Wednesday, 30 May 2018




Subjects: Family Court Reform

GEORGIE GARDNER: Well, this week he said our court system is letting down families causing unnecessary confusion and huge backlogs. This morning, the Attorney-General Christian Porter is promising relief, and I'm pleased to say he joins us now.

Good morning to you.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Morning, Georgie.

GEORGIE GARDNER: How are you going to fix a system you have acknowledged is failing?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, at the moment we've got two courts that run parallel, they've got different forms, rules, procedures, they both deal with family law matters, and the procedures and processes are far too complicated, people spend far too long before the courts before their matter is finally resolved, which means they spend too much on legal fees. So, we intend to have one single court to deal with family law matters. Inside that court we're going to ensure that there are much simpler forms, procedures, better case management, better assessment at the upfront stages to the complexity of a matter so that it can be given to the appropriate judge and judicial officers inside the court system. And all of this we think means that Australian families will spend less time before the courts during what is obviously already a terrible time in their life.

GEORGIE GARDNER: So, what you're saying is this should streamline the system. I'm just wondering when these changes will come in to place.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: They'll come in to place 1 January, next year. They require us to pass legislation, so we're very much hoping for support of the Crossbench and indeed the Labor Party to support that legislation. But to give you one example, at the moment there are 22,000 matters listed for a final order in our two courts, And 1200 matters, which is obviously thousands of people, are bounced round like family law footballs from one court to the other. And some of them will move from one court to the other and before they're moved they spend 11 months in the wrong court, and then they're asked to go to another court and start again. So, can you imagine the stress, the cost, the difficulties, and the anguish that that causes those families? And that's just one example of how terrible the system has become.

GEORGIE GARDNER: Well, as you acknowledge the backlog in many cases is years, and as you say, so painful for so many families. Why has it taken so long?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, reform of this type's been talked about for 10 years.  The Turnbull Government, and my instructions from the Prime Minister, have been to make it an absolute priority. Because we're talking here about 22,000 matters listed for final order, which represents thousands of Australians who are just spending too long to get out of the system, too much on legal fees. And that is all about the structure that's grown up over time where you've got these two courts with different rules and forms and procedures and people moving from court to court. And we've just made this a priority because there are just thousands of people out there in quiet anguish during these really difficult times of their lives, and we can make that far improved by having a better system for them.

GEORGIE GARDNER: Yeah, I'm sure they would be saying this is long overdue.

Moving on, we of course have to ask you about Barnaby Joyce. He's announced he's taking 11 weeks off in personal leave; your fellow minister Michael Keenan was on the program a short time ago, saying in fact it was paternity leave. Is that right?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I don't actually know. And look, I've got 40,000 plus Australians, and 22,000 Australian families that I've been focussed on for the last several months, making sure that we can develop a better system which will improve their lives. It's certainly a case that there's one family connected to Parliament that themselves that are under stress, and one member of that family's having leave. But I'm just not doing my job if I'm focusing on that and not focusing on these tens of thousands of Australian families whose lives that as Attorney-General I can improve.

GEORGIE GARDNER: We absolutely respect where your focus should be. But I guess, there's no doubt about it, Barnaby Joyce is making headlines, he's front page again of The Telegraph in Sydney. I'm just wondering how you think this leave he's going to take is going to go down with his constituents.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Look, I just don't have a view.

What I want to make headlines is how, as Attorney-General, I can fix a system that's been broken for in excess of a decade and make for better outcomes for Australian families who are spending too much money before the court, and too much money on lawyers. And, I've spoken to these families, and they are in desperate and terrible points in their lives as relationships end and there are divorces and separation of de facto couples. And every one of them say to me; fix the system, make it simpler, make it fairer, make it shorter, make it quicker, and make sure I spend less on legal fees.

GEORGIE GARDNER: Can I just ask you if you think there's ever a place for a serving politician to be paid for a TV interview?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Look, it's not something I would ever do.

GEORGIE GARDNER: Alright. We'll leave it there for now. Christian Porter, thank you very much.