So where are we at with Australia’s family law reform? In the 10 years we’ve been writing about family law issues, there’s been much debate about family law policy, but really not much action. There have been a number of reviews and Governmental inquiries and we’ve heard plenty of talk promising urgent reform. But as for practically implementing any recommendations from the most recent round of Parliamentary reviews and inquiries, there has been a deafening silence.
Granted, the pandemic put the brakes on the finalisation of the Government’s family law inquiry in 2020. But the Joint-Select Committee did manage to finally release its report, to which the Government finally issued its response to the recommendations in March last year. Shortly thereafter, the Government also quietly responded to the recommendations of the earlier ALRC inquiry into the family law system and legislation.
Last September we did see the court merger of the Federal and family courts, creating the so-called “supercourt” – the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia (“FCFCOA”). It remains to be seen how this will have affected efficiency, as promised. And it hardly addresses all of the huge number of recommendations for reform contained in both the Joint-Select Committee and the ALRC reports.
Nine months ago, there was an article in The Conversation bemoaning the lack of government response to reviews and inquiries. The article suggests that the ALRC terms of reference were simply too broad and that “most of these issues had already been extensively explored in reports by parliamentary committees, previous ALRC inquiries and the many carefully considered reports of the Family Law Council”.
The article criticises the government response as merely noting recommendations, accepting very few, and making promises to attempt to redraft legislation to “clarify” things:
“Typically, the response to many recommendations sounded like, “we will think about it”, or “we will consult with stakeholders” or “we might draft something vaguely along the lines of what the ALRC was trying to achieve”. “
And to reiterate the vexing question posed by The Conversation:
“What is not clear is why, in the two years since the report was received, the government hasn’t already thought about it, consulted with stakeholders and developed proposed reforms to the Family Law Act.”
The last time family law reform appeared to be on the radar of politicians is when Pauline Hanson was re-elected into the Senate in June and told reporters, “We need more reform in our family law and child support systems”.
A political candidate Tanya Plibersek was also asked in April whether a Labor Government would commit to a review of the family law system and gave a pollie-speak non-answer:
“Well, family law is a very important element of federal government responsibility. And one of the most disappointing things that this government has done when it comes to family law is to say ‘we’ve got delays in the family court, we’re going to fix that by abolishing the family court’. That’s what this government’s record is, when it comes to family law. We know of course, that families that are going through divorce need support, to make sure that they can come to arrangements that put their children in the centre of decision making. That’s our priority, to make sure that children in divorcing families get all the support they need to grow up strong, and healthy, and confident.”
But with new reports that community legal services are having to turn clients away due to a funding shortfall while family violence continues to cause increased demand, is it time to reinvigorate debate about the pressing issues?
Some community legal services agencies are reporting that around 70% of their clients identify as victims of family violence, which Legal Aid calls a “steep and staggering rise”.
The new Federal attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus is claiming he intends to reform the legal services sector, which he has described as “needing repair work”, and recently told a legal conference that this would be one of “three key matters that I would be working on from day one”.
It will be interesting to see what the other two key matters will be – and whether they are family law reform related.
And that’s all for our family law reform update – the update is unfortunately that there still is no update. The beleaguered family law system will, for now, continue to lumber along as always, burdening consumers with insufferably long waits and high costs as they try to resolve their family law issues. We’ll keep you posted on any developments…and meanwhile, please speak to us regarding your Alternative Dispute Resolution options so we can hopefully help you avoid the court system altogether.
For help with a family law matter, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.