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April 2009

[This blog posting follows on from my East Asia Forum posting criticising "Australia's Lethargic Law Reform" in consumer law recently. I am somewhat more optimistic about initiatives in arbitration law reform, but Australia shares some similar problems with Japan. Japan also took its time to enact new legislation, in 2003, but hasn't seen significant increases in disputes referred to arbitration.]

On 21 November 2008, the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) announced a Review of Australia’s International Arbitration Act 1974 (IAA). The aim was to consider whether the Act should be amended to:

* ensure it provides a comprehensive and clear framework governing international arbitration in Australia
* improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the arbitral process while respecting the fundamental consensual basis of arbitration, and
* consider whether to adopt ‘best-practice’ developments in national arbitral law from overseas.

The AGD’s Discussion Paper (DP) expressed the hope that a revised IAA would make Australia a more attractive venue for conducting international commercial arbitration (ICA), especially within the Asia-Pacific region. Unfortunately, Australia has missed that boat, with China, Hong Kong and Singapore the clear leaders now in this part of the world.

For Australia to have any chance at all, it needs a much more ambitious reform than envisaged in the AGD’s DP. Anyway, Australia needs to appreciate the more diffuse and long-term benefits of this type of reform.

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