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Monday, 15 March 2010
Page: 2530

Mr CRAIG THOMSON (4:47 PM) —I rise to support the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Bill 2009 and the Trans-Tasman Proceedings (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2009. The primary bill will implement the Agreement Between the Government of Australia and the Government of New Zealand on Trans-Tasman Court Proceedings and Regulatory Enforcement 2008. It will incorporate existing legislative provisions to provide a single point of reference for rules regarding how trans-Tasman proceedings are conducted. Related transitional and consequential provisions are included in a separate bill to be introduced alongside the primary bill. Companion legislation is being developed to implement the agreement in New Zealand.

The bill will improve arrangements for conducting trans-Tasman civil disputes. Key measures include allowing civil initiating processes issued in Australian courts and some tribunal proceedings to be served in New Zealand without leave; broadening the range of New Zealand judgments that can be registered and enforced in Australia to include final non-money judgments, civil pecuniary penalties and certain criminal fines and regulatory matters; facilitating greater use of technology to enable parties and lawyers to appear remotely in proceedings in the other country; and building on the existing cooperative civil evidence regime to allow subpoenas to be issued in New Zealand in Australian criminal proceedings. The bill will also incorporate some provisions from existing legislation to provide a one-stop shop for conducting trans-Tasman proceedings. The bill will set up a trans-Tasman regime for the conduct of court proceedings modelled on the cooperative scheme established by the Service and Execution of Process Act 1992, which regulates proceedings between the states and territories.

The bill will provide simplified arrangements for serving initiating documents on a defendant in New Zealand. It will no longer be necessary for a plaintiff to establish a particular connection between the proceedings in Australia or to seek leave of the court to serve documents in New Zealand. Service on a defendant in New Zealand will have the same effect and give rise to the same proceeding as if it had occurred in the Australian jurisdiction in which the proceedings are being heard.

The bill provides for a common statutory test to apply between Australia and New Zealand in determining when a court in the other country should hear a dispute. It allows a person served in New Zealand to seek a stay of proceedings in Australia on the grounds that a court in New Zealand is more appropriate to determine the proceedings. The factors to be taken into account when making this determination will be mirrored in the New Zealand bill. The bill will allow certain Australian courts to grant interim relief in support of New Zealand proceedings to protect an applicant’s right until final judgment is given—for example, an injunction to prevent a party removing assets from the jurisdiction. This avoids the need for duplicate proceedings to be commenced in Australia.

The bill will promote a greater use of remote appearances through audio and audiovisual link technology to reduce the cost and inconvenience of physically attending court in trans-Tasman litigation. It will allow a party, or his or her lawyer, to appear remotely from Australia in New Zealand proceedings and vice versa with leave of the court.

The bill will provide for a broader range of judgments to be recognised and enforced in Australia through a process of registration. It will allow non-money judgments such as injunctions, civil pecuniary penalties and fines for regulatory breaches to be registered in certain Australian courts. Once registered, the judgment will have the same force and effect, and give rise to the same enforcement proceedings, as if the judgment were made in Australia.

The bill will incorporate the existing provisions of the Evidence and Procedure (New Zealand) Act 1994, which sets up a cooperative regime for the taking of evidence and the service and enforcement of subpoenas between Australia and New Zealand. That act will be repealed. It will also include part IIIA of the Federal Court Act 1976, which regulates the conduct of trans-Tasman market proceedings brought under the Trade Practices Act 1974, which prohibits a corporation with a substantial degree of market power from taking advantage of this power to eliminate or damage competition in the market. Minor changes have been made to aspects of these provisions to be consistent with the remainder of the bill.

Most if not all members of this place know that the relationship between Australia and New Zealand is of great importance to both our countries. At this time the relationship that Australia has with New Zealand is at its most comprehensive level ever. Not only do we have similar geography; our shared history, our common values and our like-mindedness all provide the foundation for a close relationship between our two countries. The number of our people-to-people exchanges reflects that relationship. Every year we see a million New Zealanders coming to Australia to visit and a million Australians going to New Zealand to visit. The strength of people-to-people exchanges and the strength of the nation-to-nation contact is in many respects quite extraordinary. We have a very strong economic relationship indeed.

The Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Agreement, which has now existed for over 25 years, is probably the most successful free trade agreement between any two nations. The work on building this agreement does not stop. Efforts are continuing between Australia and New Zealand to have in place a single economic market. The work on this project, specifically the practical application to making it easier for Australians to travel to New Zealand and vice versa, is underway. It is a terrific economic project that our two nations are committed to. There is no doubt that our closer economic relations agreement is a model for the world, going beyond barriers at the border to deeper economic and regulatory integration. Two-way trade is currently worth over $A21 billion. Merchandise trade has grown at an average of 6.2 per cent per annum over the last two decades. Two-way investment between Australia and New Zealand stands at over $97 billion. We continue to be more integrated, and this has direct benefits for business and the wider economy.

The most recent areas of focus have included industry policy, notably modernising rules of origin, freeing up investment rules, an ambitious new work program for the single economic market looking particularly at enhancing the regulatory environment for business, seeking to streamline travel across the Tasman, collaboration on improvements in the rules around food trade, and exploring the scope to liberalise services trade even further. Australia and New Zealand have kept up to date with biosecurity issues, the review of the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Arrangement, and collaboration on science including climate change and areas of innovation and scientific research.

