Wednesday, 26 February 2020
Statute Update (Regulations References) Bill 2020; Third Reading
Today goes to the stupidity of the government's insistence that no-one other than themselves will be allowed to make a speech. You then end up with a situation where the only thing that elected members of parliament have available to themselves is to make the point to the government that we will continue to push back until this becomes a democratic chamber again. We will continue to do so. So, when people sit over there and vote for member after member to not be heard, when people over there move that question after question be put, don't be surprised when you spend the day with division bells ringing and, when you seek the support of the opposition for leave on a matter, you don't get it. It's not a surprise.
Labor are supporting the Statute Update (Regulations References) Bill 2020, but there are a couple of further comments that we would wish to make in respect of this legislation. As I said earlier in the debate, although it's been suggested by parliamentary counsel and by the government that this is a bill which will improve the usability of quite a number of pieces of legislation, the real purpose of this bill is in fact to remove references to specific regulations that presently appear in quite a number of important acts that are being amended here. They are not obscure acts. They are not acts that no-one ever looks at. They are acts which I would think—looking at the names of them—quite a number of Australian citizens would have occasion to refer to quite frequently.
The first act that's on the list is the Age Discrimination Act. That's a bill that's a matter of deep concern to not just the shadow minister for the ageing but all of our senior citizens. Another one is the Airports Act. Another one is a quite significant piece of tax legislation. Another is an act that I introduced to this parliament in 2011, the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Act 2011, which is a significant part of the Australian effort to reduce our carbon emissions. So, we've got quite a number of acts here which are significant acts but which will no longer have references to specific regulations but rather more generic references to regulations made under those acts. As I said earlier in this debate, our concern is that we should always be careful before this parliament legislates to reduce transparency of legislation or of regulations made under legislation. And this is very much a government which is not interested in transparency. We see that every day that this government continues: it is not interested in transparency in any way; it wants to govern as far as possible in secret.
What I would also say about this legislation is that it will no longer be the case—and perhaps we should all be relieved by this—that this government will come into the parliament trumpeting statute update bills, of which this is an example, as some mighty deregulatory effort, or red-tape-busting effort, or perhaps, as we've heard from them before, 'bonfire regulations'. I think that was how the now Treasurer but then parliamentary secretary, the member for Kooyong, liked to boast in 2014 when they embarked on this supposed massive effort to reduce the size of the statute book. In fact, what's happened under this government in its seven years is that we've seen an increase in the size of the statute book and an increase in regulations. Perhaps that's why they're no longer talking about making any kind of deregulatory effort, because they've actually failed in that objective. As I say, perhaps we should all feel thankful that no longer does this ageing government, in its seventh year, pretend that it's engaged in any kind of serious deregulatory effort. Still less, I hope never to hear again that they are trying to boast that an ordinary piece of statute update or statute revision is to be badged as deregulation. I do commend the bill to the House.
) ( ): I also wish to speak in respect to the third reading for this very interesting piece of legislation that we have before the House. The Statute Update (Regulations References) Bill 2020 is interesting because it forms one of those critical pieces of legislation that we require when we see such dramatic increase in the expanse of Commonwealth regulation through legislation but also regulation and delegated legislation. Because, as we see that infinite increase in Commonwealth law and Commonwealth regulation, we find that the references to that delegated legislation tend to age, a bit like one of the acts that's referred to in this particular bill. It tends to lose its currency. It's important that we make sure periodically that those references that are made to delegated legislation in our statutes do refer properly to them. Interesting here, in this particular piece of legislation—probably fortuitously, because it will save considerable parliamentary time in the future, I would suggest—we will see references updated in legislation to ensure that, instead of having to continually change the referencing within legislation to specific regulations, those provisions will be amended so as to refer generically to such prescribed legislation, delegated legislation through regulation specifically, so that as those regulations are repealed, updated, changed or consolidated they will continue to have the required force under law because they will continue to be picked up by this relevant legislation that is being amended here today.
It is interesting, for those of us who have had the great pleasure of spending probably too many years at law school, to see the degree of specificity that has been detailed in this bill, particularly when one bears in mind the degree to which interpretive regard is to be had by the courts to the headings in legislation, which—for those who are interested, and I can see there still seem to be a few—is almost none. This bill changes, for some particular reason, the headings of many of the provisions in the legislation that is being amended. It may not be apparent to many members of the House just quite how important these changes are. A number of them change the phrase 'mentioned in' to 'covered by', and I think we're all grateful to ensure that that change is made in this legislation, because otherwise certain regulations would not have the force of law! And I join with the minister at the table in celebrating the fact that this legislation will produce such an amazing result for the good governance, really, of this nation.
