Under the division of powers, defamation is a matter for the States, and historically, the law was different in each jurisdiction. With the rise of national (and international) media and communications, this led to “forum shopping” in which plaintiffs could choose to sue in the State with the most plaintiff-friendly law. In order to achieve nationally consistent laws, the States agreed to implement uniform legislation, with an identical Defamation Act 2005 passed in each State. Now, Tasmania is threatening to abandon the national scheme by allowing big corporations to sue individuals. Critics say this will make Hobart the “defamation capital of Australia” by again allowing forum-shopping. The proposed change is part of a broader suite of Tasmanian reforms designed to crack down on anti-forestry protesters, but which may have much broader impacts.
At the election held on 29 November 2014, the Victorian electorate voted for a change of government. The new premier, Labor’s Daniel Andrews, immediately made significant structural changes to the executive. There will now be just nine government departments, each covering multiple portfolios. This is designed to improve efficiency, but the new “super-departments” might be difficult to manage. He also created two new portfolios within the Department of Premier and Cabinet. Martin Foley is Australia’s first Minister for Equality, focussing on LGBTI issues, and Fiona Richardson is the first Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence. These new portfolios suggest the government’s priorities for the next three years. However, they might face problems passing bills through the Legislative Council, where the balance of power is held by five “micro-party” MLCs with vastly different interests.