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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 9 Hansard (21 August) . . Page.. 2666 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

The Australian Democrats strongly support the existence of a separate Children's Court. I am concerned that this bill partially erodes the role of the specialist Children's Court Magistrate. I believe that, if there is too much work for the existing Children's Court Magistrate to deal with, it would be better to create another full-time or part-time specialist magistrate.

However, as the role of the existing Children's Court Magistrate is not being eroded and the use of a non-specialist magistrate is limited to certain circumstances, I am willing to support the amendment. I will monitor the operation of the change, to ensure that non-specialist magistrates are not used so often that it becomes clear that the second Children's Court Magistrate should have been, and perhaps could be, appointed.

The provisions amending the Crown Proceedings Act are apparently intended to formalise the existing practice of serving judgments on legal teams rather than on the Chief Minister. I am not entirely happy that the current law does not require any appropriation for payment of large judgments. That may well be a matter of interest to this Assembly, if the Crown has acted in a way that has given rise to a large judgment against it. However, as I can see that this provision does not reduce the current level of accountability, I am willing to agree to it.

The provisions dealing with regulated mortgage and investment schemes offered by solicitors I believe are the least satisfactory provisions in this bill. I am informed that the approach being adopted by the ACT government mirrors arrangements in other states. However, I do not think that is sufficient reason to adopt a particular approach, except where the ACT is joining a national regulatory scheme.

I am concerned that few members of the public will become aware of this new amendment, yet I believe most people are aware that dishonest or negligent actions by solicitors are covered by a fidelity fund. If a solicitor illegally fails to obtain a fidelity policy to cover regulated mortgage and investment activities, this change removes the current protection of the fidelity fund and potentially leaves a client vulnerable to large financial losses.

I have been informed that the number of such mortgages and investment schemes offered by solicitors each year in the ACT is unknown, but is believed to be quite small. In this light, I believe the better approach would be to ban these products, unless they comply with the federal Corporations Law. This would be consistent with the broader move to uniform regulation of financial products. However, because the number of people potentially affected is apparently quite small, I will reluctantly support this amendment. Nevertheless, if I hear of instances where people lose out due to solicitors failing to take out insurance, I will move to ban this type of financial product.

The provisions amending the Pawnbrokers Act and regulations appear sensible, and I will support them. I commend the efforts made to specify what is meant by "an unsuitable person" because, unfortunately, acts in some other jurisdictions have left this undefined.

The creation of a board to advise the Public Trustee on the investment of common funds appears to be reasonable. I wait with interest to see who will be appointed to this board.

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