Bonfire of the Non-Statutories

Sean Gleeson / November 13, 2013 12:49 PM

After the grand flourish of debt and deficit rhetoric before the election, the Abbott Government continues to tinker around the edges in its mission to rein in public spending. 


The Treasury Building in Canberra (Percita Dittmar/Wikimedia Commons)


On Friday last week, the Prime Minister announced the Federal Government was immediately scrapping 12 non-statutory bodies in a quest to reduce public spending and inefficient regulation. Seven other bodies will be merged or have their functions absorbed by government departments.

“The Government’s new approach recognises that regulation has a cost,” according to the PM’s press release. “Responsibility for the deregulation agenda now sits with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to ensure there is a whole-of-government approach to this critical issue.”

This sort of bureaucratic shuffling is grist to the mill for new governments, and the razor always lands first on the patches that offer no legislative obstacles. While Canberra has been bracing for large scale cuts since the election, it appears that the Government would prefer to bleed the public service through a hiring freeze and natural attrition through the conclusion of employment prospects – which is why it was no surprise that news of the axing of these bodies was overshadowed by reports that the CSIRO could lose up to a quarter of its staff if the hiring freeze is not lifted by next year.

Let’s have a look at what the Government did away with and how it reflects on their legislative priorities for the term.

Australian Animals Welfare Advisory Committee

We certainly hope someone in the Animal Justice Party regrets preferencing conservative candidates above the Greens in the Senate this year. This body grew out of an earlier committee set up by the Howard Government in 2005, and bore responsibility for drafting regulations to protect the welfare of livestock, scientific research animals, pets and animals used for sport and recreation. The current committee was established after a 2009 report by the Agriculture Department, which recommended a restructure to improve communication with stakeholders and seek funding from industry partners.

Antarctic Animal Ethics Committee

“Respect the Yeti? Let me tell you buddy, the damn Yeti don’t respect us!” No, silly. Much the same deal as above, but with fish life in the Southern Ocean and scientific experiments at the Australian Antarctic base.

National Steering Committee on Corporate Wrongdoing

“It can’t happen here, could it? Let’s ask respected business veterans Rodney Adler and Richard Pratt!” Given a generally lacklustre record in prosecuting corporate criminals over recent years, one could argue a fresh approach is needed.

High Speed Rail Advisory Group

Oh well. Not like it was ever going to happen after all that nasty business in Ogdenville and North Haverbrook.

Commonwealth Firearms Advisory Council

This council was set up as a support body for Customs, to report on the trafficking of prohibited weapons and advise on any emerging issues when it came to the use of firearms. Before the election, the Coalition promised a crackdown on the illegal trafficking of weapons through the imposition of minimum custodial sentences for importers. 

International Legal Services Advisory Council

The oldest body on this list, ILSAC was set up in 1990 to promote greater cooperation between the international legal fraternity keep abreast of developments in international law and assist in the resolution of international commercial disputes. The axing seems counterintuitive, given the Government’s plans to negotiate a free trade deal with China by the middle of next year and the ongoing negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership with the United States.

National Inter-country Adoption Advisory Council

Standards have improved in the international adoption centre in the last decade, but they’re certainly coming off a low base. It’s hard to say what this axing portends, although in the style of Angelina Jolie, the acting community is using the change of government to call for law reform

Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing

“We’ll probably just do a Japan and get robots to care for our elderly!” Governments have attempted to deal with the healthcare, demographic and economic implications of the ageing population in fits and starts for the last three decades; the government is presumably content to kick the can along another couple of years. This panel was only a couple of months away from handing down its final report after years of work, and apparently panel chair Everald Compton was in a bit of a strop that Joe Hockey used a Treasury flack to announce the axing instead of paying him the courtesy of a phone call, given their long association. 

National Housing Supply Council

“Affordability crisis? What affordability crisis?” 

National Policy Commission on Indigenous Housing

With the moving of Indigenous Affairs into the Prime Minister’s portfolio, this body will be rolled into the new Indigenous Advisory Council, chaired by Labor apostate Warren Mundine. Whatever critics have said of the Prime Minister’s approach, he does appear genuinely determined to lead a rapprochement between the Coalition and the Aboriginal community and start on a fresh policy framework – just like every Prime Minister in the last 45 years. Here's hoping eighth time's a charm!


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