Legislative Council: Thursday, July 07, 2022



Cross Border Commissioner Bill

Final Stages

Consideration in committee of message No. 24 from the House of Assembly.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I move:

That the amendments from the House of Assembly be agreed to.

I would like to update the chamber and summarise the amendments that were moved in the other place. In regard to the Cross Border Commissioner Bill, the bill was designed to provide the appropriate standing expertise and governance for the commissioner, with transparency around their functions, their reporting requirements and the skills needed.

There were some changes made to the bill in this place that the government could not support. While intended to set minimum standards for consultation and accountability for state authorities, in the government's view these changes would have created unnecessary layers of administrative burden and restricted the commissioner from being responsive to community needs.

The member for Mount Gambier in the other place moved the following amendments that resulted in the bill that now returns to us. The annual plan clause has been removed due to the prescriptive nature of that clause and the fact that it would have led to the creation of additional red tape, namely binding the commissioner to extensive planning and reporting processes rather than being able to move on with the job and address current and emerging issues of concern—and those emerging issues are particularly important.

As a consequence of deleting the annual plan clause, paragraph (g) of the 'Functions of Commissioner' clause was revised from 'to prepare an annual plan in accordance with section 9' to 'to prepare an annual plan in consultation with the minister'. There were also deletions of a clause such as the power to require information clause, which is a consequence of the deletion of the annual plan clause. The intent of the bill is to establish a commissioner who is focused on issues that relate to differences between South Australia and other jurisdictions, requiring an emphasis on negotiation and collaboration to find solutions rather than using powers to direct.

Subsection (1) of the delegation clause has been amended from 'subject to this act' to read 'subject to this section', as the term 'section' is more succinct given delegation of the functions are only referred to under this clause; therefore reference to the whole act is not required. Those changes to the bill also resulted in the removal of the definitions of government agency, responsible minister and state authority, as those terms no longer appear in the bill.

I would like to also note that the amendments made to the bill in this place in regard to a review of the act have been retained in the latest version of the bill. There were no changes in the other place to that aspect. In summary, I would like to stress that the bill will still require an annual replan and annual reporting against the plan but without being overly prescriptive and hence creating additional administrative burden and red tape.

The prescribed functions of the commissioner and a requirement to consult with the minister when preparing the annual plan will ensure there will be proper consultation. Also, the annual reports that will be tabled in parliament provide accountability for the commissioner and government agencies in delivering on their commitments to cross-border communities, and the retention of the review of act clause should give everyone comfort going forward.

I also reiterate and would like to again place on the record that there will be a competitive and transparent process followed regarding the appointment of the commissioner to ensure that the best candidate for the role is identified and appointed. I therefore commend the bill in its current form to the chamber.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (15:32): I rise to communicate my disappointment on this bill coming back to this chamber. I do so because I think it is a symbol of the difference between the two chambers. The Labor Malinauskas government do have the numbers in the House of Assembly and have used their numbers to remove some practical and sensible amendments to the Cross Border Commissioner Bill that improve transparency and accountability of the role, and no-one can give me a good reason as to why they have done so.

The member for Mount Gambier spoke in the other place about not wanting to bog the commissioner down with planning and reporting and wanting less red tape; however, the commissioner still has to develop an annual plan, and they still need to provide an annual report. The only thing that the member for Mount Gambier has done, other than perhaps doing the Labor Party's bidding, is to remove the minimum requirement for the commissioner to undertake consultation with local community, which is the one thing that cross-border communities want the most—to be spoken to, to be engaged with and to be heard.

Cross-border issues are incredibly real and important issues in the daily lives of many cross-border communities. They were highlighted during the peak of COVID; however, they have always existed. Those of us that live in cross-border communities—and there are a number of MPs in the other place, not just the member for Mount Gambier, who live in and represent cross-border communities; we have the members for MacKillop, Chaffey, Hammond, Flinders, Stuart and Giles—are all aware of the importance of ensuring cross-border issues are recognised and worked through in a timely fashion.

Most cross-border issues are anomalies arising from practice differences, the very nature of two states doing things differently, or rule differences, such as different road rules or different business licences, but these issues are real for these communities. I am concerned that the removal of the consultation amendment and the amendment giving the commissioner powers to require information from departments and agencies will see a weaker approach to this role, and that is not what our cross-border communities want to see.

