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Thursday, 27 November 2008
Page: 7520

Senator McLUCAS (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing) (1:16 PM) —I thank Senator Brandis for his contribution and acknowledge his knowledge and interest. I think those of us who are here in the chamber will recognise that we have all learnt an important lesson today, and I thank him for that.

Senator Brandis —I was just being self-indulgent, Senator McLucas.

Senator McLUCAS —Oh, not at all. The Evidence Amendment Bill 2008 includes a number of amendments to improve the overall workability of the uniform evidence laws. In particular, the bill contains important reforms to make it easier for children and people with cognitive impairment to give evidence, by promoting the use of narrative evidence and disallowing improper questioning of vulnerable witnesses under cross-examination.

Other significant reforms contained in the bill include improving the procedure for taking oral evidence, including expert evidence, about the traditional laws and customs of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people to accommodate the very form by which these laws and customs are maintained; and extending the compellability provisions in the Evidence Act to recognise that people involved in same-sex relationships should not be forced to give evidence against their partner unless a court is satisfied that there is a compelling reason to do so. This is consistent with the government’s commitment to remove same-sex discrimination in Commonwealth laws.

This bill is a significant step in progressing the harmonisation of evidence laws across Australia. As the Attorney-General has previously said, the Australian government is keen to encourage all jurisdictions to implement the model uniform evidence laws. This will result in a more uniform and coherent approach to evidence law and, in particular, reduce complexity and costs associated with juggling two evidence regimes in non-uniform Evidence Act jurisdictions. I commend the bill to the chamber.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.