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Friday, 3 April 1987
Page: 1823

Senator ZAKHAROV —Is the Minister representing the Attorney-General aware of media speculation on the future of the Family Court which is causing concern in the community? When will the Government be able to announce a decision on this matter and so put an end to damaging speculation?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have the following information from the Attorney-General on this matter. The Attorney has been concerned for some time with the need to give judges of the Family Court an opportunity to participate in other judicial work. He believes that this would benefit the judges by giving them a greater variety of work and that it would widen the field of potential recruits to the court. The Jackson Committee-the Advisory Committee to the Constitutional Commission on the Australian Judicial System-in a recent paper suggested a number of options for the future of the Family Court. These options included renewing the operation of the court by devolving work to registrars and magistrates and giving the judges of the court an opportunity to exercise a wider jurisdiction. The Jackson Committee saw these as leading to the opportunity to incorporate the Family Court as a division of the Federal Court.

The Attorney did raise for the consideration of judges of both the Family Court and the Federal Court the possibility of moving immediately to incorporating the Family Court as a division of the Federal Court. Following consideration of that proposal by the judges, the Attorney subsequently discussed at a meeting of most of the judges of the Family Court on 21 March a number of steps that might be taken immediately. The Attorney announced on 25 March that a number of proposals were being developed in consultation with the Family Court. These included increased powers for registrars, appointment of masters to deal with some of the less complex contested and other matters now handled by judges, possible wider jurisdiction for State magistrates in family law matters. Discussions are being held with Federal Court and Family Court judges about the possibility of wider jurisdiction for the Family Court in areas additional to family law. No doubt when those discussions are concluded and a decision has been made, we will tell anyone who is interested about it.

Senator Durack —Tell us about the family law centre-another good idea at the time?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Even Senator Durack.