House of Representatives

Customs Amendment Act (Temporary Importation) Bill 1999

Second Reading Speech

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts)

I table the explanatory memoranda relating to the bills 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-

AUSTRALIA NEW ZEALAND FOOD AUTHORITY AMENDMENT BILL 1999

These amendments implement recommendations arising from several reviews which are part of a package of reforms which serve to strengthen and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the food regulatory system for Australia and New Zealand. These reviews are the National Competition Policy Review of the Australia New Zealand Food Authority Act 1991 (the act), the Review of the State and Territory Food Acts and the Food Regulation Review.

This bill amends the act in four major ways:

·
it creates objectives for the act and clarifies the role, functions and regulatory objectives of the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (the Authority);
·
it provides the Authority with more flexibility and efficiency in its consultation and decision making processes;
·
it enables the Authority to more effectively protect public health and safety and the prevention of misleading and deceptive behaviour; and
·
it allows the Authority to charge for services in certain circumstances.

I will deal with each of these aspects of the bill separately.

Firstly, the bill includes an overall objective for the act in order to provide public transparency and accountability and a concise statement of the role of the Authority. Both the new overall objective and the recast section 10 objectives ensure that public health and safety and the protection of consumers remain the highest priorities of the Authority.

It will now be explicit that the Authority must consider the costs and benefits of the various regulatory alternatives that are available. Food standards should not impose undue costs on the food industry or the community.

The bill will also provide for greater consistency and co-operation at the Commonwealth level and between the Commonwealth and States and Territories in relation to food regulatory issues.

The Authority's need to undertake activities that support and improve the quality of food standards is also recognised in the bill. These activities include being an advocate for Australians in the international arena, facilitating industry guidelines and coordinating national work on auditing systems and training competencies.

I now turn to the second major aspect of the bill. It allows the Authority to be more responsive to community concerns about particular standards issues and develop tailored consultation arrangements for individual issues.

Over the years, the Authority has been locked into rigid and sometimes ineffective consultation processes. Regardless of the good intention behind some of these prescriptive requirements in the current act, it is clear that taxpayers' money has at times been wasted through excessive consultation on very minor issues. These amendments will allow the Authority to tailor consultation processes, allocate more resources where there are significant concerns and streamline processes for minor issues whilst still ensuring that stakeholders have maximum opportunity to provide input on issues that affect them.

In having more flexibility to respond to consultation needs, the Authority will be more accountable to its stakeholders. It will need to prepare, in advance, plans which clearly set out the proposed consultation processes for each standard it develops or amends. It will need to discuss these with key stakeholder groups and ensure that no affected parties are overlooked.

Also included in the bill are amendments that will enable the Authority to deal more efficiently with less significant standards issues. Where the draft standards raise issues of minor significance or complexity, and the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council has approved a general approach to be applied in such cases, the Authority will have power to decide not to make a recommendation to Ministers in relation to the approval of particular food standards. The Council will have the power to overrule these decisions, which would then be dealt with by the Council in the usual manner; otherwise, the decisions will stand as if they were decisions of the Council.

The act currently requires literally every detail of all proposed changes and additions to the Food Standards Code to be considered by all ten Ministers, even where they have already set down clearly the approach they wish to apply. This delays the process of making necessary but minor changes and wastes the time of Ministers when other more important food policy issues are waiting for their consideration. This amendment redresses that problem and should benefit both industry and consumers by significantly decreasing the time taken to make minor changes or additions to the Food Standards Code.

The third major amendment is to permit the Authority to more effectively protect public health and safety and prevent misleading and deceptive behaviour by allowing effective implementation and enforceability of the new food safety standards and permitting the restriction of sale and advertising of foods where necessary to protect public health. The bill also permits the Authority to require the approval of specific brand or patented products for certain classes of food so as to ensure the safety and appropriate labelling of such products before their release onto the market.

I now turn to the final aspect of the bill. At present, the Authority is obliged, by its legislation, to process all applications on a `first come-first served' basis, regardless of the degree of public health and safety and consumer protection involved. This can draw resources away from standards work that protects public health and safety and into minor matters of little significance to the community.

One multinational company has lodged a total of eleven separate applications to achieve a succession of minor variations in the approval of a particular product for which it had patent rights. This imposed multiple processing costs on the public, at no extra cost to the company. In so doing it diverted the Authority's resources away from more socially important work to ensure that those applications were resolved within the statutory twelve months.

