Thursday, 19 September 2019

6PR - Mornings with Gareth Parker



Family Law Inquiry, Wage Theft Discussion Paper

GARETH PARKER: Attorney-General, Industrial Relations Minister and best-dressed man in the Parliament, Christian Porter, good morning.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  It was a bit of an unexpected James Bond moment down there.

GARETH PARKER: [Laughs] Hang on. Can you compare yourself to James Bond?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Definitely more Dalton than Connery, mate, but you know. One of the weak Bonds.

GARETH PARKER: [Laughs] So, hang on. You're in the Chamber with a tuxedo on. What happened?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Well, last night was the Mid-Winter Ball, which is the Press Club's charity ball that we are all compelled to go to. But as Leader of the House, I have only very small windows of time at which to get in to the tux. So I had my three minutes, it was on. The bells rang as I was on my way. So yeah, I was down there. I don't actually I was the only one actually, but I was definitely front row.

GARETH PARKER: Right. So you said you're compelled to go to it. It doesn't sound as though you're leaping out of your skin to head along last night?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Mate, look, it's a good night and they raised enormous amounts of money for charity over the years and it's a bit of an institution. But it's a school night over here and the Leader of the House duties plus two kids in a one-bedroom apartment mean that it's a pretty much an in and out exercise for the older gents…

GARETH PARKER: [Talks over] Yeah.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  …like myself. It's a great event and great for…

GARETH PARKER: [Talks over] Okay.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  …local charities and they do a really good job.

GARETH PARKER: Good on you. Now, your Government has announced a review of the family law system. Pauline Hanson says that women make things up when it comes to custody disputes and family law matters. Is she right?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  No. Look, she shouldn't say things like that. All of our criminal justice systems operate and work and only work because of the very high expectation where there are very serious penalties for not telling the truth, and the expectation is everyone tells the truth. That's the same in the family court and family law system as it is in criminal courts and civil courts. The overwhelming majority of people tell the truth. Perjury trials are very rare.

GARETH PARKER: So why give her the inquiry?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Well, she's not been given an inquiry. I mean, she's on the inquiry. She's a Member of Parliament. And if you pass laws in this area, you're going to require broad consensus around the ability of those laws to actually improve outcomes for people in the family law system. So you don't exclude the crossbenchers. It just isn't a very productive thing to do. But she's wrong. She shouldn't have said that.

GARETH PARKER: [Talks over] Sure. But I mean, obviously, it's something that she's been pushing for. She's on the inquiry. Presumably, there's been negotiations around that. It's been reviewed before. Are there problems in the system?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Well, there are. I mean, there clearly are. And yeah, there has been reviews. So, there's probably three issues going on. One is the structure of the courts. We've got two courts dealing with the same type of matters, shuffling thousands of families between them. So we have legislation that'll be reintroduced shortly to merge the courts.

There's the actual law - like, the provisions in the Family Law Act that deal with how you draft the laws around complicated things like shared parenting. And we've had a Law Reform Commission with 60 recommendations and I'll be responding to those shortly. So, neither the structural reform stops, that keeps going. We're definitely moving to respond to the Law Reform Commission.

The third area which this largely tackles is the relationship between the law and what actually, in practice, happens in the courts.

GARETH PARKER: [Talks over] Okay.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  And I'll give you one example of things that are not working well at the moment. The Law Reform Commission made recommendations around the types of orders that the family courts might be able to make and gives a recommendation as to a new type of order. But a practical problem exists that family court orders are very, very regularly disobeyed and there's not quick, immediate consequences for that. So, like, when there's a parenting arrangement and someone is to be picked up at a certain time and they don't make the child available to be picked up for two or three days after the nominated time, that's in breach of an order. But the-

GARETH PARKER: [Interrupts] But there's no way to fix that up quickly?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  No. And the poor…

GARETH PARKER: [Talks over] Okay.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  …parent who suffers that, they've got to go back and make an application in front of the court - that is costly and time consuming. And if you have a system that's based on court orders and rules and it's a clumsy, slow, costly model to have a rule enforced, that represents a major…

GARETH PARKER: [Talks over] Okay.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  …practical problem. And reviews previously haven't gone to those sort of things…

GARETH PARKER: [Talks over] Right.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  …so this is what I'm hoping from the…

GARETH PARKER: [Talks over] Sure.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  …review is they give us some practical insight as to how do you fix an operational problem.

GARETH PARKER: Just quickly, if you are a boss and you deliberately underpay your workers, should that be a criminal offence?

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Well, unfortunately, the answer to you is it depends, and that's why I've out a paper out today to try and work out from people who are involved in the industry - employers and employees - as to how you draw that line. But I think the line is that it's quite a complicated system. There's 122 awards. The overwhelming majority of employers, even the ones that make mistakes, are all trying to do the right thing. Some people make mistakes - they self-report, they identify them quickly, they pay back quickly, they have a good relationship with their employees. Others exhibit sustained underpayments, where you can either directly prove or infer that they knew that they were doing the right thing.

So where you've got knowledge, sustained underpayments, large amounts, we're asking the question: should that be a criminal offence? And we think the answer to that is yes. But if so, how do you define those categories that…

GARETH PARKER: [Talks over] Okay.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  …require a criminal response. So we'll get submissions in and we'll draft.

GARETH PARKER: Thank you for your time.

CHRISTIAN PORTER:  Thank you. Cheers, mate.

GARETH PARKER: Christian Porter, the Attorney-General, Industrial Relations Minister and tuxedo-wearing Leader of the House.​​​