Statutes Amendment (SACAT NO 2) Bill

Ms CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (16:11): I rise to speak on the Statutes Amendment (SACAT No 2) Bill 2017. I expect that I will be the only speaker; nevertheless, my contribution might inspire others. I indicate that the opposition has considered the bill and, whilst we have a number of concerns about the existing operational performance of SACAT, and further that, as Judge Cole resigned some months ago and has not been replaced, the transfer of any further jurisdictions to SACAT raises a number of concerns, not because we do not support having a central administrative tribunal—and we have moved from the specialist model to a central model—but clearly if the government wished this tribunal to be effective and to have outcomes of which its reasonable aspirations had been expected, then frankly it has to have the appropriate resources to do it.

In asking an entity, in this case the SACAT, to take on another 42 jurisdictions, some of which do not have much of a workload in the sense of reviews that may need consideration, when there is one judge down out of two, and secondly, to take on some processing that is currently under question, we have to question the capacity for this to occur. I also mention that, as this bill proposes to transfer matters including adoption under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Act, members of the Law Society's children committee have again raised their concern that, if SACAT is going to have responsibility in this area, properly trained personnel need to be engaged, in that it relates to relevant training to deal with children and young people.

Bear in mind that, under adoption laws, changes of name involving children over the age of 12 years require the child's consent and an interview has to occur, etc. With that, in principle we do not object to these matters being transferred, and the government, after briefings on 5 September, did provide a schedule in respect of the staging of other jurisdictions, which are to be conferred at some unspecified future date.

What did concern me today was to receive in the parliament a rather thick report from the Hon. David Bleby QC, who prepared a comprehensive statutory review of the operations of the court. Quite obviously, I was handed a copy of it about 15 minutes ago. I note that it was a report dated at the end of July. I will just find it. The date on the front of the report, in any event, is 1 August 2017, which is in compliance with the obligation in the statute for there to be a two-yearly review undertaken and provided to the parliament within six sitting days of receiving the report. I would be very concerned to note, if the Attorney has only just received this in the last six sitting days—

 —that the Attorney would then prepare the government's response and also table that today, pronounce in a ministerial statement that his government has considered and accommodated a number of amendments recommended by the Hon. David Bleby QC and then hand in a schedule of amendments, which had an explanatory letter emailed to my office during question time, as to the amendments that are proposed to be introduced. I do not know what sort of operation the Attorney-General is running these days. I am pretty good, but I am not that good. I cannot digest massive reports and amendments within minutes. Even the period during which matters of concern were raised to the parliament was not enough to be able to get through that.

What I did notice in starting to read the Bleby report is that clearly my observations and what has been presented to me about the tribunal are all too true: there are major problems with the operation of the tribunal. There are recommendations, including that, as a matter of some urgency apparently, there be a consolidation of the tribunal to one location as one of the highest and most urgent priorities. It is recommendation 6. I did not hear anything in the statement of the Attorney today that he was accepting that recommendation.

What we had was a rather longwinded, but nevertheless summary, of some of the recommendations that the government proposed to implement, and apparently they are in the amendments that I have just received. If they are worthwhile amendments then they are matters that we will consider between the houses.

Obviously, we are not in a position today to read the report, digest the 51 recommendations, find out whether the amendments adequately represent those accepted by the government that are meritorious, identify those that are not and furthermore identify the recommendations that are made that have not been picked up and why not, but we will do so between the houses.

I mention one other matter in respect of the operations of SACAT. As members know, the bulk of its business is in relation to guardianship matters, which still operate out of their premises in the ABC building at Collinswood, and we have a city-based facility to deal with residential tenancy disputes. That is the bulk of the business of this agency at present. There are a few other jurisdictions that do review work, but essentially this is the bulk of its business.

They have not moved office. If each of these was a separate tribunal before, it was conferred to the new SACAT. Even though they have not moved office, clearly there have been some teething problems in the operations of this court under the new logo. They changed the logo over the door, everyone was dismissed and then people were allowed to reapply. Some were given back their jobs and others were filled under some new regime by the Attorney-General.

Suffice to say, obviously a number of the personnel coming in were new. Even though they did not move office, it is fair to say that, especially in the residential tenancies area, there seemed to be major problems originally in dealing with disputes in relation to tenancies in a timely manner, usually unpaid rent and eviction issues, and return of bonds. As with all new laws, especially with new personnel, you have to think that for the first year there are going to be some teething problems. That has to be taken on the chin, but to find that several years later we still have a major problem with the refunding of bonds, for example, in respect of residential tenancies tribunals, is really concerning.

When this bill came up, again I had representations that, sadly, this situation had not improved very much. For example, some data was done in the preceding 12 months in respect of the bond refunds that are submitted to SACAT; that is when a bond is in dispute. The data suggested an average wait of 92 days for a bond refund to be received and 49 days to receive a hearing. A standard bond is six weeks' rent (42 days) and therefore to have a 49-day target is not acceptable in providing a fair outcome not only for the refund but for the opportunity for the landlord or the tenant to then move on. It is extremely important that the government addresses this issue.

In respect of reviews, it is hard to imagine how a court that justified having a half-time Supreme Court judge and a full-time District Court judge now has only one judge, and a lot of razzamatazz around the announcement of that at the budget, only to find that when Ms Cole resigned a few months ago she has not been replaced. I think it is unreasonable for the Attorney-General and this government to expect that SACAT can continue to conduct its business in an as efficient way as it has, notwithstanding some problems, without adequate personnel.

I can only say to the people at SACAT, 'Good luck if you are expected to pick up the work of these other jurisdictions.' In respect of the multitude of matters that have been raised in the Bleby report, we will review those matters and have a look at them. I will endeavour to view some of these amendments. The Attorney will respond and then we can progress the bill.