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LIV President's Blog 2012

LIV President's Blog 2013

Reynah Tang, LIV President 2013 on the latest issues and topics. Read and comment.

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Walking the talk: a lot to be done before federal election

Walking the talk: a lot to be done before federal election
Yesterday, I had the privilege of hosting Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus at the Law Institute’s first leadership lunch for 2013.
 
Before a packed house, the Attorney-General outlined some key areas of focus in the lead up to the Federal election, which is a mere five months away on 14 September.
 
High on the agenda are issues which are also of great importance to the LIV: legal aid, discrimination law reform, the national profession project and diversity.
 
Legal Aid
Regarding legal aid, it was clear from what the Attorney-General said that he cares about this topic and understands the current funding position is well short of ideal. What was far less clear was what he would do to influence this issue in any meaningful way in the lead-up to the Federal budget, due to be delivered on 14 May.
 
The Attorney-General was at pains to remind us that he only became the first law officer of the land in February this year and that many decisions regarding the budget had already been made.
 
As a practicing barrister, the Attorney-General had a reputation for being highly persuasive, intelligent, determined and effective. He still has five months in which to bring these strengths to bear on the legal aid debate and ensure that an increase in funding is secured.
 
As I said yesterday: “I respectfully submit that the Federal Labor government should reflect its core values by restoring its contribution to the legal aid system to 50%, as it was prior to 1997.” Unless this is achieved, the disadvantaged and vulnerable will continue to suffer. The Federal government cannot sit idle while people (particularly women, many of whom may be victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse), are being forced to represent themselves before the family courts.
 
While the Attorney-General spoke of the need to avoid the ‘surgeon’ (i.e. the courts) wherever possible, when injustice plays out on a daily basis, it is necessary to look at all possible sources of funding. One way the government might be able to free up some funding is to consider redirecting some funds from other areas such as Family Relationship Centres, to legal aid.
 
Discrimination legislation reform

The Attorney-General also spoke about discrimination legislation reform. The Law Institute believes the Federal government has the opportunity to play an important leadership role in this area.
 
When Nicola Roxon was Attorney-General, she set out to consolidate multiple anti-discrimination laws into a single regime via the Human Rights and  Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012. This was aspirational government at its best; the bill made bold statements about the sort of country that Australia should be – a country of equality and fairness.
 
But, as those who have been following these crucial reforms know, in March the government made the disappointing decision - after years of consultation - to delay the introduction of the Bill. In the short term only limited changes to the anti-discrimination legislation are proposed to be made to  address sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.
 
In his response at the lunch, the Attorney-General said the government’s commitment to consolidating Commonwealth anti‑discrimination laws remained in place. Using some of his strongest language of the day the Attorney-General said he would “not let the project be driven off the road by wreckers and professional obstructionists.”
 
I welcome this commitment. Again, we need to see some action. There are 22 sitting days left before the election. There is more than enough time in which to get the legislation refined and introduced into parliament.

National legal profession reform
At the lunch, the Attorney-General also spoke passionately in support of the national profession project, calling it “vital reform”.
 
As I said at the lunch, there is a need to get the model legislation in place, even if that is only in a couple of states initially, and then demonstrate to the other jurisdictions that the reforms work and do not result in an increase in regulatory costs and burdens for the profession. Pleasingly, in answer to one question, the Attorney-General intimated that there would be a level of Commonwealth funding to kick-start this project.
 
Diversity in the judiciary
A key aspect of my platform as Law Institute president this year is diversity. It was encouraging to hear the Attorney-General speak about building diversity in the judiciary. We should all look forward to the time when the judiciary and the legal profession in general, is reflective of the diversity in Australia. Let's break down the glass, bamboo and other ceilings!
 
What issues would you like the LIV to raise in its ongoing dialogue with the Federal Attorney-General? Please let me know.
 
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