Second Reading- LEGAL PROFESSION UNIFORM LAW APPLICATION AMENDMENT BILL 2019
Mr FREGON (Mount Waverley) (14:44:53): I rise with delight to also speak on the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Amendment Bill 2019. It is a bit of a mouthful, but it is a very important bill, and we should take our time with it. This amendment exists to introduce Western Australia into the pre-existing intergovernmental agreement, which created a regulation system for the legal profession in Victoria and New South Wales. Western Australia, as we know, is the home of our Margaret River wine region as well as many other great regions and has produced talents from Eskimo Joe to the late Heath Ledger. I believe INXS did a lot of work in their younger years in Perth—so thank you for that, Western Australia. They mine everything from iron ore to natural gas and even sodium chloride, would you believe. On 1 July 2015 the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2014 commenced operation. The law unified the regulation of the legal profession between Victoria and New South Wales. Now, it is worth pointing out that Victoria is the host jurisdiction in this agreement, and we are responsible for passing amendments to this legislation. Noting this, I am reminded of another unification between Victoria and New South Wales, in 1982. It was then that the South Melbourne Swans went north and became the Sydney Swans, and this led to our national football league, which we all now know as the AFL, being born in 1990. The year after there was a little grand final between Hawthorn and Geelong. Acting Speaker Carbines, I do not have to remind you who won that one. In much the same way as this regulation of our legal profession, our AFL is also governed from the great state of Victoria, and all of the rule changes come from our state. So in that regard can I just say that the 6-6-6 rule this year I am okay with—I think that is all right—but for the record I am not quite sure about the changes to the runners. So maybe we can revisit that one, Gill. Some five years later, in 1987, we saw a club from Western Australia join the AFL, and like in this bill today our states became closer. With liberty, I also make mention that while my beloved Hawks did not quite make the finals this year they did give a good account of themselves against West Coast on the weekend, so upwards and onwards for the Hawks. This amendment will mean there is unification between Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia in relation to our legal system and the regulation of that, with Victoria acting as the host jurisdiction, as I said. To ensure representation of all participating states the total number of members sitting on the Legal Services Council will increase from five to seven. Representation of each state through at least one member of the Legal Services Council is ensured, and the removal of the pre-existing seven-member limit on the Admissions Committee is also amended, so its composition will therefore allow for future states to be included without that having to be changed. The bill also ensures the composition includes a former or current Supreme Court judge from each participating jurisdiction. Bringing Western Australia in as a next step will create significant benefits for the legal industry and consumers alike, who are covered by the uniform law scheme. The legal profession in Victoria does not cease to exist in other states as you cross the border as lawyers are often required to operate across our nation’s states and territories, yet previously each state had its own set of regulations—until 2015—and now Western Australia does. So the uniform regulation aims to ensure a more streamlined and simplified process for our legal system, which is already working efficiently between Victoria and New South Wales. Hopefully we will soon see all states and territories joining under one uniform law scheme. The benefits of this legal services market would be great to see countrywide. Most of us will be consumers of legal services in our lives, from managing affairs, buying and selling homes, writing wills and assigning powers of attorney, but if unfortunately you need a lawyer for a more serious matter, lawyers are there for when things go wrong. In my district of Mount Waverley my constituents regularly access our local community legal centre, Eastern Community Legal Centre. They assist community members through family violence proceedings, family law, disputes and fines—so a shout-out to them for doing their good work. It is important to note that the intent of this legislation is to enshrine consumer protection for users of our legal system across the jurisdictions. The Legal Services Council have highlighted two main areas of the benefits of this uniform law. These include the benefits for consumers and the benefits for legal practitioners. So it is about consumer protection, and consumers will have the same protections, rights and remedies across Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia. These new obligations for Western Australians, as Victorians and New South Wales lawyers and consumers already enjoy, are ensuring fair and reasonable legal costs; avoiding practices which cause unnecessary delay resulting in increased costs; up‑front transparency of the estimated total legal costs and sharing of information with clients, ensuring they make an informed choice with knowledge of costs and legal options; ensuring the principals of law practices are responsible for the legal costs charged; and new introduced low-cost ways to resolve complaints and cost disputes with law practices. ‘But won’t someone think of the lawyers?’, you are asking me. I am sure you are. Poor lawyers. For them this framework will make things simpler, including seamless uniform regulatory standards across all three states with a single cost agreement and identical back-office systems and precedents; the creation of a simple standard costs disclosure form for practitioners to ensure they are meeting their disclosure obligations, specifically in matters under $3000; and preserved independence of the legal profession through the direct contributions to this bill from the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association. And it is worth giving a big shout-out to the Victorian Bar association, which did a lot of work for the original bill in 2014–15 and ongoing. I am sure the New South Wales Bar Association did too, and I think the Western Australian one is probably in the middle of it and working on it—and good on them. With the introduction of Western Australia into our system, 75 per cent of all lawyers practising in Australia will be doing so under the same regulation, and this makes sense, obviously. Recently I took my family up to Palm Cove and had a great time in Queensland. I used the same currency, I used the same bank card, I drove on the same side of the road, and I did this because we are all in the same country. And yet if I had needed a legal system in some way, shape or form, the Queensland system is not in this uniform system. Hopefully sometime soon it will be. Minister Carroll has already quoted the Attorney-General, and I will not do so again, but this seamless legal market between the three states will deliver time and cost savings to consumers, and that is a very good thing. The bill also ensures clarity surrounding the Victorian legal services commissioner’s role as the responsible entity for continuing complaints and investigations. To paraphrase a lawyer we all know and respect, Dennis Denuto: In summing up … it’s justice, it’s law, it’s the vibe and, no, that’s it, it’s the vibe. I rest my case. But frivolity aside, I think when we watch The Castle what we see is Mr Kerrigan, the everyman who has a belief that the legal system is going to work for him and save his house, and although Dennis did not quite get it right, he sort of did get the vibe of it. This bill that we have in front of us today gets us closer to a nationwide uniform legal system, and the legal system in its uniform state is about consumer protections, which makes all of the Mr Kerrigans in this world that little bit safer. On this basis I commend the bill to the house.