The Attorney-General has criticised the lack of a maritime arbitration culture in Australia.
Speaking about arbitration for the first time since the International Arbitration Amendment Bill was passed in Parliament in June, Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland used an address at last week's (1 July) fourth annual Australian Maritime and Transport Arbitration Commission (AMTAC) to call for Australia to establish a local culture of arbitration before it can promote itself as a centre for the resolution of international maritime disputes.
"Australia is an island nation whose economy depends on sea trade. Further, we are a nation in a region which is full of shipping nations and major sea routes," said McClelland.
"Australia enjoys a natural advantage as a venue for resolving international maritime disputes. That advantage extends to our arbitrators and other legal professionals ... Australia is a key centre of expertise in maritime law. However ... Australia is yet to turn these natural advantages into commercial advantages."
Peter McQueen, chairman of AMTAC, told Lawyers Weekly he is certainly keen to promote Australia's international arbitration capabilities, particularly in relation to maritime disputes, and believes there has never been a better time to do so.
"We are in the best position we have ever been to promote Australia, because we have the amendments to the International Arbitration Act and we now have a centre in Sydney's Australian International Dispute Centre (AIDC) which is being formally opened on 3 August," he said.
"We can now promote Australia, not just in the international sense, but also the domestic sense with the development of a new [uniform] Commercial Arbitration Act for all of the states."
According to McClelland, AMTAC already has several initiatives in place which are enhancing Australia's reputation, such as the Rocket Docket which guarantees a written award within three months for fixed-fee small claims arbitrated by a single arbitrator.
But McQueen acknowledges that even though the foundations are now in place, the process of increasing the volume of international arbitration in Australia is a painstaking process.
"We realise that this is a slow old process so we've just got to keep promoting ourselves and the benefits," he said.
McQueen is confident, however, that Australia will eventually be seen as a desirable locale for the settling of maritime disputes.
"In those cases [in which] at least one of the two parties operates in Australia, where the facts, circumstances and evidence relating to the dispute happen in Australia, why should we go off and have those sorts of disputes arbitrated in London or Singapore?" he said.
"Historically, that has been the case and that is what we are working to change."