Section 24 of the Constitution requires the number of House of Representatives electorates in each state to be “in proportion to the respective numbers of their people”—with the exception that there be a minimum of five MHRs from each state. NSW Senator-elect David Leyonhjelm argues that this is undemocratic: because Tasmania’s population growth has been very slow since federation, “while each federal electorate in NSW has about 95,000 voters, in Tasmania there are fewer than 70,000”. He says the five member minimum should be abolished, and “respect for the principles of equality before the law and one vote one value should be embedded in the Constitution, giving Tasmania the same representation as other Australians.”
The Assistant Immigration Minister, Michaelia Cash, refused a request by the Senate to provide documents relating to Operation Sovereign Borders. She claimed a “public interest immunity” because releasing the information might undermine the Government’s attempts to stop asylum-seekers reaching Australia. The Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee was asked to consider the issue. Its report recommended that, to prevent the executive avoiding reasonable scrutiny by the legislature, the Senate should look at “changes to the way immunity claims were considered”. In particular, it suggested adopting “the New South Wales Legislative Council’s model of independent arbitration for determining public-interest disputes”.
A test case on “GM contamination” has begun in the WA Supreme Court: “It involves a farmer Steve Marsh who lost his organic certification when [genetically modified] canola seeds from his neighbour’s crop sprouted on his land.”
Before the federal election, the Coalition promised to cut legal aid funding by $41.3 million. The chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services group, Shane Duffy, has called on the government to specify which programs will be cut, to allow organisations to plan for the new financial environment. “It will mean the withdrawal of services in three areas of law—civil law and family law and our increased focus on child protection around the country,” he said.
The Immigration Minister has re-made a regulation capping the number of asylum seekers accepted by Australia, so that no more may be accepted this financial year. He revoked a similar cap late last year “within hours of a High Court challenge being lodged against the cap”. Refugee lawyer David Manne had intended to argue the regulation had “no sound or rational basis in policy or law”, but dropped that claim when the regulation was revoked. However, other aspects of the case continued, and the matter is listed for hearing in the High Court tomorrow.
The ACT government and opposition have endorsed a plan to increase the size of the territory’s unicameral parliament from 17 to 25 members. The ACT Electoral Commission recommended an expansion because MPs represent three times more electors than any other jurisdiction except Tasmania, and the small cabinet means ministers are forced to manage multiple portfolios. However, the change will reduce the proportion of seats won by minor parties.
Smoke from a fire in a coal mine near the town of Morwell has caused residents “sore eyes, sore throats, and shortness of breath”. About 70 people have approached lawyers about the possibility of a negligence class action, due to concerns about the mining company’s handling of the fire. However, lawyers say a successful personal injury claim would require “total impairment of over 5 per cent and most people aren’t going to get that. You might have sore eyes and a sore throat for six months but it won’t add up to over 5 per cent.” Claims by businesses for smoke damage and lost income might be open.
“In 2013 alone, NSW police responded to more than 40,000 mental health incidents; while in Victoria, the police apprehend one person every two hours and take them to hospital for assessment.” There is a concern that current police training and organisational structures lead to poor outcomes for people with mental illnesses.
In Victorian courts, it was common practice (and often a requirement) that prosecutors make submissions about the “acceptable range” of sentences open to the judge—and this recommendation was often the subject of plea bargaining. In Barbaro’s case, the High Court ruled that this practice must stop.
After 1370 votes were lost, forcing WA to hold a fresh Senate election, former police chief Mick Keelty was appointed to review the Australian Electoral Commission’s processes. He indicated that there was some room for improvement: “It’s very Australian to have a ute pull up in a place in the middle of the night and throw boxes (of ballot papers) from one ute to another ute. I don’t want to absolutely break this process. It works. It works well. It works on trust, but it’s a century-old system and it needs to be lifted into 2014.”