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OPC’s 50th Anniversary

The Office of Parliamentary Counsel (OPC) was created in 1970. Therefore, 2020 is the 50th Anniversary of OPC.

OPC was formed in 1970 due to a crisis in legislative drafting or, put simply, a lack of legislative drafters. OPC has been very successful over the last 50 years in recruiting, training and retaining drafters to ensure that it is now in a very strong position and is able to deliver legislation of the highest quality to meet the Government’s requirements.

I think that we can all be extremely proud when we look back over the last 50 years and see what OPC has achieved and where we are today. Over those 50 years the legislation that has been drafted and published by OPC has shaped Australia. The legislation that we draft in the future will continue to shape Australia.

OPC is now widely respected across the drafting offices of the world as a leader in many ways. OPC is incredibly well positioned for the future on the drafting, publishing and corporate fronts.

We had planned a range of activities to celebrate the occasion. Unfortunately, many of these had to be cancelled or substantially changed due to COVID-19. In particular, a major conference that we had planned for April was cancelled.

On both the anniversary of the Parliamentary Counsel Act 1970 receiving the Royal Assent on 15 May and then commencing 28 days later on 12 June, we held morning teas using video conferencing. While these were not the same as everyone getting together, they were an enjoyable way of marking this important milestone.

A tumultuous year

The second half of the financial year has been a tumultuous period for Canberra, Australia and the whole of the world.

In December and January massive bushfires ravaged much of eastern Australia and left Canberra (where OPC is located) under a haze of smoke for weeks at a time. Some of OPC’s staff and their families were directly impacted by the fires.

This was followed by a massive hailstorm that swept through Canberra causing widespread damage. Again, OPC staff and their families were directly affected.

This was then followed by the outbreak of COVID-19. Thankfully, no OPC staff have so far been infected. However, the outbreak had a massive impact on OPC’s operations. We had to move to a skeleton staff in our office almost overnight with other staff working from home using remote access to our IT systems. In addition, there were substantial demands for urgent legislation to ensure that Australia could respond on both the medical/biosecurity front and on the economic front.

The contribution by OPC staff throughout this period has been outstanding. This has been recognised by the Government and by statements in Parliament by members of the Opposition.

At the end of the financial year we were beginning the process of returning to having nearly all staff working from OPC’s premises.

Bills

Over the year, 216 Bills, totalling 7,931 pages, were introduced. These figures are a reduction compared to the previous year. This was primarily due to the reduction in sitting weeks due to the COVID-19 virus. The volume of Parliamentary Amendments was also substantially below the previous year.

The COVID-19 crisis required the very urgent drafting of a range of Bills. These included:

  • the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus Act 2020;
  • the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Act 2020 (which enabled the JobKeeper rules); and
  • the Guarantee of Lending to Small and Medium Enterprises (Coronavirus Economic Response Package) Act 2020.

Other major legislation that was introduced included:

  • the Emergency Response Fund Act 2019;
  • the Customs Tariff Amendment (Growing Australian Export Opportunities Across the Asia-Pacific) Act 2019;
  • the National Sports Tribunal Act 2019;
  • the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (International Production Orders) Bill 2020;
  • the Interactive Gambling Amendment (National Self-exclusion Register) Act 2019; and
  • the Aged Care Legislation Amendment (New Commissioner Functions) Act 2019.

Legislation administered by the Treasury continues to be an area of substantial demand. Legislation that was worked on included:

  • the Coronavirus legislation mentioned above; and
  • legislation in response to the Hayne Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

Instruments

During the year, 255 Federal Executive Council (ExCo) legislative and notifiable instruments drafted by OPC, totalling 3669 pages, were made and registered on the Federal Register of Legislation (the Legislation Register).

OPC also drafted 211 other legislative and notifiable instruments, totalling 2277 pages, for government agency clients.

The COVID-19 crisis required the very urgent drafting of a range of instruments including the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Rules 2020, which established the JobKeeper payment.

