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Wednesday, 29 November 2017
Page: 9283

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (18:56): I rise to speak on the Statute Update (Smaller Government) Bill 2017. Labor will not oppose this bill; however, it would be a mistake for anyone in the chamber to take that as an endorsement of how this government is using this bill to silence independent expert advice to government.

This bill repeals three acts and amends 10 others to abolish seven bodies. They are: the tradespersons' rights committees—ones that I have been familiar with over many years; the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council; the Product Stewardship Advisory Group; the Advisory Group of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority; the Plant Breeder's Rights Advisory Committee; the Development Allowance Authority; and the Corporations and Markets Advisory Committee. Some of these bodies are redundant due to other agencies taking on their role, such as the tradespersons' rights committees. Other bodies being abolished administered programs that have now ceased, such as those delivered by the Development Allowance Authority. However, I would like to put on record that Labor does not support the abolition of all of the bodies this bill will formally terminate.

The truth of the matter is that, because of actions already taken by the Abbott-Turnbull government, these bodies exist in name only and have done so now for some time. That's because they've effectively been gutted by this government. This has been achieved over the past few years by not appointing new members when existing terms lapsed, by removing essential funding and staff, and by not referring any meaningful work to them. This is very regrettable. Over the time these bodies have existed, they have played an important role in informing and shaping debate on critical areas of public policy. Sadly, this government has a distinct antipathy to those that provide independent advice to government. Indeed, it's worth noting that the abolition of these bodies was a recommendation of the now notorious National Commission of Audit. That belies the government's real agenda here—driven by ideology, not by the best interests of the Australian people. We shouldn't be too surprised, in any case, as this Prime Minister and his frontbench regularly ignore advice from experts, even experts they themselves have commissioned to complete independent reports. You need only to look at their track record.

Most recently, on an issue of critical national importance—that is, energy—this government has failed to deliver on the key recommendation of the Finkel review: a clean energy target. This is a measure the Finkel review found would drive new investment, bring energy prices down for all Australians and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The bill's abolition of the Corporations and Markets Advisory Committee is exemplary of how this government's thoughtless approach is not in the best interests of the Australian community. CAMAC was established by the Hawke Labor government in 1989 to provide independent advice to the Australian government on issues that arise in corporations and financial market law and practice. The members of the committee throughout its history have been appointed in a personal, not representative capacity, and to be eligible have had to satisfy a requirement to have relevant commercial or professional experience. Over the course of its existence CAMAC has produced carefully considered reports on a wide variety of subjects and has been at the forefront of corporate law reform in Australia. Many of the reforms introduced by governments of both persuasions have been informed by CAMAC recommendations.

These reforms have resulted in far-reaching changes for how our financial markets operate. In just the last few years, CAMAC has played a key role in a number of important reforms delivered by governments. One example is the work done by CAMAC on crowdsourcing equity funding. In 2013, whilst in government, Labor commissioned CAMAC to consider the best regulatory framework that would allow for the operation of equity crowdfunding in Australia. The comprehensive report produced by CAMAC was incredibly consequential in forming both Labor's and the government's future positions in the area of policy and ultimately led to the Corporations Amendment (Crowd-sourced Funding) Bill 2016.

Other areas of policy in which CAMAC has provided advice in recent years include matters relating to tax and corporations law, continuous disclosure, executive remuneration and directors' liability. It is, therefore, disappointing but not wholly surprising to see this government gut it by cutting its funding and staff, not appointing members and transferring its work to Treasury. Unfortunately, we don't see it being able to be revived under its current legislative framework.

Labor will have more to say in the future about how governments can receive independent advice on a financial system and how to ensure experts of the highest calibre can meaningfully contribute to policy development in this space. It's a shame to see what the government has already done to all of these important advisory bodies, but we feel the damage is done, so for that reason we will not oppose this bill.