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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 2027

Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (9:02 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The signing of the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement in 1983, and a range of other instruments, has lead to closer business links and greater economic integration between Australia and New Zealand.

As a result of this, there is an increased likelihood of cross-border legal disputes and the need for greater civil legal cooperation arrangements.

The Trans-Tasman Regime

In 2008, the Australian and the New Zealand government signed the Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of New Zealand on Trans-Tasman Court Proceedings and Regulatory Enforcement.

The agreement seeks to streamline and simplify arrangements for the service of documents, recognition and enforcement of judgments, obtaining and giving of evidence, and appearing remotely in proceedings by electronic means.

In March last year, this parliament passed legislation implementing this agreement—the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Act 2010 and the consequential legislation. The New Zealand parliament also passed the companion act in August last year.

During its passage through the New Zealand parliament, several amendments were made to the New Zealand bill in response to parliamentary committee reports and stakeholder comments.

Australia, I might add, was consulted and agreed with the appropriateness of the changes.

Schedules 1 and 2 of the bill I am introducing today will address, where necessary, any divergence between the Australian and New Zealand legislation to ensure the effective operation of the cooperative scheme. The bill will make minor amendments to harmonise the language and structure of the Australian legislation with the New Zealand act. It will also make some minor technical amendments to enhance the internal consistency of the Australian legislation.

Family Law Fee Validation

In addition, the bill also contains technical measures to retrospectively validate fees charged for de facto financial proceedings under the Family Law Act 1975 in the Family Court of Australia, and certain state and territory courts as well. After most states and territories referred their relevant powers, jurisdiction under the Family Law Act for de facto financial matters was conferred on the Family Court of Australia, and relevant state and territory courts, on 1 March 2009.

A technical error in the amending legislation resulted in an anomaly in the application of the fee provisions of the Family Law Regulations 1984 to de facto financial proceedings. This affects fees paid on de facto financial matters between 1 March 2009 and 26 November 2010. The Family Law Regulations 1984 were amended from this latter date to enable the fees to be properly collected.

It has always been the government’s intention to have the fee apply consistently to de facto and matrimonial disputes under the Family Law Act.

The measures in schedule 3 of this bill would retrospectively correct the anomaly and ensure that the fees applying to de facto financial proceedings were the same as those applying to matrimonial financial proceedings and parenting matters in the relevant period.

In conclusion, it is anticipated that the trans-Tasman proceedings regime will commence in the second half of 2011, after both Australia and New Zealand have put in place the domestic arrangements necessary to comply with the obligations of the 2008 agreement.

The amendments contained in this bill are a vital step in this process.

Once implemented, this regime will stand as a significant piece of microeconomic reform between our two countries. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Randall) adjourned.