The Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis announced today (13 August) that a Coalition government would overhaul the Federal Magistrates Court.
But according to Attorney-General Robert McClelland, such a move would undermine the proposed Military Court.
The exchange occurred as McClelland and Brandis exchanged policy detail at a debate hosted by Gilbert + Tobin in Sydney.
Brandis committed a Coalition government to establishing a second tier Commonwealth Law Court which would deal with family and tax matters alongside a military division. He said the new court would be called the Federal Circuit Court and it would replace the Federal Magistrates Court.
Brandis questioned why Federal Court judges need to hear routine matters that are more appropriate for lower court judges.
McClelland said that the Coalition's proposal would mean a Military Court would not be established and that Brandis and the Coalition could expect Angus Houston, the Chief of the Defence Force, to tell them to "hang on a minute".
"You should really confer with the military before you progress with this, otherwise, you can expect some representations from the military," McClelland said.
Brandis also used today's debate to announce some further coalition policies.
He said that a Coalition government would call a meeting of all the major stakeholders in the national profession legal reform process within one month of gaining office, and that an Abbott government would seek to legislate for sexual orientation to be a category within Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws.
Brandis added that if elected, a Coalition government would introduce a new Shield Law Bill to provide for better protection of journalist sources.
McClelland defends the Government's record
Meanwhile, the Attorney-General hit back at Brandis' comment that the federal government was "all talk and no action".
McClelland said that the Rudd/Gillard government had done more to reform the national legal profession in the last 12 months than previous measures over the last 12 years.
He also pointed specifically to the government spending $26 million on the National Emergency Warning System, which had issued 258,000 messages in its first 12 months of operation, and the fact that the government had granted the Federal Police enhanced powers.
McClelland said that a re-elected Labor government would establish an Assets Confiscation Taskforce to combat organised crime.
He said that Government reforms to the Federal Court had meant that "the litigant with superior resources couldn't dominate the process", and that the Government's record on human rights had helped to "create a decent, fair and inclusive society, nothing more and nothing less."
McClelland conceded that Indigenous justice needs "so much work", with both the Attorney-General and Brandis displaying bipartisanship by stating they would both support any referendum that acknowledged the rights of Aboriginals in the Constitution.
The debate was chaired by James Eyers, the legal affairs editor of the Financial Review, with a three member panel consisting of Robert Milliner, the chief executive partner of Mallesons Stephen Jaques, Alex Ward, the chair elect of the Law Council of Australia and associate professor Jane McAdam of the University of New South Wales.
The panel and chair were the only attendees permitted to ask questions.
The Attorney-General and Shadow Attorney-General also debated human rights policy and the merits of temporary protection visas, whether Australia needs a Bill of Rights, national security and the importance of national security meetings, anti-terror laws and de-regulation.
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