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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1965

Mr RUDDOCK(7.10) —I move:

(3) Page 8, after clause 13, insert the following new clause:

Salary and allowances

''13A. Section 25 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting from sub-section (1) 'at such respective rates as are fixed from time to time by the Parliament' and substituting the following: ', as follows:

(a) the Chief Judge shall be paid salary, annual allowances and travelling allowances at the same rates as the President of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission; and

(b) the Senior Judges, and Judges of the Family Court of Australia shall be paid salary, annual allowances and travelling allowances at the same rates as the Deputy Presidents of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. '.''.

This amendment may well overcome the problem I had with clause 13 because I was of the view that district court judges in Western Australia were paid less than superior court judges in the Commonwealth jurisdiction. Over a period there has been a problem in relation to the payment of Family Court judges. The Remuneration Tribunal has determined that they should be paid less than the judges whom Family Court judges have always seen themselves as equivalent to; that is, Deputy Presidents of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. In fact it is argued that some judges who were appointed were given undertakings as to the way in which they would receive emoluments in office. There is some dissatisfaction that judges of the Family Court continue to receive considerably less than Deputy Presidents of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

In the other place Senator Missen outlined very fully the problems associated with the long history of his concern that these judges are not paid on the same basis as Deputy Presidents. I have another reason for pursuing this matter. Over a period I have been concerned that, by the emphasis we have placed upon obtaining people with those special qualities which the Act specifies, that people who are appointed ought to have to deal with custody matters, we have obtained a Court which amongst its membership has people who are less qualified- I mean that as no reflection on the judges-to deal with some of the other very complex and difficult questions of law that Family Court judges from time to time are called upon to deal with. Just to give some broad headings, Family Court judges are required to deal with significant matters of law involving trusts, company arrangements and taxation when considering property disputes. They are very difficult and very contentious and very often they are fought hard . While we might not like it, or the cost involved, it is important that the people dealing with those matters are the most competent people to deal with them.

Some evidence was also given to the Joint Select Committee on the Family Law Act that some Family Court judges, particularly after a long period-we should bear in mind that some of them were appointed very young-and notwithstanding their retiring age, which is different from the retiring age for judges generally, could become stale and perhaps ought to be able to move within a court framework to sit in other areas not as sensitive as Family Court areas. Some people have argued, and I support the view, that judges of the Family Court have to be sufficiently well qualified and remunerated. They have to be the right people for the job. They have to be able to deal with not only difficult social questions but also difficult questions of law. If there were a problem in relation to a judge we would not have to go through the business of removing him from office, which just does not happen, but rather there would be the capacity to move him into other parts of the judical system in which those legal skills which he presumably had when he was appointed could be well used. As long as Family Court judges are remunerated on a significantly lower scale I do not think we will be able to overcome the problems which exist in the Family Court and which I have alluded to.

I certainly hope that the Minister for Trade (Mr Lionel Bowen), representing the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans), will be able to indicate support for this amendment. As long as there is no amendment of this sort, the Remuneration Tribunal will believe it appropriate for there to be this historical distinction and the distinction will remain. That is unfortunate. I recognise that an element of cost is involved, to which some allusion may be made. If there are problems of cost, an indication from the Minister for Trade representing the Attorney-General, that this matter will be looked at when the cost can be made available, together with some certainty that these arrangements will be implemented, and an indication of now that will be done, might well be acceptable. If he does not so indicate, this is an important amendment that ought to be proceeded with.