One Nation leader says she is ‘so happy’ George Brandis has announced the review, which will report back in 2019
Labor, One Nation’s Pauline Hanson and the Law Council of Australia have all welcomed the government’s decision to review the family law system.
The attorney general, George Brandis, has asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to undertake the “long overdue” review, saying Australian families have evolved significantly since the Family Law Act 1975 came into force.
He wants the commission to consider if the family law system still prioritises the best interests of children, best addresses family violence and child abuse, and helps families resolve their family law disputes quickly and safely while minimising the financial burden.
The commission has been asked report back to government by 31 March 2019.
Mark Dreyfus, the shadow attorney general, welcomed the government’s review, but criticised Brandis for creating some of the pressures on the system the review was intended to examine.
“His failure to appoint a federal circuit court judge in Newcastle for 12 months, for example, has created huge backlogs in that jurisdiction that have harmed families,” Dreyfus said on Thursday.
“Threatened cuts to legal assistance services have created major uncertainty for a key support network in the family law system, and the government has still not announced any funding to facilitate an end to domestic violence survivors being cross-examined by their abusers in court.
“None of these problems can afford to wait until the report’s due date in 2019. Action must be taken concurrently with the ALRC’s work,” he said.
Hanson said she was “so happy” with the news. She has campaigned for changes to the family law system for years, claiming it unduly advantages mothers in family breakdowns.
“What needs to be addressed is the domestic violence orders. Women, mostly women, are going out throwing them around left, right and centre,” she told Channel Seven’s Sunrise program.
“A domestic order, or an AVO … if the partner wants to ring up and say ‘look I want to see my children’, well that’s a DVO. How ridiculous is that? Because they call that harassment.
“What I would like to see is that children, at point of separation, [the parents] have joint custody. Unless that parent has a criminal offence against them, they are on drugs, or they have a domestic violence order already on them. This is what I’ll be pushing for.”
Fiona McLeod, the president of the Law Council of Australia, also praised the announcement of the review.
“The Law Council has long been warning that our family law system is in crisis, primarily due to a lack of funding and resourcing,” she said.
“While the number and complexity of family law cases has increased sharply in recent years, resourcing has not adequately increased to compensate.
“Those on the frontline of our family law system have been sounding the alarms for years. So ‘the appropriate, early and cost-effective resolution of all family law disputes’ is a very appropriate focus of recommendations in this review.
“The current lack of resources has meant that families facing the most serious family law issues are waiting for up to three years or more before a final trial,” she said.
Brandis said on Thursday there were always financial demands on the system, but the Coalition had still managed to beef up the federal circuit court of Australia, which now has more than 60 judges and deals with nearly 90% of family law matters.
“Now that was actually a court that, during the previous Labor government, at one stage, they wanted to abolish,” he said.
“So of course there are pressures on the system, but we have put more judges into the system to deal with family law matters.”
Brandis has appointed Prof Helen Rhoades to lead the two-year review. Rhoades has been a professor at Melbourne law school since 2012, the co-convenor of the Melbourne Law School’s family and children’s law research group, and the chair of the Family Law Council from 2010 to 2016.
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