Second Reading SpeechSenator IAN CAMPBELL (Western Australia-Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts)
I table revised explanatory memoranda relating to the Indigenous Education (Supplementary Assistance) Amendment Bill 1999 and the Electronic Transactions Bill 1999. I move:
That these bills be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.
The speeches read as follows-
The bill amends the Indigenous Education (Supplementary Assistance) Act 1989 to give effect to initiatives announced in the 1999-2000 Budget. The bill will provide for the continuation of the Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Program (IESIP) for the 2000 calendar year including the application of cost supplementation to these new funds.
Further, the bill provides for the continuation of the mixed mode course delivery away-from-base element of the ABSTUDY scheme which will now operate more effectively under IESIP. This bill specifically contains funding arrangements for education providers delivering ABSTUDY approved courses during 2000.
The bill contains a consequential amendment to the Student Assistance Act 1973 transferring the appropriation of the away-from-base element of the ABSTUDY scheme to the Indigenous Education (Supplementary Assistance) Act 1989.
The passage of this bill will enable the Commonwealth to play its part, in concert with the States and Territories, in pursuing the goal of educational equity for our Indigenous students by 2004. This goal is vital if Indigenous people and communities are to enjoy the many opportunities available in Australia.
This bill relates specifically to the year 2000. IESIP funding (including the away-from-base element of ABSTUDY) will continue to the year 2004. Further legislation for Indigenous Education (Supplementary Assistance) will be introduced during 2000 with the aim of more closely aligning this with States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) legislation which operates on a quadrennial basis. This is due to commence a new quadrennium in 2001. It is hoped that this will result in consistency between the acts in areas such as educational and financial accountability and other outcomes requirements.
This bill proposes changes in the administration of the ABSTUDY scheme. This follows the Review of ABSTUDY which was undertaken in 1998 in the context of the introduction of the Youth Allowance. The Review has informed the government's recent decisions on ABSTUDY. On 15 December 1998, the government announced that ABSTUDY would be retained as a separate scheme and that changes to it would be implemented on 1 January 2000. These changes improve opportunities for disadvantaged Indigenous people.
Specifically, the mixed-mode course delivery away-from-base element is to be transferred from ABSTUDY to IESIP in the form of block grants to institutions. As IESIP currently provides supplementary assistance to education providers under outcomes focussed agreements, away-from-base assistance will build onto these existing agreements and monitoring arrangements.
ABSTUDY away-from-base assistance is designed to help meet travel costs, meals and accommodation for students participating in compulsory course activities such as placements, residential schools and field trips. The `mixed mode' courses, that are part of the away-from-base activities, are delivered through a combination of distance education and face-to-face teaching. It is generally acknowledged that this method of course delivery is more culturally appropriate than on-campus delivery for many Indigenous students from remote areas as it enables the student to remain in the community for much of the time but still receive the support of face-to-face teaching. This is an important aspect that allows Indigenous Australians with community obligations to participate and benefit from higher education.
The block grant amount paid to each provider in the Year 2000 will be determined by a formula which takes into account the number of eligible Indigenous students enrolled in 2000 and an Education Provider Unit Cost, based on 1998 allocations, which varies from provider to provider.
The ABSTUDY changes will not decrease the government's financial commitment to Indigenous education. While there may be some reduction in the forward estimates for ABSTUDY, the funds will be redirected to other areas of Indigenous education.
This funding affirms the Commonwealth's commitment to Indigenous education in Australia.
I commend the bill to the Senate.
In December 1997 the Prime Minister made a commitment in his Investing for Growth statement to develop a light-handed regulatory framework for the online environment which supports and encourages business and consumer confidence in the use of electronic commerce. The Electronic Transactions Bill 1999 delivers on this commitment, balancing the need for greater certainty against flexibility for business and the community as the prime movers in the information economy. It removes existing impediments to electronic commerce in Commonwealth law and facilitates the development of new opportunities for business and the community in the information economy.
The Government recognises that it is essential that we have an internationally consistent approach to electronic commerce legislation. The Electronic Transactions Bill is based on the Model Law on Electronic Commerce prepared by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, as modified by the recommendations of the Electronic Commerce Expert Group which reported to me in March 1998. The Model Law is recognised as the leading international template for electronic commerce legislation. Australia has encouraged other jurisdictions to adopt the Model Law through our involvement in a number of international forums including APEC and the OECD.
