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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 572

Mr SIMPKINS (1:37 PM) —I think we would all agree that it has been a long and interesting day. We all enjoyed the evening activities. I was indulgent, personally, and had some sleep from about 1.30. I woke up suddenly early this morning and turned on the TV to observe what was happening here. I thought it was a nightmare, but in fact it was the Treasurer speaking. That signalled my opportunity to speak on the $42 billion cash splash was gone. But let us not linger on that; we will see what the future holds.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—Let’s not. Let’s refer to the bill before us at the moment.

Mr SIMPKINS —Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker, I think it is important that we move on. This afternoon I would like to speak on Federal Justice System Amendment (Efficiency Measures) Bill (No. 1) 2008. Good government is about effectiveness and efficiency. The federal justice system should be able to embrace these very same responsible qualities. This bill contains a variety of proposals which are meant to increase the efficiency of our Federal Court system by resolving disputes as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible. That is great and, obviously, as others have said, the opposition, the Liberal-National Party team, are completely in support of this bill.

This bill gives powers to refer issues to a referee to report upon, which is already the case in most state jurisdictions, thus allowing the system to possibly reduce the cost and duration of court cases. It further provides flexibility and more efficient use of federal judicial resources, which in turn can enable the timely resolution of disputes for all parties concerned. Promoting efficiency reduces undue delays by normal, reasonable procedural issues. This bill also gives more power to negotiate and execute leases as required for the self-administration of courts and tribunals, as it should.

On international arbitration, the amendment will specifically state that the Federal Court of Australia has concurrent jurisdiction with other state and territory courts to enforce foreign arbitral awards. It further enables the federal government to enforce a foreign award as though it was an award of the Federal Court.

In respect of binding financial rate agreements, this amendment corrects the act in reference to the Black v Black decision, which has received a lot of very informed comment today, so I will go no further in that regard. Provided that a party has entered an agreement on the basis of an informed decision, that agreement will not be voided by mere technicality. Specifically, it will clarify and simplify what each spouse party is provided with before signing a financial agreement and what each party is required to have prior to signing a termination agreement. Additionally, the same will apply to de facto partners.

As for security measures in respect of court premises, we need to admit that the world today is a different place to what it was even back in 2000. It is imperative that court officers are to be allowed to take certain reasonable security measures, including removal or search if necessary in the interests of security on premises, if those premises are likely to be occupied on a permanent or temporary basis in connection with the operations of the Federal Court.

The bill reduces red tape and promotes common sense and efficient yet binding rules of operating the courts, which are already dealing with many different kinds of cases, as stated in the bill, from complex corporate or commercial cases to social security matters and even migration cases. I think this bill will assist in streamlining procedures and encouraging innovative approaches in order to significantly reduce both the time and cost of litigation.

It is not my intention to pass comment on each of the details of this bill, but I would like to take some time to speak on the matter of courtroom and court building security, and by implication the security of magistrates and judges. Although I was never a lawyer, I did work for a period of time investigating security incidents in the court system in Perth. Also, through my time in the Australian Federal Police, I had some security duties at the then Family Court in Parramatta, Sydney. I would like to spend a few more minutes to help out—as I was asked to!—by drawing on the experiences that I had in Perth while conducting these investigations. Some may recall an incident in Perth involving the mass break-out from the Supreme Court. That was a tragic and unfortunate error which was very bad for the city of Perth and led to, I believe, nine serious inmates being out on the streets. I also had the unenvious position of helping to investigate a death in custody and several self-harm incidents by persons in custody.

In all these cases, there were common features: either there was a procedure that was not up to scratch or the procedures that were there were not properly adhered to. This is a very important matter. In the state criminal system, I am afraid to say, there are some people who are not very nice; there are some society might even call evil. Nevertheless, there is a duty of care that needs to be complied with and there is also the duty to society to make sure that these people are properly secured. While there were some contributing factors of equipment failures or other problems that you would never allocate as a fault of an individual, it was certainly the case that most incidents were related to mistakes individuals made. Again, barring the intention of people to commit self-harm, and to achieve a self-harm in one case, things could have always been done a little better.

In the circumstances we are talking about today, where we are talking about federal courts, you might ordinarily think that you are not likely to see a serious criminal jumping from the dock and climbing up to pass the judge or magistrate and then pushing him out of the way, as unfortunately happened on one occasion. Nevertheless, in the Federal Court system emotion is still there. People feel strongly about certain events and, while maybe escape is not one of the motives of people in these courtrooms, it would certainly be the case that there are seriously aggrieved parties that might take bad decisions that could lead them into more trouble by assaulting another party to the matter, assaulting a magistrate or even assaulting a member of the public in the vicinity. I would always advocate that, when talking about security in the court system, you must always think about two things: the hardware—the way the courtrooms and the buildings are built, and the security systems within those buildings—and the procedures as well. It is normally in the procedures and in a failure to adhere to the procedures that risks are realised and people possibly hurt. That should never be acceptable and we should always try to do better.

I have wandered somewhat widely this afternoon, and I appreciate your indulgence in this matter. I would like to finish by saying that we on the opposition side fully support these amendments and we look forward to their implementation for best practice and the benefit of all involved.