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Tuesday, 14 December 1993
Page: 4565

Senator ELLISON (9.52 p.m.) —I want to expand on the remarks of my colleague, Senator Ian Macdonald. There is nothing that one could not do by amending the relevant legislation governing the Federal Court, or in fact its rules, that one could do in the establishment of this new court. What Senator Macdonald says is quite right: if we need specialised officers, if we need registrars with a certain skill or background, we could simply amend the legislation and the pertinent rules.

  It has been put to me that this new court could provide greater access. I fail to see why, but if there is something wrong with the Federal Court in that it does not offer enough access, perhaps we could simplify that part of the Federal Court rules dealing with the forms and filing of papers at the court to make it much easier for people to file things in person, to conduct their own matters. That could all be very easily done without the millions of dollars of expense that a new court is going to cost the Australian taxpayer.

  With 15 years legal experience, I have seen that we can simplify and make courts perform a lot better by simply amending the rules under which they operate and the legislation which governs them. That is the way to go. We do not have to set up an entirely new court system with an entirely new set of forms, bureaucracy and judicial officers. We would have to find such a court a new building and new staff to work at the counters—and that all costs a lot of money. At the moment we have that set up very well in the industrial division of the Federal Court of Australia.

  The so-called reasons that have been put to me thus far have not convinced me in any way. In fact, they have merely made me think that perhaps we could streamline or amend the existing system in some way and accommodate those concerns, but without the extra cost. I could also say to the chamber that there is no doubt that by making these amendments we would have a much better system because we already have one in place.

  It always takes time for most new institutions to thrash out problems. So for the first year or so the consumers—if we could call them that, and this is particularly so with courts—run into the problems while the new court sorts itself out. I refer to the Family Court in 1975 and the problems it has had. Look at how many amendments there have been to the Family Law Act and to the rules of that court. All of that has come about with the benefit of experience.

  I am not against any changes for the better but if there has been some experience which has shown that we should amend the rules of the industrial division of the Federal Court, then so be it. But so far nothing has come close to convincing me that a new court should be set up. In fact, the problem with this country is that there are too many judicial bodies being set up, so much so that I would say that we are running into jurisdictional problems. We have administrative appeals tribunals, equality of opportunity tribunals, small debt courts, local courts, district courts, supreme courts, the Federal Court, the High Court, the Family Court—the list goes on.

  It all sounds very nice; it sounds fantastic when one puts it in terms of human rights but, at the end of the day, the people concerned have to live with that system. They have to find out which courts they have to go to. They try to avoid the cost of engaging the services of a solicitor by going to a body, only to be told, `I'm sorry; we can only go that far because that is the end of our jurisdiction. You have to go down the hall to another body and apply there'.

  That is what happens in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. People think they can lodge a complaint but then they are told, `No, we do not have jurisdiction. You have to go somewhere else. You have to go via the Social Security Appeals Tribunal'. So, at the end of day, the government is thoroughly confusing the average citizen; it is making it harder. In fact, what it is doing is making a bonanza for the lawyers. The more courts and institutions we have to confuse people, the better it is for lawyers because, at the end of the day, the individual will have to go to a lawyer.

  Believe you me, I am telling honourable senators that from 15 years experience. There were not as many courts and bodies 15 years ago. It was not as complicated, confusing and convoluted as it is today. So all these things start out with the greatest of intentions but they never end up serving the purpose for which they set out to achieve in the first instance. Unless someone else can come up with a better reason, it has me tossed as to why the government should set up a new court when simple amendments could easily do the job.