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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4177

Mr HAYES (4:06 PM) —I rise today to indicate my support for the Law and Justice (Cross Border and Other Amendments) Bill 2009. It does contain a range of measures relating to the Commonwealth’s legal framework for resolving disputes as they occur across more than one jurisdiction. I will come to a few of those measures in a minute. Essentially the bill amends the Service and Execution of Process Act 1992, the SEPA, to support the Cross Border Justice Scheme and to ensure that it can operate as intended. I will go into a bit more detail about that in due course. It also makes a number of amendments that are intended to deliver better justice services and improve the safety of communities and regions where they involve more than one jurisdiction.

The bill contains amendments to the existing legislation to confirm the capacity of prisoners to give evidence by audiovisual link before an interstate court, authority, tribunal or person. The bill also amends the Evidence and Procedures (New Zealand) Act 1994 to expand on the range of proceedings covered by the cooperative scheme established between Australia and New Zealand for the service of subpoenas across the Tasman. Furthermore, the measures contained in the bill are consistent with the government’s continuing commitment to make justice more flexible, affordable and less complicated.

I will deal briefly with schedule 1. Notably this bill, as described in the minister’s second reading speech, will facilitate the operation of the cross-border jurisdiction of Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara. I have probably pronounced those names incorrectly but they are ordinarily known as the NPY lands—the Aboriginal lands of the central desert region of Australia. That area is a bit hard to describe without a map but it does cover 450,000 square kilometres and has somewhere in the vicinity of about 10,000 people. This is in an area that I had some significant association with back some time ago before I entered the parliament.

I was actually involved in the establishment of the original proposal between the Northern Territory and the Western Australia government, which established the first joint jurisdictional facility at Kintore. That was brought about because the last thing that we wanted with respect to our Indigenous population—where, like any other population, crimes are committed and violations of laws do occur—was for people to be able to avoid prosecution by simply walking across state boundaries. In respect of some crimes, that required police to go through extradition, a joint investigation or simply not proceed with the matter. By and large, a lot of matters were not proceeded with.

A lot of what occurred in setting up a jurisdiction with a degree of harmonisation between state and territory criminal justice was to bring about what was wanted by a lot of the residents of that area, particularly the women that I met there many years back. They wanted people to be brought to justice and held accountable for crimes they inflicted within their communities and to not be able to evade them by simply walking across a boundary, making it difficult for police to investigate and prosecute, as they had to go through extradition. It was important to bring that about.

Nothing in this bill specifically goes to the application of that scheme. The Western Australian parliament together with the parliament of the Northern Territory will prescribe the operations and laws as they will be applied in this process. At the moment, the state parliament of South Australia has legislation before it doing just that.

It is important to note that this scheme was developed in response to the concerns of many of the old women—I hate to use that term but that is the way that they tend to refer to themselves. They were, in the main, the grandmothers of the area, and they genuinely cared for their offspring and their grandchildren. They wanted to bring about a semblance of law and order. I have to say they were very much the driving force. They certainly impressed me with what they wanted and the reasons they wanted it.

This scheme is about delivering to those remote areas a system of justice, something which is obviously hampered not only by state boundaries and the tyranny of distance but also by the limited number of police. Adding to that, the complication of extraditions and all the rest of it makes it very difficult not only for investigations but also for prosecutions and certainly for the tribunals or courts that hear and determine these matters.

It was the NPY Women’s Council that highlighted the significant safety issues and concerns of their region. They particularly wanted to stress family violence, sexual abuse, substance misuse and other related matters. They clearly wanted to be able to get on with their lives with a semblance of decency re-established. They did not want people to be able to buck-pass the judicial system by saying: ‘The person’s no longer here; they’ve moved across a state boundary’, ‘It’s difficult to now mount a prosecution’, or ‘It’s too expansive to investigate.’ This addresses the very issues that the women’s council have been raising for some time.

This legislation obviously had the support of all sides. Before coming down here today, I was talking to Mark Burgess, the CEO of the Police Federation of Australia, and the President of the Police Association of South Australia. They were talking to me not only about the significance of this legislation but also about the importance of this being used as a vehicle for demonstrating the value of harmonising our laws and their application when it comes to remote areas. We are obviously doing it there because of issues such as the tyranny of distance. But in their petition it should not stop there. They believe we should be looking at all possible opportunities to harmonise the application of our criminal justice system so that it does not protect the people that least need protecting: the criminals.

I certainly share the view of my colleagues, and I would hope that people do see the proper application of this law as being fine for what we are doing in remote areas of Australia. It also should be the forerunner to what we want to achieve in protecting our communities generally—that is, ensuring the criminal elements do not have the opportunity, through differences in the criminal justice system as it is applies throughout the country, to escape the consequences of the evil deeds that they seek to perpetrate on our communities.

As I said earlier, I am aware that the South Australian parliament has proceedings before it presently. I am also aware of a recent comment made by South Australian Premier Mike Rann. He said:

The anecdotal evidence from police suggests that investigation of minor offences is not pursued, owing to the expense and time in obtaining an extradition warrant to a court authorised to hear a charge.

If that is true then it is not in the interests of justice and it needs to be addressed. That is essentially what we have been saying about what this piece of legislation seeks to address. It is common sense that it should apply not only to remote areas but also to the wider community.

Schedule 2 of this bill deals with the issue of audiovisual links. The amendments to schedule 2 of the bill are designed to clarify and remove any confusion about the use of audio- and audiovisual-link technology for SEPA. The amendments will make it clear that prisoners may appear by audio or video link when subpoenaed to give evidence before an interstate court, authority, tribunal or person. The amendments are not directly related to cross-border justice systems and can apply to any jurisdiction when a prisoner is subpoenaed to give evidence in interstate proceedings. Currently, SEPA only contemplates prisoners giving evidence in person in interstate proceedings. There is no implicit provision in the SEPA for a prisoner to appear by audio or audiovisual link when being subpoenaed to give evidence in another legal jurisdiction. Audio and audiovisual link is currently used for prisoners to give evidence in the jurisdiction in which they are imprisoned. These amendments will make clear that they can be called on to do so in proceedings in any other legal jurisdiction.

Schedule 3 of the bill will expand the range of proceedings that come within the scope of the cooperative scheme existing between Australia and New Zealand for the service of subpoenas. It will allow for the service of subpoenas in Family Court proceedings. These were excluded from the scheme of arrangements when this cooperative agreement was entered into by Australia and New Zealand. This will now set that aside and will allow for the issuing of subpoenas. That will harmonise the activity that it is envisaged will apply across that cooperative agreement between Australia and New Zealand for all matters, including family matters.

In concluding, I would like to think that this piece of legislation will deliver on its intention to enhance the level of cooperation and harmonisation of jurisdictions, particularly in relation to remote Australia. The reason it was introduced there was to ensure that the judicial system and the justice system are not only fair but also affordable, available and flexible and can be administered across state boundaries to ensure that people are protected and that those who are found to have breached the law are called to account. I think this is the forerunner to demonstrating that this country, which has a population of 21 million people, cannot afford to have jurisdictions that are so estranged from one another that it makes it difficult, expensive and inflexible to bring people to justice.

I would like to think that this bill is the forerunner to encouraging people to look at what it is that we must do within our criminal justice system to ensure that these flexibilities, this level of harmonisation, are made more consistent so the police can get on with their jobs and the courts can get on with theirs and people can live with the general view that they will be protected throughout our court system generally.