BILLS - Prime Minister and Cabinet Legislation Amendment (2017 Measures No. 1) Bill 2017 - Second Reading

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various acts within the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio, including the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, to update outdated provisions, repeal redundant acts, align annual reporting requirements of the Auditor-General with his or her responsibilities to the parliament and amend the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.

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