In April 2021, First Parliamentary Counsel Peter Quiggin PSM QC retired after 17 years in the role.
Peter began his career as a drafter drafting in the areas of tax, immigration and native title. Peter has always been an innovator, being heavily involved in bringing computers into OPC during the 1980s. As the First Parliamentary Counsel, he championed new drafting techniques, such as commencement tables, and advocated the use of other tables in legislation.
One of Peter’s many great strengths was to bring drafters and others together. Whether through his encouragement of drafters within OPC to collaborate and share their knowledge, through his tenure as the longest standing member of the Parliamentary Counsel’s Committee, or through his long involvement in the Commonwealth Association of Legislative Counsel, Peter has always been an advocate of building a drafting community. His involvement in the Commonwealth Association of Legislative Counsel included 3 terms as President. In addition, he has been a member of the Board of Tax since his appointment in 2004.
Peter was also always a strong advocate of documenting knowledge. Not only did he release a number of important Drafting Directions during his leadership, he also made them publicly available, a practice which is not universally shared among drafting offices. I know from a discussion I had with the head of an overseas drafting office how important access to those drafting directions can be for others in the international drafting community.
Peter oversaw the most significant change to Commonwealth legislative drafting and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel since the establishment of the office in 1970. In 2012, the functions of the Office of Legislative Drafting and Publishing, formerly within the Attorney-General’s Department, were transferred to OPC. Peter was a champion of the change, becoming an enthusiastic supporter of the online publication of legislation and the Federal Register of Legislation (the Legislation Register). Under his leadership, OPC began the exciting redevelopment of the Legislation Register to modernise its underlying platforms. While the new Register was not able to be released while he was First Parliamentary Counsel, it will nonetheless remain a key legacy of his leadership.
Peter was awarded a Public Service Medal in 2008, and was made a Queen’s Counsel in 2020 for his services to legislative drafting and publishing.
Peter will be greatly missed, but his legacy will continue.
Bronwyn Livermore is currently acting Second Parliamentary Counsel. Bronwyn has been coordinating our Treasury program for a number of years. Our Treasury program is OPC’s largest legislation program, and through this role Bronwyn has developed a deep knowledge of Treasury’s laws, including tax and corporations law.
The continuing impact of COVID-19
COVID-19 continues to be the main focal point of our lives, and this focus continues to have a significant impact on drafting and publishing legislation. All of our staff, throughout the office, have risen to the challenges provided by COVID-19. Our drafters have consistently supported the Government, and in particular the Departments of Health and Ageing and the Treasury; our publications staff have responded with urgent registration of numerous instruments and a high workload of compilations; and our corporate services staff have continued to assist in strengthening our underlying infrastructure and governance across the office.
As I write this, we in the Australian Capital Territory are in a lockdown as a result of the Delta strain of COVID-19, and are further exploring how to digitise and modernise our processes to deal with these extraordinary circumstances.
The ACE program, OPC’s mission, values and core capabilities, and Connect training
Despite the continuing impact of COVID-19 both on workload and working arrangements, a co-design group of staff, led by our Director of Human Resources Sue Pedder, made significant progress in developing a new performance program. While the program was not ready for launching for the 2020-2021 financial year, it will be launched during the 2021-2022 financial year.
The new performance program aims to modernise how we develop our staff, retaining our strong focus on technical skills while also ensuring that we invest in our people skills. The collaboration and innovation required during the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the need for these strong people skills.
To support this new performance program, OPC developed a new mission statement, values and core capabilities. We hope over the upcoming year to begin to embed our mission, values and capabilities.
Finally, we recognised the need to continue to invest in our supervisors. We partnered with the NeuroLeadership Institute to provide Connect training to our supervisors on the neuroscience of quality conversations. We are looking forward in 2021-2022 to deepening our feedback culture through the related Improve training.
Recruitment of staff
OPC continues to recruit actively in all areas of the office, ensuring that our main functions and support functions are sufficiently resourced. All of the groups, the Drafting, Publications and Corporate Services, have higher proportions of new staff than previously, bringing enthusiasm, innovation and fresh ideas to complement the deep experience of our more longstanding staff members.
