It’s my pleasure to speak on the Victorian Law Reform Commission Amendment Bill 2020.
First of all, I’d like to commend and congratulate Mr Grimley on introducing the Bill – a Bill that goes to the heart of something that’s been a feature of a number of recent debates in this place.
And that’s the value that we should all place on ensuring that the views of the community at large are adequately and appropriately reflected when laws are made and enforced in this State.
The core principle to which this piece of legislation gives expression is the goal of more broadly liberating law reform in Victoria.
That’s a very important principle in a number of respects. Perhaps the most significant of those is that it reflects that it’s wrong (very wrong) to believe that it’s merely MPs, their staff and public servants who should always be at the vanguard of instigating changes to the law.
Professor Rosalind Croucher, the President of the Australian Law Reform Commission at the time, put this very well when she said, in March 2017, and I quote: “there are many law reforms that happen as a result of government will or ideology – as part of political platforms – but this should not drive independent law reform”.
I agree both with her, and with Mr Grimley, on these points. In fact, all else being equal, and within reason, the more opportunities that we can give the wider Victorian public itself to make serious and meaningful contributions to the current and future direction of public policy and law in this State, generally the better it will be for our democracy and for justice.
As Mr Grimley observed in his Second Reading Speech, there have been just eight community-initiated law reform inquiries that have been pursued across the 20 years of the VLRC’s existence. That’s not exactly a great track record in the sense of providing members of the public with opportunities to help shape future laws.
Worse than that, there have been just four since 2008 – or an average of just one every three years.
Even purely on that basis alone, Mr Grimley is absolutely right to have brought this to the attention of the Parliament – and to seek to redress the balance here.
I say that, in part, because the VLRC itself (according to the ‘About Us’ section on its website) actually says that one of its major roles is to make (and I quote): “a significant contribution to developing a fair, just and inclusive legal system for all Victorians”. It goes on to say, on that page, that (and I quote again): “the Commission consults with the community and advises the Attorney-General on how to improve and update Victorian laws”.
I will acknowledge here that Victoria isn’t necessarily an exception, and that many jurisdictions around the world do find it difficult to practically enable greater civic engagement with the law reform process.
Nevertheless, there are some good examples that do show how some other bodies are making this happen. Among these are the New Zealand Law Commission, the Law Commission of England and Wales, and the Law Commission of Canada.
In the latter’s case, its operation ever since 1997 has specifically been governed by a formal ‘commitment to engaging all Canadians in the renewal of law to ensure that it is relevant, responsive, equally accessible to all, and just’.
Even closer to home, I would also note the ALRC’s striking success last year in directly engaging and consulting Australians in the formulation of its workplan and priority issues and topics to 2025.
At the end of that process, its current President, Justice Sarah Derrington, said, and I quote: “it is the first time the ALRC has formally sought the views of the Australian public on future inquiry topics. Their input has enriched the process and given a real sense of the legal issues that concern them”.
If I had more time at my disposal, I would probably be inclined to make some more wide-ranging remarks about the importance of authorities also acting in a timely and responsive way to these organisations’ reports.
Instead, I’ll just briefly note that, in Victoria’s case, there have often been long delays over the years between the VLRC’s completion of its reports and their public release. And, more to the point, the implementation of the recommendations.
I don’t necessarily know what the Andrews Government’s current position on those matters is. However, it would certainly be my wish that there will be greater responsiveness to these reports from governments in the future, including for the hopefully growing number of publicly-referred inquiries that may ultimately be facilitated by Mr Grimley’s Bill.
In the meantime, I again thank Mr Grimley on all of the hard work and effort that he and his staff have invested in devising and developing this Bill – and I commend the legislation to the House.