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The Morrison Government has announced a Joint Parliamentary Committee of both the House of Representatives and the Senate into family law, including the child support system. The Prime Minister has said the review would look at whether the current system (for both family law and child support matters) is fit for purpose.
What is this? And why is it needed?
A Parliamentary Committee will allow members to hear directly from families their account of their interaction with the family law and child support system, and how they interact with one another.
The Government states the Committee is needed to ensure that “families can resolve issues as quickly and fairly as possible, so everyone can move on with their lives”, said the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has required the Committee to return with “recommendations that look at how the system can be improved.”
60 recommendations about how legislation can be amended, or re-drafted or legislated were provided by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) when the Report by the ALRC into family law was released in April 2019. Despite this significant use of resources and significant report prepared, the government has failed to take on any recommendations. On 27 September 2017, the ALRC first received terms of reference from the Attorney General, the then Senator Brandis.
The Government does have reforms before the Parliament about the merging of the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia. These reforms were unsuccessfully legislated for last year and a Senate Inquiry was held.
The family law system has long been seeking significant and structural reform. Among changes sought are advocates for reform in the interaction of family violence and the family law system and for the introduction of a Family Violence specialist Court.
It is well recognised that most people and families first interaction with the law is through the family law system. A system many people and families have no choice but to enter, and become embroiled in litigation over many years.
Whilst it is clear there are no quick fixes, or simple solutions, it is imperative that such significant changes to such a far-reaching area of law that impacts so many lives of children and their families, are well considered and well implemented.
Throughout the week following the announcement of the Committee, many have expressed their opinion as to the necessity for the enquiry and criticised the Government, some have also criticised the Government’s nomination of Deputy Chair being One Nation Leader, Pauline Hanson. The Attorney General has stated that any change will require the support of the Senate and cross-benchers so they are therefore required to be involved in the Committee and process.
The Committee is to be chaired by the Hon Kevin Andrews MP and it is likely that Senator Pauline Hanson, the Leader of One Nation will be the Deputy Chair.
Independent MP for Warringah, Zali Steggall, has ‘put her hand up’ to be involved in the Committee given her role prior to entering Parliament earlier this year as a barrister practising predominantly in family law. Ms Steggall has stated it is “dangerous to polarise this as being mothers’ rights versus fathers’ rights. The core of the system is it’s the child’s rights.”
It is hoped that a prompt inquiry can be undertaken to not further delay the implementation of any reform within the system. The system has waited for the recommendations from the ALRC for 18 months, and it is almost 6 months since they were released with no change to be made, or recommendations to the legislation to be implemented. It is noted that the Attorney General’s proposed structural reform of merging of the Courts was proposed in Parliament prior to the release of the ALRC recommendations.
Stay Tuned for regular updates on the changes and proposed legislation for reform in this area.
Image Credit – Dmytro Zinkevych © 123RF.com
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