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The Morrison government will launch a new review of the Family Court to be led by former social services minister Kevin Andrews in a response to mounting complaints about rulings and a dispute over men’s rights.
The parliamentary inquiry comes after years of criticism of the court by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, which is demanding an overhaul of laws to help men gain custody of their children.
The inquiry was announced at the Coalition’s regular party room meeting without detail on its terms of reference.
“It is absurd that for a relatively simple family law case people are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Liberal MP Craig Kelly said.
“There are a lot of people making a lot of money out of the system and it seems to be a money-making exercise.”
Mr Andrews announced a policy in 2014, when he was social services minister in the Abbott government, to give couples a $200 voucher to pay for marriage counselling in a $20 million pilot scheme aimed at preventing divorce.
The new inquiry comes at a time when the government is only part-way through an attempt to overhaul of the court system in order to achieve its stated goal of cutting the time required to get rulings.
Attorney-General Christian Porter has vowed to proceed by the end of this year with plans to abolish the Family Court as a stand-alone court and merge it with the lower-level Federal Circuit Court.
The plan has been criticised by Labor and some legal figures and the government struggled to get it legislated earlier this year, which meant the bill lapsed when the election was called.
The Law Council of Australia objected to Mr Porter’s plan on the grounds that families were better off with a specialised Family Court.
One Nation leader Senator Hanson has called for months for a parliamentary inquiry spanning into the Family Court, although the system was also reviewed by the Australian Law Reform Commission in a report handed down in April.
Mr Kelly said it would be wrong to portray the new inquiry as an attempt to shift the balance toward men and their claims for child custody.
“I’ve have many women come to me and they’ve had appalling decisions against them, when they’ve had their children taken from them,” he said.
“I don’t think this is an issue where the men get the best decisions or the women get the best decisions.”
Mr Kelly said the new inquiry should consider the cost of the legal process, the time taken for decisions, the way judges order families to go to expensive family counselling and the selection of judges.
Mr Kelly said he knew of cases in which former partners were ordered to go to particular marriage counselling services before they could make any progress in the court processing, forcing them to pay substantial amounts to the counsellors.