Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 May 2021


Mutual Recognition Amendment Bill 2021, Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 4) Bill 2021; Second Reading

6:07 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries) Share this | | Hansard source

I table a revised explanatory memorandum relating to the Treasury Laws Amendment (2020 Measures No. 4) Bill 2021 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—


Today I am introducing the Mutual Recognition Amendment Bill 2021.

The changes proposed in this Bill represent the most significant reform to Australia's mutual recognition arrangements for occupational registrations since they were introduced in 1992.

This reform is part of the Government's JobMaker plan for economic recovery and the whole-of-government approach to deregulation. This Bill also marks a milestone for the Council on Federal Financial Relations with all jurisdictions working collaboratively to deliver on this deregulation reform to improve occupational mobility.

The MutualRecognition Act 1992, orMRA, was designed to reduce regulatory impediments to a national market in goods and services. The Act recognised that once a person was assessed as good enough to practice in a trade or profession in one state or territory then they should be able to perform the same work anywhere in Australia. Mutual recognition reforms were supported by governments of all political persuasions from the outset.

Over 19 per cent of Australian workers require a registration or a licence to perform their work. Some occupations, including some in the health sector, are registered nationally, but most trades and other professions, such as builders, plumbers and real estate agents, are registered on a state-by-state basis.

Regulatory requirements and processes for most registered professions are managed and set differently in each of the eight states and territories. Differences in regulation between jurisdictions for the same occupation make it harder for tradespersons and other professionals to move across borders for work, raising the costs to employers to fill job vacancies and reducing competition and choice for consumers. These arrangements can also create particular challenges for those living and working in border communities and inhibit rapid responses to natural disasters when registered workers are needed urgently to restore critical infrastructure.

Mutual recognition under the MRA has helped to reduce barriers to occupational mobility across borders for a range of occupations. Around 12 per cent of new occupational registrations were made under mutual recognition in 2019. Regardless, a person is still required to apply and pay for an additional registration even though they have already paid for their current registration in another state or territory.

In its 2015 study into mutual recognition schemes, the Productivity Commission found that the current mutual recognition arrangements generally work well, but there would be cost savings from automating these processes. The Productivity Commission recommended governments give higher priority to expanding the use of automatic mutual recognition of occupational registrations, or AMR, to improve the efficiency of mutual recognition arrangements for individuals and businesses.

The reform I am introducing today increases the strength and resilience of the Australian economy. It is critical that Australians can take up job opportunities wherever they arise. A more mobile labour force will respond to new opportunities, with more skilled workers crossing borders to work.

In addition, this reform will help communities respond to national emergencies and disasters by enabling registered workers to relocate more quickly to help with immediate or longer term recovery efforts in another jurisdiction.

This Bill introduces a uniform scheme for AMR to streamline processes where individuals seek to work in other states and territories. The scheme applies to those registrations covered by the existing mutual recognition arrangements, including builders, plumbers, architects, surveyors and security workers.

Registered persons will not be required to pay additional application, registration or renewal fees, complete an application form or provide supporting information to undertake the same activities in another jurisdiction.

Analogous to a driver's licence approach, the Bill will enable a person who is licensed or registered for an occupation to perform the same activities in another state or territory. As an example, under AMR, a builder holding a licence may assist with bushfire recovery in South Australia under his or her registration from Tasmania. They could save around $700 annually in registration fees and time in completing an extra application form.

This Bill is the culmination of efforts by National Cabinet, the Council on Federal Financial Relations and officials from the Commonwealth, states and territories. I also commend the work of the Treasurer in bringing this to fruition. As a result of these efforts, in December 2020, the Prime Minister, State Premiers and the Northern Territory Chief Minister signed an intergovernmental agreement to implement a uniform scheme for AMR from 1 July 2021.

The policy has been informed by input from consultation with industry, unions and the public. Draft legislation was released for public consultation from 17 December 2020 until 12 February 2021. In addition, the Commonwealth, states and territories held a range of meetings and consultations with industry, unions and regulators.

