Occupational Licensing National Law (South Australia) Bill

24 Nov 2010 archivespeech
This speech is to indicate support, with some reservation for the Occupational Licensing National Law (South Australia) Bill.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (12:19): I rise to indicate support, with some reservation, for this measure. I understand there have been a number of intergovernmental agreements as part of moving towards a seamless national economy, which has been working through the COAG process through 2007, 2008 and 2009, and the agreement for this proposal was signed off in 2009, from memory. So, through the Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations and the National Partnership Agreement to Deliver a Seamless National Economy which was established and signed by COAG in April 2009, it is this intergovernmental agreement that forms the basis for this law before us.

There is a statement in the national partnership agreement which summarises the intention of the bill, which is to reduce the cost of regulation and enhance the productivity and workforce mobility in areas of shared commonwealth, state and territory responsibility. This bill has been brought on rather rapidly. The agreement from my reading was that the host state, which is Victoria, was due to pass that legislation in June. That was behind time and was done in September.

 The expressed wish was that this legislation would be passed through all jurisdictions by the end of this calendar year. I think that probably was a rather optimistic timetable, but from what I understand, because the Victorian legislation has been brought into effect, the National Occupational Licensing Authority can proceed without each jurisdiction necessarily having passed its own complementary legislation. I think we are a little behind the schedule but I would not have thought offensively so.

This bill refers occupational licensing to the new system in two waves. The first wave will come into operation in July 2012 and will include the occupations of air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanics, plumbers and gasfitters, electricians, and property agents other than conveyancers and valuers. The second wave will come into effect in July 2013 and will include land transport, passenger vehicle and dangerous goods only, maritime building, and conveyances and valuers. As I stated, Victoria is the lead jurisdiction and the host state for the commonwealth law. This enables the establishment of the national occupational licensing system through the National Occupational Licensing Authority (NOLA) from 1 January 2010.

In her second reading speech the minister stated that the law had been designed to provide the governance and high level framework for the national scheme. The operational aspects of the scheme and industry specific licensing rules and procedures are to be covered in regulations which are currently being developed. This will enable informed and detailed analysis on the risks, needs and safety requirements for both licensees and consumers before each occupational area becomes operational under the national law. Occupation specific legislation will still exist in South Australia to regulate areas that fall outside of the national scheme, for example, conduct matters.

I understand that a great deal of detail is yet to be developed through consultation and the operation of the new regime will be covered by regulation. I expressed a concern in my opening remark that that process will continue to take place in good faith and the parliaments of the various states will no longer have such a specific input into that process. I think that is a concern. I do understand that, in principle, national licensing is a good idea—and I will refer to each of the industry organisations responses to this in a moment.

The Liberal Party certainly has very great concerns for small businesses, but not so much the larger organisations which are probably members of industry associations. Generally they are able to articulate and voice their concerns as loudly as they need to, but there would be a lot of people in certain occupations—and I think particularly within our party room we discussed the issue of conveyancers—who probably only operate in this state and who probably are aware of very locally specific issues that relate to the matters that they need to be aware of. The propensity for a one size fits all is always a danger in progressing these initiatives.

The Office of Consumer and Business Affairs will still have operational responsibilities relating to operational licences and OCBA will be responsible for licensee disciplinary decisions. I understand funding for this will come from general budgeting funding of the agency which is soon to be amalgamated with the Office of the Liquor and Gambling Commissioner.

Through our discussions with the minister's office, we did ask for further information in relation to a number of areas. I am grateful for the advice that has been given, including an organisational chart, which would be very hard to read into Hansard, but I am sure it would be available for any honourable members in order for them to understand who is going to be doing what and when in the new regime.

 In terms of South Australia deciding that it wanted to exit from the system, it would be able to do that with 12 months' notice to the system. The ministerial council will be responsible for agreeing to amendments to the national law, as it sees fit. If the proposed amendments would substantially alter the objectives of the national licensing system, any ministerial council decision and proposed amendments must be approved by consensus.
I now turn to our own discussions with industry bodies. This has been a relatively difficult bill to consult on because the new NOLA has to establish a governing body of the system and a range of occupational licence advisory committees as the principal source of advice on licence policy for the occupational areas under the licensing system. Until these committees are themselves established, they are reliant on the understanding that representatives from their industry will participate in the committees to form that licensing system.

