Saturday, 21 February 2015

Has the Queensland election offered a reprieve for the environment?

I wrote late last year of changes to Queensland's Water Act. The Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act was passed on 26 November 2014, and proclaimed on 5 December. The changes included a shift in the Act's purpose from one of sustainable management of water, to one of efficiency and productivity in water management. This underlines the tenor of the substantive provisions which include 'reducing assessment and regulation of water taken by mining projects.' Both environmentalists and farmers have criticised the amendments, in recognition of the risk for local and regional environment and farming. The amendments have also been criticised for their likely adverse effects on the Great Barrier Reef.

While the amending bill was passed, not all parts of the Act have come into force. Under the amending act, changes to the Water Act will come into force on a date to be proclaimed. According to the Department of Natural Resources and Mines, the staggered commencement dates for different parts of the amending act are to ensure the 'Department's systems are ready to support these reforms.'

Only a matter of weeks following the commencement of the amending act, the Newman government called an election and lost. In the meantime, the Water Act amendments have not been proclaimed. If nothing further occurs, the Water Act changes will become law on 6 December 2015, through the application of the Acts Interpretation Act.

On the basis that the ALP spoke out against the changes, it is hoped that the relevant provisions will be repealed before they come into force.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Lady Budgets: An Explainer

Every woman's dream*
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, again today finds himself the subject of attention following comments on a morning TV show. Asked for his greatest achievement yet as the Minister for Women, the PM said that it was 'repealing the carbon tax'. He went on to say:
'As many of us know, women are particularly focused on the household budget and the repeal of the carbon tax means a $550 a year benefit for the average family.'
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who herself does not view the world through the 'prism of gender', defended the PM by saying 'women's policy is everyone's policy'. She is of course correct. We would all benefit from advancing women's interests, giving substance to formal equality, ending feminised poverty and violence against women. Except that there is one thing remarkably absent from the PM's statement and indeed the government's own policies. And that is women themselves.

The PM's statement is a clear statement of the government view that equates women's economic standing with that of the household. This is incorrect and reinforces women's dependence at a structural level.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Law reform is a 'frontline service'

Integrated frontline services
Under the Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld) ('LPA'), the Minister may approve grants for the purpose, amongst other things, of 'the advancement of law reform.' Grants come from the Legal Practitioner Interest on Trust Accounts Fund ('LPITAF'). In 2012 the Attorney-General ordered a review of the application of these funds ('LPITAF Review'). The focus of the review was the alignment of fund distribution with the government's strategic objectives of 'front line' service delivery.

On 26 November, the Queensland government introduced the Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 ('Bill'). The omnibus bill seeks to amend over 30 Acts including s289(1)(h) of the LPA - the provision for grants to advance law reform. Instead, the proposal is that funds may be applied under this subsection only for the purpose of:
facilitating access to the legal system, legal information and education and legal services for members of the community, particularly economically or socially disadvantaged members of the community.
This captures many of the previous purposes of the grants, but not the advancement of law reform.  The Bill states that this amendment
reflect[s] changes as a result of the implementation of recommendations resulting from the Review of the Allocation of Funds from the Legal Practitioner Interest on Trust Accounts Fund
The LPITAF Review, however, did not recommend removing law reform from the purview of the fund. Even if it did so, this amendment ignores substantial evidence about the strategic nature of investment in law reform work in the efficient and effective delivery of justice, particularly to economically and socially disadvantaged members of the community.

In other words, the proposed amendment directly contradicts the government's stated strategic objectives. This proposed amendment should be rejected.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Planning law is not property: Sea level change in Queensland

Poruma - community call for help to deal with erosion Jan 2014
The Torres Strait is already suffering sea level rises*

Queensland's Infrastructure Minister, Jeff Seeney, has ordered a local government authority to remove from its regional plan any references to climate change induced sea level rise. The stated objective of this directive is 'to ensure residents' rights to build and develop their properties were maintained and not restricted by their local council'. The Minister confirmed that he had intervened to protect property rights.

I suggest that instead, the Minister has a confused understanding of appropriate government authority to regulate land use, thus undermining government's own legitimacy in this area. Additionally he has generated a dissonance between the real-world market practice of insurers and the ideological myth of property as dominion. In doing so he may be exposing the local authority (and state government) to liability in the future. All in the name of property.

Does his argument have foundation? Or does it simply reflect an ideological position?

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Changing Academic Requirements for Lawyers - Yes Please!

Better get a lawyer, son.

The Law Admissions Consultative Committee ('LACC') has called for submissions in its review of the academic requirements for admission to legal profession in Australia ('Review'). The Review is the latest in a series of discussions and mini-reviews over the past decade or so about Australian admission requirements. This has occurred largely against the background of calls by the judiciary for more emphasis on statutory interpretation in Australian law schools. The sequence of events: reports, submissions, recommendations etc as to statutory interpretation is canvassed in the Review.

At the same time, the Australian Productivity Commission has handed down a report into access to justice ('Report'). Chapter seven of the Report covers legal education and makes recommendations including that the Priestley 11 be reviewed (recommendation 7.1). The Priestley 11 are the core academic requirements for admission to practice in Australia, and must be taught by a law school to become an accredited degree.

The Report and the Review are interesting to read together. While obviously they are addressing different purposes, they contain inconsistencies that perhaps lay bare the conflicted status of the law degree. I might observe that Margaret Thornton has been exposing this for some decades now.

In this post I will focus on the LACC Review. In particular I respond to some of the questions it poses about the academic requirements. As a starting point though, I will outline the conflicts inherent in the very notion of legal education.

Friday, 14 November 2014

The Disgrace of Western Australia's Treatment of Aboriginal People

Pivot West*

The Western Australian government has commenced a program of closing down about half of the state's 274 remote communities. The program will, the Premier acknowledges, 'cause distress' to the more than 12,000 Aboriginal people who live there. Premier Colin Barnett cites the 'existing high rates of suicide, poor health and a lack of jobs' as well as the 'abuse and neglect of young children' as the reason for these measures. He says that the latter is 'a disgrace for the state'.

The Western Australian government is somehow managing to make this disgrace even worse. What is unclear about these extraordinary measures is how replacing one government disgrace with another provides any kind of solution to the endemic social problems of these communities. Sadly this act of institutional racism in pursuit of so-called economic outcomes is unsurprising. The signs are all around us that government, at all levels, has failed society in its metamorphosis from state to business.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The cost of 'regular' freehold over Indigenous land in Queensland

J.D.Lang, Map of the proposed seven united provinces of eastern Australia, 1857
Opening up land for development*

There is perhaps a tension within the way we understand these communities as both an expression of Indigenous autonomy but also with a more oppressive colonial past. This tension is implicit in the complicated relationship between ideas of being treated the same - having a 'regular' freehold title - and recognising communal title and traditional ownership as prevailing norms within Indigenous communities.

The Queensland government has now passed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land (Providing Freehold) Act 2014. The Act's primary purpose is to enable the freeholding of land in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Presently much of this land is held as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander freehold or on trust for the community. The current arrangements limit the grant of these interests to traditional owners or other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander inhabitants of the community. The existing freehold is therefore a limited type of freehold.

The aims of this reform is to 'introduce the option of ordinary freehold title into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities'. According to the government, this will 'provide greater economic development opportunities and remove barriers to home ownership in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.' While this may well be the effect, it raises the question: at what cost?