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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 19

Senator BARTLETT (10:01 AM) —I appreciate that people are trying to get through a lot of business so I will be brief, but this is important. One of the reasons I think this report needs to be made is precisely because people rush through things because there is a lot of work to be done. This committee, which I have been on for quite a few years now, does not do reports very often and the fact that it has felt moved to do a report—an interim report—about this issue signals that there is a matter of concern. Some of the newer senators around may not know the whole history behind the Legislative Instruments Act. It goes back to the Keating era, when it was first put forward to reform, change and modernise the way we deal with legislative instruments. It took, I think, seven or eight years before agreement was eventually reached about how to do that and the Legislative Instruments Act came into force. One of the key sticking points was around how much consultation there should be in putting together legislative instruments, and what penalty there would be if appropriate consultation did not occur.

As it panned out, there was no penalty if consultation did not occur. The concern voiced by those who were anxious about that at the time has been proven to have some substance. They thought that if you did not have a penalty in place then there would be no real requirement for people to do it, or do it properly. As Senator Watson has just very eloquently outlined, there are a widespread number of legislative instruments where consultation has not taken place or where there has been no indication given of what consultation has taken place.

There is certainly no real feeling in many, many cases that there is an understanding or awareness that this is an integral part of what is required in developing legislative instruments. That is what is in the law, so it is an important thing to flag, and I urge every minister in the place to take notice. Senator Scullion and some of the newer ministers in the place should take note that it can make ministers look bad through no fault of their own. They are obviously just provided with the instruments. They are not the ones who go out and develop them but they sign off on them. It can reflect poorly on ministers and departments when such a fundamental part of a legislative instrument is not properly complied with.

I hasten to add that it might feel as if we have a lot of bills to deal with in this place—and we do—but the number of legislative instruments each year is in the thousands. The fact that they are mostly boring, tedious administrative matters might make it appear as if it does not really matter, but boring, tedious administrative matters impact on people’s lives once they become the law, and if there is no proper consultation before they become the law then people can get caught in very unintended consequences. The font of all wisdom does not lie with the government—whoever is the government of the day—or with the bureaucrats of the day. People who are affected should be consulted, not least because they are likely to have a good idea of what the consequences might be. As this report shows, that is not happening as much as it should, or as comprehensively as it should. That is a matter of serious concern. It is not a policy matter; it is a matter of good public administration—and that is what we should aspire to, whatever our particular policy and philosophical views are. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.