Ministers are influential and important figures when it comes to law-making. They are responsible for overseeing legislation, regulations and the operation of organisations involved in their portfolio, such as government departments and statutory authorities. Although most important law reforms are discussed and approved at cabinet level, the minister is ultimately responsible for overseeing new legislation in his or her portfolio area. The minister and his/her office are heavily involved in research, consultation and drafting of new bills. The minister may communicate extensively with law reform bodies, parliamentary committees experts, pressure groups, lobbyists and other consultants. Ministers may also be involved in the drafting of bills, working closely with parliamentary counsel. When government bills are introduced into the parliament, it is almost always the relevant minister who does this. Ministers deliver the Second Reading speech to the house, explaining the purpose of the bill and information about its content. Ministers may also be called to account if there are criticisms of new legislation. In 2010 Peter Garrett, Federal Minister for the Environment, sustained strong criticism over the government’s insulation subsidy scheme, following the deaths of four workers.
As part of their portfolio, most ministers are in charge of government departments (sometimes called the ‘bureaucracy’ or ‘public service’). These large organisations are responsible for implementing government policies and legislation. For example, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, headed by Minister Julia Gillard, is responsible for carrying out the Federal government’s roll-out of laptop computers to all Australian schools. Government departments have the capacity to make law themselves (see Subordinate authorities) – but they are also a source of information, expertise and recommendations for the relevant minister. Since these departments understand how changes to legislation may work in practice, they are an important source of advice for ministers.