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Family Court cutbacks leave vacuum in vital counselling services.

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Family Court Cutbacks Leave Vacuum In Vital Counselling Services Robert McClelland - Shadow Attorney-General

Media Statement - 10 May 2000

An internal memo circulated to staff of the Family Court confirms the harsh impact of cuts to the operating budget of the Family Court concealed in the Federal Budget, according to the Shadow Attorney-General, Robert McClelland.

Budget documents reveal that the appropriations to the Family Court will be reduced by $15.413 million over the next four years. (1)

The internal memo from the court's Chief Executive Officer, Mr Richard Foster confirms that in the order of 80 jobs will be lost as a result of the funding reduction.

A copy of the text of the internal memo is below.

"The reduction of the Family Court's operating budget by 10% will further erode the capacity of the court to provide timely and efficient justice to parties before the court," said McClelland.

"One result is that counselling and dispute resolution services offered by the Family Court to attempt to resolve matters prior to contested hearings will be further reduced.

"Given the immense value of providing facilities for the early resolution of family court matters, the decision to cut back on these services is very unfortunate.

"While I expect that the Federal Magistracy will take on some of the work currently performed by the Family Court, it is yet to commence operation and, with the exception of the Chief Federal Magistrate, no other magistrates have yet been appointed.

"Cutting family law resources before the Federal Magistracy is established will leave a vacuum in services that will aggravate the existing unacceptable delays in this highly emotive and distressing area."

(1) Source: Attorney-General's Portfolio Budget Statement, page 167.

Text of a Memo to staff from the Chief Executive Officer of the Family Court, 10 May 2000

To: All staff

You will be aware from discussions and presentations from managers that the Court has been facing a significant reduction in resources between this financial year and the next. Reasons for this include resource shifts from the Court to the Federal Magistrates Service, the efficiency dividend, some GST impacts and the depletion of other assets which the Court has been using to meet its ongoing expenses and invest in technological improvements.

The Federal Budget last night has confirmed that the Court will need to reduce its expenditure by over

10% from 1 July 2000.

I would like you to understand that we are doing everything possible to minimise the impacts which these resource reductions will have on services and jobs in the Court. This includes very large reductions in budgets for administrative costs such as travel, office supplies etc. We are also about to see the introduction of better work processes (Caseflow) and the new Casetrack system, which will improve services to clients, make jobs more satisfying (and better supported by improvements in technology, staff development and streamlined pay/personnel processes) and eliminate non-productive activities.

I have also initiated a review of our management structures and functions (across OCE, Areas and Registries), with the assistance of Pricewaterhouse Coopers, to see if they can be further streamlined.

In the end, it is inevitable that staff numbers in the Court will need to reduce. Some newspapers today have reported that the Court will need to reduce staff numbers by 80 from 1 July 2000. This is based on a simple mathematical calculation from the funding reductions and it cannot be said that it represents the actual figure. I do not have the exact figure yet. However, I would anticipate staff reductions of that order over the next few months.

Any reductions in staffing will be based on close analysis of work, through the Resource Planning Model, to eliminate or reduce non-productive activities. A significant proportion of the reductions will come from SES Band 2 officers and support staff, the resources for which will move to the Magistracy. It is likely that we will need to reduce the amount of voluntary counselling that we provide, with the result that some counselling positions will go. I am not in a position to tell you how many and what jobs will be reduced, but should be in a position to do so by the end of this month. Of course we have available a range of support services available to staff to help you work through any concerns you may have. In the event of any staff member becoming surplus, there are redeployment and redundancy arrangements in the Certified Agreement will be made available.

We have good consultative arrangements in place and I intend to discuss any changes with NCC before they are introduced.

I know many of you are awaiting more information on the Caseflow management structure (which is a separate issue from the budgetary issue) and I will be providing you with further information on this in the next couple of weeks.

These are challenging times for many organisations, including ours. I do believe that we have the ability to continue to provide, and indeed improve, our services to families in dispute, even with the reduced resources available to us. I look forward to working with you on the many improvements, to Caseflow management, other processes and Casetrack, over the coming months. I will keep you informed of developments.

Richard Foster

Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.