Earlier in the year, instruments were required to respond to the bushfires including:

  • the Export Market Development Grants (Export Performance Requirements) Amendment (2019-20 Grant Year) Instrument 2020; and
  • the Veterans’ Affairs Pharmaceutical Benefits Schemes Amendment (Continued Dispensing—Emergency Measures) Determination 2020.

Other major instruments that were made included:

  • the AusCheck Legislation Amendment (Major National Events) Regulations 2019, empowering AusCheck to perform identity checks of workers at significant events such as the Women’s Cricket World Cup;
  • the Competition and Consumer (Industry Codes—Dairy) Regulations 2019, regulating relationships between milk processors and dairy farmers; and
  • the Civil Aviation Safety Amendment (Remotely Piloted Aircraft and Model Aircraft—Registration and Accreditation) Regulations 2019.

Export control legislation project

OPC has been working in partnership on the export control legislation project with the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment since August 2016. The project included drafting a new principal Act as well as supporting Rules and Regulations.

The Export Control Bill passed Parliament February 2020. The new Act and associated Rules and Regulations (15 legislative instruments in all) are scheduled to commence on 28 March 2021.

The Export Control Act 2020 and the Rules and Regulations to be made under it simplify and consolidate the current export control legislation. It creates a flexible legislative framework that will provide the primary means for the Australian Government to regulate goods exported from Australia.

This is the latest in a series of large legislative reform projects which also included the Biosecurity legislation that OPC has undertaken with the Department of Agriculture.

Sunsetting instruments

OPC continued to play a key role in the management of the sunsetting of legislative instruments.

OPC worked closely with sunsetting coordinators in all portfolios to encourage early action on instruments due to sunset.

OPC will continue to play an important role in repealing spent and redundant legislation and ensuring that the Commonwealth statute book is as coherent, readable and readily accessible as possible.

Encouraging high drafting standards for legislative instruments

In 2012 the obligation to encourage high standards in the drafting of legislative instruments under section 16 of the Legislation Act 2003 (the Legislation Act) was transferred to me from the Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department. Since 2012 I have taken a number of measures to fulfil my obligations under that section and enhance the quality of the Commonwealth’s overall statute book.

In 2019-2020 OPC continued to engage actively with rule-making agencies to encourage high standards of drafting and provided services to assist agencies drafting legislative or notifiable instruments. This work expands on OPC’s activities under the program component standardisation and quality control of legislation.

This year we continued the courses run by OPC for people involved in drafting legislative instruments.

Due to COVID-19, we had to suspend courses during the second half of the year. However, we have modified the courses so that they will be able to be presented remotely and are looking forward to running them again.

More information on these activities is set out in later sections of this Annual Report.

Drafting resources

OPC has increased its drafting staff over the year. We have been recruiting new drafters to ensure that we will have sufficient capacity in the future.

During the year, two new drafters started with OPC.

One drafter who had been with OPC for a short time returned to the agency that she had been in before joining OPC.

OPC expects that a number of long-serving drafters will retire over the next few years. However, I am confident that the recruitment and training that has been undertaken over the last few years will mean that the Office will be well placed to continue to deliver the Government’s legislative agenda.

OPC continued to engage the services of Mr Richard Dennis AM PSM who had previously been the Parliamentary Counsel for South Australia.

Publications

The Publications Group functions include:

  • publishing policy, including preparation of sunsetting and bulk repeal;
  • preparing compilations, operating the Legislation Register and managing the associated Helpdesk, publishing and making arrangements for the printing of Commonwealth legislation and Gazettes;
  • proofreading and editorial checking of all draft legislation drafted in OPC; and
  • the development and operation of the Legislation Register website (www.legislation.gov.au).

