Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Doorstop Interview



Subjects: Family Court Reform; National Security laws

QUESTION: What is – how does merging these courts fix the issue as you see it? Especially, with so many people on waiting lists trying to get their cases heard.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well it allows for a single, simplified system with a single point of entry. It will allow us to rewrite all the rules, practice management, the procedures, the case management that occurs in the newly created court. It will mean that people aren't bounced around from court to court – wasting time before they're transferred into the appropriate court. And, we have gone through a very deep amount of data analysis which tells us that we can have thousands of more matters heard and resolved quicker every year by this process of simplification.

One single new court, one single unified, simpler set of rules and procedures, one single point of entry.

QUESTION: So there's an efficiency dividend that you lack there. Is there also a benefit in terms of the difficulty of the family court often places on people from an emotional perspective?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, the reality for anyone who's experienced this themselves, or knows people who have experienced it – is that when you go through the anguish and that terrible part of your life when a relationship ends, the worst possible thing is to, in effect, be in each other's faces in a court for long periods of time.

So if you can resolve your matter through the court system in six months, that's a much, much better outcome for mums and for dads and for parents – and particularly for children – than having the matter drag on for 18 months, or for three years.

So this reform is designed to have people spend less time in court and less time on legal fees.

QUESTION: The government is confident that you have the legal authority to do this?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We're very confident that the restructuring of the system in constitutional. We have consulted exhaustively with the heads of jurisdiction of the courts involved, and we think that the result will be more matters heard more quickly, less time in court, less money spent on legal fees.

QUESTION: On the intelligence review – what would you say to people who might be concerned that this is a, another chance for the security agencies and intelligence agencies to increase their powers – that creeping acquisition of powers?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That's just not at all what it's about.

The way I would describe it is that there's two major moving parts in the intelligence environment. One is the fact that we have a threat of violence that is constantly changing, with constantly changing threat types and technologies, and then over the last several years this Government has introduced ten tranches of legislation on a bipartisan basis, which have updated the laws, the powers, the rules and the oversight of the agencies who are tasked with adapting to that threat of violence.

So it's an appropriate time to take stock, and look from top to tail and the whole system to see what things are working very well and less well, and what things might need to be adapted and changed.

And this is as much about organisation, cooperation, coordination, the resourcing and staffing levels of these agencies, as it is about the way that they share information.

QUESTION: When people talk about changing the thresholds for getting warrants and things like that, as was suggested today, is that…

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We've not spoken about that…

QUESTION: No, no but if that's where it goes, is that one of the aims of what this review is going to be?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I think that is one of the less likely outcomes from a review of this type. But, the review will be able to consider all the matters that involve the intelligence community and the way that community interacts with domestic agencies and with state police forces.

But, what I might gently say is, that is jumping the gun to some perceived outcome – this is about improving the system to keep Australians safe.

QUESTION: So it's not an erosion of civil liberties or anything like that?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: How can a review of the system, which includes a review about the adequacy of oversight and integrity provisions, be anything like an erosion?

What it is, is a review ensured that we have a system in place which keeps Australian's safe, and finds the right balance between that and civil liberties.

QUESTION: Will the powers of the Signals Directorate be part of this review?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The ASD is a part of the six agencies inside what is known as the National Intelligence Community. So those six agencies will be the subject to the review, and the way that they interact with domestic agencies such as the AFP, those in Home Affairs, and particularly Austrac. And then also the way that the system operates on a federal basis with state police forces and other agencies.

QUESTION: Do you think it's appropriate that Barnaby Joyce is now taking this period of leave to deal matters in his personal life?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm not a counsellor; I don't know their personal circumstances, so I'm not going to get into the advice giving business.

Clearly there is one family that is connected to Parliament that is in stress, and one person is taking leave – my focus and job is on the tens of thousands of Australian families in the family court system whose lives I can improve as AG by delivering better court services.

QUESTION: Is it fair for Barnaby Joyce to be paid during that personal leave time?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Again, I am just not getting in to personal commentary on personal matters.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to the family court, apologies we arrived a bit late there – are you concerned about any legal challenges from judges or people in the court system regarding this merger?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I'm not concerned about it. This is a restructure which recognises this fact;  that the court system doesn't exist for judges or for lawyers – it exists for the families who need the court system to resolve their matters. We've received advice and designed the restructure to ensure that it is constitutional.  I'm very confident that it is. And ultimately the design of a single court, a single point of entry, a single set of simplified rules and procedures is meant to mean that families, during these terrible and difficult times in their lives, are spending less time in the court and less money on legal fees.

QUESTION: Do you think that single point – that single one stop shop – will save the time? Or should there be more judges deployed to family matters to try and speed up those?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: The answer to the problems of all the inefficiencies in the system is not simply to layer more judges onto an inefficient system.

The answer to the problem is to structurally reform the system, and free up judges and judicial resourcing so that they can be allocated to front line trials and have matters resolved faster and in greater numbers.

QUESTION: Legal matters can sometimes come across all sorts of constituencies – mumbo jumbo, complicated, that sort of thing. What would you say to people that use the family court system all the time, about whether they should have confidence in this restructure?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well this restructure is for those people – for those tens of thousands of Australian families who spend too much time going in and out of court on interlocutory and intermediary matters who spend too long before their matter is resolved. We absolutely recognise the problem. It's a problem that has existed for more than a decade, that the Turnbull Government is absolutely focussed on the needs of the users of the court, and this reform is all about them and making their lives better and easier, cheaper and quicker.

QUESTION: Just on foreign interference, are you concerned by the reports that Bob Carr may have, sort of, scripted questions for the Labor Party at Senate estimates last week, about the PM's former adviser, John Garnaut?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I did read that article.  What I would say is that no better exhibition of the challenges that we face, and be give, than that Director General of ASIO, Duncan Lewis, gave – now in two parliamentary committees – when he said that we face an environment of espionage, terrorism and foreign interference, greater than any time during the Cold War – unprecedented in Australia's history.

So those sort of reports are of concern.  What is of greatest concern for me is to have our espionage and foreign interference Bill, finally reviewed by the committee – it has taken an enormous amount of time, it really is time to have that Bill returned from the committee with whatever suggestions they have, and we have sent up amendments to that committee. But the threat environment is absolutely clear, and as bad as it has ever been in Australia's history, and now we have to move forward in a bipartisan way to get the legislation in force that can help us deal with that threat environment.