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Address to Hunter Valley Family Law Practitioners Association Conference, Pokolbin.



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ATTORNEY-GENERAL THE HON ROBERT McCLELLAND MP

Hunter Valley Family Law Practitioners Association

Conference

Conference Centre, Cypress Lakes Resort

Cnr McDonalds & Thompsons Rd s, Pokolbin, NSW

Friday 24 October 2008 , 12.00 pm

CHECK AGAIN ST DELIVERY

[Acknowledgements ]

• First , may I acknowledge the tra ditional owners

of the land we meet on - and pay my respects to

thei r elders, both past and present

[Other Acknowl edgements ]

• Chair - Peter Hamilton, President , Hunter Valley

Family Law Practitioners Association

• The Hon Justice Judith Ryan, Family Cour t of

Australia

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• The Hon Justice Graham Mullane, Retired

Justice, Family Court of Australia

• Mr Ian Loughnan, Judicial Registrar, Family

Court of Australia

• Lyn McLardy - for her great effort in organising

this conference

• Ladies and gentlemen

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[Introdu ction ]

1. Good afternoon .

2. It’s a great pleasure to be here today and deliver

the plenary address to the Hunter Valley Family

Law Practitioners Association.

3. In terms of access to justice , f amily law will affect

about 40% of Australians in one way or another.

It is both a significant legal and social issue.

[Fa mily Law Practitioners ]

4. There is no doubt that family breakdown is one

of the most traumatic events a person can

experience.

5. And th at trauma is much worse when children

are involved.

6. Clearly - you al l know this too.

As family law practitioners , you r work takes you

into the lives of many people who are distraught

with their situation.

7. I’d like to publicly acknowledge your work.

Your work is much needed.

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8. You have a great deal of responsibility -

especia lly when helping parents make joint

decisions that are in the best interests of their

children.

This undoubtedly can be tough - but part of your

work is to help your clients make hard choices.

9. It is necessarily the case that family breakdown

will result in less access to resources and

probably less time with kids.

No one walks away happy from family

breakdown.

[An Integrated System ]

10. And inevitably, there will be times whe n, as

practitioners, you are in the position of having to

be forceful when encour aging parties to come to

an agreement.

11. The very worst lawyer is one who merely tells

clients what they want to hear.

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12. Lawyers, as wise counsel and advisers, are

central to ensuring a stronger and more effective

mediation sector.

13. And one which is seamlessl y integrated into the

family law system.

14. I have spoken previously about my vision for a

better integrated family law system.

15. As a society, we expect parents to cooperate for

the sake of their children.

16. The Australian taxpayer also has the right to

exp ect that courts, profession al s and service

providers also work together for the wellbeing of

Australian children.

17. That is an approach that I will continue to

encourage.

18. To make this happen we need smooth processes

in place.

And a range of services on offer .

We need to strengthen the relationship between

legal services, family relationship services and the

courts .

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19. As professionals in the sector - you can help

achieve this.

20. It is important that each part of the system

values each other’s contribution, and ac tively

facilitate the clients ’ access to each other’s

services.

21. Experience shows w e will see great benefits if all

parties work closely together .

22. One local initiative I am aware of that is

successfully modelling an integrated approach is

the Newcastle Fam ily Pathways Network, which

is known as the ‘Newcastle Gateway Project’.

23. I had the privilege of speaking at the network’s

conference in June of this year.

24. At that time I was encouraged to see people who

work in many parts of the family law system

coming together .

Not representing their own sectional interests,

but showing a desire to work collaboratively with

colleagues and professional service providers.

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25. It is a role model. And I’m confident that

initiatives such as this will lead to better

outcomes fo r Australian families, and in

particular, their children.

[Family Dispute Resolution ]

26. The family dispute resolution framework is also

central to ensuring a stronger and more effective

mediation sector.

It is a good example of how an alternative dispute

resolution process can be successfully integrated

into the legal system .

27. Since 1 July this year, all parties applying to a

court for a parenting order, including existing

matters, must first attempt family dispute

resolution - subject to appropriate excepti ons .

