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Thursday, 6 May 1993
Page: 245

Senator FOREMAN —My question is addressed to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. Is the Minister aware of criticisms expressed by members of the Opposition and certain sections of the media that the Government's decision to fund gender awareness programs for the judiciary represents an attack on the independence of the judiciary? Can the Minister comment on the Government's intent with regard to this reference?

Senator CROWLEY —The Government is committed to ensuring equality before the law for women. The Government also respects the independence of the judiciary. In his women's policy speech which was delivered on 10 February 1993, the Prime Minister announced that funding would be provided to the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration to enable it to develop gender awareness programs for the Australian judiciary. That program is to be headed by Justice Deirdre O'Connor.

  There are some points to make about it. First, attendance is not mandatory. Secondly, the programs will be developed and run by the institute for judges and by judges. Thirdly, the institute itself approached the Government about this matter at a time when the Government was considering the national strategy on violence against women, which deals with such issues and such programs. Fourthly, the chairman of the institute, Justice John Clarke of the New South Wales Supreme Court, has applauded the Prime Minister's announcement that the institute would receive funds to develop the program, and he made that comment publicly in the Australian on 13 February this year.

  In addition, the President of the Law Council of Australia, Mr Robert Meadows, has acknowledged the need for judges and magistrates to be conscious of community attitudes or to be helped, as proposed by the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration and, as the Prime Minister put it, to recognise in themselves prejudices that might impact on their judicial conduct towards women.

  This important initiative is in addition to the reference given to the Law Reform Commission to examine issues of women's equality before the law, and work has also started on that reference. In view of the reports in today's paper, where certain remarks are attributed to a judge, I think this question is remarkably timely.

Senator Campbell —I ask the Minister to table the prepared written answer from which she was reading or, at the very least, to provide it on a floppy disk to make it easier for Hansard.

The PRESIDENT —Order! It is a matter for the Minister as to whether or not she will table the document.

Senator CROWLEY —No.