FEDERAL PARLIAMENT’S Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee wants to know whether the differences in state and federal laws affect trade and commerce in this country.
Referred to the Committee last month, there is to be an inquiry into the lack of harmonisation within the legal system, and between the legal systems of Australia and New Zealand, with particular emphasis on ways to reduce costs and duplication.
According to the chairman of the Committee, Peter Slipper MP, the Committee “will not be making judgments on the relative merits of the different systems, and what should be the standard”.
However, the governments of those jurisdictions will make the final decisions, Slipper said. “What we aim to do is to identify what areas of legal procedures, partnership law, evidence law and standards of products,” he said. He acknowledged that other issues may arise in the course of the inquiry.
The Committee will also be looking at different ways in which harmonisation of laws could be achieved, looking beyond past attempts to see if new models could be developed.
“A number of High Court decisions have affected cooperative schemes developed by the state and federal governments. Is amending the Constitution the only way to guarantee such schemes or are there other options?” Slipper asked.
According to the Parliament’s background brief on the harmonisation of legal systems, the starting point for any examination of legislative power in Australia is the Constitution. It should be noted, the paper states, that the Commonwealth lacks a general commerce power. “It has legislative power over trade and commerce with other countries and among other states, but not trade and commerce within state boundaries. Despite this, the desirability of national regulatory regimes has been recognised in a number of areas, most notably in connection with corporations law.”
“While many argue that uniformity and centralisation of the law bring commercial certainty and benefit, there is by no means universal support for such uniformity and centralisation across all policy areas,” the paper reads.
The terms of reference ask the Committee to examine “legal obstacles to greater federal/state and Australian/New Zealand cooperation”. This means that should the Committee decide that greater harmonisation is desirable, it should look at how it may be achieved and whether there are any legal obstacles that must be addressed.