The government provided us with quite an extensive list of bodies that it believes have been consulted. In that advice, the following was stated:
OCBA has integrated general briefings on the development of NOLS into its stakeholder liaison meetings and has met with individual stakeholders on request, as well as provided general updates to industry and licensees via the Commissioner's newsletters and OCBA's website.

My office has directly contacted a range of organisations, including the air conditioning and refrigeration mechanics association of SA (AMCA). That organisation's advice to us was that AMCA and the National Fire Industry Association have taken an active role in the participation of those various working groups involved in the first round of national occupational licensing, in particular, the areas of plumbing and fire services, refrigeration and air conditioning and, to a lesser extent, electrical. The association also stated that the transportability for workers who wish to pursue their trade occupations across state boundaries is important to the nation's economy and that it supports the new national licensing system as a workable way of achieving this outcome.

The Plumbing Industry Association is aware of the proposals and will be seeking support for competency-based licensing through the new system. I have a question on that particular industry, which I will put later. We contacted the National Electrical and Communications Association, but we have not had a response from that association at this time. The Real Estate Institute of South Australia (RIESA) states:

RIESA is supportive of the national licensing system in the widest sense and agrees that individuals should have the opportunity to cross borders and work more easily. However, there are some key areas which must be addressed in the implementation of the national licensing to ensure that consumers continue to receive a high level of service and standards from the profession.

We also contacted the Australian Institute of Conveyancers, which stated that it conceptually supports a national occupational licensing system. However, it has concerns with the disciplinary process remaining with the local jurisdictional authority (OCBA), which refers disciplinary matters to the DPP.

The Master Builders Association has raised concerns about the lack of information about regulation of the occupation once the national framework has been established, although it is in favour of the reduction of red tape proposed by having a national licence. We did not receive a response from two organisations, namely, the South Australian Road Transport Association and the Housing Industry Association.

In relation to plumbing, I have asked a couple of questions at least in this place about the split between OCBA's licensing role and the Office of the Technical Regulator, located within SA Water. My question for the minister is: is that role to be largely devolved into the new NOLA, and is the minister able to provide further details on that?

 In relation to OCBA's licensing and plumbing annual registration fees, can she advise whether they will continue to be at the same level, plus perhaps CPI, in future years? Will they continue to be retained within OCBA or is there some proposal that there will some contribution from the state government to the federal government in establishing this? Can she advise how NOLA is being funded from 1 January perhaps for this current financial year and the four out years, both from the state and other jurisdictions, including other states and territories and the commonwealth government?

My esteemed colleague the Hon. Stephen Wade will make some comments in relation to the national law issue which is something the Liberal Party feels quite strongly about. With those comments, and a plea that this proposal will not lead to a vast increase in fees and charges for registration fees as we have seen for other professions and a burgeoning of a new bureaucracy, I provide in principle support for this bill.
The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for State/Local Government Relations, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister for the City of Adelaide) (12:31): I thank honourable members for their second reading contributions and support. There are a series of questions that have been placed on record and, with the indulgence of the chamber, I will attempt to provide answers to those during clause 1 of the committee stage. Again, I thank members for their support and I look forward to expeditiously dealing with the committee stage.

Bill read a second time.

In committee.

Clause 1.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: A number of questions were asked during the second reading. One was from the Hon. Tammy Franks on the training standards. I have been advised that one of the objectives of the national licensing system is to facilitate a consistent skills base for licensed occupations by using the existing national vocational education system and aligning skill-related licence eligibility with industry standards established by national training packages.

The national training packages provide a nationally consistent base for skills-related requirements of most of the licensed occupations covered by the national licensing system. The training standards under the national licensing system will be based on inherent risk and will not be simply a harmonising of existing requirements.

It is expected that the proposed training standards for the first wave of occupations will be released by the end of 2010. We understand that they are well underway but obviously they have not been released as yet. They will be released for widespread consultation, so the industry will have an opportunity to have input into that. In addition, the proposed training requirements will be subject to national consultation as part of the regulation review process. That is all the detail we have in relation to that at this point.

