Insight

Australasian In the Law: Legal News From Our Recently Awarded Countries

Best Lawyers highlights the top legal stories out of Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Singapore, in conjunction with the 2024 Australasian launch.

Suited man sitting at table using a tablet
GS

Gregory Sirico

April 19, 2023 09:00 AM

As Best Lawyers® acknowledges the professional excellence of lawyers across Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Singapore in the latest 2024 edition launches, we consider headlining news impacting the current legal landscape in these countries. Those recognized as Best Lawyers or “Ones to Watch” honorees are among the many lawyers navigating these complex cases and agreements, transforming their countries and influencing legislation.

Australia

In a historic tripartite agreement between the U.S., U.K. and Australia, government officials recently announced the Australian military’s plan to acquire a sizeable fleet of Pacific-based nuclear-powered submarines, with projected costs zeroing in at roughly $368 billion between now and 2050. This announcement is only one part of the multidecade AUKUS deal aiming to counter China’s recent military expansion.

Enacted in 2021, under this pact, the U.S. and U.K. will assist Australia in achieving nuclear-powered military capabilities. Additionally, the AUKUS deal may also entail future cooperation between nations on projects in areas such as advanced cyber mechanics, AI and quantum technologies, to name a few. Though the pact remains in the ground stages, many questions surrounding environmental awareness and nuclear waste disposal have risen to the surface.

Several Australian lawmakers, specifically from the Labor Party, have broken ranks with their political colleagues, raising their personal concerns over the recent AUKUS agreement. Currently, countrywide voter polls indicate a majority of the public remains “worried” about the deal’s huge cost.

As political and regulatory resistance aimed at protecting remote parts of Australia begins to brew, lawmakers and citizens alike are left wondering what regions will become designated nuclear waste storage sites for the inbound fleet of submarine reactors.

New Zealand

On March 17, 50,000 primary, secondary and kindergarten teachers gathered for a one-day strike in New Zealand. Across the nation, from Auckland to Wellington, all public schools were shut down as the country held its largest industrial-based protest since the teachers' strike of 2019. The one-day strike, spearheaded by the Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) and the New Zealand Educational Institute, began after trade union representatives rejected the Labor Party-led government's offers on compensation and benefits.

Teachers and other educational staff alike, who continued to persist despite the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, quickly deemed the government's offer inadequate in relation to the massive strain put on educators. PPTA president Chris Abercrombie, who has worked firsthand with educators for the last year to improve compensation and overall working conditions, expressed his disappointment in the government's failure to act.

"The results of the ballot show clearly that members believe the time for words from the government has passed. This is essentially about teachers withdrawing their labor because of a lack of progress in the negotiations. PPTA has been in talks with the Ministry of Education for almost a year. Parents need to know that we are fighting for the quality of their children's secondary education," stated Abercrombie, as reported by the New Zealand Herald.

Jennifer Mills, an Auckland-based employment lawyer and founder of boutique firm Jennifer Mills & Associates, is amongst a growing group of legal professionals currently offering advice to parents facing legal action from their employers following the events of the strike.

"My advice to an employee would be, if you haven't already, communicate with your employer that you're going to need time to care for your child because you haven't been able to find alternative childcare arrangements. My strong advice is to ask for payment, working from home arrangements, some kind of leave and then there cannot be justified disciplinary action taken against an employee,” stated Mills, as reported by Newshub.

The New Zealand strike, which is still no longer underway, is only one moving part in what seems to be a growing global movement of labor protests. Lawyers representing both parents and teachers alike expect settlements to take place in the foreseeable future. Whether it be teachers, nurses or other essential workers, individuals are rallying together against regulatory inaction in the face of mounting inflation worldwide.

Japan

Almost a decade after it was introduced, Japan’s longstanding reconstruction tax still plays a pivotal role in how the government goes about rebuilding public land, namely within prefectures affected by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011. The tax, implemented shortly after the disaster in January 2013, works in tandem with a sizeable, government-supplied relief budget of ¥114.38 trillion ($870 billion), used to cover reconstruction efforts in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate, the most heavily impacted areas.

Since then, the reconstruction tax, which draws from the general public’s income at a fixed rate of 2.1% until the end of 2037, has generated roughly ¥400 billion ($3 billion) in annual government revenues. As of March 2022, the funds levied, along with the relief budget, amass to ¥39 trillion ($293 billion), leading many living in Japan to question whether the reconstruction tax is still necessary. Additionally, governmental critics across the country are quick to point out when the funds are misused, resulting in increased public demands for a more stringent method of allocating the already sizeable relief budget.

The Reconstruction Agency, a government organization established in 2012 to manage the tax, has adamantly stated that all funds are strictly utilized to fortify damaged infrastructures, revitalize local industries and businesses and directly aid displaced people. Despite growing disapproval amongst the public, the government recently proposed yet another extension to the reconstruction tax to finance increases in defense spending and improve childcare policy moving forward, an extension that will likely be met by swift legal action.

Singapore

On March 4, the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) concluded another successful round of international negotiations, proctoring a new agreement regarding the conservation, sustainability and usage of marine biodiversity in areas outside government jurisdiction. Despite having bodies of water teaming with marine biodiversity, only about 1% of the world’s seas are currently under government regulation, according to a study conducted by the UN.

Led by Rena Lee, Singapore’s Special Envoy of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the BBNJ agreement came to fruition through a series of international discussions starting in 2004. Since 2018, Singapore has taken the lead over negotiations of the BBNJ agreement, striving to enhance the international legal authority responsible for conserving biological diversity in areas not heavily trafficked for economic benefit. After longstanding negotiations and lingering doubts about whether progress was within reach, lawyers dedicating their time to construct these environmental clauses are elated to see regulatory action put behind the complex language they have carefully drafted.

“Singapore welcomes the successful and timely conclusion of the BBNJ Agreement. The success of the BBNJ Intergovernmental Conference process reaffirms the importance and relevance of multilateral cooperation and the United Nations in establishing and upholding a rules-based international order. Singapore looks forward to the universal adoption and effective implementation of the BBNJ Agreement,” stated the Minister for Foreign Affairs office in an official post.

One aspect that sets past agreements apart from the BBNJ is an additional financial commitment. By signing, developed countries express their willingness to provide an additional 50% of all annual contributions to fund building projects that will allow developing nations to conserve and sustainably manage their marine biodiversity. Additionally, the agreement requires nations to participate in a shared network of marine genetic resources by facilitating access to samples and biodata on organisms outside national jurisdictions. In what was the largest multilateral environmental convention since the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, over 200 nations signed the BBNJ agreement, securing what is expected to be a positive future for the high seas—a global common ground for all sovereign nations.

Headline Image: adobestock/bernardbodo

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