Statute Update (Smaller Government) Bill 2017

13 September 2017

DR CHALMERS (Rankin) (10:34): I rise to talk about the Statute Update (Smaller Government) Bill 2017 and to indicate to the House that we will not be opposing this bill. But nobody in this House should take that as an endorsement of the various ways that this government is acting to strangle expert advice to the government. We don't necessarily support the abolition of the bodies which are being abolished by this bill, but the fact is that they exist now in name only. A lot of them have been gutted by the government not appointing new members, removing funding, removing staff or not tasking these bodies with any new work. Whatever this bill does to abolish those bodies, the reality is that in many cases they have ceased to operate in any meaningful way for some time now because the government was not interested in the advice they were providing. The government went about this by defunding them, by de-staffing them and by not tasking them with any work that would otherwise be an important input to the work of government.

This bill repeals three acts and amends 10 acts, but the effect is to abolish seven different bodies—the tradespersons' rights committees, the Oil Stewardship Advisory Council, the Product Stewardship Advisory Group, the advisory group of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, the Plant Breeder's Rights Advisory Committee, the Development Allowance Authority and the Corporations and Markets Advisory Committee, the CAMAC.

In my time in this building, in other roles, I've had some interaction with CAMAC. I have a deep appreciation of the work CAMAC has done. They are one of the seven bodies which are being abolished. The CAMAC has done extremely important work. Let's look at the types of projects the CAMAC has worked on since it came into being. It has looked in detail at crowdsourced equity funding; managed investment schemes, which are of course very controversial; derivatives trading; executive remuneration; diversity on boards of directors; the social responsibility of corporations; personal liability for corporate fault; corporate duties; directors and officers insurance; and insider trading. All of these are very important issues, particularly in our financial system, on which the CAMAC has done such valuable work. This bill will abolish the CAMAC. Down the track, we'll have more to say on how we get the good advice we need in our financial system and ensure we have experts feeding into the policy development process in this place and in the executive.

Some of the other bodies are redundant because other bodies are taking over their role—for example, the tradespersons' rights committees—or because the programs they administer are ceasing, as is the case with the Development Allowance Authority. The CAMAC really is a good example of something which is being abolished for no reason other than this government's aversion to, lack of regard for and lack of respect for expert opinion. If they truly valued expert opinion, particularly in the financial services industry but also right across the board, they wouldn't be abolishing the CAMAC like they are today in this bill.

The government would like to pretend that this is about smaller government. But it's about something entirely different—that is, their lack of regard and lack of respect for expert advice. I note that the shadow minister for climate change is at the table. We see this lack of respect for expert advice in the way they are messing around with the Finkel review, for example. They are unable to get through their party room the key recommendation of the Chief Scientist for a clean energy target. That's another example—a bit like CAMAC—of where expert opinion has been largely ignored and is secondary to the internal political machinations of a divided party room and the Prime Minister's inability to lead. That's another example of expert advice being ignored, as with the abolition of some of these expert advisory bodies.

Another example very topical to the parliament is the drug-testing trials. Unfortunately, my community is one of those singled out for a drug-testing trial. Health experts and law and order experts, including a former Commissioner of the AFP speaking on the radio today, have said these drug trials will be counterproductive when it comes to health outcomes, law and order outcomes, unemployment and homelessness. Not a single health expert has backed what the government wants to do with drug trials. This is another example of how they strangle or ignore expert advice when it comes to policy development.

That's what this bill is really about—trying to limit the opportunity for people who actually know their stuff to feed into government policy. This really comes back to the government's arrogance. They think they know better about the financial system than the relevant experts. They'd rather run a protection racket for some of the stuff that we've seen in the financial services sector over the last little while than genuinely engage with people who know their stuff. It goes back to their arrogance; it goes back to their 'we know best' attitude; it goes back to their lack of respect and regard for expert advice. And that's what this bill is about.

We're not opposing the bill, because, for all intents and purposes, as I said, these bodies were strangled some time ago via other means. This bill really just formalises those attacks on those institutions. When we return to government we will have an opportunity then to work out what the best arrangements are, across all of the portfolios, to listen to the experts and make sure that they have a genuine voice in the policy development of a Shorten Labor government, but also in the affairs of this nation.