Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Questions without Notice
Family Law Review
My question is to the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. In September 2017, you asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to undertake a comprehensive review of the family law system, including the manner in which proceedings are conducted and the impact of family violence on parties. That report is due to be published in early 2019. Why then is the government introducing its Family Law Amendment (Parenting Management Hearings) Bill 2017, which will dramatically change the way disputes are managed, before the comprehensive review has been completed?
Thank you for the acknowledgement of this very important initiative. The government has decided to undertake the first comprehensive review of the family law system not just on the Family Law Act but on the entire family law system, including the way the system overlaps with the child protection systems of the states and territories. The Family Law Act came into operation in January 1976. We've asked Professor Helen Rhoades, a much respected expert in the field, to undertake that review. She will be supported by two other commissioners: former Deputy Chief Justice of the Family Court John Faulks, and a very eminent family law practitioner, Mr Geoffey Sinclair.
The fact that we're undertaking such a comprehensive review must not arrest or abate more immediate needs for law reform. There are two the government identified and announced in the budget, one of which you have referred to–that is, parenting managing conferences. This is a pilot program, and I'm at pains to make that point. We are running two pilot programs. The first is to be commenced in the Parramatta registry in the middle of next year, and the second is to be commenced at a location yet to be announced at the end of next year. We are piloting a new mode for the resolution of disputes over children. It is paramount that the interests of children, when parents are separating, are treated with all the seriousness, care and concern that they deserve to be treated with. These are pilot programs. They don't detract from the more comprehensive review that you've referred to.
The architect of the parent management hearings, Professor Patrick Parkinson, claims that these types of hearings are well suited to victims of domestic violence. However, both the Law Council of Australia and retired judges of the Family Court have raised serious concerns about the proposed bill. Can the government confirm whether these hearings will be used in family violence cases?
If family violence allegations are made in the course of parenting management hearings, then the matters will be referred back to the Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court. That's the immediate answer to your question, Senator Griff. But, in this area, of all areas, there are a variety of strongly held views. That is why we're rolling out these parenting management hearings as a pilot program, because we want to learn, from the way they are conducted, all that we can to inform us about future law reform. Although Professor Parkinson's name is associated with this kind of more consensual, mediation based dispute resolution, it would be quite wrong to think that Professor Parkinson alone is the author of this idea. I've discussed it with Professor Parkinson, but I've discussed it with many specialists in the field as well.
I think I just did that, Senator Griff, when I told you that the way in which these pilot programs have been set up is that, if domestic or family violence allegations are made in the course of them, they are adjourned to the court. What the government is also doing, since you raise the acute issue of family violence, is, in the other bill that I'll be introducing today, the Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill, creating new powers to protect against family violence. In particular, we will be introducing a new criminal offence where there is a breach of an order of a Family Court in relation to a family violence matter. Ordinarily courts enforce their orders by contempt proceedings and other forms of civil proceeding, but we are criminalising breaches of court orders in relation to family violence matters. That's something we're doing today. (Time expired)