This section reports on aspects of the Family Court of Australia's corporate governance arrangements.
The Chief Justice, assisted by the Chief Executive Officer, is responsible for managing the administrative affairs of the Court.
Under the Constitution, judicial power is vested in judges who administer that power in courts. The Family Law Act defines the Court as being a Chief Justice, a Deputy Chief Justice and the judges appointed to that court. By delegation from the Chief Justice, case management judges assist in administering judicial functions in particular areas, such as case management.
The Family Court is autonomously governed; that is, the judiciary has the responsibility for the administration of the Court. To enable the effective and efficient administration of justice, the judiciary needs support to deal with its workload. Non-judicial court employees, public servants accountable to the executive government through the Chief Executive Officer, provide that support.
The Chief Executive Officer's powers are broad, although subject to directions from the Chief Justice. The Chief Executive Officer holds the responsibilities and powers of an agency head under Commonwealth financial management and public service legislation.
The judges' committee structure facilitates collegiate involvement of the judges of the Court.
Figure 6.1 shows the organisational structure of the Court.
Figure 6.1 Organisational structure of the Family Court of Australia, 30 June 2015
Judicial officers of the Family Court of Australia
At 30 June 2015, there were 33 judges of the Court, including the Chief Justice and the Deputy Chief Justice.
Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia
The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO
The Chief Justice is responsible for ensuring the effective, orderly and expeditious discharge of the business of the Court (s 21B Family Law Act) and for managing its administrative affairs (s 38A). The Chief Justice is assisted in judicial responsibilities by the Deputy Chief Justice (s 21B) and in administrative responsibilities by the Chief Executive Officer (s 38B). The Chief Justice's chambers are located in the Melbourne registry.
Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO was appointed Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia on 5 July 2004. She had previously been the inaugural Chief Federal Magistrate overseeing the establishment of the then Federal Magistrates Court, a position she held for four years.
Deputy Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia
The Honourable Deputy Chief Justice John Faulks
The Deputy Chief Justice assists the Chief Justice in the judicial administration of the Family Court. Particular responsibilities include case management, complaints about judges, the collection and strategic assessment of statistics, pastoral care and oversight of the Court's committees.
In the absence of the Chief Justice, the Deputy Chief Justice performs and exercises the powers of the Chief Justice (s 24). The Deputy Chief Justice's chambers are located in the Canberra registry.
Deputy Chief Justice John Faulks was appointed as a Family Court judge on 12 October 1994. He was appointed as Deputy Chief Justice on 25 June 2004
Judges assigned to the Appeal Division
Appointed to the Appeal Division
The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO 5 July 2004
The Honourable Deputy Chief Justice John Faulks 25 June 2004
The Honourable Justice Mary Madeleine Finn 10 August 1993
The Honourable Justice Michelle May 6 February 2003
The Honourable Justice Stephen Ernest Thackray
(Chief Judge Family Court of Western Australia) 16 November 2006
The Honourable Justice Steven Andrew Strickland 14 December 2009
The Honourable Justice Ann Margaret Ainslie-Wallace 9 July 2010
The Honourable Justice Judith Maureen Ryan 27 September 2012
The Honourable Justice Peter John Murphy 27 September 2012
The Honourable Justice Murray Robert Aldridge 12 March 2015
The Honourable Justice Steven Andrew Strickland 22 November 1999
The Honourable Justice Christine Elizabeth Dawe 3 March 1997
The Honourable Justice David Michael Berman 18 July 2013
The Honourable Justice Michelle May 5 September 1995
The Honourable Justice Peter John Murphy 11 October 2007
The Honourable Justice Colin James Forrest 1 February 2011
The Honourable Justice Michael Patrick Kent 12 July 2011
The Honourable Justice Jenny Deyell Hogan 14 January 2013
The Honourable Justice Mary Madeleine Finn 2 July 1990
The Honourable Deputy Chief Justice John Faulks 25 June 2004
The Honourable Justice Robert James Charles Benjamin AM 19 August 2005
The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO 5 July 2004
The Honourable Justice Victoria Jane Bennett 30 November 2005
The Honourable Justice Paul Joseph Cronin 20 December 2006
The Honourable Justice Kirsty Marion Macmillan 14 December 2011
The Honourable Justice Jennifer Ann Coate 31 January 2013
The Honourable Justice Sharon Louise Johns 29 July 2013
The Honourable Justice Christine Thornton 12 August 2013
The Honourable Justice Stewart Craig Austin 13 July 2009
The Honourable Justice Margaret Ann Cleary 8 July 2010
The Honourable Justice Garry Frederick Foster 8 August 2013
The Honourable Justice Hilary Rae Hannam 13 August 2013
The Honourable Justice Ann Margaret Ainslie-Wallace 9 July 2010
The Honourable Justice Judith Maureen Ryan 31 July 2006
The Honourable Justice Murray Robert Aldridge 13 December 2012
The Honourable Justice Janine Patricia Hazelwood Stevenson 18 May 2001
The Honourable Justice Mark Frederick Le Poer Trench 10 October 2001
The Honourable Justice Garry Allan Watts 14 April 2005
The Honourable Justice Judith Anne Rees 15 December 2011
The Honourable Justice William Philip Johnston 12 July 2010
The Honourable Justice Ian James Loughnan 12 July 2010
The Honourable Justice Robert Bruce McClelland 16 June 2015
The Honourable Justice Peter William Tree 14 January 2013
Family Court of Western Australia
(The following judges of the Family Court of Western Australia also hold Commissions in the Family Court of Australia)
Date of Family Court commission
Chief Judge The Honourable Justice Stephen Ernest Thackray 1 December 2004
The Honourable Justice Jane Crisford 24 October 2006
The Honourable Justice Simon Moncrieff 31 August 2009
The Honourable Justice John Myer Walters 6 December 2012
The Honourable Justice Susan Janet Duncanson 6 December 2012
Administrative Appeals Tribunal
New Presidential Members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal include:
The Honourable Justice Janine Stevenson
The Honourable Justice Victoria Bennett
The Honourable Justice Colin Forrest
The Honourable Justice David Berman
The Honourable Justice Janine Stevenson
The Honourable Justice Victoria Bennett
The Honourable Justice Colin Forrest
The Honourable Justice David Berman
Continuing Presidential Members are:
The Honourable Justice Mary Madeleine Finn
The Honourable Justice Christine Elizabeth Dawe
The Honourable Justice Robert James Charles Benjamin AM
Appointments, retirements and resignations
Judicial officer appointment
The Honourable Justice Robert McClelland was appointed on 16 June 2015
The Honourable Justice Robert McClelland
Judicial officer retirement
The Honourable Justice Graham Bell retired on 27 February 2015
The Honourable Justice Graham Bell
Member of the Order of Australia
The Honourable Justice Robert Benjamin AM
Justice Benjamin AM was a recipient of a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2015 Queen's Birthday Honours List. Justice Benjamin was recognised for significant service to the judiciary and to the law, to legal education, mediation and arbitration, and to professional standards.
