May 26, 2015  |  Second reading speech

Court Services Victoria and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015

Mr CARROLL(Niddrie) — It is my pleasure to rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Court Services Victoria and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015. At the outset, I welcome the contribution by the member for Hawthorn. It is good that he is supporting the legislation. I acknowledge also the contribution by the member for Box Hill as the previous Attorney-General in establishing Court Services Victoria (CSV).

If members go back a bit, they can see how this new vehicle was established and that it was vital. From the Chief Justice of Victoria down there had been lots of commentary on the way forward for court services. The website of Court Services Victoria sets out very plainly and clearly the purpose of CSV. The legislation we are debating in the lower house today is very much strengthening the framework of CSV, which came into operation recently, and providing some parameters around the appointment of the CEO and dispute handling and a stronger framework around the Judicial College of Victoria.

The primary purpose of Court Services Victoria is to provide or arrange for the provision of administrative facilities and services to the courts, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) and the Judicial College of Victoria. Section 8 of the Court Services Victoria Act 2014 states that its primary function is to provide or arrange for the provision of the administrative services and facilities necessary or desirable to support the performance of the judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative functions of the Supreme Court, County Court, Magistrates Court, Children’s Court, Coroners Court and VCAT.

I want to highlight an editorial in the Age of 4 November 2013. It is headlined ‘A better way to manage the courts’ and states:

It has been a long-time concern of this newspaper that Victoria’s justice system, with its rising burden of cases in a tough law-and-order environment, is at breaking point in terms of funding and administration. Last year, the Age‘s series ‘Courts in crisis’ examined the state of our outdated, cramped and under-resourced courts. Basically, there were many more cases and too few judges to hear them. If anything, the situation has worsened since then.

The problems include not only underfunding but how the courts are funded …

That did lead to the establishment of Court Services Victoria. Previously the courts had been funded through a business model of the then Department of Justice. The editorial went on:

Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Warren has rightly warned that this bureaucratic control poses a threat to the courts’ independence, and weakens the judiciary ‘because it controls neither sword nor the purse’.

I reiterate that the previous government fulfilled its promise to rectify this anomaly and established a new body, Court Services Victoria, to provide judicial services independent of the executive arm. The member for Box Hill introduced the legislation, which came into effect in July 2014. The new body was governed by the six heads of jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, County Court, Magistrates Court, Children’s Court, Coroners Court and Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, plus two non-judicial members.

I want to put that editorial in context by quoting a more recent one, given that it is timely to consider where we now stand. This editorial, also from the Age, is dated 9 May and is headlined ‘Why our crowded jails have revolving doors’. I want to put on the record its first paragraph, which states:

When politicians are banished from the government benches to opposition, they tend to spend some time sulking and bemoaning their fate. Letting go of the reins can be hard. The most effective opposition teams, though, take the time to pause and reconsider their suite of policies. They recast their strategies, they learn to embrace the important role that oppositions should play in probing and challenging government policies, while taking time to develop coherent policies that one day might win them the support of the electorate.

It goes on to talk about prisoner recidivism rates. If you look at where we have been and where we are now on this matter, commentary from the former government since becoming the opposition has been a bit inflammatory. I welcomed the member for Hawthorn’s contribution to this debate as sensible and balanced, but this editorial really highlights the policy work that needs to be done by the new opposition. The actions of the previous government in establishing Court Services Victoria were commendable, and the current Attorney-General is now strengthening that original legislation. These amendments will improve the governance and operation of Court Services Victoria. It is important that we continue to respond to issues as they arise.

This legislation will amend the Financial Management Act 1994 to provide CSV with the same budget flexibility and management mechanisms as generally apply to other Victorian public sector bodies that receive a direct parliamentary appropriation. These mechanisms will allow CSV to take advantage of opportunities that arise in the current financial year to acquire benefits that will accrue or continue in the following financial year, enabling better expenditure across financial years and better managed cash flow within financial years. The consistent framework established by the previous government when setting up CSV will continue. These provisions will ensure that the management of CSV’s finances is transparent and accountable, as is expected of public sector agencies.

Importantly, this legislation will also amend the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission Act 2011 to codify the authority of the chief executive officer of CSV in relation to complaints and investigations under the IBAC act concerning CSV and CSV staff. The bill also amends the Judicial College of Victoria Act 2001 to codify the role of the board of the Judicial College of Victoria in appointing, setting the terms and conditions of and, if necessary, terminating the employment of the CEO of the college. The amendments will formally record the duty of the CEO of the judicial college to act on the direction of the judicial college board. Finally, the bill will amend the Court Services Victoria Act to repeal the redundant definition of ‘State Services Authority’. This definition is not used elsewhere in the Court Services Victoria Act, and in any case the State Services Authority has now been replaced by the Victorian Public Sector Commission.

In summary, this bill is important. While it largely makes machinery amendments to current provisions, there are three key areas where it improves the operation of Court Services Victoria. Firstly, it will fix up the redundant legislation and definition relating to the State Services Authority. Secondly, it will provide the Judicial College of Victoria with ultimate authority over decisions relating to the employment of its chief executive officer. Thirdly, it will amend the Financial Management Act to provide Court Services Victoria with the same budget flexibility and management mechanisms as generally apply to other Victorian public sector bodies, including bodies that, like Court Services Victoria, receive a direct parliamentary appropriation.

The bill amends legislation brought in by the previous government in relation to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission to clarify the role of the CEO of Court Services Victoria to make it consistent with other agencies. The handling of complaints and investigations by IBAC needs to be transparent. There are two substantive changes to the Court Services Victoria Act, fixing up any redundant areas in the legislation and ensuring that the board of the judicial college is responsible for fixing the terms and conditions of employment of its chief executive officer and that those terms are clear. It also ensures that the CEO of the college is responsible to and complies with the directions of the board in relation to the operation of the college. It inserts new provisions into the Court Services Victoria Act to ensure the continuity of the employment of the current chief executive officer of the Judicial College of Victoria.

The Judicial College of Victoria is responsible for the management of the affairs of the college and may exercise the powers of the college. It is appropriate that the CEO be appointed on the nomination of the board and that the board determine the CEO’s terms and conditions.

In relation to the legislation as it applies to the Financial Management Act, as I said earlier, it is important that Court Services Victoria have the correct authority and appropriation as well as the capacity to make any advances from the Treasurer in appropriate circumstances. Amending the Financial Management Act to give Court Services Victoria the authority and the mechanism in certain circumstances to make significant purchases in future financial years has been identified as an opportunity for better value for the taxpayer. It is important to ensure it has an improved budget. I also reiterate that separating the courts from being a business unit of the former Department of Justice was a welcome move by the previous government. I commend the bill to the house.