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Wednesday, 10 November 1976
Page: 2554

Mr HODGMAN (Denison) - I desire to speak only briefly to the motion for the second reading of this Bill. When this Bill first appeared on the horizon I found it a somewhat unattractive document. I would like to record my appreciation to the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) for the time and trouble he has taken in explaining to the Law and Government Committee the basic principles behind this legislation. Many of the fears I originally held in respect of the access of Tasmania and other outlying States to the High Court of Australia have been allayed. In my respectful submission, it must be a fundamental principle that all persons in Australia have equal opportunities of access to the High Court of Australia, that Court being the highest court of appeal in the land. I believe that it would be a morally untenable position for any government to tolerate that residents in one State had easy access to the High Court but residents in outlying States found it not only difficult but also an expensive and time-consuming process to get access to the High Court.

Many of the problems which have existed in the past have related to the need for litigants in States such as Tasmania and Western Australia in particular to travel to Melbourne or Sydney to make an application for leave to appeal to the High Court, frequently in cases in which to appeal to the Full Court of the State and then to appeal to the High Court could have meant a delay of up to 12 months or in one case up to 15 months. A litigant could go bankrupt waiting to .get his matter determined. I believe that the principle that justice delayed is justice denied would be breached if we ever created a situation in which litigants in any remote part of Australia found it difficult to get their cases heard and determined with some degree of speed.

I commend the Attorney-General because I believe that, flowing from the discussions which have taken place on this legislation, a more streamlined approach in regard to applications for leave to appeal to the High Court will be available. In particular, I hope that the High Court will make it possible for a single judge to travel interstate and hear applications for special leave to appeal in the State from which the appeal originates rather than have the present expensive and archaic system whereby litigants have to travel at considerable expense from Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland to Melbourne or Sydney to have their applications heard. For example, in a case in which a man had a right to appeal to the High Court of Australia and also to the Full Court of the Supreme Court of Tasmania last year and chose to make an application to go direct to the High Court, the cost of the application for leave to appeal direct to the High Court, which he lost, was almost $3,000. That sum basically was eaten up by travelling expenses, costs in preparing the documents and counsel's fees.

The point I am making is this: The High Court belongs to the people of Australia. It is not the province of just those who live in the most populous States. Within the next 5 years the High Court probably will move to Canberra. The point has been made on many occasions that Canberra is not the font of all wisdom in this country. I hope that, if the High Court does move to Canberra within the next five to ten years, it will not forget that there are people in other parts of Australia who will want access to that Court and might very well need assistance to get their matters brought on speedily. I therefore ask the Attorney-General, although really it is a matter not for him but for the ChiefJustice of the High Court, to bear in mind that the Court since its inception for nearly three-quarters of a century, has travelled to every State in Australia. When that stops, the Court ought to give consideration to sending at least a single judge interstate to hear applications for special leave to appeal. If that is not feasible the Commonwealth will have to look very closely at the idea of setting up a fund to subsidise the costs of litigants travelling from States such as Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania to have their matters heard.

I leave that matter with the Attorney-General with some degree of confidence. I hope that Order 75 of the High Court Rules is looked at. I hope that we get to a situation in which applications for special leave can be made ex parte, according to a written form. Anything that should be done must be done to provide equal access to the High Court of Australia for all Australians. If the High Court of Australia becomes the domain of the rich who live in New South Wales and Victoria and if it becomes inaccessible to the poor who live in the more outlying and less populous States, it will cease to be the High Court of Australia. I am convinced that this is not the wish of the Attorney-General, or of this Government, or of the shadow AttorneyGeneral. I support the Bill but I record my earnest belief that the moment the High Court ceases to be accessible on economic grounds- that is from a financial point of view- to all Australians we will have succeeded in destroying the High Court. I do not want to see that happen. On that basis I support the legislation.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

In Committee

Clauses 1 and 2- by leave- taken together and agreed to.

Proposed new clauses 2a, 2b and 2C.

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