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LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 29/05/2000 - AUSTRALIAN LAW REFORM COMMISSION - Outcome 1—The development and reform of aspects of the laws of Australia to ensure that they are equitable, modern, fair and efficient

Senator LUDWIG —I understand you have just completed your conference on 18 and 20 May in Sydney. It was a success and I congratulate you on `Managing Justice 2000'. Was the conference run in budget?

Prof. Weisbrot —We are still getting bits and pieces, as you do in these sorts of things, but it was essentially run within the budget we had planned for it.

Senator LUDWIG —What was that budget?

Mr Campbell —The budget was approximately $100,000 in expenses and $80,000 in revenue.

Senator LUDWIG —Can you provide the papers that were produced at the conference for the information of the committee?

Prof. Weisbrot —Absolutely. Some of the speakers are modifying them slightly but within a week or two we should be able to send them on.

Senator LUDWIG —Thank you very much.

Senator COONEY —I congratulate you on running the successful conference, as Senator Ludwig has done. I notice amongst the papers that the Chief Justice of the High Court gave a paper and the Attorney gave a paper. Did the Chief Justice of the Federal Court chair a session?

Prof. Weisbrot —In the end, the Chief Justice of the Federal Court was unable to attend for family bereavement reasons.

Senator COONEY —Was he put down for—

Prof. Weisbrot —He was scheduled to chair one of the sessions.

Senator COONEY —Diana Bryant, the Chief Magistrate, gave a paper.

Prof. Weisbrot —She was a commenter on another paper.

Senator COONEY —Knowing her, it would be a brilliant contribution she made. There just seems to be one gap in that list and I wondered why.

Prof. Weisbrot —Do you want to specify the gap?

Senator COONEY —The Chief Justice of the Family Court.

Prof. Weisbrot —There were a number of Family Court judges in attendance and participating, including Ian Coleman—a justice who is also a member of the commission—and he chaired a session. In our planning of the conference we did not necessarily intend to be comprehensive in our coverage of the court; rather, it was people who could add to the particular sessions. We did not have a specific session on the Family Court but more on generic issues about court management.

Senator COONEY —Did the Chief Justice of the Family Court attend?

Prof. Weisbrot —No.

Senator COONEY —Was he invited?

Prof. Weisbrot —In the same way that all members of the community were.

Senator COONEY —Can I ask you about Managing justice which is a major seminal work—and you deal with all sorts of aspects. There does not seem to be any possibility considered in the report that there might be need for more resources to be put into the courts. You dealt with legal aid very comprehensively. There did not seem to be any consideration that, perhaps, one of the ways we could improve things is to spend more money. Was there any reason for that?

Prof. Weisbrot —We did not see it as our brief to take that approach but rather to look at ways in which the existing system could be made more efficient. It may be that policy makers reading various sections of the report would see that there are areas that they felt more resources could be placed in. Our view is that it was really our brief to examine the systems that were used by the courts, to try to find ways in which the courts could manage more efficiently, and ways legal aid could be targeted more efficiently, and so on.

Senator COONEY —It was such a seminal report—and I say that advisedly; it got a pretty good reception. The proposition that we could improve the justice system by spending more money in specific areas, or generally, might be the way to help. You might reject that as a worthwhile proposition but I was wondering whether it was worth while considering it.

Prof. Weisbrot —I guess my experience in law reform is that the recommendations that are most likely to be taken up are those that look to efficient operations and, also, those that try not to create new institutions but rather refine the ones that we have. Perhaps the final report very much reflects my experience in that area.

Senator COONEY —I notice that the original terms of reference were changed. Was that correct?

Prof. Weisbrot —Yes.

Senator COONEY —Could I then ask about the reference you are doing on the Judiciary Act. There does not seem to be anything in there as far as I can see that deals with the proposition that the best way of curing this might be to have a referendum.

Prof. Weisbrot —On the cross vesting issue that was specifically excluded from our terms of reference, the issues are reasonably well known. There was nothing that we could do active research on. It was really a political process to try to achieve some sort of consensus on how to overcome the High Court's decision on Wakim.

Senator COONEY —I thought it might have been worth while to weigh up in a general way the positives and the negatives in going down the routes that you will be suggesting and looking at a referendum.

Prof. Weisbrot —That may be so, but our terms of reference actually do specifically exclude consideration of that cross vesting issue.

Senator COONEY —Is it open to you to suggest to the Attorney that the terms of reference be changed?

Prof. Weisbrot —It could be. There is effective communication back and forth. When we settle terms of reference of course there is discussion back and forth about wording and the exact scope of it. In this particular case, on the subject you are talking about, the view of the Attorney and the department, as I understand it, was that it was really an issue that was in train through the department and SCAG, and so on. It was not an issue that a law reform effort could shed new light on.

Senator COONEY —Minister, you would not know anything about the terms of reference and why the issue of a referendum as a way out of a situation created by the Wakim case was left out of the terms of reference?

Senator Vanstone —No, but I will happily take the question on notice for the Attorney. That is a matter for him to respond to.

Senator COONEY —If that is the situation created, that is the situation created.

CHAIR —If there are no further questions for the Australian Law Reform Commission I thank Professor Weisbrot and Mr Campbell very much for their presence here this morning. Thank you both.

[10.35 a.m.]