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Thursday, 18 August 2005
Page: 128

Mr SLIPPER (10:30 AM) —What a wide-ranging contribution that was from the honourable member for Batman. I sometimes wonder whether he has actually looked at the text of the bills currently before the chamber.

Mr Martin Ferguson —How many pages in it? You wouldn’t know; you have enough trouble finding your way to Canberra each week!

Mr SLIPPER —It was an interesting speech, though, my friend. It is important to recognise that from time to time it is necessary to update legislation. There is a two-word saying that often deserves repeating and that is ‘times change’. It is important that our legislation keeps up with special changes. Not surprisingly, the Offshore Petroleum Bill 2005 and associated bills are designed to modernise the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 1967 and incorporated acts. These acts are now nearing some 40 years of age and in those four decades times have certainly changed in the petroleum sector. In those years the laws affecting offshore petroleum—annual fees, registration fees, royalties and safety levies—have become complex and not user-friendly, and it is time for a change. It is time to update this legislation.

The Offshore Petroleum Bill 2005 and associated bills primarily aim to bring past acts up to a modern standard, including in the areas of style, structure and language. The rewriting of the acts has been on the planning board since 1998, and in fact it was a 1998 government election commitment which processes such as the national competition policy review have unavoidably delayed.

Several exposure drafts have been distributed to key stakeholders, including the state and territory governments. My understanding is that extensive consultation with the industry has ensured that the changes, which are very minor, are expected, are seen to be non-controversial and have been widely accepted by the industry.

The rewriting of the Offshore Petroleum Bill 2005 and associated bills has focused mainly on improving the actual form of the legislation rather than on promoting major change. As one would expect, during a process of that nature, in the process of updating and rewriting the legislation a number of anomalies and previous mistakes in the act have been picked up. Also, one has discovered some outdated material. These minor issues will also be corrected in this rewritten legislation.

As is the problem with many laws that have been on the statute book for a considerable period, a layperson can find them difficult to understand. The Offshore Petroleum Bill 2005 and associated bills will ensure that these affected laws will become more easily readable and understandable by members of the general public and also by the industry, not to mention that the legislation will be easier to comprehend for bureaucrats, members of parliament and advisers and in fact everyone will benefit from the improvement in the form of language used.

By making laws easier to understand, the Australian government is helping to reduce administrative outlays for businesses and government as well as cutting down on compliance costs. Most people would accept that this is a very laudatory aim. I mentioned that there has been substantial consultation with stakeholders and we were determined to get the legislation right. In fact, we believe that in the bills currently before the House this has been achieved. There will be a nil effect—marginal at most—on the Australian government budget. No policy changes with significant financial impact are proposed. I am particularly pleased, on behalf of the government, to commend the Offshore Petroleum Bill and other bills listed to the House.