I am glad that the government has decided to support the amendment that at least legislates that the commissioner should reside in a cross-border community. We on this side would have preferred 'must', but acknowledge the possible issues surrounding this language. However, I think everyone can agree that lived experience is critical to really understanding the issues that cross-border communities face.

I am also glad that the government has agreed to the concept of an independent review of this bill. Role reviews on various pieces of legislation are not uncommon in this place, and indeed the other place, and will ensure that there is a mechanism to determine whether the cross-border commissioner's role is working as this parliament intended it to.

They say in this place you need to be able to count the numbers. I acknowledge that we no longer have those numbers in this place, and nor do we want to hold up this important piece of legislation. However, I do want to place on the record my frustration with the way that the government has used its numbers to quash what are very practical and sensible amendments.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise on behalf of the Greens to indicate that we will be supporting the amended version of the bill, as has been transmitted from the house. I do want to express some disappointment, though, at the way in which this matter has been handled and at perhaps a degree of recalcitrance on behalf of the government, given they were some quite modest changes that were made by this chamber.

I must say, I am not persuaded by the suggestion that the sky was going to fall in if these changes were made to the bill. However, on balance, in weighing our approach to this matter the Greens have been concerned about holding up the progress of this bill heading into the midwinter break. We recognise the desire of regional communities, cross-border communities, to see this commissioner put in place. On that basis, I do not have an appetite to go through the next stages of this process and potentially delay the commissioner.

I recognise the government has made some compromise in terms of incorporating some of the changes that this house put in place, but it is disappointing to me that they have not been willing to budge on some of the suggestions that were made by the opposition, which did seem to be, I think, fairly sensible. That said, we will be supporting the government's position and we look forward to this bill being progressed today.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO: I rise to say that SA-Best will also support the changes to the bill, somewhat reluctantly, because, as the Hon. Robert Simms has indicated, we thought they were quite sensible changes to the bill. I understand that the government wanted to dig its heels in and make some strong statement about what should remain and what should not be there.

I would have been extremely disappointed if they had knocked out the review of the legislation. As has been pointed out by the Hon. Nicola Centofanti, and as we did in the debate previously, these reviews are commonplace in legislation that comes from this place and it is only sensible that there are reviews of this type of legislation to enable parliament to see how effective these changes are.

Regarding the power to require information, again I am disappointed with that being knocked out. I think it is quite important that the commissioner is able to access relevant information that may arise or be necessary because of certain issues that will definitely arise, and not just in border communities in the South-East.

Let us remember that the commissioner is not just going to be a representative for communities at the border of South Australia and Victoria in the South-East. We also have borders with New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. The commissioner is going to be quite a busy person. In saying that, I now recognise that it may have been a little cumbersome to expect the border commissioner to prepare annual plans when the person is going to be extremely busy attending to various matters in various border communities, and more so now.

As my colleagues have pointed out here, there is an urgency now to have this position in place, particularly with the biosecurity concerns that have arisen in the Riverland. We not only have the issues with the Varroa destructor and the issues with pigs but we also have fruit fly. Those challenges, which could actually turn up and become crises for our primary industries, will be reliant on not just the minister's Department of Primary Industries but also advocates who will go to the cross-border commissioner in search of some kind of support, should that arise.

Again, it is important that we get this matter dealt with today. In saying that, I will support the changes from the government. I thank the minister for making this bill happen. It has come back quickly, and we can get on with the job of assisting all those communities that need a voice. We saw that during the pandemic they became voiceless. This will certainly be beneficial to them.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I would like to very briefly thank all members who have made a contribution, both in this place and also in terms of discussions about how best to approach this very important position. This will be a role that looks after communities on all borders. The feedback I have had is that there is an expectation that this will be a very useful role, similar to the feedback I have received about the New South Wales and Victorian cross-border commissioners. I thank all members and look forward to not only this bill now progressing but us being able to progress with advertising and then appointing a cross-border commissioner for the good of all our state, particularly those living in cross-border communities.

Motion carried.