The Directors' Liability Reform Amendment Act 2012 (Reform Act) was passed in the Queensland parliament on 16 October 2013, and most of its provisions commenced on 1 November 2013.
The principle objectives of the Reform Act are to:
reduce the number and complexity of provisions which impose personal and criminal liability on executive officers for corporate fault
reduce 'red tape' for Queensland businesses
achieve greater consistency with the rest of the country in this area of law.
The Reform Act amends officers' liability in over 90 Acts across Queensland, including:
the Food Act
the Health Act
the Public Health Act
the Legal Profession Act
the Property Agents and Motor Dealers Act.
The main effect of the Reform Act is the removal of the 'reverse onus' provisions in certain pieces of legislation across the state. These provisions subjected company officers to a reverse onus of proof. Officers were deemed to have personally committed an offence unless they could prove their innocence.
The removal of the 'reverse onus' reduces the obstacles company officers face in overcoming liability under the amended Acts. Officers can still be deemed liable for the corporation's contravening conduct where they authorised or knowingly permitted the conduct or if they were directly or indirectly involved in the conduct. However, the officers have a defence if they can prove they took reasonable steps to avoid the contravention. The prosecution must then prove beyond a reasonable doubt these steps were not taken.
The Explanatory Notes to the Reform Act cited a number of policy reasons for the reduction in officers' liability. Key amongst them was the negative impact the previous laws were having on entrepreneurialism and economic growth.
Queensland Among the Leaders
The Australian Institute of Company Directors reports that "in terms of the 'business-friendliness' of State legal regimes for directors, Queensland has gone from the bottom of the class to among those at the top". New South Wales and Victoria have recently implemented similar changes.