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PJCIS to review further intelligence reforms

AT THE REQUEST of the Minister for Home Affairs, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) has commenced a review of the National Security Legislation Amendment (Comprehensive Review and Other Measures No.3) Bill 2023.

The Bill would amend several pieces of national security legislation to address twelve recommendations of the 2020 Comprehensive Review of the Legal Framework of the National Intelligence Community (known as the Richardson Review), and to make other amendments identified as necessary by the intelligence community.

Key amendments proposed by the Bill seek to:

  • strengthen protections around the identity of employees of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS);
  • improve the ability of ASIO to communicate information, and provide additional protections for individuals communicating certain information;
  • increase operational flexibility through updated approval processes for certain intelligence activities;
  • clarify provisions relating to the authorisation of certain intelligence activities;
  • provide for quicker processing of non-prejudicial security clearance suitability assessments;
  • require ASIO to notify the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security when certain security assessments, security clearance decisions, and security clearance suitability assessments have not been made or furnished within 12 months;
  • clarify that only the Attorney-General, and not junior ministers, can exercise certain powers relating to ASIO and to telecommunications.

Mr Peter Khalil MP, Chair of the PJCIS, said, “The committee looks forward to receiving the views of interested parties on the reforms proposed by the Bill, which aim to further refine and enhance the legal framework governing Australia’s intelligence agencies.”

Submissions to the inquiry are invited by Friday, February 2, 2024.

Further information on the inquiry can be obtained from the Committee’s website.

 

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Australian Food Story report released

THE Australian Parliament’s Agriculture Committee has released its report for its inquiry into food security in Australia. The inquiry examined ways to strengthen and safeguard Australia’s food security, focussing on production, supply chains and key inputs, as well as climate change, biosecurity and food insecurity.

Committee Chair, Meryl Swanson MP said, "Despite Australia being one of the most food secure countries in the world, recent developments both at home and abroad have shown that food security presents real and growing challenges to the nation.

"Food security is not something that any of us can take for granted. COVID-19, floods, the effects of the war in Ukraine, and outbreaks of foot and mouth disease and lumpy skin disease in Indonesia have highlighted risks to our food system.

"Systemic change is required so that all Australians, and those that depend on Australian food production, will be food secure. Consultation, cooperation, coordination and innovation are the keys to food security," Ms Swanson said.

The committee has made 35 recommendations to address food security in Australia, including:

  • creating a comprehensive National Food Plan;
  • appointing a Minister for Food;
  • establishing a National Food Council;
  • developing a National Food Supply Chain Map;
  • measures to facilitate innovation in the production of food; and
  • measures to eliminate food waste.

The report also proposes measures to improve sustainability and resilience in the food supply chain, improve access to labour, and reduce food insecurity.

Over the course of the inquiry, the committee held 24 public hearings, visited numerous sites around Australia, and received 188 written submissions from individuals, industry and community groups and government bodies.

The committee has thanked all those who took part in the inquiry by providing written submissions and giving evidence at public hearings or hosted the committee on site visits. The committee said it was "particularly grateful to those who took time out of their days to host the committee at various sites around the country and the insights this provided into the work of providing for the food security of Australians".

The full report can be found on the committee’s inquiry webpage.

 

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‘Brand new union’: Mining and Energy Union celebrates first day of independence

THE Mining and Energy Union (MEU) is registered with the Fair Work Commission as a standalone trade union effective today, formalising the withdrawal of the Mining and Energy Division from the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU).

MEU general president Tony Maher said it was a historic day for the union, which delivered on members’ strong wish to become independent.

“Today, we are a brand new union as well as being one of the oldest unions in Australia,” Mr Maher said.

“We have been representing coal miners since the 1850s, in various forms. Today’s Mining and Energy Union builds on our proud tradition and track record, with a clear focus on meeting the current and future challenges facing workers in mines, ports and power stations.

“Our industries face constant change, but we will always stand for well-paid jobs in safe workplaces within strong communities.”

MEU general secretary Grahame Kelly said the transition from CFMEU to MEU would be seamless for members, with all the day-to-day work and structures of the union remaining unchanged.

“The significance of our independence will be felt over time, with the ability to make our own decisions based entirely on our members’ interests," Mr Kelly said.

“We thank our members, delegates, officials, staff and supporters for their dedication, enthusiasm and hard work in pursuing independence.

“We look forward to the next chapter of our history as the Mining and Energy Union starting today.”

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Human Rights Subcommittee tables report on the rights of women and children

THE Human Rights Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JSCFADT) has tabled its report titled ‘The pursuit of equality: Inquiry into the rights of women and children.’

