House debates

Wednesday, 26 February 2020


Statute Update (Regulations References) Bill 2020; Second Reading

5:04 pm

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

'whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) notes the Government’s increasing use of regulations to implement its policies, which has the effect of bypassing the parliamentary scrutiny that is fundamental to the legislative process;

(2) expresses concern that seeking to govern by regulation undermines the long-standing conventions of transparency and accountability which are an integral part of our democracy; and

(3) calls on the Government to return to the principles of transparency and accountability that have until recent years defined Australia as a democratic nation governed under the rule of law'.

This bill makes a series of minor technical changes to 10 principal acts to update references to regulations. The amended acts are: the Age Discrimination Act 2004, the Airports Act 1996, the A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax Act 1999, the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Act 2011, the Customs Act 1901, the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997, the International Monetary Agreements Act 1947, the Judicial Misbehaviour and Incapacity (Parliamentary Commissions) Act 2012, and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004.

It does appears that the changes made by this bill really are, as the government claims in its explanatory memorandum, technical minor changes that constitute no more than statutory housekeeping. However, we did have to check. We had to check because this government recently tried to pass off a significant and sweeping change to Commonwealth criminal law as a minor technical matter. It is unclear whether this was due to this government's generally slap-dash approach to law-making or whether it was a deliberate deception to try to slip through a major change to criminal law without debate or scrutiny. In any event, the issue with the amendment to the Commonwealth Criminal Code that I refer to was spotted by Professor Jeremy Gans of the Melbourne Law School at the University of Melbourne. It was spotted while the bill in question was being reviewed by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee.

I raise this example because it demonstrates the fundamental importance of our parliamentary processes. It is through these processes—in particular the process of consultation on bills with the wider Australian community—that mistakes in government bills are detected. It also provides an important safeguard against any subterfuge by the government. Through this scrutiny by the parliament and by the wider Australian community, defects in proposed laws can be discovered and rectified before the laws are passed. Scrutiny of this kind is fundamental to the health of our democracy because, through such scrutiny, the government of the day can be held accountable for what it does in this place. This is yet another example of the wisdom of the observation by United States jurist Louis Brandeis that sunlight is the best disinfectant. It's a matter of great concern and regret to me that many in this government run from sunlight and would sooner try to govern in the shadows. Is it because they know that their government would wither in the sunlight? Is it because they know that the Australian people would not stand for their behaviour if they could see what they got up to behind the closed doors of their parliamentary offices?

It's often said that fish rots from the head, and recent events around the sports rorts affair would seem to prove the truth of this adage. How could a government claim to respect transparency and accountability when, in response to an explosive scandal regarding the unprecedented unlawful rorting of taxpayer funds to fund their re-election campaign, this Prime Minister's claim is only that there's nothing to see here? How can a government claim to respect transparency and accountability when, in response to a public report by the independent Auditor-General, the Prime Minister commissions a secret report by his former political staffer and then claims that his old staffer said it was all just fine by him?

I commend this bill to the House.

(Quorum formed)

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

5:09 pm

Photo of Julie CollinsJulie Collins (Franklin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment. This government is frightened of transparency. As the member for Isaacs pointed out, this government should be doing more to ensure that everything it does is done in a transparent way. It is hiding from the Australian public every single time it can. We saw that today when it tried to shut down several debates. It continues to hide away from the public every single time.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Isaacs has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question before the House is that the amendment moved by the member for Isaacs be agreed to.