Constitutional advice on reforms

The AGS Office of General Counsel (OGC) advised on a wide range of significant constitutional issues in 2010–11, in areas of major reform including climate change, education and health. Many of these reforms received significant media attention and were subject to scrutiny from a range of stakeholders and interest groups.

One of the most significant reforms for the Australian Government has been in the area of climate change. OGC advised on the constitutional basis for a range of initiatives including the Carbon Farming Initiative, the Energy Savings Initiative, and the expansion and restructure of the Minimum Energy Performance Standards scheme. OGC lawyers were also outposted to support the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency in the development of carbon pricing legislation.

In the area of education, OGC advised on the establishment of 2 new national regulatory bodies, which are to take over certain regulation activities previously undertaken by the States and Territories.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency was established on 30 July 2011 and will be responsible for accrediting higher education providers and setting and monitoring quality standards. It will begin its regulatory functions in January 2012.

The National Vocational Education and Training Regulator commenced operation on 1 July 2011 and is responsible for registering and regulating vocational education and training providers in States and Territories that have referred power to the Commonwealth, as well as certain categories of vocational education and training providers in non-referring States.

OGC advised on a range of constitutional issues throughout the development of the policy and legislation establishing these 2 national bodies.

There were also some key health reforms on which OGC provided constitutional advice to the Government. In particular, OGC advised on the implementation of aspects of the National Health and Hospitals Network Agreement, including the establishment of certain Commonwealth bodies with regulatory and monitoring roles. OGC also provided extensive advice in relation to the development of legislation to require plain packaging for tobacco products.

Other significant constitutional advice provided during the year included advice on issues concerning the position of a minority government and the passage of legislation, and advice in other important areas of reform including the introduction of a national business names regime and reforms to address problem gambling. OGC also provided constitutional advice in relation to the development of legislation to introduce the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

This is an extract from the 2010–11 AGS annual report