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Monday, 26 November 2018
Page: 11444

Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (19:24): This is just another example of the government not listening to key stakeholders in the sector, most importantly our legal fraternity. The criticism of what the government is trying to do in the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2018 has been substantially reported in the media, even in regional areas like Bendigo, my own home town. As others have outlined, this bill, which basically abolishes the Family Court—which is a legacy of the Whitlam era—gets away from those founding principles of the Family Court, which include a focus on the children and what's in the best interests of the children.

Nobody is denying that these matters are complex. It is heartbreaking as an MP to have meetings with constituents who are frustrated by delays; who are heartbroken about family breakdown; who may not have seen their kids for many, many months—sometimes years—who are caught in the system. But we would be doing them a disservice by saying that this bill will fix their problems. We would be doing them a disservice by making a decision based upon statistics and saving money as opposed to best practice and law.

It is disappointing. I share the concerns of the legal community who say: 'Just wait. There is a major review going on into this very area that will hand down its report in March 2019.' Why is the government pushing forward with this? Why are they so arrogant and out of touch with the people who are helping to try and do this work? For a long time there has been call for reform but not this kind of reform.

I believe that the government is being incredibly ambitious when they say that this will help families. A lot of the families that I know who have been to Family Court have complex issues. Putting aside the people who might have a horrible divorce and are going through that process, there are lots of people—vulnerable families—who are caught up in the legal system that need wraparound services. There are cases of DV. There are cases of theft. There are cases of quite complex social structure issues that are going on within the family unit. They need wraparound services and support. By saying that they'll be able to fast track their issues through court, I don't believe that will actually help those families in many ways.

There's a real challenge when it comes to access to justice. Many in the legal fraternity, particularly in my part of the world, are really sceptical of any reform that has been put forward by this government when it comes to the Family Court, because of the way in which this government has repeatedly gone after community legal services. From the 2014 budget onwards we have continued to fight for renewing the funding—well short of what's actually needed for the sector. Our community legal centres work very closely with both these courts to help people where they can. In my part of the world, which is Loddon Mallee, basically their entire budget goes towards supporting people in the Family Court space, because they just don't have the resources to help outside of that.

Other community legal centres have been able to assist people when it comes to Fair Work Australia and the Federal Court, or they have been able to assist them in other elements of federal law. But in regional communities like Bendigo community legal services generally focus specifically on this area. What they're saying is: 'Don't push ahead with this reform. Don't abolish. Let's work together. Let's wait. Let's consult properly. Let's actually wait for the review to come out and make some recommendations.'

There needs to be bold reform here but not this reform. It needs to be done in a way which is inclusive, is constructive and will deliver better outcomes for families—making sure that we help relieve some of the very complex associated problems.

I know many people that work within the system and one of the issues that they say has been really frustrating has been the lack of appointment of judges. That is blowing out waiting times. What we haven't seen from this government is any kind of focus on how we reinvest in these courts to make sure that we get better outcomes for people, that people's cases are heard in time.

It is a stark contrast to what we are seeing in Victoria by the Labor government, who during the recent state election campaign announced $152 million investment into Bendigo to build a new law court facility. We're an old town. We have one of the oldest buildings in the country where they still practice law. It has not been updated. When I've been into those facilities and— (Time expired)