Page 2314 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 5 June 2013

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Northern Territory. This data shows that workload cannot be the cause of delay in the court. Our judges are simply not overworked when you compare them with the workload of their peers in other jurisdictions. Because workload is not the problem, the appointment of a fifth judge does not appear to be the best use of public resources to address the problem.

When people call for the appointment of a fifth judge to the court, they are, in fact, asking the government to increase the judicial full-time equivalent to include one new judicial full-time equivalent, which is an expensive and long-term proposition. The cost of appointing a fifth judge is approximately $1 million per year when salary, pension, other expenses such as a car and travel, office accommodation, ICT and support staff are taken into account, and judges have a constitutionally guaranteed tenure until they reach 70. That means when we appoint a new judge we are making a $1 million commitment each year for the period until that judge reaches the age of 70.

Would the appointment of a fifth judge sufficiently reduce delays to justify the expenditure? If the government appointed 10 judges, there might not be any delay at all but would the taxpayer be getting value for money? Would it be a responsible use of our resources? I do not think so. Instead, what we need to focus on is the way the court manages its existing workload. Until changes in processes and culture can have the chance to take effect, it will not be clear whether the appointment of a fifth judge will have the effect of dealing with the underlying issues in the court. The government does not agree that the circumstances warrant the appointment of a fifth resident judge at this time, and the evidence does not indicate a workload sufficient to support the appointment of a fifth judge.

I challenge those opposite to explain what the workload of ACT judicial officers would be in a five-resident-judge court. On the government’s estimates, we would expect that an ACT judicial officer would have half of the workload of a Queensland judge, two-thirds of the workload of a New South Wales judge or a Tasmanian judge, nine-tenths of a Victorian judge or a Western Australian judge. Only a judge in the Northern Territory would have less work. So this is not a proposition that stands up to any clear analysis.

At a time of fiscal constraint, we would be saying to other areas calling on the public purse here, “Don’t worry about those costs, don’t worry about your needs. We’re going to spend money on services that cost a million dollars a year for people to do less work per capita than every other jurisdiction except the Northern Territory.” The court is not overworked. The way the court manages its work is the issue.

Others will continue to argue that there is a need for a fifth judge. Perhaps they should also explain why they base their arguments on the issue of number of judges per head of population. The ACT is not like other jurisdictions. The ACT has the lowest lodgement rate of matters per 100,000 people in the population when compared to all other Australian jurisdictions. So when you look at the data from the report on government services, you see not only is the number of matters that our judges deal with per judicial officer less than all other jurisdictions except the Northern Territory, but the total number of matters being lodged in our courts per 100,000 population is the lowest in the country. Is this a situation, is this an environment, that justifies an increase in judicial resources or should our eyes be turned elsewhere?

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