Page 3556 - Week 11 - Thursday, 22 September 2005

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MR STANHOPE: The deficit may be larger. Nevertheless, one is always interested in the convenient quoting of a particular position. As the shadow attorney indicates, the Auditor-General delivered a report that was tabled by the Speaker in the house yesterday. I need to confess that I have not read it in detail. I cannot verify some of the assertions. I do not understand, at this stage, in detail the reasons for the accumulated deficits that the court traditionally produces.

As I say, to put it in some historical context: it certainly has been a feature of the courts management in the past three years that it runs over its budget every year, just as it was a feature of the court when Mr Stefaniak was Attorney-General, just as it was a feature of the courts budget management when Mr Humphries was Attorney-General. It is a feature of the management of the courts that it has had enormous difficulty in remaining in budget.

That is not an acceptable situation or outcome. That is why the government has put in place a range of measures over the past two years in relation to the courts budgeting and appropriations that sought to address the base funding requirement of the courts and sought to address the issue of the continual failure by the courts to work within budget—a requirement which this government and all previous governments, including previous Liberal governments, had with all budget-funded organisations, namely, that they are given a budget and are expected to live within their budget. It is a demand made of every organisation funded by this and every other government in Australia. The parliament determines a particular allocation or appropriation for an organisation. That organisation then is expected, in every instance, to work within the budget. The courts have failed consistently to do that.

In relation to the detail of it, you need to go to the courts and the courts administration and to some extent you need to go the Chief Magistrate. That is some of the difficulty. As you very well know, Mr Stefaniak, as a previous Attorney-General, as a result of the separation of powers, a subject in relation to which we know you are expert, governments, attorneys-general and parliaments do not oversight the management or the administration of courts.

In relation to the Magistrates Court, section 5 of the Magistrates Court Act vests statutory responsibility in the Chief Magistrate for the management and administration of his organisation. I do not interfere in the management or administration of the courts, Mr Stefaniak; nor did you because of your respect for the separation of powers. Because of my respect for and understanding of the separation of powers, it is one of the difficulties in circumstances such as this in relation to courts.

We all know that the report that was brought down yesterday by the Auditor-General in relation to the courts is not pretty reading. It makes some quite strong, if not at times strident, criticisms of the management and administration of the courts. It draws attention to the fact that over the years, including during your time as Attorney-General, reports have been initiated and many of the recommendations have not been implemented.

One of the reasons for that is that governments and ministers do not have the capacity to stand on the floor of the courts and make decisions or judgments around how the courts

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