SUBJECT/S: National Redress Scheme, the Family Court and Michaela Cash.








SUBJECT/S: National Redress Scheme, the Family Court and Michaela Cash.


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus joins me now. Welcome to RN Drive.


DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you for having me Patricia.


KARVELAS: This is a pretty significant development. Do you welcome the Catholic Church’s decision to sign on?


DREYFUS: Absolutely. It’s an extraordinarily significant day for the thousands of people who fought so long and so hard for redress and justice, and I’d actually like to particularly acknowledge Leonie Sheedy and everyone at the Care Leaders Australasia Network, to acknowledge Chrissie Foster and her late husband Anthony Foster, and all of the other Australians who’ve fought against the Catholic Church for so many years for the truth to be revealed. It is a really significant day. I agree with Dan Tehan who’s the Minister working on this redress scheme and what we now need to see is the last remaining states sign up and after that, the other institutions, but as the Minister himself said, the Catholic Church is responsible for abuse on an extraordinary scale.


KARVELAS: That’s right, and the Catholic Church has a long history of covering up that abuse, undermining victims, avoiding responsibility. Do you believe they’ve turned a corner here?


DREYFUS: Well, it’s an absolutely welcome decision, to see the institution that is responsible for more of this child sexual abuse than any other institution. The redress scheme, we very much hope is going to start on the 1st of July this year, a year after the Royal Commission wanted it to start, but nevertheless, it’s starting, and almost all states, and of course the two territories, and the Commonwealth are in the scheme, we want the last remaining state - I think it’s Western Australia -  to join the scheme as well, and we’re looking forward to Dan Tehan resolving what I understand to be an outstanding issue concerning Western Australia, and I hope that can be resolved soon.


KARVELAS: You’ve mentioned Western Australia, and of course I was going to go there. It’s the only jurisdiction not to sign on, and it’s a state Labor Government.


DREYFUS: Child migrants is the issue that remains unresolved as I understand it, and it’s a matter for negotiations.


KARVELAS: What’s your message to them?


DREYFUS: Well, both the Commonwealth and WA need to reach agreement on that outstanding issue. I’m looking for Western Australia to join the other states of the Commonwealth to make this scheme a truly national scheme. 


KARVELAS: So your message to WA is that there is a sense of urgency here?


DREYFUS: Yes. The scheme needs to start of the 1st of July. There needs to be legislation. It’s been passed by the New South Wales Parliament. It’s been passed by the Victorian Parliament. There needs to be legislation from the other state parliaments.


KARVELAS: The Minister for Social Services, Dan Tehan has confirmed that people with criminal records will have access to the scheme. That clears a major sticking point Labor had. Will you support the scheme as it’s currently envisaged when this legislation is provided?


DREYFUS: The bill has passed through the House of Representatives and there were some very moving speeches given by a number of my colleagues. I spoke on the bill as well and made the point that we want the scheme to start on the 1st of July. It’s not precisely the scheme that we would have negotiated with the states, and in particular, that issue about people with convictions being able to access the scheme is an important one. So too is the fact that the government has negotiated a cap of $150,000 which is $50,000 lower than the cap recommended by the Royal Commission. There’s also an outstanding issue about continuing counselling which the Commission thought was a very, very important element of any redress scheme. Again, the Commonwealth has negotiated a scheme which puts a lifetime limit of $5000 on counselling. We don’t think that’s anywhere near enough.


KARVELAS: Are they the sorts of things that if you were to win the next election, you could change and you would be willing to change?


DREYFUS: The $150,000 cap is something that would be very difficult to change, but the issue of continuing counselling because of the Commonwealth’s shared responsibility with the states for the health system, is something that I think could be renegotiated, and there is scope there for an extension of what is available because, I say again that the Royal Commission stressed this over and over again in its final report on redress delivered in September 2015, just how important an element in making reparations, in providing redress to survivors, continuing counselling was, so certainly that’s something we would be looking at if we are elected to government.


KARVELAS: OK, but the actual compensation cap you say, is settled now and you can’t touch that but on counselling Labor may move. 


DREYFUS: It’s because there was a constitutional referral. I don’t want to be technical, but it’s called a text-based referral. It’s tied to the actual terms of the bill. And the states in making their constitutional referral, to make sure this is a national scheme, have legislated on the basis of the bill which has got this cap in it. So there is a degree of complexity about it and it might invalidate the referrals and it would be a hard element to revisit whereas the continuous counselling element of a good redress scheme we think is more simply able to be revisited. 


KARVELAS: On another very big issue today, there is no shortage of very large significant reforms in Australia today.  The Attorney-General has announced a fairly major shakeup of the family law system, basically the abolition of the Family Court, the combining of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court. Now I know you have already spoken about this today and you have raised some concerns, you want to see more evidence. Are you sticking to being more likely to supporting this at this stage?


DREYFUS: The government today has announced a huge shake up of the family law system. A merger, is the way they are describing it, of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. It is in fact, as some of the media reports have indicated, much more of an abolition of the Family Court because the government, the Attorney-General, has directly said that the existing Family Court judges are going to go into a Division of One of this new court, but it is not the intention of the government to appoint any new judges to Division One.  That sounds very much like it is being converted into a Federal Circuit Court which might have the word ‘family’ in its name but it’s still just going to be a merged Federal Circuit Court. 

