Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2019

February 18, 2021

This is a very sad day for families in Australia, as the previous speakers have indicated. The bills back before the House today—the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2019 and the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2019—will abolish the Family Court. There is no doubt about that. The Family Court is a specialist court specifically designed to resolve the most complex legal family disputes and it is a superior court of record, a great Labor legacy that the Liberals will destroy today.

All those on the other side of the House who say there will be no loss of specialty in the new Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia have clearly never had anything to do with family law at the coalface. There's no argument that the family law system is broken and desperately needs fixing—no argument at all. But if you neglect a system for seven years and you don't replace retiring judges when we know 40 years in advance that they're going to retire—it took a year and a half for a judge in the Sydney registry to be replaced and a year for a Brisbane judge to be replaced when they knew decades before that there was a certain date—and you don't resource the system appropriately and it's stretched to the limit and has difficult outcomes, then it's going to break.

These bills before the House will provide more resources for only one state, South Australia. I have nothing against South Australia and I'm not badmouthing any South Australians, but they're the 30 pieces of silver necessary to get these bills passed through the Senate. The government is completely ignoring the seven other states and territories. What about the families in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, the ACT, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Tasmania?

Don't they deserve that their family law matters are dealt with in a timely way? There are no resources for the shunned seven other parts of Australia but these bills will decrease the minimum amount of Family Court judges in the whole of Australia. There will be fewer specialist judges who will be able to determine the disputes of vulnerable families. The bills are collapsing a standalone specialist court into a general court. That court hears matters as diverse as migration, industrial relations, bankruptcy and intellectual property—completely different to family law. Anyone who has ever practised family law—and I see the member for Blair here—or spent time listening to family lawyers, as I've done for the last five years or so, will know that family lawyers are driven to that area of law. They're driven to it because they have particular skills—a calling almost—and there's a particular culture in family courts so that families are always safer. Collapsing the new Family Court structure into the general Federal Circuit Court will see Division 2 judges jumping from hearing family law matters to migration matters to any other jurisdictions in the court. It would be like asking one of us to spend two days a week as a members of the House of Representatives and to then have three days over there in the Senate—working out whatever they do over there!—which has different procedures and a different culture. But that is what these bills will do; they'll be asking Division 2 judges to jump all around.

Rather than listen to the experts who work in family law, who represent vulnerable litigants in family law, the Morrison government has completely ignored their pleas to reject the model in these bills and to instead implement the model first called for by the Semple review back in 2008 and, more recently, by the New South Wales Bar Association. This is a model that would preserve the standalone specialist Family Court and improve the specialisation of the family law system by moving Federal Circuit Court judges who hear family law matter into a lower division of the Family Court—a standalone specialist court with unique procedures and a culture that would protect families and children. There are good things happening. I commend the Chief Justice for initiatives like the Lighthouse Project, the single point of entry and many other initiatives—all things that are happening now irrespective of the bill before us that will get rid of the Family Court.

The government has ignored the experts and relied on a desktop review,—they've clasped at it like a drowning man with a straw—to abolish the Family Court and decrease specialisation for families. It will be a shameful legacy for Prime Minister Morrison. It will be a shameful legacy for Attorney-General Porter. It is a betrayal of Australian families, and the bill and its amendment should not be supported.