As we move into the last sitting week for Federal Parliament for 2014, there have been significant moves in relation to legislation for the Japan – Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA) and the proposed new Biosecurity Bills at the same time as the next stage of the Illegal Logging Legislation comes into effect.

JAEPA

As reported earlier the JAEPA has been subject to review to JSCOT, which in Report 144, recommended that Australia take Treaty action to adopt the JAEPA.

The day after the Report was released the Government introduced 2 Bills into Parliament as required to implement the "Customs" aspects of the JAEPA, representing amendments to both the Customs Act and the Customs Tariff Act.  As with the KAFTA, the Customs Bills were then subject to Parliamentary review, in this case by the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee.  The review was conducted very quickly but did include a number of submissions, including one drafted by myself on behalf of the ECA which identified areas where the JAEPA was less strict than our Customs Acts and would hopefully lead Customs to follow the words of the JAEPA rather than insist on a strict approach according to our Act.  The Committee subsequently endorsed the passage of the Bills but also recommended that Customs work with affected industry to clarify implementation of the JAEPA in a manner consistent to submissions of the ECA.

Presumably the Bills will now be passed by the Parliament this week to allow Royal Assent ahead of an early commencement of the JAEPA, possibly before 1 April 2015 which is the start of the financial year in Japan.  However, the commencement of the JAEPA may be delayed by the Japanese elections which could interfere with the necessary Diplomatic processes to allow for commencement of the JAEPA.  As with the KAFTA (rumoured to be intended to start before the end of 2014), we will keep you informed of developments.

Biosecurity Bills

As many would be aware, the previous attempt to reform Biosecurity legislation was thwarted as the previous Federal Parliament was dissolved with the Bills not passed.

The revised versions have been the subject of consultation and the 5 new Bills were introduced into Federal Parliament on 27 November 2014.

The 5 new Bills comprise approximately 1000 pages of legislation and replace most of the functions of the current Quarantine Act 1908.  The Bills include:

  • Biosecurity Bill 2014
  • Biosecurity (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014
  • Quarantine Charges (Imposition – General) Amendment Bill 2014
  • Quarantine Charges (Imposition – Customs) Amendment Bill 2014
  • Quarantine Charges (Imposition – Excise) Bill 2014

The intent is to provide a new regulatory framework for the "safe and seamless transition of people and goods across Australia's borders".

According to the EM, the key principles underpinning the Bills includes:

  • Legislation for a strong agricultural industry
  • Clear legislation to manage biosecurity risks
  • Increasing efficiency and decreasing regulation
  • Improving compliance
  • Providing protection from public health risks
  • Meeting Australia's international obligations.

Again according to the EM, while the Biosecurity Bill contains a wide set of provisions, highlights include:

  • New strict liability offences
  • Abrogation of the privilege against self –incrimination
  • General protections to limit the impact on individual rights
  • Entry without warrants in the case of a biosecurity emergency or as a first point of entry
  • Exemption from disallowance for legislative instruments made under the Act.

It is proposed that the Bills will be debated this week.

Illegal Logging Act provisions

As of 30 November 2014, the Act has moved to its next stage of implementation being the new "due diligence" requirements.  These now require processors of domestically grown raw logs and importers of regulated timber products to manage the risk that the timber products have been illegally logged.  This will require affected parties to make a declaration to Customs as to compliance with the due diligence requirements by way of a new community protection question answered as part of the import declaration process.  While the Department has announced that for 18 months it will focus on helping people comply that does not preclude tough action for those found to be deliberately or recklessly failing to comply.  The position of Customs is also not clear.  Best to ensure compliance as soon as possible whether for importers or their service providers.

As always I would be delighted to assist on these issues.