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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 10 Hansard (3 September) . . Page.. 2929 ..

Exposure Draft and Paper

Debate resumed from 23 May 1996, on motion by Mr Humphries:

That the Assembly takes note of the papers.

MS FOLLETT (11.33): I will speak fairly briefly on this matter, Mr Speaker, as it is an exposure draft that the Assembly is considering, rather than the Bill itself. I imagine that there will be a more substantive debate once the Bill has been presented. I am happy at this stage to indicate that I support the direction of policy change and the initiatives that are contained in the exposure draft in relation to the small claims administration of the Territory.

Mr Speaker, the review of the Small Claims Court system was commenced or announced in 1993, so we have taken quite some time to get to the point of having draft legislation before us. I believe that it is about 22 years since the Small Claims Court was first instituted, so the review of those arrangements is certainly wellnigh due and I am glad to see that it is being done quite comprehensively. The key changes that are flagged in the exposure draft are several. It does appear to have been a quite comprehensive review. The first and most major change probably is to change the status of the Small Claims Court to a tribunal and to rename it the Small Claims Tribunal. I think it is important that we ensure at all times that this court or, as it will be known, this tribunal remains accessible to the overwhelming majority of the community, and I believe that naming it a tribunal rather than a court does go some way towards breaking down what might be a hesitation or intimidation people might experience about going to court. This court should be accessible to everybody who feels the need for redress and I think that changing the name to a tribunal goes some way.

I do want to flag with the Minister that I was very attracted to the notion of changing the name to the Consumer and Small Claims Tribunal. I have looked carefully at the Minister's arguments against making that change and I have to say that I found most of them pretty spurious. I believe it would be a very good move indeed to refer to the tribunal as the Consumer and Small Claims Tribunal in order to indicate very clearly that this is one area where consumers may obtain redress when they believe they have been wronged. There is no such other tribunal. I think the Minister made the point that he believed that calling it a Consumer and Small Claims Tribunal would unduly narrow the focus of the tribunal. I do not agree, Mr Speaker. I think that including the word "consumer" in the title would broaden the appeal of the body and make it very clear to far more people that it is an accessible area for them to seek redress.

The draft also broadens some of the powers of the tribunal, Mr Speaker, notably in relation to actions for trespass. Again I think that is a step that is well overdue. It has been the case that in relation to complaints of trespass it has been very difficult for people to seek recourse under the law. The Bill goes further than that. It gives the tribunal some jurisdiction in disputes under the Common Boundaries Act, which relates to dividing fences and walls and so on. That, again, is a matter which I have had something to do with as an elected representative, and I will be very pleased to see a tribunal with the power over those matters.

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