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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1527

Ms ROXON (Gellibrand—Attorney-General) (16:14): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker Livermore. Last time I spoke here, in some excitement at my first bill as the Attorney-General, I was welcomed by the chair as the health minister. I think old habits die hard. Thank you for those congratulations.

I would like to thank the honourable members for Stirling, Blair and Solomon who spoke on this bill. I know that for some people this bill seems like it is just a procedural one. It does go to many procedures within our courts, but the reforms will have a noticeable and beneficial effect on the experiences of court users and they are therefore worthy of considered debate. I thank people for contributing in that light.

The Access to Justice (Federal Jurisdiction) Amendment Bill 2011 is an important step in the Labor government's efforts to make our judicial system responsive, accessible and efficient for all people who need its services. The courts must help to protect, and act impartially for, all participants in court processes whether they be one-off users in difficult circumstances, like a couple going through separation proceedings, or large corporate players utilising the courts to resolve commercial disputes. These reforms implement the practical recommendations from expert bodies such as the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Attorney-General's Department's Access to Justice Task Force, as well as bringing into the federal sphere model laws developed through the then Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. They go directly to addressing the points of aggravation experienced by court users and those wishing to report on court proceedings—that is, unnecessarily complex and costly discovery processes, a perceived overuse of suppression and non-publication orders, and unnecessary and wasteful litigation caused by vexatious litigants. By giving the Federal Court greater control over the costs of discovery, and clarifying that oral examinations can be used to assist in identifying which documents should be subject to discovery, we will support judges to manage and progress cases. By implementing the SCAG model suppression and non-publication order laws, we are also playing our part in ensuring nationally consistent rules are in place and in supporting open and transparent justice. I note, however, a matter that we will keep our eye on: the current concerns about the volumes and types of orders being granted. They are primarily at the state level; nevertheless, this does make our system more nationally consistent.

This bill will tighten up the scope of those suppression orders. Courts will have to specifically consider whether the order is really necessary and craft the order in as narrow terms as possible to achieve its objectives. The court must, when making a suppression order, take into account that it is the primary purpose of the administration of justice to safeguard the public interest. Open justice is part of ensuring we can do that. By establishing fair and understandable vexatious litigant rules we are also balancing the need to keep our courts accessible while ensuring valuable court time is not wasted on repetitive, unmeritorious claims at the expense of other users.

By amending the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act to allow applications without up-front payment of filing fees and allow regulations to give the AAT the power to impose fees on government agencies if they unsuccessfully defend appeals, this government is demonstrating its absolute ongoing commitment that individuals should be able to seek review of government action. This bill is all about improving access to justice for all who need it. It contains practical, considered measures initiated and supported by experts in the field of court practice. Extensive consultation with court officers, users and other stakeholders has ensured that these measures will achieve their desired outcomes. I thank the parliament for its support.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.