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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4180

Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (4:20 PM) —in reply—The Law and Justice (Cross Border and Other Amendments) Bill 2009 demonstrates the government’s commitment to providing Australians with simple and efficient processes for resolving cross-border disputes. The government recognises the difficulties that can arise when disputes spill across borders—but this is the reality today, both within Australia and also internationally. The intention of these amendments is to reduce the additional complexities associated with cross-border litigation in Australia in the criminal and civil areas. I am also pleased that the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is strongly of the view that the bill should be supported. I commend that committee for the tremendous amount of very solid work that it does.

The debate on this bill, and the Senate committee’s inquiry into its provisions, has focused on the proposed amendments to the Service and Execution of Process Act 1992 to facilitate the operation of the cross-border justice scheme. I want to emphasise that the amendments in the bill do not establish the Cross Border Justice Scheme in themselves. The scheme will operate under legislation passed by the parliaments of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. There appears to be some confusion about this, so I think it is important to clarify the point and correct the record.

The amendments in this bill provide that arrangements under the Cross Border Justice Scheme will have primacy over any inconsistent arrangements in the Commonwealth’s Service and Execution of Process Act—in other words, the Commonwealth’s act is being wound back, where there was any inconsistency discovered, to enable the cross-border justice scheme to have primacy and not be overruled by inconsistent federal legislation.

There has been some suggestion that, in passing the amendments we are dealing with today, the Commonwealth would be endorsing all aspects of the state and territory scheme. The scheme does not require these amendments to be passed to commence operation. The purpose of these amendments is to avoid a situation where there are two sets of laws potentially operating in the cross-border region. This would lead to more complex and confusing litigation. There would also be a risk that aspects of the scheme could be found constitutionally invalid to the extent that they may be inconsistent with Commonwealth law, as I indicated.

That said, the government certainly supports the fundamental objective of the scheme, which is to make the delivery of justice services in the NPY lands simpler and quicker. The scheme responds to community concerns, including from the NPY Women’s Council, that justice services are being hampered by state boundaries. In particular, there is concern that state boundaries are enabling perpetrators of violence against women and children to evade police and the justice system. The member for Werriwa, if I might say so, immediately before me made an excellent speech in that respect.

The flexible arrangements established under the scheme will assist police, magistrates and other officials to deal with the high levels of family violence, sexual abuse and substance misuse in the remote regions more effectively. Faster response times mean offenders can be more swiftly brought to justice. This helps protect the community, gives a better result for victims and decreases the time an alleged offender may spend in custody before appearing before a judge or magistrate. I am pleased to note that legislation has now been passed by all three jurisdictions, which makes it important that the amendments in this bill are passed as soon as possible, and I thank all opposition members for that support.

The second set of measures in this bill confirms the capacity of prisoners to give evidence by audio or audiovisual link when subpoenaed to do so for a proceeding in a different jurisdiction. Currently, the Service and Execution of Process Act only contemplates a prisoner giving evidence in person in such proceedings. These amendments will give greater flexibility for the use of audio or audiovisual link technology. This will reduce the need to physically transport prisoners to give evidence over what can often be vast differences and, at times, in less than desirable conditions. These amendments do not remove the capacity of a prisoner to be subpoenaed to give evidence in person if that is required in the interests of justice.

The third set of measures is proposed to amend the Evidence and Procedure (New Zealand) Act 1994. The amendments will extend the scheme for the service of subpoenas between Australia and New Zealand for family proceedings in general, with the exception of two particular types of family proceedings which should remain excluded. International child abduction proceedings should remain excluded because of the urgency of these proceedings and the special regime already in place to accommodate service in these cases. Proceedings about the status or property of a person unable to manage their own affairs should also remain excluded. In Australia these proceedings are mostly dealt with by state and territory guardianship boards rather than by the courts. They are excluded from the scheme facilitating the service of subpoenas between the Australian states and territories contained in the Service and Execution of Process Act.

Removing the restriction on family proceedings more generally, however, other than in respect of those two exceptions, will allow the scheme to operate in relation to civil proceedings. Appropriate safeguards against misuse remain. These amendments will bring the Australian legislation in line with its equivalent in New Zealand. I thank the New Zealand Minister of Justice, the Hon. Simon Power, for the tremendous cooperation that the government of New Zealand and his office in particular have provided in respect of these matters.

As members would be aware, the government is also progressing broader reforms to make the resolution of trans-Tasman legal disputes cheaper, quicker and less complex, as I have indicated, with tremendous assistance from the New Zealand government. This government plans to introduce legislation into parliament later this year to simplify the process for conducting civil court proceedings across the Tasman.

In conclusion, the amendments in this bill will benefit many Australians and give them greater confidence in the justice system and how they are served by it. The measures are aimed at the effective resolution of cross-border disputes within Australia and across the Tasman. The amendments reduce confusion around the Commonwealth’s legal framework for resolving cross-border disputes. They reduce burdens in the provision of legal services and facilitate a streamlined process to ensure the framework operates efficiently and effectively for all Australians. I thank members for their contribution and I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

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