The Authority will now be able to ensure that its resources are primarily directed towards the protection of public health and safety. These amendments (which were previously contained in the Australia New Zealand Food Authority Amendment Bill 1996, which lapsed during 1998) will enable the Authority to:

·
prioritise and direct resources to its agreed work program, and to the food standards matters which are of major public interest; and
·
charge for those applications which are outside the work program where there is a commercial benefit to the particular applicant inherent in the application.

The selection of applications for inclusion in the work program will be based on the section 10 objectives and consultation undertaken with stakeholders. These applications will be assessed at no charge to the applicant.

The proposed cost recovery arrangements are fully consistent with this Government's user pays policy. The Authority will only be able to recover its costs and will not be able to make a profit.

Since the creation of the Authority in 1991 considerable progress has been made to develop uniform food standards throughout Australia and improve the safety of the Australian food supply. This package of amendments will allow the Authority to continue its reform of the food regulatory framework and develop a quality Food Standards Code which will serve Australia and New Zealand well into the next millennium.

CUSTOMS AMENDMENT (TEMPORARY IMPORTATION) BILL 1999

This bill amends the temporary importation provisions of the Customs Act 1901 to address 2 aspects of their operation in relation to goods imported for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, Paralympic Games and a number of other related events.

First, the bill sets 31 December 2000 as the last date that goods temporarily imported for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games can be exported. Second, it requires lodgement of a formal application for a temporary importation permission if goods are not accompanied by standard internationally accepted temporary admission papers.

The current maximum period allowed before re-exportation under a temporary importation permission is 12 months, subject to case by case extensions. This time limit places an administrative burden on industry and Customs in applying for and processing extensions for goods imported for use at more than one of the specified events (many of which are already taking place). On the other hand, as none of the eligible events occur after December 2000, there is no need for any of the goods to remain in Australia after 31 December 2000.

This bill introduces a set date of 31 December 2000 as the final date for exportation of goods imported temporarily for the purposes of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games and other related events. This date will apply whether the relevant permission was granted before or after the commencement of the amendment, but is capable of being extended if, for example, genuine difficulties are encountered in arranging suitable transport within the time limit for some specialist equipment.

The second aspect of the temporary importation provisions which this bill addresses relates to Customs ability to require information in relation to those goods temporarily imported. This in order to maintain an appropriate audit trail and to ensure compliance with temporary importation provisions.

Generally, temporary importation permissions are granted to goods imported in accordance with the terms of international agreements on temporary importation. Eligible goods covered by agreements that Australia is a signatory to currently include motor vehicles used by private travellers, media equipment and goods for display at fairs and exhibitions.

In most cases the goods are covered by temporary admission papers known as "carnets", that are issued by sponsoring organisations and take the place of formal customs import and export documents. As the current temporary importation provisions were designed with carnets in mind, goods are exempted from formal import and export entry requirements.

This exemption from formal entry, however, also applies to goods imported temporarily for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games and certain related events (as well as some goods under international agreements), despite the fact that they may not be accompanied by temporary admission papers.

Customs currently has no legislative basis to require information to be provided in relation to these goods. This bill introduces a requirement to lodge a formal application (either by document or computer) to import goods not accompanied by temporary admission papers. This will improve Customs audit trail, assist in the acquittal of import permissions against export information, and ensure compliance with temporary importation conditions.

CUSTOMS AMENDMENT BILL (No. 1) 1999

The purpose of this bill is to amend the Customs Act 1901 to address the possible consequences of the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Queensland in the matter of Prechelt . The effect of this decision is that customs duty would not be payable on goods that are not required to be formally entered for home consumption.

In summary, the case involved the importation of 25 cartons of cigarettes with a customs value of $180. Under the current terms of the Customs Act, such goods are not required to be formally entered for home consumption. Instead, summary information in relation to such goods is required to be given to Customs in an approved form. Goods exempt from formal entry requirements include the personal effects of passengers and crew of ships and aircraft, goods of a value of less than $1000 imported through the post and goods of a value of less than $250 consigned otherwise than through the post.

The Custom Act provides that the rate of any import duty payable on goods is the rate of duty in force when the goods are entered for home consumption. For the majority of importations, a formal import entry, which details between 50 and 60 items of information in relation to the goods, is required to be lodged with Customs either by document or computer. Customs uses this information to assess the duty liability of the goods and payment is required before they can be delivered for home consumption.

As the goods the subject of the decision were exempt from the formal entry requirements the court found that no rate of duty could be determined. As a rate of duty could not be fixed, the court went on to find that no duty was payable, despite the clear words of the Customs Tariff Act 1995 that impose duties of customs on goods imported into Australia.