In May 2015 Justice Benjamin was awarded an Honorary Master's Degree in Applied Law and was made a Fellow of the College of Law. This was as a reflection of his many years of service to the College as a board member, member of the Academic Board, and Chairman. The College of Law was set up in New South Wales in the 1970s to provide practical legal training for law graduates to become solicitors. Justice Benjamin became Director in 1998 when the internet was beginning to grow. The College of Law developed combined electronic and face-to-face training for young graduates and eventually expanded the training programs to Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and New Zealand. The training at that time was effective and revolutionary. His Honour remained on the Board of the College until shortly after his appointment as a Judge. At one stage he was the Chairman of that Board. After leaving the Board, His Honour moved to the Academic Board of the College. Over the last 10 years, online Masters Degrees in Applied Law have been created. These include practical training in commercial litigation, commercial transactions, in-house practice, property law and wills and estates. The College of Law is now in the top half dozen tertiary institutions providing Masters Degrees. The training for these degrees can be accessed from home or from the office. They are often a major step towards specialist accreditation.
His Honour is proud of the work of the College of Law and the consequent structured career development for solicitors.
Justice Benjamin has been a Family Court judge since 2005.
Chief Executive Officer
Chief Executive Officer, Richard Foster PSM FAIM
Richard Foster PSM FAIM
The Chief Executive Officer is appointed to assist the Chief Justice to administer the Court. The Chief Executive Officer's powers are broad (s 38D Family Law Act 1975), although subject to directions from the Chief Justice (s 38D(3)). The Chief Executive Officer holds the responsibilities and powers of an agency head under Commonwealth financial management and public service legislation, but is appointed under similar terms as judicial officers. The Chief Executive Officer is supported by the staff of the National Support Office. Richard Foster was appointed Chief Executive Officer in May 2000.
Principal Registrar, Angela Filippello
The Principal Registrar provides high level legal and procedural advice to support the judicial functioning of the Family Court. As a senior lawyer, she discharges the statutory duties assigned to that position by the Family Law Act 1975, works closely with the Chief Justice and judges in administering the Act and related legislation, and identifies areas in need of reform. The Principal Registrar presides in court and holds the delegated power to make orders in interim parenting cases, maintenance cases and some enforcement of financial obligations. The Principal Registrar also oversees the performance of, and provides direction to, the Court's registrars. Angela Filippello was appointed Principal Registrar in July 1999.
Principal, Child Dispute Services
Principal, Child Dispute Services, Jane Reynolds (acting)
Jane Reynolds (acting)
The Principal, Child Dispute Services advises the Chief Justice and the Chief Executive Officer on the provision of quality child dispute services to the Court. The Principal ensures that the services delivered by the family consultants are effective and consistent with the strategic and business objectives of the Court. The Principal also has responsibility for the development of strategic external relationships that promote and position the child dispute services of the Court within the family law framework. Jane Reynolds was appointed acting Principal, Child Dispute Services in February 2015.
Executive Director, Client Services
Executive Director, Client Services, Stephen Andrew
The Executive Director, Client Services is responsible for the delivery of client services in all family law registries. The Executive Director ensures that high quality registry services and support are provided to all judicial officers, litigants and legal practitioners, consistent with the strategic and business objectives of the Court. The Executive Director, Client Services also has responsibility for statistical services. Stephen Andrew was appointed Executive Director, Client Services in July 2011.
Chief Information Officer
Chief Information Officer, Paul Stace (acting)
Paul Stace (acting)
The Chief Information Officer provides strategic vision, leadership and management of the Court's applications, information management and infrastructure services. Paul Stace was appointed acting Chief Information Officer in February 2015.
Executive Director, Corporate
Executive Director, Corporate, Adrian Brocklehurst
The Executive Director, Corporate provides strategic leadership and management of the Court's human resources, property and contracts, finance, management accounting and procurement and risk management. Adrian Brocklehurst was appointed Executive Director, Corporate in September 2014. Adrian holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting) degree from the University of Newcastle and is a Fellow of CPA Australia.
Judicial committees reporting
Chief Justice Bryant maintains a collegiate style of governance, and the judicial officers of the Court meet annually, or more often if required, in plenary. In addition, judges participate in a number of committees that develop policies across a range of matters.
As part of the implementation of the International Framework for Court Excellence, and following consultations with the judges of the Court, the Chief Justice has introduced five new standing committees.
These committees facilitate a more inclusive, analytical and transparent discussion of important policy issues faced by the Court and result ultimately in a more integrated and accountable decision-making process.
Court Policy Committee
The Court Policy Committee was established to oversee five new standing committees. At the strategic level, this Committee is the peak policy making body within the Court. The Committee's role is to support the Chief Justice in the administration of the Court and to provide strategic advice and policy direction, particularly in relation to legislative, procedural and administrative changes likely to affect the Family Court and its users.
The Court Policy Committee met for the first time in its new form in December 2014.
The Committee comprises:
- The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO (Chair)
- The Honourable Deputy Chief Justice John Faulks
- The Honourable Justice David Berman
- The Honourable Justice Judy Ryan
- The Honourable Justice Stewart Austin
- The Honourable Justice Colin Forrest
- The Honourable Justice Ann Ainslie-Wallace
- Chief Executive Officer Richard Foster PSM (exofficio), and
- Leisha Lister (secretariat).
