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Tuesday, 16 September 2008
Page: 16

Senator BRANDIS (2:24 PM) —My question is to Senator Ludwig, the Minister representing the Attorney-General. Can the minister explain the delay in the release of the Semple report on the Family Court, which was originally due in May but has yet to see the light of day?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —Thank you for that question, Senator Brandis. I will have to take it on notice and provide a response to you in due course. What we can say, though, in respect of these matters is that the government does take all of these reviews seriously. We will be providing a response to those in due course.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator LUDWIG —Unlike those Liberals opposite, this government does have an ambitious reform agenda, designed to prepare Australia to meet the challenges of the 21st century, whether they be—

Senator Brandis —Mr President, I rise on a point of order—that of relevance. I perfectly understand that Senator Ludwig has told the Senate that he does not know the answer and therefore has to take the question on notice. Given that he has done that, the further material is, by his own admission, irrelevant to the answer.

Senator Conroy —Mr President, on the point of order: Senator Ludwig was clearly indicating he will get some more information and is clearly now expanding on that in his discussion with the Senate. Senator Brandis’s order should be dismissed for the frivolous point of order with no substance that it is.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. I draw the minister’s attention to the question and ask the minister to come to the conclusion of his answer.

Senator LUDWIG —As I was saying in respect of this matter, I have indicated that in terms of the specific question I will get back to Senator Brandis and the chamber, but I am entitled to provide a broader answer in relation to the general issue of reviews that has been raised. That is precisely what I am doing. We have adopted, as I have said, in terms of meeting the challenges of the 21st century, a serious look at this—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator LUDWIG —unlike the opposition, as they interject, who do not take these matters seriously, it seems—in terms of the security challenges, the economic challenges or the environmental challenges. We have adopted a careful and considered approach to public policy. We engage in wide consultation to ensure the best views and ideas are available to government and are fed into the policy development process. To this end, there have been a number of reviews established in the portfolio. They have included, as we have said, the Clarke inquiry into the Haneef case to get the facts of the case and make appropriate recommendations to ensure our national security agencies are operating as best they possibly can, both individually and collectively; a review of security to ensure Australia can defend itself against increased sophisticated cyber attacks; and, of course, on the matter that Senator Brandis raised—

Senator Abetz —Mr President, I raise a point of order. Standing order 196 says:

The President ... may call the attention of the Senate ... to continued irrelevance ... and may direct a senator to discontinue a speech ...

This, in my submission, includes an answer at question time. To talk about national security in the terms of the question asked by Senator Brandis in relation to the Semple report is, with great respect, about as irrelevant as one can get to what was a very, very concise question. I would invite you, Mr President, to have a look at the specifics of standing order 196.

Senator Conroy —Mr President, on the point of order: as has already been indicated by Senator Ludwig, he was providing a broader context to the question. He made it perfectly clear. All he is doing now is doing exactly what he indicated he would be doing. Senator Abetz, who enjoys making these points of order, is once again wasting his time and the Senate’s time with a very frivolous point of order.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. I cannot instruct the minister how to answer the question, as I have said now on numerous occasions since taking question time. I draw the minister’s attention to the question and remind the minister of relevance to the question.

Senator LUDWIG —Thank you, Mr President. What we actually have heard today is that clearly the Liberals are not seriously interested in what is a perfectly appropriate review by Mr Des Semple of the operation of the federal Family Law Court to ensure that the federal family law system meets the needs of families and their children facing family breakdown. These are serious matters. The review, as I have outlined in the opening remarks I made in respect of this, is that it is a serious issue. The government does take this seriously. We are ensuring that the review does meet the timetables that have been set for it, and it will provide a review in due course.

What I said in relation to the question asked by Senator Brandis was that I will get back to the specifics of that, but it does need to be put in context. The context, of course, is that there are a range of quite serious issues on which Senator Brandis might also like to provide information to the review, as the shadow Attorney-General; that is a matter for him. But the opposition are not serious in suggesting that we should not address these issues in the appropriate way in the appropriate time to ensure that we get it right. The opposition wants us to rush these things through, but this government will take a serious and considered approach to ensure that we meet the needs of the community and government and that Mr Des Semple is able to conduct the review in a way that ensures that those important matters that go to ensuring that the federal family law system meets the needs of families and their children facing family breakdown are given the consideration they deserve.

Senator BRANDIS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister deny that the original draft of the report has been substantially rewritten within the Attorney-General’s Department and does not in fact reflect the views of Mr Semple? Will the minister commit to a release date for the doctored version of the Semple report?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —As I have said, the review by Mr Des Semple of the operation of the federal Family Law Court is an important review. It should be allowed to run its course. Senator Brandis has made some pretty wild accusations about this, but that only reflects badly, I think, on the opposition, who are not taking this in a serious way. There should be an opportunity for Mr Semple to provide his report to the government and for the government to be able to consider the report to ensure that we give it the gravitas that it deserves. The opposition are not being serious in suggesting that we should rush these things through. We make no apology for seeking the views of the Australian community on these important issues of reform and we will continue to do that.