Adjourned debate on second reading.
(Continued from 8 June 2016.)
Ms CHAPMAN ( Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (15:43): I rise to speak on the Justices of the Peace (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2016. This is a bill introduced by the Attorney on 8 June. On face of it, it makes some minor amendments to the Justice of the Peace Act 2005.
Both the Attorney and I were here at the time when the former attorney-general revolutionised the justices provisions in South Australia. Essentially, everyone was cut off the list. We had a new set of rules. Certain training obligations needed to be undertaken for those who wanted to be special justices, and we had a cleansing of the list, I think is the kindest way to describe it. We had all sorts of new rules about not being able to write 'JP(Retired)' on your letterhead, and things of that nature.
In any event, for the last 10 years or so the legislation has largely come into operation, the new applicants registered and the special justices were trained. We now have over 7,000 Justices of the Peace in South Australia doing their work—witnessing signatures and declarations and the like— and probably closer to 60-odd special justices, with just fewer than 20 who are regularly sitting on a more regular basis, and they undertake duties. They receive a sitting fee for a session. It is not a very generous one, I might say; nevertheless, it is some small remuneration or acknowledgment for the expense incurred for them to undertake this work, rather than as any kind of recognition of the employment, as clearly that would be inadequate. In any event, they do a good job and we thank them for the services they provide.
However, this bill essentially is to remove the requirement for cabinet, via the Governor's signature, to approve various things in respect of the appointment, suspension or removal of justices or special justices of the peace. In short, we agree for justices of the peace who are under rules to have periods of suspension. If they are not available—they go on a long holiday, a caravanning trip around Australia or whatever—there are certain processes that need to be attended to. Largely, for justices of the peace, we consider that the transfer of the body that is to appoint, suspend or deal with JPs is reasonably transferred to the Attorney-General.
What we are concerned about is the appointment and/or dismissal of special justices who have quite a different role in this jurisdiction. Justices of the peace are represented by a group known as the Royal Association of Justices of South Australia, and they have a subcommittee representing the special justices. They are the body the government identified to us that had been consulted, and they were happy with the amendments. I had a discussion with a number of members of the Royal Association of Justices and, as a result of that, I formed a very different view about what their concerns may be.
Firstly, whilst one had not seen the bill, I had been given a precis of what the bill was about, that it was a red tape reduction initiative and that it all appeared to be in order. However, as one went further and interviewed other members, it was patently clear that either they had not been informed or they had been led to the impression that this was just a red tape reduction initiative and that the removal of the cabinet from the role in their appointment or dismissal to the Attorney-General, in general, did not worry them. What really became alarming were the proposed amendments in respect of delegation that was to allow the Attorney-General to refer that on to any other prescribed person. In the briefings that were provided, the Commissioner for—
The Hon. J.R. Rau interjecting:
Ms CHAPMAN: He has a longer title than that. I think Commissioner for Consumer Affairs, Liquor and Gambling is his full title. I thank him for coming to the briefing because he is the person, at an administrative level for the government, who presumably deals with the background work and the preparations for recommendations, the processing of the applications and all that goes with the security of the list, so to speak. It seemed, on his advice, that he would expect, being the senior person in that position, to be the recipient of any delegation. That seemed logical, but that is not what the proposed bill said. It was to 'any prescribed person'.
Unsurprisingly, this started to unnerve the special justices I spoke to. Whilst they were disappointed that they had not in their view had full and frank disclosure about what this was all about, they were quite happy to consider the matter further. I indicated that today, in the absence of the government agreeing to withdraw the special justices' areas of responsibility being transferred from cabinet to the Attorney, and the removal of the delegation power, we would seek that the bill be adjourned at least in the committee stage and that some opportunity be given to the consideration of that exclusion. I had word back subsequent to the briefing that the government would consider this between the houses.
I cannot think of how many exactly, but it is multiple times that the Attorney has said how often we should be sorting out these issues in this chamber. In the absence of hearing anything from them in the affirmative, I propose to move amendments essentially to ensure that the relevant authority for the purposes of JPs will be the Attorney and that the relevant authority for special justices will be the Governor. In other words, the appointment/dismissal in respect of special justices will remain a cabinet decision. Secondly, we would remove the delegation in the absence of the government coming back with any specific delegation.
When I raised, with at least one of the special justices, whether that would be reasonable or whether they would be agreeable to that being delegated to the commissioner, whilst this is no reflection on the particular commissioner, they did not see it as entirely appropriate. Bear in mind that we have a number of special justices who sit in hearings. They cannot send people to gaol, but they do issue fines and they do hear and determine matters. They pick up the enforcement of a lot of the reviews in respect of the Fines Payment Unit, which is now an administrative unit rather than a judicial unit. They do the support work for that.
They are doing real judicial work. I think it is fair to say that they have even offered in previous submissions to the government to have their threshold increased in respect of the value of claims held before them. Quite frankly, given the recent amendments to bring small claims down from a $30,000 limit to a $12,000 limit, there is probably a good case for special justices to have their jurisdiction increased. In the absence of receiving anything from the government to move accordingly themselves, I will introduce some amendments.
I will not speak at length to them, as I think I have made it pretty clear what our position is. The government has had an opportunity to consider it. Frankly, I think it is a matter that should be dealt with in this house. There should be no reason to deal with it in this manner on the basis that, if and when the government decides that it wants to come back with an idea and it has properly consulted with the relevant parties, they might want to identify an acceptable prescribed person in the other place.