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Issue #1843      October 10, 2018

Family Court targeted

The union representing Family Court workers says detailed reforms recommended by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) will only succeed in improving outcomes for children and families if there’s an urgent increase in staffing and resources.

The ALRC last week released a discussion paper including more than 100 recommendations to reform the family law system, having considered submissions from various stakeholders including the Community and Public Sector Union, which represents staff working at the courts.

The discussion paper has been released as the Coalition government continues to push on with another disruptive restructure of the courts system, with the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court to be combined from the beginning of 2019.

CPSU acting director Emma Groube said: “Courts’ staff are encouraged by this detailed and thoughtful discussion paper from the ALRC, but dismayed that the federal government is pushing on with its damaging and pre-emptive shake-up. This is the fifth major restructure in these courts in a decade, and absolutely should not proceed until the ALRC has completed its important work.”

The unions says that the Law Reform Commission has made a number of excellent recommendations to improve Australia’s family law system and the outcomes it provides for families and particularly for vulnerable children, but does not believe it has engaged directly enough with the chronic under-staffing that has severely hampered the fair and efficient operation of the courts for years.

“Endless restructures have made this problem of under-resourcing worse not better, as each has resulted in job cuts that mean there are fewer staff than ever to deal with an ever-growing workload,” said Groube. “Our submission to the ALRC showed at least 126 jobs have been cut from the Federal, Family and Federal Circuit Courts in the past five years, which is more than 10 percent of the total workforce.

“This constant reshuffling and the cuts that have come with it has added to the pressure on judges and staff while ignoring the underlying problems with the Federal Courts system, which is continuous cuts to funding while dealing with an ever-increasing workload. It is lunacy.

“It’s an absolute insult to children and families caught up in the family law system that the government would direct the Law Reform Commission to conduct this review, then completely pre-empt that work with a restructure that seems to be all about slashing jobs and cutting costs not improving outcomes.”

CPSU members working in the courts are calling on the government to halt the disruptive restructure until the ALRC’s review has been completed and implemented, and instead provide the additional staffing to keep the family law system running in the meantime.

Next article – Along class lines – Howard’s End

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