Judicial committee highlights
This section summarises the work of some of the judicial committees during 2014–15.
At the direction of Chief Justice Bryant, a committee was formed to consider how best to implement the International Framework of Court Excellence in the Court. The primary goal was to develop a comprehensive framework to better assess and improve the ability of the Family Court to provide for the delivery of justice and efficient court administration using best practice.
The result of the Committee's work is contained in a report published in November 2013 entitled Achieving Court Excellence.
A core recommendation was the formation of the Finance Committee with the principal focus of its work being directed to the following:
- consider and define the full cost and budgetary requirements of the Family Court
- consider spending and budgetary priorities that affect core judicial work
- a mechanism by which judges can be involved in a discussion about budgetary priorities and the allocation of financial resources, and
- ensure transparency in respect of expenditure and the setting of budgetary priorities that affect core judicial work.
During 2014–15 members of the Finance Committee were Justice Berman (Chair), Justice Watts and Justice Austin. The committee met in person, by audio visual conferencing and by telephone. The Committee was significantly assisted in its deliberations by the attendance from time to time of Chief Justice Bryant and Executive Director, Corporate, Adrian Brocklehurst.
The work of the Finance Committee is ongoing.
The Rules Committee is established in contemplation of section 123 of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), which provides that a majority of judges may make rules of court in relation to practices and procedures to be followed in the Family Court.
The Rules Committee meets on a regular basis to consider proposed changes to the Family Law Rules 2004 (Cth) with a view to improving the efficiency, accessibility and cost effectiveness of the Family Court for its clients. The Committee also undertakes detailed consideration of discrete issues as required. During 2014–15, the Committee met in person in August 2014, November 2014, April 2015 and otherwise by video-conference.
Justice Ryan continued to chair the Rules Committee during 2014–15. Committee members during the year were Justice Loughnan, Justice Berman, Justice Hogan, Magistrate Moroni, Senior Registrar FitzGibbon, Registrar Kearney (until April 2015), Neil Wareham (legal counsel to the Family Court) and Registrar Paxton (from April 2015).
In 2014–15, the Committee worked on a number of important projects, including amendments to the Family Law Rules 2004 (Cth). These amendments were secured by the Family Law (2014 Measures No 1) Rules 2014, which were made on 1 January 2015. The amending rules increased the scale costs by 2.8 per cent in conformity with the increase approved nationally by all superior courts and:
- To describe the methods by which the seal of the Court can be attached to documents.
- To give effect to the commencement on 12 April 2013 of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia Legislation Amendment Act 2013. This amending Act inter alia changed the name of the Federal Magistrates Court to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and its judicial officers to Chief Judge and Judges.
- To make a rule convenient to implement amendments made by the Access to Justice (Federal Jurisdiction) Amendment Act 2012 which commenced on 12 June 2013, to enable the Court to produce a certificate stating whether a person is or has been the subject of a vexatious proceedings order.
- To make a rule requiring a coversheet is attached to all documents that are not forms, but nonetheless are required to be filed.
- Without detracting from a party's obligation to serve parties with filed copies of documents, the removal of the requirement of a filing party to produce sufficient additional copies of original documents at the time of filing.
- To expand the class of persons who are automatically entitled to access the court record to include (in certain cases) child welfare officers of a State or Territory.
- To rectify the inadvertent repeal of Schedule 2 Family Law Amendment Rules 2011 (No. 2) which occurred upon the commencement of the Attorney-General's (Spent and Redundant Instruments) Repeal Regulation 2013 so as to implement, where possible, the Trans-Tasman Proceedings Act 2010, including the empowering of Registrars to make decisions and orders with respect to Trans-Tasman subpoenas.
The Committee consulted with the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia and with other constituent bodies about the proposed rule amendments.
The Rules Committee is also:
- engaging in further consultation regarding the electronic accessibility of court documents and court processes
- designing rules for arbitration
- designing the method of entry of orders, and
- designing Financial Statements and Balance Sheets for use in financial proceedings.
Following restructure of the Court's governance by the Chief Justice in late 2014, the Court Performance Committee was established to ensure the implementation and maintenance of case management systems to achieve maximum efficiency in the disposition of the Court's work.
The Committee is chaired by Justice Austin and its membership comprises all registry case management and Magellan judges.
Thus far, the work of the Committee has been directed to streamlining the case management system operated by the Court, refining implementation of the Magellan protocol, and extending the National Calendar project.
Incrementally over recent years, differences in the Court's case management system emerged in the three largest registries. The Committee met in March 2015 and resolved a set of principles to guide the operation of the Court's 'trial docket' system of case management. The principles were endorsed by the Court Policy Committee and adopted by the Chief Justice. The implementation of those principles will enhance greater consistency in the way the Court manages the case flow in its various registries.
The Magellan protocol was introduced more than a decade ago and is a discrete case management pathway designed to ensure that cases involving allegations of sexual abuse or serious physical abuse of children are heard within six months of such allegations being raised in the litigation before the Court.
In February 2015, the Chief Justice, on advice from the Court Policy Committee, authorised some refinements in the way the Magellan definition is applied, so that only deserving cases attract the combined resources of the Court and the state-based child welfare, police and legal aid agencies.
The Magellan definition should generally only capture cases involving allegations of 'recent abuse', not 'recent allegations' of abuse. The requirement for recency ordinarily applies to the alleged conduct, not the report of the conduct.
The definition captures cases in which there are allegations of actual abuse, but not cases involving allegations of unacceptable risk of abuse, the existence of which risk depends upon evidence other than direct allegations of abuse.
The definition does not capture cases if the 'abuse' allegations are not actually controversial. If it is known and admitted the abuse actually occurred, valuable resources need not be exhausted collecting evidence about it. The case will be limited to determination of the parenting orders needed to manage the clear risk to the child.
Magellan cases are now being identified and processed by reference to those refinements, which merely clarify how the system was always intended to operate.
As a national court, the services delivered by the Family Court should be, as far as resources allow, nationally uniform. Many variables affect the uniform delivery of services, but some variables are beyond the Court's control. An obvious example is the appointment by Government of replacement judges for retiring judges.