The Publications group has continued to focus on data acquisition and cleansing to ensure quality is maintained and legislation is accessible on the Legislation Register. This included:

  • continuing significant work to move the format of compilations of Commonwealth legislation into a standard style;
  • preparing versions of as made legislation from 1901 in multiple formats; and
  • back-capturing historical metadata on the Legislation Register to make it consistent with current standards and therefore easier to search and retrieve information about older legislation.

Work also continued on the project to redevelop the Legislation Register.

Documentation and training

This year OPC continued to document matters of ongoing relevance to drafting and publishing legislation.

Drafters continued to be rotated through Bill and instrument drafting positions, to ensure that drafters can take on the full range of OPC’s drafting work.

The Legislation Process Course and more advanced Legislative Design Course both continued to be very popular, with high enrolments and excellent feedback.

OPC continues to provide significant support and training for instrument drafters. OPC convenes the Instrument Drafters Discussion Forum every 6 months which gives officers drafting instruments in-house within agencies the opportunity to discuss common issues and obtain problem solving support from experienced drafters. OPC also continued to regularly hold its two popular and well-received basic courses in drafting legislative instruments.

This year OPC made significant use of documentation of the processes and procedures of the Publications group that was prepared last year when training new staff and staff undertaking additional duties.

OPC also commenced the production of in-house online materials that are available to all staff through LearnHub.

Financial performance

Financially, OPC is in a good position. OPC had a small surplus for the year and is budgeting for a break-even position in 2020-2021.

Additional funding was provided in both the Budget and the Additional Estimates to assist OPC to meet drafting needs arising from the response to the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

The funds were only for this financial year.

Liaison outside OPC

​Over the year, OPC has continued to work on building closer relations with a number of key stakeholders. These have included the Treasury, Attorney-General’s Department, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

OPC continued our close ties with a range of areas within the Attorney-General’s Department on matters of mutual interest. In particular, I continued as a member of the Department’s Legislation Committee and the Significant Legal Issues Committee.

Two of our drafters, Louise Finucane and Lauren Brennan, were seconded to the Attorney-General’s Department until the end of December 2019 to support Dennis Richardson AC to examine the effectiveness of the legislative frameworks governing Australia’s National Intelligence Community. Lauren Brennan received an Attorney-General’s Department Achievement Award 2020 for outstanding secretariat support to the Review for her work on the project.

OPC also has regular meetings with the Department of Health to assist them with management of their legislative program.

I was also a member of the Implementation Steering Committee (ISC) overseeing the preparation of legislation in response to the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. The ISC also included representatives from the Treasury, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

Through my membership of the Board of Taxation, I continued to maintain a close involvement in developments in taxation law and the implementation of that law.

Staff involved in Publications and Information Technology continued to be involved in the Australasian Parliamentary Counsel’s IT, Publishing and Office Systems Forum. This year the meeting was hosted by the New South Wales Parliamentary Counsel’s Office.

I gave speeches to a wide variety of organisations, including:

  • the South Australian Parliamentary Counsel’s Office;
  • Flinders University;
  • the University of South Australia;
  • the Tax Institute in Western Australia;
  • the Law Society of Western Australia;
  • the Western Australian Parliamentary Counsel’s Office;
  • the Office of the Queensland Parliamentary Counsel; and
  • the Australian Government Legal Network.

Other staff spoke at a variety of universities and to other bodies.

Two OPC drafters, John King and Daniel Baird, travelled to Fiji to deliver training on legislative drafting.

OPC staff also met with participants in the 2019 Pacific Twinning Program. The participants were from Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Drafting conferences

In November I attended the Sixth International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform in Washington DC. The other member of the OPC delegation was Ms Samara Zeitsch. In addition to the conference, we also visited the drafting office in Toronto, the drafting office and a number of other offices in Ottawa, and the House of Representative and Senate drafting offices in Washington DC.

The conference and the visits to the various offices were a wonderful opportunity to share information with other legislative drafters.

Two regional conferences of the Commonwealth Association of Legislative Counsel (CALC) which were planned for early 2020 were both cancelled due to COVID-19.

