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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6471

Mr NEUMANN (6:30 PM) —My questions relate to access to justice, Attorney-General. That issue covers a number of things. The situation is that at a time of great financial hardship and global recession people often confront the court system at a very difficult time in their lives, particularly regarding personal insolvency or liquidation of their company. I would like to know what we are doing about assisting these people, particularly those who are facing the hardships of financial circumstances that they would not have dreamed they could find themselves in. Their business may have gone downhill, they might have spent too much on their credit cards or they might find themselves under the pump with respect to payment of their bills or their mortgages. What help are we giving those people in terms of bankruptcy et cetera?

One of the things that I recall vividly in my 24 years of practising as a lawyer before I was elected in 2007 was how important infrastructure and facilities were for the courts. By the layout of a court you could actually create a culture. I remember the old Commonwealth Courts building in Adelaide Street in Brisbane where the Family Court and the Federal Court were lumped in together. Everyone was smoking inside. It was dreadful; it was an oppressive building. I think the layout of our courts is very important. We saw the benefit of that in Brisbane particularly with the new Commonwealth Courts building, which housed the High Court, as well as the Family Court, the Federal Court and later the Federal Magistrates Court as well. So I am concerned about infrastructure and facilities, particularly for courts, and what impact that will have on the culture and on people who face justice and come in contact with the court system, particularly the High Court, which is our highest court.

I have been a strong advocate, as you know, for the reform of family law. I hope the family law accreditation committee of the Queensland Law Society accepts my request for an extension of my specialist accreditation in family law. I practised in family law towards the end of my time practising. I also practised industrial law, criminal law, personal injury, conveyancing and bankruptcy as well, but family law is particularly an interest to me.

I am also interested in what we are doing regarding the Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court, because I think one of the worst things the Howard government did in the court system was to duplicate a court system to deal with the same jurisdiction—that is, family law. If you go overseas, as I have been on a number of occasions, and explain to a practitioner in Christchurch, just across the Tasman, the various options for bringing court proceedings in Australia, they will hardly believe you. If you want to bring an application for a parenting order, you can do it in the local magistrates court, say, in Brisbane. You can bring it in the Federal Magistrates Court. You could bring it in the Family Court. They could barely believe the fact that we had a number of different avenues. We need to simplify the system and make it fairer to litigants.

So I am interested in seeing what we are doing. I actually think we should abolish the Federal Magistrates Court. We should stop the duplication of sets of rules. We should actually make the system more streamlined, with one entry as a registry and also one set of judges. We have seen a divergence in the jurisprudence and we have seen people treated differently in the Federal Magistrates Court than they would otherwise be dealt with in the Family Court. For example, in the Federal Magistrates Court cases are going to be dealt with in two days, say, in family law. There is a cutback in the number of witnesses that can be there. You can just see that the more expeditious way in which the litigation is conducted results in people feeling they do not necessarily get the kind of access to justice they need. I am interested in seeing, Attorney-General, what you are doing about that and what budget measures there are to reform the court system in family law.