Bills: Emergency Response Fund Bill 2019, Emergency Response Fund (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019 - In Committee

17 October 2019

In Committee

Bills—by leave—taken as a whole.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR ( Senator Griff ) (10:56): The question is that the bills stand as printed.

Senator Watt (Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate): by leave—I move amendments to the Emergency Response Fund Bill 2019 on sheet 8789 together:

(1) Clause 14, page 13 (line 8), after "28", insert "or 28A".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(2) Clause 14, page 13 (line 13), after "32", insert "or 32A".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(3) Clause 20, page 18 (after line 29), after subclause (1), insert:

(1A) The Emergency Management Minister may, on behalf of the Commonwealth:

(a) make an arrangement with; or

(b) make a grant of financial assistance to;

a person or body for:

(c) the carrying out of a project that is directed towards achieving any or all of the following:

   (i) resilience to a future natural disaster that could affect an area (whether directly or indirectly);

   (ii) preparedness for a future natural disaster that could affect an area (whether directly or indirectly);

   (iii) reduction of the risk of a future natural disaster that could affect an area (whether directly or indirectly);

   (iv) the long‑term sustainability of a community or communities in an area that is at risk of being affected (whether directly or indirectly) by a future natural disaster; or

(d) the provision of a service that is directed towards achieving any or all of the following:

   (i) resilience to a future natural disaster that could affect an area (whether directly or indirectly);

   (ii) preparedness for a future natural disaster that could affect an area (whether directly or indirectly);

   (iii) reduction of the risk of a future natural disaster that could affect an area (whether directly or indirectly);

   (iv) the long‑term sustainability of a community or communities in an area that is at risk of being affected (whether directly or indirectly) by a future natural disaster; or

(e) the adoption of technology that is directed towards achieving any or all of the following:

   (i) resilience to a future natural disaster that could affect an area (whether directly or indirectly);

   (ii) preparedness for a future natural disaster that could affect an area (whether directly or indirectly);

   (iii) reduction of the risk of a future natural disaster that could affect an area (whether directly or indirectly);

   (iv) the long‑term sustainability of a community or communities in an area that is at risk of being affected (whether directly or indirectly) by a future natural disaster; or

(f) a matter that is incidental or ancillary to a matter mentioned in paragraph (c), (d) or (e).

Note: See also section 24 (constitutional limits).

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(4) Clause 20, page 18 (line 30), after "(1)", insert "or (1A)".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(5) Clause 20, page 19 (line 1), after "(1)", insert "or (1A)".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(6) Clause 20, page 19 (line 3), after "(1)", insert "or (1A)".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(7) Clause 20, page 19 (line 4), omit "Subsection (1) does not", substitute "Subsections (1) and (1A) do not".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(8) Heading to clause 28, page 24 (line 18), at the end of the heading, add "general".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(9) Clause 28, page 24 (line 22), omit "section 20", substitute "subsection 20(1)".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(10) Clause 28, page 25 (line 3), omit "section 20", substitute "subsection 20(1)".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(11) Clause 28, page 25 (line 9), omit "section 20", substitute "subsection 20(1)".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(12) Clause 28, page 25 (line 20), omit "section 20", substitute "subsection 20(1)".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(13) Clause 28, page 25 (line 31), omit "section 34", substitute "subsection 34(1)".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(14) Page 26 (after line 9), after clause 28, insert:

28A Transfers from the Emergency Response Fund Special Account to the Home Affairs Emergency Response Fund Special Account—resilience etc.

Amounts payable under arrangements

(1) If:

(a) one or more arrangements have been, or will be, made under subsection 20(1A); and

(b) the Emergency Management Minister is satisfied that one or more amounts (the committed amounts) will become payable by the Commonwealth during a financial year under those arrangements;

the Emergency Management Minister may, during the financial year, request the Finance Minister to transfer a specified amount (which must equal the total of the committed amounts) from the Emergency Response Fund Special Account to the Home Affairs Emergency Response Fund Special Account.

(2) The Emergency Management Minister must not make more than one request under subsection (1) in relation to a particular amount that will become payable by the Commonwealth under a subsection 20(1A) arrangement.

(3) To avoid doubt, the Emergency Management Minister may make 2 or more requests under subsection (1) during a financial year.

Grants

(4) If the Emergency Management Minister decides that one or more grants should be made under subsection 20(1A) during a financial year to persons other than a State or Territory, the Emergency Management Minister may, during the financial year, request the Finance Minister to transfer a specified amount (which must equal the total amount of the grants) from the Emergency Response Fund Special Account to the Home Affairs Emergency Response Fund Special Account.

