Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (21:07): I rise to speak to the Statutes Amendment (Attorney-General's Portfolio) Bill, which was introduced on 2 May 2024 by the current Attorney-General, the Hon. Kyam Maher. I agree with the contributions from this side of the house. Why are we here? Why are we here debating this bill into the night, the night before the budget, where all of a sudden this is the top priority, not dealing with payroll tax issues, not dealing with cost-of-living issues, here we are debating something that does not even need to be debated?

The lawyers do not want this. To me, it just seems like it is a left-wing republican push. They are the only people who want this legislation to go through. Why do we not salute our legal people who have the ability to previously be Queen's Counsels (QCs) and now, obviously, King's Counsels (KCs) and give them that opportunity to have the appropriate title in the great governance sector that we have in this state?

We are not a republic. We are set up in a monarchist way. We have a Governor in South Australia, we have a Governor-General over the country in Canberra and, obviously, it goes through to King Charles in England. No matter what people think, that system works—and it does work—and we should respect that system. We saw what happened with the failed republican push many years ago, and we should respect where we are.

In regard to this legislation, what this bill would do is amend the Courts Administration Act 1993, the District Court Act 1991, the Environment, Resources and Development Court Act 1993, the Judicial Administration (Auxiliary Appointments and Powers) Act 1998, the Legal Practitioners Act 1981, the Magistrates Act 1983 and the Supreme Court Act 1935. The amendments would replace the existing title of Master with Associate Judge or Justice in the relevant courts, and in the appointment of King's Counsel, which was previously Queen's Counsel.

What we are seeing with this legislation is by stealth, amongst a group of other amendments, the Attorney-General and the Labor Party taking out the opportunity for senior lawyers to be titled as King's Counsel. We note that there are clauses that amend the abovementioned acts to remove references to Master of the District and Supreme Courts and replace them with Associate Judge of the District Court and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court as appropriate. Clause 4 provides for a deeming provision in the District Court Act to ensure that all references to Master in any other act of legislative instrument to be taken to be a reference to an Associate Judge.

As I indicated, there were a whole raft of amendments put into this legislation, this bill, and these previous amendments that I have just quoted are uncontroversial. But then we get to clauses 31 and 32, which would end the appointment of counsel as KC or QC by removing reference to Queen's Counsel in part 7 of the Legal Practitioner's Act, and substituting existing section 92 with a new section 92 that would abrogate the Crown's right of appointment.

In 2020—and I am very proud to have been part of the Marshall Liberal government—we reinstated the appointment of QCs, obviously now KCs, by way of the Legal Practitioners (Senior and Queen's Counsel) Amendment Bill 2020. This followed the cessation of appointment of QCs by the Rann government in 2008 at the request of Chief Justice Doyle. The then Labor opposition supported that bill.

The Law Society of South Australia and the South Australian Bar Association have written to numerous members of parliament explaining their opposition to the abolition of KC appointments. The South Australian Bar Association notes that, under the current process for appointment as KC, there is no possibility for government interference as occurred under the Rann government when the title was first removed.

The Law Society of South Australia stands by its remarks to the Attorney-General at the time, the Hon. Vickie Chapman, in 2019, that the reintroduction of the title is supported by the majority of its membership, and remains of the opinion that it should be an option, and be available to those appointed by the court.

In regard to what happened back in 2020 with the reintroduction of QC and the model that was introduced under the legislation then, under the current act as we are seeing it now the Supreme Court of South Australia will appoint legal practitioners as SC in accordance with its rules.

Any person who has been, or will in the future, be appointed by the court as SC may, if they choose, make a request to the Attorney-General for recommendation to the Governor to be appointed as QC or King's Counsel, as the case may require, which obviously is the case now. Upon the application being made, the Attorney-General must recommend to the Governor that the legal practitioner be appointed as KC, and the Governor may by notice in the Gazette appoint a legal practitioner now as a KC.

Any existing or future SC who may not wish to apply for appointment as QC or KC will continue to be known as SC and will be entitled to use the postnominal SC. The order of precedence for SC appointed as QC will continue to be determined in accordance with the date and terms of his or her appointment as SC.

In 2008, the Labor government at the time, at the request of then Chief Justice, His Honour John Doyle AC, ceased the appointment of Queen's Counsel. That was following a consistent trend across Australian jurisdictions to discontinue the use of the QC designation in preference to the Senior Counsel title. At that time, the appointment of SC in South Australia commenced on 12 May 2008, with the making of the Supreme Court Practice Direction and was governed by chapter 17, part 12 of the Supreme Civil Court Supplementary Rules 2014.

The supplementary rules provided that application for appointment of SC had to be considered by the Chief Justice in consultation with an advisory committee of three judges of the Supreme Court, as well as broader consultation more generally with other relevant bodies within the legal profession, including the Attorney-General.

What we saw soon after that and in recent years, obviously, is that a number of jurisdictions have reinstated the use of the QC title, following strong support amongst the legal profession. In 2013, Queensland reverted to the QC title. In 2014, Victoria made changes to give SC the option of applying to the Attorney-General to be recommended for appointment as QC by the Governor in Council or to continue using the SC title.

On 1 August 2018, the South Australian Bar Association passed a motion at its AGM expressing strong support for reinstatement at the time, which was appropriate, of the QC title. The proposal was based on a similar model in Victoria, which allows SC to remain as SC or elect to be appointed as QC. A survey was also put to all members of the legal profession in South Australia by the Law Society. The survey yielded favourable results, with 67.26 per cent of respondents answering in favour of there being a choice between SC and QC.

You would have thought those numbers, as they did then, would still stand up as far as any inspection by the Attorney-General, or anyone else in the legal profession for that matter. The profession has supported an option to allow for an SC to be a QC. This is the previous legislation for an SC to be a QC on the basis that:

  • there is widespread misconception amongst the general public and it is the experience of some South Australian SC that the SC title is less well known and regarded than the QC title, which is universally recognised;
  • there is concern amongst other Australian jurisdictions that the SC title places Australian SC at a commercial disadvantage when competing for international briefs, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region where the SC title is less well known; and
  • there is confusion amongst the public about the differences between the rank of SC that is conferred by the court and in-house counsel, who are self-described as Special Counsel or SC.

So I think that spells out the very reason apart from the issues I described—about us running this country and this state under a monarchy and the Westminster system and yet for some strange reason people want by stealth to pull it apart. This is part of those processes.

I think apart from having the rank of, now, KC easily recognised, especially in the broader international sector, as a rank for leading lawyers—so it is easily recognised across the board and across international borders—we also see confusion at a local level where the question arises: what does SC mean? It could be the in-house title 'special counsel', which essentially is an in-house title of a legal firm to give to certain members of their legal firm and is not necessarily a formal way of conferring that title on those members.

This is where the problem is: what we see now with this legislation is instead of having KC we are going to have the postnominal SC, but what does it mean? Is it 'special counsel' or what it is supposed to mean now, which is 'Senior Counsel'? You can easily see that in a busy, dynamic world people at any level—at any level; you do not have to be in the legal world—might understand that or misunderstand it. The simple fact is I can see where many, many people can be confused.

And for what? For what reason? For what point? Why are we going down this path, when it would be just so simple and out of respect for the Westminster system that we have in this state and this country and the monarchy we live under to just respect the opportunity for those leading lawyers to have the opportunity to be titled King's Counsel? That is all we ask for.

I have noted the comments from my colleagues on this side of the house and certainly from the shadow attorney-general his great contribution on this matter, because he is very learned on these matters. We do need to wonder why the change. Why are we going down this path? It is totally unnecessary when there are so many other things we should be debating in this house on budget eve.

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