Sep 13, 2007

Aust Postal Corporation Amendment (Quarantine Inspection & Other Measures) Bill

Australian Postal Corporation Amendment (Quarantine Inspection and Other Measures) Bill 2007 – Second Reading

13 September 2007

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10.56 a.m.)—I rise to speak on the Australian Postal Corporation Amendment (Quarantine Inspection and Other Measures) Bill 2007. Labor supports this bill as it provides for the removal of legislative anomalies, the prevention of the spread of pests across jurisdictions, the equitable application of the wine equalisation tax, the reduction of scam mail and improved compliance with the Universal Postal Convention. The bill seeks to remove legislative anomalies that currently prohibit the inspection and examination of interstate articles carried by Australia Post for quarantine purposes except in certain circumstances. Currently unless there is a suspicion that the article contains drugs or that customs duty is payable Australia Post is not authorised to inspect an article. However, articles that are moved interstate by carriers other than Australia Post are not subject to the same prohibitions against opening. This bill seeks to resolve this anomaly and is therefore welcome.

The government has chosen to apply these quarantine provisions only to those states that wish to be bound and it has made provision for other jurisdictions to opt into this process by amending regulations at a later date if they choose to do so. At this stage only Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have expressed interest in coming under the scheme. I understand that the other jurisdictions have taken the view that they consider the biosecurity risks associated with the interstate mail system to be relatively low. That various jurisdictions will not participate in the inspection of interstate articles seems to me to undermine the integrity of the system that the bill seeks to establish. This provision may need to be reviewed in the future. The bill also goes some way towards preventing the spread of pest species between states and territories by providing for the inspection and examination for quarantine purposes of postal articles carried interstate by Australia Post. Action and reform in this area are welcome.

Numerous submissions have been made to two inquiries held over the course of the last five years. Interested parties called for the Commonwealth government to strengthen the national effort in order to control and manage invasive species. The reports emerging from the two inquiries, namely the Turning back the tide: the invasive species challenge report tabled in 2002 and the Taking control: a national approach to pest animals report tabled in 2005, reflect the strong call for more involvement by the federal government in dealing with the problem of pest animals.

The bill before us seeks to legislate relevant recommendations contained within these reports and is therefore welcome. The bill also provides for the opening of international articles where there is reasonable suspicion that GST and/or the wine equalisation tax is payable. Labor supports this amendment as it ensures that an equitable system of taxation and import duty is imposed on all.

On the issue of scam mail, which is also dealt with in this bill, various consumer protection agencies have expressed concerns about the increasing amount of scam mail received by households throughout Australia. Scam mail is a serious problem. Unsuspecting and vulnerable Australians can be negatively affected by scam mail, so Labor believes there must be effective consumer protection measures in place at the national level to protect us. Scam mail can arrive in Australia in large batches from a single overseas location in envelopes that are virtually identical. Once identified, batches of such mail can be readily removed from the mail stream. This bill makes provision for the removal of batches of articles from the normal course of carriage where there is reasonable suspicion that the batches contain scam mail. Once removed, Australia Post is required to notify the ACCC, the Australian Securities Investment Commission and/or the consumer protection agency for the state or territory in which the removal has occurred. This provision has the support of the Labor Party; however, I note that it is important that the removal of mail be monitored so that articles are not unnecessarily delayed.

The proposed amendments will also allow Australia Post to request information from a compliance agency such as the Australian Customs Service, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service or a consumer protection agency about articles that have been removed from the normal course of carriage for reasons of quarantine or scam mail in order to comply with its obligations under the Universal Postal Convention. Australia Post will be able to request information on matters including the name and address of the sender and/or recipient of the article, a description of the article’s contents and any other information prescribed by the regulations. The compliance agency may accept or refuse the request. While this provision is necessary in order to make a fair determination about how to deal with any mail removed from the normal course of carriage, Labor notes that this amendment may have privacy implications and that any privacy or information-sharing issues that may arise should be dealt with promptly and in a serious manner.

The various changes put forward in the bill are sound and sensible. I am also encouraged to read that this bill has been developed in consultation with state and territory governments. I commend the bill to the House.