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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1211

Senator PETER BAUME —My question, which is addressed to the Attorney-General, concerns the operations of the Family Court of Australia in Sydney. Have work bans been imposed by the Chief Judge and judges of the Family Court which have prevented the expeditious hearing of defended Family Court actions in the Temple Court building in Elizabeth Street, Sydney? Are those work bans still in place or have they been resolved? Is it a fact that there is already a delay of between 18 and 24 months in the hearing of most defended Family Court actions in Sydney? Is it likely that any work bans will increase the delay which is faced by members of the public? Will the Attorney advise the Senate what action he has taken or proposes to take to ensure that those seeking to be heard before the Court will be heard so that we can avoid the old dictum that justice delayed is justice denied?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The term 'work bans' is a rather extravagant description of the decision taken by the Chief Judge of the Family Court not to hold hearings in the third floor courtrooms at Temple Court because of security problems which have become so intense and of so much concern to the members of that Court that they felt unable to continue. As a result, difficulties have been created with the hearing of some defended cases in the Sydney Registry. Although some of them have been able to be relocated to Parramatta, difficulties are anticipated for a number of months until we can complete the process of reconstructing the interior of Temple Court, which has now been set in train. I have taken steps to see whether we can acquire from the State Government the use of at least three other courtrooms in other buildings around the place. I am awaiting a reply to correspondence on that subject.

There has been some difficulty about reaching a final strategic conclusion on this because of the variety of options which existed and the difficulties with tenants in the existing Temple Court building in pursuing the initial objective of making the building one wholly for the Family Court. The latest advice, which I received a few days ago, was that those difficulties have now been resolved, the tendering process is rapidly proceeding and the work that will be necessary to reconstruct the interior of Temple Court to make it an effective and secure environment is proceeding.

As I have advised the Senate previously, this is only an interim arrangement. The only long term way of dealing with the security problems of the Family Court will be to have a specially custom designed building. That process is now under way as a result of this year's round of budgetary decisions. Obviously, the completion of such a building is four or five years down the track. What we have to do is create a satisfactory work environment.

I do not think that this is the occasion to be scoring points about the speed and the conduct of the judicial process. I am acutely conscious of the need, perhaps more in the Family Court jurisdiction than elsewhere, to expedite cases. The tension that builds up when custody matters, in particular, are the subject of delays is undoubtedly a contributor to the kind of violence which has occurred and which we all deplore.

I can assure the honourable senators and the Senate generally that we are doing everything we conceivably can to resolve this extraordinarily difficult problem, which is essentially a legacy of the initial well-based decision, which in practice has proved ill-conceived, that the Family Court could be conducted in essentially non-judicial surroundings, in the environment of an ordinary office building. That has proved to be an assumption which was, I think, ill-conceived.

It was probably pretty clear several years ago that it was ill-conceived but, regrettably, the previous Government did not find it possible to mobilise the resources to get the building's program going. We have tackled that problem head on. I hope that as a result the sorts of problems to which Senator Baume adverted will not arise in the future.