The first full review of Australia’s family law system in 40 years will begin next week.
It will be led by the Australian Law Reform Commission from October 1, Attorney-General George Brandis announced on Wednesday.
He said the review was necessary and long overdue, given there had been no comprehensive look at the Family Law Act since it came into effect in 1976.
“Australian families and their needs have significantly evolved since the 1970s,” Senator Brandis said in a statement.
The review, headed by Professor Helen Rhoades, was flagged in the May budget.
Its terms of reference are broad but will focus on making sure the family law system prioritises the best interests of children, best addresses family violence and child abuse, supports families and allows disputes to be resolved quickly and safely with minimal financial burden.
The federal government has asked the ALRC to consult widely with family law, family relationship and social support services, as well as health and other stakeholders with expertise and experience in the system.
The Australian Law Council welcomed the wholesale review but warned that any meaningful, long-term reform needed significant funding.
President Fiona McLeod said resourcing has not kept up with the increase in the number and complexity of family law cases.
“The Law Council looks forward to contributing to this review, however we note that any significant recommendations for reform will not be able to be implemented without corresponding funding,” she said in a statement.
The ALRC has been given until March 31, 2019 to report back.
One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson has been taking credit for the government announcement. She said no one was interested in dealing with the issue until she “hounded” Senator Brandis, who has rejected her claims.
“It is something I have wanted to do for quite some time, going back to before Senator Hanson was a member of parliament,” he told ABC TV on Thursday.
Senator Brandis did acknowledge he has had useful and constructive conversations with Senator Hanson on the issue.
But he insisted the first review in 40 years has nothing to do with the upcoming Queensland state election, which her party is contesting.
“We announced this in the budget in May,” he said.
“We have been in close consultation with the sector, with practitioners, judges, with other stakeholders … to develop these terms of reference and as a result of that very extensive consultation, the terms of reference were published yesterday.”