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Friday, 1 June 1984
Page: 2386


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(3.42) —There was a delay in the supplying of these figures to Estimates Committee E, a delay which I think was indefensible. I have made that view plain in words of one syllable to the Department and the particular officers involved, and I do not expect it to be repeated in the future. Secondly, I do not want, any more than Senator Durack wants to hear me, to lecture him or anybody else as to the differences in sitting day patterns as between Federal Court and Family Court judges and, indeed, as between different categories and individuals on the Federal Court itself. But there are very significant reasons for such differential patterns as have emerged.

There are differential amounts of travel in respect of the courts; the fact that a number of Federal Court judges are committed to royal commissions and inquiries; the fact that the Federal Court had a vacation period during the months recorded and the Family Court did not; the fact that the statistics do not necessarily reflect actual sitting days as distinct from formal sitting days to hand down judgments or something of this kind; the fact that a number of judges have much more appellate or reserve judgment work to do than formal sitting work within the Federal Court but, more particularly, as between the Family Court and the Federal Court; and a number of other matters of that kind, including the Territory judges quota that Senator Durack himself referred to. I would not want any sort of generalised sniping to stay on the record without at least some endeavour on my part to indicate that there are all sorts of reasons why the sitting day figures come out as they do.

As to the question of appointing three additional judges to the Federal Court, that is something on which as always I closely consulted the Chief Judge, Sir Nigel Bowen, a former Liberal Attorney-General. I was happy to accept his advice as to need and certainly acted on the basis of that advice. I make no apology for any of the particular appointments made. I think they are three outstanding men. I find rather distasteful the kind of sniping that is made under the guise of not sniping that Senator Durack offers. Mr Justice Spender is very well qualified, intellectually and by experience, for the job. I make no apology for his appointment. I notice there was no reference to Mr Justice Wilcox of New South Wales, whose credentials are universally known and regarded. The appointment of Mr Justice Gray is essentially a specialist appointment. His commission is confined to the industrial division. It is an appointment based on the expectation and desire that he be peripatetic, travelling widely throughout Australia, to deal with industrial matters because of the fact that the Federal Court Bench is relatively light on for substantial industrial experience at the moment, particularly with a couple of the senior judges with large and extended industrial experience being occupied on royal commissions and inquiries.

Should the point want to be made again about the supposedly partisan character of my appointments to the Federal Court, I remind Senator Durack that apart from Mr Justice Kirby, whom I was able to appoint in my first year to the Federal Court-unlike Senator Durack who for five or six years previously had merely good intentions in that respect-the other two judges that I have appointed, Mr Justice Neaves and Mr Justice Beaumont, on any view of their backgrounds and what I understand to be their inclinations could not be regarded as Labor appointees. I really do wish that this particular canard were not pursued even though I make no apology whatever for those of my appointments here and elsewhere as have been overtly Labor inclined in terms of their political affiliations to the extent that that has had anything to do with the ground of their appointment, which obviously it has not. One appoints people on the basis of their capacity to do a job. That is a criterion I have applied. Again, I make no apology for it.