Note: For a grant to a State or Territory, see section 32A (channelling State/Territory grants through the COAG Reform Fund).

(5) The Emergency Management Minister must not make more than one request under subsection (4) in relation to a particular subsection 20(1A) grant.

(6) To avoid doubt, the Emergency Management Minister may make 2 or more requests under subsection (4) during a financial year.

Transfer

(7) If:

(a) during a financial year, the Emergency Management Minister requests the Finance Minister under subsection (1) or (4) to transfer an amount from the Emergency Response Fund Special Account to the Home Affairs Emergency Response Fund Special Account; and

(b) the Finance Minister is satisfied that the transfer will not contravene subsection 34(2) (annual limit);

the Finance Minister must, in writing, direct that a specified amount (which must equal the requested amount) is to be:

(c) debited from the Emergency Response Fund Special Account; and

(d) credited to the Home Affairs Emergency Response Fund Special Account;

on a specified day during the financial year.

(8) A direction under subsection (7) is not a legislative instrument.

(9) The Finance Minister must give a copy of a direction under subsection (7) to the Treasurer and the Emergency Management Minister.

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(15) Heading to clause 32, page 28 (line 4), at the end of the heading, add "general".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(16) Clause 32, page 28 (line 7), omit "section 20", substitute "subsection 20(1)".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(17) Clause 32, page 28 (line 17), omit "section 34", substitute "subsection 34(1)".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(18) Page 28 (after line 24), after clause 32, insert:

32A Channelling State/Territory grants through the COAG Reform Fund—resilience etc.

(1) If the Emergency Management Minister decides that a grant of financial assistance should be made to a State or Territory under subsection 20(1A), the Emergency Management Minister must, by writing, direct that, on a specified day, a specified amount (which must equal the amount of the grant) is to be:

(a) debited from the Emergency Response Fund Special Account; and

(b) credited to the COAG Reform Fund.

(2) The direction must be expressed to be given in order to enable the amount to be debited from the COAG Reform Fund for the purpose of making the grant.

(3) The Emergency Management Minister must not give a direction under subsection (1) if doing so would contravene subsection 34(2) (annual limit).

(4) Two or more directions under subsection (1) may be set out in the same document.

(5) A direction under subsection (1) is not a legislative instrument.

(6) The Emergency Management Minister must give a copy of a direction under subsection (1) to the Treasurer and the Finance Minister.

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(19) Clause 33, page 28 (line 26), after "paragraph 32(1) (b)", insert "or 32A(1) (b)".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(20) Clause 34, page 30 (line 5), before "The total", insert "(1)".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(21) Clause 34, page 30 (after line 7), at the end of the clause, add:

(2) The total amount debited from the Emergency Response Fund Special Account under sections 28A and 32A during a financial year must not exceed $50 million.

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(22) Clause 36, page 31 (line 17), omit "28 and 32", substitute "28, 28A, 32 and 32A".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(23) Clause 59, page 44 (line 8), omit "or 28", substitute ", 28 or 28A".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(24) Clause 61, page 45 (line 27), omit "28, 31 or 32", substitute "28, 28A, 31, 32 or 32A".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

(25) Clause 63, page 46 (line 22), omit "limit", substitute "limits".

[natural disaster resilience etc.]

Just very briefly, I did indicate in my speech in the second reading debate that we would be moving these amendments. I won't go over old ground, other than to say that these amendments arise from commitments we have secured from the government to increase the quantum of the Emergency Response Fund, moving it from distributing up to $150 million per annum to distributing $200 million per annum, with that extra $50 million being dedicated to disaster preparedness and mitigation infrastructure, something that we and many other stakeholders support. I thank the government for its cooperation.

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): I would like to thank the opposition for their constructive engagement on this legislation, which is very much in the national interest. The government will support opposition amendments to increase the amount of funding available to be released from the Emergency Response Fund in any given year to $200 million, up from $150 million in the current bill. The additional $50 million allocation will be available to governments for predisaster and emergency preparedness to minimise the risk of natural disasters impacting upon communities into the future. This funding will ensure that investments can be made in resilience in areas prone to natural disasters, and the additional $50 million per annum will be available for preparedness measures on the same terms as the $150 million provided for in the original legislation, which was available for emergency response measures.

