Chris: If there’s one issue guaranteed to generate emotion and anger, it’s the family law system. Mention it on air and you’re inundated on both sides. And, because of the emotion, and because children are often involved, it is very difficult to separate fact from fiction. Earlier this year, in a bid to help ease the situation, the Federal Government announced a proposal to combine the Family Court with the Federal Circuit Court. Now, the plan was announced by Attorney General Christian Porter, who said at the time, “This significant structural change is designed to dramatically increase the number of family law matters finalised each and every year, and reduce the backlog of unresolved cases on hand at any one time.” He said, “The purpose of the reform is to ensure Australian families experience shorter waiting times, and a reduction in the potential conflict caused by prolonged and acrimonious family disputes.”
Chris: Now, at the moment, committee hearings on the proposed merger are taking place. So far this week they’ve been in Perth, but the focus now is on the east coast. And attending those hearings is One Nation leader Pauline Hanson. Now, Senator Hanson says while this plan, which had been due to take effect from the 1st of January, by the way, but is now more likely to start in March or April, will help with delays, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
Chris: Pauline Hanson wants a Royal Commission into the family law system. She’s called on the government to acknowledge the discriminatory aspects of the family law system contribute to the increase in male suicide rates over Christmas. The terms of reference of her proposed inquiry would include: the conduct of lawyers and the cost of legal advice; the adequacy of legal aid and its budget; the cost of transcripts of court proceedings; the costs, adequacy, and effectiveness of supervised visitation; the conduct and cost of those providing expert advice, including psychologists; the cost and cause of delays; the use of courts at night; the effectiveness and efficiency of the child support system; suicides related to the children’s support and family court systems; and the experience of children.
Chris: Senator Pauline Hanson is on the line right now. Pauline, thank you very much for your time this morning.
Pauline Hanson: My pleasure. Thank you, Chris, for having me on.
Chris: How long has this issue been a concern for you, and why?
Pauline Hanson: Since 1996, when I first went into Parliament then, it was the biggest issue that came across my desk. And it does with any politician. You said once you bring it up on radio the phone calls come in. No different for politicians. Everyone knows that it’s a huge problem, but they just push it to one side because what can you do about it? It’s too big an issue to deal with.
Chris: It becomes almost too hard for them. Now, I don’t want to intrude on your personal life, but it is relevant. You’re a divorcee. You’ve been through the system yourself. How would you describe your experience?
Pauline Hanson: I didn’t have that much of a problem with it, myself personally, but I’ve been through it with two of my sons. And I’m going through it with one of my sons now at the moment, for the past three years. I’ve been very concerned about my sons’ wellbeing, and trying to deal with it through the court system, representing himself. So it’s been extremely difficult for him. I’ve given him the assistance, support, and financial assistance through the trial. It’s extremely hard. I’ve got people pulling me up when I’m doing my shopping. I’m talking to men who are actually at the end of their tether. I’m very concerned about them. It’s absolutely disgusting. Not only that, it’s the children that are lied to by the parents. They’re denied the right to see their parents, either one, the father or the mother. I think that the solicitors and lawyers out there, what they charge their clients, I think it’s disgusting. And it just goes on and on and on.
Chris: This proposal to merge the two courts, I got the impression when I heard this from the minister, that he’s simplifying what is a very complex issue. And when you go through the list of items that you want addressed in a Royal Commission, and I’ve just gone through that in the introduction of the interview, you start to understand how complex it is. There are so many issues that need to be tackled. It’s not just about putting two courts together, is it?
Pauline Hanson: No, it’s not. It’s a start. And you’ll find that a lot of the judges are actually agreeing with it to streamline. And the barrister association are actually saying it does need streamlining. We need a one stop pathway for it to actually submit their paperwork to it. But it’s just not that. What they’re trying to do is get rid of the family law court. So there won’t be any more family judges after the last one finishes up at the age of 17, about 2038, ’39. So, therefore, they’re going to bring all of those family law court judges out of the Federal Circuit Court. The Federal Circuit Court judges don’t only handle family law. They handle all other aspects. A lot of the cases have to do with migration, plus other cases. So they’re not expertise in that area. I’m not taking away from judges. There are some that are. But their workloads. You’ll have some judges that will hear at least 10 cases an hour, just going through it.
Pauline Hanson: So, judges need to be alleviated, relieved of some of the mentions and some of the minor details that can be taken up by registrars. So they need to put more registrars on, open up the night court. See, we’ve got a backlog in the family law court of 3,000 cases, and under the Federal Circuit Court, 16,800 backlog cases.
Pauline Hanson: You’ve got 12 to 18 months before a case can come before the court system [crosstalk 00:06:15].
Chris: And the longer those things go, Pauline, the more it damages the existing relationship between couples. And then the paradigm of children being caught in the middle of it all. And it just compounds the problem, doesn’t it?
Pauline Hanson: It does. And the big problem here also is child support. The child support agency has failed, and it’s not doing its job. And that’s the biggest problem that I hear from people as well. So that needs to be sorted out.
Chris: You also say there are judges in the system with no experience of family law. How can that be?