In an effort to render its services uniform and to avoid delays, the Court maintains statistical data about case flow in its registries. The national calendar represents an attempt to tabulate the need for judicial resources in each registry by reference to such statistical data, permitting decisions about the temporary re-allocation of judges between its registries. This is to ensure some consistency of judicial services across Australia as appropriate to a federal court.
Judicial development and welfare
Judicial education should strike a balance between topics which directly affect the judges and topics which inform judges about issues in the wider community.
The Court provides a two-day program each year to provide education to judges. It is recognised that judges will have access to other programs developed by providers outside the Family Court, such as those conducted by the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration and the National Judicial College of Australia. However, the role of this committee is to ensure a program that is particularly relevant to the work of family law judges. It is also the committees role to provide focussed orientation for new appointees.
The Committee, which is chaired by Justice Ainslie-Wallace, will also assist the Chief Justice in the dissemination of such information as her Honour considers should be brought to the attention of the judges.
The Committee will focus on the following activities:
- topics of relevance to general resilience will be included in any education program provided to judges, for example maintaining psychological and physical health of the judiciary
- providing mentoring for judges
- ensuring that judges are aware of the support services available to them to assist in dealing with matters of concern and that the services can be accessed directly by the judges so as to maintain both anonymity and confidentiality.
The Court Services portfolio oversees and reports to the Court Policy Committee on governance and policy considerations pertaining to the Court's provision of services to the public, the judges and the Court's staff. In doing so, it also oversees the work of the following sub-committees:
- Children's Committee
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Outreach Committee
- Unrepresented Litigants Working Group, and
- Family Violence.
Court Services also oversees matters that were previously dealt with by the Cultural Diversity sub-committee, and the Property Management sub-committee. It also deals with information technology requirements for judges.
Work of the sub committees
The Children's Committee was established in 2012 to consider what (if any) further work needed to be undertaken with respect to the involvement of children in parenting cases and how the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court might ascertain whether children feel their voices have been heard in proceedings that involve them.
The Committee, with the assistance of Legal Aid NSW, organised and held the first National Independent Children's Lawyers' Conference in Sydney in October 2014. The Conference was well attended and facilitated the exchange of best practice ideas and information between independent children's lawyers from all over Australia. The Committee has commenced planning for the next conference that will be held in Melbourne in 2016.
The Committee has also been working with Kids' Help Line, Sydney University academics Professor Patrick Parkinson and Professor Judy Cashmore, and others, to facilitate a research project that taps into the thousands of children and young people who contact Kids' Help Line each week in order to anonymously ascertain their views about their experiences of family breakdown and any involvement they have had with the family law system. The project is also being designed to learn how children see matters affecting them in the aftermath of family breakdown and the conclusion of court proceedings. The study, via various social media platforms, will focus on young people aged 13 and older. Funding for the start-up phase of the project is currently being sourced from various organisations around the country.
The Committee was involved in the development of age-appropriate, child-focused content for the new children's section on the courts' websites and in producing fact sheets for distribution to children who come into contact with the courts.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Outreach
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Committee seeks to continue the long history of the Court in promoting and improving access to justice for Indigenous families by ensuring the Court's administration and judiciary work hand-in-hand to enable and facilitate the participation of Indigenous Australians in the Court's processes.
Chair of the Committee, Justice Benjamin, and other committee members attended and participated in sessions at the World Indigenous Legal Conference in Brisbane in 2014. Committee members also attended and participated in an Aboriginal Family Law Conference in Sydney in November 2014.
The Committee prepared a submission to the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee's inquiry into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience of law enforcement and justice services.
Justice Benjamin recently accepted an invitation from the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration to sit on its National Indigenous Policy Committee.
The Committee is currently working on the following activities:
- converting the Court's Indigenous Action Plan 2014–16 into a Reconciliation Action Plan
- developing a court protocol for Acknowledgment of Country at court events
- examining the potential of a resource of information relevant to ATSI outreach issues to be placed on the courts' intranets
- establishing and building links with local Indigenous leaders around each of the Court's registries
- working cooperatively with the Family Court of Western Australia, Federal Circuit Court, state courts and tribunals, the National Judicial College and relevant state judicial education authorities such as the Judicial Commission of NSW, and
- identifying, for the judges, the family consultants in each registry with Indigenous competence training, noting that training sessions for Indigenous cultural competency were conducted during the last year for family consultants in Sydney and Townsville.
The Family Violence Committee is a joint committee of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. The Committee's principal responsibility is to provide advice to the Chief Justice, the Chief Judge and the Chief Executive Officer of both courts on family violence issues. In discharging this responsibility the Committee reviews and updates the courts' family violence strategy and family violence best practice principles, as well as undertaking discrete projects.
During 2014–15, members of the Family Violence Committee were Justice Ryan (Chair), Justice Stevenson, Justice Hannam, Judge Brown, Judge Hughes, Judge Altobelli, Angela Filippello (Principal Registrar, Family Court of Australia), Di Lojszczyk (family consultant) and Kristen Murray (Senior Research Adviser to Chief Justice Bryant). The Committee held three meetings via video-conference.
The Committee's major project was the implementation of the Family Violence Plan 2014–16. The Plan forms part of the commitment both courts have made to addressing family violence, including the measures contained in the joint Family Violence Best Practice Principles.
The Family Violence Committee also worked on issues raised by:
- The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence
- Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee Inquiry into Domestic Violence
- Parties and children in witness protection, and
- Internal review processes on the death of a child or party.
The Unrepresented Litigants Working Group is chaired by Justice Le Poer Trench and consists of representatives from the Federal Circuit Court, the courts' administration, family consultants, the NSW Bar Association, the NSW Law Society, community legal centres and others.
The group has worked on simplifying documents and processes around Contravention applications and produced draft simplified forms for consideration by the judges.
The group is also considering a number of other initiatives such as the development of web-based interactive documents, web-based information on requirements of running a court case, and the provision of court delivered information sessions for unrepresented litigants.
