House of Representatives

Statute Law Revision Bill 2012

Second Reading Speech

Ms Roxon (Attorney-General and Minister for Emergency Management)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The government is doing what we need to do to make the Commonwealth statute book simpler, clearer and easier to understand. Most recently we introduced legislation to substantially reduce redundant legislation through the Legislative Instruments Act (Sunsetting Measures) Bill, in close consultation with affected industries.

This Statute Law Revision Bill is another small step towards that goal.

Statute law revision bills have been used for the last 30 years to improve the quality of Commonwealth legislation. The bills do not make substantive changes to the law but still perform the important function of repairing minor errors in the Commonwealth statute books, which accumulated across successive government amendments, and improving the accuracy and useability of consolidated versions of Commonwealth acts.

This continual process of statutory review complements the government's commitment to creating clearer Commonwealth laws. The review process undertaken in the preparation of this bill serves to ensure that the statute book contains less clutter in the form of outdated cross-references or by repealing obsolete acts.

Schedules 1, 2, 6 and 7 of this bill achieve three main ends:

correcting minor and technical errors in acts, such as grammatical and numbering errors,
correcting amendments or amending acts which are erroneous, misdescribed or redundant, and
repealing obsolete amending provisions and acts.

By removing or amending outdated or unclear legislative provisions, this bill helps make the law clearer, more consistent and easier to access.

Schedule 3 removes specific references to the Civil Aviation Regulations, replacing them with references to 'regulations made under the Civil Aviation Act 1988'. This replaces specific references to regulations with references to the principal act, which are more generic and robust.

Current drafting practice is to avoid referring to a particular regulation by name. This reduces the risk of reader confusion and error in cases where the names of regulations change or the contents of the regulations alter.

Schedule 4 makes amendments consequential on amendments to the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 and the enactment of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003.

The amendments repeal provisions relating to acting appointments that are redundant as they are now covered by section 33AB and 33A of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901. These items also add notes referring to the general acting appointment rules in the Acts Interpretation Act 1901.

The schedule also includes an item which updates a reference from section 49A of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 to section 14 of the Legislation Instruments Act 2003. This is necessary as the content of section 49A, which was repealed in 2003, is now replicated in section 14.

Finally, schedule 5 of the bill amends a number of acts to ensure that Commonwealth ministers are identified by reference to the administration of identified legislation rather than by specific name, and Commonwealth departments are identified by reference to the minister administering identified legislation or a particular matter, rather than by specific name.

Currently, when the names of ministers or departments change, or when responsibility for particular legislation is transferred between ministers or departments, the Governor-General makes substituted reference orders under sections 19B and 19BA of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901. The orders allow references to specific ministers or departments in legislation to be read as though they are references to the correct minister or department. This means that users of Commonwealth legislation have to read the legislation in conjunction with these orders.

The amendments contained in schedule 5 will greatly reduce reliance on section 19B and 19BA orders and the need for such orders to be made in the future. This is because the amendments insert more generic references to ministers and departments in Commonwealth acts.

For example, instead of referring to the specific title of the minister for finance, after these amendments have been passed they will refer to the generic title of finance minister. This will be defined as 'the minister administering the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997'. The new reference would remain accurate even if the specific title of the minister with that responsibility changes over time. This will improve the clarity and useability of Commonwealth acts.

I thank the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, and officers across many government departments, for the significant time and effort that went into preparing this bill. This is just one demonstration of the OPC's drafting expertise, attention to detail and commitment to ensuring that Commonwealth legislation is clear, accurate and effective.

I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.