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Thursday, 24 June 1999
Page: 7525

Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) (11:49 AM) —I commence by thanking the members for Barton, Hume and Chifley for their interest in the Law and Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 1998 and for their contributions. In respect of the member for Chifley, who is still here, I recall him being the Chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Certain Family Law Issues in the 1993 to 1996 parliament. Some of what he had to say, while having something of a remoteness from the subject matter of the bill, I have heard before and I respect his views and congratulate him on his interest. I think the member for Chifley would see something of what he desires in respect of the resolution of family law disputes in the Federal Magistrates Bill 1999 and the Federal Magistrates (Consequential Amendments) Bill 1999 , which I introduced in the House this morning. Elements of what he proposes in respect of tribunals are proposed in respect of a federal magistrates service. I will resist the invitation he offers to comment on the High Court's decision in re Wakim: ex parte McNally, which struck down part of the cross-vesting scheme, and leave that for another occasion.

The bill amends the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975 to strengthen the role and functions of the Administrative Review Council. As previous speakers have noted, it implements 10 of the 11 recommendations of the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee 1997 report. That report was on a reference which I gave to the committee in the light of the celebration of the 20 years work of the Administrative Review Council.

The one recommendation that was not accepted I think has been dealt with by the member for Hume. The member for Barton seemed to suggest reconsideration of it. While the government recognises the desirability of responding to ARC reports in a timely manner, it would not be appropriate, we believe, for the government to give an undertaking to respond to all ARC reports within a specified time frame. We do not give such an undertaking in respect of other bodies, including parliamentary committees and the Australian Law Reform Commission, although we do endeavour to respond promptly. Any limit like that could impose unnecessary fetters on the implementation of the government's legal policy and legislative priorities.

The member for Barton referred in the context of the proposed amendment to the Judiciary Act to section 32 of the Federal Court of Australia Act. I have to say, with respect, that I have difficulty in understanding what his problem with section 32 is. Section 32 is a provision which in its first subsection provides that, to the extent that the Constitution permits, jurisdiction is conferred on the court—that is the Federal Court—in respect of matters not otherwise within its jurisdiction that are associated with matters in which the jurisdiction of the court is invoked. What that means, in the words of Justice Mason, as Sir Anthony Mason then was in 1983, in Stack v. Coast Securities (No. 9) Pty Ltd, is as follows:

A matter was an `associated matter' under section 32(1) where `the attached . . . claim and the federal claim so depend on common transactions and facts that they arise out of a common substratum of facts.

The point I failed to understand in the member for Barton's commentary was how anybody could contemplate that criminal proceedings would be joined with civil proceedings under that provision. I may have misunderstood his remarks. If that is what he said, I respectfully disagree with him.

The member for Barton also mentioned a slight inconsistency between the provisions of the bill and the explanatory memorandum. That will be fixed up for the purposes of the Senate debate. The member for Barton also referred to the government proposals to implement the ARC's report Better decisions—that is, to combine the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, the Migration Review Tribunal, the Refugee Review Tribunal into one body to be called the Administrative Review Tribunal. I fail to see what there is for the Labor Party to be concerned about in the government proposals. There has been some media suggestion that the government is intending to limit the independence of the tribunal. That is not the case at all.

The principal purpose of the combining of the tribunals is to introduce efficiencies and cost saving. The proposed amendments in relation to procedures are designed to make it a less formal and expensive body. There is no intention in any way to impinge on the independence of the decision making that the new body would undertake. It would be done basically in exactly the same way as for the existing tribunals, and nobody seems to have any criticism as to their independence.

The government will, at the appropriate time, move some amendments. Subject to that, I thank the members for their support of the bill.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.