Justice Berman continues to represent the Court on the national Judicial Council on Cultural Diversity, established by the national Council of Chief Justices. In that role, Justice Berman also recently participated in a roundtable on access to justice by women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
The Court's administration developed a Multicultural Plan 2013–15 in response to a Commonwealth Government requirement, using an external consultant to undertake a comprehensive review of multicultural access and equity at the Court. That review's findings and recommendations have informed projects now being implemented under the Plan.
An e-learning, online cultural diversity awareness training module for staff has been produced. It is called Let's Talk Cultural Competency and is a module-based training program with self-assessment tasks to complete on starting and completion. For more information see page 16.
Recent developments of relevance to this Court include a move from separate leased premises in Darwin into the Northern Territory Supreme Court Building, in which a particular part of that building has been refitted to meet the needs of this court and the Federal Circuit Court. The new registry became operational from 1 June 2015. The new accommodation is regarded as a vast improvement.
The Court's current lease on the premises occupied by the Newcastle registry expired on 31 July 2015. An agreement has now been reached with the lessor to enter into an eight year lease, with no increase in the commencing rental and a fit-out incentive of $500,000 for capital works to be decided by the two courts who occupy the space. The lessor is also proposing to undertake significant base building works in line with the new lease term that will include upgrading the air conditioning.
Improvement works at Parramatta included the completion of additional toilets in the public areas, so facilities are now available on each floor.
Judicial information technology requirements
A Casetrack review project has recently commenced, with a view to ensuring that information technology supports the courts' processes and needs. Fujitsu Australia Pty Ltd has been contracted to undertake this project over six months and to deliver a report which maps the courts' current and future requirements. Fujitsu is utilising consultants with extensive experience in judicial operations in NSW, who will be consulting widely with all stakeholders.
Joint Costs Advisory Committee
The Joint Costs Advisory Committee comprises representatives of the four federal courts: the High Court of Australia, the Family Court of Australia, the Federal Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. During the reporting period the committee comprised:
- Judge of the Family Court of Australia (Justice Benjamin) (Chair)
- Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar of the High Court of Australia (Andrew Phelan)
- Deputy Registrar of the Federal Court of Australia (John Mathieson)
- Principal Registrar of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia (Adele Byrne), and
- Principal Registrar of the Family Court of Australia, (Angela Filippello) (who participates as an observer).
The Committee reviews and recommends variations to the quantum of costs contained in the rules made by federal courts and advises on other matters relating to those costs as may be referred to it by a federal court.
Senior management committees
The senior executive of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court continued to meet annually to establish the strategic direction and priorities for the effective administration of both courts. Senior executives of both courts participate in a number of committees that provide high level operational and policy advice to the Chief Executive Officer Richard Foster.
Chief Executive Officer's Management Advisory Group
The Chief Executive Officer's Management Advisory Group (CMAG) provides operational and policy advice on key areas that affect the administration of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court.
Chaired by the Chief Executive Officer, CMAG meets bi-monthly and comprises:
- Executive Director, Client Services (Stephen Andrew)
- Executive Director Operations, Federal Circuit Court (Steve Agnew)
- Executive Director, Corporate (Adrian Brocklehurst)
- Executive Advisor, Family Court (Leisha Lister)
- Principal Registrar, Family Court (Angela Filippello)
- Principal Registrar, Federal Circuit Court (Adele Byrne)
- Principal, Child Dispute Services (Jane Reynolds (acting))
- Director of Administration, Federal Circuit Court (Stewart Fenwick)
- Director, Human Resources (Claire Golding)
- Chief Information Officer (Paul Stace (acting)), and
- Regional Registry Managers.
A number of administrative committees were also active during 2014–15 and provided high level operational and policy advice. Meeting on a regular or ad hoc basis, they included:
- Audit and Risk
- National Consultative
- Staff Development
- Property Management, and
- Work Health and Safety.
Senior management committee highlights
This section highlights the work of senior management committees during 2014–15. Appendix eight has details of membership and the terms of reference for the various committees.
Chief Executive Officer's Management Advisory Group
In 2014–15, CMAG continued to provide advice to the Chief Executive Officer on new policy and other initiatives. These included:
- continued work with the Attorney-General's Department on the review of the federal courts
- implementation of the International Framework for Court Excellence, Family Violence Screening Tool Pilot, Multicultural Plan and cultural competency training
- financial and human resource planning
- staff compliance training and development
- information technology initiatives
- human resource management policies and practices, and
- social media communication strategy.
Audit and Risk Committee
The Audit and Risk Committee is established in accordance with section 45 of the Public Governance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act). The Chief Executive Officer must establish and maintain an audit committee for the agency, with the functions and responsibilities required by PGPA Rule Section 17. The functions must include reviewing the appropriateness of the courts and financial reporting, performance reporting, system of risk oversight and management and system of internal control. The Committee comprises an external chair and two senior managers from the courts' administration.
During 2014–15, the Committee considered a range of issues, including the Court's internal audit plan, strategic risk and fraud risk treatments and business continuity. It also provided oversight of the Australian National Audit Office and internal audit report recommendations.
Mr Chris Doogan retired from the Committee at the February 2015 meeting, with Mr Brian Acworth being appointed as Chair of the Committee from that point. Ms Maria Storti was appointed as a second external member of the Committee and attended her first meeting in February 2015. Mr Jamie Crew and Mr Greg Thomas also retired from the Committee at the conclusion of the June 2015 meeting. A new member will be appointed to the Committee to commence in August 2015.
National Consultative Committee
The National Consultative Committee is a key forum through which the Court consults with staff about broader issues that have a national perspective. Elected staff delegates actively present the views of staff regarding issues that impact nationally on staff and the management and future direction of the Court.
The Committee met once in 2014–15. Its areas of focus continued to be:
- the objectives of the Court and how these might be achieved
- financial and human resource planning
- information technology initiatives
- management and review processes, including proposed changes
- work health and safety matters
- equal employment opportunity issues
- accommodation and amenities, and
- human resource management policies and practices.
