Report Calls for Closer Ties in Australasia
by Susan Waywood
On 7 February 2005 the Hon. Philip Ruddock asked the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to inquire into and report on the harmonisation of legal systems within Australia, and between Australia and New Zealand, with particular reference to differences that have an impact on trade and commerce. The Committee’s report was tabled on 4 December 2006.
The Committee noted that differences between legal systems resulted in uncertainty, increased operational costs, and difficulties for business due to different requirements imposed by multiple regulatory regimes. The Committee came out strongly in favour of increased harmonisation both within Australia, and between Australia and New Zealand.
Harmonisation with New Zealand
The Committee noted that Australia and New Zealand have a uniquely close relationship based on a shared history and longstanding connections, including culture, migration, trade and defence ties and strong people-to-people links. The Committee suggested that globalisation had diluted the concept of national sovereignty and that a closer relationship (including union) was “desirable and realistic”.
To this end a key recommendation of the Committee was that the Senate and the House of Representatives of the Australian Parliament invite the New Zealand Parliament to establish a trans-Tasman standing committee. The new committee would monitor and report annually to each Parliament on appropriate measures to ensure ongoing harmonisation of their respective legal systems and would explore and report on options of mutual benefit, such as the possibility of closer association between Australia and New Zealand, including full union.
Other recommendations of the Committee included:
- the establishment of a common currency for Australia and New Zealand;
- putting in place appropriately equitable arrangements with respect to the composition of a joint reserve bank board;
- offering New Zealand government ministers full membership on Australian ministerial councils;
- legal harmonisation of certain Australian and New Zealand regulation frameworks in relation to banking and telecommunications in order to foster a joint banking market and a joint telecommunications market; and
- using a joint regulator model for legal harmonisation between Australia and New Zealand.
The Committee further recommended that the Australian governments discuss with the New Zealand Government the trans-Tasman harmonisation of legal systems in respect of all matters relating to Australian harmonisation where there can be mutual benefit, with a special focus on the goal of achieving a single trans-Tasman legal market.
New Zealand’s finance minister has already rejected adopting Australia’s currency and it is unclear whether New Zealand would be prepared to consider any other recommendations within the report, including the establishment of a trans-Tasman standing committee.
Harmonisation within Australia
The Committee noted that Australia’s complex federal system often created absurdities resulting from a lack of legal harmonisation. For instance, a power of attorney granted in New South Wales would not be valid in the ACT. As a result, if an individual who granted an enduring power of attorney in New South Wales relocated to the ACT and suffered a loss of capacity to make a new grant, that individual would not be covered by the NSW power of attorney. The report also cited more mundane issues such as different requirements for the contents of first-aid kits in the workplace, including differing bandage widths. This required employers operating in more than one jurisdiction to purchase different kits for use in different states.
The Committee characterised progression toward a unitary system of government as desirable, and but recognised that it would be difficult to achieve.The recommendations of the report tended both to be fairly specific and somewhat modest in this respect, including recommendations that:
issues of harmonisation should be raised by the Australian government at the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General, including:
- mutual recognition of power or attorney instruments, and
- achieving a national uniform evidence law system,
- harmonisation of regulatory frameworks for debt collection, civil debt recovery and stamp duty, and
- national implementation of a Model Criminal Code;
the Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs undertake an exploration of the national harmonisation of consumer protection legislation governing:
- consumer contracts (including non-excludable implied warranties);
- unsolicited marketing and telephone marketing;
- door-to-door sales;
- trade promotions; and
- vouchers provided in relation to sales and promotions.
The report and will be considered by the Attorney General. It is anticipated that the government will respond to the recommendations in autumn 2007.