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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6124


Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (18:18): The purpose of this bill is to provide a framework of standard regulatory powers exercised by Commonwealth agencies. These are the powers of agencies to enter and search premises, require the production of documents and compel attendance for examination under oath. Familiar examples include the powers in part 3 of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001 and section 155 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, although many regulatory, security and law enforcement agencies have similar powers of entry, search and investigation.

The matters to be subject to the framework are monitoring, investigation, civil penalties, infringement notices, enforceable undertakings and injunctions. The framework has no immediate effect. Rather, it is intended that any new or amended legislation affecting the coercive powers of agencies will be expressed by reference to this bill. Should the framework be inappropriate for a particular agency—for example, security agencies—there is no requirement to adopt it.

The coalition has reservations about the extent and use of coercive powers by Commonwealth agencies and particularly about their increasingly arbitrary use and the impositions that they place on business. This bill does nothing to alleviate those concerns. Important matters such as the right to legal representation under coercive questioning have not been addressed. The framework template in relation to investigation, enforceable undertakings and injunctions appears to have been largely lifted from the Competition and Consumer Act, the relevant provisions of which have been unchanged for 15 years and are unlikely to be controversial.

Other components of the framework are also of familiar construction and relate to entry and seizure under warrant, infringement notices and concurrent liability for civil penalties and criminal prosecution. However, there is some concern that the existence of this framework legislation may facilitate the proliferation of the use of coercive powers by ever more Commonwealth agencies and that the framework does nothing to constrain the use of these powers by agencies that already have them.

The government has introduced amendments today to this bill and the coalition is supportive of them. Therefore, we do not oppose the passage of this bill through the House, although, as ever, we reserve our right to have another look at it in the Senate should the need arise. This is one of the many bills that pass through this House that is not particularly controversial. Normally, we would deal with these sorts of issues within the Federation Chamber, but the fact that the government have moved their own amendments to it means that it did need to come back before the House. It is very difficult for me to use up much more of the 30 minutes that I am allocated as the first opposition speaker and the only contributor in this debate. Clearly, it is one of the mechanical things that governments need to do. In light of that, the bill is not opposed by the coalition.