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31 Oct 2017

Statutes Amendment (SACAT No. 2) Bill

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 28 September 2017.)

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN (16:38): I rise to speak to the Statutes Amendment (SACAT No. 2) Bill. I am the lead speaker on behalf of the opposition, and I indicate our support for the second reading. Honourable members will recall that SACAT began operating in March 2015. Initially, it heard matters transferred from the former Guardianship Board, Residential Tenancies Tribunal and the Housing Appeal Panel.

Firstly, the bill confers a number of other jurisdictions to SACAT. We are advised that this is in line with the intended stages of transfer as contemplated when the original bill established SACAT’s path. The added jurisdictions relate to areas such as local government, land and housing, taxation and superannuation, environment and farming, energy and resources, food safety and regulation, and community matters such as births, deaths and marriages.

The bill also makes a number of technical amendments to various acts which are used by SACAT. The government advises us that this is intended to improve the efficiency of the tribunal. These technical amendments are operational in nature and follow on from the experiences of the tribunal during its infancy. By way of example, there is an amendment to section 47 of the act to enable the registrar, authorised in writing by the president, to dismiss or strike out proceedings for want of prosecution without this needing to be heard by a tribunal member.

There are also amendments to the Mental Health Act to explicitly provide that a level 1 community treatment order expires when SACAT makes a level 2 order, and so on. This removes the current uncertainty of various orders operating at the same time. Other amendments to the Mental Health Act include removing duplications when short-term treatment orders are made by health professionals. The amendment will require the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist to only send SACAT copies of such notices that are reviewable by SACAT or if SACAT has requested copies, rather than the current requirement to send all notices relating to short-term treatment orders made by health professionals.

This bill also amends the Guardianship and Administration Act to make provision for the appointment of an alternative guardian at the same time as the guardian avoiding the need for urgent appointments if a guardian dies. There are a number of other technical amendments of a similar nature, and the opposition is supportive of the same.

Whilst the opposition is supportive of this bill, the opposition will observe with great interest whether they deliver the efficiencies that have been claimed. It is important to note that there have been concerns raised regarding the operation of SACAT during its early days. It is particularly concerning, in the event that these issues are not resolved, when many more jurisdictions are being transferred to it. In essence, it will then be building on quicksand.

The government has moved further amendments to the bill following the release of the Hon. David Bleby QC’s statutory review, which was finalised and published on 1 August 2017. The report was subsequently tabled by the Attorney-General in parliament on 26 September 2017. The review made several recommendations for amendments to be made to the act, with the government indicating its support for the bulk of those, some of which were reflected in the government’s amendments to the bill which passed in the other place.

One suggestion, for example, was a proposal for greater oversight by SACAT of private administrators appointed under the Guardianship and Administration Act 1993. Following this advice, the government introduced an amendment to the bill which will enable additional oversight measures to be introduced by regulation after further consultation has occurred. I am also pleased to see that the recommendation that the president of the SACAT be engaged on a full-time basis has already been implemented as from 4 July. The government must ensure that the tribunal operates smoothly if it is to be a success, and a full-time president will assist this.

I note the review also highlighted the difficulties that have been experienced by having SACAT operate in two separate premises. The review recommended co-location to improve efficiency and access for members of the public. In his ministerial statement dated 26 September, the Attorney-General indicated that the government accepts the rationale behind these recommendations and will work towards obtaining co-location for SACAT.

Given that even more jurisdictions will be transferred, I asked the minister what the government is doing to work towards this co-location, and within what time frame the government intends to look into this and effect the same. I asked that responses to these questions be provided in the minister’s second reading summing-up. I will briefly quote some remarks made by the Hon. David Bleby in his executive summary:

The overall conclusion is that SACAT is an evolving functional entity that, subject to some reservations, generally delivers on its key objectives. However, the continued effective operations and expansion of SACAT will depend in a large part on appropriate funding and resources.

The Tribunal has been underfunded since its commencement and still has insufficient resources to be able to achieve all of its statutory objectives. One of its most compelling needs is the consolidation of its premises onto one site.

The desired impact of the bold but commendable move to a paperless case management system has in many respects been compromised by technology problems which are only now beginning to be resolved for the long-term benefit of the Tribunal.

Further resources need to be invested in training and development of both members and staff, and significant recommendations are made in relation to the continued use of Streams and the current leadership structure.

Whilst the bill before us implements a number of recommendations contained in the report, I note the calls for increased funding and resources. Given we are now transferring more jurisdictions into SACAT, there is an even greater need for the government to ensure the problems already experienced during the early stages of the operation are resolved.

I thought I should touch upon the Law Society’s submission, dated 15 September 2017. This is particularly in regard to the training of staff. In regard to the amendments transferring births, deaths and marriages into SACAT, the society raised the following concern:

The Society appreciates the efficiencies which may be associated with the change of forum proposed, i.e. from a Court to the Tribunal. However, it would be essential that only those members from the SACAT who have received relevant training to deal with children and young people, including children and young people who have been the subject of child protection concerns, be allocated such matters.

The Society urges the government to ensure that SACAT members who hear applications brought in relation to the changing of children’s names, have not only the training but also the required empathy to be able to conduct and hear such applications before them.

I ask the minister to indicate whether the government has considered these concerns and, in particular, whether appropriate training will be provided to staff who will be hearing matters that relate to children and young people. Again, I look forward to receiving the answers in the minister’s second reading summing-up.

The government has filed two sets of amendments. I indicate to honourable members that the Liberal Party will be supporting both amendments. The amendment set 1 [Employment–1], filed on 9 October 2017, follows on from the recent passing of the Land Agents (Registration of Property Managers and Other Matters) Bill. The amendment simply seeks to transfer review and disciplinary provisions contained in the Land Agents Act from the District Court to SACAT. The government has advised that this was not done in the earlier land agents bill, due to the uncertainty about the timings of when each bill would be dealt with in parliament.

We have been advised by the government that the amendment in set 2 [Employment–1], filed on 24 October 2017, corrects an error in the wording of the transitional provisions regarding the transfer of jurisdiction from the District Court to SACAT to ensure certain appeal rights are adequately described. The Liberal Party will be supporting those amendments and also supporting the second reading.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola.

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