02/04/2007 - 08:23

McGinty condemns Ruddock's "starvation" of Family Court

02/04/2007 - 08:23

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State Attorney-General Jim McGinty has launched a stinging attack against Federal Attorney General Philip Ruddock, accusing him of planning to starve the Family Court of Western Australia.

 McGinty condemns Ruddock's "starvation" of Family Court

State Attorney-General Jim McGinty has launched a stinging attack against Federal Attorney General Philip Ruddock, accusing him of planning to starve the Family Court of Western Australia.

 

 

The full text of an announcement, sent out in support of Mr McGinty's address to the Western Australian Family Law Practitioner's Association Conference, is pasted below

Vulnerable Western Australian families are being caught up in Federal Attorney General Philip Ruddock's attempts to compromise the Family Court of Western Australia.

Attorney General Jim McGinty said funding and staffing shortfalls meant couples were waiting almost 15 and-a-half months for their cases to be heard by the court - approximately three months longer than in June last year.

"This is of significant concern to the community, as delays of this magnitude have the potential to severely disrupt the lives of families and possibly place children in situations of risk while they await the outcomes of court case," he said.

"If another judge is not appointed to the court immediately, it will not be long before people in WA will be waiting more than 18 months for their trials to be heard."

WA is the only State that has its own family court, with couples in other States accessing the Family Court of Australia. Family Court funding is a Commonwealth responsibility.

Speaking to the Western Australian Family Law Practitioner's Association Conference today, Mr McGinty said it appeared that the Federal Government was planning to starve the Family Court of Western Australia in an effort to force the State Government to agree to incorporate the State court into the national system.

"The Family Court of Western Australia has been assisting vulnerable couples at the point of relationship breakdown for more than 30 years," he said.

"We have developed a legal system that works and is highly regarded for its equality and progressive approach."

In his speech, Mr McGinty said Attorney General Philip Ruddock had attacked the Family Court of Western Australia in five key areas:

- Refusing to appoint a new judge to the court to replace former Chief Judge Michael Holden who retired in February. Instead Mr Ruddock recommended the appointment of an additional magistrate. This would reduce the number of judges from five to four - there has been no increase in the number of judges since the court's inception in 1976 while workload has increased exponentially. The WA court already has the highest ratio of magistrates to judges in Australia;

- In 2006-07, the federal budget allocation of $12.54million for the Family Court of Western Australia represented 7.5 per cent of the total family law allocations. WA has 9.79 per cent of the Australian population and covers one-third of the land mass. Based on current projections, the court is under-funded by $1.1million per annum. Since 2003, the Commonwealth has not provided the court full cost-of-living adjustments on an annual basis. The court faces the reality it will 'run out of cash' by early 2008;

- Ignoring an application made in April last year to increase family court resources in the rapidly growing South-West region. The application included funding for the appointment of a family law magistrate, family consultants and support staff to be located in Bunbury.
The demand for family law services in the region has grown to such an extent that these appointments are now overdue;

- Refusing to act on the reference of powers by the State in respect of the superannuation entitlements of heterosexual and same sex de facto partners. For constitutional reasons WA could not legislate with respect to superannuation so those powers were referred to the Commonwealth last year.

However, Mr Ruddock is insisting on a reference of powers in all property and maintenance matters.

This is unnecessary as WA already has legislation in place to deal with the division of
property upon the breakdown of a de facto relationship.

If the Commonwealth would accept the reference of powers made to it by this State,
de facto couples would be dealt with in the same way as married couples when determining the distribution of superannuation. The Commonwealth is unfairly and unnecessarily discriminating against de facto couples in WA;

- Refusal to allow the appointment of judges of the Appeal Division of the Family Court of Australia to the Family Court of Western Australia to hear appeals in de facto matters. This denies WA de facto couples access to the specialist appeals court available to those living in other parts of Australia.

Mr Ruddock has stated that if WA wishes to ensure that appeals in de facto
disputes are heard by a specialist family law court, then the State should refer all powers with respect to de facto disputes.

This unsatisfactory solution would still not allow WA same-sex de facto partners access to appeal.

Mr McGinty said it appeared that Mr Ruddock had an agenda other than access to justice for couples
seeking assistance with the resolution of their differences.

"Together we are facing a very serious threat to the viability - and even the very existence - of the Family Court of Western Australia," he said.

"The actions taken by Mr Ruddock clearly discriminate against people living in this State and reduce their access to justice."

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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