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Monday, 15 March 2010
Page: 2528

Mr NEUMANN (4:35 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Bill 2009 and the Trans-Tasman Proceedings (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2009. Whilst the member for Stirling made his speech with his usual brevity in terms of delivery and content, this is extremely important legislation that will streamline court proceedings and procedures between Australia and New Zealand. It will make a big difference to the way that lawyers practice and litigants experience the court systems of both countries.

On 25 November 2009, the Attorney-General, the Hon. Robert McClelland, and the New Zealand Minister of Justice, Simon Power, met to discuss what they described as:

… a new era of co-operation in dealing with trans-Tasman legal disputes.

Before I was elected to this place, I practised as a lawyer for more than 20 years, and the law firm of which I was the senior partner was part of the Southern Cross Legal Alliance. We had law firms in Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, and in Christchurch and Auckland. I regularly visited New Zealand for the purpose of having discussions on legal issues and had many cases in New Zealand over the years. I represented New Zealand litigants and New Zealand law firms on many occasions in the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court, and my firm represented them in the supreme, district and magistrates courts in Queensland.

The legislation here will make a huge difference to the way we conduct court procedures. I often said when I was practising that if someone was, say, a contact parent and had contact with, or what we used to call ‘access’ to, their child, and felt inclined—wrongly and simply mistakenly—to try and take their child to New Zealand, for example, without the knowledge, consent and approbation of the custodial parent, it simply would not go to Christchurch or Auckland, or a place inside the jurisdiction of the country we know as New Zealand. It would go elsewhere, because New Zealand courts have traditionally taken a very benign approach to the registration of Australian court orders and certainly the degree of cooperation between the Family Court of New Zealand and the Family Court of Australia has been extremely extensive and comprehensive. It is the same with respect to child support administrative assessments and the registration and collection of child support. There has been extensive contact between the authorities in New Zealand and Australia—and so there should have been.

I sometimes wonder, with respect to the preamble of the Australian Constitution, whether our New Zealand brothers and sisters ought not to have carried on and become Australians—with the North Island and the South Island becoming states of Australia—because their law is very similar in many ways to Australian law. Certainly, the area of personal injury is very similar. Corporations law is very similar again. Defamation law, in my observation and experience as a lawyer, is very similar. Family law and child support are also very similar. They have not departed far—and, in fact, on occasions, it has been the case that New Zealand law has been more similar to, say, the law of Queensland than to, say, that of Western Australia or some of the other states. So anything we can do to make sure that our legal systems intermarry—that we can register their orders in Australia; that we do not need leave of the court, for example, to serve court papers; that their court systems can recognise our judgments and decrees—and that there is the cooperation which is so necessary in court systems, is better and more advantageous. It will make the court system that we have simpler, more efficient and more fair.

Anyone involved in litigation knows how costly it can be, how difficult the rules can be and how bewildering the whole process can be. Whilst it is true that most people do not come before the criminal courts in Australia or New Zealand, they can find themselves in circumstances, as a friend of mine did, such as being injured in New Zealand on a holiday. In addition, the number of marriages between Australians and New Zealanders and the cross-Tasman exchange of employment opportunities and arrangements and familial transfers is very frequent. Anyone who has travelled to New Zealand knows how easy it is as you go into the country and how Australia and New Zealand citizens are treated differently from those of other countries at the entrance and the exit of both Australia and New Zealand.

This legislation implements a treaty that our countries signed back in 2008, and I commend the previous government for the steps it undertook. The previous prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand, the Hon. John Howard and the Rt Hon. Helen Clark, established a trans-Tasman working group back in 2003 to look at this issue on court proceedings and regulatory enforcement. In 2005 a public discussion paper was released, with its main recommendations being to create what has been described as a trans-Tasman legal regime based on the Service and Execution of Process Act 1992. Any lawyer in private practice would have had to deal with that particular piece of legislation on many occasions.

The hub of this legislation is the harmonisation of the two systems. It ensures that in civil proceedings, for example, or in contractual law disputes or personal injuries actions, where process is initiated by way of an application or writ or plaint in an Australian court, the document could be served in New Zealand without the leave of that court being undertaken. Just imagine a litigant in Australia who wants to serve a document in New Zealand issuing an application or a plaint in, say, the Supreme Court of Queensland at Brisbane and then finding when they go over to, say, Christchurch they actually have to seek leave of the court to serve the document. Most people would not believe that would be the case, but it is another country and so leave in those circumstances needs to be sought. So they have to front up to a law firm such as Parry Field in the CBD of Christchurch and ask them to actually apply to the court to seek leave to serve the documents. What we are doing here is getting rid of that process and making sure that that can happen without leave.

We are broadening the range of judgments that can be registered and enforced in Australia to include things like what has been described in the brief as final non-monetary judgments—we are talking here about injunctions and the like. It will make it easier to register those. As I say, in the areas of family law we have for a long time simply registered those judgments. I did that on dozens and dozens of occasions when I was in private practice in the Brisbane CBD. But, again, this takes time for litigants and it costs them money. Anything we can do to make the system cheaper and more efficient is beneficial.

I particularly like the provisions here in relation to the use of remote appearances. As a lawyer in private practice, it is great to be able to speak to someone such as a judge over the phone at a directions hearing on an application that someone may bring for a property settlement in, for example, Melbourne—and such a thing happens regularly—and deal with that issue without engaging the services of a town agent such as Lewis Holdway in Melbourne to appear before the federal magistrate in the Federal Magistrates Court or the Family Court in Melbourne. So it saves time and money because the litigant does not have to, effectively, engage another set of lawyers to act as town agent. That can be very costly. There is a duplication of cost to the litigant. Using audiovisual link technology for remote appearances can reduce the costs. It means that the lawyer who has carriage of a file in a particular locale can do it by way of modern technology. It will allow a party and a lawyer to appear in Australia or New Zealand, as the case may be, with leave of the court. You always need leave of the court in those circumstances.

There are many changes in this legislation and there are many litigants on both sides of the Tasman who will benefit from this. I know that the lawyers who were and still are part of the Southern Cross Legal Alliance, which I dealt with on many occasions over many years, will benefit, and their clients will also benefit. Clients in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Christchurch and Auckland, and in places in regional and rural Australia, will also benefit from the greater and closer cooperation we are undertaking through the changes in this legislation.

Avoiding the need for duplication, making sure that judgments have the same force and effect and making sure that services are conducted without leave are simple and necessary measures to ensure better harmonisation of justice systems between Australia and New Zealand. We will be able to treat disputes in the same way, whether a litigant is engaged in a dispute in Auckland or in Brisbane. For too long we have let the waters of the Tasman increase costs for Australian citizens. The legislation before this chamber is an important reform and I think it is the kind of law reform that we should have undertaken decades ago. I am pleased that the previous government took the initiative with the previous Labour government in New Zealand, and I am pleased that the Rudd government has taken up this particular measure, because I know it will benefit people involved in civil, criminal and family law matters across the length and breadth of this country.