I have been advised that South Australia has reps on the interim advisory committees for plumbing, gasfitting and also electrical. In terms of the question as to who else has passed the application law, at this point both Queensland and New South Wales have.

I was also asked a question about the process for including new occupational areas. The jurisdiction that proposes to license an occupational area may make a nomination to the ministerial council to have that occupation area included in the national licensing system. The national licensing authority assesses whether the occupational area meets the criteria for admission and reports to the ministerial council detailing any recommendations for inclusion of the new occupational area, and there are a number of criteria around that.

If the ministerial council unanimously agrees that the occupational area should be covered by the national licensing system, a national regulation may be made to incorporate that occupation in the system. Where only a majority of ministerial council members agree to license the new occupational sub-group of an occupation, the national licensing requirements for that occupation will only apply in the jurisdictions that agreed it should be licensed, and the inclusion of the occupation must be reviewed annually.

In terms of questions about national payments, a portion of future reward payments are at risk if we do not show good faith in passing the bill, and we believe that a show of good faith would be to pass the bill in at least one house this session. As the Hon. Michelle Lensink rightly pointed out, the application model legislation was late coming from Victoria. It was due in June, but it was not passed there until, I think, September; other jurisdictions did not have access to it until it was passed there, so we are all running a little behind.

As I said, passing this bill through at least one house shows good faith to the federal government, and we believe that that will suffice in showing our commitment to fulfilling our part of that COAG agreement. In total there is $14.725 million at risk in the 2011-12 payment in full; that is dependent on the progress against 10 of the 27 priority reforms, and that includes national occupational licensing. We are not able to disaggregate which specific proportion of that payment may be at stake if we do not fulfil the NOLS part of our agreement. At present, they are all tied together so we are not able to disaggregate, but we can certainly assume that some proportion of that could be at risk.

There were questions about the funding of the national licensing authority. I have been advised that the Ministerial Council for Federal Financial Relations agreed that states and territories will fund the costs of the national licensing system on an equal per capita basis for the period of 2009-10 until 2012-13, consistent with the basis and duration of the national partnership agreement to deliver a seamless national economy. The basis of sharing ongoing costs and funding requirements of the national licensing authority from 2013-14 will be decided after the system commences in 2012-13. South Australia's per capita share is approximately 7 per cent.

I was asked questions about the role of the regulators for OCBA and the OTR. I am advised that the National Occupational Licensing Authority will be responsible for developing licence policy on licence categories, scopes of work and eligibility criteria including training requirements, and assessing future occupations for inclusion into NOLS. They will delegate the enforcement and administration of the system into existing jurisdictional regulators (so that will become South Australia's responsibility), and issuing and renewal of licences. Monitoring and enforcement, and disciplinary proceedings will remain state and territory responsibilities. I have just been advised that NOLA does not cover technical regulation, just so that the record is quite clear.

 I was asked a question on national licence fees: I have been advised that the intergovernment agreement for the national licensing system provides for states and territories to continue to set and collect licence fees. The national law provides safeguards to eliminate applicants from shopping for the lowest fee. An applicant must apply for a national licence in their primary jurisdiction, that is, an individual's principal place of residence or a body corporate's principal place of address.

In terms of how we compare with other jurisdictions, a range of factors determine how licence fees are currently set. On balance, the fees in South Australia are similar to other states. For some categories across the licence occupations, the fees are lower; whereas for others they are higher. Further work will be needed to determine the fee structure in South Australia for the licensed occupations under the national licensing system once the licence categories and scope of work for each occupation have been finalised.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I thank the minister for those responses. One of those responses related to how much South Australia's contribution to NOLA is, which was approximately 7 per cent: that is 7 per cent of what? What is the funding for NOLA for 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2012-13 across the board?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: I have been advised that, to date, South Australia's contribution in establishing NOLA has been $140,000 in 2009-10 and $370,000 in 2010-11. Contributions beyond the current financial year have yet to be confirmed but are estimated at $1.07 million for both 2011-12 and 2012-13.

Clause passed.
Clause 2 passed.
Clause 3.