Background to the reference

On 4 December 1996, the Productivity Commission Bill 1996 was introduced in the House of Representatives. [1] In general terms, the Bill proposed to establish the Productivity Commission by merging the functions of the Industry Commission, the Economic Planning Advisory Commission and the Bureau of Industry Economics.

On 13 February 1997, the Bill was introduced into the Senate. On 3 September 1997, the Bill was negatived in the Senate at the third reading stage. However, before this occurred, a number of amendments were proposed to the penalty provisions included in the Bill. In general terms, these amendments proposed to replace the penalty of imprisonment with a fine. [2]

After debate, the Senate agreed to refer the penalty provisions in the Bill to the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee for inquiry and report by 29 October 1997. [3]

Conduct of the inquiry

On 30 September 1997, the Committee held a public hearing on the reference at which it took evidence from representatives of the Australian Institute of Criminology and the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department. Officers of both organisations undertook jointly to prepare a paper to address concerns expressed by the Committee, and provide some general background on the philosophy of judicial punishment. To enable the preparation of this paper, the Committee sought and was granted an extension of time until 20 November 1997 to report. [4]

On 30 October 1997, the Bill was restored to the Notice Paper, and listed for debate on 10 November 1997. Given the likelihood of debate taking place on the Bill before the Committee had had time to prepare its report, on 17 November 1997 the Committee tabled an interim report and appended to it the joint Briefing Paper referred to above. [5]

Interim report

The Committee concluded its Interim Report by noting that:

In the light of the issues raised by the paper, the committee finds that determining the appropriate penalties for these kinds of offences requires a longer and more thorough inquiry and will be seeking the approval of the Senate to do so. [6]

On 19 November 1997, the Committee sought, and was granted, a further extension of time until the last Tuesday of the winter sittings in 1998 to conduct its inquiry. In addition, the inquiry's terms of reference were amended to require the Committee to inquire into and report on “the appropriate basis for penalty provisions in legislation comparable to the Productivity Commission Bill 1996”. [7]

On 30 March 1998, the Senate resumed debate on the Bill and amended a number of its provisions. The penalty provisions were passed unamended. The Bill was then read a third time and, on 1 April 1998, the House of Representatives agreed to the Bill as amended by the Senate. [8]

Structure of this report

The Committee's report is set out in the following way: Chapter 1 deals with the offence and penalty provisions in the Productivity Commission Bill. Chapter 2 examines the penalty provisions for similar offences in other Commonwealth legislation. Chapter 3 discusses the sentencing principles which govern the imposition of penalties. Chapter 4 expresses the Committee's conclusions and recommendations.


The Committee would like to acknowledge the assistance provided by the Attorney-General's Department and the Australian Institute of Criminology, and record its appreciation for that assistance.

Senator Barney Cooney



[1] House of Representatives, Votes and Proceedings, No 56, 4 December 1996, p 974.

[2] See, for example, Senate, Hansard, 3 September 1997, pp 6271-2 (Senator the Hon N Sherry).

[3] Journals of the Senate, No 122, 3 September 1997, p 2419.

[4] Journals of the Senate, No 137, 28 October 1997, p 2737.

[5] Journals of the Senate, No 142, 17 November 1997, p 2851.

[6] Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, Sixteenth Report of 1997, Interim Report on the Penalty Provisions of the Productivity Commission Bill 1996, (13 November 1997), p 333.

[7] Journals of the Senate, No 144, 19 November 1997, p 2923.

[8] House of Representatives, Votes and Proceedings, No 152, 1 April 1998, p 2900.