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Thursday, 12 February 2015
Page: 609

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (13:03): The Acts and Instruments (Framework Reform) Bill 2014 updates and consolidates the arrangements for the registration, tabling, scrutiny and repeal of a range of Commonwealth instruments. The bill was referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, which reported on 2 December last year. The committee recommended that the bill be passed.

The bill implements the recommendations of a statutory review of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003 in 2008 led by a committee comprising Mr Anthony Blunn AO, Mr Ian Govey and Professor John McMillan AO. The bill makes a number of reforms to the arrangements for delegated legislation under the Legislative Instruments Act 2003, which sets out a comprehensive regime for the registration, tabling, scrutiny and repeal of legislative instruments. It consolidates the Acts Publication Act 1905, which deals with statutes, and the Legislative Instruments Act 2003 into a new legislation act. It integrates the database of Commonwealth acts and the federal register of legislative instruments into a single federal register of legislation. It provides that Commonwealth instruments which are not legislative in character, and therefore not captured by the present Legislative Instruments Act, be registered on the federal register of legislation as a new category of notifiable instrument. Finally, the bill makes various other technical changes to consolidate the handling of Commonwealth instruments.

The bill also makes changes to the powers of the First Parliamentary Counsel, enabling the First Parliamentary Counsel to make corrections and minor editorial changes, in preparing a registered compilation of acts and instruments, that do not change the effect of the legislation, and to make rules relating to the register.

The power given to the First Parliamentary Counsel to make editorial changes to acts or instruments as they appear on the register is appropriately closely constrained. The bill is clear that the First Parliamentary Counsel may not change the effect of an act or instrument.

'Editorial change' is defined in the bill to make it clear that only technical drafting changes are intended. The definition includes, for example, spelling and punctuation matters, correcting numbering, and changes to known operative parts of statutes such as tables of content or summaries. The bill provides that where this power is exercised a statement must be included in the instrument outlining the editorial change or changes which have been made.

Speaking in the other place, the shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus QC MP, noted that he would expect that, as is usual practice in other areas of its responsibilities, the Parliamentary Counsel would issue clear guidance about how the power is to be exercised. I note that the committee shared this view and recommended that there should be clearly articulated principles for the use of the FPC's correction and editorial powers. Happily, the Attorney-General advised the committee that the federal Parliamentary Counsel will issue guidance on the use of the editorial powers proposed in the bill. I would like to reiterate the committee's view that this guidance should be released at the earliest opportunity.

Mr Dreyfus also said he expected that, alongside the requirement under this bill to give notice in particular instruments of when the power has been exercised, the First Parliamentary Counsel would report to the parliament about use of the power across the whole statute book. Labor welcome the commitment by the Attorney-General that the OPC will include a section in its annual report summarising the use of the correction power and the editorial change power in each financial year. As the committee noted in its report:

This reporting will facilitate scrutiny and oversight of these powers by the Parliament, including through the Senate estimates process.

Labor support this bill. It is important that delegated legislation and other Commonwealth instruments are dealt with as clearly and transparently as possible. We support any measure which makes Commonwealth instruments easier to locate and easier to understand.

I understand there will be a government amendment to the bill. The amendment will be supported. It arises from a recommendation by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee's report on the bill:

The committee recommends that item 83 of Schedule 1 of the bill be amended to require a review of the operation of the proposed Legislation Act 2003, in similar terms to existing section 59 of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003, to be conducted five years after commencement.

The opposition have raised this matter with the shadow Attorney-General; we are pleased that the shadow Attorney-General has agreed to this amendment. So Labor will commend to the house not only the bill but also the amendment.