Attorney-General George Brandis has been caught red-faced in Senate Estimates today claiming that no representative from the Illawarra has contacted him about resourcing for the family law registry.
Appearing before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Senator Brandis was asked about the Wollongong Federal Circuit Court and what representations have been made to him.
His response to Labor Senator Jacinta Collins:
The only politician who has raised the issue of Wollongong [Federal Circuit Court judicial services] is Senator Fierravanti Wells.
Attorney-General George Brandis, Senate Estimates, 9 February 2016
This is flat out wrong.
On two occasions 2 December 2015 and 2 February 2016 (attached) Illawarra MPs Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones wrote to the Attorney-General, expressing their deep concern at Wollongongs desperately over-stretched family law registry. The second of these letters was also signed by Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis a Liberal MP on Senator Brandis own side.
More than that, the Attorney-Generals office actually responded to the first of those letters in a response dated 15 January this year (also attached).
Senator Brandis has either failed to keep on top of urgent correspondence from the Illawarra MPs or misled the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
In any case, it shows just little attention this Government has paid to the problems facing families in the Illawarra and the South Coast trying to get their cases addressed. Some parents and children are waiting more than three years for a trial date and others are forced to travel to Sydney with their lawyers resulting in additional costs.
In response to questioning from Labor Senators, the Attorney-General has advised that he will look to increase resourcing to Wollongong. This falls short of what the community needs a full-time resident Judge attending to cases in Wollongong. Instead, judges will be rotated through Wollongong from elsewhere.
The workload for judges and the backlog at the court cannot be underestimated. A matter that is filed in Wollongong today wont get a final hearing until 2018. We have heard stories of additional stress, even suicide, because of these delays.
The Illawarra MPs have written another letter to Senator Brandis, asking him to specifically address the problem of the two year backlog and how his proposal will address this problem.
The Attorney-General needs to take these issues seriously and correct the record as soon as practicable to reflect the fact that the Illawarra MPs have contacted him twice to raise urgentcommunity concerns.