Wednesday, 1 December 2021                   HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY                   Page 8597/8598/8599

Introduction and First Reading

The Hon. G.G. BROCK (Frome) (11:00): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Sheriff’s Act 1978. Read a first time.

Second Reading

The Hon. G.G. BROCK (Frome) (11:00): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill results from the report of the Inquiry into the State Courts Administration Council—Sheriff’s Office by the Statutory Authorities Review Committee and tabled in parliament in November 2020. It is called the SARC report.

This bill encompasses measures to address longstanding issues raised in the SARC report and also to provide elements of the systemic framework for the current management and its successors to establish and maintain the fair, safe and respectful workplace which all Courts Administration Authority (CAA) employees, not just those of the Sheriff’s Office, deserve and are entitled to. To that end, this bill complements the proposed amendments to the Courts Administration (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2021 currently before the house.

Repeal of section 6(2)—Deputy sheriffs and sheriff’s officers, section 6 requires that all Deputy Sheriffs and Sheriff’s Officers will be employed under the Courts Administration Act 1993. They are appointed by the State Courts Administrator (the Administrator) under section 21—Other staff, and all employees including the Sheriff are under the control and management of the Administrator under section 17—Functions and powers of Administrator. Yet section 6(2) of the Sheriffs Act 1978 effectively gives the Sheriff, a subordinate employee of the Administrator, the power of approval or veto over the appointment, reduction in status or dismissal of any Sheriff’s Officer.

This subsection is in direct conflict with the Administrator’s powers and accountable responsibilities as chief executive under the Courts Administration Act 1993. Together with section 6(3) as set out below, this has arguably had the effect of frustrating the Administrator’s ability to intervene in matters within the Sheriff’s Office and also has arguably contributed to the events and actions covered in the SARC report.

I must admit that the report highlighted lots and lots of issues in the Sheriff’s Office across all of regional South Australia and inside the metropolitan area, and I think it is time that we change these rules. This legislative conflict is unacceptable by the modern standards and expectations of effective and accountable public administration and cannot be allowed to stand. In addition, this power is no longer necessary or desirable in the current day where prerequisite requirements for all public sector recruitment are governed by the Premier’s direction on recruitment, albeit excepting the Courts Administration Authority.

Notwithstanding, the reasonable expectation would be that the Administrator, as chief executive and employer, would prudently adopt these requirements as a minimum standard—PSA without prejudice on 11 November 2021.

As in any field of operation, the Sheriff as manager will be included in the process of appointing or dismissing Sheriff’s Officers or appropriate involvement in other employment matters relating to them, but such involvement and the extent of it will probably be at the behest of the Administrator, as chief executive.

Repeal of this subsection in no way derogates from the Sheriff’s ability to carry out his responsibilities under the Sheriff’s Act 1978 part 3—Security and order at courts and other places, including section 9D—Arrangements under which police officers may exercise powers of security officers.

The other part is amendment to section 6(3)—Deputy sheriffs and sheriff’s officers. This amendment will enable the Sheriff to continue to respond to the changing operational needs of any particular participating body or court in a timely and effective manner, whilst also enabling the administrator to ensure that such recruitment and deployment is undertaken in a proper manner.

The Administrator will now be in a position to oversight any such appointments and ensure that, where necessary, merit-based selection—I repeat: merit-based selection—processes are properly undertaken by selection panels with representations from both within and external to the Sheriff’s Office, and from the human resources function and that the delegate for approval of the panel’s recommendation is always external.

These selection arrangements are standard in many public sector agencies and ought to be applied across the CAA. The decision to extend the term of an appointment, that is, without a merit-based process, is properly a decision only for the administrator. In conclusion, workplace culture only changes from the top. Culture only changes when the rules and not just the policies of the day or the people are changed, and culture only changes when the rules apply and are seen to be applied to all.

When I reported this issue to the particular committee of the Legislative Council, the upper house, I heard such traumatic and harrowing stories from sheriffs and others that I took it upon myself to do two things: make some amendments to the courts administration authority bill, which is before the house at the moment, and also make changes to the Sheriff’s Act. I commend the bill to the house.

Debate adjourned on motion of Dr Harvey.