AUSTRALIA’S STATE and territory attorneys-general were last week warned by the Federal Government that the time was fast approaching to implement national uniform defamation laws.
Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock met with the attorneys on the Gold Coast, warning them that come January next year, the Commonwealth would proceed with its own uniform code or law.
Earlier in March this year, Ruddock vowed to keep the pressure on the States and Territories to enact fully uniform laws, arguing that it was something they have been talking about for more than two decades, and the time had come to do something about it.
“The message I want to send is the time for dithering has ended,” Ruddock said. “The Australian Government will hold the States to their own target of enacting sensible mirror defamation legislation by 1 January 2006. If they fail to do so, federal legislation can still be introduced,” he said.
Last week, Ruddock told Lawyers Weekly that the Federal Government had not issued a “threat” to the state attorneys, but that “we’ve agreed to further discussions and we’ve indicated the position [to the attorneys] that the Cabinet has taken”. But, he said, by January the States have to have met “reasonable” requirements.
New South Wales Attorney-General Bob Debus is concerned by the Federal Government’s stance on the matter, he told ABC radio last week. “The Commonwealth is proceeding in what I must say is, from some perspectives, an irrational manner,” he said.
“The States must always keep a residuary power in the defamation area. If the Commonwealth passes a new law, instead of agreeing with the States to establish a uniform provision throughout the country, then we will have a ninth defamation jurisdiction and there will be confusion and High Court challenges, and really something of a mess,” Debus told the ABC.
Ruddock announced recently that the Federal Government would not push the States too far, admitting that it would be prepared to make compromises in the interests of progressing a genuine uniform defamation law. “We will not push the States and Territories to adopt every element of the Commonwealth’s draft blueprint,” he said. Ruddock has also said the Commonwealth will not stand in the way of sensible, workable uniform laws.