Federal Circuit and Family Court Merger

The prime objective of us coming to this place is to do no harm. You would think whatever laws we make in this place should do no harm. When you have an army of very experienced, very well-versed experts in the community—lawyers, specialists, advocates, family and community workers—all united, telling you that the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2019, and the accompanying bill, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2019, is a bad bill and should not pass this House, you really should listen. And you really should listen especially when there is no counterpoint. Where are the advocates for this bill? Where's big business? Where are the economists? Where are those in the community saying that this bill is a good idea for the families and children of Australia? That's what the Family Court is all about—protecting families and protecting children. There's nobody that I can see in this country who's said this bill is a good idea, that we should abolish the Family Court and subsume it into another model and lose the specialisation which makes it a world leader.

We all know that the Family Court has problems. It would be silly to say otherwise. But those problems stem from resourcing. We know from experts—we've got the member for Warringah, who used to work in the Family Court as a barrister—from around the country telling us what the problem is: it's resourcing. We have evidence to Senate committees of judges and the case loads they are under. It's absolutely staggering. The Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee, which inquired into the bill, heard evidence that two Federal Circuit Court judges—and this is the court that the government want to send the Family Court to by increasing the workload by creating another division in the Federal Circuit Court: one in the Brisbane registry and one in Wollongong—have got over 600 cases on their dockets. There are 600 cases for each judge at the same time. Three other judges have between 500 and 600 cases, and 21 have between 400 and 500. That's evidence to a Senate committee. It's not made up. It's not some wild claim. It's evidence. It's testimony. It's real.

That's the workload judges are under now, yet this government is doing nothing about resourcing the problem. Instead, it's trying to do this cheap fix—and based on what? Based on listening to a report done in six weeks on desktop computers by a couple of accountants, a report that has been discredited because the findings it came up with were not sound. That's what they're basing this major, massive change on. I won't call it a reform. I know those opposite like to call it a reform. It's not a reform; it's destruction. They're basing it on a report by two accountants who are not experts in the field and have no working knowledge of how things work. They came to some sort of conclusion that the Federal Court was more efficient because the Family Court took longer with cases. There was no regard for the level of complexity involved in Family Court matters. And that's what this government is basing this entire bill on. That's the justification to try to save a bit of money in a system that is already chronically underfunded. It's an absolute disgrace.

The fact is the Attorney-General should own up to what he is seeking to do with these bills. The government is seeking to abolish the Family Court as a specialist and standalone superior court, and it is purely ideological. The Liberal Party has never liked the Family Court since Whitlam instituted it. It has never liked it and has always wanted to get rid of it in some form or another, even going back to Daryl Williams, the former Liberal AG in the Howard years. The Family Court's always been in their sights. They have an ideological opposition to it. I'm not sure where it stems from, but it's there. It's real. Look at this quote from Gough Whitlam:

The essence of the Family Courts is that they will be helping courts. Judges will be specially and carefully selected for their suitability for the work of the court. There will be attached to the court a specialist staff …

He goes on to say there are various other experts and helpers. He adds:

These courts will therefore be very different from the courts that presently exercise family law jurisdiction. The Family Court will, of course, determine legal rights, which it is bound to do as a court, but it will do much more than that: Here will be a court, the expressly stated purpose of which is to provide help, encouragement and counselling to parties with marital problems, and to have regard to their human problems, not just their legal rights.

When I look at what's been occurring in recent years, with our social services, I see it all as part of the same pattern, the dehumanisation of government, the dehumanisation of social services. We've got complete automation of what's come to be known as robodebt. We've got the destaffing of Centrelink and the directives to pensioners and old people and the disabled to go online. Don't seek personal service at the counter. Don't seek human assistance. Do it yourself online, on a computer. It's inhuman. It's dehumanising. We've got issues with veterans trying to deal with the Department of Veterans' Affairs. It's a completely dehumanising the experience.

It's all part of the same pattern. The government is dehumanising social and human services in this nation. They're taking compassion, being human, out of the equation, all just to save a few bucks. It's very disappointing, and no-one is standing to support it. I think we've had two members from the government stand and support this legislation. Mr Wallace and, I believe, Ms Martin are the only two I know who have spoken to the bill. Where is the overwhelming support for this bill from the government benches? Where's the ringing endorsement from those opposite of what this is seeking to achieve? Are you so timid, on that side, so cowed by the Attorney-General, that you're not willing to come into this place and state why this bill should go forward? You're just doing as you're told, like good little soldiers. You'll come in for the vote and that's it.

It's not the way this nation should be run, completely dehumanising this legislation. It's a terrible path to go down, to, effectively, abolish the Family Court in this nation. The Family Court was meant to be more than just about exercising legal rights. It should be about putting human compassion back into the system.