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Budget 2003: Family Law Pathways response [and] Fact sheet 3



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ATTORNEY-GENERAL THE HON DARYL WILLIAMS AM QC MP

NEWS RELEASE

13 May 2003

FAMILY LAW PATHWAYS RESPONSE

The Howard Government’s strong commitment to families is reflected in our response to the report of the Family Law Pathways Advisory Group “Out of the Maze - Pathways to the Future for Families Experiencing Separation”.

The all-of-Government response to the report has been released today.

As part of the Government’s response, $27.8 million has been allocated to the Attorney-General’s portfolio in the 2003-04 Budget to enhance services for families around Australia.

I am pleased to note that Commonwealth agencies, legal and community services have already begun improvements to the family law system based on the Pathways recommendations.

The former Minister for Family and Community Services, Senator Jocelyn Newman, and I established the Family Law Pathways Advisory Group on 17 May 2000.

We asked the Advisory Group to consider how to build a family law system that provides more effective early assistance, helps families to minimise conflict, provides better information and ongoing support and better coordination of service delivery.

The resulting Pathways report contained 28 wide-ranging recommendations to improve the operation of the family law system.

The Government supports the Advisory Group’s recommendations, which address three broad themes:

• Early help - connecting people to information and services;

• Better outcomes for children and young people; and

• An integrated system that meets families’ needs.

The recommendations were directed not only to government but also to the courts, private professionals and community organisations.

I am pleased to see the enthusiasm with which the recommendations have been received. Work has already begun to implement the directions outlined in the Pathways report.

A number of very positive initiatives are being implemented by Commonwealth Government agencies, while others are being pursued by the legal and community sectors.

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Since the launch of the report in August, 2001, Government and non-government agencies, the courts and the legal profession have worked together to develop ways to implement the recommendations.

Funding provided in the 2003-04 Budget will support directions in the Pathways Report by providing continued resources for Family Law Online (www.familylaw.gov.au) and the Family Law Hotline (1800 050 321) (both part of Australian Law Online).

The Government is also providing ongoing funding in the 2003-04 Budget for Children’s Contact Services and for the support services provided by the Victorian Court Network for family court clients.

And we are expanding the innovative and successful Contact Orders Program, which helps separated parents who are experiencing high levels of conflict to establish better relationships and ongoing contact with their children.

Another measure which supports the implementation of the Pathways Report is the provision of ongoing resources for the Men and Family Relationships and Family Relationships Education programs, both part of the Family and Community Services portfolio.

To further support Pathways initiatives, the Minister for Family and Community Services and I will be convening a national forum of service providers this year.

The forum will bring together stakeholders in the family law system, including lawyers, Federal and State agencies, non-government service providers, the courts, health professionals, educators, counsellors and mediators.

The Government is committed to the vision of an integrated family law system that achieves the best possible outcomes for Australian families.

But it would be unrealistic to expect that this can be achieved quickly or by Government alone.

The Government’s Pathways Taskforce will continue to work with service providers and other stakeholders to develop a coordinated and consistent policy framework for the future delivery of services for separating families and families in conflict.

Media Contact: Carina Tan-Van Baren (02) 6277 7300/ 0419 423 965 www.law.gov.au/budget

BUDGET 2003-2004

Fact Sheet 3

THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL’S PORTFOLIO

Fact sheet 3 - Family Law Pathways Page 1 of 4

FAMILY LAW PATHWAYS

In conjunction with the 2003-04 Budget, the Government is releasing its Response to the Report of the Family Law Pathways Advisory Group, Out of the Maze - Pathways to the Future for Families Experiencing Separation (the Pathways Report).

The Pathways Report contains 28 wide-ranging recommendations to improve the working of the family law system. The recommendations, which are directed not only to government but also to private professionals and community organisations, address three broad themes:

• Early help - connecting people to information and services, providing separating families with the information they need to make informed choices, a greater focus on early conflict resolution and better assessment of people’s needs when they first seek assistance.

• Better outcomes for children and young people, helping parents to put their children’s needs first, and supporting ongoing post-separation parenting through times of conflict and through changing family circumstances.

• An integrated system that meets families’ needs, achieving better collaboration between the full range of public and private service providers within and across jurisdictions.

Work has already started to implement the directions outlined in the Pathways Report. A number of initiatives are being implemented by Commonwealth Government agencies, while others are being pursued by the legal and community sectors.

Many involve collaboration between government agencies and community-based service providers and are designed to achieve greater integration of service delivery across government and non-government agencies.

Examples include the collaborative development of information products, greater liaison between the courts, private legal practitioners and community based service providers, the establishment of local networks of service providers and the expansion of the Family Court of Australia’s Magellan project. These initiatives are outlined in more detail in the Government’s Response.

The Pathways Report provides the family law sector with a clear direction for change in future years. The Government’s Family Law Pathways Taskforce, jointly chaired by the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Family and Community Services, will coordinate implementation of Pathways initiatives. In consultation with stakeholders, the Taskforce will also develop a coordinated and consistent policy framework for the future delivery of services for separating families and families in conflict.

Fact sheet 3 - Family Law Pathways Page 2 of 4

Consistent with the Coalition’s commitment at the last election to support and promote the recommendations of the Family Law Pathways Advisory Group (Better Law, More Options - the Coalition’s Law and Justice Policy, 2001*) the Government has allocated $27.8 million over four years in the 2003-04 Budget to further enhance services around Australia supporting families experiencing separation.

