Australia’s specialised Family Court is no more, now that the government’s legislation to virtually abolish it has passed through the Senate with the help of One Nation and other crossbenchers.
The family court was set up in 1975 to deal specifically with things like divorce, family violence, child abuse and parenting disputes. However it will now be merged back into the under-resourced and over-burdened Federal Circuit Court, making it harder and more time consuming for people to seek safety and justice through the legal system.
The last domino to fall in the government’s favour was independent Senator Rex Patrick, who told The Sydney Morning Herald that he wants to make the legal system more efficient.
“It’s not a significant change but it does have some streamlining effects [for administration] and for that reason I’m happy to support the bill,” he said.
Patrick is quickly becoming the one crossbench vote needed to pass some of the government’s most controversial legislation.
But the change has been slammed by pretty much everyone with skin in the game. None of these actual stakeholders were consulted during the process, either.
On Tuesday, the Law Council of Australia published an open letter signed by more than 155 stakeholders including 11 retired judges and a whole slew community legal organisations.
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 (@MarkDreyfusKCMP) February 17, 2021
Community Legal Centres Australia CEO Nassim Arrage said that “the merger would move away from a specialist family court model, exposing survivors of family violence to unnecessary risk.”
Women’s Legal Services Australia spokesperson Angela Lynch AM, agreed, saying that “safety must come first in family law.”
“Our opposition to the proposed merger of the family courts is centred on ensuring the safety and best interests of the child and the safety of adult victim-survivors of family violence in family law proceedings,” she said.
Labor and the Greens also opposed the changes, with Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus calling the legislation a “radical proposal”.
Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe said she personally knew how rough family violence can be, and that the changes would only compound these serious issues.
“It’s so hard for women to get protection and justice for themselves and their children. It just got even harder,” she said.
Meanwhile, Tasmanian Senator Jacquie Lambie eviscerated the legislation in her usual style earlier on Wednesday.
“It is a train wreck in action. What is wrong with you people? You are playing with people’s lives,” she told the Senate.
“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,” she told Attorney General Christian Porter.
“I hope you can sleep in the night time. Quite frankly, you disgust me.”
Hey, when she’s right, she’s right.