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Thursday, 20 August 2009
Page: 5554

Senator BRANDIS (1:13 PM) —The Law and Justice (Cross Border and Other Amendments) Bill 2009 contains a range of measures relating to legal proceedings with a domestic cross-border element. Its reach also extends to New Zealand. Disputes having a connection with different states are governed by the Service and Execution of Process Act 1992. Australia also has a cooperative scheme with New Zealand for the service of subpoenae under the Evidence and Procedure (New Zealand) Act 1994. The amendments proposed by this bill are intended to provide some additional flexibility and to broaden the coverage of the existing regime.

Firstly, the bill seeks to amend the Service and Execution of Process Act to support the Cross Border Justice Scheme. This scheme is a joint initiative of the Western Australian, South Australian and Northern Territory governments and will apply initially to the border region Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara—or NPY—Lands in the central desert. This will allow criminal justice officials to deal with offenders from any of the participating jurisdictions, provided the offender has some connection with the region. This scheme operates under both state and Territory law, but the amendments to the Service and Execution of Process Act are necessary to ensure that the act does not override those arrangements.

Secondly, the bill seeks to amend the Service and Execution of Process Act to clarify that prisoners subpoenaed to give evidence in interstate proceedings may give evidence by audio or audiovisual link with the approval of the court. Finally, the bill seeks to amend the Evidence and Procedure (New Zealand) Act to include family law proceedings in the scheme relating to the services of subpoena between Australia and New Zealand. Family law proceedings were previously excluded at New Zealand’s request, but the New Zealand government has now passed amendments providing for their inclusion.

The latter two proposals seem to the coalition to be eminently sensible and have our support. The first proposal, that relating to the policing of the central desert region, also has the coalition’s support, but it needs to be noted that the scheme to which it applies, which is principally the responsibility of the state and Territory governments concerned, has attracted some criticism. Liberal senators on the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which reported on this bill on 12 May, expressed some discomfort with elements of the scheme. They noted the submission of the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement that, amongst other things, the scheme is complex, has resource implications for legal aid commissions and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Legal Services, has the potential to encourage forum shopping on the part of the police and has a retrospective effect. They also noted, however, these are not matters which are within the remit of this particular bill.

The need for this bill is simply to ensure that the provisions of the Service and Execution of Process Act do not override the operation of the scheme. The challenges of maintaining law and order in the central desert region are very real. The fact that the region straddles three jurisdictions can only complicate matters. Any problems with the scheme are for those jurisdictions to iron out. To the extent that the Commonwealth can lessen that burden, it ought to do so. The coalition supports the bill.