Feedback from stakeholders raised during consultations indicated that there is broad support for the intent of AMR and the national framework. For example, Ai Group saw AMR "as a positive improvement on current arrangements" and the Business Council of Australia saw it as "a great step towards eliminating the barriers and bottlenecks that are holding back Australian workers, consumers and businesses". The Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia "supports the concept and goal of" AMR and Master Plumbers Association Australia and New Zealand "agrees with the intent behind the AMR principles". Key benefits identified include increased labour mobility, reduced administration costs and fees, and greater productivity.

PwC estimated that AMR could lead to additional economic activity of around $2.4 billion over ten years as a result of savings to workers and businesses, productivity improvements and extra surge capacity in response to natural disasters. Over 168,000 workers would benefit, including 44,000 people who will work interstate that would not otherwise have done so.

Consumers and businesses stand to benefit from improved access to skilled workers, lower prices and improved service quality as a result of increased competition. Businesses large and small will be able to bid more confidently for interstate projects and advertise without fear of breaching local licensing laws. For these businesses, the process and cost of working across borders will be more certain.

Regions and towns near state borders, such as Albury-Wodonga, will particularly benefit, as will small communities who may not have access to registered workers locally. Further, as the nature of jobs change and more work is undertaken remotely, AMR also provides the framework for regulation to adapt as technologies change. Under the reforms, an architect living in Victoria and working remotely in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia could save around $1,200 a year and no longer need to renew three registrations.

This Bill amends the existing framework of the MRA to establish a new Part 3A. Part 3A will enable a person who is registered for an occupation in their home state to carry on those activities in other states and territories.

While registered workers will be automatically entitled to carry on the same activities in another state or territory, the Bill contains measures to protect against significant risks.

Stakeholders highlighted a number of risks and challenges with implementing AMR, including differences in licensing across jurisdictions. This could result in unintended consequences for consumers, workers and other groups within the community given the existing variations in licensing arrangements and related state or territory laws.

The Government recognises these risks and has enshrined a number of important safeguards in the proposed AMR arrangements to protect consumers, the environment, animal welfare and the health and safety of workers and the public.

To step through some of these safeguards, consistent with existing arrangements, a person subject to disciplinary actions or who has conditions on their registration as a result of disciplinary, civil or criminal action will not be eligible for AMR. Information on cancelled or suspended registrations and disciplinary actions for people in the new scheme will be available to regulators. This will ensure non-compliant workers cannot move jurisdictions and continue to work.

For some registrations, workers may need to notify the regulator they intend to work in their jurisdiction. Local regulators will also be able to access the information they need from interstate regulators, including any non-compliant behaviour, to ensure AMR operates effectively. Material received by local regulators will be managed in accordance with privacy requirements.

Any conditions a person has on their home state registration will apply, unless waived by the local registration authority. For example, a condition on a home state registration that requires a less experienced builder to work under supervision in a bushfire prone area would still apply in other states.

The local laws of a second state will continue to apply to all persons carrying on the activity in its jurisdiction. This includes the need for workers to meet financial requirements, such as having insurance or making contributions to compensation funds. Interstate builders, for example, will still be required to rectify defective building work and interstate electrical workers will still need to comply with relevant local wiring rules as required under local laws.

A person would also need to satisfy a working with vulnerable people character test, where required by a local law.

A local registration authority will be able to take disciplinary action, including suspending or cancelling a person's automatic deemed registration, consistent with the laws that local registration holders are subject to.

Recognising that AMR may not be appropriate for all occupational registrations, a state or territory Minister can declare specific registrations in their jurisdiction exempt from AMR, for up to five years, where they determine there is a significant risk, arising from particular circumstances or conditions in their jurisdiction, to consumers, the environment, animal welfare or the health or safety of workers or the public.

Declarations to exempt a registration can only be made where necessary to address significant risks, to ensure that benefits from AMR can be realised. The declarations will need to include a statement of reasons explaining the risks to consumer protection, the environment, animal welfare or the health or safety of workers or the public. The declaration will automatically expire after five years. A new declaration can be made following a review if the significant risk remains.

