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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2078

Senator CROWLEY —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. I have had brought to my attention over a number of years many complaints regarding the Family Court of Australia, apart from the decisions of the court, going in particular to delays and difficulties regarding the machinery and the administration of the Family Court. Can the Minister say what steps the Government proposes to take to address these difficulties?

Senator EVANS —On 25 March the Attorney-General announced a series of measures that he has set in train-the process of consultation, and so on-to improve the situation to which Senator Crowley referred. The first proposal was for increased powers to registrars of the Family Court to handle some contested custody, access, guardianship, property and maintenance matters, and undefended divorces; secondly, making provision for the appointment of Masters of the Family Court to deal with some of the less complex contested and other matters now handled by the judges-it will be appreciated that Masters in the State Supreme Courts now do quite a large amount of the straightforward work of Supreme Court justices-and, thirdly, possible wider jurisdiction for State magistrates in family law matters. All of these, if able to be implemented, as the Attorney hopes, should lead to a dramatic reduction in the work load of Family Court judges, which should mean in turn that they will be available quickly to handle the difficult and complex cases that arise and, of course, also enable the rather large backlog currently in the court to be tackled.

State authorities would be involved in discussions about increased powers for State magistrates. At the same time, in relation to essentially the internal Commonwealth aspect of this, there will be discussions, as Mr Bowen indicated, with Federal Court of Australia and Family Court judges about the possibility of wider jurisdiction for the Family Court not only in the matters to which I have referred but also in areas additional to family law. This would broaden the work of Family Court judges and would help to enhance the standing of the court. All of those matters have been put on the public record by Mr Bowen in recent weeks. They are all important initiatives, and the Government very much hopes and expects that they will result in a quite substantial and very dramatic improvement in the situation that we all acknowledge needs improvement.