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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 11768


Ms ROXON (GellibrandAttorney-General and Minister for Emergency Management) (09:51): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Bill 2012 will cut legal 'red tape'. This bill will cut up to 80 pages from Commonwealth acts and regulations.

It is an important initiative. The bill is part of the government's Clearer Laws project. The Clearer Laws project is designed to increase access to justice and improve the accessibility, equity, efficiency and effectiveness of the federal justice system by simplifying and streamlining the statute book.

This bill is a bill of general application. Perhaps the most well known act of general application that is currently on the statute book is the Acts Interpretation Act 1901, which contains definitions and statutory interpretation rules that are referred to across the Commonwealth statute book. The Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Bill, like the Acts Interpretation Act 1901, is an act of general application for the enforcement of regulatory regimes that other acts can refer to and trigger.

This bill has two main aims. Firstly, to reduce the length of the statute book, as provisions relating to the enforcement of a regulatory regime can easily add 30 pages to an act.

Secondly, the bill will provide greater clarity to those agencies that use regulatory powers. It will make the law easier to understand for Australians and Australian businesses that are the subject of a regulatory regime.

Currently agencies with a regulatory function may enforce a number of different regulatory regimes, each of which may have different governing legislation. Similarly, businesses may be subject to a number of different regulatory regimes, each of which has slightly different enforcement and investigatory powers.

It is important to note that the powers that the bill provides will only be available to a regulatory agency if their governing legislation triggers or engages the bill. The powers contained in the bill can be triggered in whole or in part by a regulatory agency's governing legislation. For example, a regulatory agency's governing legislation may be amended to trigger only the part of the bill that deals with enforceable undertakings.

The bill will be rolled out carefully in three stages. In stage 1, new bills or regulations that require investigation or enforcement powers of the kind available under the Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Bill will be drafted to trigger the relevant provisions.

In stage 2, acts and regulations that have been drafted over the past 18 months using precedents based on the Regulatory Powers Bill will be amended to remove those provisions and instead trigger the relevant provisions.

In stage 3, where substantial amendment is required to existing investigation and enforcement regimes in current acts and regulations, those regimes will be reviewed and, if appropriate, amended to instead trigger the relevant provisions in the Regulatory Powers Bill.

In some cases the powers contained in this bill will not be appropriate or sufficient for some regulatory agencies' requirements. For example, law enforcement agencies that deal with national security will continue to require their specialised powers. Similarly, some regulatory agencies may have specific requirements that are not met in this bill and consequently they may choose to not trigger the bill. Alternatively, they may choose to only trigger certain parts.

All three stages of the bill's application will still be required to undertake the scrutiny and approval processes of the parliament. For the regulatory provisions in the bill to be activated, new or existing legislation would need to be amended to remove its existing regulatory powers and incorporate the Regulatory Powers Bill's provisions. This also ensures that individual assessments of human rights engagement and compatibility will also be apparent in the drafting and scrutiny process.

The Regulatory Powers Bill provides a framework of standard regulatory functions carried out by agencies across the Commonwealth. The key features of the bill include monitoring and investigation powers as well as enforcement provisions through use of civil penalty, infringement notices, enforceable undertakings and injunctions.

The monitoring powers in the bill are based on the standard monitoring powers that can already be found across the statute book. The bill provides for monitoring whether legislation is being complied with, or that information given to the Commonwealth in compliance, or purported compliance, is correct.

Similarly, the investigation powers contained in the bill are also commonly found across the statute book. The powers allow investigation of suspected contraventions of offences and civil penalty provisions. The suite of investigation powers provided in the bill include the powers to search and seize evidential material as well as inspect, examine, measure and test anything on the premises.

The bill also provides for the use of civil penalties, infringement notices, enforceable understandings and injunctions to enforce provisions.

In conclusion, the Clearer Laws project will make Australian laws and legal system simpler. By improving the accessibility and consistency of the Commonwealth statute book, the law can be better understood, complied with and administered.

The Regulatory Powers Bill is integral to achieving this goal. By providing a consistent and central suite of regulatory powers provisions, this bill ensures that laws affecting agency oversight are both consistent, to ensure that the law is sufficiently certain and predictable, as well as flexible, to effectively take account of differences in agencies' functions.

This bill will cut legal 'red tape' and reduce the length of statutes by up to 80 pages in some cases. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.