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Thursday, 28 February 2013
Page: 1308


Senator CONROY (VictoriaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (13:44): I thank honourable senators for their contribution to this debate on the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2013. This is an important time for our federal judicial system. This bill reflects more than simply a change in name and title; it demonstrates a joint commitment by the government and the court to ensure that regional residents have access to the same legal and judicial services as other Australians.

The bill operates together with the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Legislation Amendment Act 2012, which passed the parliament late last year, to rename the Federal Magistrates Court as the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and to change the title of federal magistrate to judge. The bill makes consequential amendments across the Commonwealth statute book to reflect the court's new name and the new title for federal magistrates. It also ensures the smooth transition to the new name without disturbing existing arrangements and entitlements. The government plans for this bill to commence concurrently with the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Legislation Amendment Act 2012 so that the changes are implemented consistently and effectively across all relevant legislation.

The new name of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the new title of judge clarify the identity of the court and its judicial officers within the Australian judicial system. This name and this title better reflect the court's modern role and highlight the important service that the court provides to rural and regional communities through its program of regular court circuits. By way of illustration, in the 2011-12 financial year the court circuited to 33 rural and regional locations, spending the equivalent of approximately 145 weeks in federal magistrate hours hearing matters in those localities.

The government is backing these symbolic changes with the resources the court needs to do its job in the city and the country. In September, the former Attorney-General announced additional funding of $38 million across the federal courts, with the vast majority going to the front-line work of the Family Court and the Federal Magistrates Court.

At this point I turn to Senator Brandis's somewhat repetitive criticisms of this government's reform of and relationship with our federal courts. I think it is fair to say that the current and former attorneys-general pay little heed to Senator Brandis's commentary from the sidelines. He claims credit for policies that this government has actually achieved. He criticises current funding levels but proposes no other funding model and does not explain from where his additional funding would appear.

It was this government that undertook the consultation with the court and legal community on a name that best reflected its role. It was this government that created a fee package to maintain court services and an administrative structure that puts the judiciary on a stronger footing. This government has brought forward a broad court reform package, including establishing a transparent framework for handling complaints about judicial officers, formalising the merger of the administrations of the Family Court and the Federal Magistrates Court and introducing legislation to establish the new Military Court of Australia to deal with serious service charges against ADF personnel. I note that even this vital piece of legislation, so important for our military personnel and introduced in response to the coalition's comprehensive failure to create a constitutional military court, has yet to receive the opposition's grudging agreement. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.