General application of the reasoning in the decision would mean that no customs duty is payable on imported goods for which no entry is required.

This bill proposes amendments to the Customs Act to make it clear that duty must be paid on imported goods that do not require a formal entry before those goods can be delivered into home consumption. The amendments will also provide that the rate of duty is to be fixed at the time information in relation to the goods is given to Customs or the time when the goods were imported into Australia, whichever is the later.

The amendments will take effect from 1 September 1992. This is the date when the import entry processing provisions of the Customs Act were completely rewritten to allow the electronic lodgement of entries via the COMPILE computer system. As part of that exercise the replacement of a former provision that deemed goods delivered under similar permissions to be entered for home consumption was inadvertently overlooked.

These amendments will confirm that the duty liability of non-entry goods imported during the intervening period was that which both the Commonwealth and importers had always understood it to be. They will impose no new duty liability on goods already imported into Australia.

MIGRATION LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1999

This bill implements a number of the Government's policy initiatives within the Immigration and Multicultural Affairs portfolio. These initiatives will enhance the efficiency of the administration of the Migration Act 1958, while preserving the integrity of that act and the rights of persons affected by the provisions of the act.

Schedule 1 of the bill introduces a limited code of procedures for temporary entry business sponsorships, which will provide that persons affected by these matters have an adequate opportunity to provide relevant information. These measures provide that there are effective cancellation and monitoring mechanisms to provide a balance to the streamlined temporary entry of key business personnel. The cancellation of temporary entry business sponsorships has been codified thus ensuring transparency in the process.

These measures flow from recommendations made to the previous Government by the Committee of Inquiry into the Temporary Entry of Business People and Highly Skilled Specialists (the "Roach" Committee). The Roach Committee advocated a discretionary system of assessment and sanction to allow for the consideration of any breaches of the sponsors' obligations.

Schedule 2 of the bill amends provisions related to the ways in which visa applications may be made. The amended provisions will prevent applicants from making applications that would necessarily be refused under current migration policy thereby saving clients time and money that would otherwise be wasted in making applications that could not succeed.

Schedule 3 of the bill introduces a more flexible method of authorising persons, and classes of persons, to be officers for the purposes of the Migration Act 1958. These measures enable the authorisation of persons, and classes of persons, in an administratively straightforward manner, without reducing the obligation of the Minister to notify the authorisation in the Gazette .

It is intended to ensure that the Australian community is protected from convicted criminals who may cause harm to persons within our community. Schedule 4 of the bill amends section 254 of the Migration Act 1958 to ensure that corrective service authorities can detain non-citizens who are liable for criminal deportation or removal on the completion of their prison sentence.

The Government is committed to providing visa applicants with merits review of adverse decisions. Schedule 5 of the bill will ensure that applicants for permanent migrant spouse or interdependency visas have merits review rights. It will align the review of such offshore migrant visas with the current availability of merits review for onshore spouse and interdependency visa classes.

Schedules 6 and 7 of the bill introduce two beneficial measures in relation to the migration program. In the early 1990s the former Government enacted provisions, under sections 86, 87 and 88, to assist in the management and control of the annual migration program. These sections allow for the setting of numerical limits or "caps" on the number of visas that can be granted in prescribed visa subclasses in any one program year.

The measures introduced by Schedule 6 of this bill will allow certain applicants, who would otherwise be adversely affected by the successive caps to be granted a visa. The new provision will allow the grant of visas to certain people whose health and character checking were not completed before a cap came into effect.

The other measure related to the migration program enacted by Schedule 7 of this bill is the extension from 12 months to two years for the period in which a points tested visa applicant, who has not met the prevailing pass mark but did meet the lower pool mark, may have their visa application held in reserve.

Pooled Independent category applicants, who are interested in settling in regional Australia may elect to provide details of their educational qualifications and work experience for inclusion in the skill matching database. This database is a key resource for the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme and the State and Territory Nominated Independent category which are designed to encourage a wider dispersal of skilled migrant intake.

The extension of the pool period will ensure that State and Territory Governments and regional employers have available to them a sufficient number of pooled applicants with a range of skills to meet identified skill shortages.

Schedule 8 of the bill removes the age limitation for full-time members of the Refugee Review Tribunal in line with the Government's policy to remove the compulsory age limits for public office holders.

