Debate on JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2013

8th May 2013

It is a pleasure to rise to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2013. As we have heard from previous speakers, this bill amends seven pieces of justice legislation to clarify or improve small parts of the relevant acts. I will be touching on each of those in turn. Firstly, there are changes to the Administration and Probate Act 1958 regarding the cost of application for a reseal in the area of grant of probate or administration. The bill removes the requirement for a cost of $300, which is expensive, and allows such an application to be made for $40. This has been requested and supported by the Supreme Court, and the opposition believes that any measures to increase access to justice and reduce costs for people to access justice is important. We note that the government has failed to do this in many areas; in fact there have been substantial hikes in VCAT fees.

While we are on the subject of access to justice, it is important to note that the government has failed remarkably in one of the key areas of access to justice — that is, Victoria Legal Aid. There have been farcical and very disturbing scenes in our courts in recent months, with trials having to be abandoned because of a failure of funding and the unavailability of duty lawyers. While we acknowledge that a small sum has been allocated to begin to address some of these issues, you would not say that is in any way enough.

The second act the bill touches on is the Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978. The issue in the bill that relates to this act is payment for fencing on Crown land. The bill clarifies a longstanding issue regarding managers and trustees in the area of Crown land that is used for public purposes and their obligations to contribute to fencing costs.

The third act that the bill touches on is the Electoral Act 2002.

This is a very important provision regarding the issue of direct enrolments and widening the group of electors who can be directly enrolled by broadening the pool of information that the Victorian Electoral Commission can access. The heart of our democracy lies in ensuring that people exercise their democratic right to vote, and from that springs the many important democratic principles upon which our society is based. I was speaking recently at an electoral matters forum at the University of Melbourne with a range of people, including representatives from the electoral commissions across Australia. They were considering how they could improve their ability to put people on the electoral roll and ensure that they vote.

I commented at that forum, and I believe this very deeply, that we live in a terrific country and a terrific state where we have independent bodies whose purpose in part is to ensure that citizens are chased down to ensure that they exercise their right to vote.

When you think about what is happening in countries all around the world and when you see people fighting just for the right to participate in a free and fair election process, our system is something we should never forget and something of which we should be very proud. This measure further contributes to and strengthens the electoral commission’s capacity to have access to people and to inform people of their rights and indeed their obligation to vote in this democratic society. I think that is an excellent approach.

The amendments to the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989 are minor. They ensure that the Chief Magistrate can nominate a deputy chief magistrate to Governor in Council when the Chief Magistrate is unavailable to perform their duties. This fixes what has been an anomaly. The changes to the Sentencing Act 1991, which the previous speaker and many others have touched on, reflect a longstanding practice and ensure that the right of courts to make orders for payments to be made to charity are restored.

This is an important principle that we support absolutely. It allows those who have committed crimes to make further restitution to the broader society and to contribute in a greater way. The changes to the Coroners Act 2008 and the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine Act 1985 were requested by the coroner. Their aim is to ensure that the work of these courts is performed in a more efficient way.

As has been reiterated many times, the opposition does not oppose this bill. There are many measures in it that we are very supportive of, particularly the electoral reform changes and the changes to the sentencing bill. I commend the bill to the house.