Labor to oppose 'friendless' Coalition bill to combine federal and family courts

Amy Remeikis
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Takatoshi Kurikawa/Alamy Stock Photo</span>
Photograph: Takatoshi Kurikawa/Alamy Stock Photo

Federal Labor has said it will fight a plan which it argues would effectively abolish the family court, as the parliament enters its last sitting days of the year.

The opposition also plans to try and block the government’s bid to make the cashless welfare card permanent in some – largely Indigenous – communities despite a lack of concrete evidence it has beneficial outcomes.

The latest independent review of the card found it had “no substantive impact” on crime, gambling or drug and alcohol abuse in the community of Ceduna in South Australia.

The Coalition is pushing ahead with plans to make the card permanent in Ceduna, as well as the WA Goldfields and East Kimberley, and Hervey Bay and Bundaberg in Queensland. It also wants to establish it in the Northern Territory. The bill needs crossbench support to pass.

Related: A decades-long crisis: the battle to fix Australia's 'broken' family law system

Also among the legislation listed this week is the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2019. It was originally put before the parliament in 2018. It aims to unite the federal and family courts under “an overarching, unified administrative structure to be known as the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia”.

The shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, said that would effectively spell the end of the specialised family court and there were outstanding questions that needed to be answered before the bill could be considered.

‘“This proposal has been rejected by the entire family court sector and a recent Senate inquiry found the proposal was friendless,” he said.

“I am concerned by the failure of court administrators to provide critical information to the Senate committee tasked by the parliament with reviewing this radical proposal by the government. That failure should be explained, and the information provided, as soon as possible.”

Dreyfus said the government shouldn’t allow the bill to be debated until the relevant information was provided.

But the attorney general, Christian Porter, has said the proposed change would “assist families to have their matters dealt with quickly, efficiently, cheaply and as safely as possible”.

After the first incarnation of the bill received a tepid reception, the 2019 version was amended to enshrine the existing family court’s appellate jurisdiction within the new court.

But Labor senators, in a dissenting report released with the Senate committee report into the bill which backed the legislation, noted the courts had not provided answers to more than 50 questions on notice related to workload.

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The proposal for a single entry point and common rules, practices and procedures has gained widespread support, however, a legislative amendment would not be required for those changes to take place. Since 1974, there have been almost 70 reviews into Australia’s family court system. Most recommend the court be given more resources to deal with its growing caseload.

The government has a fortnight – just eight sitting days – remaining to push through bills for 2020 and lay out the beginning of its agenda for 2021.

The sitting calendar for next year is yet to be released but the government can call an election anytime from August. The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has told the party room he intends to go full term.

Morrison will beam into parliament’s question time early this week via video link from the Lodge as he finishes two weeks of isolation after his recent official trip to Japan.