WORKPLACE PRIVACY, interstate fine enforcement and surrogacy were all on the agenda at last week’s meeting of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) — the committee’s first meeting since the Rudd Government was elected to power last November.
The meeting provided a rare opportunity for decisive action to be taken on the legal reform front, with the Labor party now in power in all jurisdictions.
SCAG members, comprising federal, state and territory attorneys-general, the federal Minister for Home Affairs, the Associate Justice Minister of New Zealand and the Norfolk Island minister with responsibility for police and legal issues, gathered in South Australia for the meeting last week.
SCAG agreed, in principle, to the implementation of a system allowing the mutual recognition of court-imposed and administrative fines between the state and territories.
This would allow fines imposed by a court in one state to be registered for enforcement in accordance with the laws of the state or territory where the defendant lives, and for interstate administrative fines to be enforced using local laws and enforcement mechanisms.
Another important outcome of the meeting was an agreement by SCAG to develop a united framework for the legal position of surrogate parenting arrangements. Under the proposed new national framework, commercial surrogacy would remain illegal, while non-commercial surrogacy would be lawful, but agreements would be unenforceable. It would be possible, however, to get a court order recognising the intended parents as the legal parents, where the surrogacy arrangement meets the legal requirements and it is considered to be in the best interests of the child.
The ministers also considered several options for possible workplace privacy reform, agreeing in principle on a minimum model for nationally consistent workplace privacy regulation which would comprise mandatory and/or voluntary codes of practice supported by legislation. It was agreed however, that if a jurisdiction currently imposes a stricter standard, as NSW does, that would not have to be lowered.
The committee looked at the issue of legal harmonisation, agreeing to convene a one-day seminar on the topic during the year, drawing together stakeholders from the profession, the industry and academics from throughout Australia and New Zealand.
Other issues discussed included reform to personal property securities law and the potential regulation of litigation funding. They also agreed to the development of a judges exchange program between officers of state and territory courts and members of administrative appeals tribunals throughout Australia, and potentially, New Zealand.
The next meeting of the SCAG is in July. For a more in-depth look at the issue of legal harmonisation, see News Review on page 14.