In particular, the Government has committed resources in this Budget to continue Australian Law Online, Children’s Contact Services and the family law services of the Victorian Court Network. The Government will also be expanding the innovative Contact Orders Program.

CONTACT ORDERS PROGRAM

Over recent years, the Government has funded pilot projects to help separated parents to resolve their conflicts and establish better contact with their children without the need to go to court. It is proposed that existing services be continued, that new services be established in south-east Queensland and Melbourne and that the Parramatta service in Sydney be expanded to provide services to a wider geographic area.

In addition to providing better outcomes for children and young people consistent with the directions set out in the Pathways Report, expanding the Contact Orders Program meets the Coalition’s election commitment to promote and further enhance ‘more innovative services such as the Coalition’s contact orders pilot programme’ (Better Law, More Options, page 10).

Measure

2003 - 04 $m

2004 - 05 $m

2005 - 06 $m

2006 - 07 $m

Total $m

Contact Orders Program 1.2 1.3 1.3 1.4 5.2

CHILDREN’S CONTACT SERVICES

Children’s Contact Services provide another form of support designed to assist children to maintain contact with their parents. There are often flash points for separated families in conflict when children are handed from one parent to another. Children’s Contact Services provide a safe, neutral environment for children to maintain contact with a parent who is no longer living with them.

The Commonwealth Government has established a total of 35 Children’s Contact Services. Ten of those services already have ongoing funding and the Coalition made a commitment during the last election campaign that it would maintain the 25 children’s contact services it had established (Better Law, More Options, page 8). This measure ensures that all Children’s Contact Services have on-going funding.

Measure

2003 - 04 $m

2004 - 05 $m

2005 - 06 $m

2006 - 07 $m

Total* $m

Children’s Contact Services

4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 17.0

*Rounded total of unrounded figures

Fact sheet 3 - Family Law Pathways Page 3 of 4

AUSTRALIAN LAW ONLINE

The Pathways Report indicated that there was a need to:

• provide coordinated system-wide information for families experiencing separation,

• provide information which is accessible, consistent, comprehensive and targeted; and

• provide first point of contact assessment and referral to match families with the most appropriate services.

The Government is continuing to develop Australian Law Online, including Family Law Online (www.familylaw.gov.au) and the Family Law Hotline (1800 050 321), as a national source of information about the family law system and where to get help.

Family Law Online already provides fact sheets on questions commonly asked by people experiencing family break-up as well as information about the services provided by a number of government and non-government organisations in the family law system. It will be enhanced to include up-to-date contact information about the availability of local services for families experiencing separation.

The service is particularly useful to people in rural and regional Australia who can ring the Family Law Hotline or access Family Law Online to obtain information when there are no convenient local sources of information.

The information available through Family Law Online will also support effective referrals between service providers by providing useful information which can be used to refer people to the most appropriate service for them.

The continuing funding for Australian Law Online meets the Coalition’s election commitment to enhance and promote Australian Law Online as a smart and innovative way of ensuring that everyone is able to access basic legal information, with an emphasis on family law issues, and advice via the Internet or over the telephone (Better Law, More Options).

Measure

2003 - 04 $m

2004 - 05 $m

2005 - 06 $m

2006 - 07 $m

Total $m

Australian Law Online 1.3 1.3 1.4 1.4 5.4

VICTORIAN COURT NETWORK

Courts can sometimes be daunting and confusing places for families, particularly for those who do not have legal representation. The Victorian Court Network is a highly regarded volunteer service that assists Family Court of Australia and Federal Magistrates Service clients in Melbourne and Dandenong.

Fact sheet 3 - Family Law Pathways Page 4 of 4

The Victorian Court Network not only assists clients currently engaged in family law processes in the courts, it also provides information on other options available to them. These options, such as dispute resolution services, aim to keep people out of court.

Under the Keeping People out of Courts initiative announced in last year’s budget, funding was made available to support the continuing coordination of this service for family law clients until 30 June 2003.

The funding provided in the 2003-04 Budget now provides ongoing support for this important service.

Measure

2003 - 04 $m

2004 - 05 $m

2005 - 06 $m

2006 - 07 $m

Total $m

Victorian Court Network 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.3*

*rounded total of unrounded figures

MEN AND FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS AND FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS EDUCATION

In addition to services receiving funding through the Attorney-General’s portfolio, the Government is supporting the recommendations in the Pathways Report by extending funding for two programs in the Family and Community Services portfolio - the Men and Family Relationships Program and the Family Relationships Education Program.

The Men and Family Relationships Program has been allocated $19.6 million over four years. It is an innovative response by the Government to the perceived lack of services for men in the community. The program assists men to deal with emotional issues around relationships so that they can manage a range of relationship difficulties and enhance or re-establish positive relationships. Importantly, the services aim to reduce the incidence of male suicide and family violence, as well as contributing to increased child support compliance.

The Family Relationships Education Program assists couples in improving their relationship skills and in maintaining healthy relationships. Relationship education services offer early intervention and prevention to assist couples and families to strengthen their relationships through the learning of new relationship skills. The services also assist couples and families to develop strong communication skills and the capacity to resolve challenges which occur in relationships.

The Men and Family Relationships program and Family Relationships Education services were funded until 30 June 2003. Funding that the Government is providing the Family and Community Services portfolio in the 2003-04 Budget will ensure these successful services are continued.

*Better Law, More Options - the Coalition’s Law and Justice Policy document, 2001 (www.law.gov.au)

Media Contact: Carina Tan-Van Baren (02) 6277 7300/ 0419 423 965 http://www.law.gov.au/budget