28. Successful implementation of the new reforms

requires mediators in services such as Family

Relationship Centres to view themselves as vital

component s of the legal process - avoiding more

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complex and formal proceedings whilst still

resolving difficult disputes.

29. Evidence shows that mediation will help to

decrease the large number of entrenched conflicts

in the court system.

30. FRCs should offer a less adversarial process

which can achieve outcomes that all parties are

able to work with - experience shows that these

situations , where both sides have ownerships of

the outcome, can be the best for the development

of children.

31. And the system is working - we’ ve already seen

applications for family law matters in the Family

Court of Australia and the Federal Ma gistrates

Court decline by around 18 per cent from July

last year to June this year.

32. There are several factors but it seems that a large

part of this can be attributed to FRCs , which are

helping meet the demand for family dispute

resolution.

33. However , the w ork is far from done.

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FRCs will only be meeting the mandate for which

they were established if we continue to work on

ensuring they are properly integrat ed into the

broader network of family law.

34. This will help parents focus on the needs of their

children while reaching agreement on parenting

arrangements - outside the courts where

possible.

It avoids trauma, it avoids expense - for families

and the community.

35. This year, I’ve had the pleasure of officially

opening new centres in Victoria, Queensland,

West ern Australia , South Australia and New

South Wales .

During these launches I’ve met a number of

family dispute resolution practitioners.

And I’ve been very impressed with their

professionalism and the level of assistance they

provide to people in need .

[Ev aluation of 2006 R eforms ]

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36. There is no doubt that as practitioners you

would have faced challenges in adapting to the

significant changes to the family law system in

the last couple of years.

37. We want to make sure that these recent changes

to the family la w system are working.

38. As you would be aware, w e have commissioned

the Australian Institute of Family Studies to

undertake a thorough evaluation of the package

of shared parental responsibility reforms that

were introduced in 2006.

39. The evaluation will incl ude a follow up to the

2006 Survey of Family Lawyers.

And this will enable comparisons to be made

between pre and post -refor m attitudes .

40. I understand th e survey will so on be distributed

to practitioners through the Family Law Section

of the Law Council of Australia.

And I encourage you all to respond .

41. Your feedback is crucial in gauging the impact of

the reforms.

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No -one knows your experiences , or more

specifically your clients, better than you do.

So I encourage you to either convey your support

or voice yo ur concerns.

[Issues in Newcastle ]

42. On this, I realise your local community does have

some c oncerns about judicial resources in

Newcastle.

Particularly since Justice Mullane’s recent

retirement.

43. He has been an exemplary judge who has

provided outstanding s ervice to the local

community.

44. I saw this first hand at a Community Cabinet

meeting last month at Lambton High.

45. I can assure you that the Australian Government

is committed to making sure that all federal

courts hav e sufficient resources.

I am currently examining the situation in

Newcastle.

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46. I also real ise that the growth in the federal

courts’ workload in the Newcastle region means

the c ourt building is overstretched .

And there are concerns about security.

47. My Department, the Department of Finance and

Der egulation and the federal courts are working

together on options for a new federal courts

building in Newcastle .

And we’ re liaising with the New South Wales

Government on the possibility of a courts

precinct.

48. I welcome your views on the situation in

Newcas tle and will take them into consideration

when examining the options available.

49. Of course, any proposal for improved court

premises would need to be considered as part of

the normal budget process.

[Inaugural C onference ]

50. I’d also like to let you know abo ut the inaugural

family law conference I will be holding.

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It s main aim will be to build integration across

the three key sectors of the family law system -

the courts, legal practitioners, and family

relationship services .

And it will address a range of to pics, including

case management and workforce deve lopment.

51. The conference will be held in February next

year.

200 individuals from key organisations will be

invited to attend.

52. I’m eager to see what this conference can achieve.

It will be the first in a se ries of annual

conferences , and will help set the scene for work

in future years.

[Conclusion ]

53. In the meantime, forums such as this provide a

good opportunity to address current issues and

plan ahead.

And I as k that as you do so, you consider ways in

whic h you can help strengthen the family law

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system.

And that you do this because it’s in the best

interests of families - especially children.

54. I wish you all the ve ry best for the remainder of

your conference.

And I look forward to hearing the outcomes.