Wednesday, 25 March 2015
Scrutiny of Bills Committee; Report
I present the fourth report of the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. I also lay on the table Scrutiny of Bills Alert Digest No. 4 of 2015, dated 25 March 2015 together with The work of the committee in 2014.
Ordered that the report be printed.
That the Senate take note of the report.
I rise to speak to the tabling of the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee's report on the work of the committee in 2014.
As most senators would be aware, the Scrutiny of Bills Committee scrutinises each bill introduced into the parliament and reports to the Senate if it considers that a provision in a bill may:
(i) trespass unduly on personal rights and liberties;
(ii) make rights, liberties or obligations unduly dependent upon insufficiently defined administrative powers;
(iii) make rights, liberties or obligations unduly dependent upon non-reviewable decisions;
(iv) inappropriately delegate legislative powers; or
(v) insufficiently subject the exercise of legislative power to parliamentary scrutiny.
Changes to standing orders
There have been some changes to standing orders. A significant change for the committee in 2014 was the amendment of standing orders 24 and 25, agreed to on 15 July. These amendments arose following the committee's 2012 report into its future role and direction. Important changes to the standing orders in relation to a number of areas were agreed to, including an amendment to standing order 25. This amendment inserted standing order 25(2A), which provides that when legislation committees are examining bills they should take into account any comments on the bills published by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee. Further information in relation to the changes to standing orders 24 and 25 is contained in the report.
The work of the committee in 2014
The work of the committee in scrutinising bills against its five scrutiny principles assists and improves parliamentary consideration of legislation in a number of important ways. Outcomes of the committee's work include:
The committee's 2014 annual report outlines some key achievements of the committee during the year, and I would like to take this opportunity to briefly comment on a few of those.
The report notes that an important aspect of the committee's work in 2014 was scrutinising several significant counterterrorism and national security bills. The committee commented on a number of issues in relation to these bills and, as a result, explanatory material associated with the bills was revised.
The committee regularly requests that additional information be included in explanatory memoranda to ensure that provisions of bills on which the committee has commented are adequately explained. The committee therefore welcomed the revisions to the explanatory memoranda for the national security and counterterrorism bills following the committee's scrutiny of the bills.
Several government amendments to the national security and counterterrorism bills were also moved as a result of the committee's comments. For example, in relation to the authorisation of 'special intelligence operations', an amendment was moved so that a 'special intelligence operation authority' is now required to state a description of the nature of the authorised conduct (rather than just a 'general description' of the nature of that conduct).
The committee also routinely forwards its comments on bills to Senate legislation committees. The annual report outlines some examples of reports by legislation committees that have drawn on the Scrutiny of Bills Committee's comments, such as the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee's inquiry into the provisions of the Australian Citizenship and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014.
The report also notes examples where the committee's comments have been referred to in debate in the Senate and at public hearings of legislation committees inquiring into bills. For example, during a hearing of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee into the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014, the Scrutiny of Bills Committee's comments in relation to the exclusion of the common law rules of natural justice were raised by witnesses appearing at the hearing.
Issues of continuing interest
The report also notes some issues which the committee will continue to monitor into the future. For example, the committee will closely monitor provisions that delegate legislative powers to ensure that the disallowance process applies and that any departure from this approach is fully justified in the explanatory material. The committee also monitors these provisions to ensure that important matters are included in primary legislation, rather than delegated legislation. For example, in 2014 the committee noted its preference that legislative authority for arrangements and grants, following the High Court's decisions in the Williams cases, should be included in primary legislation to allow full parliamentary involvement in, and consideration of, such proposals.
The committee will also continue to monitor the classification of expenditure items in appropriation bills and may query instances in which expenditure items appear to be inappropriately classified as 'ordinary annual services of the government' as this prevents the Senate from exercising its constitutional right to amend non-ordinary annual services items.
Focus for 2015
In addition to undertaking its general scrutiny function, the committee has also considered areas in which it may focus its attention during 2015 to support an increased awareness of, and access to, the committee's work. In particular, the committee intends to introduce new information resources on its website, such as guidelines containing practical information about the committee's work and scrutiny expectations.
The committee also plans to undertake a project that will emphasise the importance of providing comprehensive explanatory material and which will be intended to help those drafting explanatory memoranda to make them as useful as possible. The committee will continue to liaise with other committees, including Senate legislation committees, the Senate Regulations and Ordinances Committee and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, in 2015.
Finally, on behalf of the committee I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work and assistance of the committee's legal adviser, Associate Professor Leighton McDonald. I would also like to acknowledge the assistance of ministers and departments, as their responsiveness to the committee is critical to the legislative process as it ensures that the committee can perform its scrutiny functions effectively. And, noting the committee's long-standing practice of undertaking its scrutiny in a non-partisan, apolitical and consensual way, I also thank all of my current and former scrutiny committee colleagues for their understanding of the committee's approach to its work and their commitment to it. I would also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the hardworking Committee Secretary, Ms Toni Dawes, and her team. We all in this place appreciate the outstanding work that is done by our committee secretaries.
I commend the committee's report, The work of the committee in 2014, and the committee's fourth report and Alert Digest No. 4 of 2015 to the Senate, and I look forward to its next annual report. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.