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Transcript of doorstop interview: Mural Hall, Parliament House, Canberra: Thursday, 9 December 2005: announcement of emergency management funding; introduction of family law bill.

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Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600  Telephone (02) 6277 7300  Fax (02) 6273 4102






Subjects: Announcement of emergency management funding; introduction of family law bill

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I was pleased to be able to do this launch today because

I know from my own community, managing

emergencies are particularly challenging. You have

natural disasters but you also have man-made

disasters, and we’ve seen in our community, fires that

have been as devastating as they’ve had here in

Canberra, with loss of homes, loss of life.

And building up your emergency capacity to be able to

manage those sorts of risks, encouraging the more than

500,000 volunteers in emergency services, rural fire

services, and other like bodies, is what we’re doing

through the program of Working Together To Manage

Emergencies. In part it includes grants to assist

communities in preparing for possible terrorist attacks

and emergencies; putting together appropriate local

plans. But it also includes building up the skill base of

your volunteer services; helping with the recruitment.

Attorney-General Transcript 2

And these initiatives were seen as being very important

in a number of reports that were developed for

Government over a period of time, and I was pleased

when we were able to make new election commitments

for the program at the last election to commit these

funds - I think it’s something of the order of $49

million over four years - and the rolling out of it - I

think to something like 400 projects that have been

funded on this occasion - is going to be very important

in local communities.

JOURNALIST: Minister, on the family law changes, why…

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Anything on managing emergencies? Before we go to

other emergencies, see whether there are any others

first. Any questions on this issue? No?

JOURNALIST: I think you covered it quite comprehensively.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Did I? Alright. Okay.

JOURNALIST: Why is it necessary to incorporate a 50-50 access rule

into the legislation when the courts do that already?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, look, I make a point - if courts are doing

everything that’s necessary now, then the measures

that we’re proposing won’t make any difference, will


JOURNALIST: Well I think that’s what the critics are commenting on.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, yes, it is. But then I think you’ve got to look at the

results, and more than a million children are in

relationships where separation has occurred, and one

in four see a parent once a year, or not at all.

Attorney-General Transcript 3

And you have to ask yourself, if you were really

thinking about what is in the best interests of children -

and that’s our starting point - not what is in the best

interests of parents, what is in the best interests of


What they always say to us is, we want to be able to be

with both of our parents. Now obviously when people

have separated that’s not possible but, children have an

entitlement to know both of their parents. Many, many

people who have grown up without the love of one of

their parents because of a separation where the other

has been excluded, feel very, very deprived, and often

emotionally quite, quite adversely affected. And our

view is that as long as children aren’t being abused, as

long as there is no violence involved, children ought to

be able to have that entitlement.

So what we want the courts to do is to look at these

issues from the starting point that that access needs to

be there, and to look at how you qualify it. Now, at the

moment, I think they’ve worked traditionally from an

assumption that one parent is better placed to be able

to provide the support and comfort and succour, and

the arrangements that are made reflect almost what we

call an 80/20 rule. And we think - and this has been the

view of many Members of Parliament who have sat

through and heard evidence from judicial officers who

have the experience, but also the parties, and people in

the community who are interested in these matters.

And, the Parliament- this was supported in a

bipartisan way by a parliamentary committee that

looked at the draft bill and suggested ways and means

in which we could give even greater emphasis to

ensuring that in a child’s best interests, their right and

Attorney-General Transcript 4

entitlement to know both parents, means that the

starting point, before consideration of these questions,

ought to be that, not that children should be split like

Solomon but that people need to look at how they

provide substantial opportunities for children to know

both of their parents.

JOURNALIST: How do you force people to be responsible parents?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, look, what we want to ensure is that we address

the adversarial environment in which some people

believe that the best way of resolving family disputes is

to have a donnybrook in a court, and to get somebody

to adjudicate on it. Our view is that if you have a

system that encourages people, as mature adults, to sit

down and work out what is best for their child, in

which they recognise that both of them have to be

involved, involved in making decisions in relation to

their future, and also involved in their upbringing.

I made the point when I introduced the bill to the

Parliament today that being with a child and having a

relationship with a child is not an access visit that

might be one weekend in, in two, where you don’t help

with the homework; where you don’t get to the school

and a lot of the events that the child might be

participating in. I think, you know, some have been

described as ‘Disneyland’ parents, where- and a lot of

women become very, very anxious about this. They

feel they, in many cases they accept the responsibility

for upbringing, and somebody else comes in, buys

presents, sees them once a fortnight, takes them on all

the flash outings, and doesn’t do any of the hard yards.

Attorney-General Transcript 5

Well, you know, our view is that parenting involves

both, and it ought to involve both, and we have to

encourage people to work out the best arrangements

for them. And if we don’t then the courts in dealing

with these issues have to at least start from the point of

view that children have a right to know both parents;

children have a right to be safe and secure. And all of

the other range of factors that might, might help assist

you in dealing with those issues are considered after

the primary factors, which will be first, that children

have an entitlement to know both parents, and they

also have an entitlement to be safe and secure.

JOURNALIST: There’s speculation of a reshuffle. Are you making

your pitch to stay as Attorney, or something else?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I do whatever I’m asked to do.

JOURNALIST: You’re not trying to complete a set of certain


ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I do whatever I’m asked to do.

JOURNALIST: Sorry if I’m rehashing, having arrived late, but this…


JOURNALIST: …rehashing on what you may have already covered…

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Ah, may well have.

JOURNALIST: …but do you think that changes to the family court

system will please both Lone Fathers’ Association and

single mothers?

Attorney-General Transcript 6

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I would hope they would, because we are not about -

and I haven’t’ made this point before - we are not

about advantaging fathers over mothers, or mothers

over fathers. I mean that suggests that you see children

in property terms and I don’t see them in that way. I

see the responsibility of government to ensure that the

primary concern that the community should have is

that a child should have the opportunity to know both

of their parents, and we have to find a way of ensuring

that that can be properly accommodated. We don’t

want children to be exposed to danger or violence, and

those issues have to be addressed as primary factors.

But I’ve, I’ve known many adults who, because of

family law issues, have been denied the opportunity to

know one of their parents. And when you find adults

who are having to go out and try and re-establish a

relationship that was denied because an award was

made that a child will live with one parent to the

exclusion of another, and sometimes people moved

long distances away from each other, so that contact

was not possible - that leaves a great deal of hurt. And

when you find an adult trying to establish, you know,

who is my mother, who is my father; I haven’t known

them; what are they like; what are their views; you

know, they’re part of me, but I don’t know them - I

think it brings home to you that this is not a property

issue? It’s not a question of advantaging mothers over

fathers or fathers over mothers. It’s a question of doing

what is best for children.

JOURNALIST: Well what about the choice of the children?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, children sometimes do make choices, and, you

know, look, if children are being abused they might

make that known and it can be taken into account. But,

Attorney-General Transcript 7

the point I make is that almost invariably when you sit

down with children, they don’t want to see the contest

between their parents; they don’t like the fighting, but

they want to know them both and they want to be with

both. You don’t find too many children who are

saying, you know, I don’t want to have anything to do

with my mother or my father. They want to find out

how they can be given an opportunity to reasonably

know both when mum and dad just don’t get on.

Okay. Alright. Thank you.