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Tuesday, 14 December 1993
Page: 4561

Senator ELLISON (9.31 p.m.) —I support previous speakers in their opposition to the establishment of this court. Like Senator Ian Macdonald, I fail to see where the government has outlined any reason for the establishment of such a court. I start by looking at the committee's report on the Industrial Relations Reform Bill 1993. Nowhere in that document can I see any reason for the establishment of this court.

Senator Chapman —Maybe we could get it from the dissenting report.

Senator ELLISON —I read the dissenting report with interest and cogent reasons were offered in it as to why this court should not be established. For a start, there are 164 million reasons. As mentioned by Senator Ian Macdonald, $164 million has been provided in the budget for the Federal Court from the taxpayer of this country. I ask the Minister: where will this new court advance the rights of workers? Where has the Federal Court fallen down in its exercise of the industrial division? Where will this court advance the interests of Australian taxpayers, the Australian citizens? Where is the reason for the establishment of this court? To date, the government has not offered any reason at all. It has not answered any of these questions.

  What I would like to know from the minister is how will this court do things differently? Obviously it must do, otherwise why set up a new court? Where is the reason for having a new court because of this new legislation? Since 1976 the Federal Court has accomplished itself admirably in the industrial jurisdiction, and I have never heard any complaint about it. Not once. Where has the government previously said that the Federal Court was not doing its job?

  I can only assume that the government must have ulterior reasons for setting up this court. The establishment of a specialist court—a specialist judicial body of this nature—makes it more vulnerable to government interference. It makes it vulnerable to becoming an arm of policy and not the judiciary. That is one of the very reasons why the Law Council of Australia has opposed this very measure. I ask the minister concerned: has he had any regard to the submissions of the Law Council of Australia? Does he disagree with what the council says? If he does, why?

  As Senator Ian Macdonald says, it is not often that the Law Council of Australia comes out and makes such a bold statement. One can only assume that Mr Mansfield QC, the president of that august body, has seen the prospect of a major intrusion into the rights of citizens of this country. I therefore ask the Democrats, because they always take human rights so seriously, to hearken to the fact that this could be a body which could be vulnerable to government control. Who knows—maybe not this government; perhaps other governments of different persuasions. We know not which.

  The whole idea of the judiciary as we know it in this country is to insulate it from both the executive and the legislative arms of government. That is the essential core—the essential foundation—of this country. I do not think it has been said that the Federal Court has been influenced to date. Perhaps that could be the reason why the government wants to set up a specialist judicial body.

  For those reasons, I fail to see any merit whatsoever in the establishment of this court. On the basis of cost to the taxpayer, there are the 164 million reasons that I mentioned. There are also other reasons including the dark prospect of a judicial body becoming an arm of policy and vulnerable to government interference; and the prospect that even the rights of workers and the rights of Australian citizens might be intruded upon by virtue of setting up a small specialist judicial body which is easier to control.