Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 4 Hansard (3 April) . . Page.. 1365 ..
That this bill be agreed to in principle.
MR STEFANIAK (3.51): Mr Speaker, one of the problems with any legislation to do with a number of acts is that there is usually something in it that is a bit problematic. The genesis of this bill was a piece of legislation about 12 months ago with which there were some problems, particularly in relation to statutory interpretation. A part of the previous legislation certainly concerned me. I was pleased to see that it concerned the scrutiny of bills committee and the Bar Association as well.
As a result, the government, to its credit, did not proceed at that time and withdrew the offending provisions, indicating that it would have ongoing discussions with the relevant agencies to come up with something which was considerably better. The government has, in fact, done so. I am pleased to see from the latest scrutiny report that the scrutiny of bills committee does not have any problems now with this piece of legislation as the issues it raised some 12 months ago have been taken into account. I take the attorney's advice that the Bar Association is quite satisfied. It has not contacted me, but we did have contact on several occasions last time. That would appear to me to be logical. I thank Mr Gosling and the other officers for their briefing on this matter.
Luckily, the legislation that passes through a parliament is not all that difficult to understand in many instances, but we do need to be careful to ensure that we pass legislation that gives any sections and subsections within an act a normal meaning for the words in English so that anyone can understand them. There have been some reasonable advances in the way explanatory memoranda, which are an essential tool in terms of statutory interpretation, are being prepared to assist further.
I must say as a former lawyer-I suppose I am still a lawyer- that I do like the giving of examples in various acts, which assists as well. Generally, we do not have too much trouble with interpreting statutes. From my experience in the courts, there were not all that many occasions when there were detailed arguments as to exactly what an act meant.
That means that generally drafters are getting it right and legislatures are getting it right, but sometimes things can go wrong. Sometimes statutes are a little bit difficult to understand. Indeed, sometimes they result in court action themselves. Some statutes are more complicated than others. The taxation act is an horrendous example. I am aware of a number of other acts on which people argue as to exactly what something means. So it is important to ensure that what a court can actually look at is set out.
What is set out in this new bill before the Assembly is described effectively on pages 6, 7 and 8 of the explanatory statement in terms of the types of things that courts can look at. They are the types of things courts have been looking at for 20 or 30 years, and in many instances look at further. It is a bit of a shame, as I have said, if a court gets to the stage where it has to look behind a statute just to see what on earth the words mean. They should be basic. That applies not only to statutes, but also to statutory instruments, which are an important advance. It is equally important to interpret those if there is any problem there.
Sections of the previous act which have been with us for about 20 years have been replicated, including things such as relevant reports of law reform commissions,