Chair of the Subcommittee, Maria Vamvakinou MP, said, “Almost every witness and submitter to the inquiry noted that the rights of women and children were in decline globally.

“This regression of the rights of women and children has been attributed to a combination of factors, including the impacts of COVID-19, climate change, and conflict and instability. Growing inequality and resistance from some nation-states who are hostile to the international human rights agenda has further exacerbated the situation,” Ms Vamvakinou said.

The report makes 10 recommendations aimed at strengthening and furthering measures to better support the rights of women and children globally, including:

  • the creation of an international policy aimed specifically at children that is similar to the current gender strategy;
  • the implementation of a suite of strategies designed to counteract orphanage trafficking and tourism;
  • highlighting gender-based violence as a key strategic issue in the new International Gender Equality Strategy that is to be developed and implemented by the Australian Government; and
  • improving legislative responses to the rights of victims of child exploitative material distributed online.

The report is now available on the JSCFADT website.

 

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Trade Subcommittee hearing with ASEAN members

THE Trade Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade will hold a public hearing in Canberra today for its inquiry into Australia’s tourism and international education sectors.

The subcommittee will be speaking with the Ambassador of Thailand and a representative from the Royal Embassy of Cambodia.

Chair of the Trade Subcommittee, Senator Deborah O’Neill, said, "Continuing to build robust people to people links with Australia’s neighbours is important for strengthening and maintaining existing strategic relationships in the region. Education and tourism have proven to be a key part of doing so.

"The subcommittee looks forward to hearing from representatives of the Royal Thai Embassy and the Royal Embassy of Cambodia on how Australia can further its engagement with their respective countries through education and tourism links," Senator O’Neill said.

Further information about the inquiry and program are available on the inquiry webpage. This hearing will be broadcast via the APH website.

Public hearing

Date: Wednesday, 29 November 2023Venue: Committee Room 2S1, Parliament House, CanberraTime: 9:15am – 10:30am (AEDT)

 

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Audit Committee to inquire into Home Affairs' abandoned $92 million visa application procurement

THE Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) has initiated a new inquiry to examine the Department of Home Affairs’ procurement of a replacement IT system for processing visa applications.

Home Affairs engaged in a multi-stage procurement for the visa processing capability which commenced in September 2017, with a new related process beginning in October 2020.

Chair of the Committee, Julian Hill MP, said the inquiry would consider the expenditure incurred and whether value for money was achieved, the impact of anticipated savings on the Department of Home Affairs, the conduct of entities or persons involved or interested in the process, the ethical use of resources and ethical behaviour, and any lessons arising.

“The previous Government wasted $92 million on a failed attempt to privatise visa processing, yet after they abandoned their tender process still forced Home Affairs to bear a $180 million cut from fake savings that never materialised," Mr Hill said.

“The Auditor-General examined some of these issues in a report tabled this year, but further questions that have emerged warrant a stand-alone inquiry.

“The Parliament and public should understand what went on regarding this aborted, wasteful privatisation and what lessons should be learnt given the critical importance of actually doing something to upgrade Home Affairs’ antiquated IT systems.

“The committee looks forward to hearing from Home Affairs and to considering the conduct of entities or persons involved or interested in that procurement process," Mr Hill said.

The inquiry will focus on matters contained in or related to Auditor-General Report No. 34 of 2022-23 - Procurement of the Permissions Capability.

The committee is inviting submissions from interested parties by 31 January 2024.

Further information about the inquiry is available on the Committee website.

 

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Report released on inquiry into the application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Australia

THE Joint Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs has today published its report on its inquiry into the application of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in Australia.

The report makes six recommendations, including that the Commonwealth Government ensure that its policies and legislation on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people be consistent with the Articles of UNDRIP.

To realise this, the committee makes further recommendations to:

  • Amend parliamentary human rights scrutiny processes to formally include consideration of UNDRIP;
  • Develop a National Action Plan, in consultation with First Peoples, to outline a coordinated approach to implementing UNDRIP across all Australian jurisdictions;
  • Improve education on Australian history, civics, and human rights; and
  • Establish an independent process of truth-telling and agreement-making.

Committee Chair Senator Patrick Dodson said, "At the heart of this report is a call for all Australian governments and civil society to engage with the rights of First Peoples through UNDRIP.

"The committee heard clear evidence about how the enhanced application of UNDRIP offers a blueprint for a renewed relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the Australian nation that strengthens our democracy and improves the wellbeing of First Peoples."

Through the course of the inquiry the Committee received evidence from a range of domestic and international experts, as well as many Indigenous representatives, including from Canada, New Zealand, Finland and Norway.

