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Criticisms of legislation by instalment whereby a large number of Bills are brought before the Parliament to correct previous drafting errors, thus causing timetabling problems

DAVID JULL: Legislation by instalment will never be a prescription for good government. The Government must make a public commitment to get its house in order, to streamline the legislative process and to put an end to this waste and inefficiency.

JENNY HUTCHISON: A current phenomenon is a large number of Bills before the Parliament, correcting previous drafting errors. What can be done about this? The Leader of the House, Kim Beazley, says `not much'. In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Beazley also discusses the problems of timetabling government legislation and rejects Opposition criticisms of changes to the timing of budget speeches.

When the House of Representatives returned on Tuesday afternoon, there was Question Time, the first Kerin Budget, and then legislation necessary to introduce budget announcements such as the Appropriation Bills, a Loan Bill to cover the projected deficit, a Health Insurance Amendment Bill to implement changes to Medicare, and a Sales Tax Amendment Bill to honour the promise to extend exemptions for certain goods and motor vehicles for people with disabilities. And then the House moved on to consider a series of Bills to cope with flaws or omissions in previously enacted measures, some of them passed as recently as the last sitting day, 21 June.

First came the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, Simon Crean, with amendments to four Acts within his portfolio area, including part of the wool-marketing package.

SIMON CREAN: With regard to the amendments to the wool legislation, Honourable Members will recall that a package of urgent legislation putting in place new arrangements for the wool industry to apply from 1 July 1991, was passed in the last hours of the autumn sittings. On further examination of the legislation and in consultations with the Attorney-General's Department, it's become apparent that some minor additional transitional provisions are needed. Attorney-General's has advised that the wording of the existing legislation is such that it's not possible to appropriate and transfer to the wool statutory authorities wool tax imposed on wool sold prior to 1 July 1991, but received by the Commonwealth after that date. Clearly, the situation needs to be rectified and the provisions of the Bill do that. The provisions of the existing legislation regarding wool tax on wool sold after 1 July 1991 are adequate and do not need amending.

It's recognised that as a result of the defect in the legislation, the wool statutory authorities have not had, since early July, access to the flow of wool tax funds which they should have had. They would, therefore, have incurred additional expense, either through interest forgone or through additional interest costs on borrowed funds. The Government considers that the statutory authorities, and through them, the woolgrowers, should not have to bear the additional expense caused by the drafting omission. Therefore, the Government will pay interest for the period of the delay in the wool tax payments. The Bill provides that the Minister will determine the interest rate to apply, and I envisage that the rate will be based on that which the Commonwealth earns on investments of its surplus funds.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Then the House moved on to the Law and Justice Legislation Amendment Bill. One of the speakers in this debate was the Shadow Minister for Corporate Law Reform, Peter Costello, who detailed what can only be described as a protracted train of events.

PETER COSTELLO: The last speaker, speaking on behalf of the Government, freely confessed that the Government had `stuffed up' - were his words - other parts of this legislation. Well may he say it in relation to these amendments which are about to come forward. Unfortunately, it seems to be rather a common occurrence with this Government's performance, and it seems to have gone back at least until 1988, but it is continuing in fine tradition. When the Privacy Amendment Act of 1990 came in, it was designed to regulate the reporting of credit information. It was first introduced by the then Minister for Consumer Affairs, Senator Bolkus, some time in June of 1989 - June of 1989 - bear that in mind. That's when the legislation that we are now amending first came into the Parliament, and it still hasn't come into operation, so we are now amending legislation that has been in this Parliament since June of 1989, which still hasn't come into effect, which still isn't right, and still has to be amended before it can take effect.

And it lay in the Senate table, under the Bolkus administration, for quite some time, and then Senator Tate came into the portfolio. By the time it came down into this House for debate on 5 December 1990, notwithstanding that Senator Tate had completed his exhaustive consultation in September 1990, it had had further amendments. In the Senate, the Opposition had moved 50 amendments - the Government accepted 10. The Government moved about 40 of its own amendments, and by 4 December 1990, the Government was just about ready to proceed with its legislation. And the Bill was to come into operation as soon as it was proclaimed to commence, or upon the expiry of nine months after the assent.

