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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
Australian Law Reform Commission

Australian Law Reform Commission


CHAIR: I now welcome witnesses from the Australian Law Reform Commission. Ms Wynn, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Ms Wynn : Yes, thank you. I want to give my apologies for the President, Professor Roslyn Croucher, who is on leave and could not be here today, and also Professor Jill McKeough, Commissioner, who is also unable to attend.

CHAIR: Thanks. We will go to questions. Senator Humphries we will start with you.

Senator HUMPHRIES: I want to ask about the extent to which the commission's budget has been affected by decisions made in the course of the last year with respect to either efficiency dividends or other processes within the budget. Can you update the committee on what the difference in the budget allocation for the commission has been since the last financial year and for the coming financial year?

Ms Wynn : The commission received the same efficiency dividend as was applied across all departments earlier this year. We have also been subject to another small decrease in funding as part of the MYEFO process.

Senator HUMPHRIES: MYEFO in December last year?

Ms Wynn : No; which will go forward—just now.

Senator HUMPHRIES: I see; so the MYEFO that is presumably going to be announced sometime in the next six to eight weeks?

Ms Wynn : Yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES: Are you able to detail what the effect of that MYEFO decision will have on the budget of the commission?

Ms Wynn : No.

Mr Wilkins : These decisions are still yet to be made.

Senator HUMPHRIES: Indeed; but they were volunteered.

Mr Wilkins : They may have been volunteered, but they are actually not real.

Senator HUMPHRIES: I am sure they will be very real very soon, Mr Wilkins.

Mr Wilkins : Possibly, but I just make the point that they are only things that are in the ether at the moment and are being discussed. They are not actually decided.

Senator HUMPHRIES: We will wait with bated breath for the MYEFO to be announced. Ms Wynn, could you outline the effect on the commission of the efficiency dividend which is now four per cent? What does that mean in terms of the operations of the commission? What has the commission done to accommodate that cut?

Ms Wynn : We have made some decisions in terms of reductions in various areas of our budget including in publications specifically. For example, we are no longer publishing all our consultation papers in hard copy but more making them available online. We have been able to significantly reduce our costs in the printing and publishing area. We have also made other cuts in areas such as recruitment advertising and some small cuts in some staffing.

Senator HUMPHRIES: The cuts to recruitment are through advertising vacant positions online only, not in newspaper advertisements?

Ms Wynn : Yes, and through the APS Gazette.

Senator HUMPHRIES: What is the extent of the savings that you are projecting to make this financial year from both not printing reports and not advertising in the print media? Can you give me those figures?

Ms Wynn : I will have to take those on notice.

Senator HUMPHRIES: Alright. Is that the extent of the cuts you have had to make? Have you had to make other cuts to the operations of the commission—for example, in the number of investigations or the number of reviews it conducts or the extent of the work it does in such reviews of the law?

Ms Wynn : No. Those are the extent.

Senator HUMPHRIES: I understand that the review of copyright and the digital economy was announced in June and the final terms of reference have been delivered to the commission—is that correct?

Ms Wynn : Yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES: I note the comments of some of the stakeholders as reported in the Financial Reviewa couple of weeks ago about the nature of this review. I note, for example, the comments of Mr Williams from Gilbert and Tobin who is a copyright specialist who acts for owners and users of copyright. He says:

It has not been established that there is any urgent need for legislative change across areas of copyright or that private or commercial activity is being considered by existing copyright laws. The evidence tends to suggest the opposite.

This is particularly important as the government has always asserted the importance of evidence-based policy making before embarking on legislative change.

I am not sure whether Mr Wilkins, the minister or perhaps you, Ms Wynn, would like to comment on what appears to be a little bewilderment on the part of the sector dealing with copyright as to why this review was undertaken in the first place.

Mr Wilkins : Which review is that?

Senator HUMPHRIES: This is the review into copyright law and the digital economy.

Mr Wilkins : You are puzzled as to why people are looking at copyright reform?

Senator HUMPHRIES: I am not puzzled; I am asking why the stakeholders appear to be puzzled. Would you agree that there are a number of—

Mr Wilkins : I cannot really answer for them. I do not really know why they are puzzled. Which ones in particular are puzzled?

Senator HUMPHRIES: I just quoted Mr Williams from Gilbert and Tobin who apparently acts for a large number of copyright users and owners.

Mr Wilkins : I know the article now that you are referring to. I think what the ALRC is looking at is whether there is any need to change the law actually and what those people are querying is whether there is any need to change the law. This is something which governments should do from time to time. We have been criticised, as you know, by other people saying that the law is not up to date and there were people, particularly after that Optus case before the Federal Court, who said we completely missed the boat and that we are entering a digitised economy. Other people like the people you are quoting in that article would say that the general principles of copyright law that exist are perfectly adequate to cater for a digitised society. Other people would say that we need to change the act.

Partly, what we are doing in this review from the ALRC is to test that proposition, to have a look at contending points of view and see whether there is any need to change the law or not. It is not necessarily a review which will lead to dramatic change. It may, but it allows an expert in the field and talking with various other people, consulting with the community more generally, to reach a considered view and come back to the government and say, 'Yes, maybe some changes are necessary and maybe they're not.' We are agnostic. I think that is the whole point in setting up the review. I know the article that you are referring to, but there are other schools of thought out there as well. That is my general response.

Senator HUMPHRIES: I am a bit surprised that the demand for this inquiry seems to be very limited and presumably these inquiries are expensive. They require a fair dedication of resources to conduct. I will let that pass. Has there been any opposition to the composition of the expert panel which has been constituted for this inquiry?

Mr Wilkins : There was a question raised particularly by the rights owners. That is a matter that has been taken up with the department. I think it may have been taken up with the Attorney-General as well and has been conveyed to the ALRC, who are in charge of constituting these panels. I understand that the president of the ALRC is looking at ways of accommodating that issue. I think they may be going to set up a panel of people who have expertise particularly as right-holders to input as a sort of sounding-board into some of the considerations and some of the recommendations of the committee. Yes, there has been concern raised and it is being addressed.

Senator HUMPHRIES: What precisely was the nature of the concern?

Mr Wilkins : That was the nature of the concern. They were saying they were not properly represented.

Senator HUMPHRIES: Copyright owners.

Mr Wilkins : Yes. What the ALRC typically does is to set up a group which it can use as a sounding board for its inquiries. The rights holders said they did not think they were adequately represented. I think that has now been brought to the attention of the ALRC and it is my understanding the ALRC is taking action to address it.

Senator HUMPHRIES: So this issue is being addressed, as you say.

Mr Wilkins : I think so.

CHAIR: We will move on. Thanks Ms Wynn for your time today.