Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, the Greens are pleased to be able to support this bill. We have been awaiting with some interest further developments in this space since the original announcement in March and the subsequent funding in the 2023-24 state Budget.
The context of this bill is so important. The evidence that was aired at the Commission of Inquiry as well as the media reporting of certain cases, has drawn into question whether the state was properly applying model litigant standards. I note here, that before the announcement of the new State Litigation Office, the former Attorney-General, to her genuine credit, gave direction at least once that I am aware of, to Crown Law, not to argue consent in claims involving child sexual abuse. She gave very strong directions on that matter.
That should never have been occurring to begin with, but the fact that she made that expectation clear and she made it public was the absolutely correct response. It is fair to say that it became apparent that even with some interventions the current arrangements were and still are ill-equipped to appropriately apply model litigant standards.
Clearly, the context for these reforms are related to victim/survivor litigation but I was also somewhat interested in the fact that the Attorney-General's second reading, when discussing the new office, focused entirely on the state response to victim/survivor litigation. Can I assume the new office will be handling all matters of civil litigation regardless of whether or not that case involves a victim/survivor claim or whether or not the state is the plaintiff or respondent?
The bill itself, being a consequential amendment bill, does not set out the role of the new office in any detail. I understand that the State Litigator has been appointed.
Another matter I found curious was that the bill is set to commence after it receives Royal Assent, not on a day to be proclaimed. That is of interest because the bill not only adds provisions related to the State Litigator but it also replaces references to the Solicitor General in the Crown Proceedings Act 1993. Usually in these circumstances, the commencement is set for a day to be proclaimed to provide for easier timing of that transition. Unless I am mistaken, the Office of the State Litigator will need to commence operating as soon as the bill is assented as the Solicitor General will have lost relevant functions. I can only assume that the Office of the State Litigator is ready to commence operating now or in the very near future. I seek some clarity from the Attorney General on that. If that is the case, that is quite a commendable and quick transition. The new office was only announced six months ago, on 1 March this year, a few months before the budget.
The State Litigator has obviously been recruited and I understand there are 15 staff in the new office. I also note that the funding in the state budget for the civil litigation division was $350 000 in the 2023-24 financial year. That is not a lot of money for an office like this, for a State Litigator. I assume that there might be another part of the budget providing those people with fair wages because there is no way you can divide $350 000 by 16 and come up with anything other than chicken feed in terms of a living wage. It is clearly not a full year's funding. Could the Attorney-General provide some clarity about that and also whether the 15 staff who have been recruited are the final complement of staff?
I note also that there was only one year of funding allocated in the budget. As an ongoing office, I would expect next year's budget to fully account for these expenses in the forward Estimates. Given that there is only one year of funding budgeted, are these positions being established on temporary contracts for less than 12 months or will they be permanent?
If the Attorney-General can provide any more details about the establishment and role of the office, that would be appreciated.
The Greens are pleased to support these reforms and will be waiting with interest to see what feedback these reforms receive from victim/survivors and their advocates.