As a transitional measure, state and territory Ministers will be able to declare a specific registration exempt from AMR for a period of six months from commencement of the Bill, with an option to extend for a further period to 30 June 2022 if needed. This temporary exemption power gives time for implementation issues to be resolved, such as improving information sharing arrangements between regulators and enhancing the information available for workers.

The proposed amendments will not prevent a person from seeking mutual recognition under the existing framework nor will it disrupt existing national registration, state model law schemes or state-based automatic recognition schemes.

The Bill also makes consequential changes to other parts of the MRA to ensure consistency and that mutual recognition and AMR operate as intended.

In closing, this Bill will make it simpler, quicker and less expensive for businesses and registered workers to operate across Australia and help to better use the skills of the Australian labour force. The AMR scheme will reduce the burden of unnecessary regulation, while maintaining high standards of protection for consumers, the environment, animal welfare, and the safety of workers and the public. AMR is an important national reform.


This Bill implements a number of streamlining and integrity measures.

Schedule 1 to the Bill will amend the income tax law to ensure that no tax is payable on refunds of large-scale generation certificate shortfall charges.

This measure will apply to refunds paid since 1 January 2019.

Under the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000, energy retailers and other liable entities must surrender large-scale generation certificates or pay a shortfall charge. This shortfall charge can be refunded where the outstanding certificates are surrendered within the allowable refund period.

This measure will clarify the operation of the income tax law for energy providers and will ensure that the market for large-scale generation certificates works as intended, meeting targets for clean energy while minimising costs for consumers.

Schedule 2 to the Bill amends the Treasury Laws Amendment (Putting Consumers First—Establishment of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority) Act to facilitate the closure of the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal (SCT) and any transitional arrangements associated with Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) replacing the SCT.

The AFCA Act will be amended to allow for the transfer of SCT records and documents to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission for ongoing records management, and will also allow the Federal Court to remit appealed cases back to AFCA, where previously these had been remitted to the SCT.

Schedule 2 also introduces a rule-making power to the AFCA Act, to allow the Minister to prescribe matters of a transitional nature that may be required to facilitate the closure of the SCT.

Through this measure, the Government is delivering on its promise to wind up the SCT at the conclusion of its work, allowing all superannuation-related complaints to be dealt with by AFCA.

Schedule 3 will enable the Government to establish a more effective enforcement regime to encourage greater compliance with the Franchising Code by amending the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 to increase the maximum civil pecuniary penalty available under this code to the greater of $10 million, three times the benefit derived from the contravention of the Code or 10 per cent of annual turnover. The maximum civil penalties that can be applied to other industry codes will also be lifted from 300 to 600 penalty units.

Appropriate penalties in the Franchising Code are necessary to provide a strong deterrent against breaches of the Code across the franchising sector, particularly by large multinational franchisors.

Schedule 4 to the Bill will re-implement a temporary mechanism which allows arrangements for complying with information and documentary requirements to be altered under Commonwealth legislation, including requirements to give information in writing and produce, witness and sign documents. The temporary mechanism was previously in place from 9 April 2020 to 31 December 2020. The re-implementation of this mechanism responds to the continuing challenges posed by social distancing measures and restrictions on movement and gathering in Australia and overseas introduced to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing restrictions are expected to continue to cause difficulties in complying with information and documentary requirements under Commonwealth legislation both in Australia and elsewhere.

In recognition of the importance of continued business transactions and government service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic, this measure provides that a responsible Minister may continue to determine that provisions in Commonwealth legislation containing particular information or documentary requirements (i) can be varied, (ii) do not apply or (iii) prescribe that another provision specified in the determination applies, for a specified time period. A responsible Minister must not exercise the power unless they are satisfied that the determination is in response to circumstances relating to COVID-19. The mechanism is temporary and will be repealed at the end of 31 December 2021. Any determination made under the mechanism will cease to operate when the temporary mechanism is repealed.

Debate adjourned.

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