House of Representatives

Parliamentary Counsel and Other Legislation Amendment 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 Parliamentary Counsel and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 amends the Parliamentary Counsel Act 1970, the Acts Publication Act 1905 and the Legislative Instruments Act 2003 to enable the functions of the Office of Legislative Drafting and Publishing in the Attorney-General's Department to be transferred to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel.

The bill is part of a range of measures being conducted to facilitate the transfer of these functions.

As many would be aware, there are currently two Commonwealth offices responsible for drafting laws:

The Office of Parliamentary Counsel is an independent agency, within my portfolio, which is responsible for drafting all government bills.
The Office of Legislative Drafting and Publishing is a division within my department, which has responsibility for drafting a range of legislative instruments, as well as ensuring the compilation and publication of all laws, predominantly through the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments.

These two separate offices were originally established to deal with the increasing demands on the Commonwealth for drafting resources, as the need for greater federal regulation grew, government responsibilities expanded, and government policies became increasingly complex.

Given the specialist and discrete nature of this work, it is important that the role of the Commonwealth drafter remain independent.

However it is common practice across other Australian jurisdictions, for the one office to draft both bills and subordinate legislation.

These days, regulations commonly contain major elements of substantive law, and are a vital part of the Commonwealth's statute book.

And with the volume of legislation rapidly increasing year by year, it is becoming imperative that Commonwealth legislation be drafted as consistently, clearly and effectively as possible.

The Commonwealth drafting offices were already working cooperatively to improve the consistency of bills and subordinate legislation presented to the parliament. However, practical differences in their administrative systems and drafting standards have created a range of inconsistencies and difficulties.

It was for this reason that the Strategic Review of Small and Medium Agencies in the Attorney-General's Portfolio, conducted by Mr Stephen Skehill, recommended to government that the Office of Parliamentary Counsel take on the functions of the Office of Legislative Drafting and Publishing. This change will significantly improve the efficient and effective management of the Commonwealth's legislative drafting resources.

The bill will confer on the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and the First Parliamentary Counsel all the functions formerly undertaken by the Office of Legislative Drafting and Publishing and the secretary of my department with regard to subordinate legislation, compilations and publishing.

This includes:

drafting subordinate legislation
preparation of compilations, reprints and information about Commonwealth laws
making arrangements to print and publish Commonwealth laws
preparation and publishing of government notices gazettes
provision of assistance to foreign countries in the drafting, printing, publishing of their laws
maintenance of the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments
and generally, promoting the legal effectiveness and clarity of legislative instruments, wherever possible.

By conferring all of the functions on one Commonwealth drafting office, the bill will facilitate the introduction of a consistent approach for drafting bills and legislative instruments and, more broadly, maximise the use and flexibility of Commonwealth drafting resources.

It will also ensure the most efficient use of specialised information technology arrangements for the drafting of both acts and subordinate legislation.

These additional responsibilities and functions accepted by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, along with the movement of experienced and highly skilled staff from the Office of Legislative Drafting and Publishing, will result in clearer and more consistent Commonwealth laws overall.

This, in turn, will make Commonwealth laws clearer and easier to understand.

May I also take this opportunity to note for the House and those particularly interested in the history of drafting in the Commonwealth that I have recently launched the 100-year history of the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. For those interested in all things parliamentary it is actually quite a fascinating read.

I commend it and this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.

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