Despite the release of draft legislation last week, the national profession reforms are unlikely to eventuate until at least 2013 - four years after COAG first announced plans to nationalise the profession.
Discussing the draft legislation released last Friday (9 September), New South Wales Law Society president Stuart Westgarth told Lawyers Weekly that it is "still early days" for the reforms and there is a great deal of work to be done before the national profession becomes a reality.
"We're still looking at 200-odd pages of complex legislation ... Fundamentally, it's moving in the right direction and we remain supportive and encouraged by the release of this legislation," said Westgarth. "There are rules to be drafted and there's local legislation to be inserted. The process will go throughout the whole of next year I would have thought. I can't see it being actually in operation until the following year in 2013."
According to Westgarth, the latest version of the legislation is unlikely to change the position of the smaller states which recently opposed the reforms. However, Westgarth said that what needs to be done now is to demonstrate to the smaller states - Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory - as well as Western Australia and South Australia, that they have "fundamentally something to gain and fundamentally something to lose" if they do not join the national scheme.
"We're keen for [the scheme] to go ahead with reasonable haste," he said. "We acknowledge that it might be better to get the other states on side, so we go ahead with all of them rather than some of them, but whilst there's momentum, we should maintain it."
Westgarth believes that if the scheme goes ahead without the four states of Tasmania, the ACT, Western Australia and South Australia, there will be financial implications as well as difficulties coordinating lawyers from within and outside the scheme. "It becomes slightly more problematic from a financial point of view because you've got less revenue funding the scheme because you have less lawyers in the scheme," he said. "It would be financially a much better bet for everybody if the four states that are out of [the scheme] join in."
Westgarth said the Law Society would continue to review the draft legislation until the Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland and his state counterparts meet again in November.