24 September 2019

Dr MARJORIE O'NEILL (Coogee) (13:01): I contribute to the debate on the Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. The Opposition will support the bill and so I, too, will help secure its passage. I first acknowledge the good work of the member for Liverpool and shadow Attorney General in bringing much of the content of this bill to the spotlight. The shadow Attorney General's commitment to the constant improvement of the bureaucracy of justice in this State is a credit to himself and to our side of the House. If only Joseph K. had had access to the member for Liverpool in his time of need, his fate must have been much different. The bill introduces a number of amendments that bring many pieces of legislation in line with contemporary society and the technology that we now use to engage in the public sphere and civic life. That, after all, is why we are here: to ensure that the laws of New South Wales remain up to date and adequately reflect the communities that we are elected to represent.

I commend the work that the bill does in closing some of the gaps in our current law and removing some inefficient and imprecise crossovers between pieces of legislation. Most significantly, I recognise the improvement the bill brings to the administration of the New South Wales justices of the peace system—a significant and important role played throughout our communities by volunteers who deserve better representation and acknowledgement. To some extent the bill will improve that through the introduction of the title "JP (Retired)", which acknowledges those over the age of 65 with 10‑plus years of service.

To begin with I turn to the progress the bill will bring. Schedule 1.4 [1] amends section 6 (1) (d) of the Coroners Act 2009 No. 41. The amendment provides that a person's death is a reportable death if the person who died had not seen a medical practitioner within six months before their death. This amendment brings New South Wales law in line with that of all other States of Australia and with the Northern Territory. It removes some of the administrative burdens placed on coroners and the coronial system by deaths that are clearly natural in cause. In practicality this should hasten the coronial process, reducing costliness and improving outcome times for families during what can be some of their most harrowing days. The amendment also will allow coroners to allocate a greater amount of their time and energy to inquiries into suspicious or violent deaths and to prioritise public health, safety and security.

The amendment should also improve the accurateness of a coroner's decision-making by removing a great weight of unnecessary rulings. Their job is difficult—it involves long hours and the requirement to process emotionally challenging content. Easing the burden on those vital public servants, in particular in regional and rural communities where the strain is felt the most, is welcome. The bill also seeks to make amendments to legislation surrounding the work of justices of the peace [JPs]. I acknowledge the good the bill will bring in this space. I will touch on that detail later.

I have received a significant amount of correspondence from constituents and groups within my electorate about the proposed amendments to the Oaths Act 1900. In the main, I acknowledge the correspondence from the Eastern Suburbs branch of the NSW Justices Association. Many of its contingent volunteer at the Waverley customer service centre and the Waverley Council Library daily and understand firsthand some of the bureaucratic frustrations that the bill seeks to address. Further, I acknowledge the work and insights of Paul Tracey, OAM, who offers his time as a JP within my electorate office. Paul seeks to keep me up to date with the nature of the documentation he tends to and has strongly advocated to me the virtue of some of the proposed changes to the legislation governing the work of JPs.

I have received a large amount of correspondence about the proposed amendments to the Oaths Act 1900, specifically urging me to push that the legislation go further than currently slated. I refer to the proposed amendments to section 26A of the Oaths Act as detailed in schedule 1.18. Section 26A as it stands allows for a JP to witness a statutory declaration for use in another State, Territory or the Commonwealth, if that act is permitted by the other jurisdiction in question. Schedule 1.18 extends this by adding "or witness the execution of a document". Quite often, that might involve the witnessing of a land title document. Herein lies the shortfall as it clearly makes little sense to allow JPs to witness interstate statutory declarations but not other documents. Potentially the most problematic shortcoming of the amendment is that it does not allow JPs in New South Wales to witness overseas documents.

As is the case in many other electorates in New South Wales, a significant number of my constituents are first-generation Australians, having lived a large proportion of their working lives overseas. As such, many of these constituents receive transfer payments from overseas governments—payments they have earned rightfully and payments that ease drawings from our own social support networks. Such payments provide an overall positive benefit to individual people and their communities but often they come with complex administrative burdens. For example, often residents require proof-of-life forms to receive payments from overseas governments. For many years New South Wales JPs signed such documents until the department issued a directive that they not to do this. The only alternative to a JP witnessing is a public notary, which will cost the individual several hundred dollars—usually an amount similar to that of the pension the person would receive and on many occasions more. I agree with my colleague the member for Liverpool who described this situation as Kafkaesque.

I now mention the proposed amendment to the bill of the reinsertion of "being a member of a terrorist organisation" into the Crimes Act. While the Opposition does not oppose this, it would be remiss of me if I did not note that it was this Government that allowed it to expire. Furthermore, while this Government continues to spruik its hard stance on anti-terrorism, the offence has somehow managed to fall off its books. Several other sections of the bill are worthy of mention. I comment on those that seek to bring legislation in line with the realities of modern civil life.

The alteration of the time allocated to postal delivery is significant and overdue. The amendment reflects the reality of a slower postal service and seeks to eliminate the no-fault escalation of issues, fines and outstanding correspondence. A counterbalance in improving efficiencies can be found in the alterations to the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act. The suggested amendments allow for applications for notices to produce to be returned electronically, significantly expediting the administrative process surrounding Local Court submissions. The majority of the bill comprises good, logical alterations to legislation. Our role in this place is to facilitate the process by which our constituents navigate civil society. I believe the bill does that in the main. The Opposition does not oppose the bill. I commend the bill to the House.