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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 2126

Child Welfare


Senator HINCH (Victoria) (14:36): My question is to the Attorney-General. During the rejected plebiscite debate yesterday, I called for the government to spend the $160 million or $200 million set aside for the plebiscite campaign on a royal commission. Is the government willing to consider a royal commission into Australia's child welfare agencies, foster care and Family Court systems?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:36): Senator Hinch, I listened with care and with respect to the contribution you made to the debate on the plebiscite and the second reading last night, and I note what you say. Of course, the allocation of those funds that will now be unspent is not a matter for me; it is really a matter for my friend the Minister for Finance, Senator Cormann. But I listened with care to what you had to say, Senator Hinch, and I will take into account your views.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hinch, a supplementary question.



Senator HINCH (Victoria) (14:37): We keep hearing horror stories of two underresourced courts, the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court, and backlogs inside them having huge emotional and financial impacts on struggling families. What are you doing to fix that problem?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:37): In fact, I had a meeting as recently as last week with the Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court, Chief Judge Pascoe. The government has made some recent appointments to his court and will be announcing new appointments in coming weeks. As well, the government has been actively pursuing the issue of law reform in the family law system. For example, in October, I released the Family Law Council's final report on families with complex needs and the intersection of the family law and child protection systems. I thinks this goes really to your primary question, Senator Hinch. As you know, there is a very important overlap between the child protection system—most of which almost invariably is run by the state and territory governments—and the family law system, which operates under Commonwealth law. There are cases the facts of which— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hinch, your final supplementary question.



Senator HINCH (Victoria) (14:38): A 2014 Productivity Commission report into access to justice arrangements recommended that $200 million was urgently needed to fill service gaps. Why hasn't this funding been provided?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:38): I am aware of the Productivity Commission's recommendation, and can I tell you some of the measures that the Australian government has recently undertaken. In 2016-17—in other words, in this budget year—we will provide over $162 million to the Family Relationships Services Program, which funds a variety of organisations and services to assist Australian families during and after separation and divorce. Last year's budget included an additional $22.5 million injection over the forward estimates into the federal courts and reforms to their administration, and those reforms commenced on 1 July this year. Those reforms were designed to place the courts on a more sustainable funding footing and to ensure more of the courts' resources were directed towards services to litigants, particularly in family law. Senator Hinch, as we both know, this is a demand-driven system, but we look, as well as additional outlays— (Time expired)