Statutes Amendment and Repeal (Simplify) Bill

Second Reading

I rise to speak on the Statutes Amendment and Repeal (Simplify) Bill 2018. As has been ably presented and acknowledged by the parliament, this is a bill that had been largely replicated from a bill that was introduced but not finalised by the previous government, and it is in the line of a number of bills that have been presented, ostensibly to reduce red tape and to simplify regulation for individual members of the community as consumers but also business.

I think it is fair to say that, whilst the individual aspects of the provisions seem to be without controversy, there is the question of giving the option in this bill to enable governments to choose the manner and form of public notices, whether that be electronic or printed papers, which we have heard a bit about already, newspapers, as we have often known, but also magazines and association and industry publications. They are all different means by which one can provide information to the public, and more particularly to the people or industries that are interested in the particular reforms that occur.

Obviously, we have historically come from circumstances in our parliamentary life from having a town crier stand outside the parliament with 'Hear ye, hear ye! These are the outlines of the legislation which the parliament has passed.' Fortunately, those days are over and we have a number of different ways in which we provide those communications.

From that information, sometimes the notices were then affixed to public noticeboards outside civic centres, such as councils, to advise of changes of the laws and regulations, but there is no question that we have moved now to a standard where electronic, recording, publication and transactional work have utilised the provisions of electronic technology.

Let me just give you one example in relation to the long list of proposed areas of reform. Under this bill, the Real Property Act 1886 will be amended to ensure that the Registrar-General has the power to mandate electronic conveyancing in line with policy objectives. A further amendment will also allow revocation of the power of attorney, or the death of a guarantor with the power of attorney, to be noted on the electronic copy of the duplicate or copy of a power of attorney.

Members who were in the parliament during the time of the former attorney-general will recall a significant period of reform which transferred conveyancing transactions in relation to real property—that is, land—to be converted to the old paper certificates of title and documents to be registered at the lands titles office were to be personally submitted, recorded, marked and approved to a period of midway. Now, electronic transactions are undertaken; in fact, we had to set up in legislation a new way in which documents could be certified because there would not necessarily be a signature of the transferor or transferee.

It could be done by an agent, but it had to be done under a certain certification procedure. Often, that was the solicitor or broker, for example, of one of the parties to the transaction. We had to go through a number of different ways as to how we might deal with that if, for example, one of the transactional parties resided in Ceduna or anywhere else in regional South Australia. They would have to go through this new process and do it in a way that was not going to create a greater level of complexity for parties in those circumstances.

In the lead-up to the former government's decision to sell the South Australian lands titles services to a private company, all these electronic conveyancing reforms were progressed. I recall that we saw the death of parchment certificate of title, which was a sad day for some who had undertaken transactions in the old way, but this is progress.

Whilst the member for Lee has, I think, acknowledged that perhaps, in light of the previous iteration of this bill his government at the time had been progressing, he now seems to be coming into a period of enlightenment, saying that he would walk away from that commitment as a member of that cabinet to bring it to the parliament. Suddenly, opposition has brought some refreshment to his understanding of what is important to regional South Australia, and he presents to us a new—

—period of enlightenment that he has reached. Well, I am pleased that he has actually understood that there are significant issues in regional communities, and one of them is employment. There is a need for us to progress the state to ensure that we do give young people, including those in regional South Australia, the opportunity for employment. That should obviously be supported. I am not quite sure why—

—and developing, under the Real Property Act, all these obligations that could be converted in an electronic matter—selling off the lands titles services, that now, suddenly, in opposition he has had this light bulb of enlightenment to say that we need to change that approach. When we tell the people of South Australia about all the electronic reforms that are coming through in bills such as this, we must remove from government departments or ministers who undertake essentially the advertising of public notices—including in that, of course, reformed laws—any choice, that they are to be struck out from having any choice as to how that is to occur and they must therefore give publication by notices in the local newspapers.

I remind the house that even our own Gazette is electronic. It now electronically records the notices, including our legislation from here, regulations and other public notices. Some people may still get a hard copy of the publication. I still keep hard copies of the publications of bills that we have as I just find that a little bit easier to manage; some might still with the Gazette.

In the time I have been here, the Gazette has been available online. I do not doubt it is relied upon on a regular basis; I expect that many industry associations regularly look each week at the Gazette. Journalists, members of parliament and people in government departments would go through the electronic version of the Gazette to identify where there have been important public notices relevant to whatever their organisation or department may be.

As the Attorney-General, I have responsibility for the Attorney-General's Department and the Chief Justice has responsibility for the Courts Administration Authority. Between us, these divisions of our government, as such, have a large amount of work to do to educate the public about law reform and changes in relation to both policy and parliamentary reform: where amendments are to apply, where there is to be a new process to undertake and whether there have been higher or lower fees to pay. All these things quite often come through the Attorney-General's Department and some of them through the Courts Administration Authority.

