Attorney-General Robert McClelland has tabled an ambitious response to the House of Representatives Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee report into the harmonisation of legal systems within Australia.
The response also flags comprehensive initiatives for cross-jurisdictional harmonisation efforts between Australia and New Zealand.
The government will act on 22 of the report’s 27 recommendations, addressing to harmonisation of guardianship and succession law, evidence law, consumer protection, privacy and debt collection.
A Model Criminal Code, a uniform national evidence regime and consistent information privacy regulation were flagged as key priorities for harmonisation of legal services.
“The Rudd Government has a far-reaching legal reform agenda, which will reduce the costs of regulation and enhance productivity in areas of shared Commonwealth and state responsibility” McClelland said.
“We will act on a number of the report’s recommendations, providing important benefits for business as well as ensuring greater access to justice for individuals.”
The government has committed to exploring areas where reduced regulatory burdens and harmonised legislative arrangements can be achieved with New Zealand. It reaffirmed its commitment to the harmonisation of trans-Tasman banking regulations, highlighting the introduction of the Financial Sector Legislation Amendment (Trans-Tasman Banking Supervision) Act 2006.
However, the recommendation of a referred legislative responsibility mechanism between the two countries was hastily struck down.
“The government will work with the New Zealand Government, but will not cede legislative competency over matters which affect Australians to a foreign country,” the response stated.
Recommendations relating to regulation of the countries’ respective telecommunications regimes were also a black spot, although the government noted that it would give consideration to the inclusion of telecommunications in the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (CER) Work Program.
The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) featured prominently in both the original report and the government’s response, and it will carry a heavy burden of expectation in relation to many of the government’s key legal harmonisation initiatives.
McClelland said: “The importance of SCAG to legal reform will be highlighted next month, when it hosts a harmonisation conference with key industry stakeholders. This direct engagement with legal professionals, academics, law reform bodies and business will assist in shaping legal harmonisation for the future.”
The previous Federal Government did not respond to the report, which was tabled in November 2006.