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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1674


Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (18:22): I present the third report of the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. I also lay on the table Scrutiny of Bills Alert DigestNo. 3 of 2016.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator POLLEY: I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I think it is timely in tabling this report that I remind the Senate of the work of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee. And in light of what we have experienced over the past 24 hours or so in relation to the lack of respect for other committees in this place—the process of rushing things through the Senate chamber—I thought it would be very timely to speak about the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, which has a longstanding practice to undertake scrutiny in a non-partisan, apolitical and consensual way. The processes underpinning the committee's work are substantially based on cooperation. The assistance of ministers and departments is critical to encouraging the committee's ability to perform its scrutiny functions efficiently, and it really is irrelevant which major party is sitting on the government benches.

But there is a matter that needs to be raised in this place yet again, which I did last year, and that is the timeliness with which government ministers respond to Scrutiny of Bills requests for further information. Too often there is a delay in ministers' responding to our requests for further information. I do not think that ensures that the Senate and the senators in this place can give due consideration to such important legislation. We have seen this too often. It was raised a few meetings ago that we should be ensuring that ministers become more diligent, and therefore I thought it would be appropriate to put some comments on the record yet again. These sorts of delays in receiving responses from ministers can mean that legislation is introduced and passed before the committee can complete its scrutiny process, and the committee cannot carry out its scrutiny functions effectively, which I think is detrimental to the process of the committee system itself.

So, I want to draw senators' attention to the importance of this report and the digest that we table here every week that we are sitting. For instance, we have had quite a lot of legislation relating to counterterrorism. I know there is not one Australian who would not be concerned about the issues surrounding this type of legislation. It is very important that when the Scrutiny of Bills Committee requests further information it is provided. After all, our committee gets legal expert advice to ensure that the legislation that we are passing in this place has the proper scrutiny that it needs. And we know, because we have to deal with amendments when any legislation that comes before the Senate, that those pieces of legislation that are rushed through—even legislation drafted by the government, and in fact even this government, as recently as their proposed electoral reforms—have been found to be flawed, and the government had to have amendments to its own legislation put up. Yet the government has managed to push such legislation through the committee process in, I would have to say, almost Olympic record time.

So, as I said, it is very important, but I am really not sure that all senators are familiar with the process of our committee and know that the report itself is such a valuable document for senators to use when debating legislation in this place. I would like to draw the chamber's attention to one of the pieces of legislation we have been examining, and it just so happens to be a piece of legislation for which I will have some responsibility. As those in the chamber would know—particularly Senator Brown, my colleague from our home state of Tasmania—I have a great deal of interest in anything to do with Tasmania. But when it comes to aged care, I would say that it is definitely, without a doubt, a passion of mine. The piece of legislation we have been scrutinising relates to the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (Increasing Consumer Choice) Bill 2016. And I know, Madam Acting Deputy President O'Neill, that you as well as others in this place have a great empathy for older Australians. So, we should do everything we can to ensure that people, as they get older, have the support they need to reside in their own home for as long as possible.

Just to give you an example of the processes we go through, I will just refer you to the report's introduction. The committee dealt with this bill in Alert Digest No. 2 of 2016. The ministers responded to the committee's comments in a letter dated 29 February 2016, and a copy of the letter is in this report. That is a very important process that we undertake with the Scrutiny of Bills work that we do. But the background to this bill is that it will amend the Aged Care (Transitional Provisions) Act 1997 to enable funding for home-care packages to follow the care recipient, to provide a consistent national process for prioritising access to subsidised home care and to simplify the approval process for approved providers. So, as you can appreciate, it is a very important piece of legislation. So the work that we have done in scrutinising this is to ensure that when we are debating this legislation, as we do with all legislation that comes before the scrutiny of bills committee, I think we provide some valuable information and assistance to help senators to be able to make an informed contribution to the debate.

As I said at the outset, we have expert legal advice, particularly when we talk about what I find to be a lot of complication in the drafting of legislation, to ensure that we have scrutinised as much as possible to ensure that all these bills are drafted with the best outcome of the minister's intention when they brought the piece of legislation into the other place.

Just as a reminder, when it comes to ministers—I know it is an issue that relates not just to this government, although since I have been chair of this committee for the last 2½ years of the Abbott-Turnbull, and I am not sure if is going to be Abbott again, government; that remains to be seen—we have had some difficulty in getting timely responses from ministers. I do not need to name those ministers, but there are those who are more familiar on our list of ministers who disappoint us. The reason we write to them and seek clarification is to ensure the best outcome in terms of legislation that the memorandum of understanding of these pieces of legislation is of as high a standard as possible.

I want also to place on record the committee's appreciation for the legal advice that is given to this committee to ensure that we are able to the job we are meant to do and to acknowledge the work of the secretariat of this committee. This committee meets every week when we are sitting. The amount of work—the detail and the amount of research—that goes into these reports should be acknowledged, as should all of the secretariats that serve our Senate committees. I think the legislation in this case is of a much higher standard because of it.

Question agreed to.