National Work Health and Safety Committee
The National Work Health and Safety Committee met twice during the year to discuss and resolve national work health safety issues in addition to:
- developing and reviewing health and safety management arrangements, policies and practices
- consulting with staff on health and safety issues
- developing and refining processes to regularly audit health and safety in the Court's registries including eliminating identifiable hazards and mitigating known risks
- reviewing any workplace incidents or accidents to develop prevention strategies
- making recommendations on the work health and safety impact of changes in the workplace, and
- discussing and resolving work health and safety issues in the Court.
Corporate and operational planning and associated performance reporting and review
At 30 June 2015, there were 772 ongoing and non-ongoing agency employees (excluding judicial officers, the Chief Executive Officer and casual employees) in all states and territories except Western Australia.
Guidance for staff is contained in the following documents, available to all staff on the Court's intranet and website:
- administration policies and procedural documents including guidelines, procedures and manuals from the finance, human resources and information, communication and technology areas
- APS Values and Code of Conduct
- Corporate Plan and business area plans (for the National Support Office)
- Courts Exchange, the courts' staff newsletter
- HR information bulletins
- Service Charter and Service Commitments documents
- Registry Services Delivery Strategy
- Statement of Strategic Intent, and
- case management policies and manuals related to the management of family law cases from the Chief Justice, the Principal Registrar and the Principal, Child Dispute Services.
The Court's geographically dispersed judiciary and staff are informed of significant changes and events through the following:
- Chief Justice eMessages—emails from the Chief Justice to the judiciary and all staff
- Chief Executive Officer eMessages—emails from the Chief Executive Officer to all staff
- Chief Executive Instructions—the official mechanism by which the Chief Executive Officer communicates and directs the Court's compliance with the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (Cth)
- Client service advices—from the Executive Director, Client Services to all client service staff working in the registries
- Courts Exchange—the courts' internal staff newsletter, which is issued four times per year and includes columns from the Chief Justice, Chief Judge and Chief Executive Officer. This is the primary vehicle for sharing information and celebrating the achievements and successes of court staff, and
- Intranet messages—latest news.
The Court has, as part of its corporate governance arrangements, appropriate mechanisms to manage general business risk as well as fraud risk.
In 2014–15, the Court's internal audit services were provided by RSM Bird Cameron and monitored by the Audit and Risk Committee.
The 2014–15 Internal Audit Plan was developed taking into account the risk drivers in the Strategic Risk Management Plan and after consultation with the Audit and Risk Committee and the senior management team.
Internal audits conducted during the year included:
- records management
- payroll and leave management
- court fees (non-event based)
- IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Framework, and
- business continuity testing.
The Court's Audit and Risk Committee monitored the implementation of individual audit report recommendations generated from those audits, through quarterly status reports.
The Court promotes a culture that supports the identification, analysis, assessment, treatment, monitoring and review of all strategic, operational, compliance and financial risks. This is supported by the Court's Risk Control and Compliance Framework.
The Risk Control and Compliance Framework provide policies, procedures and tools to promote effective risk management. The Framework is available to all court staff on the intranet for the principal purpose of achieving better services and outcomes for clients, judicial services and staff.
The Court continued to participate in the annual Comcover benchmarking survey, which measures risk and assesses the extent of cultural change within agencies. The Court's overall result continued to improve, reflecting the Court's efforts in the area of risk management.
The Court continues to further revise the Business Continuity Plan with regular reviews, testing and updating of the Plan being undertaken.
The Procurement and Risk Management section continues to provide, as a standing agenda item, regular updates on risk-related activities to the Court's Audit and Risk Committee.
The Court manages financial risk in accordance with the Risk Control and Compliance Framework.
The relevant mechanisms are:
- risk assessments for annual business plans
- risk assessments for identified projects
- Accountable Authority Instructions available to all staff on the intranet, and
- monthly financial reports to the Chief Executive Officer's Management Advisory Group and oversight by the Audit and Risk Committee.
Fraud prevention and control
The Court's Fraud Control Plan 2013–15 complies with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines 2011.
The Court has in place fraud investigation, reporting and data collection procedures that met the needs of the Court and comply with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines 2011.
During 2014–15, the Audit and Risk Committee continued to receive reports on the implementation status of fraud risk treatments.
The Court continued to monitor the Fraud Control Plan 2013–15, with the Plan being available to all court staff via the intranet. The Plan was developed in consultation with key stakeholders across all areas of court activities.
No incidents of fraud were noted within the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court during 2014–15.
Fraud control certification
In accordance with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Framework 2014, issued by the Minister for Justice, pursuant to Section 10 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Rule 2014, I hereby certify that I am satisfied that:
- the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court has prepared fraud assessments and has in place a fraud control plan that complies with the Guidelines
- appropriate fraud prevention, detection, investigation and reporting procedures and processes are in place, and
- annual fraud data has been collected and reported that complies with the Guidelines.
[Signed in hard copy]
Richard Foster, PSM
Chief Executive Officer
14 August 2015
Information Publication Scheme
Agencies subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) are required to publish information to the public as part of the Information Publication Scheme (IPS). This requirement is in Part II of the FOI Act and has replaced the former requirement to publish a section 8 statement in an annual report. An agency plan showing what information is published in accordance with the IPS requirements is accessible from agency websites.
Information about FOI and the IPS agency plan for the Family Court can be found via a link on the homepage of the Family Court's website at www.familycourt.gov.au
The Court received three Freedom of Information requests during 2014–15. At 30 June 2015, there were no matters outstanding before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
The Court's Strategic Plan states that integrity, respect and responsiveness underpin its approach to business. The Australian Public Service (APS) Values and Code of Conduct contained in the Public Service Act 1999 apply to all employees of the Court.
In 2014–15, the Court maintained ongoing information and education activities to ensure that all staff are aware of their rights, responsibilities and obligations in relation to privacy, ethics and other factors such as environmental responsibility, data management and data quality.
The Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court together maintain web-based Service Charter and Service Commitments publications. These outline the services clients may expect of the courts. The Court is committed to supporting employees to adhere to the APS Values and to comply with the Code of Conduct. Employees receive information about the Values and the Code through all-staff emails, the intranet and induction and other training programs. Employees also receive information and guidance about conduct and behaviour expectations from their managers.