For more information about this committee and its report, visit the inquiry webpage.

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Final report tabled: Rebuilding the employment services system

THE Select Committee on Workforce Australia Employment Services today tabled its final report, recommending large scale reform to fundamentally rebuild the Commonwealth Employment Services System. The report is available on the committee’s website.

Committee Chair, Julian Hill MP, said, "This first-principles review is the first of its kind since services were privatised by the Howard Government nearly 25 years ago.

“It’s harsh but true to say that Australia no longer has an effective coherent national employment services system; we have an inefficient outsourced fragmented social security compliance management system that sometimes gets someone a job against all odds.

“It should not be controversial to state that full privatisation has failed. Even the previous government implicitly admitted this by bringing a large caseload back to the public sector with Workforce Australia Online.

“The current system is inefficient, tying clients and providers up in red tape, driving away businesses and effectively making too many people less employable by requiring them to do silly courses, pointless activities or apply for jobs they simply cannot do. It has failed to prepare people for today’s red-hot labour market and to effectively address long-term unemployment, with 150,000 people stuck in the system for over five years. This must change," Mr Hill said.

“The review has identified significant and numerous flaws in the employment services system that cannot be addressed by mere tweaks to policies and programs. Fundamental change is needed to better support the most disadvantaged in society and to get better value for money. Over $9.5 billion will be spent over the next four years and employment services are the Commonwealth’s largest single procurement outside Defence.

“The nature of competition is counterproductive. In regional towns or disadvantaged suburban centres it seems there is an employment services provider on every street block, heavily regulated and providing largely the same service with little variation or innovation. Five ice-cream shops all selling the same vanilla ice-cream lined up side-by-side, while the Department studiously manages market share so everyone gets a lick. It’s nonsense.

“The world’s best systems and other human services all have a public sector core to steward the system and benchmark quality and price – think TAFEs, public hospitals, universities, schools, aged care. Just as a GP helps someone navigate the health system, a rebuilt public sector core should help clients navigate employment services.

“The committee’s report sets out a comprehensive and ambitious blueprint to rebuild the Commonwealth Employment Services System, underpinned by the guiding vision that all people in Australia be able to enjoy decent employment and participate in economic and social life regardless of who they are or where they live.”

The committee makes 75 recommendations supported by over 600 pages of detailed analysis. Fundamental changes recommended include:

  • A stronger, more active role for the Commonwealth government, by establishing Employment Services Australia as a rebuilt public sector core, to steward the system, be a large digital-hybrid provider for people with the fewest barriers to work, and lead each region via physical hubs. ESA Regional hubs would be tasked with assessment, referral, employer engagement and delivery of industry transition and local projects, driven by Jobs and Skills Australia labour market data. The public sector would undertake some direct service delivery including in thin markets, for people furthest from the labour market, and in some places to rebuild capability and experience.
  • An enhanced and—in some respects—radically different service model, which recognises that clients will have different pathways to employment, social and economic participation, moving away from rigid one-size-fits all rules. This would include referrals to other human services, ‘life first’ and social participation goals for some people, a Youth Employment Service, specialist services for First Nations and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse people, and a revamped service for ex-offenders.
  • A new regulatory culture and more relational contracting model, moving from obsessively contracting services out and denying responsibility, to a system where service partners are contracted in to work with government and employers in local communities.
  • Dialling back pointless competition in local areas and service fragmentation, by engaging only one ‘generalist’ case management service partner and one youth specialist per location – this will usually mean more than one partner per region.
  • Focusing far more on demand and employer engagement, including a dedicated employer engagement service via ESA’s regional hubs to ‘hide the wiring’ for business.
  • Broadened and tailored approach to mutual obligations and a new Shared Accountability Framework for compliance, supported by an individualised Participation and Jobs Plan, to cut red tape and compliance burden, stop driving employers away and more effectively support disadvantaged people into work.
  • Seriously considering integrating digital employment marketplaces, such as SEEK, LinkedIn, Indeed, and competitors into the system.
  • Re-professionalising the sector’s workforce, to reduce the shocking 40 per cent staff turnover rate and improve the pay, skills, and conditions of critical frontline staff.
  • Establishing and Employment Services Quality Commission as an independent regulator, responsible for workforce standards, continuous learning, advising on pricing and funding mechanisms for quality services, data collection and complaints management.

Several reforms are proposed as urgent or to be undertaken in the short term during the current financial year to address critical issues and obvious pain points. For other reforms, the Committee recommends that the Government develop and publish a roadmap to a rebuilt Commonwealth Employment Services System by the end of 2024. This roadmap should be a living document and be periodically reviewed and updated.

