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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20038

Mr JOHNSON (4:25 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises the success of the Federal Magistrates Service since its establishment by the Commonwealth Government in 2000;

(2) in particular, recognises the contribution of the Federal Magistrates Service to:

(a) providing a quick and accessible forum for liti-gants involved in less complex family law and other general federal law disputes;

(b) increasing access to justice for Australian families, particularly those going through relationship breakdown; and

(c) providing an alternative and less formal court option for litigants and encouraging the use of conciliation, counselling, arbitration and medi-ation in appropriate cases; and

(3) notes the Government's recent announce-ment that four new Federal Magistrates are to be appointed in South-east Queensland, Newcastle, Adelaide and Melbourne to further enhance the operation of the Federal Magistrates Service.

Since the Howard government's election in 1996, a great deal has been achieved in the national interest. The Howard government's record speaks for itself. The runs are on the board in many areas of national policy: under the Howard government our Commonwealth debt has been cut, the budget is in surplus, far more apprenticeships exist for younger Australians to help them in their search for jobs and Australians are paying $450 less a month on their average weekly mortgages than they were in the horror days of the Keating government.

But I want to speak on another aspect of national policy which has not had the full applause of the parliament. I want to speak very strongly in favour of it and advocate its place in Australian society. I want to speak in the parliament today about the creation of the federal magistrates courts and the impact that those courts are having on the lives of families throughout the country and in particular in my electorate of Ryan.

The Howard government is committed to providing quicker and more efficient services in and access to the legal system for Australians throughout the land. The government has established the Federal Magistrates Service to provide a cheaper, simpler and faster method of dealing with less complex civil and family law matters. It is the first tier of the Commonwealth court, and it is the first new Australian court since the Federal Court was established in 1977. The service has developed procedures that aim to be as streamlined and as user-friendly as possible, reducing delay and cost to litigants—because we all know that areas of litigation put great stress upon those who are in that litigation environment.

Since its establishment three years ago, the Federal Magistrates Service has assisted many constituents in my electorate of Ryan. This is why I am speaking on it in the parliament today. It is providing a quick and accessible forum for litigants involved in less complex family law and other general federal law disputes. The Federal Magistrates Service is helping to ease the pressure on the Family Court in particular and, consequentially, to reduce waiting lists in family law related matters. Constituents in Ryan often approach my office regarding family law matters, and some have family issues that are of a very serious nature. As we all know, in these situations all parties are looking for the quickest possible solution. The Federal Magistrates Service has freed up the Family Court and the Federal Court to focus on the far more complex and lengthy matters that the justices of those courts ought to focus on. Effectively, the Federal Magistrates Service is increasing access to justice for not only Ryan families but all Australian families, providing families with a greater range of options for resolving their legal problems as quickly and cheaply as possible.

There are currently 19 federal magistrates located in capital cities and major regional centres around Australia. In the 2003-04 budget the government allocated to the Federal Magistrates Service funding for the appointment of two additional federal magistrates. These appointments will honour the government's election commitment to appoint up to two additional magistrates. Those new federal magistrates will be appointed in Newcastle and south-east Queensland. Two new magistrates will also be appointed in Adelaide and Melbourne. These appointments will contribute very significantly to the effective operation of the service.

While about 80 per cent of the current workload of the FMS is in the family law area, the government is still considering other areas of suitable jurisdiction for the FMS, where they involve matters of lower complexity. Areas being considered include some aspects of corporate insolvency and intellectual property related matters. Gradual expansion of the jurisdiction of the FMS is in accordance with the intended structure and development of the FMS as a lower court in our federal civil justice system.

I know that my constituents in the electorate of Ryan appreciate the nature of the Federal Magistrates Service and would very much commend the government on its expansion into other areas of law where it can help Ryan constituents. In moving this motion in the House, I would like to acknowledge the Attorney-General and the significant reforms that he has initiated while overseeing this important portfolio. The Attorney-General has initiated a number of changes to ensure equity and fairness in access to justice for all Australians. It is important that members of the House and senators as well acknowledge the work that is done to make life easier in this very difficult area for our fellow Australians. The FMS is achieving the government's aims of encouraging people to resolve their legal disputes without going to court and of streamlining court processes where a resolution might not be attainable privately. I commend this motion to the House and again speak very strongly on the character of the Magistrates Service in the federal tier. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Is the motion seconded?

Mr Neville —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.