Government's proposed changes to the family law system

Labor acknowledges there are significant problems with the current family law system, which have led to unacceptable delays for vulnerable families and – particularly – children.

There are many factors which have contributed to this current state of affairs. They include the government’s failure over the last six years to reappoint judges in a timely manner, ever-growing funding shortages in legal assistance services and a number of inefficiencies in the family law system.

There’s no doubt that things have to change. Labor’s priority is making sure change is done right and for the right reasons.

The Attorney-General, Christian Porter, spent most of the past year pursuing legislation that would have abolished the family court system in this country altogether. This legislation was introduced without any consultation with the community or the legal profession.

And incredibly, the government tried to push these proposed reforms through the parliament before the completion of a landmark review into the family law system by the Australian Law Reform Commission. That report is the most comprehensive review of the family law system in four decades, but the government was intent on ignoring it. Instead, the government chose to base its proposed reforms on a six-week desktop review by two accountants.

Thankfully, in the last week of parliament before the election, Christian Porter was forced to back down from his proposed reforms when he realised he did not have the numbers to get his damaging changes through parliament.

On 10 April 2019, shortly after backing away from his own proposal to abolish the family court system altogether, Christian Porter finally released the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report on the family law system (see here).

The ALRC has made 60 recommendations for reform, including that the resolution of family law disputes eventually be returned to the states and territories. Labor will carefully consider each of those recommendations in consultation with the many stakeholder groups inside the family law system, including Australian families who been through the existing system, family lawyers and judges.

Those discussions will ultimately inform the approach we take to addressing the problems with the current family law system during this term of parliament. 

Sensible and evidence-based reform of the family law system is long overdue and should be a high priority for politicians from all sides of politics. For that reason, Labor will not oppose government proposals for the sake of it – we stand ready to work constructively with Mr Porter and other government members to improve the family law system for Australian families.

At the same time, Labor will continue to push back against any attempts by Mr Porter and the government to ram through, without proper consultation, poorly considered and damaging reforms to the family law system. 

The Family Court of Australia was established by the Whitlam Government over four decades ago. Ensuring that the family court system works for Australian families is, and always has been, a priority for Labor.