Finally, Schedule 9 of the bill ensures that the integrity of the scheme for judicial review of immigration decision-making is maintained by treating decisions of the new Migration Review Tribunal in the same way as those made by the Immigration Review Tribunal. These amendments are only required because of the continued delays in the passage of the Migration Legislation Amendment (Judicial Review) Bill 1998 which is presently before the Senate. These amendments will ensure that the judicial review scheme in Part 8 applies to Migration Review Tribunal decisions in the event that the Judicial Review Bill is not enacted before the commencement of the Migration Review Tribunal on 1 June 1999.

In conclusion, I reiterate that this bill contains measures that are beneficial to clients, whilst still ensuring that the Government's migration program is not compromised.

I commend the bill to the Chamber.

NORFOLK ISLAND AMENDMENT BILL 1999

The Norfolk Island Act 1979 introduced a form of self-government for Norfolk Island. It established and defined the responsibilities and powers of the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly, the Executive Council of Norfolk Island and the Administrator of Norfolk Island. The act also sets out the Commonwealth Minister's responsibilities in relation to the governance of the Territory. By way of comparison, the Norfolk Island model of self-government is broadly similar to that of the Northern Territory.

The purpose of the Norfolk Island Amendment Bill 1999 is to amend the Norfolk Island Act 1979 to alter the assent procedures for Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly Bills relating to firearms, to bring the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly's electoral provisions more into line with those of other Australian legislatures and to simplify the process of appointing the Norfolk Island Deputy Administrator.

In relation to firearms, the effect of the Norfolk Island Amendment Bill 1999 is to remove the reference to firearms from Schedule 2 to the act and add a reference to firearms and ammunition to Schedule 3 to the act. The result is that the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly will retain power to legislate for firearms and ammunition, but the Administrator will be obliged to obtain the instructions of the Federal Territories Minister prior to assenting to bills or making regulations dealing with these matters. This will provide an appropriate avenue for ensuring Island compliance with the National Agreement on Firearms.

On electoral matters, the Norfolk Island Amendment Bill 1999 will extend the right to vote in Legislative Assembly elections to all Australian citizens ordinarily resident on the Island, establish Australian citizenship as a qualification for enrolment and election to the Legislative Assembly, and preserve the existing enrolment rights of enrolled non-Australian citizens.

Electoral provisions for the Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly are currently contained in the Norfolk Island Act 1979 and the Legislative Assembly Act 1979 (Norfolk Island).

The Norfolk Island Act 1979 prescribes qualifications for election to the Legislative Assembly. Under existing provisions, a person can stand for election to the Assembly if he or she is aged 18 or over, is entitled to vote at elections and has been ordinarily resident on Norfolk Island for 5 years immediately preceding the date of nomination.

The Legislative Assembly Act 1979 (Norfolk Island) prescribes that a person is qualified to enrol where that person has attained the age of 18 and has been present on Norfolk Island for 900 days during the period of 4 years immediately preceding their application for enrolment. This qualifying period for enrolment on Norfolk Island far exceeds the one month that applies to the Commonwealth and in all States and Territories on the mainland. Tasmania has a qualifying period of 6 months.

The Legislative Assembly of Norfolk Island is also the only Australian State or Territory legislative body where non-Australian citizens are entitled to enrol and stand for election.

The proposed electoral amendments would bring electoral provisions prescribing enrolment and entitlement to stand for election more into line with those in all other Australian legislatures. Under the proposed provisions, only Australian citizens would be eligible to enrol and stand for election to the Legislative Assembly. An ordinarily resident qualifying period of 6 months for enrolment would also be introduced.

Enrolment rights of non-Australian citizens currently on the electoral roll will be preserved. However, in the future, any candidate for election, and any person seeking enrolment, would have to be an Australian citizen.

The Norfolk Island Amendment Bill 1999 also changes the process by which the Norfolk Island Deputy Administrator is appointed. The Governor-General currently appoints the Deputy Administrator. The appointment of a Deputy Administrator is a dormant one which becomes operational in the temporary absence or incapacity of the Administrator, thus ensuring that the powers and functions of the Administrator can continue to be exercised in such circumstances. Because the appointment is held by the Official Secretary to the Administrator, and generally operates for quite short periods, it does not warrant the attention of the Governor-General. The proposed amendment provides for Norfolk Island Deputy Administrators to be appointed by the Commonwealth Territories Minister. This is consistent with provisions operating on the Indian Ocean Territories of Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island to appoint Deputy Administrators.

The act is proposed to take effect 28 days after it receives the Royal Assent.

Financial Impact

The proposed amendment will have no direct impact on Commonwealth revenue or outgoings.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of these bills be adjourned till the first day of the winter sittings 1999, in accordance with standing order 111.

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