Chairman's report on Scrutiny of Bills Committee terms of reference

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:03):

 As chair of the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, I also present the final report of the committee's inquiry into its future direction and role, together with documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

 Senator IAN MACDONALD: I move: That the Senate take note of the report. The committee itself requested this inquiry in the light of its 30th anniversary in November 2011. After 30 years of operation, the committee considered that it was appropriate to review its terms of reference and to reflect on its work. Through the inquiry, the committee sought to identify whether change is needed to modify or supplement its existing terms of reference. In doing this, the committee explored its practices and processes, its supporting framework and its place in the parliamentary committee system.

The scrutiny of bills committee especially appreciated the support for its work that was expressed by a number of the submitters to that inquiry. The committee, with the assistance of the views of submitters and on its own analysis, has identified a number of areas in which change is suggested to strengthen the existing framework. In this vein, I might mention that I had a chance corridor meeting with the CEO of one of the submitters, the Rule of Law Institute, who advised that the institute had done its own assessment on the work of this committee and that assessment would be released in due course with statistics that would make very interesting reading. Suffice to say, however, the Rule of Law Institute was very supportive of the work of the committee and praised its work over 30 years in highlighting some of the issues that are raised on what many would say is inappropriately drafted legislation.

 The committee's inquiry into its future direction and role makes some important recommendations to ensure that the terms of reference in standing order 24 remain relevant and useful. I would characterise the suggestions as complementary to the committee's current work and progression without departing significantly from existing practices. The more significant recommendations that came out of the inquiry, which are contained in the report that I am tabling now, include provisions that:

 _ in appropriate circumstances, the committee should notify the Senate of a failure to respond to a request by it for information; That is a request back to the government for information on some of the drafting of the bills, and similar to the legislative and general purpose standing committees, the Scrutiny of Bills Committee should be given permanent inquiry powers.

 The committee also recommends that:

 standing order 24 be amended to specifically refer to the scrutiny of bills which excessive rely on delegated legislation for their operation _.

 Also, there was a recommendation that the draft legislation that is part of the scheme of uniform legislation should be referred to relevant Senate committees, including the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, for consideration before the legislation is finalised. This is in the case where draft legislation is exposed.

 The committee recommended that thought should be given and this is very important to both this committee, the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, and the Regulation and Ordinances Committee looking at regulations as well as legislation. Whilst this is not specifically mentioned in the committee's recommendations before the chamber, it is interesting to note that regulations under the Henry VIII arrangement, which is often referred to, do permit regulations that is, subsidiary regulation to override the legislation passed by this parliament and thereby actually giving it power to make regulations. It is okay to allow the regulations to be made some would say it is not okay, but it is a practice that for very good reasons has evolved but those regulations are then not subjected to the same scrutiny as the enabling legislation is. That seems to be a bit of a flaw in the whole process. I think something the committee and, indeed, the Senate should look at in the future is whether regulations should actually be subjected to those same processes by both the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the Regulations and Ordinances Committee.

 The committee also recognises that the expertise in legislative scrutiny is likely to be useful to other participants in the legislative process. The committee, therefore, considered ways in which to raise awareness of the principles it considers and its expectations of how they will be addressed. The ideas the committee intends to progress include: firstly, creating a checklist of key scrutiny issues to assist the department and to identify possible scrutiny issues; secondly, publishing short guides and a consolidated document of principles to support the use of the checklist; and, thirdly, enhancing its website and other electronic resources.

 In conclusion, on behalf of the committee I acknowledge and thank all of those many people who have assisted the inquiry by making submissions and providing additional information. I also pay tribute to Senator Mitch Fifield, who was the chairman of this committee before I took it over. He chaired most of the work into the report that is currently before the Senate. I particularly thank the secretariat the secretary of the committee, Toni Dawes, and all of her team for the considerable help they have given. They are the professional advisers to the committee who assist generally with the work and with this inquiry as well. I commend to the Senate this committee's report into its future direction and role.

 Question agreed to.

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