Now, the assent was 24 December 1990, and the Government never proclaimed it, so it would have come into operation on 24 September of this year. And now, we have amendments - what are we now? 20 or 21 August - we have amendments putting off the coming into effect of this Act and changing it substantially before it comes into operation again. Now, these amendments appeared yesterday, as far as I'm aware - I was given a confidential set yesterday. I had a briefing on these amendments at 5.30 this afternoon. They had changed in between the confidential set we got yesterday and 5.30 this afternoon, and now we have this whole raft of amendments to legislation that started, as I said, in June of 1989 and still hasn't yet come into effect. I'm sure if we waited another 24 hours, Attorney, you'd have a few more amendments. If we waited another two years, we might be back to another 40 amendments. But this legislation has been flawed from the very outset.

JENNY HUTCHISON: From Peter Costello, to another Opposition frontbencher, David Jull, speaking on an Arts, Sport, Environment and Tourism Legislation Amendment Bill.

DAVID JULL: We seem to have spent most of today's session fixing up legislation that had been rushed through this House by this Government in the dying moments of previous sessions. And the Art, Sport, Environment and Tourism Legislation Amendment Bill 1991 is part of this, and I think it highlights a couple of disturbing facts: firstly, the growing tendency for this Government to present to the Parliament legislation which just has to be patched up from time to time; and secondly, the confusion created by the Government's approach to public administration through the system of dual ministries. This latter situation could not be made clearer than, with respect, to the tourism portfolio which is one of the portfolios subjected to this particular Bill.

The Minister for Arts, Tourism and Territories is responsible for the day to day administration of the tourism portfolio, and I would pay tribute to the professional and bipartisan approach he's adopted towards his ministerial duties. The entire tourism industry is quite aware of the manner in which the Minister has endeavoured to advance its interests, but unfortunately, the Minister plays a subordinate role to that of the Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories. That particular Minister is compelled to devote her energies to the political, economic and social minefield of the environment, while hoping her other responsibilities will be handled, with a minimum of fuss, by junior colleagues.

This has resulted in little policy direction being given to the tourist industry from within Cabinet. The portfolio Minister, still with enough spare time to promote the two greatest lost causes of modern Australia - the Honourable Member for Blaxland and the Canberra Raiders - has failed to provide the policy of administrative leadership that is so necessary. Until something is done to correct policy paralysis, we are going to have to come back with more and more of these amendments. There is an increasing tendency to present legislation in this haphazard fashion, and we really must get on top of this. I mean, there is no clearer evidence than what is happening here tonight, when the first thing that we've got to do is have to change the actual title of the Bill. While the second series of amendments are really of minor consequence, it indicates the depths to which this Government's decision making powers has descended.

In its supplementary explanatory memorandum, the Government admits that one particular amendment to apply to the Bill, to the National Capital Planning Authority, was accidentally omitted from the Bill as introduced. Clearly, Ministers have other things on their mind and are obviously unable to devote their intellectual resources to the drafting of legislation.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Meanwhile, in the Upper House, Liberal Senator, Michael Baume, was concerned about the Wildlife Protection Amendment Bill.

MICHAEL BAUME: Before I deal with the main elements of the Bill, I would like to say that this Bill, and its method of presentation, is an example of the sort of messy management we tend to get from the Government, when it rushes legislation into the other place, in particular, then finds that it's made a mess of it and has to go back and correct it. And Senators will no doubt be intrigued to note that on the Hansard of 21 June 1991 from the House of Representatives, on page 5298, and the subsequent page, 5299, there are a whole host of amendments that had to be made to the Bill before it even got out of that Chamber.

And can I say, just by way of protest from the Opposition, we are getting pretty sick and tired of slapdash, half-baked legislation - no matter how well-intentioned - coming into particularly the House of Representatives, being rushed through without proper debate, rushed through without proper preparation, and then being subject to substantial amendment. That doesn't detract from the fact that we support, as I said, the thrust of this legislation. We just wish it could be done better.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Senator Michael Baume, one of many MPs - and they weren't all from the Opposition - who complained, this week, about the incidence of drafting mistakes in Commonwealth legislation.