For completeness, I should also indicate to the chamber that the government has agreed to establish a $100 million TAFE revitalisation grants program, in partnership with the states, based on a fifty-fifty split, to upgrade TAFE campuses across Australia. Commonwealth grant funding will be contingent upon matched contributions from states and territories, bringing the total funding available for TAFE upgrades to $100 million. I again thank the opposition for their positive and constructive engagement with the government on this bill.

Senator Faruqi: The Greens will not be opposing these amendments, but I just have to say that circulating amendments literally five seconds before they're about to be discussed is pretty atrocious and pretty disrespectful. The Greens won't be opposing these amendments, because they do provide some funding for resilience and they do provide some funding for TAFE. I agree that it is better than nothing, but, in this instance, that is not good enough. The bottom line is that this bill still raids the Education Investment Fund, which has a few billion dollars in it for both TAFEs and universities. Doing a deal with the government to give $50 million to TAFE—that is a drop in the ocean. Yes, it is much-needed funding, but we could actually not raid the Education Investment Fund today and still provide funding for resilience, still provide much-needed funding for those communities who are facing these disasters.

And why are they going to be facing these disasters more and more? You've got to think about that. There is zero funding anywhere here for actually addressing the climate crisis. The irony of it all is that the very institutions that will be doing research in not only helping disaster relief, in not only helping people who have gone through these disasters, but actually addressing the climate emergency and climate crisis or training people into new jobs, into a new society, into a new economy, into a new world—those exact institutions, those exact places, are now bereft of that funding that is so desperately needed. I think that is the shame in this law.

Senator Patrick: I have a question for the minister. Noting the late arrival of the amendments, I am trying to get an understanding of exactly what they involve. So if I make any errors here, I apologise. My understanding is that the effect of these amendments will be that an extra $50 million will go to pre-disaster disaster preparation. Minister, how will that spending be determined? What process will the relevant minister go through? Is the relevant minister still the Home Affairs minister or is it some other minister? How will the expenditure be announced to both the parliament and the public?

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): Thank you very much, Senator Patrick. As I've indicated, the additional $50 million per annum will be available for preparedness measures on the same basis as the $150 million provided for in the original legislation which is available for response measures. This fund which is going to be set up—and it will get an investment mandate which will generate a higher income flow—will provide an overall budget allocation which will then be available for government to allocate, for the purposes indicated, through the normal government decision-making processes. These things will be announced in the normal way at budget time or budget update time, or in the intervening period and then reconciled in the budget. The minister with responsibility for emergency framework management is Minister Littleproud.

Senator Patrick (South Australia): I understand that the $150 million will be spent in some sense as a result of a disaster. That is almost outside of the control of even Mr Dutton. I want to go back to the $50 million. Clearly that is pre-emptive, so it is not as the current bill suggests. I understand that the minister has the ability to allocate the funds, but in some sense it is determined by the disasters. This is pre-emptive. You talked about government processes. Will there be consultation? Will there be a call for submissions? Will there be experts involved in deciding how this $50 million will be spent each year? Is the government setting up a panel? How exactly does that money get allocated?

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): If this legislation passes, then the precise processes to ensure that the money is appropriately prioritised to the highest area of need, when it comes to predisaster and preparedness funding opportunities, will be set up by the government and announced in due course.

Senator Patrick: I understand that there have been late negotiations on this, so could I perhaps ask you to take on notice, when you've established the exact process this will go through, to table something that describes that process.

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): I'm happy to take that on notice and I'm happy to make the commitment that we will table that. I'm happy to indicate to the opposition that, in the spirit of good faith with which we have engaged in discussions on this legislation, we will particularly consult with the opposition and the shadow minister in relation to this, but we're prepared to consult with anyone in this chamber that has an interest in how this operates into the future.

Senator Patrick: I don't want to hold you to an exact date, but when do you expect the first announcements to be made? I am trying to get an understanding. Will it be next year that the first funds are likely to be committed, particularly to the predisaster preparation funding?

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (11:06): These are all matters that are yet to be determined, and I'm not going to make statements that are not informed by proper consideration.

Senator Patrick: I'll move now to the money that will be spent on TAFEs. Could I just get a confirmation. I thought I heard Senator Watt say during his second reader that he thought $50 million, but I heard you mentioning $100 million. I apologise for not perhaps understanding it properly, but could you clarify the situation for me?

