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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14978

Mr Murphy asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 12 February 2003:

(1) Did he issue a news release on 28 February 2001 titled “Attorneys-General to consider compulsory reporting of bankruptcy for barristers”.

(2) Did he say in that news release that he intended to discuss with State and Territory Ministers options for dealing with barristers who flout the tax system, such as by making it compulsory for barristers to report bankruptcy or suspending or withdrawing the right of those barristers to practise law in Australia.

(3) When, where and with whom and on what dates did he have discussions with the State and Territory Ministers in relation to options for dealing with barristers who abuse the tax system.

(4) What is the outcome of his discussions over the past two years with regard to what the Howard Government intends to do about members of the legal profession, particularly barristers, who are serial rorters of the taxation system.

Mr Williams (Attorney-General) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Yes.

(2) Yes.

(3) I coordinated the discussion of this issue at the meetings of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) in Adelaide on 23 March 2001 and Darwin on 25 July 2001. In addition to myself, the Adelaide meeting was attended by the Attorneys-General of South Australia (Chair), NSW, Tasmania, Western Australia, Queensland, the ACT and Norfolk Island. The Darwin meeting was attended by myself and the Attorneys-General of the Northern Territory (Chair), the ACT, NSW, Queensland, South Australia (for part of meeting only), Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, and Norfolk Island.

(4) At the Adelaide meeting SCAG Ministers agreed that a working group of Commonwealth, State and Territory officers be established to draft an Officers' paper with recommendations for prompt action. The Officers Paper was considered by Ministers at their subsequent meeting in Darwin on 25 July 2001.

At the Darwin meeting Ministers agreed that each jurisdiction would consider amending its law so that:

· Lawyers are required to notify their professional association of events involving insolvency and of findings of guilt for indictable offences and tax offences;

· The disciplinary provisions that apply in relation to charges of `professional misconduct' are strengthened. The definition of `professional misconduct' would be amended to remove any doubt that conduct of a practitioner involving insolvency or conviction for an offence is professional misconduct if the conduct or conviction would justify a finding that the practitioner is not of good fame and character or is not a fit and proper person to remain on the roll of practitioners; and

· The professional association is required to notify the Legal Ombudsman (or other equivalent body overseeing the legal profession), or the Attorney-General or both, of all cases falling within the new procedures, and of the decision made or action taken by the professional association.

The development and implementation of such laws is a matter that should be referred to the relevant State or Territory Attorney-General.