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Tuesday, 24 May 2011
Page: 4455

Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (19:24): I speak in support of the Acts Interpretation Amendment Bill 2011. The fact that the Acts Interpretation Act was passed in 1901 is an indication of the importance of that legislation since Federation. In the early days we passed some legislation in the House of Representatives and we now look back upon it. In fact I think the first piece of legislation passed in the House of Representatives enshrined what we now call the 'white Australia policy', so we do not think every piece of legislation that was passed in the earliest days was good, but the Acts Interpretation Act certainly was.

The member for Herbert mentioned Alfred Deakin before. I am 100 per cent convinced that in view of his attitudes to social reform and industrial relations if Mr Deakin were here today he would be a member of the Labor Party. I am convinced of it. I do not think he would be a member of the Liberal Party, which is certainly not the party of Deakin, that is for sure. He was a great reformer and a terrific Prime Minister. I think he would have fitted in quite well to the Labor Unity faction of the Australian Labor Party—a moderate reformer I can truly say, but that is another story for another day. Certainly we will have that debate, but I claim Deakin as a forerunner to the Labor Party these days.

This legislation actually makes some changes. It provides general rules for interpretation of all Commonwealth legislation and improves its structure, its readability and its operation. I think that there clearly is a need for legislation you can refer to, because a lot of legislation actually has at about section 4 or 5 an interpretation and definitions section and it does not always cover the nature of definitions that are required. Having one source means that it is easier for parliamentary draftspersons to draft legislation and have everyone know what the true meaning of it is, because it can be found in the Acts Interpretation Act. It is semantic, but it is a really useful interpretation guide. In this regard, clearer laws are very important not just for courts and lawyers but for the general Australian population.

The bill amends the Acts Interpretation Act by co-locating definitions and co-locating other provisions that are not currently in logical order and by modernising concepts that we would not have found in 1901. There are important measures such as the concept allowing participants to be in different locations and to use technology such as videoconferencing. I am convinced that that was not around in 1901! Also, the bill amends the definition of 'document' to include things like maps, plans, drawings and photographs, and certainly photography has come a long way since 1901.

As the member for Herbert said, there is a long history to this. It went through quite a process to get there. The Attorney-General's Department engaged in a lot of consultation. All Commonwealth agencies were actually involved in the process from some years ago. A public exposure of the draft bill was released for consultation on 20 January and 25 February this year. Also, the bill was revised to take into consideration comments from various government departments, a steering committee, representatives from the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, the Office of Legislative Drafting and Publishing, the Australian Government Solicitor and a variety of other people. So there was a lot of input into this legislation. It is important because it helps us, and the Australian population, to understand the law. It updates concepts and languages that are important and it decreases the size of the Commonwealth statute book by including general rules and definitions. Anyone who studied the Income Tax Assessment Act, as I did at law school all those years ago, will realise you could have used it as a dumbbell rather than read it, because it was so heavy. I recall the size of it and I understand that it has gotten bigger under successive governments since that time. But we have undertaken the task of making it more modern and improving its readability.

There are significant improvements in this legislation. They will improve the clarity of Commonwealth legislation generally. That is consistent with our commitment to ensure the accessibility of the criminal and civil justice systems of this country to all around the country. We hope that people will have a better understanding of Australian Commonwealth law as a result of the Acts Interpretation Act amendments.