House of Representatives

Territories Legislation Amendment Bill 2020

Second Reading Speech

Mr TEHAN (Wannon - Minister for Education)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Today I introduce into the parliament, legislation which further improves and strengthens the governance of Australia's territories.

The Territories Legislation Amendment Bill will amend a range of Commonwealth legislation to improve the legal frameworks applying in the territories of Norfolk Island, Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and the Jervis Bay Territory.

This is another key step in the Australian government's ongoing work to foster strong and sustainable communities in our territories, with rights and responsibilities comparable to other Australian communities.

These territories are an important part of our nation, home to some of Australia's most diverse communities and featuring spectacular natural environments.

Their governance arrangements are also unique, with the Australian government responsible for state- and Commonwealth-level functions provided for under an umbrella of Commonwealth law.

Strengthened applied laws arrangements

To enable the delivery of state-type functions, Commonwealth legislation allows for the laws of other Australian jurisdictions to be applied in these territories.

For instance, in Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands the laws of Western Australia have been applied. This supports the delivery of services such as health and education in these territories by the government of Western Australia.

The bill will amend Commonwealth legislation to ensure these applied laws operate effectively, and support service delivery in these territories.

This includes arrangements for delegating certain powers under applied laws to government officials working in the territories.

On Norfolk Island, Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, local governments provide a range of services to their communities under applied laws.

Currently, local government officials' powers must be delegated to them by the responsible minister.

These delegations need to be regularly updated to make sure they are current. If laws change, there is a risk officials will not have the powers they need to do their jobs.

The amendments in the bill will address this by automatically delegating relevant powers under applied laws to local government officials. This commonsense approach will allow officials to do their work, without having to worry about whether or not their delegation is current.

The bill will make other amendments to account for the operation of applied laws in these territories. Where Commonwealth officials in the territories make decisions under applied laws, these will now be open to judicial review in the federal courts.

This improves the rights of people living in the territories and will ensure that decisions being made by Commonwealth officials are fair and correct.

Personal information collected from people living in the territories under applied laws will now be clearly protected by the Australian Privacy Principles.

Other changes will ensure that personal information collected by local governments and other local public bodies is managed in a way that is consistent with the Privacy Act.

These amendments will improve the efficiency of the applied laws frameworks and increase the rights and protections available to those living in Australia's territories.

Norfolk Island

For Norfolk Island, the bill will also make further significant improvements to its legal framework.

In March 2015, the Australian government announced comprehensive changes in Norfolk Island.

This was to address issues of sustainability which arose from the former governance arrangements which required the Norfolk Island government to deliver all local, state and Commonwealth government services.

As a result, the standard of services and infrastructure on Norfolk Island was well below the standard other Australians would typically expect. The roads and ports were deteriorating, the health and aged-care facility was outdated and accessing social security and other support services was difficult.

In 2016, most Commonwealth legislation was extended to Norfolk Island. This gave people living on the island access to the age pension, Medicare, pharmaceutical benefits and the same social security payments as everybody else in Australia.

Residents of Norfolk Island were also brought under the Australian taxation system, replacing a range of inefficient taxes and charges being levied by the former Norfolk Island government.

Given the significant impact and scope of these changes, some requirements are being phased in gradually to allow the community time to adjust. A good example of this is the superannuation guarantee paid by employers which is being phased in over a 12-year period, starting at one per cent and increasing by one per cent each year.

The extension of some legislation was also deferred as part of a staged transition. The introduction of more laws with this bill will further support Norfolk Island's growth and development.

The bill will allow the Australian government to enter into an agreement with any state or territory government for the delivery of state-type services. This amendment provides flexibility, in case it is needed in the future.

To support economic growth, the bill will transition companies currently registered under local Norfolk Island law to the Commonwealth corporations framework.

This will reduce red tape for Norfolk Island businesses and make it easier for them to access mainland suppliers, financial and other support.

In addition, the bill will extend the Commonwealth bankruptcy system to Norfolk Island, improving provisions for people experiencing bankruptcy and increasing protections for creditors.

In Australia, bankruptcy normally lasts for three years. For people declared bankrupt on Norfolk Island, if certain conditions cannot be met, they could remain bankrupt indefinitely.

The bill will make sure people declared bankrupt on Norfolk Island are treated the same as if they were living elsewhere in Australia.

As we all deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing people and businesses on Norfolk Island in under the Commonwealth umbrella means they will have access to the wide range of support and stimulus packages the government is providing.

Another important change will be to broadcasting. The bill will bring Norfolk Island radio and television stations under Commonwealth broadcasting law. This will allow the Australian Communications and Media Authority to issue broadcasting licences and plan for more broadcasting services in the future.

Through this, Norfolk Island's local media will be better connected to Australia's network of community broadcasters and receive better support for their services.

These changes are a continuation of the good work already undertaken to improve the standard of services being delivered in Norfolk Island, and will help support its future growth.

In the last few years the government has improved access to child care and other family and social support services. The island's health, education, transport and other community infrastructure has also been upgraded to make it safer and more accessible.

An example of this is the improvements to Cascade Pier completed in 2018 which now provides safer and more reliable access to Norfolk Island for cargo transfers and cruise ship passengers, both of vital importance to Norfolk Island's economy.

The bill, if passed, represents the government's ongoing commitment to improving services and supporting economic development and sustainability, not only in Norfolk Island, but in all of Australia's territories.

Debate adjourned.