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Tuesday, 30 August 1994
Page: 591

Senator SPINDLER (4.49 p.m.) —I am happy to answer that question now—and the answer is no. The Democrats support this legislation. The Evidence and Procedure (New Zealand) Bill is the latest in a series of bills which have begun to internationalise the proceedings of Australian courts and tribunals. In this context it is significant that the bill will allow, with Australian proceedings, the issuing and enforcement of Australian subpoenas in New Zealand, the taking of evidence by video link in New Zealand and the enforcement of judgment of Australian courts in New Zealand.

  Disappointingly, the powers to issue subpoenas have been restricted to other than criminal and family proceedings. I understand that the legislation has been framed in this way at the insistence of the New Zealand government. Perhaps the minister at the table could explain why the New Zealanders have adopted this particular position. Whatever the reason, it does produce a disappointing result.

  In the very proceedings where the subpoena procedures could be most useful and potentially productive of the greatest savings, these will be unavailable. This in turn will restrict the effectiveness of the video link procedures in family law and criminal cases given that it will not be possible to compel a witness to attend at a video link facility to give evidence. I do hope the government will exert whatever pressure it can to get the New Zealand government to change its stance on the issue.

  In relation to the video link procedures, the bill, under the reciprocal scheme established by clauses 25 and 31, would pick up relevant state law and apply it to proceedings sourced from New Zealand; however, I am not aware of any state rules or procedures that would govern the taking of evidence from overseas. I am aware that in the context of the child sex tourism legislation many concerns were raised about the use of this sort of technology in criminal proceedings. I believe that some of the expressed concerns were to an extent overstated; however, state and territory governments are going to have to think hard about the issue. It is disappointing that the federal government has not sought to give some sort of lead and establish appropriate benchmarks.

  Consistent with the thrust of the Sackville report, and with the recently introduced evidence bill, uniform procedures in this area would be desirable. It would certainly make things simpler for the New Zealand authorities, who are going to have to supervise the taking of video evidence for Australian courts. The bill does provide in clause 47(3) that in the absence of relevant state rules the rules of the Federal Court will apply. I urge the Attorney-General (Mr Lavarch) in the interests of efficiency to meet with his state counterparts to put in place a uniform scheme which would govern video link procedures.

  I note that this bill also throws up yet another example of how our laws discriminate against single sex couples. The Democrats are committed to the principle of ensuring that homosexual couples are treated equally before the law. They should be given the same advantages and suffer under the same liabilities as heterosexual couples who are married or who live together as de facto husband and wife. In the context of legislation such as this, the recognition of this equality is of great importance as it confers equality of status and treatment within our legal system. This applies whether it is a benefit that it confirms or a liability that it imposes. I refer to the definition of a de facto couple in the definition section of this bill.

  We have had correspondence with the Attorney-General on this matter and have suggested that, in line with the stated policy of the government to achieve equality in these areas for all Australian citizens, we should seek to amend this. I have offered to move the amendment—in fact, I have submitted a draft amendment to the government. However, I appreciate that on this occasion an agreement had to be made with the government of another country, namely New Zealand, and that the government was constrained by the attitude of that government.

  In view of this consideration, seeing that the purpose of the whole bill is to achieve some sort of uniformity and the government clearly was not able to move the government of New Zealand on this point as on others—I have mentioned the family and criminal law areas—I have decided not to move the amendment. I simply urge the government to continue negotiations with New Zealand. We should strive in all our pieces of legislation, all our acts and all our statutory provisions, to achieve equality for all Australians, irrespective of their sexuality. As I have said, the Australian Democrats will be supporting this bill.