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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 1 Hansard (17 February) . . Page.. 270 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

Community Advocate, the Law Society, the Children's Services Council and many others supported the appointment of a specialist magistrate. There was, it should be noted, opposition to the proposal, particularly from the Chief Magistrate and the Bar Association. The committee summarised the objections as being based on practical considerations, such as burnout, lack of flexibility, et cetera. The committee addressed the concerns raised by proposing the designation of a magistrate as a deputy Children's Court magistrate. In that proposal they dealt with some of the concerns that were expressed to them.

The Chief Magistrate, indeed, has acknowledged advantages in the proposal, such as the development of expertise in sentencing and the stopping of forum shopping. He recommended that appointment be on a rotational basis for 12 months and that all other magistrates be available to serve as temporary replacements. I note that the Government suggested a similar arrangement. These objections have come from significant sources and I have no doubt that the committee gave them due consideration. Having regard to those concerns, it would be appropriate for the Assembly to be prepared to keep its eye on this matter and the operation of the specialist Children's Court magistrate.

In the broad, Mr Speaker, and for the many reasons articulated by the committee in its report, the Opposition is pleased to support the proposal. I foreshadow that the Opposition is also prepared to support the amendments to be moved by Mr Osborne. We commend the legislation.

MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Community Safety and Minister Assisting the Treasurer) (5.57): The Government rises with a little bit of concern about this Bill. Members will be aware that the report that was referred to by Mr Stanhope in his remarks was brought down by the Justice and Community Safety Committee in December. There is a convention in this place - I think that is as high as you could put it - that governments are to respond to reports of committees in the space of three months. As it happens, the Government has not yet completed its consideration of a response to that report. It is a difficult matter, because we have had advice from agencies of government to oppose the provisions of the Bill.

However, the Administration and Procedure Committee has seen fit to bring the Bill on for debate a month before the Government's response to the report is due. If I might make a comment of a political nature, if the situation was reversed and we were bringing forward a Bill before there had been a chance for an Assembly committee to consider it, I suspect there would be considerable angst on the part of the Assembly about that happening. However, we are asked to express a view about this without having had a chance to go through the process that we understood was at work to allow us to consider this matter. I suspect that an injustice to the Government's processes is of little consequence to most in this place, but I put it on the table nonetheless.

At this stage all I want to do is put to the Assembly my reservations and concern about how this Bill may end up. In a large court system there is obviously merit in having a magistrate or a number of magistrates dedicated to the examination of issues in the Children's Court, because that allows magistrates in that setting to build up expertise in the area. Members have gone through those arguments already. I am not going to repeat them at length here tonight.

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