On Wednesday night, the Senate narrowly passed a bill that will see the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court merge into a single, generalised court structure.
The government passed the bill in the Senate by 30 votes to 28, with the support of One Nation and independent senator Rex Patrick. Labor, the Greens and independents Jacqui Lambie and Stirling Griff opposed the bill, which effectively abolishes the specialist, standalone family court.
Breaking: The Morrison Government has just done a deal with Senators Pauline Hanson and Rex Patrick to end debate at 9:30PM and ram through its radical proposal to effectively abolish the Family Court tonight. A very sad day. Labor, Senators Lambie and Griff and Greens opposed. pic.twitter.com/zcMAvVOFRi— Mark Dreyfus (@markdreyfusQCMP) February 17, 2021
The government has argued that creating a single-entry point, in a structure to be known as the Federal Circuit and Family Court, would make the system easier to navigate, but more than 155 stakeholders in the family law system, including the Law Council of Australia, have signed an open letter to the Attorney-General, opposing the bill.
The family law stakeholders say the changes will “increase cost, delay and stress” for families in what is already an overworked and under resourced court system.
“Any reform should strengthen a system, not lead to the diminution of specialisation. If the Government’s proposed reforms proceed, we will lose a stand-alone specialist superior family court,” the letter said.
“While we support just, quick and cheap access to justice and there is a role for increasing efficiencies within our court systems, this must not come at the cost of the safety of children and adult victims-survivors of family violence.
“These two important imperatives are not mutually exclusive, and one ought not be abandoned at the expense of the other.”
Nassim Arrange, chief executive of Community Legal Centres Australia, said the merger will expose survivors of family violence to unnecessary risk.
Horrified that the LNP just got rid of The Family Court. What will this mean for the vulnerable? Especially women and children?— Jane Caro (@JaneCaro) February 17, 2021
Senator Jacqui Lambie slammed the government’s bill, telling parliament it was a “train wreck in action”. She said overworked family court judges were being asked to work through cases like they were on a production line in a “burger joint”.
“How is that justice? How does that bring any Australian justice, let alone Australian families?” Senator Lambie said.
This is a huge win for Hanson. What we need is to reform the Family Court, to make it safe for kids; not abolish it. This decision does not serve the best interests of children in separated families – and may put them in even greater danger. https://t.co/aaAkffGVab— Jess Hill (@jessradio) February 17, 2021
Senator Lambie said there needs to be an urgent funding increase, telling Attorney-General Christian Porter there would be a mental health crisis because of the merger.
“If you think the heartache and the suicides going on out there are bad enough, if you’ve got half a conscience, wait until you see what’s coming because it is a train wreck in action,” Senator Lambie said on Wednesday in parliament.
“What is wrong with you people? You are playing with people’s lives.
“I hope you can wear it mate, because you’re going to see a lot more hurt going on in these families and more suicides going on. I hope you can sleep at nighttime.
“Quite frankly, you disgust me.”