Policy and practices on the establishment and maintenance of appropriate ethical standards – Ethics Contact Officers
Established in May 2009, the Australian Public Service Commission's Ethics Contact Officer Network (ECONET) plays a key role in supporting the ongoing work of the Ethics Advisory Service. The service has responsibility for promoting the Government's ethical agenda, which is focused on enhancing ethics and accountability in the Commonwealth public sector.
The Director, Human Resources and the Workforce and Policy Manager are the Court's representatives at the ECONET forum.
Management and accountability
The Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 came into effect on 15 January 2014. The Act promotes integrity and accountability in the Australian public sector by encouraging the disclosure of information about suspected wrongdoing, protecting people who make disclosures and requiring agencies to take action. A Public Interest Disclosure is, essentially, a disclosure made by a current or former public official of suspected wrongdoing in the Commonwealth public sector.
The courts are committed to complying with all applicable laws and with best practice. Corrupt practices, breaches of the law and other conduct that is disclosable under the Act are contrary to our values. If they occur, reporting them is encouraged so that they may be addressed properly. With that in mind, the courts established formal procedures under the Act, the Public Interest Disclosure Rules and the Public Interest Disclosure Standards. These procedures are published on the courts' intranets and websites.
Authorised officers appointed by the Chief Executive Officer for the courts are the Executive Director, Client Services, Regional Registry Manager Sydney, and Director, Human Resources.
Service Charter and Service Commitments
The aim of the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court is to give clients and other users of the courts the best services they possibly can. What the courts mean by this is set out in the joint Service Charter and Service Commitments documents.
The Court also has a Portfolio Budget Statement Key Performance Indicator specifically about complaints. This, along with the Service Charter, is a central part of the Court's service monitoring and response mechanism.
The Service Charter outlines the service level standards clients can expect from staff of the courts and how clients and other users of court services may make suggestions or complaints about services, policy, practice or procedures. An aspect of the Charter, in terms of community expectations of the courts, is that it makes clear what court staff cannot do. This is important because frequently clients or prospective clients have expectations that the courts cannot meet.
The context is that for many clients, the family courts are the only courts they will ever have anything to do with—so the processes, procedures and legal environment are completely unfamiliar and this unfamiliarity occurs at what may be one of the most stressful times of their lives because of the breakdown of family relationships. The courts appreciate this, however, must work impartially and professionally: thus the information about what people can expect but also what staff cannot do. For example, staff cannot give legal advice or tell people what words to use in their court papers or what to say in court; they cannot tell someone whether or not they should bring their case to court. Staff cannot recommend a certain lawyer to act on a client's behalf or interpret, change or enforce orders made by a judge or other judicial officer.
The Service Charter and Service Commitments documents (which summarise information about what clients of the courts can expect from client services staff, what the staff cannot do, clients rights and responsibilities and how clients can help the courts to help them) are available on www.familycourt.gov.au
Feedback and service improvements
Feedback helps to drive service improvement and the courts invite feedback, including suggestions and complaints about administrative things such as the standard of client service received in a registry, a privacy matter, a security matter, a court policy, or the way correspondence has been handled.
Full details about feedback and complaints is in Part three—Report on Court Performance—but in summary, in 2014–15, the Court received:
- 62 complaints about administrative matters, including court administrative procedures and processes, staff personal conduct, privacy, security and the client feedback process
- 49 complaints about judicial delays
- 42 complaints about judicial conduct, and
- 20 compliments.
External and internal scrutiny
Reports by the Auditor-General
The Auditor-General made no report specific to the Family Court during 2014–15.
Administrative Appeals Tribunal
There were no relevant proceedings in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman made no report specific to the Family Court during 2014–15.
Action in defamation
There were no actions in defamation during 2014–15.
Freedom of Information
The Court received three Freedom of Information requests during 2014–15.
Whole-of-government Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) initiatives
During 2014–15, the courts participated in a number of whole-of-government ICT initiatives:
- In early December 2014, the annual ICT benchmarking report for the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court was submitted to the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO). The reporting requirements were significantly reduced as the courts were redefined as a small agency. The report covered all ICT operating and capital expenditure for the 2013–14 financial year and included some quantitative measures about staffing and quantities of ICT equipment.
- A contract for wide area network services under the Internet Based Network Connection Services panel was signed in July 2014. The new network was implemented between December 2014 and May 2015.
- Migration of all internet gateway services to Macquarie Telecom was completed during the year. This work was undertaken as part of the Government Internet Gateway consolidation program.
- Work continued against the internal ICT Sustainability Plan, developed to address the Australian Government's ICT Sustainability Plan 2010–15. Further information on progress can be found in Appendix six.
- Whole-of-government supply contracts are mandatory across a broad number of areas. By 30 June 2015, the courts were using the Microsoft volume sourcing arrangement, the desktop hardware panel, the telecommunications commodities, carriage and associated services panel, the major office machines panel, and the data centre panel.
- As part of the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy, the courts are required to update online government information and services to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 standard for website accessibility. The courts' websites www.familycourt.gov.au and www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au were upgraded in late May 2015 and are now Double A compliant.
Senate estimates committee hearings
Senior Executive Service staff of the Court attend Senate estimates committee hearings to answer questions about the Court's activities. In 2014–15, six questions on notice were received and answered by the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. In addition, there were 85 departmental responses.
KPMG and Ernst & Young reviews of courts performance and funding
The Attorney-General's Department engaged KPMG in late December 2013 to undertake a review of the performance and funding of the federal courts to support future strategic decision making. As part of the response to this review, the Department undertook further work with Ernst & Young in 2014–15 to develop costing scenarios to support options for consideration by Government as part of the 2015–16 Budget process.
A key theme emerging from these two reviews and the previous Skehill and Semple reviews, has been the financial difficulties exhibited by the courts, particularly the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court.
Following consideration of the Ernst & Young review, the Australian Government announced, as part of the 2015–16 Budget, that the corporate functions of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court will be merged with those of the Federal Court of Australia to form a single administrative body with a single appropriation under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 from 1 July 2016.
