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Wednesday, 29 May 1996
Page: 1305


Senator VANSTONE —On 7 May, Senator Murphy asked me a question as Minister representing the Attorney-General and I seek leave to incorporate the answer in Hansard .

Leave granted.

The answer read as follows—

Attorney-General

Senate Question Without Notice

Senator Amanda Vanstone—On 7 May 1996 (Hansard Page 401) Senator Murphy asked me as the Minister representing the Attorney-General the following question without notice:

Will you end the speculation and concern in northern Tasmania about the future of the Family Court in Launceston by giving a commitment now to keep the Court open.

Will you also ensure that, when you seek your advice from the Attorney-General, you will take note of what Senator Alston said, your policy commitment and also a commitment by your colleague, Warwick Smith, the new member for Bass, that he would guarantee the future of the Court.

The Attorney-General has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

The Parliament has made the Family Court a self-administering agency where decisions about the management of its administrative, including financial, affairs rest with the Court.

All government departments and agencies are expected to shoulder their share of the burden of reducing public sector outlays. In common with other public sector organisations the Family Court will need to reduce its spending. How the Family Court reduces its spending is, therefore, a matter for the Court.

Although specific budgetary targets have been set for the Court no direction has been given, or could be given, to the Court on how to achieve the efficiencies necessary to meet these targets. In this respect the Court is treated in the same way as other public sector organisations and, like other departments and agencies, the Court will need to develop strategic plans to meet the targeted cuts, tailored to meet its individual requirements.

I am advised that it is proposed to close the Launceston sub-registry except as a circuit location. This is, of course, a matter for the Court. However, the Government appreciates that the impact of the closure will extend well beyond the Launceston vicinity and that the matter is a sensitive issue to those people resident in Northern Tasmania. Alternative suggestions have been put to the Attorney-General, which he is currently examining. Should any of these prove viable they will be discussed further with the Chief Justice.

The Court has advised that Court resources in the Tasmanian region are higher than the average resources in mainland regions. There are currently two judges resident in Hobart—one judge, at his own request, relocated from Launceston to Hobart last year. Should either of them choose to retire then the matter of a replacement judge would be considered. I am further advised that in considering a replacement, the Attorney-General would, of course, seek the advice of the Chief Justice to ascertain the judicial resourcing needs of the Court in Tasmania at that time.

With regard to the remarks attributed to my colleague, the Honourable Member for Bass, concerning the future of the Court, I am advised that what he said was that he supports the continuation of a Family Court in Northern Tasmania so as to meet court times and counselling requirements. He also rigorously put the position that the regional courts should continue and the prospect of a strong resident judicial capacity for Tasmania was vitally important. These views have been communicated to the Family Court and to myself as Attorney-General.