Wednesday, 30 May 2018

ABC News Breakfast



Subjects: Family Court Reform; National Security Laws

MICHAEL ROWLAND: There is plenty happening in federal politics, including a massive shakeup of the Family Court system.

To talk about that and more, we're joined now by the Attorney-General, Christian Porter who is in Parliament House. Mr Porter, good morning to you.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Morning, Michael.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Before we move on though, let's start with Barnaby Joyce. Is it a wise move that he takes this personal leave?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I can't possibly answer that. And I know that you're sort of obliged to ask, but today my job's to talk about how to improve the lives of 22,000 Australian families in the Family Court system, not comment on one person's taking of leave.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: We will get on to that in a moment. But you were in Parliament yesterday; you sat in the same chamber. He is a man under intense stress, suffering intense stress and pressure. Is it right that he steps back and take a breather?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, look, I can't possibly make those sort of personal judgements. I'm not a counsellor; it's not for me to say. I am very keen to talk about the stresses on 22,000 Australian families using the court system, and what we want to do about it though.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. Well, let's move on to that. Why does the Family Court system need what turns out to be a fairly major overhaul?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, at the moment, just historically how the system's developed means that we have two courts working in parallel. So, as I said there are 22,000 families who list their matters in one of either of these two courts. And quite often those families end up being, sort of, family law footballs, bounced around from court to court. The courts have had the waiting times for resolution blow out, the courts have had the backlog of cases not dealt with for over 12 months, increase. We're not using the very important judicial resources we've got in the courts effectively enough. And ultimately if families spend longer than they need to in the courts, the antagonism and the angst grows at already difficult points in their lives, plus they spend more in legal fees than they clearly need to.

So, what we're doing here is simplifying the system. It will be simpler, faster, cheaper. One single court, one single point of entry. That court will redesign all of its rules and processes and practice directions and procedures, so that there's one simpler set of that type of process. And we think that we can get enormous efficiencies and make life better for thousands of Australians who use the court.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Have you got an aim in mind, like a target of a much reduced waiting time for people involved in this new structure?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, the reforms will take a while to bed down. But as I say, there are 22,000 matters listed every year for final resolution in the two courts that presently exist. We think that when they're fully mature, these reforms could mean that you could have up to 8000 extra matters heard every year. And we will be able to achieve that by much better early triage and assessment of the complexity of cases, and the allocation of those cases to the judges with the greatest skill in that particular case, by better ongoing case management and by freeing up judicial resources that are in the court at the moment to hear more frontline first instance matters, and move the appeals to the court up to the superior Federal Court. And all those things combined should allow us to hear thousands of more cases a year. That will mean that we can turn the corner and start getting the waiting times to resolution going downwards, rather than going upwards.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: We know judges, prosecutors, and other members of the legal fraternity can be very protective, Mr Porter, of their turf. So, is there support within the legal fraternity for what you're proposing?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, certainly the three heads of the courts that are impacted by this; the Federal Court, the Federal Circuit Court, and the Family Court as they presently are, have been consulted extensively. Everyone recognises the problem, and this is the Government's solution to that problem, it's very clear, it's very simple, which is the creation of a single court to hear all family law matters in Australia.

But ultimately, Michael, these reforms aren't about judicial officers or staff inside the court or the lawyers who service clients in this area. They're about the families that use the courts and making sure that what is already a very difficult point in their lives, that they're not further burdened by long delays in the court so we think that this is in the best interest of Australian families, which is why ultimately it should be supported by practitioners in the area and the courts themselves.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Just before we go, you're also announcing a root and branch review of the legislation governing Australia's various national security agencies. Why is this needed?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, we have six agencies that are in what we call the National Intelligence Committee. And they themselves interact with a range of important agencies outside that community such as the AFP and AUSTRAC, and indeed they themselves interact with state agencies such as state police forces and others. The environment that we're experiencing with respect to espionage, terrorism, and intelligence is changing so rapidly and in a way that has not been experienced for decades. And our response to that has been to reform agencies, develop new powers, have appropriate new offences.

So, there has been so much change, both in terms of the Government reacting to the overwhelming change that's occurring in the actual communities, intelligence communities, that we think now is the time to have a top-to-tail review of everything that is happening in this area, how the agencies coordinate and operate together, how that might be done more effectively, how information is shared, how they're resourced, how they're governed, how they're oversighted. So, changing circumstances and our efforts to keep Australians safe, which is an absolute priority of the Turnbull Government, really demand that we take stock now of everything that has been done and see what else can be done.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay. We'll leave it there. Attorney-General Christian Porter, thanks for joining us on News Breakfast.