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Monday, 26 November 2018
Page: 11352


Mr LEESER (Berowra) (13:27): I am pleased to speak on the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2018. Before I come to the substance of my remarks, I want to address a couple of points made by my friend the member for Moreton. This isn't about getting rid of the Whitlam government legacy. It's not an ideological exercise; it's a practical exercise. We now have two courts with different administrative functions. We have two courts that have different forms for lodgement. We have two courts that haven't been working together. This is trying to bring them together to stop the transferring of matters between courts, to make things easier for families who are going through a very stressful and very messy situation.

I want to address the point that the member for Moreton raised about the issue of appeals being sent to a single judge of the Federal Court. In the migration system it often happens that appeals from the Federal Circuit Court get sent to a single judge of the Federal Court. Many judges are appointed to the bench that don't have particular expertise in the matters they hear, particularly in courts of general jurisdiction. Over the years we've had judges who haven't been family law practitioners appointed to the Family Court by both sides, but they have done a good job. I don't doubt that single judges of the Federal Court hearing appeals, as they will under this legislation, will do well.

Family breakup is a traumatic time for all parties. There are currently two courts responsible for managing first-instance family matters in the federal system: the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. The Family Court deals with the more complex cases, and the Federal Circuit Court processes less complex cases. The split system means that families can enter the system at multiple points and transfer between courts as the complexity of the cases evolves through proceedings. The structural overlap between the courts leads to great inefficiencies, confusion, delays, additional costs and unequal experiences for many families. This results in poor and potentially unsafe outcomes for some children and families. There are often problems involving family violence, child sex abuse, alcohol issues, mental health concerns and questions of parenting capacity. In some cases, increased stress from the proceedings themselves may lead to emotional, financial or physical abuse as anger escalates during divorce. Some people may be ending marriages to controlling or abusive spouses. Extreme cases may lead to extreme domestic violence reactions from abusive partners.

My electorate hasn't been spared such instances. On the afternoon of 5 July 2018, John Edwards of Normanhurst murdered his son and daughter—15-year-old Jack and 13-year-old Jennifer—in West Pennant Hills. Later that night, Mr Edwards took his own life. Media reports suggested that Mr Edwards had been involved in custody hearings about the children with his estranged wife over the past two years. In Western Australia on 11 May at 4 am, Peter Miles walk from the main farmhouse to the converted shed where his daughter—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Hogan ): The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.