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Wednesday, 30 May 2018
Page: 5071


Mr PERRETT (MoretonOpposition Whip) (17:33): This morning the Attorney-General announced the demise of the Family Court of Australia. It is a very sad day for family law in Australia. This was a specialist court, established in 1975, which for over 40 years has been at the forefront of family law development internationally. It is been copied in many overseas jurisdictions as being of best practice. Obviously, Labor will always support sensible family law reform at a time when our family law courts are in crisis.

I note that the Australian Law Reform Commission, led by the eminently qualified Professor Helen Rhoades, is currently undertaking a comprehensive review into our family law system. But rather than waiting for that report this arrogant government, with no recommendations of the ALRC, with no consultation at all, is bulldozing the Family Court of Australia. While the states are actually moving to create more specialist courts to deal with the difficult and sensitive cases involving family law violence, as mentioned by the member for Griffith, this government is taking the retrograde step of returning to a generalised court system. There will no longer be a specialist court for family law in Australia. The new Porter court will hear family and general federal law matters. The former Chief Justice of the Family Court, the Hon. Alastair Nicholson, in a paper delivered at the International Society of Family Law 10th world conference, said:

Experience in Australia and overseas suggests that where a family court is a division of a generalist court or where family law cases are simply assigned to judges or magistrates in a generalist court, the quality of performance suffers greatly.

However, these Porter changes will fundamentally affect the decisions made on behalf of vulnerable families.

The coalition government has been in office five years, and what have they done for our family law system during this time? We know first up that they tried to increase the fees that families pay to access family courts at a time when they are most vulnerable. Labor fought the divorce tax tooth and nail. In fact, Senator Moore and I personally took the former Attorney-General, Bookshelves Brandis, to court when he tried for a second time to increase fees after the Senate had disallowed his first attempt. The coalition government tries to pretend it cares about family law, but their actions speak louder than their cheap words.

Calls by judges, legal practitioners, frontline service providers and families for better resources in the family courts have instead gone unanswered. The coalition government has consistently failed to replace judges in a timely manner, despite their positions being funded. When I spoke in consideration in detail one year ago, there were then five judicial vacancies in the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. It took more than a year to replace a Brisbane Family Court judge. This inexcusable laziness exacerbates the delays. On the coalition's watch the court backlog has snowballed out of control and obviously it always causes further suffering to families.

While it is very convenient for the Attorney-General, the first law officer, to blame the judges, it is he and his predecessor who must accept the blame for the family law system being in crisis. A good Attorney-General would always defend the integrity of the judiciary. A good Attorney-General would defend the integrity of the Family Court. A good Attorney-General would defend the rule of law. That is what a good and competent Attorney-General would do. Sadly, this Attorney-General is merely playing politics with the Family Court of Australia.

When we have a look at the data and the evidence and count families not as mere numbers, we cannot possibly do justice to the complex issues that confront their lives. So I ask the Attorney-General: has he sat as an observer in the Family Court of Australia for a day or half a day? If he did, he would have a better understanding of the complexities of the cases being heard by judges of the Family Court. Sadly, this Attorney-General only seems to take his policy cues from Pauline Hanson's One Nation political party, just like his predecessor, Senator Brandis, when he proposed parenting management hearings, which were once a One Nation political party policy. Attorney-General Porter is abolishing the Family Court exactly as Senator Pauline Hanson, president for life, ordered. It's horse trading with vulnerable families. This government should be utterly ashamed of itself.

I ask if Senator Hanson has any other demands about family law that she has delivered to the Attorney-General. I also ask about filing fees and court event fees. They're not uniform in the Federal Circuit Court and the Family Court. As these courts will be merged, will any of the current fees of either court be increased? Is the divorce tax coming back? The Financial Review has quoted a PwC report. Can you confirm the number of cases finalised by the Federal Circuit Court judges that include consent orders? Who will decide which division a particular matter will be heard in? Will it be a court official or will it be the citizen?