STATUTES AMENDMENT (SACAT) BILL

Wednesday 06 August, 2014

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (12:56): I would like to thank the hardworking public servants who have composed this bill, and I appreciate that their task has certainly not been easy. I also thank the government for the opportunity to be briefed on the matter. With super tribunals themselves, since at least the 1970s, there has certainly been a yearning for reform of specialised tribunals or decision-making bodies outside of the court system. One only has to look at the Kerr Committee in the 1970s and the Bland committee, which I think it is fair to say resulted in CATs all over the country—many CATs. The SACAT is the last one by the looks of it, after the NCAT, the QCAT and, my personal favourite, the VCAT.

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (12:56): I would like to thank the hardworking public servants who have composed this bill, and I appreciate that their task has certainly not been easy. I also thank the government for the opportunity to be briefed on the matter. With super tribunals themselves, since at least the 1970s, there has certainly been a yearning for reform of specialised tribunals or decision-making bodies outside of the court system. One only has to look at the Kerr Committee in the 1970s and the Bland committee, which I think it is fair to say resulted in CATs all over the country—many CATs. The SACAT is the last one by the looks of it, after the NCAT, the QCAT and, my personal favourite, the VCAT.

Once again, South Australia seems to be one of the last states in this nation to implement important reforms, but at least now we finally have a generic civil and administrative tribunal, hopefully. Super tribunals of this nature have existed for a while. In these jurisdictions, the tribunals replace an array of tribunals, which has made it simpler and easier for the people of those jurisdictions to access justice. When compared with the array of tribunals which the super tribunals replace, across the board there has been far greater accessibility, efficiency, consistency in decision-making, and greater independence from government in both perception and reality. I believe that SACAT will also allow for a much more transparent and consistent approach over the broad range of areas that SACAT will be able to preside over.

Earlier this year we heard that the government appointed current Supreme Court judge Parker, Deputy President and current District Court judge Susanne Cole, and the registrar Clare Byrt. We expect SACAT to be up and running over the next few months and incorporate smaller tribunals in perhaps a staggered way. I note that the Law Society have complimented the bill. They have said that they welcome the important government initiative and generally endorse the establishment, the objectives, the structures, and the powers and procedures provided for in the bill. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Adjourned debate on second reading (resumed on motion).

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (15:46): As I was saying, there is currently a long list of specialist tribunals that have been accumulated, and I am happy to say that this proposed consolidated tribunal will certainly streamline the process. In recent years, it seemed like a regression back to the old writ system where you had such specificity that the process was very difficult to navigate. However, I believe that this tribunal will take pressure off the court system and will greatly increase access to justice. The consolidated approach will result in a more efficient system, and a cheaper process in an informal manner, which certainly will facilitate access for many more people. It has certainly been a long time coming and I am hopeful that the government will be proactive when it comes to implementing changes such as this in the future.

The most encouraging function of the tribunal will be its use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). This is certainly an area that I have a particular interest in. I am passionate about providing support to assist parties in resolving disagreements outside of the formal mechanisms of a court. In many cases you will find that there is not actually need for litigation, and the long, formal, costly and drawn-out process that is associated with court proceedings can be detrimental. I am concerned that ADR will not be given adequate resources, however, and I think it is something to consider for the future. I would encourage the government to ensure that ADR becomes a central pillar of the new system.

In the legal sector, there is certainly greater emphasis in the wider community being placed on this approach. I note that this new approach in SACAT for South Australia will focus on matters that we have touched on, such as informality, accessibility to justice and those who are not necessarily specifically in the legal profession. It is important that the tribunal remains accessible to normal, everyday people who may not necessarily have the tools that they would if they went to court.

This has certainly not been the first attempt to create a system that is generally informal in relation to legal restrictions being reduced. As one of my colleagues mentioned earlier, one example is the Family Law Courts, which was originally designed as an informal, cheaper and accessible model, but it developed into something different altogether. However, super tribunals in other states have certainly taken their statutory objectives of informality seriously and they have implemented tailored procedures to avoid unnecessarily legality and formality.

I believe that this bill will go a long way to reducing wait times, and we have heard during estimates and at other times that the court system is certainly under enormous stress at the moment. This bill will go a long way to reducing those wait times, as it will pool the resources of numerous tribunals and allow for greater efficiency in allocating those resources. A decrease in wait times and better accessibility to justice will certainly be gladly welcomed by the community overall. Concerns that have been expressed that specialist expertise may be lost as result of the establishment of SACAT, from the application of a one-size-fits-all approach, may be valid, but all super tribunal's have retained this specialist expertise by drawing members from a wide variety of varied disciplines. VCAT and QCAT, especially, have organised their work through what they call 'streams', which help to preserve that specialist expertise without fracturing the idea of a super tribunal.

As the member for Bragg pointed out, there certainly are amendments that need to be considered but I will not hold up the debate any longer than I need to; I imagine she will take them up in the committee stage. This is not a perfect solution, and I am sure it will require amendment down the track but, on the whole, I believe it is a step in the right direction. I will go even further than that and say that I think it is the kind reform that South Australia has needed for quite some time. It is sad to have to say that we are the last state to implement such a thing, from what I can recall.

Of course, I would also like to claim credit on behalf of the Liberal Party. We have been calling for a reform of red tape for many years now and, credit where credit is due, I am glad to see that the government has finally opened its ears and listened to the needs of local businesses and hard-working South Australians, who want better and more affordable access to justice. It is a good first step in reducing red tape. Let us make it easier for our judges, let us make it easier for the people who require access to justice. I welcome the government bill.