Now the problem that we are presently facing is that the government says it’s going to be providing legislation that will be introduced in August, so we have to wait to see that legislation.  A lot of the details we can’t judge until we see it. But I have expressed some concerns. I have expressed some concerns about the fact that the government didn’t consult, it seems, with any judges other than the Heads of Jurisdictions. It doesn’t seem to have consulted with families or family groups, or stakeholders in the family law system, family law practitioners - that’s a concern. And no doubt as they look at details of this announcement they may well have concerns. Again, I’ve said today a few times that it’s important that the specialist judges, the specialist nature of the Family Law Court be preserved because it’s been a singular feature of the Family Court of Australia that it is a specialist judge court, judges with expertise in family matters, expertise in psychology and working with families. That’s what we need to continue. An aspect of the scheme that the Attorney-General has proposed, that appellate system will now be operated out of the Federal Court, raises a concern about who will hear these appeals from the family law system again. We say to the government and to the Attorney-General that it is absolutely vital that the specialist judge aspect of our existing system be preserved.


KARVELAS: Critics of the existing system say that the delays stem from the underfunding of the court system, because that is one of the main parts the government says it wants to address, the significant delays. Would Labor commit to increasing the funding to the family law system?


DREYFUS: We’ll have to look at it when we come to government but there is an obvious point to be made that the government has not increased the resources for the Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court.  The number of judges now there at the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court is the same number as it was when we left office in September 2013.  The government hasn’t even kept pace with inflation.  The government is not providing any new funds to this merged court other than an amount of $4 million, which is really to do with the transition costs, so there is no new money. You could say that there is a whole lot of other opportunities that the government seems to have ignored but particularly the suggestion made by the former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, which is that more registrars should be appointed, or indeed looking at the whole question of legal assistance. We’ve got chronically underfunded Legal Aid Commissions, community legal centres and when there is that chronic underfunding it leads to more people being in the Family Court and in the Federal Circuit Court unrepresented, which necessarily causes delay. We’re up to about 30 per cent of all litigants are not represented, so neither side of the case is represented by a legal practitioner. That means necessarily, the judge has to spend more time working with the parties because there are no lawyers there to assist in the speedy resolution of the dispute. There’s things that the government could have looked at and it hasn’t and we’re in a sense awaiting the detail of the scheme and awaiting the evidence that the government’s got for some pretty extraordinary claims Patricia, as to the reduction in delays or the additional cases to be disposed of that they say will come from simply merging the courts, not increasing the number of judges and putting them together. We’re yet to be convinced that this is a scheme that’s going to produce the dramatic results that are claimed for it. We look forward to reading the PWC report that the government says it has where apparently at least some of this massive overhaul is based.


KARVELAS: Michaelia Cash has instructed her lawyers to fight a subpoena to give evidence in the AWU bid to throw out the investigation into its GetUp! donation. She’s within her rights to do that isn’t she?


DREYFUS: Of course. Any person that’s subpoenaed to give evidence in any Australian court can appear before the judge and I’ve no doubt that Senator Cash will be represented by an army of government lawyers and counsel and apparently she’s going to say ‘set the subpoena aside’. That’s her right, but our bigger concern is the way that she’s treated the Parliament, Patricia. She’s refused to appear before Estimates, despite having misled Estimates last year in October – five times – about the involvement of her office in the AWU raids, if I can call them that, where simultaneous raids were conducted by the Australian Federal Police on the Melbourne office and the Sydney office of the Australian Worker’s Union, with television cameras in attendance, that having been arranged by Senator Cash’s then media adviser. The question is what she knew.


KARVELAS: You know what she said today in her press conference. If the Registered Organisations Commission is right in that the AWU donation wasn’t properly authorised, haven’t they been justified in their investigation?


DREYFUS: As I understand it, the AWU current executive has said over and over again, that the payment, which was public and well publicised at the time…


KARVELAS: But they haven’t provided the paperwork, the minutes, have they?


DREYFUS: But they’ve said it was authorised. Their members all knew about it. It was put in their Australian Workers Union newsletters. This is an absurd investigation.


KARVELAS: But why hasn’t the evidence been provided?


DREYFUS: Why is the investigation being conducted in the first place is the better question. What possible social benefit, public benefit, is there in the Registered Organisations Commission, apparently under the direction of their minister, then-minister, Senator Cash, pursuing a public donation made by the Australian Workers Union to GetUp! more than ten years ago, that the current executive of the AWU, who are responsible for the affairs of the union, say was fully authorised, fully declared, fully known by members, fully approved by members when they did know about it. What a nonsense to have the resources of the Commonwealth devoted to this. The AWU has a proceeding in the Federal Court that completely challenges the Registered Organisations Commission’s pursuit of this more than ten year old public donation. Minister Cash decided that this should occur. Well we don’t know because she’s refused to answer questions about it – we know now that her office, something that she misled Parliament about - we know that her office was involved in getting media in attendance at these raids. She should do her job and go into the Parliament, go into the Estimates session and answer the questions that she’s refused to answer. She gave the most angry and defensive press conference I’ve seen this year and she said practically nothing in it. She just continued her attack.


KARVELAS: Mark Dreyfus, many thanks for your time.


DREYFUS: It’s been a pleasure to be with you Patricia.