Labor opposes ‘radical’ family court merge that will ‘harm vulnerable children and families’

The Morrison government’s push to merge the family and federal courts could face a stumbling block in parliament, with Labor vowing to block the bill.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the coalition had ignored more than 110 experts who warned the proposal would harm vulnerable children and families.

“The Morrison government’s radical proposal to effectively abolish the Family Court is a destructive and damaging move which will put Australian families at greater risk in their time of greatest need,” he told AAP on Monday.

Mr Dreyfus believes the bill should not be debated until court administrators provide information to a Senate committee reviewing the plan.

Legal experts are also urging the government to abandon the bill.

“Merging the Family Court into a generalist court will undermine the integrity and the structural specialisation of the Family Court,” she said.

“The impact of losing this institutional specialisation is not properly understood, and has been downplayed.”

Alastair Nicholson, who was the second chief justice of the court from 1988 to 2004, said it was unbelievable to propose dissolving the court without proper research.

“What those proposing this merger do not seem to understand is that family law is complex and nuanced,” he said.

“It is not to be judged by the output by numbers of cases as if the courts are sausage machines.”

The government argues the merger will make the family law system more efficient and make it easier for families to navigate.

The legislation creates a single entry point and would streamline forms, procedures, rules and practice management styles.

Law Council president Pauline Wright called the move a terrible gamble with the lives of children and families.

“No amendment to the bill can cure what remains a flawed and dangerous proposal without evidentiary foundation,” she said.

“Claims the merger will allow up to 8000 cases to be resolved each year cannot be substantiated and are based on PWC’s discredited six-week desktop review.”

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