A bulwark against tyrrany

SARC’s had a big week. At times, both sides of the parliament have accused members of SARC of being in league with one side or the other in Victoria’s political battle about policing the police. But then there are moments like this:

Mr D. DAVIS — …It is a very broad gamut that this committee has as its tasks, but particularly those tasks that relate to the trespass on rights and freedoms and the administrative powers of government that can be enshrined within legislation, administrative powers that can on some occasions unfairly and unreasonably trespass on the rights of individuals. It is in my view a committee that has been put in place specifically to stand up to the executive, specifically to ensure that those examinations are undertaken and specifically to report to the Parliament in a free and frank way. That is why the opposition regards with such seriousness what occurred with the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee in recent weeks. One of the major bulwarks against tyranny, one of the major bulwarks against the imposition of unsatisfactory legislation on the Victorian people has been attacked unnecessarily and inappropriately.

Whoa. David Davis is the leader of the opposition in the upper house. And there was this procedural suggestion from the Greens justice spokesperson:

Ms PENNICUIK — There should be some procedure put in place in the Council whereby until there is a complete report on a bill from the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee and full answers to any questions asked of the relevant ministers, we should not debate that bill, because we would be debating the bill without full information, and I do not think that is the best use of the Parliament.

The opposition in the Legislative Council moved a motion deferring discussion of the Police Integrity BIll until SARC holds a public hearing, which in turn sparked a point of order that, because SARC had already reported on the bill, it couldn’t report again, so the motion would effectively kill the bill. Yikes. Here’s the relevant provision of the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003:

17(1) The functions of the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee are- (a) to consider any Bill introduced into the Council or the Assembly and to report to the Parliament… [on various grounds]

Not entirely clear on the question of when and how many times that SARC can report, is it? SARC’s functions under Charter s.30 aren’t any clearer.  There are provisions elsewhere in the Parliamentary Committees Act covering interim and final reports and the like, but they don’t seem to sit well with SARC’s non-inquiry-based reporting function.

The next day, the Deputy Preident of the LC ruled:

A point of order was raised by Mr Tee as to whether the reasoned amendment was in order in view of the fact that the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee had already reported on this bill and whether it had the capacity to undertake a further examination of the bill and provide a further report to the Parliament. Mrs Peulich, in response to the point of order, contended that under section 17 of the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003 the committee could report more than once on a bill.

Based on preliminary advice received by the President, it appears that there is a distinction between parliamentary committees reporting to the Parliament under section 34 of the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003, where it is stated that committees may submit interim and then final reports, and the reporting requirements applying to the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee under section 17 of the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003, wherein they can consider any bill introduced into the Council or the Assembly and report to the Parliament on a number of issues unique to that committee only. There is in this section of the act no mention of interim or final reports.

In the President’s view, therefore, there is an argument to suggest that section 17 of the Parliamentary Committees Act 2003 does not limit the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee from tabling additional reports on a particular bill by virtue of the difference in the types of reports that can be presented to the Parliament. The President has advised me that he therefore cannot uphold Mr Tee’s point of order out of order. It is of course ultimately for the house to determine the outcome of the reasoned amendment, which, if carried, would be fatal to the bill.

There are of course other avenues open to the Parliament. One is to refer the bill back to the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee for further inquiry and put beyond doubt any jurisdictional doubts.

So, it seems that SARC can do multiple reports on a bill. (No word on when that function ceases.) And is there a word missing in the final sentence of that paragraph?

Anyway, the mysteries of s17(1)(a) don’t have to be resolved (today), because the opposition dropped its reasoned amendment and took up the suggestion of referring a further inquiry to SARC on the bill:

That the Police Integrity Bill 2008 be referred to the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee for public inquiry, consideration and report within one month of the passage of this resolution.

The motion passed with Greens support and the government members voting against.

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