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): Senator Watt is right and I'm right, but you didn't hear one component. The way we are proposing to structure this program is that the Commonwealth will provide $50 million on the basis of matched funding from the states, because TAFEs ultimately are a core area of responsibility of the states. It's a great opportunity to provide upgrades and refurbishments across Australia. When you've got $50 million worth of federal funding to be matched by the states, dollar for dollar, that takes you to a $100 million program.

Senator Patrick: Thank you for that clarification. Noting that that will involve a commitment from the states, has the government engaged with the states at this point in time or are you just confident that they will take the offer that's on the table?

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): The government is engaging with the state and territory governments in relation to vocational education and training in a general sense, and, of course, Senator Cash has been doing a lot of work with state and territory governments on an overall broader reform package. But this is a specific grants program which was agreed between the government and the opposition. I would be very surprised if the states were not receptive to the offer that's on the table.

Senator Patrick: In a similar vein to my previous questions, I'm interested in the process the government will go through in respect of the allocation of this funding. I'm sure that every state will probably stick up their hand and say they need more money than is available. I just want to make sure that there's been no predetermination in respect of which states will get what. Is it fair to assume that the funding will be allocated on a per capita basis or will it be done on some needs basis, based on submissions for grants by individual TAFEs or individual state governments?

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): There has not been any predetermined decision in relation to who would receive specific funding for specific projects. This will be a competitive grants program, with funding allocations made based on merit. Essentially, there will be opportunities to submit applications for funding in the usual way, and those applications will be assessed in the usual way. Ultimately, if the demand is stronger than the available pool of funds, then obviously there'll be a process of prioritisation, which follows the normal grants allocation processes of government.

Senator Patrick: Noting that the TAFEs are, in some sense, controlled by or agencies of the state, will it be the state governments, as governments, making representations in terms of grants or will it be the TAFE organisations themselves that will make applications?

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): My expectation would be that state and territory governments would take the lead in relation to these matters in respect of TAFE colleges in their respective jurisdictions. But, in relation to this specific grants program, those guidelines and those processes will be settled if this legislation is successfully passed.

Senator Patrick: Once again, excuse my ignorance on all of the grant processes that the Commonwealth has. I'd like an understanding as to when these grants are being decided upon, and one might presume there might be huge demand for these funds. I presume there will be a panel of independent experts, including officials from government, that makes a recommendation to a minister, or is it simply going to be a minister who makes the determination?

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): The decisions in relation to grant allocations and programs of this nature are always made based on advice. That's what will happen here. It's going to be a normal run-of-the-mill grants application process but involving a partnership with the states.

Senator Watt (Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate): I'd just like to indicate to the committee that I should have moved these amendments as requests, due to the nature of appropriations involved. It's not desired to get into an argument with the House of Representatives and I'd like to table a full statement to that effect. I seek leave to table the statement.

Leave granted.

Senator Patrick: I'm interested in whether or not this will involve a panel or whether this will involve simply a minister making a decision? I'm not asking for the construction of the panel, just what the government's position or view is at this particular time in relation to the decision-making process associated with the grants program?

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): All of these specific details will be settled in due course, assuming that this legislation is passed by the parliament. It will not just be a unilateral arbitrary decision by a minister. It will be based on advice around appropriate prioritisation of potential grant allocations.

Senator Patrick: I'd ask—perhaps again on notice when the details become available—if you would undertake to table what those arrangements might be.

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): Yes.

Senator Lambie: As you know, I've been following the Indue card and I've been out there complaining that part of the Indue card and part of the promise of rolling it out was vocational training in our TAFEs, which I have not yet seen in one of these trial areas. It is not up and running; they're not working. My support for the Indue card will be a very big part of that. If you do not have the vocational training centres and TAFEs up and running, you've just lost my support as of today. Hundreds of millions of dollars needs to be spent on these TAFEs. Where is the money coming from to do the other end of the Indue card? And when are you going to start upgrading these TAFEs?

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): TAFE colleges and the vocational education sector generally do fall primarily under the purview of state and territory governments, but federal governments in recent years have taken increasing additional responsibility. This is another example of the federal government taking on additional responsibility. Senator Cash is working very hard with state and territory governments on a broader reform package which will be announced in due course.

