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Thursday, 30 August 2001
Page: 30618


Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) (10:05 AM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

As members would be aware, the Federal Magistrates Service was established under the Federal Magistrates Act 1999. The service began hearing cases on 3 July 2000.

After little more than a year of operation, the Federal Magistrates Service has been a resounding success, with many thousands of Australians benefiting from its cheaper, simpler and faster court services. This success could not have been achieved without the cooperation and assistance of the Federal Court and the Family Court and, on behalf of the government, I acknowledge with appreciation the contribution that those courts have made.

The Federal Magistrates Service was established to deal with a range of less complex federal disputes that were previously handled solely by the Federal Court or Family Court, as part of the Commonwealth government's commitment to ensuring that all Australians have a greater range of options for resolving their legal problems as quickly and as cheaply as possible. The service has developed procedures that aim to be as streamlined and as user-friendly as possible, reducing delay and costs to litigants.

Much of the work of the Federal Magistrates Service to date has been in family law, but the widening jurisdiction of the Federal Court in recent years has led to an increasing number of routine matters coming before that court. This has had the effect of diverting the judicial resources of the Federal Court from the more complex areas of the law upon which it was intended to focus. Having the Federal Magistrates Service dealing with less complex cases has meant a better use of judicial resources and, again, less cost for litigants.

The service currently shares jurisdiction with the Federal Court in administrative law, administrative appeals, bankruptcy, human rights and consumer protection matters.

Many migration matters are of a routine nature and would also be suitable for the service to handle. This bill amends the Migration Act 1958 to give the Federal Magistrates Service concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal Court in migration matters. The bill also amends the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975 to remove the restrictions on the service hearing migration matters under those acts.

Proceedings can be transferred between the Federal Magistrates Service and the Federal Court and vice versa. This would also apply to migration matters. This system ensures that cases of a particular level of complexity are dealt with in the most appropriate forum. The transfer arrangements have been working well for the Federal Court and the Federal Magistrates Service, and I am confident that they would also do so in the migration area.

I note that conferring this jurisdiction on the service would make no difference to the number of levels of review in the migration system. Appeals from the Federal Magistrates Service in non-family law matters go straight to the Full Court of the Federal Court. If the Chief Justice decides it is appropriate in particular cases, a single judge can hear the appeal, but that judge is exercising the appellate jurisdiction of the Federal Court.

The migration workload of the Federal Court has been increasing in recent times. The service is able to resolve cases in six months and often in less time. Conferring migration jurisdiction on the Federal Magistrates Service will allow the more efficient disposition of these cases. This is consistent with ongoing reforms that the government is undertaking to ensure that the migration system operates in the most equitable and efficient manner practicable.

In conclusion, I note that the Chief Justice of the High Court, the Hon. Murray Gleeson, recently acknowledged that the Federal Magistrates Service would have an increasingly important role in the Commonwealth legal system. Given the outstanding success of the Federal Magistrates Service in its first year of operation, I am confident that the Chief Justice's prediction will be fulfilled. I commend the legislation to the chamber, thank the minister for his support and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Griffin) adjourned.