Page 3628 - Week 09 - Tuesday, 23 August 2011

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MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (10.09): The Canberra Liberals will support this bill which creates the new Law Officer Act 2011. However, we will do so with one minor amendment. This bill does a number of things. Firstly, it establishes the statutory office of Solicitor-General. Mr Speaker, you can look at it any way you want, but this is nothing more than establishing an office of status so that when this attorney sends the Chief Solicitor to national meetings or to attend the Supreme Court or the High Court, the attorney can say that he has sent the Solicitor-General—and that is it. It raises a question about the priorities of this government.

I spoke last week about the changes to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act which moved at a snail’s pace, although they afforded a significant benefit to a small but important section of the community. And the amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act, which we will debate later today, have been in gestation since 2003. The amendments on both those occasions moved at a snail’s pace, but there seems to be a higher priority for creating the office of Solicitor-General, which delivers nothing other than a new name for the ACT community. The government seems to have this as a high priority.

The explanatory statement notes:

… the ACT’s position in the national arena would be enhanced by clear recognition of a role of solicitor-general, a role that exists in every Australian jurisdiction except the ACT.

I think this legislation creates a level of confusion, though, because the two roles which are separate under the bill—the Solicitor-General and the Chief Solicitor—will be performed, as I have been told, by the same person. Time will tell whether this two-in-one approach will work.

The bill also provides that the Attorney-General can approve the Government Solicitor acting for two or more parties who have conflicting interests. This is not an unusual situation for private law firms and can be dealt with inside the internal working operations of a firm or the department.

The second element of this bill is to consolidate the Law Officer Act and the Government Solicitor Act and then to repeal those acts. This amendment makes sense because it brings the relevant elements together in one piece of legislation.

Finally, the bill confers on the Attorney-General the power to issue legal services directions relating to the performance of territory legal work. I note that client legal privilege cannot be claimed in relation to information requested under legal services directions. More specifically, it requires the Attorney-General to issue a legal services direction in the form of model litigant guidelines.

I note that the existing provisions in relation to the model litigant guidelines are preserved, including reporting requirements in relation to the model litigant guidelines. However, there would seem to be little reason not to extend the reporting guidelines to all legal services directions, and that is the intent of my amendment.

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