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Government response to ALRC review of the family law system

Media Release

The Morrison Government has today released its response to the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) review of the family law system.

The review, commissioned by the Government, was the first comprehensive review of the Family Law Act in 40 years, and examined ways to simplify and streamline the system, improve safety and deliver faster and more cost-effective resolutions for separating families.

"The Government’s detailed response to the review’s 60 recommendations demonstrates its commitment to pursuing a strong agenda of changes that will build a family law system that meets the needs of Australian families and supports them to resolve their disputes in a safe, child-centred, accessible and timely way," Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, Senator Amanda Stoker, said. "Importantly, our response also builds upon the many recent family law reform initiatives delivered by the Government, including significant additional funding, and legislation passed by Parliament last month that will fix the broken structure of the split family law courts system."

In its response, the Government has agreed either wholly, in principle, or in part with 35 recommendations, noted 19 and not agreed with six.

"Many of the recommendations accepted by the Government represent practical reforms that will help to reduce complexity and make the relevant legislation easier to understand," Senator Stoker said.

"Significantly, recommendations 2 and 3 will also improve safety for those affected by abuse or family violence by improving information sharing between the courts and relevant state and territory law enforcement and child protection agencies.

"Work in these areas has already commenced, including the co-location of police and child protection officials in family law courts, as well as the development of a framework to improve information sharing between jurisdictions."

The Government has not agreed to recommendation 1 of the ALRC report, which proposed the abolition of the federal family law courts structure and the establishment of state and territory run family courts. The recommendation has serious constitutional limitations, would take decades to fully implement and would expose families to widespread duplication during the transitional period.

"The reality is that states and territories have always had the ability under the Family Law Act to establish their own family law courts and, with the exception of WA, none have shown any desire to do so," Senator Stoker said.

"Our Government is committed to providing Australians with an effective, accessible and safe federal court structure for family law matters, and is confident that the legislation that recently passed the Parliament to fix the broken split family law courts structure, coupled with the other initiatives the Government has introduced to improve safety, will significantly improve outcomes for families."

The additional investments in the family law system that the Government has made include:

  • more than $140 million for the courts and family law system in the last Budget, including $87.3 million for services that help families going through a separation to resolve matters without having to go to court, and an additional family law judge, 5 extra family law registrars and support staff;
  • the Lighthouse Project, which screens, triages and case manages matters involving family violence, which is identifying at-risk families early to receive specialist support and with a specialist family violence lists to fast-track high-risk cases;
  • the placement of police and child protection officials in family law registries to improve information sharing;
  • establishing the Family Advocacy and Support Services in the federal family law courts, which funds duty lawyers and social workers in federal family law courts;
  • increased legal funding through the new National Legal Assistance Partnership agreement;
  • additional family law judges, an additional registrar, and extra legal assistance funding, announced as part of the passage of reforms of the family law courts.

Given many of the recommendations of the ALRC relate to amendments of the Family Law Act, the Government will progress the development of legislation to give effect to the Government response, and will continue to consult with stakeholders on the details of this reform. The Government has also released a consultation paper relating to the accreditation of Children’s Contact Services.

The Government is also looking beyond the ALRC’s recommendations, which focussed largely on the provisions of the Family Law Act, and is considering the second interim report of the Joint Select Committee inquiry on Australia’s Family Law System.

The Government thanks the ALRC for its work, in particular Commissioners in Charge Professor Helen Rhoades (27 September 2017 to 5 November 2018), and the Hon Justice Sarah Derrington (from 6 November 2018), for ably leading the inquiry.

The Government’s response to the ALRC Report is available from the Attorney-General’s Department website, as is the consultation paper relating to the accreditation of Children’s Contact Services. The ALRC Report is available from the ALRC website.