Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bigger on the inside. Turnbull's administrative reshuffle

There's more to Malcolm Turnbull's reshuffle than a change of ministers. There has also been change in the nature of ministries.

Copyright, long the responsibility of the Attorney-General's Department, has been quietly moved out of the hands of Attorney-General George Brandis and given to the Minister for Communications and Arts, Mitch Fifield.

Senator Brandis was a strong proponent of heavy copyright enforcement, pushing for internet service providers to send copyright warning notices to users they suspected of illegal downloading. For almost two years he has sat on a report from the Law Reform Commission that recommended more liberal access to access to published works through a system known as fair use.

Matthew Rimmer, professor of intellectual property law at the Queensland University of Technology, said Senator Fifield would have a "clean slate" to reconsider options "pointedly ignored" by Senator Brandis.

The Attorney-General's Department was always an odd place for copyright, apparently justified because it involved the law. The Treasury might have made more sense, on the ground that copyright is a restriction of trade with implications for competition policy.

The inclusion of copyright in the Communications and Arts portfolio opens up the possibility of change.

Monash University copyright specialist Rebecca Giblin said the minister would need to examine reforming Australia's "archaic exceptions regime", finally ending the ban on the so-called parallel import of books, ending perpetual copyright for unpublished works, and ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty which would give greater access to books to the vision impaired. 

The Department of Communications has also lost a responsibility...

It will no longer look after Government 2.0, the move to get all government services online. The responsibility will move to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet where it will remain under the eye of the former communications minister, new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Another change transfers responsibility for childcare benefits and family assistance from the Department of Social Services to the Department of Education and Training. The move will give Education Minister Simon Birmingham a much broader responsibility than his predecessor Christopher Pyne, encompassing all forms of financial support to families with children.

In a move interpreted as a sign that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation will not be abolished as had been government policy, the agency will move from the Treasury to the Department of the Environment. The department will also gain responsibility for the Renewable Energy Agency.

As foreshadowed in the agreement between the new Prime Minister and the National Party, responsibility for the management of water resources moves from the Environment Department to the renamed Department of Agriculture and Water.

Although seldom examined closely, changes in the so-called administrative arrangements can provide useful clues to the government's plans.

On its election in 1996 the Howard government moved responsibility for ports from the Transport Department to the Department of Industrial Relations. Two years later the industrial relations minister rather than the transport minister was able to handle the 1998 waterfront dispute.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald