Act 2004 and the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986. Schedule 4 amends the A uditor-General Act 1997 so that the Auditor-General, an officer of the parliament , will present his or her annual report directly to parliament instead of to the relevant minister. Schedule 5 makes a number of amendments to the Royal Commission s Act , the most significant being changes to the commission's powers and increased penalties relevant to offences in relation to royal commissions.
These are all straightforward legislative amendments which the opposition can support.
Nigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Minister for Indigenous Affairs) Share this | Link to this | Hansard source
I thank senators for their contribution s on this legislation, both in the debate in this chamber and through our discussions since the bill was introduced. This bill, the Prime Minister and Cabinet Legislation Amendment (2017 Measures No. 1) Bill 2017,makes important amendments to legislation in the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, as well as to legislation that administers the operation of the Australian National Audit Office and the operation of royal commissions.
The bill will make amendments to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Act 2005, or the ATSIC Amendment Act , which will allow the Commonwealth to be more flexible in its approach to caveats that are held over Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander grant - funded assets. The Commonwealth uses a range of mechanism s to ensure its rights and interests , and those of Indigenous persons intended to benefit from the grants , are protected. This practice has led to some inconsistent Commonwealth policies, particularly in the treatment of current and legacy interests.
N ew Indigenous or mainstream grant-funded properties are managed contractually through a risk based approach for time - limited periods of up to 20 years and in line with the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 . However, properties that were grant funded during the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, or ATSIC, era are subject to the ATSIC Amendment Act of 2005 , which requires the Commonwealth to keep its interest until an organisation wishes to dispose of the property. This impacts on a number of organisations, like the Rumbala ra Aboriginal Co - operative, Aboriginal Housing Victoria, Jupiter Mosman Housing Company and the organisation mentioned by my colleague Senator Dodson, the Murchison Regional Aboriginal Corporation . They are examples of the over 420 Indigenous organisations that own 2,850 properties with caveats over them.
U pon ATSIC's abolition in 2005, its interests were split between consenting authorities , who assume d decision - making authority regarding specific properties. The consenting authorities include Commonwealth departments, Indigenous Business Australia and the Indigenous Land Corporation. The current restrictions on these assets mean that Indigenous organisations have limited flexibility to deal with their assets and have been restricted in how they can manage their assets. For example, banks will not usually lend against a property that has such a caveat , so Indigenous organisations are restricted in their ability to use their assets to access finance or consider alternative approaches to manage their assets. I'm quite sure that wasn't contemplated as part of what the arrangements would provide.
The amendments will allow for organisations to proactively apply for their caveats to be released, which will support an increase in autonomy and economic independence for those organisations or better enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to more freely use their assets for economic development, and of course reduce red tape for Indigenous organisations. Importantly, the power to remove a caveat is limited to the appropriate consenting authority, and, as the bill states:
The appropriate consenting authority may give the individual or body written notice stating that the appropriate consenting authority’s consent is not required in relation to any disposal of the interest by the individual or body.
That means, clearly, that only Indigenous Business Australia can give consent to remove a caveat that it holds, only the Indigenous Land Corporation can give consent to remove a caveat that it holds and only the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet can give consent to remove a caveat that it holds. Senator Dodson asked me to make this clear in the summing-up speech, and I hope that has been made clear. I take the opportunity to thank Senator Dodson. I think it's been very useful to work to ensure we don't create an unintended outcome again in the future.
These amendments respond to the 2015 Council of Australian Governments' investigation into Indigenous land use recommendation that the Commonwealth review remaining caveats on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission properties and remove unnecessary restrictions to support economic development for Indigenous landowners. The recommendation was developed with an expert Indigenous working group to ensure the views and support of Indigenous landholders and native title holders were taken into account. For example, take the view of Freddie Pascoe, the CEO of Bynoe Community Advancement Co-operative Society, who has strongly expressed his support for this legislation. These reforms will give Bynoe the opportunity to leverage the equity invested in the properties, over which the Commonwealth currently has an interest in 64 titles, and enable Bynoe to continue to pursue their economic aspirations for the benefit of the Normanton community, where those titles are. This is a practical example of self-determination by a strong and forward-thinking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation.
The Commonwealth will adopt a risk based approach to determine if its interests should be waived. The first step will be to develop new guidelines to support the legislative changes. We're consulting with Indigenous stakeholders, including the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples and other Commonwealth consenting authorities on those guidelines, including the Indigenous Land Corporation and Indigenous Business Australia. We will also be working with the opposition, as they've assisted us in the past.
These amendments are consistent with our approach to work with Indigenous Australians to deliver better outcomes. These amendments will empower local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations that have these historical caveats to allow them to get on with their job. We need to treat them in the way that they see the best fit. These amendments will ensure Indigenous organisations that received funding to purchase an asset 20 to 30 years ago are treated in much the same way as any other non-Indigenous organisations, and, indeed, Indigenous organisations, that receive grant funding from governments now. We will ensure we work carefully with organisations to determine if interests should be waived to ensure that we do protect the Indigenous estate. The government strongly believe we must empower Indigenous Australians to make their decisions about their own economic future if we're to maximise our progress in this area.
The bill also amends the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Act of 2005, the ATSI Act, to repeal the requirement for the responsible minister to table Indigenous Business Australia's corporate plan. These obligations are duplicated in the requirement for Indigenous Business Australia to table an annual report, which mirrors the requirements of a corporate plan in the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. The repealing of the requirement will reduce red tape and streamline processes. It's being supported by Indigenous Business Australia.
Finally, in the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, the bill will repeal two redundant acts: the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (Queensland Reserves and Communities Self-management) Act 1978 and the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (Queensland Reserves and Communities Self-management) Act 1978 is proposed to be repealed. Since the Queensland parliament re-enacted the Local Government (Aboriginal Lands) Act 1978, it has not been possible for the Commonwealth to declare reserves for the purpose of the Queensland reserves act. That legislation is, therefore, redundant and is proposed to be repealed simply to reduce the size of the statute book. The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation ceased in 2001, after it produced its final report in 2002. There are no ongoing arrangements or appointments or other measures under the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, and this legislation is also proposed to be repealed to reduce the size of the statute book.
The bill also amends the Royal Commissions Act 1902 to increase penalties for failure to comply with compulsory notices issued by a commissioner to attend or produce documents. Another change is to give a commissioner power to compel a person to provide a written statement. These changes implement recommendations of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption and the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program. Finally, it makes a number of amendments to the Auditor-General Act 1997. These amendments include changes to align annual reporting requirements with responsibilities to the parliament, consistent with the independence of the Auditor-General.
This bill is part of our commitment to reduce red tape in legislation and improve the administration of government. It delivers on our commitment to work with Indigenous communities and to empower them to pursue their own future. I commend the bill to the house.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.