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    "What Simon Birmingham has been doing is absolutely fantastic. He has managed to un-mesh the terrible omelette that was created by the Gillard government, the Rudd government in terms of funding; he's undoing all that." 

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    « Bad news wrap | Main | Conan the Barbarian »
    Monday
    Apr032017

    A Tudge improper

    March 28 to April 3 ... Richter QC's advice on Alan Tudge ... China extradition treaty scuppered ... Arrest warrant issued against Clive Palmer's nomad nephew ... McManus pushes for wage growth following slavery claims in northern Qld ... Brandis is the poster boy for racial vilification ... Chief Justice Marilyn Warren resigns ... Innovation is life-and-death for NSW lawyers ... Week@theKnees with Sohini Mehta 

    Fish to be wrappedMELBOURNE silk Robert Richter says in advice to the Labor opposition that it is "reasonably clear" that the Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge, broke the law when he handed to the media the personal details of a Centrelink benefits recipient. 

    Andie Fox had been publicly critical of Centrelink and the way it managed her welfare debt. To put her in her place her personal details held by the agency were accessed by the minister and made available to the media. 

    Richter said he does not know precisely what was released, or who released it. 

    The legal advice Tudge cited to justify his actions apparently did not stand up to scrutiny. Richter said: 

    "It seems clear to me that the disclosure of the information 'to set the record straight' is not a permitted purpose absent the requisit action by the [departmental] secretary." 

    Tudge said that the release of the private information to journalists does not mean it was "released publicly".

    *   *   *

    PM Malcolm Turnbull has pulled the resolution to ratify a 10-year-old extradition treaty between Australia and China, signed by the Howard government in 2007.

    The government was desperate to please Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on his five-day visit. On Monday (March 27), Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Justice Minister Michael Keenan met with disgruntled Coalition backbenchers in a last-ditch attempt to drum up votes. 

    Labor, the Greens and former Liberal senator Cory Bernardi supported a motion on Tuesday (March 28) disallowing the ratification. Had the resolution gone to vote, a handful of Liberal senators - who telegraphed their opposition to the deal – would've crossed the floor. 

    In its December dissenting report lodged in the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Labor argued that instead of rubber stamping new deals there should be an inquiry into the 39 existing extradition treaties, including with the Philippines, Vietnam and the UAE.

    The omnipresent Tony Abbott told The Australian on Tuesday (March 28): 

    "China's legal system has to evolve further before the Australian government and people could be confident that those before it would receive justice according to law." 

    *   *   *

    Mensink: bulkyIn other extradition news, the Federal Court in Brisbane issued on Monday (27 March) an arrest warrant for Clive Palmer's nephew, Clive Mensink, who failed to appear in court to answer questions about the collapse of Townsville-based Queensland Nickel. 

    Mensink was Queensland Nickel's sole director when it went into liquidation last year, leaving 800 people jobless. He's been overseas since last year and has turned a tin ear to numerous court requests to return home. 

    Last month, Justice John Dowsett ordered Mensink be brought before the court, and said he may ask the AFP to help track him down.

    Mensink's barrister Alex Nelson said his client would need a mere $50,000 to cover travel expenses, including a business-class seat on flights to accommodate his "larger-than-average" frame. 

    *   *   *

    New ACTU president Sally McManus announced her intent to push a $45/week increase in the minimum wage at the National Press Club on Wednesday (March 29). McManus argued that "neoliberalism has run its course" and low wage growth is entrenching rising income inequality.

    The Australian Retailers Association, meanwhile, is calling for an increase of $8.10/week. 

    The current wages dispute follows a Federal Circuit Court hearing over the exploitation of seasonal workers from Vanuatu by a government-approved employment agency on north Queensland farms.

    *   *   *

    Brandis: all wigged-up and nowhere to goAttorney General George Brandis took centre stage in the marathon Senate session on Thursday (March 29) on changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act that will never affect him - and not merely because they were voted down

    Brandis bravely relaying his reaction to being called "a white man" on several occasions by fellow senators. 

    Emotional about the prospect of racially offending and insulting others with impunity, Brandis said at the seventh of hour of debate that the spirit of "the late, great Bill Leak" presided over the chamber. 

    Brandis was also the subject of a 90-minute suspension of standing orders, where he refused to answer questions Labor put to him about his role in the Bell Group litigation and irately denied the "bureaucratic whispers" of ATO officials. 

    *   *   *

    Australia's first female Supreme Court Chief Justice, Marilyn Warren, announced her retirement this week. Her resignation is effective from October.  

    The Law Institute of Victoria's president Belinda Wilson paid tribute to Warren CJ's achievements over the past 15 years in modernising the court.

    The new CA president walked away unharmedIn May last year, Warren ended the tradition of judges and barristers wearing wigs in the Supreme Court. She also oversaw an increase in the Supreme Court's social media presence intended to demystify legal issues.

    Wilson said the CJ had played a vital role in addressing the obstacles that prevented women from rising to the top of the profession despite constituting the majority of law graduates. 

    There's more analysis here on Warren's retirement and the appointment of former solicitor general Walter Sofronoff, who survived a plane crash to become president of the Queensland Court of Appeal. 

    *   *   *

    The NSW Law Society's landmark inquiry into the Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession released its 112-page report on Tuesday (March 28) night. It is referred to as as the "Flip Commission". 

    Richard Bootle, co-founder of the paperless, online conveyancing service Lawlab that has managed $10 billion worth of property transactions nationwide, drove home the high stakes of clinging on to tradition: 

    "In Game of Thrones terms, I think we're all a bit Lannister-and-Stark-ish; we're all fighting over this little patch of ground oblivious to the white walkers heading towards us, about to put their cold, freezing hands on our shoulders, riding their dead horses through our villages."

    Among the inquiry's 19 future-proof recommendations are a centre for legal innovation projects, a NSW-based tech incubator, schemes to encourage diversity and flexible working and an "annual hackathon" to help technologically challenged legal providers mine experts for innovative solutions. 

    The aim is to help the society's 31,000 members wade through a sea of unprecedented change: increased automation, competition from disruptive new players and artificial intelligence.

    NSW Law Society president Pauline Wright said boarding the tech bandwagon could help bridge "the justice gap" in regional and remote areas. 

    There's a video to help bridge the gap. 

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