As the shadow Attorney-General mentioned, there are a number of pieces of legislation that are picked up by this bill. We have the Age Discrimination Act, an important piece of legislation. In fact, when we look at the Age Discrimination Act and we think about the concepts that it covers in the discrimination against people on the basis of age, we should think about the way they are discriminated against by government when it comes to ensuring that there's adequate funding for the provision of aged care for our elderly Australians, as well. We should also think about whether it's appropriate for the assessment of their care to be outsourced, and, in fact, privatised by this government. We have the Airports Act, a piece of legislation that probably causes more angst in my community than anyone ever intended that it would—because, of course, it ensures that noise requirements and planning are maintained with the Commonwealth. As someone who is surrounded by two airports, one of them being the busiest in Australia, it's important we get the references to legislation in that act correct.
One of my favourite titles for an act is this one: A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999. One might suggest that was quite an Orwellian title at the time. When we think about updating legislation and making sure that we have correct references to regulations and that legislation is modernised, I don't think we can still regard it as a 'new' tax system. But that's the title. That particular title is not changing under this legislation. Look, it is very catchy, and it gave rise to—and some members of the chamber may still remember it—some particularly eye-catching advertising at the time in the lead-up to a certain election.
The Australian Citizenship Act is an act that I have constant reference to, as I have the great joy of attending many citizenship ceremonies throughout my electorate. One of the great things about these, of course, is that we get the opportunity of having new citizens join our community. No-one is unhappy at a citizenship ceremony. Everyone is happy at a citizenship ceremony. They are such a pleasure to attend. The Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Act 2011 is also mentioned in this bill, as is one of the oldest pieces of legislation since Federation, the Customs Act 1901. It's remarkable that we've made it to 2020 and have now decided that there are a few references to regulations made under this act that need to be updated to make sure that those regulations continue to have force. I'm really glad that 119 years later we as a legislature have turned our minds to getting this fixed.
The Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 is quite possibly the longest piece of legislation in the Commonwealth statute book; yet, remarkably, to make the changes that are required, we have this bill that is only yay thick—only a couple of pages long. The International Monetary Agreements Act 1947 is one of those landmark pieces of legislation that has ensured that Australia is a keen participant in the international framework that it was part of establishing after the World War II. There is the Judicial Misbehaviour and Incapacity (Parliamentary Commissions) Act 2012, and I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest there is possibly only one person in this chamber right now who has read it, maybe two. The Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004, favourably known by all of us as the MRCA, is a piece of legislation that, just in the mere 3½ years that I have been in this parliament, I think has been amended eight times. Once again, it's remarkable, when you think that it's been amended that many times, that we still have to include it in an omnibus statutory update bill for changing the regulatory references. You might have thought that the government could have picked those up one of the many times that it has amended the legislation before.
To make some concluding remarks, the point that I think is worthwhile all of us being apprised of when it comes to looking at this bill—which, as I pointed out before, is not the thickest piece of legislation that we've had come through this chamber in recent times—is that what it really demonstrates is that it's about as thick as the government's plan for government. This weighty tome that I hold here is actually a testament to the complete lack of plan by this government—a lack of plan on climate change, a lack of plan on Australian industry content for our defence industry, and our ship and submarine build, and a lack of plan on actually anything to do in government. After this, there really can't be much more to do. And we have another two years until the next election!
I urge those opposite—it would be really great if they could turn their minds to thinking about any of those topics that I've just mentioned could use a bit more statutory intervention; some executive intervention might definitely be an idea. As we were touching on before—and I mentioned the Age Discrimination Act—when thinking about discrimination against the elderly in our community, maybe they could fund some of the home care places there is a huge backlog for in our nation right now, which is causing many people in my community great angst.
Of course we completely support this legislation. It's very necessary legislation. It's important that we fix this with these very important changes that are required to referencing regulation in this nation that fall under important pieces of legislation. My favourite, as I mentioned before, is the conversion of the phrase mentioned into 'covered by'. I was blessed by the learnings and the teachings of the member for Curtin in my law school years, and I thank her for all of that. It's given me great application to be able to understand this weighty tome of legislation that is before us today, and I commend it to the House.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a third time.