Departure of staff
The year saw the departure of some longstanding staff. Stephen Mattingley, Liza Quinn and Toni Walsh left OPC after significant careers as drafters, each leaving a legacy of important legislation on the statute book. Our Chief Financial Officer, Jennifer Dal Pozzo also left us after many years of ensuring strength and accountability in OPC’s finances. Finally, Kevin Bates, Jeremy Farrell and Julie Channels left from our Publications group, having made significant contributions to the Federal Register of Legislation and other publications functions. Other staff of less than 5 years' service also left OPC during the year.
We thank all of our staff who departed during the year for all of their work for OPC and wish them all the best for their futures.
Over the year, 160 Bills, totalling 6,345 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, but coincided with a similar increase in the number of instruments being drafted. The volume of parliamentary amendments was substantially higher than in the previous year.
The COVID-19 crisis required the very urgent drafting of a range of Bills. These included:
the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Act 2020;
the Economic Recovery Package (JobMaker Hiring Credit) Amendment Act 2020;
the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Coronavirus and Other Measures) Act 2020;
the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Act 2021;
the Social Services and Other Legislation Amendment (Extension of Coronavirus Support) Act 2020;
the COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Act 2021; and
the Family Assistance Legislation Amendment (Early Childhood Education and Care Coronavirus Response and Other Measures) Act 2021.
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for legislation to allow for greater flexibility in certain contexts to allow for digital solutions (such as to allow for automated decision making, remote execution of documents and virtual meetings). OPC continues to work with agencies to modernise our legislation to provide for this.
Other major legislation that was introduced included:
the Recycling and Waste Reduction Act 2020;
the National Emergency Declaration Act 2020;
the Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Act 2020;
the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention Bill 2020;
the Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform (Maeve’s Law) Bill 2021;
the Migration Amendment (Clarifying International Obligations for Removal) Act 2021;
the Online Safety Act 2021;
the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021; and
the Mutual Recognition Amendment Act 2021.
Legislation administered by the Treasury continues to be an area of substantial demand. Other legislation that was worked on with Treasury included:
the Foreign Investment Reform (Protecting Australia’s National Security) Act 2020;
the Financial Sector Reform (Hayne Royal Commission Response—Better Advice) Bill 2021;
the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Act 2021; and
the Treasury Laws Amendment (Your Future, Your Super) Act 2021.
During the year, 280 Federal Executive Council (ExCo) legislative and notifiable instruments drafted by OPC, totalling 3,492 pages, were made and registered on the Federal Register of Legislation (the Legislation Register).
OPC also drafted 203 other legislative and notifiable instruments, totalling 3,894 pages, for Government agency clients.
The COVID-19 crisis required the very urgent drafting of a range of instruments including:
over 20 determinations under the Biosecurity Act 2015, including the Biosecurity (Entry Requirements—Human Coronavirus with Pandemic Potential) Determination 2020;
11 other legislative instruments under other legislation made for the Department of Health;
the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Amendment Rules (No. 9) 2020;
12 instruments under the Financial Framework (Supplementary Powers) Act 1997, and 8 instruments under the Industry Research and Development Act 1986, containing COVID-related programs;
4 COVID-related amendments to the Migration Regulations 1994;
several Social Security (Coronavirus Economic Response—2020 Measures) Determinations; and
the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Modifications—National Health (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme)) Determination 2020.
Other major instruments that did not relate to the COVID-19 pandemic that were made included:
the Civil Aviation Legislation Amendment (Flight Operations—Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2021;
the Income Tax Assessment (1997 Act) Regulations 2021;
the Bankruptcy Regulations 2021; and
14 sets of Rules and 3 sets of Regulations totalling 1,575 pages completed in time for the commencement of the new Export Control Act 2020 on 28 March 2021.
OPC continued to play a key role in the management of the sunsetting of legislative instruments, working closely with sunsetting coordinators in all portfolios to encourage early action on instruments due to sunset. The fact that, on June 30 2021, the number of Acts and instruments that are not in force on the Legislation Register is almost double the number of Acts and instruments that are in force indicates the importance of continuing to repeal spent and redundant legislation.
Encouraging high drafting standards for legislative instruments
OPC continues to engage actively with rule-making agencies to encourage high standards of drafting and provide services to assist agencies drafting legislative or notifiable instruments. This work expands on OPC’s activities under the program component relating to standardisation and quality control of legislation.
This year we continued the courses run by OPC for people involved in drafting Bills and legislative instruments, providing them mostly in a remote format. We hope to continue to provide courses in person as soon as possible.
