Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download PDFDownload PDF 

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
29/05/2000
OFFICE OF PARLIAMENTARY COUNSEL

CHAIR —It is the committee's intention to address some brief questions to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. Senator Cooney, who is intending to do that, is making his way to the committee room now. Once we have completed that brief period of questioning, we will move straight on to the AFP. I now invite Ms Penfold and Mr Perkins, from the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, to the table. Senator Cooney.

Senator COONEY —How much of the legislation that is so beautifully drafted comes from the office and how much is briefed out? I keep asking you this.

Ms Penfold —I think you do sometimes. At the moment, there are four people drafting who are not public servants on my ordinary payroll. Of those, two are actually working in the office—physically in the office—as consultants and two are working outside from their own businesses.

Senator COONEY —Right. You have drafting—not instructions: what are they called? Drafting rulings?

Ms Penfold —We have drafting directions.

Senator COONEY —Yes. How far do the various departments adopt those directions?

Ms Penfold —The directions are generally aimed at the drafters, rather than at departments. And where they are aimed at what might be thought of as policy issues they tend to be expressed in terms of, `You should raise this matter with your instructors and remind them of X, Y and Z.'

Senator COONEY —How successful is that? That is a judgment, but I am quite happy to—

Ms Penfold —There are a number of areas where it is certainly not as successful as we would like.

Senator COONEY —In the Scrutiny of Bills Committee we have got your drafting directions put on the inside of the cover of each of our books.

Ms Penfold —All of them?

Senator COONEY —Yes, all of them.

Ms Penfold —Goodness!

Senator COONEY —Of the folders that go out.

Ms Penfold —Mine take up two folders that thick.

Senator COONEY —No, just the one that deals with ours.

Ms Penfold —The commencement date one?

Senator COONEY —Yes. What other ones have you got that go to the issues that we might deal with in Scrutiny of Bills?

Ms Penfold —Things that you might deal with?

Senator COONEY —Yes. I have often wondered whether all the stuff we do ever gets through.

Ms Penfold —The stuff that you do certainly gets through to the drafters, although I suppose I have never particularly felt that the matters that the Scrutiny of Bills Committee takes an interest in need to be, if you like, filtered for the drafters. The drafters have a direct appreciation of what the committee is interested in. We all see every report of the committee, plus we see the consolidated reports. So the drafters would have as part of their repertoire, quite apart from my drafting directions, an understanding of the things the committee is interested in. I might mention also that we run courses for instructors called legislation process courses and those contain a segment on the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and its interests. I see all the evaluation sheets from those and it is not uncommon for instructors to comment on how useful it has been for them to find out about that.

Senator COONEY —I was just looking at table 1.1, Appropriations and other revenue. The outcome we looked for is parliamentary democracy in an effective statute book. You have certainly got an effective statute book; it is brilliantly drafted. I was just wondering about the parliamentary democracy. It is a grand aim with a pretty moderate budget to do it on.

Ms Penfold —Indeed.

Senator COONEY —Can you keep up with the demand coming for legislative provisions, for drafting provisions?

Ms Penfold —There is always more drafting than we can do at any given time. There is no doubt that there has been a fair bit of pressure on the office in the last 18 months with tax reform work—on top of things like the ongoing revision of the Corporations Law, plus we have done lots of telecommunications legislation lately. Inevitably, some things switch a bit further down the list. It is fairly cyclical. I would expect that in another six months things will again be looking pretty good.

Senator COONEY —I have asked you this before too. Do you do any regulations?

Ms Penfold —No, we do not.

Senator COONEY —Does each department send it out to its agents?

Ms Penfold —The regulations?

Senator COONEY —Yes.

Ms Penfold —No. They are done by the Office of Legislative Drafting within the Attorney-General's department.

Senator COONEY —Your office? Do you do regulations.

Ms Penfold —No, we are not the Office of Legislative Drafting. We are the Office of Parliamentary Counsel.

Senator COONEY —You talk to them and they talk to you?

Ms Penfold —Indeed.

Senator COONEY —Is there much exchange about the issues of democracy and what have you in the regulations?

Ms Penfold —I do not think democracy is part of their outcome. I am not surprised you are laughing at this.

Senator COONEY —We shouldn't be.

Ms Penfold —I think you probably should, with respect.

Senator COONEY —Is it written down?

Ms Penfold —I know it is written down. I had to write it down. But I should say in my defence that, when we started working on our outcomes, we had an outcome which we thought looked pretty good. It said something about lots of bills getting drafted and being given to ministers when ministers wanted them. The department of finance said, `That is not an outcome. You need something shorter and fancier.' So we looked at some of the others that say things like, `Defending Australia.'

CHAIR —You are going to defend Australia with words.

Senator COONEY —Isn't that how Churchill saved England?

Ms Penfold —We would not claim that necessarily. I suppose you can make an argument that the functioning of the sort of democracy we have at least depends on the parliament having readable and workable legislation to consider.

Senator COONEY —And that you do not put in provisions that are draconian.

Ms Penfold —We do not put in provisions that are draconian without pointing out that they are draconian.

Senator COONEY —You have other instruments besides regulations. Who does that?

Ms Penfold —Things like ministerial orders and so on.

Senator COONEY —Yes, that sort of thing.

Ms Penfold —That question might be better directed to the department. As I understand it, the Office of Legislative Drafting does some of those, but some may still be drafted within departments.

Senator COONEY —You have done the workplace relations amendment.

Ms Penfold —We have certainly done some recently.

Senator COONEY —Thank you very much.

CHAIR —Thank you very much, Ms Penfold and Mr Perkins, for waiting for the committee until this time of the evening to assist us with our deliberations.

[10.05 p.m.]