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From the president: Open communication

Every Issue

Cite as: (2008) 82(9) LIJ, p. 4

The LIV works hard to ensure it keeps the ear of government, without which it would not be able to best represent members.

To be effective it is essential that the LIV leadership have regular meetings with the federal and state Attorneys-General.

A number of those meetings occur in the public domain, whereas others are more private and frank discussions.

On 7 August LIV CEO Mike Brett Young and I met privately with federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland.

While the meeting was private in the sense that the Attorney-General was not in Melbourne for any public engagement, the matters discussed are those the LIV has long promoted as of concern to the profession.

In our discussions with the Attorney-General we raised such issues as:

  • the under-resourcing of legal aid in Victoria, compared to other states and territories;
  • the move towards a national legal profession;
  • issues to be prioritised in the harmonisation of law across Australia;
  • the possibility of a national Charter of Human Rights, as has been foreshadowed by the federal Attorney-General; and
  • the invasive and complex effect of the anti-money laundering legislation and the general problem of over-regulation of the profession throughout Australia.

We found the Attorney-General to be engaged with and responsive on all these issues.

In our broader discussion the Attorney-General volunteered that he was receptive to the suggestion that solicitors should be eligible for appointment to the Bench of the Federal Magistrates Court and also the Federal Court of Australia.

Members will have the opportunity to hear Mr McClelland when he is our guest speaker at the President's Leadership Lunch on 3 October. [See for more information.]

I urge all members to take up the opportunity to meet and make your own judgment about our first law officer.

In a similar vein Mike Brett Young and I recently attended a function in Melbourne addressed by Victorian Attorney-General Robert Hulls, and took the opportunity to engage him in private discussion.

Portending his forthcoming Justice Statement II, Mr Hulls mentioned, for the first time, the possibility that we might see in Victoria the establishment of mental health courts, such as have been established in Canada for some time.

In private discussion the Attorney-General indicated that he will be travelling to Canada to inspect those courts with a view to considering whether the model might be deployed in Victoria.

It's a matter of some notoriety that a significant portion of offenders in the criminal justice system suffer from problems of drug or alcohol dependence or a diagnosable mental illness. The LIV has already begun researching the Canadian experience and, at the time of writing, vice-president Danny Barlow was visiting Canada to undertake research.

That the LIV is a thought leader in the ongoing discussion around the legal profession and anticipatory of emerging developments is borne out by the communiqué issued by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General following its most recent meeting in July.

Issues which the LIV has flagged for attention are being addressed and SCAG resources are been committed to them. They include:

a national approach to encouraging court excellence, perhaps including the feasibility of establishing a national judiciary;

a commitment by all Attorneys-General to become ambassadors of the White Ribbon Day Foundation, signalling their commitment to reducing violence against women, a development that coincides with a recent LIV hosted function to support the White Ribbon Day Foundation (see "Violence elimination on the menu at women's breakfast", on page 16 of this edition of the LIJ for more on the breakfast);

the possible extension of the referral of powers to the Commonwealth beyond de-facto property issues to include same-sex relationship issues;

a more consistent approach to establishment of various national registries, including a national registry of suppression orders; and

a review of the federal and state legal aid agreement, which is long overdue.

By maintaining good relationships with governments, both state and federal, and by our commitment to being a broker of good ideas and policy in the legal domain, we remain a respected participant in the broader debate and more effective in representing the interests of members.

Tony Burke


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