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Monday, 11 February 2013
Page: 827


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (18:14): I also rise to support the Courts and Tribunals Legislation Amendment (Administration) Bill 2012 and to thank the Father of the House, the member for Berowra, for his contribution—particularly in touching on the native title implications but also that history of the Family Court. I know, as someone who was here pre Mabo and looking at it from today, that it has been an incredible journey for the parliament and the nation, so I thank him for his contribution.

I am less inclined to thank the member for Stirling for his contribution—certainly not when he started moving on to what the opposition spokesperson Senator Brandis had to contribute on this piece of legislation. For me, Senator Brandis is to appropriate commentary on sub judice matters what Mal Meninga was to celebrity political careers: he did not have a lot to contribute—although as a member from New South Wales, Mr Deputy Speaker Windsor, you would appreciate that Mal Meninga, having given up his political career, then moved to Queensland and coached us to seven State of Origin wins in a row. I am sure you would appreciate that he did have something to contribute. Politics' loss was Queensland's gain. But I wonder about the role of the opposition spokesperson Senator Brandis. It is a bit of a scary proposition, the idea of him being the nation's first law officer—big shoes to fill for those opposite. I am not sure that he would be able to. At least he would not have to give advice to himself; he would have a department to give him advice, rather than that Brandis on Brandis stuff which he is often keen to quote.

The bill before the chamber proposes reforms to the administrative structures and processes of the National Native Title Tribunal, the Federal Court of Australia, the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia. These reforms have been presented as a means to improve the operations of the affected bodies and achieve savings. Both the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee that I chair have supported—unanimously, I understand—the legislation's intent. The bill implements recommendations of the Skehill review of small and medium agencies in the Attorney-General's portfolio. The bill will make significant improvements to the administrative structures and processes of the Family Court, the Federal Magistrates Court, the Federal Court and the National Native Title Tribunal and will allow these agencies to realise significant savings through reduced duplication and more efficient administration. In particular, the bill makes legislative amendments to facilitate the merger of the administrative functions of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia—which I understand is already happening—including by recognising a single chief executive officer position for the two courts. It will facilitate the transfer of the National Native Title Tribunal's administrative functions, appropriations and staff to the Federal Court of Australia and reflect that the National Native Title Tribunal is no longer a proscribed agency for the purposes of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. This transfer is widely supported by stakeholders, as I saw both in my capacity as chair of the Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee and its engagement and in other research. It is widely supported as a means to speed up native title consent orders and determinations, which would be a good thing for this nation. It has also been the subject of extensive transition planning to ensure no current matters are delayed. The Skehill review commented that the continuing existence of the NNTT could be seen by stakeholders as being very important, and abolishing it without being able to demonstrate a better substantive outcome could jeopardise the functioning of the native title system as a whole; therefore, the report recommended that the NNTT remain as a separate entity although its mediation function resources should be transferred to the Federal Court.

This bill is predominantly finalised in providing the legislative authority for a number of arrangements already in place or well advanced. As I said, the courts, the tribunal and the Attorney-General's Department have been working together over some time to implement the reforms. I would particularly like to commend them on their consultation with their employees. It was a very well-managed change process. I know it can be quite stressful when the cultures of different organisations come together but it appears to have been managed very well with a lot of consultation with employees—although I am also hopeful of a later external review to be undertaken by the Australian National Audit Office at an appropriate point in time. This would provide reassurance that the anticipated benefits in terms of efficiency and effectiveness of the affected courts and tribunals have been achieved, something touched on by the Father of the House in his speech as well. Obviously, this is in addition to the annual reports and Senate estimates. My committee also asked the Attorney-General to direct the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, and his team to report on the adequacy of the services being provided by the National Native Title Tribunal. I could talk about this in a lot more detail, but I see the member for Braddon and the parliamentary secretary in his capacity of representing the Attorney-General is here—the man more suited than anyone else in this parliament to speak like Rumpole of the Bailey. I look forward to hearing from him and I commend the legislation to the chamber.