There are other agencies for which I am responsible: the Small Business Commissioner, Consumer and Business Services and the Public Trustee. These are all agencies that have quite a lot of documentation on behalf of the group that they are looking after, and they need to regularly publish updates, keep the public informed and, in addition to that, advise a number of other agencies in government of their obligations as a result of reforms. We do quite a lot of work in the Attorney-General's Department particularly.

Advertising costs are now all available online and there is a lot of public notice expenditure and advertising to inform the public of this. The mode in which it is delivered is also a mix. I frequently look at that list—we have regular reports on it—and I am sometimes a bit shocked at the level of cost to keep the public informed. Again, consistent with previous governments, there is a very significant component to allow that to be electronic.

I am advised from agencies that if I were to look at just one industry area that I have a lot to do with, the Law Society of South Australia, that they, too, regularly traverse the electronic version of the Gazette. They obviously read through the material that we put on notice to ensure that they are up to date with what law changes there are and what bills are coming through. There is a lot of electronic transaction and there is a lot of advertising of this information to the public, which is done in that form.

The suggestion that there needs to be consideration and protection of country newspapers that are going to be in dire straits, it seems, if this election is allowed to continue—and presumably that decisions are made or choices are made to elect to not have used printed publications—is a little bit of a mystery. The reason I say that is not that I suggest that country newspapers are not under some financial pressure. I do not doubt that they are.

Certainly, as I grew up, the local published newspaper, The Islander, was a publication which I think pretty much every household purchased each week and which was read in hard copy. Electronic copies were not available, and local news was an important means, I suppose, by which the community maintained its community interaction. There was everything from the usual classified ads to sports results, to matters of importance, notices from the council, births, deaths and marriages and all the local advertising about what product was available, whether it was new tractor tyres or new plants that you could buy. These are all things that, at a local level, are important.

In fact, in my day there used to be a little column written by a lady who would basically put out all the gossip in the district, which I think was probably read by everybody in the community; nevertheless, that happened. We move to a time when that same paper is available electronically, and a number of people in the community choose to get their information that way; in fact, I still do today.

I think that we have to accept that there has been a transition in those communities themselves and that, irrespective of the question of offering electronic publication as an alternate means, the fact is that these papers themselves have moved to provide their product in different forms of their own choice. I do not doubt that it is for them to keep up with their readership and to ensure that they are able to continue to engage with generations that are more savvy and more interested in getting their information electronically. That has been occurring any way. That is not actually going to change.

I recall that there was a time when the member for Mount Gambier, for example, raised the potential plight in respect of The Border Watch, another well known regional paper. I think it used to be owned by Alan Scott, or should I say the late Alan Scott, when he used to own the television and the radio station all at once. I think he was the only media mogul in the country at the time who actually owned all forms of medium in a country region. In any event, no doubt it is still a well-read and well-loved paper available electronically.

Again, this has been replicated today, but on the latest data I am advised that in 2017-18 public notice expenditure in The Border Watch, The South Eastern Times and The Pennant was $7,858.92, and to the year to date to April—so it is not the full year—that is, for this financial year, which has now concluded, it was already, as at April 2019, $12,786.68. That indicates to me that, in fact, the revenue has not diminished; in fact, it is on its way under those estimates of probably doubling just in the last two years.

I think what is important is whether a case is put to the parliament that for some reason this particular area of employment, I suppose, is facing 21st century challenges, namely, the redundancy of employment as a result of changed technology. It is an unenviable situation in lots of areas. If there is going to be a case for us as a parliament to say, 'We are going to carve out this particular area in this particular region to provide that,' then I think we need to have the data to support both a diminution of income and a risk of unemployment.

Using that example, I credit the member for Mount Gambier for going to the trouble of identifying where there was a vulnerability in his local area. I think up to 2½ full-time jobs were at risk as a result of the potential loss of revenue in that work. If that is the case, good on the member for raising it—at least he has done his homework about what the risk is—but it seems to me that there is an inconsistency of information in relation to that. In that case, it sits against a backdrop of local papers that have elected to go into electronic form themselves.

I have not in any way gone to my department to request or instruct (assuming I even have the power to do that at this point) how we would notify all these legal changes and notices that we are obliged to do in the Attorney-General's Department. I know there is a lot of it. I see reports on it. Therefore, I can only assume that has continued to be by the same methods and choices made consistent with previous administrations. I know that, as a new government, we now have very strict rules in relation to advertising—

—who should be in it and the compliance of that, but I need to be persuaded.