Information about the inquiry, including Terms of Reference, published submissions, and hearing transcripts, is available on the inquiry website.

 

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Workforce Australia Employment Services Committee to table final report on Thursday

THE Select Committee on Workforce Australia Employment Services anticipates tabling a final report for its inquiry into Workforce Australia Employment Services on November 30.

Committee Chair, Julian Hill MP said, "This is not a fairy floss review. It’s the only ‘first principles’ review of Australia’s employment services system conducted in several decades.

“The committee has identified significant and numerous flaws in the system that cannot be addressed by mere tweaks to policies and programs if we are serious about addressing long-term unemployment and entrenched disadvantage.

“It should not come as a surprise to those who have contributed to the inquiry that the committee will recommend wholesale reforms and an ambitious blueprint for a rebuilt Commonwealth Employment Services system.

“There are no sacred cows and the findings will directly challenge long held beliefs, including the flawed ideas that ever more competition in every place will always produce better outcomes for vulnerable consumers.

“The Robodebt Royal Commission’s finding that fraud in the welfare system is minuscule is apt and the current approach to mutual obligations is like using a nuclear bomb to kill a mosquito. Mutual obligations need to be broadened and tailored to the individual, as the current one-size-fits all approach is drowning the system in compliance red-tape, driving employers away and actually making many people less employable," Mr Hill said.

“The guiding vision for a rebuilt system should be to ensure that all people in Australia can enjoy decent employment and participate in economic and social life regardless of who they are or where they live.

“All elements of the system have been carefully interrogated in an open-minded and non-partisan manner, led by evidence not ideology, outside interests or direction.”

The inquiry has been informed by more than 300 submissions, more than 60 hours of witness testimony, over 50 meetings and site visits across all Australian jurisdictions, and direct engagement with OECD experts and representatives of over 10 other countries.

Information about the inquiry, including Terms of Reference, published submissions and hearing transcripts, is available on the inquiry website.

 

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Australian Defence Force Academy billion dollar rebuild

UNDER the Public Works Committee Act 1969, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works will consider two new referrals from the Department of Defence.

The projects are:

Department of Defence – RAAF Base Learmonth Redevelopment Enabling KC-30A Operations – $662.2 million – Exmouth, Western Australia

  • The works will deliver upgrades to the airfield at RAAF Base Learmonth to meet Defence requirements for the support of KC-30A operations and to improve overall airfield resilience.

Department of Defence – Canberra Defence Precinct Tranche 1 Australian Defence Force Academy Living-in Accommodation Project – $1.25 billion – Canberra, ACT

  • The works will replace existing living-in accommodation facilities and associated infrastructure at ADFA with contemporary, safe and suitable accommodation that will support recruitment, retention, and wellbeing of trainee officers.

It is anticipated that the committee will conduct public and in-camera hearings for the inquiries in 2024. The committee wants to hear from all individuals or organisations interested in the project. The deadline for public submissions is 29 January 2024, with more information available on the Public Works Committee website.

Committee Chair Graham Perrett MP  said, "Public submissions and the public hearings will allow the committee to review the purpose, need and public value of the proposed works."

Note: The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works is not involved in the tendering process, awarding of contracts or details of the proposed works. Inquiries on these matters should be addressed to the relevant Commonwealth entities.

 

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Restoring democracy on Norfolk Island

THE Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories has today released its report for its inquiry into local governance on Norfolk Island.

The committee has made seven recommendations which provide the foundation for a new democratically elected governing body to be established on the island.

Chair of the committee, Alicia Payne MP, said, "the committee is proud to be part of the process of restoring democracy to Norfolk Island. It has recommended the creation of a new bespoke governing body comprising a majority of locally elected members working with representatives appointed by the Australian Government to deliver the best outcomes for Norfolk Islanders and Australians alike.

"Central to the committee’s recommendations is the inclusion of a preamble in the governing legislation," Ms Payne said.​"The purpose of this preamble is to recognise the unique culture, traditions, heritage and history of Norfolk Island, and to set out the nature of the relationship between Norfolk Island and Australia now and into the future."

Other recommendations made in the report relate to building local capacity on Norfolk Island to support the new governance arrangements, the need for broad community consultation to inform the final governance model, and for that model to be determined by a binding compulsory vote of registered voters on Norfolk Is.

The committee has recommended that the findings of its report be referred to the newly established Norfolk Island Governance Committee for further consultation with the community.

The full report can be found on the committee’s inquiry webpage.

 

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