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Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Page: 9700


Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (17:25): I present the 14th report of 2015 of the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. I also lay on the table Scrutiny of Bills Alert Digest No. 14 of 2015, dated 2 December 2015.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator POLLEY: I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I rise to speak to the tabling of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee's 14th report of 2015. As most senators would be aware, the Scrutiny of Bills Committee scrutinises each bill introduced to the parliament and reports to the Senate against the principles outlined in Senate standing order 24. Five scrutiny principles underpin the work of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee. These principles broadly reflect the themes of good governance, administrative fairness and accountability and the need to maintain appropriate parliamentary involvement in the legislative process.

Importantly, the committee is the only parliamentary committee to routinely consider amendments made to bills, which it does against the same terms of reference. The committee has a longstanding practice of undertaking its scrutiny in a non-partisan, apolitical and consensual way. The committee aims to quickly identify possible scrutiny concerns in order to bring them to the attention of senators and other committees undertaking bill inquiries.

The committee and ministers communicate through correspondence published in the committee's reports. For example, in this report, the committee's 14th report of 2015, the committee has sought advice from relevant ministers in relation to a number of bills amending proceeds-of-crime and family law legislation and government amendments made to the Corporations Amendment (Financial Advice Measures) Bill 2015. Cooperation and respect for this communication process underpins the work of the committee.

Currently the Scrutiny of Bills Committee does not have any formal procedural measures available to it to ensure a timely response from ministers. Unfortunately, on occasion there have been delays in receiving responses from ministers, which has led to legislation being introduced and passed before the committee can complete its scrutiny process. For example, in the committee's Alert Digest No. 7 of 2015, which was tabled on 12 August 2015, the committee sought advice in relation to the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015. The committee has not yet received a formal response to that request, despite the fact that the bill has now reached Committee of the Whole stage in the Senate.

I might add that, in the last decade, there has been a high level of cooperation from ministers with the committee in terms of responsiveness to its requests for information, regardless of which party is in government. But, while there has generally been a high level of respect for the scrutiny process, regardless of who is in government, instances of delayed communication and responses from ministers can undermine the committee's ability to carry out its scrutiny function efficiently and to be effective. This is not about who is in government; it is about respecting committee processes and it is about ministers being more timely and responsive in their dealings with the committee. This is critical to ensure that the committee can perform its scrutiny functions effectively. On behalf of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, I take this opportunity to draw to the attention of senators the importance of timely responsiveness to the committee's requests for information.

I would like to place on record the committee's appreciation for the work undertaken by Toni Dawes and the staff at the secretariat, who undertake their work in a very timely manner, with the diligence and respect that this work deserves. I commend the committee's Alert Digest No. 14 of the 14th report of 2015 to the Senate.

Question agreed to.