ABC 774 Mornings with Jon Faine

SUBJECT/S: Family Court of Australia








SUBJECT/S: Family Court of Australia


JON FAINE, HOST: Mark Dreyfus QC is the Labor Party’s Shadow Attorney-General in the Federal Parliament. We’ve heard from Christian Porter, the Attorney-General on AM. Now let’s hear from the Opposition. Mr Dreyfus, good morning to you. Does the Labor Party accept there’s a need for reform?


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We do accept there’s a need for reform. There have been real problems in the family law system and they’re problems that have been causing families pain. No one wants to spend more time in the family court system than is necessary and it’s completely unacceptable the delays that we’ve now got: more than a year, a year and a half, for families waiting to reach trial.


FAINE: So what’s wrong with the suggestion here, to merge the less expeditious and therefore said to be less efficient Family Court, with the more efficient and quicker Federal Court?


DREYFUS: We’ve got concerns about the near complete lack of consultation that’s occurred here Jon. It appears that judges were not consulted, that family groups and the sector weren’t consulted. Family lawyers were not consulted. And the government has decided that this is somehow the result of inefficiencies in the court system. But it is responsible for not filling judicial vacancies that have appeared repeatedly over the past five years. We had to wait eight months in the case of Newcastle for a vacancy to be filled and other examples of four and six months for judicial vacancies to be filled. Funding hasn’t increased in line with inflation since the Abbott government came to power. The blowout has occurred in the last five years, from 17,200 to 21,000 pending matters, and we need to see the evidence for this proposed near-abolition of the Family Court, the evidence that this will produce better outcomes for families, because that of course is what has to be the objective.


FAINE: So what’s we’re going to see here is very much what Pauline Hanson has been asking for. Is that just a coincidence or do you think there’s a deal?


DREYFUS: You’ll have to ask the government about that.


FAINE: I don’t have the government available to me today and the Attorney-General wasn’t asked that on AM.


DREYFUS: Well perhaps he should have been. But it’s true that Pauline Hanson went to the last election saying ‘abolish the Family Court’ and it appears from today that that’s what the government’s going to do. It’s saying that it’s in effect going to phase out the Family Court, it’s not going to make new appointments to the Division One, where the Family Court judges are going to go. As Alastair Nicholson was just saying, and I think you’ll hear from any family law practitioner and anyone who has been involved in the family court system, this is a system that needs specialists. Everybody agrees. All of the submissions to recent reports and recent inquiries, particularly those focussing on family violence, have absolutely emphasised the importance of having specialist judges.


FAINE: Do you share the concerns expressed by Alastair Nicholson that this could lead to heightened emotions and even further possible security risks?


DREYFUS: That’s an ever present concern in family law disputes. I’m concerned that there wasn’t consultation. I’ll say this Jon, I’ve been concerned that there have been a number of unattributed statements in the media in recent weeks which have made some very nasty insinuations that the current crisis in the court, in the family law system is a result of judges not working hard enough or of allowing personal views to colour appeal judgements. Those are offensive statements and they need to stop. That is no way to be discussing what is a long-term problem of delays in the Family Court. I’d point also to the fact that the government has not properly funded Legal Aid. It has not properly funded Community Legal Centres. They remain desperately underfunded, and why are those factors not being addressed? What they lead to is a rising number of unrepresented litigants in all courts, particularly in the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court, and of course that causes delay as well. So there’s a range of other issues that the government is saying nothing about. It didn’t pick up the suggestion that Diana Bryant, the former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, that more registrars were needed in the court.


FAINE: To resolve some of the simpler matters. Look, I need to get a wriggle on. I’m grateful to you for the politics side of it and to Alastair Nicholson for the analysis on the policy side as well. That was Mark Dreyfus QC. The Shadow Attorney-General from the Federal Opposition.