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Disclosure Statements for Government Legislation: Technical Guide for Departments

Completing Part One: General Policy Statement

The purpose of a general policy statement is to disclose key information that will assist readers to understand the purpose of a Bill.

Standing Order 254 of the House of Representatives already requires all Bills to have “an explanatory note that states the policy that the Bill seeks to achieve”.[1]

The nature and quality of the general policy statement in current explanatory notes to Bills is variable and some greater consistency in the quality of information that is provided about the purpose of a Bill would considerably aid the reader.

While a general policy statement will continue to be included in the explanatory note of a Bill, the same information will also provide a useful overview and starting point for anyone considering the content of the associated disclosure statement.

Information to be provided

For consistency's sake, the text of the general policy statement provided to Parliamentary Counsel (or your IRD drafter) for inclusion in the explanatory note to the Bill should be exactly the same as the text of the general policy statement included in the disclosure statement.

This underlines the desirability of starting work on the disclosure statement soon after drafting instructions have been provided, if the expectations below are to be met.

What is the nature of the further information sought?

Describe the policy objectives that this Bill seeks to achieve, and the reasons for them.

Describe how this Bill goes about trying to meet those objectives and why this approach is necessary or desirable.

A general policy statement should provide a succinct description of the policy objectives sought to be achieved by the Bill, and the reasons for pursuing those policy objectives.

This could draw on material set out in the Cabinet paper that sought agreement to the policy now reflected in the Bill, and/or the Regulatory Impact Statement that accompanied that paper.

This could also include some contextual information about how an inquiry, review or evaluation report to be reported under Question 2.1, or an international treaty to be reported under Question 2.2, is relevant to the Bill.

A general policy statement should also provide a brief description of the methods by which the Bill seeks to achieve those policy objectives and a brief discussion of why those methods were necessary or preferred over other possible alternatives.

Possible alternatives for achieving the objectives of a Bill could have included: letting private arrangements or solutions evolve;using existing legal provisions;increasing enforcement, information or education campaigns;using economic instruments such as taxes, subsidies or tradable property rights;establishing voluntary standards or codes of practice, or facilitating other forms of self-regulation or co-regulation.

The content of a general policy statement should be neutral in tone. A general policy statement is a statement provided by the department about the content and effect of the Bill. A general policy statement must not'promote' the Bill.

As the Speaker has ruled in relation to explanatory notes, “there is no absolute standard to which an explanatory note must conform [but] an explanatory note must be drafted in factual, not argumentative, terms.”[2]

Agencies may provide further information in addition to the requirement for a general policy statement and in addition to the information provided in response to the other questions in this disclosure statement. Additional information should be included only if it is considered it would be helpful to the reader of the Bill.

For some reasonable (but not perfect) examples of General Policy Statements for Bills, see: [3]

Objectionable Publications and Indecency Legislation Bill 2013

Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill 2013

Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill 2012

State Sector and Public Finance Reform Bill 2012

Notes

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