Parliament: Family Court – Mediators
Questions in Parliament for Oral Answer 3rd Nov 2004
8. JUDY TURNER (United Future) to the Minister for Courts: Is he satisfied that the new $1.5 million trial of mediators in the Family Court is sufficient reform to improve outcomes for children?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts): The $1.5 million will fund the cost of pilots in four courts, offering families involved in custody, guardianship, and access disputes the opportunity for non – judge led mediation, as recommended by the Law Commission. Evaluation of the pilot will determine whether there have been improved outcomes for children, and this will have a lot of influence on future policy-making decisions.
Judy Turner: Is the Minister aware that research indicates that children are at risk of significant lifelong negative outcomes from ongoing conflict during parental separation, which can be greatly reduced when parents receive training on how to protect children and support them during Family Court cases; if so, does he agree that initiatives to develop mandatory parent education programmes should be given priority if we are to give real effect to promoting the best interests of the child?
Hon RICK BARKER: The Government is well aware of those issues and takes very seriously its responsibilities as a leader in these issues to help parents make good decisions. We will help parents with more counselling, more information, and more advice so that they can better undertake their responsibilities.
Richard Worth: Why is the Minister acclaiming this pilot programme when there have already been three pilots of non – judge led mediation in different parts of the country–this is nothing new?
Hon RICK BARKER: My advice is that it is new. Secondly, this will have a very clear and serious evaluation process and it is following the recommendation of the Law Commission in its report into the Family Court.
Martin Gallagher: Can the Minister outline the Government initiatives that aim to improve the Family Court processes for children?
Hon RICK BARKER: The interests of children are central to the Government’s improvements in relation to the Family Court. For example, the new Family Court website has a special section designed for children that makes the court processes easier for them to understand. The family mediation pilot will enable children to be involved in the discussions about their family’s future, which will make it less scary for the children. This pilot will hopefully lead to quicker processes to resolve a family’s issues, and families making decisions by themselves. If the families make their own decisions, they will be durable.
Dail Jones: Does the Minister intend to make this mediation proposal compulsory in all custody and access cases or only in those cases where a likelihood of successful mediation is possible?
Hon RICK BARKER: No. The mediation can never be compulsory, because mediation is about the parties negotiating and discussing outcomes for themselves. The compulsion part is when the matter is referred to the judge for a decision. That is the compulsion part. We are trying to get better processes in place before that so that families come to their own decisions about their futures themselves.
Judy Turner: Will the Minister extend his commitment to making Family Court processes more child and family-friendly to funding a national roll-out of the Children in the Middle parent education programme that is already piloted on the North Shore by the Family Court Association; if not, why not?
Hon RICK BARKER: I am not familiar with all the details around that pilot, but after the member’s question I will certainly go and investigate the matter.
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