Wednesday 24 September, 2014

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (16:41): I also rise to support this bill. As we have heard, the opposition will support it in this place and reserve its right in the other place. I note it is a thin bill. A thin bill is a good bill. It is much thinner than the other bill we had to read a few weeks ago which accompanies this bill. No doubt, in future years to come, it will be seen as a crucial part of the Enfield enlightenment, as the member for Schubert has pointed out.

As the leader has said, we need to get on with this. We need to get on with these reforms that have been a long time in coming, and as soon as possible, because businesses are certainly suffering out there and employees are not getting the best deal in this area. We need to do what we can as an opposition and a government to work as expeditiously as possible to make sure that this broken system is fixed.

The tribunal which is aimed to be set up by this bill is a good thing, with jurisdiction to review certain decisions arising from the return-to-work scheme which is planned to commence on 1 July 2015. Like other tribunals, it will aim to provide efficiency in terms of cost and time and, hopefully, it will be extremely transparent and accountable and headed by a president who will hold a concurrent office as a judge of the IR Court. I really hope that it does work as a one-stop shop for employment litigation and, in regard to that, I will talk a little bit about ADR, and I note that ADR has an important emphasis in this bill and that is also a very good thing.

Legal costs and the cost of litigation, obviously, can be extremely high. A lot of the time, workers cannot get access to justice because the court system is extremely costly for them, so I think it is important to have, conversely, a cheaper, easier flexible alternative to costly dispute resolution, and I have pointed that out in other speeches.

In relation to the structure of the SAET, as I will call it, obviously we have heard comments. Generally, I consider it to be quite well constructed. However, I would say that I ask for government support in the appointment of conciliation officers, in that I would ask them to think wisely, and I would like to see a statesman-like approach to this. I know I might be a bit idealistic, but I really do not want this to become a partisan issue. It is extremely important if this is to work and if the government intends it to work well. It is fair to say that over the 12½ years of the government's history we have certainly seen some unfortunate appointments, if you like, in various areas. I hope this does not continue in that light.

Overall, I believe that shortening the time frames of disputes where we can, through the conciliation and the alternative dispute resolution mechanisms provided by this bill, will certainly help the justice system and take a lot of strain off the justice system we have at the moment. We all saw during the estimates process the long delays that are being experienced in the justice system at the moment.

I note that this tribunal, once set up, will perform similar functions to the SACAT. It will settle disputes of facts, not necessarily law, and questions of law are also able to be appealed as well. I reiterate what the Leader of the Opposition said to this place earlier today. I honestly question the government's wisdom in not rolling the SAET into the SACAT and I ask the Attorney to clarify. Why wouldn't you just roll it into one? Since we are here and we are keen to work with you, why wouldn't we just get it out of the way? Looking forward when trying to work with the government, I do not want to be looking at this in future years. If we are going to make this happen, let's get it out of the way right now.

In terms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), I note that in the act there is quite an emphasis placed on the role of ADR in proceedings which come before the tribunal. The bill provides the tribunal with some scope at an initial directions hearing or at any other time to ask the parties to attend conferences that are compulsory or refer to any aspect of the matter for mediation by persons listed as a mediator by the tribunal. That is a good thing because so many disputes at the moment proceed to litigation and trial unnecessarily and, therefore, it is in a setting like this, a tribunal, where it is much cheaper and more informal that I think it is a good thing to allow these disputes to be settled much more easily. Not to mention they are also going to save the taxpayers' dollars by resolving them sooner without the formal proceedings before a court.

I also support this bill. It is important to reiterate the reservations which we have and which will be addressed in the other place and I will be asking the Attorney to consider those comments. I expect all those answers to be suitably addressed and resolved in committee.