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From the CEO : Making the votes count

Every Issue

Cite as: (2002) 76(10) LIJ, p.6

A NEW VOTING SYSTEM ADOPTED BY THE LAW COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA MORE PROPERLY REFLECTS THE CONTRIBUTIONS MADE BY THE LARGER STATES.

It is clearly in the interests of all legal practitioners that the Law Council of Australia (LCA) be as strong and as vibrant as possible. While state bodies are able to do much of their own lobbying and campaigning on important issues for the profession, the LCA has a vital role to play in representing the national view of the profession.

The moves towards a national profession and harmonisation of regulation of the legal profession are clearly being driven by the LCA, and it should be complimented for its effort in this regard. The various state and territory law societies and Bars have made a considerable contribution to this process, but the role of the LCA in coordinating and managing the process has been critical in ensuring that a proper response is fed through to the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General officers.

Similarly, in the public liability debate each of the state and territory bodies have had to deal with individual state reform, without trying to be involved in the issue at a national level, including making representations to the Review into the Law of Negligence panel, chaired by New South Wales Supreme Court Justice David Ipp. The review of the Trade Practices Act, the role of the Federal Magistrates’ Court and immigration issues are other examples where the LCA has played a critical role in dealing with national issues.

In order to keep the LCA representative of its members, at its AGM on 14 September it made some significant constitutional changes, which altered the voting rights of the various state and territory representatives.

The constitutional changes adopted give effect to a weighted voting system to more properly reflect the lawyer numbers and the financial contribution made to the LCA by the larger states.

The LCA represents 36,000 lawyers Australia-wide. Each of the state and territory-based law societies and Bars elect a representative to the LCA. Before the amendments passed by the September meeting, each of the state and territories Bars and law societies had equal voting rights.

The state and territory constituent bodies vary considerably in size. The largest body is the New South Wales Law Society with a membership of 17,000. At the other end of the scale is the Australian Capital Territory Bar, which has a membership of less than 50. The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) has 9000 lawyers.

The LCA derives most of its income from capitation fees paid by the various state and territory bodies. The financial contributions made by New South Wales and Victoria is in excess of 50 per cent, and the two states represent 26,000 lawyers out of a total number of 36,000 Australia-wide.

Previously the LCA constitution had made considerable concessions to the federal nature of the structure in allowing all constituent bodies equal voting representation. In the lead up to the constitutional changes there was considerable concern by the smaller states that the larger eastern seaboard states would swamp them.

A compromise solution was required to balance these competing interests. Much time and effort was spent before the September meeting in trying to find an appropriate balance. The formula finally agreed on is a three-tiered voting system where votes are allocated on the basis of membership.

In tier 1, constituent bodies with an excess of 6250 members have three votes each. In tier 2, constituent bodies with more than 1000 members but less than 6249 members exercise two votes and in tier 3 the constituent bodies with less than 1000 members have one vote each.

The limited exemptions to this weighted voting system are:

  • a vote to admit new members to the LCA;
  • constitutional amendments that require a two-thirds vote of all constituent bodies; and
  • votes relating to the constitutional premise which requires a unanimous vote of all constituent bodies.

In practice, the New South Wales Law Society and LIV each have three votes, the Queensland, South Australian and Western Australian Law Societies and the New South Wales and Victorian Bars each have two votes and the Tasmanian, Northern Territory and ACT Law Societies and the Queensland Bar and ACT Bars each have one vote.

These constitutional amendments will enhance the capacity of the LCA to better focus on these issues that are of critical importance to its 36,000 members in the national agenda.

JOHN CAIN

jcain@liv.asn.au

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