I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Judicial Commission of Victoria Bill 2010. At the beginning I also indicate that the government will not be supporting Mr Rich-Phillips’s reasoned amendment. With respect to the proposed amendments that have just been circulated by Ms Pennicuik, I understand Mr Tee will be responding to many of those.
In relation to the bill in front of us this afternoon, the establishment of a judicial commission for Victoria was first mooted in justice statement 2, where the government outlined its commitment to explore processes to handle complaints of judicial misconduct or unprofessional behaviour as well as measures to address things such as ill health and competency if a judicial officer becomes unable to continue with a full range of judicial duties. A working party was formed and a public discussion paper was developed by that working group. Essentially it had three options for discussion. It received over 20 submissions in response to the public discussion paper, and in every instance there was support for an independent judicial commission.
I need to mention that there has, of course, also been the Proust review.
Members of the chamber will recall that in November last year the Premier requested the public sector standards commissioner, Peter Allen, and special commissioner Elizabeth Proust to review the efficiency and effectiveness of Victoria’s integrity and anticorruption system, including investigations by the Auditor-General, the local government investigations and compliance inspectorate, the Ombudsman and Victoria Police. The findings and recommendations were presented in the report Review of Victoria’s Integrity and Anticorruption System. In June this year the government announced that it would adopt the Proust model for public sector integrity, including the establishment of the Victorian integrity and anticorruption commission, but we need to be clear that the development of this bill pre-dates that announcement.
I refer to the central elements of the bill. Its main purpose is to set up the Judicial Commission of Victoria.
It provides for the continuing education and professional development of judicial officers and for the investigation of complaints, referrals and health requests regarding judicial officers. It also repeals the Judicial College of Victoria Act of 2001 and makes consequential and other amendments to other acts. The two main features of the bill are that it establishes the judicial commission and its responsibility for investigating serious and so-called less serious complaints, and it provides the judicial commission with the education functions that were previously held by the judicial college. It has two smaller features: it maintains the current constitutional protection and it expands the powers of the heads of jurisdiction to enhance their ability to manage their courts.
The first element of the commission’s functions will give Victorians greater confidence in the way our judicial system functions.
The bill will take a more systematic and consistent approach and essentially a more structured approach to the investigation of complaints.
The board that will govern the commission will comprise six judicial officers, each the head of their respective court or the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, together with four non-judicial members appointed by the Governor in Council. Ms Pennicuik mentioned that two of the non-judicial members must have expertise in organisational development or the delivery of education services. Those two members may be, but do not need to be, Australian lawyers who are admitted to the legal profession. The other two non-judicial members must not be lawyers. The chief justice is the chairperson of the board, who will have the deliberative vote if necessary — if they are in a casting situation.
The CEO and staff will be able to perform much of the investigative work of the commission, which is a point that needs to be brought home to Mr Rich-Phillips.
There is no requirement for every board member to be involved in every element that comes before the board.
The bill provides that the board retains an oversight of the CEO and the staff by requiring that certain decisions can only be made by the board. It is important to highlight the fact that the bill also provides for unanimous resolutions of members of the board to be made without a meeting. There are sensible checks and balances to ensure on the one hand that there are practical mechanisms in place to ensure that the work of the board can be undertaken in an effective and efficient manner and on the other that the board is oversighting the work being conducted.
From looking at the contributions to the debate on this bill in the lower house and listening to the contributions that have been made in this house this afternoon I understand that the structure of the board is an issue for some members on the other side of the chamber. We as a government have listened to all the views that have been put during the discussion period as well as from Mr Tee, I understand, as recently as this morning, but we are not convinced that the proposals that have been put to us are in any fashion superior to what is contained in the bill before us this afternoon. I also understand members of the opposition and the Greens have issues regarding the position of the CEO. We think it is incredibly important that the CEO is perceived to have sufficient independence from the executive as well as from the judiciary, and we do not walk away from that fact. The Attorney-General’s second-reading speech in the Assembly dealt with that issue quite succinctly.
In respect of the education aspect of the new commission, unlike Ms Pennicuik I am heartened by the fact that education and professional development will be part and parcel of the new commission. It is well located for a range of reasons. I do not have the fears that she has in relation to education and development being overwhelmed or undermined by the fact that it is connected to the complaints process. In fact this is part and parcel of the New South Wales model. It is important to align professional training and education with things coming out of court hearings that are new and cutting edge. We have seen that in the past. I do not think the need to modernise the way we go about our judicial business will be contaminated by the fact that there is a complaints aspect to the commission.
The consultation has been ongoing; in particular there has been a lot of work done with the courts, the bar and the Law Institute of Victoria throughout all stages of the development of this bill.
The government will continue to work closely with the heads of jurisdictions to assist them in managing their courts and the community’s expectations of a responsive, accountable and impartial justice system. On that basis, I commend this bill to the house.