Senate debates

Thursday, 9 February 2017


Regulatory Powers (Standardisation Reform) Bill 2016; Second Reading

1:30 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Labor supports the Regulatory Powers (Standardisation Reform) Bill 2016, which continues work undertaken by the former Labor government. The principal act, which this bill implements in part in 15 different Commonwealth acts, is the Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) 2014.

The regulatory powers act was a revival of a near identical bill introduced into the parliament by the Labor government in 2012 by the then Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, which lapsed when the parliament was dissolved in 2013. As part of its regulatory reform agenda the former Labor government developed a framework of standard regulatory powers to be implemented across a variety of areas of Commonwealth law. This project was intended to reduce the volume and complexity of Commonwealth legislation and to work towards a more consistent approach to regulation across government. As a law of general application, the bill would reduce the size of each new Commonwealth act or regulation requiring regulatory provisions by up to 80 pages, therefore cutting red tape. The bill was an initiative under the Labor government's clearer laws project, which aimed to reduce the volume and improve the coherence and consistency of Commonwealth laws. The bill stood in contrast to the empty rhetoric of the Abbott government's Repeal Day. That media stunt involved a repeal of inoperative provisions, a manoeuvre which did not in any real sense cut red tape or deliver savings to the community.

The regulatory powers act, by contrast, simplified operative legislation. The Labor government's legislation to implement the first stage of this reform lapsed when the 43rd parliament was dissolved, but it was reintroduced by the Abbott government as the Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Bill 2014. The Abbott government reintroduced the legislation without amendments of any consequence. The bill passed the parliament with the support of the Labor opposition on 10 July 2014 and entered into force in October 2014. We were pleased that the Abbott government reintroduced that bill, and Labor supported it in the parliament.

The regulatory powers act formed part of the Labor government's broader regulatory reform agenda. It sets out a standardised framework of regulatory powers able to be implemented in a coherent and predictable fashion across the entire statute book. The act does not have force of its own: for its standard provisions to be picked up and applied it must be referred to either in new bills or in amendments to existing acts. The regulatory powers act contains a standard suite of provisions containing investigative, compliance monitoring and enforcement powers, which can be applied to individual pieces of Commonwealth regulatory legislation. According to the explanatory memorandum of the regulatory powers act, the standard provisions are based on powers which are commonly available to many Commonwealth regulatory agencies in their various pieces of governing legislation. The regulatory powers act does not have direct legal effect in the sense of conferring powers on regulatory agencies or imposing duties or liabilities on regulated entities. Rather, its provisions have effect if a new act is drafted or if an existing act is amended to apply the standard provisions of the regulatory powers act to a particular regulatory scheme.

Legislation applying the provisions of the regulatory powers act to an individual regulatory scheme is commonly referred to as 'triggering' legislation. The process of triggering the application of the regulatory powers act to a piece of regulatory legislation is commonly referred to as 'standardisation'. The objective of standardisation is to simplify and streamline Commonwealth regulatory powers across the statute book by creating a general framework of powers which can be applied to multiple regulatory schemes. Standardisation of Commonwealth regulatory powers is also said to support the government's regulatory reform agenda by reducing the volume of Commonwealth regulatory legislation. This is said to be because triggering legislation can be drafted to cross-refer to or incorporate by reference the relevant provisions of the regulatory powers act, rather than reproducing them in full in each enactment. Standardisation is also said to increase legal certainty for individuals and businesses subject to the relevant regulatory powers. That is what this bill does.

The purpose of the Regulatory Powers (Standardisation Reform) Bill 2016 is to amend 15 Commonwealth acts that establish regulatory regimes by repealing certain of their existing provisions conferring powers of investigation, compliance, monitoring and enforcement as applicable on the relevant regulatory agency administering each scheme by substituting each provision repealed with a corresponding standard provision of the regulatory powers act; to provide for a continuation of certain existing regulatory powers and provisions, generally because there are no equivalent provisions in the regulatory powers act and it is considered necessary for the relevant regulatory agency to continue to exercise these powers to perform their statutory functions; and to amend the regulatory powers act to give effect to the government's intended interpretation of certain standard provisions and to remove some procedural requirements which it has assessed as imposing unreasonable administrative burdens on agencies exercising powers under the regulatory powers act. The government has described the proposed amendments to the regulatory powers act as minor.

The regulatory powers reform project was always intended to proceed in several stages. The first stage, as implemented in the regulatory powers act, was only the development of a suite of standard powers. The standard powers only have force if they are triggered by a principal act supporting a regulatory scheme.

This current bill amends 15 acts to implement various parts of the new regulatory powers framework. The bill amends the following Commonwealth acts to repeal current provisions providing for regulatory regimes in those acts and, instead, to trigger the standard provisions of the regulatory powers act. Those acts are the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority Act 2006, Building Energy Efficiency Disclosure Act 2010, Coal Mining Industry (Long Service Leave) Administration Act 1992, Coal Mining Industry (Long Service Leave) Payroll Levy Collection Act 1992, Defence Act 1903, Defence Reserve Service (Protection) Act 2001, Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards Act 2012, Horse Disease Response Levy Collection Act 2011, Illegal Logging Prohibition Act 2012, Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989, Paid Parental Leave Act 2010, Personal Property Securities Act 2009, Privacy Act 1988, Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 and Weapons of Mass Destruction (Prevention of Proliferation) Act 1995.

Those amendments are, by and large, only technical in nature. In most instances, no substantive expansion of regulatory power will result. In most instances, the bill will not alter existing arrangements, because triggering the regulatory powers act will substitute an equivalent provision for existing powers, though that provision reflects modern, best-practice drafting. Necessarily, though, there are some minor changes in the substance of various regulatory powers where existing powers do not marry up precisely with the new, standard powers.

The bill also makes minor amendments to the regulatory powers act itself to clarify the meaning of certain provisions and to streamline the operation of some powers by: clarifying the power to secure evidence where compliance with a regulatory provision is being monitored; extending the validity of identity cards for personnel of regulators from one year to five years; extending the time which regulators have to launch civil penalty provisions from four to six years; and clarifying that a single infringement notice may be issued by a regulator in respect of multiple contraventions, and that detail of each must be given.

In conclusion, Labor supports this bill. We hope that the government will continue to build on Labor's regulatory powers reforms in pursuit of less voluminous, less complex legislation. We should all strive to make sure that the statute book is as clear, accessible and comprehensible as possible.


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