Statutes Amendment (Court Fees) Bill

Ms CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (16:40): I rise to speak on the Statutes Amendment (Court Fees) Bill 2017 and indicate that the opposition will support the bill. Essentially, it is a bill that was introduced by the Attorney and is consequential upon the Courts Administration Council conducting a review of civil court fees. Apparently, that was at the request of the Attorney-General. It recommended that Magistrates Court applications be charged for their lodgement fees on a tiered basis. Essentially, that means the higher the claim the larger the fee that might apply towards the lodgement fee, even if that fee exceeds the administrative cost.

The government claims that this is modelled on Victorian law. We have already seen an example of this a few years ago when the government decided to provide a tiered fee structure for probate fee applications in estate matters. Whilst we consider that a tax on the dead and the reintroduction of death duties, nevertheless it is in place and there is some indication by the government, via the briefing provided on this bill, that there is no intention to immediately move in respect of tiered fees for the superior courts, but I would be surprised if the Treasurer had not moved in on them pretty quickly.

Whilst to some degree other jurisdictions have moved this way, it is concerning that the government should move to treat lodgement fees as a form of revenue. Clearly, they made a huge profit of millions of dollars a year from the probate fees, not with any great benefit that I can see back to the probate office, but it still sits there with the same people, just about with quill and ink doing their work in fairly primitive conditions, I think, in the worst court in Australia in the sense of its infrastructure and amenities.

Nevertheless, what particularly concerns me is that I received a letter from the Attorney last week. When we asked to see a copy of the Courts Administration Authority report, he claims that the report is not available to be provided because he does not want it publicly released. That is all very well, but we have met with the Attorney's office in other circumstances when sensitive material, including criminal intelligence and all sorts of things, was provided on a confidential basis with a view to having some understanding of the basis upon which this is relied for legislative reform. If there is something particularly secret about this that needs to be dealt with, then there is nothing stopping the Chief Justice or the administrative head of the CAA from conveying it.

Again, it is a practice I consider to be grossly insulting to the parliament, to expect our support in a circumstance where we are not even allowed to see the documentation or the basis upon which this is being recommended. I suspect that the Courts Administration Authority need money themselves. They are being starved in other ways, so this is a way they can raise revenue. I expect that the Attorney-General, or his advisers and those preparing this, has been able to see the report.

Again, I suggest that it is really quite unacceptable for the parliament to be kept in the dark in this regard; nevertheless, it is a matter we will accept on the face of it as being a recommendation of the Courts Administration Authority. I take it that the administration consider them to be starved of money and desperately needing some extra funds. If the Attorney ever decides that he wants to make that available, especially as I suspect he has already read it and has a copy, then he is free to do so.