House of Representatives

Acts and Instruments (Framework Reform) Bill 2014

Second Reading Speech

Mr Keenan (Minister for Justice)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am very pleased to introduce the Acts and Instruments (Framework Reform) Bill 2014 into the parliament. The bill seeks to improve the operation and clarity of legislative frameworks for Commonwealth acts and instruments. It is an important deregulatory measure that will create administrative efficiencies across government while enhancing the public accessibility of Commonwealth laws.

The key purpose of the bill is to reform the Legislative Instruments Act 2003.

The Legislative Instruments Act came into force in 2005 and provides a comprehensive regime for the registration, tabling, scrutiny and sunsetting-or automatic repeal-of Commonwealth legislative instruments.

It ensures that members of the public, businesses, regulatory agencies, lawyers and courts can easily access complete and authoritative legislative instruments and their explanatory statements on the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments. This is an important mechanism for ensuring access to justice.

In 2008, a statutory review of the Legislative Instruments Act was conducted by a committee comprising two senior members of the Commonwealth Public Service and the then Commonwealth Ombudsman. The committee consulted a broad range of stakeholders, with the release of an issues paper and over 60 responses to that paper. The committee also held extensive meetings with interested stakeholders.

The review found that the Legislative Instruments Act had been largely successful in improving public access and facilitating parliamentary scrutiny of legislative instruments. It also found that a number of improvements could be made to the scheme and released a number of recommendations.

Following the review, measures have been implemented to strengthen the legislative instruments framework.

There has been a significant amount of work to manage the sunsetting of legislative instruments across the Commonwealth. This has included the government's efforts over both Repeal Days this year to repeal over 10,000 spent and redundant legislative instruments from the statute books.

The sunsetting of older legislative instruments also presents a unique opportunity for the government to reduce red tape, deliver clearer and simpler laws, and align existing legislation with current government policy.

Technical enhancements have been made to the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments to ensure a high level of performance and useability and to support the sunsetting of legislative instruments.

Further, the Attorney-General's Department and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel have issued new guidance materials to help Commonwealth rule makers and agencies to manage their legislative instruments efficiently, effectively and in accordance with the law.

But there is still more work that we can do to enhance access to instruments and to improve the efficiency and operation of the scheme. Some of this work follows the recommendations of the review, and some of it comes from the experience gained by the passage of time with the scheme now in place for almost 10 years.

This bill seeks to simplify and consolidate legislative frameworks for the publication of Commonwealth acts and the registration of Commonwealth instruments into a single act. The bill will implement this change by renaming the Legislative Instruments Act the Legislation Act 2003 and repealing the Acts Publication Act 1905.

The current database of Commonwealth Acts and the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments, which are both accessed through ComLaw, will be integrated into a single register called the Federal Register of Legislation. Importantly, this Register will provide users with the ability to access other documents and information relevant to Commonwealth laws.

There are other types of instruments made by the Commonwealth that are not made as legislative instruments as they are not legislative in character. These instruments do not currently need to be published on the Federal Register. Historically, many of these instruments were published in paper form only. Over time, there have been efforts to ensure that instruments are published electronically and able to be accessed by users online.

The problem is that instruments are published in many different places, including in various government gazettes, on agency websites or portals and in newspapers. This makes it difficult for users to find these instruments or to even be aware that they exist. It also places a burden on agencies to manage their stock of instruments and ensure that they have adequate infrastructure in place to support the publication of these instruments.

The bill helps to address this problem. It expands the scope of the legislative instruments framework to cover a new category of instruments, called notifiable instruments. This means that instruments which are not legislative in character can also be registered on the centrally managed and authoritative Federal Register of Legislation, which will allow them to be more readily publicised and accessed.

These amendments will align the processes for registration, compilations and authorised versions for acts and a broader range of instruments. The amendments will also enable the First Parliamentary Counsel to make minor editorial changes in preparing registered compilations of acts and instruments that do not change the effect of the legislation.

These amendments will produce administrative efficiencies across government.

Consistent with the government's deregulation agenda and efforts to promote clearer and simpler laws, the bill will enable bulk amendments or repeals arising from the thematic review of instruments to be made more quickly and simply. In consultation with the relevant rule makers, the Attorney-General will be able to advise the Governor-General to make a single instrument that would give effect to such a review across government portfolios.

The bill will help clarify and better define legislative instruments and legislative character to ensure that instruments are made in their appropriate form and able to be enforceable by registration as legislative instruments on the Register.

It will move certain content from the act to regulations to help consolidate detail that may be more suitably placed in delegated legislation and which may need to be updated regularly.

It will also allow the First Parliamentary Counsel to make rules about matters for the purpose of meeting his or her obligation to maintain a consistent, accurate and up-to-date Register.

This mechanism will facilitate a level of procedural detail that may not be appropriate for including in the act or the regulations. The rules will be a legislative instrument, which means that they will be subject to parliamentary oversight.

The bill also clarifies consultation requirements for the drafting of legislative instruments to ensure that the requirement of rule makers to undertake appropriate consultation applies equally to instruments that affect business and competition and those that do not.

Further, the bill will remove transitional mechanisms for dealing with instruments made before the Legislative Instruments scheme was introduced in 2005. It will amend numerous other acts to make clear in enabling legislation that certain instruments are legislative or notifiable instruments for the purpose of the Legislation Act and update references to repealed provisions of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 and the repealed Statutory Rules Publication Act 1905 to relevant provisions in the Legislation Act.

Consequently, the bill repeals the Legislative Instruments (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 2003, which will become redundant.

The bill will also amend other acts to convert gazettal or other publication requirements into requirements to register an instrument on the federal register where this would be appropriate or would reflect current practice.

Certain provisions on the statute book that provide an implied power to make an instrument will be updated to expressly confer a power to make an instrument. This will not change the effect of those provisions but will remove any doubt about whether such provisions are effective in conferring power.

The bill will repeal section 46B of the Acts Interpretation Act, which provides for non-legislative disallowable instruments and makes consequential amendments to laws that provide for these instruments. This will reduce the number of disallowable regimes for instruments, encourage a reduction in separate gazettal procedures and enhance the status of the federal register as a central repository and authoritative source of Commonwealth legislative instruments.

Finally, the bill will amend the Acts Interpretation Act to expand and simplify the provisions dealing with machinery of government changes.

The amendments will broaden the rules for interpreting references to ministers and departments in legislation, and for interpreting references to authorities in agreements entered into by or on behalf of the Commonwealth.

This will provide much legal certainty for the ongoing valid exercise of powers and functions immediately following machinery of government changes.

The bill will not alter the processes for the consideration of bills and legislative instruments by parliament. The measures in the bill will not substantially alter the way in which acts are handled under the existing publication regime.

This bill provides the opportunity for significant reforms to the legislative frameworks for Commonwealth acts and instruments. It will create administrative efficiencies across the government, helping to reduce 'beige tape' which can cause large imposts on government agencies. It will also facilitate efforts to reduce red tape. More importantly, this bill will promote the principle of access to justice by enhancing the accessibility of Commonwealth laws. I, therefore, commend it to the House.

Debate adjourned.