Treasury Laws Amendment (2023 Law Improvement Package No.1) Bill 2023
SECOND READING DEBATE - HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
I rise today to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (2023 Law Improvement Package No. 1) Bill 2023. This bill is about simplifying and rationalising the Corporations Law. The government is progressing amendments to ensure Treasury portfolio legislation remains current and fit for purpose. This bill has six schedules and will reduce complexity in Australia's corporations and financial services law, increase its navigability and enhance its clarity.
Schedules 1 to 3 of the bill enact recommendations made by the Australian Law Reform Commission in interim report A and interim report B of its Review of the Legislative Framework for Corporations and Financial Services Regulation. The purpose of the ALRC's review is to inquire into the potential simplification and rationalisation of Australia's financial services laws. Those first three schedules of the bill improve navigability and simplify the law by unfreezing the Acts Interpretation Act 1901. The current version applies to the Corporations Act 2001 and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission Act 2001. They create a single glossary of all defined terms in section 9 of the Corporations Act, which goes to simplify peoples understanding of the legislation. It repeals redundant provisions, including definitions that are no longer used and cross-references to appeal other provisions. It corrects errors and it improves clarity, with a particular focus on terms defined as having more than one meaning and definitions containing substantive obligations.
While talking about schedules 1 to 3, I am reminded of the contribution from the member for Forde, my opposing number as the Chief Opposition Whip, who spoke at length about red tape. As I was listening to him, I was astounded. Having been in the parliament for nine years and having been here for various debates on Treasury law amendment legislation, I would have thought the former government would have finished getting rid of all the red tape after nine years, but apparently red tape is still a major problem. This government is getting on with the job of listening to our public servants, taking seriously the reports that are landing in front of our ministers and ensuring that we are doing everything possible to have our laws, particularly around corporations, set up both for people's understanding and to make them usable.
Schedule 4 of this bill is around insurance. It makes amendments to the Insurance Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1991, the Life Insurance Act 1995 and the Insurance Act 1973. They are the enabling acts of certain legislative instruments regulating the insurance industry and they are due to sunset on 1 October 2023. For those listening from my electorate, 'sunsetting' in legislation is a way to automatically repeal legislative instruments after a certain date unless action is taken to retain them. I like to think of a sunset clause as setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to get something done. Sunset clauses are a reminder to this place and to the organisations that we need to look at this again. They are deliberately introduced into legislation to be that alarm bell, and in this case, in schedule 4, that sunset clause is coming into review on 1 October 2023, so it's a reminder for us to look at that.
It's the automatic repeal of legislative instruments after a certain date unless action is taken to retain them. Sunsetting is important to ensure legislative instruments are kept up to date and only remain in force so long as they are needed. And this, as the member for Fraser discussed earlier, is an important thing so that the framework does not become overwhelmingly large. This ensures that things that are redundant are removed.
The purpose of the relevant insurance acts is to protect policyholders by regulating the types of persons that may carry on insurance businesses and prescribe standards to ensure the prudent management of the industry. Noone in this place needs a reminder of how important that is, and no-one around the country needs a reminder of how important that is after the last few years. We've had so many incidents where we've had natural disasters and then, in this House, had prime ministers and members calling on insurance companies to do the right thing. So having absolute clarity in this space about the kinds of people who are allowed to be insurers is absolutely critical. The amendments will help to ensure the sunsetting insurance instruments that are still necessary are up to date and fit for purpose when they are remade.
The amendments in schedule 4 to the bill are primarily technical and include updating certain provisions to reflect modern communication practices. We heard the member for Sturt talking about modern communication practices, cybersecurity breaches and the importance of people's privacy and ensuring that—when we are going for these productivities and efficiencies in our legislation to allow them into practice—we are also, on the other hand, ensuring that we have a clear eye on safety and the risks. Obviously, after some of the large hacks, we are all fundamentally aware of what this is going to. But I would say to the member for Sturt that this government sees cybersecurity as a whole-of-government concern. Hence, we have a minister who has cybersecurity named in their title, because we take that seriously in this place. I would like to assure him that those things are being taken into consideration by this government. The other thing that this does is allow regulators to administratively prescribe the manner and form of certain notices to increase flexibility and align with modern drafting practices. It moves provisions from the insurance instruments into the primary legislation.
Schedule 5 is about rationalisation and ending ASIC instruments. It amends the Corporations Act and the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 to incorporate long-standing matters currently contained in Australian securities and investments commission legislation. Long-term reliance on ASIC's exemptions and modification powers to update the law for changing circumstances makes it difficult for regulated entities to understand the full state of the law as it applies to them. The amendment in schedule 5 to the bill improves the clarity of the law. It provides certainty and makes it simpler for regulated entities and consumers to understand their rights and obligations.
Schedule 6 of the bill goes to minor and technical amendments. The minor and technical elements in schedule 6 amend various laws of the Treasury portfolio to: ensure those laws operate in accordance with policy intent; make minor changes to improve administrative outcomes and remedy unintended consequences; and correct technical and drafting defects. The amendments have been identified by a number of Treasury portfolio agencies, the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and policy divisions within Treasury, including as a result of consultation with affected users of the law—most importantly. The amendments made to schedule 6 of the bill reflect the government's commitment to the ongoing care and maintenance of Treasury laws to rectify minor problems with the law that prevent it from operating as intended, making it easier for Australians to comply with current laws. The minor and technical amendments processes were first supported by the recommendation of the 2008 Tax Design Review Panel, which was appointed to reduce delays in the enactment of tax legislation and improve the quality of tax law changes. This has since been expanded to all Treasury portfolio legislation.
The bill demonstrates the government progressing amendments to ensure that Treasury portfolio legislation remains current and fit for purpose. It will take years to give effect to some of these measures. I would like to commend the work of the member for Whitlam, the Assistant Treasurer and the Minister for Financial Services, for his work in this space. I would also like to note some of the other contributions we've had. We heard this morning from the Manager of Opposition Business. His contribution suggested that the government did not have an economic plan. I refer the member for Bradfield to the May budget, where he will see an economic plan. The budget delivered in May was carefully calibrated with an eye to fiscal restraint and economic repair. The member for Bradfield might note that it also has projections to deliver a budget surplus.
The other area of concern for me this morning in the debate that we've heard is around superannuation, which the member for Sturt and the member for Bradfield talked about. I would note to the young people listening to those contributions, echoing the member for Canberra's statements around the changes to superannuation, that we are talking about changes to the accounts of people with more than $3 million in their superannuation account, with the change in taxation treatment. The member for Sturt talked about projections of one in 10 people in 30 years potentially having $3 million in a superannuation account—this from a member of the former government, which encouraged young people to raid their superannuation accounts during the pandemic while they wasted billions of dollars giving money to businesses who did not run at a loss during the pandemic. I would say to young people, if they've heard the member for Sturt's contribution and may be concerned about their superannuation balances in 30 years, that there will be a government here in 30 years, and what is in place now with $3 million attached to it is not fixed in time forever by any government. Deputy Speaker, I commend this bill to the House, I commend the work of the Assistant Treasurer, and I thank you for the time in the chamber.
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July 31, 2023