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The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2019 Has Passed Senate

After extensive debate in the Senate, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2019 and the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2019 were passed with some minor amendments.

After the previous iteration of the Bills (dubbed the Merger Bills) failed to gain traction in the Senate, revised versions have now passed with some amendments. 

Debate in the Senate that concluded at 9:45 p.m. on 17 February 2021, included statements from both sides of the Chamber. In response to significant criticism of the proposed bills, Deputy Attorney-General, Sen. Stoker, responded about the proposed legislation. (See Hansard p. 92);

“I can't tell you, Madam Acting Deputy President, how unfortunate it is that so much of the debate on these bills mischaracterises them and the current system as a whole. Most notably, despite what has been said, the bills we are dealing with—and I make a point of this—do not abolish the Family Court. Judges appointed to the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court will continue in their existing appointments, and the government had committed to a minimum of 25 Division 1 judges, in line with the recommendation of the Semple review. The government will also now entrench that minimum number of Division 1 judges in the legislation itself, so there can be no doubt.

It is also necessary to respond to claims that these bills will result in a loss of specialisation. That claim is false. The reality of our existing family law system is that the Federal Circuit Court deals with close to 90 per cent of family law parenting matters. There are around 40 judges of the Federal Circuit Court who hear only family law matters. It doesn't get any more specialised than that, and the average FCC judge hearing family law matters has, on average, 25 years of experience in family law. These judges have experience with matters involving families with complex needs, and the unfortunate reality is that they also have experience dealing with matters involving family violence.”

Read the full debate here.

The Bills will now go back to the House of Representatives. With the Government holding a clar majority in the House, it is likely that Royal Assent is imminent and the Bills will become law.

Once passed, a full analysis of the legislation will be provided. 

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