COVID-19’s effect on OPC’s operations
The outbreak of COVID-19 had a substantial impact on OPC’s operations.
Almost overnight, the office moved to having a skeleton staff working in the office with other staff working remotely. The work that had been done on contingency planning proved to be effective and the office was able to continue to function very effectively.
The COVID-19 situation also placed a substantial load on senior management and on administrative staff in developing and implementing policies to ensure that OPC continued to be a safe workplace.
Demand for legislation related to COVID-19
The COVID-19 crisis required the Government to respond very quickly in a range of areas. Very urgent legislation was required in a number of areas.
Legislation was required to ensure that the Government, working together with States and Territories, could address the medical and biosecurity aspects of the crisis.
In addition, legislation was required to address the substantial economic disruption that resulted from the crisis.
Staff across OPC did an exemplary job in delivering this legislation in exceptionally short time frames.
The unusual sitting patterns
As a result of the election in May 2019, the Parliamentary sitting pattern for the Spring sitting differed from the normal sitting pattern.
In addition, due to COVID-19, the Parliamentary sitting patterns were substantially disrupted.
The reduced number of sitting days, and the uncertainty of when Parliament would be able to sit, in the first half of 2020 meant that substantial urgent legislation needed to be completed in time for the limited number of sitting days that were available. This led to very substantial demands on all of the staff in OPC. OPC staff did a wonderful job in meeting these demands.
Demand for legislation from particular portfolios
There continued to be a substantial demand for the drafting of legislation for the Treasury, the Attorney-General’s and Home Affairs portfolios.
Other portfolios that required substantial resources were Finance, Defence, Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, and Health.
The demand for parliamentary amendments was reduced compared to previous year.
Parliamentary amendments can influence performance because of the resources required to prepare the amendments. They are often done on very tight timeframes.
OPC’s performance measures in relation to Bills are also affected by an increasing government preference, and preference among many of our clients, for exposing draft legislation for public comment before introduction into Parliament. This influences performance because the time frames to provide resources are tighter for these Bills and further work is often required after consultation.
Since the adoption in 2002 of the Board of Taxation’s recommendations on consultation in the tax area, much of the tax legislation drafted by OPC is exposed for comment, either widely or in targeted consultations, before being finalised for introduction.
There is also a continuing trend towards the release of exposure drafts in other areas.
Sometimes, these exposure drafts are public exposure drafts. At other times, there are exposure drafts that are shown to a limited group with a particular interest in the area covered by the Bill.
Usually, exposure of a draft Bill generates proposals for change, and OPC receives drafting instructions to revise the Bill before introduction.
Sometimes, exposure reveals flaws in the draft Bill. Exposing a Bill for comment also provides an opportunity to improve the drafting of the Bill before introduction. However, the exposure process does absorb extra drafting resources and extends the time taken for the drafting project. This means that, increasingly, the Bills introduced in a particular year may reflect substantial work actually done by OPC in previous years, while work done during the reporting year is less visible.
For instruments, the time required for consultation processes is generally built into the timeframes for development and making. The development period for projects also does not generally extend beyond the financial year.
There has continued to be more demand for instruments to be drafted and available alongside their enabling Bill. This assists Parliament to consider the package of changes as a whole. Instrument drafters work closely with Bill drafters, which can provide significant efficiencies for the broader project. In appropriate cases, the same drafting team will do the Bill and the associated instruments.
OPC’s funding position
OPC’s funding was increased by $1.203 million in 2019-2020 for additional legislative drafting resources as part of two Department of the Treasury measures, the Government Response to the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry in Budget 2019-20 and Implementing the Government’s Response to the Financial Services Royal Commission - additional funding in Additional Estimates 2019-20.