Senate debates

Friday, 22 June 2012


Parliamentary Counsel and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012; Second Reading

12:09 pm

Photo of Gary HumphriesGary Humphries (ACT, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Materiel) Share this | Hansard source

It is a bit more than that, Senator Cash. I am afraid they have added, while removing 86 regulations, 18,089 new regulations. The world is so much better for that fact! We are all so much better off now that we are so heavily regulated by this government! So, as we creak and groan under the weight of the regulations that the Labor Party promised would not be happening, sadly we are assisting in this process by passing this legislation today. That gives me great regret, because I think it makes our system of government complex. It puts a burden on people. It makes the effectiveness of our system of government, which relies on principles like cooperative federalism to be able to work better, less effective. This legislation, sadly, facilitates that process, even though we cannot object to the idea of consolidating the resources of the government in the one place. When I see consolidation taking place, I get suspicious. We are told that this is about making things more efficient and bringing them together so that a more effective use of specialised technology can be made by those who draft the laws and regulations of our country. But I have also seen other examples where consolidation is, in fact, a byword for cutting. Only this morning I debated on radio with Senator Lundy the government's decision to consolidate Medicare and Centrelink offices in Canberra. We are told that they are consolidating two offices of Centrelink in the Tuggeranong Valley and two offices of Medicare in the city. This is not about making things better, more efficient and bringing people into the one-stop shop that people talk about. It is actually about making cuts. That is what it is all about. It is about reducing the services available to people—in this case, in Canberra—and it is a weasel word for describing a process whereby the Commonwealth drastically and in a fairly ad hoc fashion reduces its expenditure across the Australian community.

Why are they reducing their expenditure? It is because for the last four years they have spent at unsustainable rates. They have run up massive deficits and huge debt. At last somebody inside the government said, 'We have to draw a line under this and start to make the government live within its means.' So today they are involved in a desperate, random scramble to try to reduce the size of the government's spend. Decisions like this to consolidate are what results.

When the explanatory memorandum to this bill says that the bill will not have any net financial impact, I assume that that is a way of saying it will not cost any more money, but that, in fact, is not the same as saying that it will not save money. This is about reducing costs as well as making the organisation more efficient. I assume that was Mr Stephen Skehill's brief when he produced his report, Strategic review of small and medium agencies in the Attorney-General's portfolio. But whether that is the intention or not does not matter.

The other concern I have about this legislation is that, again, while we accept that we need to be more efficient in the way we spend money, we are also allowing for a greater resource to be targeted on the making of regulations. We have seen in recent years so much more of the Commonwealth's law-making function descend from laws, which have to pass through the parliament and which the democratic representatives of the people get to vote upon, down to regulations, where there is not the opportunity for parliament to debate and amend laws effectively that apply to the Australian community. This new consolidated Office of Parliamentary Counsel will be able to make regulations that affect that transition the government has been engaged in for a number of years now in a way which I suspect is not in the best interests of a healthy, functioning democracy.

Democracy is not having its best day today with the application of the guillotine, so it is appropriate that this legislation be considered for its impact on the quality of our democratic process. I for one greatly regret the fact that opportunities to have debate in this chamber about important things affecting the Australian community are diminished in some way. We have the spectacle of the parliament having to rush through the chamber legislation that is important to the future quality of life of Australian citizens and which represents the expenditure of millions and millions of dollars which Australian taxpayers have contributed to the Commonwealth's coffers in a way which just does not allow members of the Senate or the other place to do their job properly because the time has not been provided for proper analysis and consideration of what the parliament has to do. If we have to come back in the future and amend some of these bills—and I would not be surprised if we do at some point—because they have been rushed through this parliament like it is some sort of sausage factory, we will be there to ask, 'Is it really any surprise that we find ourselves in this invidious position of having to come back and repair at leisure the things we have done in haste because of the incompetence of this government?'

This government, which has botched so much of what it has done in the last four years, now expects us to trust that it has done things properly on this occasion. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.


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