Drafting support to the House of Representatives and the 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 predominantly working from OPC’s offices.
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, and that there is a high quality of data for inclusion in the new 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;
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.
Significant progress was made during the year on the redevelopment of the Federal Register of Legislation. We anticipate that the new Register will be formally launched during 2021-2022.
The 2020-2021 financial year saw OPC complete a challenging project, first begun in 2015, to ensure that every Act as made since 1901 is on the Legislation Register in accessible format. We will continue working to complete some of the historical gaps on our Register, particularly in relation to our statutory rules, to ensure that our data is accurate and comprehensive.
With an increased focus on accessibility, our drafting and publications staff collaborated to begin to develop and release a policy to ensure OPC complies with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in relation to alternative text for images in Commonwealth legislation. The policy applies to all new legislation registered on the Legislation Register, and is outlined in Drafting Direction 1.9, which is now available on OPC's website.
The Publications group will continue to focus on:
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.
Corporate services support
In addition to the ongoing administrative work of OPC, significant activity during the year was devoted to:
developing the Achieving Capability and Excellence performance program (the ACE program);
significant ICT infrastructure and software modernisation;
ensuring compliance with the Protective Security Framework; and
reviewing and updating policies, procedures and processes.
Financially, OPC continues to be in a good position.
OPC’s funding was increased by $1.623 million in 2020-2021 for additional legislative drafting resources as part of two Department of the Treasury measures, the Managing the Treasury Legislative Program in Budget 2019-20 and Implementing the Government’s Response to the Financial Services Royal Commission - additional funding in Additional Estimates 2019-20.
The surplus attributable to the Australian Government for OPC for 2020-2021 was $1.361 million (which, after adding back non-cost recovered depreciation and the impact of AASB 16 Leases, resulted in a surplus of $2.231 million). This compares to a surplus of $1.157 million for 2019-2020 (and, after adding back non-cost recovered depreciation, a surplus of $2.083 million).
Revenue from Government increased by $0.490 million to $17.788 million in 2020-2021, compared to $17.298 million in 2019-2020. Own-source revenue increased by $0.115 million to $6.776 million in 2020-2021, compared to $6.661 million in 2019-2020.
Total expenses increased by $0.401 million to $23.203 million in 2020-2021, compared to $22.802 million in 2019-2020. Employee expenses increased by $1.148 million to $17.907 million in 2020-2021, compared to $16.759 million in 2019-2020. Supplier expenses decreased by $0.797 million to $3.069 million in 2020-2021, compared to $3.866 million in 2019-2020. Depreciation and amortisation expenses increased by $0.051 million to $2.153 million in 2020-2021, compared to $2.102 million in 2019-2020.
At 30 June 2021, OPC had net assets (assets less liabilities) of $19.821 million, compared to $18.374 million at 30 June 2020.
At 30 June 2021, OPC had financial assets of $22.647 million. This includes $18.055 million of undrawn appropriations that are held in the Official Public Account under the Government’s just-in-time drawdown arrangements, and cash at bank of $1.893 million.
The Entity Resource Statement and Expenses by Outcome are set out in Appendix A.
OPC is budgeting for a break-even position in 2021-2022.
AGLS Board and Board of Taxation
During the year, I was appointed as an inaugural member of the Board of the Australian Government Legal Service, which was launched in December 2020. The Board aims to support a whole-of-government, high quality, consistent and coordinated approach to the delivery of legal services and the management of legal risk across the Commonwealth.
Peter Quiggin also retained his involvement with the Board of Taxation until his departure in April 2021. Before his departure, the Government released the Board’s report on the taxation of granny flat arrangements with which Peter had had a close involvement. I continue OPC’s involvement as an ex officio member of the Board of Taxation.
Outlook for coming year
As the 2021-2022 year commences, there is still substantial uncertainty arising from COVID-19. This is likely to continue to impact our Drafting and Publications groups, with an increase in the already very high level of demand for OPC’s drafting resources.
However, despite the challenges raised by the global pandemic, OPC is looking to the future with an aim to continue to improve on how we deliver our functions.
The formal release of the Achieving Capability and Excellence Program (the ACE program) will begin a renewed focus on performance in OPC.
The financial year, or soon after the end of the financial year, should see the release of the redeveloped Federal Register of Legislation, resulting in a significantly improved user experience.
It is also anticipated that there will be a review of the Legislation Act 2003.