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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3891

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Mackellar) (16:00): In rising to speak to the Judges and Governors-General Legislation Amendment (Family Law) Bill 2012 I do so foreshadowing that the coalition intends to send this to a Senate committee. We are in this chamber because there will be not an opposing vote in this chamber. However, there are many things of concern about this bill that I think we need to address. The first one is the constitutionality point—that is, it is provided in the Constitution that a judge—and that is federal, of course, because that is what it covers—cannot have their remuneration diminished during their continuance in office. The remuneration is a widely read term and refers to all financial emoluments associated with that office, including pension rights. In respect of the Governor-General, you could say it is in violation of section 3 of the Constitution, which prohibits alteration of the Governor-General's salary during his or her continuance in office.

Those points are serious points and need to be made right at the outset, but it is also just as important to draw attention to the precedent that this seeks to create by having a special family law provision for a separate class or, indeed, a subset of a class of individuals within our community. Many of us who have been involved in discussions over superannuation and the status that it should have in reference to family law were concerned that superannuation was left out for decades after the passage of the act and was not considered to be marital property. Therefore, it was outside the purview of the court and the act and was not dealt with.

Then whilst we were in office we brought in a provision which legislated for superannuation to become part of marital property and that is the situation for all citizens of Australia. This bill proposes to create special laws for judges who are federally appointed judges and the Governor-General. I suspect that the Governor-General has been thrown in to make it look good because it certainly did not come from that office that this bill be generated, nor am I aware that it came from particularly the Federal Court or the High Court. I do understand that it is almost a bill to meet an anomaly of a particular former Family Law Court judge and a dispute with his spouse. That is no way to make law.

I am very concerned that we could have a situation where the federal parliament would make a law specifically for federal judges. It would not cover state judges and I am reminded that, with regard to defined benefits, there is a qualifying period for judges just as there is for members of other defined schemes. I can cite examples of other people in defined benefit schemes who have been divorced prior to their becoming eligible to receive a pension and they had to raise sufficient money to pay out the spouse. Should they not in fact qualify for the pension it was in terms just 'bad luck'. So it is totally unfair that there is a carved-out niche for a particular group of people, whether it be judges or accountants or school teachers or policemen or any other category of people. I think it is important that these laws are universal laws and apply equally to people across the board. Even though there will be no voting against this bill in the House, I am flagging that we will seek to have a Senate inquiry into the bill so that some of these issues can be flushed out and evidence can be taken, and we can see properly perhaps what motivates the bill. I think the concerns of many need to be assuaged.