A conference that OPC was organising in Canberra for April that was a joint CALC 50th Anniversary, Australasian Parliamentary Counsel’s Committee and CALC (Pacific Region) was cancelled.

Similarly, a CALC (Europe Region) conference that was to be held in Cardiff in June was cancelled. I had intended to lead a small delegation from OPC to this conference.

Internship

During the year we hosted Ms Tshepo Mokgothu who was undertaking a Joint Master Program in Parliamentary Procedures and Legislative Drafting (EUPADRA) which is an intense post-graduate course offered by three top-ranked European academic institutions: Luiss Guido Carli (Rome, Italy), Universidad Complutense University of Madrid (Madrid, Spain) and University of London (London, UK).

Ms Mokgothu is a legislative drafter from Botswana.

During her time in Australia, she worked at OPC, the ACT Parliamentary Counsel’s Office and the NSW Parliamentary Counsel’s Office.

In addition to gaining experience in legislative drafting in Australia, Ms Mokogothu's internship gave Australian drafters insight into the work that she did in Botswana.

Corporate Services support

We had major changes to our senior staffing in our Corporate Services Group over the year. Our General Manager (Corporate) and CFO, Ms Susan Roberts, left after working with OPC since 2007. Also, our Executive Officer, Mr Tony Perkins, retired after almost 27 years with OPC.

Both Susan and Tony made valuable contributions over their many years of service with OPC.

Mr Stephen Campbell joined OPC as General Manager (Corporate) and Chief Information Officer. We also recruited a number of other Corporate Services positions and have reviewed and restructured the area.

In addition to the ongoing administrative work of OPC, significant administrative activity during the year was devoted to:

· commencing fit-out works to OPC’s premises;

· establishing a consultation and engagement framework;

· establishing the People Committee and the Business Operations Committees, along with a Joint Publishing and Drafting Working Group to support collaboration and engagement of key initiatives across the agency;

· establishing the “Having a conversation” training program for giving and receiving feedback as part of the review into performance management;

· progress of the Redevelopment of the Legislation Register;

· 50th Anniversary celebration activities, including preparing for the CALC 2020 conference;

· responding to COVID-19, and implementing measures to ensure a sustainable and safe working environment for our staff;

· continuing to promote and implement activities in the fourth year of OPC's Healthier Work Plan; and

· reviewing and updating policies, procedures and processes.

The work that was done the previous year in testing and exercising OPC’s business continuity management and ICT disaster recovery arrangements proved to be extremely valuable when we were required at short notice to have nearly all staff working remotely. The work of our IT staff was critical in ensuring that OPC was able to continue to operate at full capacity.

Drafting support to House and Senate

During the year we continued the arrangements to provide drafting support to each of the two Houses of Parliament.

The arrangement with the Senate is a secondment to the Procedure Office for one of our assistant drafters. This position is a valuable learning exercise for the drafters who are involved, as well as a practical way for OPC to provide some assistance to the Senate.

We also provided a senior drafter to assist the House of Representatives to deal with Private Members’ work. This arrangement has been quite successful and is being continued with the drafter working predominantly from OPC’s offices.

Outlook for coming year

As the year commences, there is still substantial uncertainty arising from COVID-19. OPC is in the process of returning to having nearly all staff working from our Office.

For the first half of the year, the Office will continue to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of OPC.

It seems likely that the next year will see a continued increase in the already very high level of demand for OPC’s drafting resources.

It also seems likely that OPC will have some retirements amongst its drafting staff. Therefore, OPC will need to continue to concentrate on the recruitment, training and retention of the highest quality staff in order to meet the demands of the future. OPC will also need to continue to recruit new drafters to ensure the long-term viability of OPC.

Work will continue on the redevelopment of the Legislation Register. The Register is critical in ensuring that the public has ready access to legislation and its redevelopment will provide users with additional functionality and access to a complete database of Federal legislation.

Peter Quiggin PSM