Senator Lambie: Let me get this right: the Indue card now has had a trial and it's been out for four years in Ceduna. Once again, where's all the vocational training that is supposed to go along with the card? It is a carrot at the end of a stick. I'm just trying to work it out. It's getting too late for you to get this training in with the Indue card. I'm warning you today, I will not support that Indue card. I'll pull up stumps today. I'll stop following it around and I'll stop trying to sell it. I just want to know because, I tell you what, it's going to need a billion bucks invested in these TAFEs right across the country. I simply would like to know: what is your plan of attack? This is what I mean; it's like your rehab centres. Before you dish this stuff onto the most vulnerable, you've got to have things set up beforehand. This is not the way we do business in this country. Could someone tell me where that money's coming from?

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): This is a bill to set up the Emergency Response Fund in order to improve resilience across Australia in anticipation of potential disasters and to deal with national emergencies, even as they occur. The matters that Senator Lambie raises are all legitimate matters of inquiry, but these are matters that are best directed to Senator Cash, either in question time or in the context of appropriate legislation dealing with these matters.

Senator Lambie: Why should the states have to chip in $50 million when we had $4 billion to spend on TAFE before this bill?

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): Vocational education and training is primarily a state responsibility. It's an established process in these areas that funding allocations are made on a partnership basis. When the federal government does get themselves involved, it is established practice for that to be on a matched funding basis.

Senator Lambie: Where did the $50 million figure come from? Did you just pluck it from somewhere? It's pretty pathetic compared to the $4 billion that was actually in the fund for the future of education for our children. They deserve a right to know.

Senator Cormann (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): Labor announced a policy in the lead-up to the last election in relation to a $100 million TAFE restoration fund, and we've reached agreement between the government and the opposition to put this forward on the basis I've indicated to the chamber.

Senator Lambie: Is there any guarantee that this money is going to come through at all and be delivered? What's the time frame on that?

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): Yes. The government has given very public commitments. I think that's very clear. We follow through on our commitments, and it will be done as soon as possible and as soon as it sensibly can be done in the right way.

Senator Lambie: Apart from the government's word, do you think it's appropriate to give two minutes notice on this dirty deal that you've done with Labor? By the way, they've undersold their souls. For the people that ran in the last election saying they were going to build up our TAFEs—$50 million. God almighty! I can get more out of the government with just one of me than they can all together. Goodness. Will the crossbench help next time? For goodness's sake. Do you think it's appropriate that we've been given two minutes notice on the deal that Labor and the government have done? What you've done is absolutely rip off our kids and their trade skills for the future.

Question agreed to.

Senator FARUQI: I oppose schedule 2 on sheet 8763 in the following terms:

(1) Schedule 2, page 10 (line 1) to page 15 (line 31), TO BE OPPOSED.

This is an amendment basically to preserve the Education Investment Fund, which is really what we are arguing about here—taking $4 billion from TAFE and universities. This is this government's third attempt to abolish the Education Investment Fund. That is how much they attack our students, our teachers and our educational institutions, and the Greens of course will not stand for this. That's why I'm moving this amendment—so we can prevent the Education Investment Fund from being abolished.

The Education Investment Fund should not be abolished and should be used only for education and research infrastructure, for our TAFEs and universities. It is the last remaining fund for education infrastructure, and the government is still intent on raiding it—and the Labor Party is supporting them in raiding that education fund. What happened to the Labor Party who used to be the party for public education? A measly $50 million in exchange for $4 billion—which state or territory will it go to? It won't even build one building for any TAFE or any university. I've said this before, but I want to say it again: this is the future of the next generation, of the current generation, not only because they need places and world's-best education but also because these are the very places that will help us combat the climate crisis, that will help us combat the disasters that are happening and that will help us build resilience in our communities.

It just makes no sense—but then, when have the government made any sense? And the Labor Party makes no sense at all. I commend the amendment to the House.

Senator Cormann (Minister for Finance, Leader of the Government in Senate, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): Firstly, I indicate that the government will be opposing this amendment. I now move:

That the committee report progress.

The committee will be able to sit again.

Senator Waters: I seek an explanation from the Leader of the Government in the Senate. This is most unexpected. We're halfway through amendments in committee stage on a bill, and the Greens haven't been informed as to what arrangements have been made.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR ( Senator Griff ): There was no debate on this question, Senator Waters. I'm happy to continue to put the question.

Senator Patrick: A point of order: I think a clarification was sought. It wasn't seeking debate—just a clarification.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: This is a question that must be put without a debate, unless the minister wishes to clarify.

Senator Cormann: I have moved that the committee report progress and it will sit again in order to facilitate the passage of this bill.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: The question is that the motion be agreed to.

Question agreed to.

Progress reported.

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