Legal Practitioners (Foreign Lawyers) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

I thank the member for Kaurna for indicating his position on this matter on behalf of the opposition. Whilst he gives an indication that they will be supportive and that they will be reserving their position on the matter on the basis that they seek to undertake further consultation, it is concerning to note the assertion that the government has failed to provide information on this matter.

Perhaps in committee the member might like to identify areas in which there has been a failure to provide that information, and we will certainly attempt to close the gap on any matters about which he feels there has been either no or inadequate information provided. If it is a new request, then of course we may need to take it on notice. I urge the member to have a good look at what the Law Society has said about this matter. He asserts that on his understanding the Law Society had previously opposed such a move.

I think what is clear from the Law Society's submission is that not only are they supportive of it but they outline the reasons why it is appropriate and important that we bring to account, and bring within the tent, persons who are practising as lawyers—even if it is of a foreign legal system—here in South Australia to ensure that there is compliance with the standard and protection afforded to the consumers, who of course are South Australians.

In the consultations that have taken place, again I have indicated to the parliament on previous occasions that, whilst there has been a practice of not disclosing correspondence or submissions received from in-house parties—that is, government and/or related stakeholders—I have been pleased to receive not only an indication of support but, importantly, a list of helpful recommendations from the Chief Justice to ensure that our regulatory regime is as best as it can be to enable that to be implemented. To the best of my knowledge, those recommendations have been incorporated in our consideration of the final draft which came to the parliament.

I place on record my appreciation to both the Law Society and the Chief Justice. The reason I particularly identify those two is not only because of their standing but because those two parties are the most significant in relation to the approval, admission and removal of legal practitioners in the state, together with all the regulatory obligations on a legal practitioner while they are in practice to comply under the supervision of the Law Society of South Australia.

The Supreme Court of South Australia and the Law Society of South Australia are the two groups in charge of ensuring that lawyers have a ticket to practise, that they are removed if they are not up to standard and that they comply with a regulatory regime that is designed to protect the consumer clients and maintain a status in the community of the profession generally to ensure that their advice is reliably given and of benefit to their clients. It is pleasing to have received that.

Can I just add one other matter, which I think is important, to be clear in this debate. South Australia is about to embark on one of its most significant eras of economic reform. I have no doubt about that because as a state we already are the beneficiaries of the opportunity to have the largest defence contract in history to undertake work for the commonwealth government. That contract has already been negotiated in respect of overseas parties in this venture. Many have heard of the Naval Group, a French consortium, that is very much a part of the ambitious contracts that we are about to fill as a state. The opportunity is enormous.

There are also significant British companies, for example. I will use one example, namely, the building of the submarines under the Australian Submarine Corporation, as they were then known, I think nearly 25 or 30 years ago now. I remember that Mr Hans Ohff from Germany was the head of the corporation that was very much involved in the design and early production to fulfil the contract. As complex and as huge as it seemed to be at the time, we now have a situation that makes that contract look like just a minor part of our history in relation to defence contracts.

In fact, I had the pleasure on the weekend of flying over Osborne to see the big new sheds being constructed with a view to developing these contracts. Having this opportunity in the new regime of work to be undertaken is extremely exciting. Part of that means that, if we are going to join with other international companies that are based in other countries and have all the complexity that goes with the implementation of those contracts, one of the things we need to do is have the legal world sit side by side to work on these projects—whether it be subcontractors, whether it be the government, whether it be other parties who are involved in this area—and make sure that the parties are able to do that immediately.

It is one thing to have them sitting on the other side of the world. It is another thing to be able to bring them here and say, 'Well, we want you to work side by side here in Adelaide with our legal teams to make sure that we have immediate understanding and transfer of information about what is going on so that everyone understands what the issues are, so that as the tasks come in, as the questions arise, as the challenges are raised, we can immediately deal with them.'

It can be done electronically. One can of course send emails to Paris, and it can be done with videoconferencing, etc., but we want to have a highly responsive, 21st century legal capacity in dealing with these contracts. That is just one. I think it is fair to say that even the opposition, those who have been in government, would appreciate that in so many other areas of our working operations now we are dealing with international companies.

Water, for example, really for the last 30 or 40 years has been very much undertaken by, again, French, English and other international companies that have been contracted by many governments around the country to clean, plumb and maintain water supply in urban areas. This has just been transformational, and we need to continue to maintain a high standard. It is going to continue to mean interaction with technology advancement and innovation from those other countries that are world leaders in this area, and we need to be ahead of the game. Our new state government wants to make sure that we are able to provide all the legal and other services that go with it.

The question of other disciplines, how we might introduce a 21st  century approach to the provision of economic advice and accounting advice and whether we have multidisciplinary capacity in our state are all questions we need to ask. Why? Because that is what is required for a 21st century commercial operation. We need to be able to have competent, responsive, comprehensive advice in all manner of areas, and the days of being able to just move along at a snail's pace and get a report on this and then get another report on that are just not competitive anymore.

We need to get up to strength. Other states have done this. This is not some unique push by having a regulation regime being proposed for foreign lawyers operating in our midst. Other states have already done this, and we need to be up to speed. It is the intention of this government that we must prepare in every way a skilled workforce for future opportunities for our children, with competent resource and infrastructure to support these ventures to ensure not only that they continue but also that we sign them up again and again and create an ongoing pipeline of work for the future.

Cybersecurity and space are whole new areas. In fact, at the end of this week I will be signing with other attorneys-general around the country an intergovernmental agreement to deal with the maritime position of our laws, which accommodate, as best I can see at this stage, a change of boundary in relation to the Timor-Leste position of its boundaries, and that relates to some gas agreements, etc., and the laws that are to apply within these jurisdictions.

That whole issue of if you are in certain waters whose jurisdiction you are in is important at an international level. It is important that we have an understanding at a national level about how that applies, and we are all signing to it. It made me think of the significance of what we need to do when it comes to the jurisdictional question of where a crime is committed and who should make the decision on it if it occurs on a space station in our atmosphere.

People already live out there. They live out there for six months at a time and crime is committed. It is just one other area we have to keep thinking about how we are going to address and how we are going to accommodate the challenges of today. However, there are more coming, and we cannot just sit here with our head in the sand in South Australia and coast along as we have and think that everything is going to be rosy. It is not. We do need to address these issues, and I for one am proud to be part of a government that is prepared to do that.

I should say that at this point I suppose I am optimistic that the opposition will see the benefit of South Australia being able to be part of this structure that other states enjoy within the national structure. We, too, want to participate in that, and we understand the significance of making sure that if other legal people from around the world are here we need to make sure they are in a position of being scrutinised—not in exactly the same way as lawyers are in South Australia; it is a slightly different set of circumstances—that they are up to a certain standard, that there is a capacity to deal with them if they fail South Australians and that some action can be taken.

That is why is it important that we do this, and it is important that we do it before we have a legacy of failings in this area. There will be a local registration proposal under this scheme, and I am happy to go into the details of that in committee. Otherwise, I seek that the bill be now put to be read a second time.

Bill read second time.