The CERA is the world’s most open and successful free trade agreement. It continues to move beyond the traditional features of such agreements to include deep and broad regulatory and administrative cooperation designed to reduce or remove impediments to doing business and facilitate the movement of people, goods, services and capital across the Tasman. Once a review is completed, the closer economic relations agreement rules of origin will be the most modern and liberal in the world. Both economies will see benefits, including efficiency gains and enhanced international competitiveness, for their industries resulting from the modernisation of the CERA rules.

In 2008 the revised Australia New Zealand Government Procurement Agreement entered into force. As a result, all government procurement policies in New Zealand and in Australia, including at the federal, state and territory levels, now remain CER-consistent, with suppliers from both Australia and New Zealand treated on an equal basis in order to support a single trans-Tasman government procurement market. Officials from both countries have affirmed their commitment to a joint food standard system, and New Zealand recently recognised Australia’s system of assuring the safety of certain foods exported to New Zealand. That decision reflects the high degree of confidence that New Zealand and Australia share in each other’s food safety systems. Australia will progress its own legislative amendments to give this reciprocal effect and both countries have agreed to work towards further reductions in barriers to trans-Tasman food trade.

Other recent achievements in the CER relationship include the signature of the updated double taxation agreement between Australia and New Zealand. This treaty better reflects the current commercial realities of trans-Tasman trade and investment. The commitment to an agreement on Trans-Tasman retirement savings portability similarly reflects existing CER realities. It will enable New Zealanders and Australians who work and live across the Tasman for a time to keep their financial affairs in order. Both of these instruments will further reduce non-tariff barriers to trade and investment and improve certainty and transparency for trans-Tasman businesses.

Our countries are working together to enhance Australia-New Zealand collaboration on climate change, and Australia has noted in particular New Zealand’s founding membership of the Australian initiated Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute. Promoting sustainable forest management and combating illegal logging continue to be important matters for cooperation with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. There is close collaboration between New Zealand and Australia on a joint bid to host a Square Kilometre Array, SKA, international radio telescope project. A decision on the location of the SKA is expected in 2012, with construction scheduled for the period 2014 to 2020. Over its estimated 50-year lifespan, the SKA will generate significant spin-offs in supercomputing, fibre-optics, renewable energy, construction and manufacturing.

Australia and New Zealand also work very closely in regional and international forums. We are close partners in the Pacific. We are close partners in the Pacific Islands Forum, and in development systems matters we work very closely together in the Pacific region. We reaffirmed our commitment to the unanimous declaration of the Pacific Island Forum leaders. We want Fiji to return to democracy on a much shorter timetable than the interim government is currently indicating. We want there to be full, free and fair participation in the political process in Fiji, which in our view is not occurring, and we remain strong in our joint commitment to see Fiji return to democracy.

We are also both strong and active Commonwealth members. At the most recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Australia joined New Zealand as members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. For the next couple of years both Australia and New Zealand will be represented on this action group. Our two countries have shared peacekeeping and security interests. We work together in the Solomon Islands. We work together in East Timor and our joint attendance at the conference in London on Afghanistan shows we both have a contribution and a commitment to Afghanistan. We are in different provinces but we share the same commitment.

It therefore makes a lot of sense that the bill I am supporting today deals with yet another way of increasing the integration of our countries’ two economies—in this case, with civil legal matters. The increased movement of people, assets and the provision of services between Australia and New Zealand gives rise to the greater possibility of legal disputes with a trans-Tasman element arising. However, despite Australia’s uniquely close relationship with New Zealand, there are currently only limited civil legal cooperation arrangements in place. The objective of the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Bill 2009, and its New Zealand equivalent, is to significantly enhance current arrangements by establishing a cooperative scheme to make trans-Tasman litigation simpler, cheaper and more efficient.

The bill implements the 2008 agreement on court proceedings and regulatory enforcement between Australia and New Zealand. The reforms in the agreement are based on the recommendations of the Trans-Tasman Working Group on Court Proceedings and Regulatory Enforcement, which was set up in 2003 to examine the effectiveness of current arrangements for the conduct of civil proceedings between Australia and New Zealand and which reported in December 2006. The bill has been developed in close consultation with New Zealand to ensure consistent implementation of the agreement in both countries. Stakeholders in Australia—including the states and territories and courts—and New Zealand were closely consulted during the project and support the bill.

The cooperative scheme established under the bill will give greater legal certainty to litigants in Australia and New Zealand and create conditions for further increased trade and commerce between the two countries. The reform will also support work being undertaken under the umbrella of the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Agreement, including the development of a single economic market.

To conclude, it is clear that this legislation is needed to improve certain legal systems between Australia and New Zealand and to make solving legal disputes between parties in both countries much easier. It comes on the back of longstanding cooperation over a wide variety of issues between our two countries. This is important legislation because it establishes this area in terms of civil litigation. Passing this bill will make sure that money will not be wasted by litigants. I commend the bill to the House.