Pauline Hanson: Look, they’ve got a touch of it but they’re not totally experienced. And that’s why they were saying in the evidence that’s been given, ’cause I’m now going around Australia. We’ve been to Perth, Adelaide, Sydney today, Brisbane tomorrow, Townsville on Friday, to hear submissions from people with regards to the family law court, and if this bill is going to work. The thing is that they’re worried about if we’re going to lose that experience. And they’re saying if you’re actually going to get rid of the family law courts, you’re going to lose those experiences. ‘Cause a lot of the barristers and solicitors will not go on to become judges in this area, because their work load is too heavy, too stressful. So we need to look at that. We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But we need to get it right if we’re going to make these changes. Now, they’re saying that streamlining is going to help. But, I’m concerned now, are we doing the right thing? So I’m going to proceed with it.
Pauline Hanson: I’ve also presented to the Prime Minister, and I said to him personally, “You’ve got to go for a Royal Commission into the family law.”
Chris: What was his reaction?
Pauline Hanson: He said, “Let me think about it.” Now, I’ve taken other ideas to the government which they’ve taken up. My pension scheme, putting a pipeline for Townsville, defence contracts. I hope they listen to me with this one, because it’s a big issue, effects too many people. And as you said in your opening statement about my comments, at this time of the year, and on Father’s Day we have a lot of suicides with regards to men who are not seeing their children, to do with family law court matters. Please, and I beg people out there, if you know a father out there who doesn’t see his children, who’s depressed over this time of the year, please invite them to spend Christmas Day with you, because I’m very concerned. I don’t want to see another man, or a female, or a mother, who doesn’t see their children at this special time of the year.
Chris: Do you think that the family law decisions more often than not are still weighted against the man?
Pauline Hanson: Yes.
Chris: And this is what you’re getting from and gleaning from those who come to you to talk to you about family law?
Pauline Hanson: Yes. What is happening is that a lot of women are using these domestic violence orders against the men to help their cases. The fathers don’t get to see the children. The fathers have been fighting these DVO’s. There are actually a lot of them now, bringing false allegations of sexual abuse, which is untrue. The fathers are up against a lot.
Pauline Hanson: And of course the courts have to protect the women. And I understand that, because of the 72 women who have been murdered in this last year. But there’s also a lot more male suicides because of it. So it’s a huge, big problem.
Chris: Don’t we need a process by which you can get two sides together in a room? A conciliation, negotiator process, which does happen from time to time, but not happen enough. Because legal practitioners tell me when I raise this subject on air, on my afternoon programme, they tell me time and time again that these are far more effective at getting down to the nub of the issues between the two sides both in terms of property and custody, and it makes a great deal of sense, and then you steer people away from having to fork out exorbitant legal fees.
Pauline Hanson: Correct. I’ve actually been working with different organisations that for the last couple of years has been in Parliament. I presented a plan to the Attorney General last week, and it’s basically this, where you actually work together on a [inaudible] mediation that you come to a decision. Now it can be on property and then it can actually do it in the parenting. So the parents actually have to come to an agreement. So the first one who puts the case forward, say they want to go through this process, the other has 30 days to respond to it before it then goes to the court. [crosstalk]
Chris: And then you relieve the pressure on all those judges and courts, Pauline.
Pauline Hanson: That’s the answer. That’s the answer to it. And that’s what I’ve presented to the Attorney General. He’s having a look at it at the moment. So I’m trying to come up with ideas and ways that we can actually get it out of the court system. The actual cost of a trial in the family law is about $110,000. In the Federal Circuit Court it’s about $30,000. These are figures just today. You know that 25,000 cases that comes before the courts. The Western Australia has a totally different system, whereas the state government, the state has a say in the family law court, but the magistrate has unlimited powers. They don’t have that around the rest of the country. Everyone looks at the WA way of doing things as the ideal way of dealing with [crosstalk 00:11:20].
Chris: So we could learn from that system, could we?
Pauline Hanson: Yes we can. And that’s why even other solicitors and judges around the country hold up the WA systems. And the judges come down with a decision, they have to, within three months. You’ll find that around the country, a lot of decisions are not handed down sometimes for a year, and at some cases even up to even four years.
Chris: That’s frustrating.
Pauline Hanson: Exactly right. That’s why people are fed up with it. So I’m trying. These women out there. Please, being a divorced mum myself. The kids only have one mum, one dad. You may have your differences. You were once together. You’ve made the beautiful child. Please, in the interest of the child and each other, get together. Work out your differences. Allow the parents to see the children.
Chris: Don’t use them to hurt your partner.
Pauline Hanson: As pawns, exactly right.
Chris: Good luck. You’re on the right case, because as I said at the very beginning, the phones go hot on this subject. There is too much disfunction in the family law court system, and it’s got to change. Pauline, thank you very much for your time.
Pauline Hanson: [inaudible] People need power. People power. Get on the phone to the Prime Minister and tell him you want a Royal Commission.
Chris: You want a Royal Commission, support her campaigning on that score. Good on you, Pauline. Thank you.
Pauline Hanson: Thanks, Chris. Bye.
Chris: One Nation leader Pauline Hanson.