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Monday, 15 March 2010
Page: 2538

Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (5:19 PM) —I would like to thank members for their contribution to this debate on the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Bill 2009 and the Trans-Tasman Proceedings (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2009. It is an important debate. As Australia’s relationship with New Zealand becomes closer, it is increasingly important that we align our legal systems to make it easier to resolve cross-border disputes. Hundreds of thousands of Australians and New Zealanders cross the Tasman each year as tourists, or for business, or to visit family members or for sport. Over 520,000 New Zealanders live in Australia and around 65,000 Australians live in New Zealand.

Several initiatives are in fact being pursued between the Australian and New Zealand governments to strengthen our economic integration, including the development of a single economic market. The work has been given a renewed focus and intensity after Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and John Key issued a joint statement of intent in August last year. When introducing these bills I specifically congratulated and commended the work of Simon Power, the New Zealand Minister of Justice, who has been particularly energetic in this area. Indeed, I think he has moved faster than we have in introducing his reciprocal side of this legislation. The Trans-Tasman Proceedings Bill 2009 2009, along with mirror legislation introduced into the New Zealand parliament, will support these initiatives and make it easier and cheaper for individuals and businesses to conduct legal proceedings across the Tasman.

The Australian and New Zealand bills set up a trans-Tasman regime for the conduct of court proceedings. Importantly, the legislation expands the types of judgments that can be enforced between Australia and New Zealand and it also streamlines the processes in doing so. The ease of registering a judgment will give businesses operating in trans-Tasman marketplaces greater certainty that they will be able to enforce their rights if things do not go according to plan. Unfortunately, in any endeavour, whether it is industrial relations, business, family law or otherwise, we are aware that there will be disputes. These disputes will be resolved without affecting or eroding appeal rights. If a person wants to challenge a New Zealand judgment that is subsequently registered in Australia, the bill allows a person to seek a stay of the enforcement in Australia so that he or she can appeal the judgment in New Zealand.

The bill also simplifies a range of other aspects of trans-Tasman proceedings. For example, it makes it easier for a person who has commenced proceedings in an Australian court to serve initiating documents on a defendant in New Zealand. To balance the increased ease by which a plaintiff in one country can commence proceedings against a defendant in the other, the bill makes it easier for a person or their lawyer to participate in proceedings remotely by audio or video link using technologies that are being applied in each of our respective countries. They will be able to more easily utilise those technologies across the Tasman. Under the new regime established by this bill, Australia and New Zealand will also adopt a common test for determining which country’s courts should hear a dispute. The new tests will override the current rules which can sometimes lead to confusion and uncertainty for litigants and give rise to the possibility that the courts disagree about which of them should hear the matter. This is not uncommon between Australian states and territories, let alone between countries, but we think the model that we have set up mutually in our respective acts of parliament in Australia and New Zealand will assist in resolving those issues.

These reforms are also the result of significant consultation on both sides of the Tasman. I should add the states and territories, courts and select academics have also been involved over several years in the development of the proposals and have commented on the Australian and New Zealand bills. We value their contribution. I am pleased to say that the new arrangements have the support of all Australian jurisdictions and have been considered by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General, to which meetings the New Zealand justice minister attends and always makes a very sound and solid contribution.

In conclusion, these changes to trans-Tasman litigation form part of the government’s broader reform agenda to improve access to justice for all Australians. The new arrangements also stand as a significant piece of microeconomic reform. Simpler and more certain arrangements for resolving disputes will give Australian businesses greater legal security and will support greater business confidence. This bill and its New Zealand counterpart mark an unprecedented level of cooperation between Australia and New Zealand. There is of course more to do, but these are significant reforms that will enhance current arrangements and improve access to justice by making the resolution of trans-Tasman disputes cheaper, quicker and less complex. I commend this bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

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