The Government has successfully sought the cooperation of the States and Territories to develop a national legal framework for electronic commerce. The bill is the blueprint for national uniform legislation that will remove legal impediments and facilitate the growth of electronic commerce in Australia. At the April meeting of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General all Attorneys-General agreed to implement uniform legislation in their jurisdictions.
The bill is the result of extensive public consultation. This implements the policy statement that the Prime Minister made in his `Investing for Growth' statement in December 1997 that business should lead the development of the information economy in Australia. We sought the views of the public on the report of the Electronic Commerce Expert Group before finalising the Government's response to the Expert Group's recommendations. The responses we received indicated clear support for the work of the Expert Group.
The Government then developed draft legislation to put the recommendations of the Expert Group into effect. The exposure draft of the bill was released for public comment in January 1999. Seventy-three submissions were received on the bill, thirty-five of which were from the private sector. All submissions supported the intention, structure and content of the bill. A range of policy and drafting issues were also raised which have been considered in finalising the bill.
Australia was one of the first countries to publicly state its intention to implement the UNCITRAL Model Law. There is very little legislation internationally that is as comprehensive as this bill. While the Model Law is widely recognised internationally as an important document it is only now being considered for adoption in many countries. This Government was early in recognising the need for legislation like this bill and has moved swiftly to implement it.
The bill is based on two fundamental principles. The first is `media neutrality', which means that paper-based commerce and electronic commerce should be treated equally by the law. Secondly, the principle of `technology neutrality' ensures that the law does not discriminate between different forms of technology.
As current Australian law neither recognises nor denies the validity of electronic communications, the bill establishes the basic rule that a transaction is not invalid because it took place by means of an electronic communication.
Following this general rule, the bill sets out specific provisions which state that a requirement or permission under a law of the Commonwealth for a person to provide information in writing, to sign or produce a document, or to retain information or a document can be satisfied in electronic form, subject to certain minimum criteria being satisfied.
While some jurisdictions overseas have enacted technology specific legislation dealing with digital signatures, we have taken a flexible technology neutral approach that allows electronic signatures to meet existing requirements for hand written signatures, subject to certain minimum criteria.
The bill also contains clauses that establish rules, which will apply in the absence of any contrary agreement, dealing with the time and place of dispatch and receipt of electronic communications and the attribution of electronic communications.
The bill has a two-step implementation process. Prior to 1 July 2001, the bill will only apply to laws of the Commonwealth specified in regulations. After that date, the bill will apply to all laws of the Commonwealth unless they have been specifically excluded from the application of the bill.
A NEW TAX SYSTEM (TAX ADMINISTRATION) BILL 1999
A New Tax System (Tax Administration) Bill 1999 will implement remaining tax administration measures of the new taxation system.
Firstly, when the new tax system commences on 1 July next, taxpayers with simple affairs will have more certainty that their annual tax return is finalised, because this bill reduces the time in which a review can be made from four years to two years.
Secondly, taxpayers with simple affairs will also be able to get oral advice from the Commissioner of Taxation that is binding on the commissioner.
Thirdly, our reforms do away with reporting systems, such as the reportable payments system, that are a significant compliance burden on business. The modern integrated design of the new tax system reduces the need for add-on reporting systems.
However, the government recognises that there is a need to be able to respond quickly if systematic tax evasion is detected in an industry. One of the measures in this bill provides for an Australian business number, ABN, based reporting system. The system would only be activated after consultation with the affected industry, would only apply to certain transactions within the industry and would only operate for a specified period.
Fourthly, the government's tax reform package also included a more transparent endorsement process for tax exempt and gift deductible bodies. In coming months, the Australian Business Registrar will commence the Australian business number registration process. Charities and deductible gift recipients will be required to obtain an Australian business number and be endorsed by the Commissioner of Taxation in order to obtain either income tax exemption or deductible gift recipient status.
Finally, the bill will also make some minor amendments to support the introduction of pay as you go, PAYG, and the single activity statement for business.
Full details of the measures in the bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum.
I commend the bill.
Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of these bills be adjourned till the first day of the summer sittings in 1999, in accordance with standing order 111.
Ordered that these bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.