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South Australian bill could let tech companies ignore laws

South Australian bill could let tech companies ignore laws

Concerns over R&D bill that would allow exemptions from the majority of the state’s laws to be granted

South Australia’s peak body for lawyers has raised concerns over a bill that will allow companies to be granted exemptions from the state’s laws when conducting R&D projects.

SA’s lower house last month passed the Research, Development and Innovation Bill 2017. The proposed legislation is currently being considered by the state’s Legislative Council.

The bill would allow a minister — via a recommendation to the state’s governor — to suspend the application of laws or regulations to research and development projects or activities in the state.

In a letter to the state’s attorney-general, the Law Society of South Australia said that the bill “confers broad unfettered powers to the Government to override any existing legislation by way of declaration” and lacks “appropriate safeguards”

The organisation said it was “fundamentally opposed to any legislation that would allow the Government of the day, by way of delegated legislation, to declare that a law of the Parliament does not apply.”

“The nature of many research and development proposals means that there may be legislative or regulatory barriers that act as a disincentive to industry and entrepreneurs to pursue trialling them in South Australia,” the state’s employment minister, Kyam Maher, said when introducing the bill in the upper house earlier this month.

“The Research, Development and Innovation Bill aims to attract innovative research and development proposals to South Australia and establish this state as a global leader in research, development and innovation trials.”

Maher said that the bill builds on legislation that came into effect earlier this year to permit trials of driverless vehicle technologies in the state.

“This bill creates a legislative framework to facilitate innovative research and development trials beyond the driverless cars example,” the minister said.

“It will enable government to respond quickly and flexibly, and in appropriate circumstances to remove regulatory barriers in a manner that appropriately balances competing factors.”

Under the proposed legislation, a ‘research and development declaration’ may be made by the governor, on the recommendation of a minister. “This declaration is a mechanism to temporarily suspend, modify or dis-apply laws that would otherwise prohibit the pursuit of an innovative research and development proposal,” Maher said.

The only exception is the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” Greens MLC Tammy Franks said. “Truth here is far stranger and more sinister than fiction.”

The Greens MLC said that a bill that could potentially override “almost every law of the state” is “simply outrageous”.

SA attorney-general and Deputy Premier John Rau indicated during lower house debate on the legislation that he had sent copies of the bill to local executives at Google, Amazon, Apple, Tesla, Hill Ltd, Microsoft Australia, Samsung and Facebook.

“That he has consulted with Amazon, Google and Facebook over [this bill] but not the public of South Australia is extraordinary,” Franks said.

Franks said that the bill could allow privacy, consumer, animal cruelty and workplace protections to be “wiped out with the stroke of the governor’s pen because big business can’t handle some red tape”.

The bill allows conditions to be imposed on an R&D project and limits the duration of a “research and development declaration” by the governor to 18 months with a possible 18 month extension.

Before issuing a declaration the governor must have regard to a number of factors including whether project or activity is consistent with the purposes of the act, whether it is in the public interest, and associated risks. Declarations would be subject to disallowance by parliament.

Update 30 November: The bill has now been set aside.

“We want to see the tech industry succeed,” Franks said in a statement. “They need an R&D sandbox, we all want to see this happen, but in consultation with civil society and legal experts, and not at the expense of important legal protection and our civil liberties.

“Today I spoke against this sneaky government bill. While the Greens have always supported research, development and innovation, this bill would effectively be able to suspend over 500 current laws at the stroke of a pen for a Research and Development Declaration.”

“We've stopped this bill for the moment, but I suspect it will be back with a vengeance next year. We'll be keeping our eyes on this one,” the Greens MLC said.


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