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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 582

Mr SLIPPER (2:25 PM) —I do not intend to delay the House long with this contribution. The Federal Court of Australia Amendment (Criminal Jurisdiction) Bill 2008 is the first time that any government has introduced criminal jurisdiction to the Federal Court. When I addressed the parliament in relation to the Federal Justice System Amendment (Efficiency Measures) Bill (No. 1) 2008 just a short time ago, I outlined how for many decades in Australia we did not actually have a federal court system other than the High Court and that the state courts used to exercise federal jurisdiction. I personally believe that was a better model. But, having said that, we now have a large number of federal courts of various types, including the Federal Court of Australia.

The Federal Court of Australia Amendment (Criminal Jurisdiction) Bill 2008, as was indicated by the Attorney-General in his second reading speech, has been introduced at the same time as the Trade Practices Amendment (Cartel Conduct and Other Measures) Bill 2008. As the Attorney pointed out, the latter bill will amend the Trade Practices Act to introduce new offences for serious cartel conduct. Honourable members have spoken at length about the seriousness of cartel conduct and how the Federal Court, because of its civil experience with cartel conduct, should be the appropriate court to deal with criminal matters flowing on from that sort of behaviour. Currently the state and territory courts have that jurisdiction and I am yet to be convinced that it is an appropriate way to go to invest, for the first time ever, the Federal Court with this sort of criminal jurisdiction.

The government tells us that it does not have any intention of expanding the criminal jurisdiction of the Federal Court beyond this matter, but once you accept the government’s decision you will see the bill quite logically seeks to set up all of the infrastructure to enable the Federal Court to carry out this role as a criminal court. The member for Blair talked about the need to have appropriate provisions for juries and so on. I think that, given the fact that the Federal Court is being invested with criminal jurisdiction in only one particular area, the cost of doing this certainly outweighs the benefits. There has been discussion on how judges cannot be experts on different sorts of evidentiary requirements around the country, but we have a system that works now and which I believe is not broken. If it is not broken, why seek to fix it? I may well not be in a majority with my attitude to the Federal Court of Australia Amendment (Criminal Jurisdiction) Bill 2008 but, having said that, I wanted to make the point.

I would, however, like to endorse the remarks made by the member who led the debate for the opposition, the honourable member for Farrer, when she spoke about the serious impingement on human rights and civil rights in this bill. When he spoke, the member for Blair addressed us at length about how some of these defendants would be extremely wealthy, able to hire quite costly Queen’s Counsels and other senior barristers, and that somehow it was wrong to enable them to make applications for bail on more than one occasion—the way he put it was ‘day after day’. I believe that in a democratic society civil rights are so important that, whatever virtue the member for Blair may have in his argument, civil rights really are very much more important.

Having said that, this is legislation which is supported by both sides of the House. I imagine that it will be carried pretty quickly by this place, given the example of the legislation last night, and I suspect by the other house as well.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being approximately 2.30 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with the resolution agreed to earlier. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.