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Thursday, 18 August 2005
Page: 97

Mr PRICE (3:58 PM) —The Attorney-General is too modest! The modus operandi that he claims belongs to the Labor Party he should claim for himself, because it is unique to the coalition. There has never been such a backbench committee on the Labor side to determine such criteria or to select such centres. I think I come here with a degree of disappointment, because I would pay tribute to Kay Hull, the Chair of the former House Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs, for the job she did, particularly with regard to the report Every picture tells a story. I pay tribute to the other members and in particular my colleagues, Julia Irwin, the member for Fowler—

Mrs Hull —Jennie George.

Mr PRICE —And of course, as I am reminded, the member for Throsby, Jennie George. Amidst much suspicion on both sides, we got a unanimous and very worthwhile report out of that committee. It was adopted by the government—not in total, but significantly adopted—and I am pleased to see that. But let me say this: I have been in this place long enough to know that, if you want to politicise family law, if you want to take cheap points on family law, you will see no progress. The Labor Party members signed up on that committee to a bipartisan approach. They have signed up on the latest report by the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which sought to go through the legislation in a record short period of time—again, a good report and one that I believe will be adopted by the government.

But let us look at what the Attorney has said. He said: ‘I’ve set up this high-powered, experienced, backbench committee.’ As I said, I would not quibble with the member for Riverina being on it. She has earned her place on any forum. But, of the remainder, what do we find? The most experienced members of the House? The people who have spoken up most about family law? No, not at all. We have four members of the class of 2004 on the committee—new members.

Ms Roxon —Even chairing the committee.

Mr PRICE —One chairing the committee, I am told. There is the member for Greenway—and I will come back to the member for Greenway—the member for Stirling, the member for Bass and of course that very special member, the member for Wakefield. I apologise to Tony Abbott, the Leader of the House. I verballed him yesterday, and I am apologising, because I suggested that he was forcing the member for Wakefield to add a part to his dorothy dix. We know what dorothy dixes are. They are those questions that are prepared on the government side and that the chief whip hands out. And do you know what? The member for Wakefield, the significant member on family law, got question No. 7—and it ain’t hard to read a dorothy dix. But this member who is championing family law, this member who is a whiz kid on all the guidelines that should apply to the location, could not read the dorothy dix. And he is the chair of the committee.

Ms Roxon interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—The member for Gellibrand has already been warned and she should know what this chair does after that.

Mr PRICE —He asked, ‘How is the government strengthening Medicare for older Australians?’ and he sat down. Of course, there was a second part to it: ‘Are there any alternative policies?’ And he forgot. What a mess he made. But of course the Leader of the House learned from his mistake. Today he was not going to trust them with a preamble about government policy. He gave Danna Vale the question that went straight into alternative policies. He was not going to fall for the same mistake.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Chifley will refer to members by their seat.

Mr PRICE —Mr Deputy Speaker, I am talking about the membership of the committee that is selecting the locations. Let us go to some of the criteria that the Attorney-General announced for the first time. I said that the member for Greenway is on the committee. In Blacktown we have one of the highest rates of domestic violence. It ranks at No. 21, well ahead of the rate in Lindsay—the member for Lindsay has obviously verballed her on the committee and not allowed her to get that relationship centre in Blacktown.

Mrs Markus interjecting

Mr PRICE —If we are looking at domestic violence, Louise, have a look at the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research information.

Mr Cadman interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Mitchell!

Mr PRICE —It is a sad fact that in relation to Chifley, for example, in terms of child support—the number of payers and the number of payees—we have one of the highest numbers of children in either category. But do we in Chifley get a look in for a relationship centre? When I was serving on this committee with Nicola Roxon—I am sorry; the shadow Attorney-General—and Duncan Kerr, the member for Denison, I said: ‘I bet you they announce a relationship centre in Lindsay.’ This was before any announcement. And—bang!—there it was in Lindsay.

In south-western Sydney, where we have a lot of need, there are several electorates. You could pick Parramatta, the capital of Western Sydney. You could pick Reid. You could pick Fowler. You could pick Prospect. Or you could pick Macarthur. Have a guess which one is going to get it? Macarthur will get it. Of course it will, because, of the 10 centres, eight of them went to coalition electorates, and all but two were of course marginal electorates. Marginality, the Attorney tells us, is not in there, but they just happened to go there, even though on the statistical basis on which he announced he had made his decision they do not stack up.

Mr Gavan O’Connor interjecting

Mr PRICE —Yes. This is a transparent process, an above-the-board process, but that is how the dice fall! So I predict that in Western Sydney we will see one in Macarthur. We will not see one in Prospect. We will not see one in Fowler. We will not see one in Reid. We will not see one in Blaxland or Parramatta. You will find that it will be in the seat of Macarthur.

The plea I make is this. Every member on either side knows how difficult human relations are. They know how difficult family law is. They know how difficult child support is. We have an opportunity in this parliament to move forward together to make some genuine changes in a bipartisan and honest way, knowing that, no matter what we do, we will never get it perfect—we will never get it right—but we can make a significant difference to over a million children.

I say to the Attorney-General: you and your predecessors have form in referring legislation to committees. Labor predecessors have also done this, which he denies. In fact, attorneys-general have traditionally referred legislation to committees. If you want a bipartisan approach, if you want a transparent and open approach, why is it that you have selected this backbench committee? Should anyone believe the Attorney in his claims? I ask: why are four of those members in the class of 2004? Four are from the class of 2004, and the person who is chairing the committee is someone who cannot even ask a dorothy dix question in this House. So why wouldn’t we be concerned about the lack of bipartisanship? Why wouldn’t we be concerned that these relationship centres will not go where the need is greatest?

Tragically, the Attorney killed off the idea of tribunals. The relationship centres face some difficult challenges, not the least of which is making sure that people in rural and regional Australia have reasonable access to them. This is not an issue we should be playing politics with. If I were to talk to Catholic Welfare Australia, the single parents association, Dads in Distress, Parents Without Partners, the Family Law Reform Association or any of those groups, they would be so disappointed that the relationship centres, the cornerstone of the report, have been sidetracked into a slimy coalition backbench committee which has in its membership four of the most junior parliamentarians in the parliament and a person chairing it who cannot even ask a dorothy dix question. (Time expired)

Mr PRICE —I seek leave to table question No. 7.

Leave not granted.