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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1525

Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (16:04): I rise to speak in support of the Access to Justice (Federal Jurisdiction) Amendment Bill 2011. After practising in the area of family law for more than 20 years before I came to this place, I have to say that I do not share the same faith and belief as the member for Stirling that the Federal Magistrates Court is a great step forward. The problem is that the Howard government, which he lauded in relation to its so-called proud history of legislative reform to improve access to justice, actually messed up the jurisdiction of the Federal Magistrates Court. We saw it having to be broadened and we saw more and more resources having to be applied to that court. This has resulted in concurrent jurisdiction in many respects between the Family Court and the Federal Magistrates Court. We have seen variability in terms of the appointments until recently, when we have seen better federal magistrates appointed, and we have seen problems of imperialism and administrative difficulties in the court registries between the Family Court and the Federal Magistrates Court. This is an area in need of legislative reform and I do not accept the belief of the member for Stirling. He lauded the Howard government as a great champion of the rights of people to access justice. That simply is not the case when you look at how it messed up the Federal Magistrates Court.

This bill amends by way of schedule a number of areas. In schedule 1 we are dealing with strengthening the power of the Federal Magistrates Court to deal with discovery. It provides additional direction for the Federal Court to have the power to make orders with respect to discovery and specifies the maximum cost that may be recovered for giving discovery or taking inspection. The process of discovery in any litigation, particularly matters dealt with by the Federal Court, can be expensive. This empowers the Federal Court judges to actually take control of the whole process of discovery, and I think that is a good and beneficial reform.

The second schedule deals with suppression and non-publication orders. These are very difficult issues for federal courts to deal with. I know that the Law Council of Australia has expressed some concern about this. There are grounds for making an order set out in section 102PF. I think they are right. I think the reform is good. I do think that having information in the public domain is a good thing, but there are times when suppression orders or non-publication orders have to be made, particularly when it is necessary to prevent prejudice to the proper administration of justice, to protect the safety of a person and to avoid causing undue distress or embarrassment to a party or a witness in criminal proceedings involving an offence of a sexual nature. It is only right, particularly in relation to children, that that is the case. There are good grounds for that and I support that schedule; I think it is important.

Vexatious litigants take up an enormous amount of time in court proceedings and schedule 3 deals with that. The new section 102QC allows a person to request a certificate stating that they are the subject of vexatious proceedings orders. In my practice as a lawyer I have dealt with vexatious litigants. It is extremely difficult to deal with them. Often they are quite unreasonable. I accept the reforms here.

Schedule 4 will remove the $5 million monetary limit on family property jurisdiction exercisable by family law magistrates in the Magistrates Court of Western Australia under section 46 of the Family Law Act 1975. I do think it is high time that the Western Australia government referred all of its powers over to the Commonwealth government so we have one system of family law in this country and Western Australians are not treated differently. There are always problems in that regard and I think it is high time that the dingo fence that stops at the Nullarbor Plain be expunged. I cannot see why residents of Western Australia should be treated any differently to residents of Queensland.

Schedule 5 deals with Administrative Appeals Tribunal fees. I note there was some concern expressed about changes in relation to fee structures for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which replaced the AAT's power to waive an application fee and replace it with a flat fee of $100. Here, we are allowing provision to be made for the introduction of a reduced application fee which imposes additional burdens on disadvantaged people and we are allowing the AAT to defer payment of the reduced fee to a later date. I note that the Law Society of Australia is comfortable with this particular change as it would relieve the hardship faced by applicants unable to pay the reduced fee.

I think there are some good and worthy reforms here. This is consistent with a government that is very committed to making sure people have access to justice. I think the coalition does not quite have the record the member for Stirling said it does with respect to reform, particularly in the area of the Federal Magistrates Court.