Page 4068 - Week 11 - Thursday, 21 September 2017

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A key purpose of JACS bills is to promote better services through law reform. An example in this bill is the amendment to the Legal Profession Act 2006. This change allows the Law Society and the Bar Association to deal with multiple instances of unsatisfactory professional conduct against one legal practitioner without the need to automatically refer matters to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Automatic referral in practice means that the complaints go to the ACAT and are more appropriately dealt with administratively. This very simple change will mean that the Law Society can be more efficient in dealing with complaints.

There is an important reason for us to support efficiency in the management of the Law Society. The same pool of funds that is used to pay for the administration of disciplinary matters is also used to provide funding for access to justice initiatives. For example, from 2015 to 2016 the ACT Law Society’s increasing disciplinary costs resulted in reduced grant funding for the ACT’s legal assistance sector from the statutory interest account. Efficiencies in the Law Society’s administration mean more funds are available for things like grants to legal aid and community legal centres.

The amendments to the Associations Incorporation Act are another example of how a JACS bill can improve regulation in the territory. These amendments will result in a person being automatically disqualified from managing an incorporated association where they have been disqualified from managing a corporation under commonwealth law. These amendments will help to maintain public confidence in our community organisations. Public confidence is important for incorporated associations, which are often non-profit organisations raising money for charitable purposes. The commonwealth requested that all states and territories introduce these amendments to ensure that no one state or territory becomes a haven for disqualified managers.

There is an important qualifier in this bill which retains the ACT’s policies on corporate governance and minimises the risk of unintended consequences. The bill limits the automatic disqualification to grounds which already exist under ACT legislation. This will maintain the compatibility of the Associations Incorporation Act 1991 with the Human Rights Act 2004 even if the commonwealth introduces new incompatible grounds for disqualification in the future.

In addition to improving the regulation of professional bodies and associations, an important function of JACS bills is to facilitate better government and better service delivery. This bill will contribute to a more transparent, more efficient government through amendments to the Freedom of Information Act 2016. In the JACS bill introduced in March this year the government delayed the commencement of the Freedom of Information Act 2016 to allow directorates to prepare thoroughly for the new legislation, which will introduce a presumption in favour of releasing information and an active publication scheme.

I am pleased to say that directorates have been working hard toward this goal and in this collaborative process have identified a number of minor changes to improve the operation of the act. This has resulted in amendments that both clarify and enhance the existing regime without affecting the main purpose of the scheme to ensure the transparency and accessibility of government information.

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