Productivity Commission Public Inquiry into Access to Justice Arrangements
The courts participated, with a range of other stakeholders, in the Commission's inquiry to examine the current costs of accessing justice services and securing legal representation, and the impact of these costs on access to, and quality of justice. The final report was delivered in September 2014. Further details can obtained at www.pc.gov.au/projects/inquiry/access-justice
There were no internal evaluations during 2014–15.
Management of human resources
The Human Resources section of the Corporate Services Division supports all areas of the Court by managing a range of human resources, entitlements processing services, and advice to the Court's judiciary and staff.
In 2014–15 Human Resources focussed on:
- recruitment services such as advertising support, recruitment tips and assistance, probation, letters of offer and contracts
- payroll, entitlements and conditions of employment
- payroll system, including support for Aurion/employee self-service reporting
- workforce capability services including planning, Performance Management and Development Scheme, learning and development and workplace wellbeing
- workplace relations support including Enterprise Agreement and National Consultative Committee, policy and legislation advice
- implementing systems to support workplace health and safety legislation, and
- employee wellbeing and respectful behaviours.
The Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia Enterprise Agreement 2011–2014 has a nominal expiry date of 30 June 2014, however it continued to operate during 2014–15 and will continue in existence until it is replaced or otherwise terminated.
The Enterprise Agreement covers all non-SES staff of the courts and delivered salary increases of three per cent for each of the three years 2011–12, 2012–13 and 2013–14. Salary increases under the Agreement are now exhausted.
In March 2014 the Australian Government Public Sector Workplace Bargaining Policy was released. Among other things, the policy provides:
"2.1 Improvements in pay and conditions are to be funded from within existing budgets, without the redirection of programme funding.
2.2 If the total cost of a proposed agreement is not affordable within an agency's existing budget, the Ministers [the Public Service Minister and, in the Court's case, the Attorney-General] must not approve the agreement.
3.1 Agencies can only negotiate remuneration increases which are affordable, consistent with Australian Government policy, and offset by genuine productivity gains which satisfy the Australian Public Service Commissioner."
Against that background, the Chief Executive Officer advised staff that, in circumstances where the Court continued to deliver annual operating deficits, and where he considered it unlikely that the Court could find the necessary productivity/savings offsets in advance of any pay rise, he could not, in good faith, negotiate a new Enterprise Agreement with annual pay rises.
Had he decided to negotiate such an agreement, it would have included reduced terms and conditions and/or a radical reduction in our staff number and service delivery in order to provide any pay rise. The Chief Executive Officer was not prepared to negotiate in that environment (noting that a pay rise for our workforce is an annual spend in millions and difficult (if not impossible) to offset via savings). It is also noted that the courts have already, over the last five years, delivered savings by reduced spending in operations and by reducing staff numbers in certain areas.
Accordingly, the terms and conditions of the Enterprise Agreement carry over (with no further pay rises, unless and until there is a new negotiation under revised budgetary conditions).
The Enterprise Agreement directly supports the Court's strategic objectives and complements its performance planning, management arrangements and improvements at the team and individual level.
The Court is committed to supporting employees to adhere to the Australian Public Service Values and comply with the Code of Conduct. During 2014–15, employees continued to receive information about the Values and the Code through all-staff emails, the intranet and induction and other training programs. Employees also receive information and guidance about conduct and behaviour expectations from their managers.
Workforce planning, retention and turnover
As at 30 June 2015, 22.79 per cent* of court staff were eligible to retire. Accordingly, the Court continued to develop appropriate human resource strategies to ensure future capability and resourcing and to cope with staff turnover. These included promoting a clearer understanding of the capacity and capability of the Court's workforce and developing a risk management strategy that strengthens succession management for critical roles and leadership positions in the Court. The strategies were communicated to managers and staff, helping to ensure that succession plans were developed at local levels.
* As a percentage of staff numbers, excluding the judiciary and casuals
Strategies to support the wellbeing of staff and to encourage staff retention are integral to the Court's commitment to workplace diversity. The strategies include the following options, benefits and initiatives.
Balancing work and personal life
The Court recognises the need to balance the operational needs of the Court and the personal lives of staff. Its employment arrangements provide for general and individual flexible working arrangements, including flex time, time off in lieu, part-time work, working from home opportunities, purchased leave, maternity, adoption, fostering and supporting partner's leave, salary sacrifice arrangements and paid time off work over Christmas and the New Year.
A safe and healthy work environment
The Court provides a family-friendly and non-discriminatory work environment with strong policies against harassment and bullying. The Court and its employees are committed to measures that will assist with preventing and managing illness and injury, psychological injuries, and assisting absent staff to return to work as soon as reasonably practical. Other healthy work environment strategies include an employee assistance program that provides free professional counselling to employees and members of their immediate families and free annual influenza vaccinations.
The Court recognises that diversity among its staff is one of its greatest assets. Valuing the distinctive characteristics in every employee and drawing on the diversity of our backgrounds, skills, talents and views to enhance the Court's working environment and the work of the Court, underpins the current workplace diversity plan.
Rewards and recognition
Recognition of staff in the form of positive feedback and celebration of achievement is an important part of the Court's culture and business practice. The Court's reward and recognition schemes recognise and reward employees for the achievement of corporate goals, providing non-cash rewards and recognition.
Australian Day achievement medallions
The Australia Day Medallions are awarded to a select group of Australian citizens each year. The awards recognise excellence in contribution by employees working in both government and non-government organisations, including the courts.
The Court's 2015 Australia Day Awards recognise the significant contribution and outstanding service provided by employees to the Court.
The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO and Fern McDonnell
Fern McDonnell, Adelaide registry
Fern has been with the Court for 22 years as an associate.
Fern is responsible for the effective running of Justice Strickland's chambers which requires her to undertake a myriad of tasks. Fern attends to these tasks with formidable efficiency and boundless good humour. Her organisational skills are nonpareil.
Fern is fiercely loyal to, and protective of, her judge and her colleagues. She is a highly organised, hardworking, dedicated and skilled employee, who has given two decades' service to the Family Court of Australia.
In 2015 the Family Court, in joint recognition with the Federal Circuit Court, awarded Australia Day achievement medallions to:
Athena Sikiotis, Melbourne registry
Athena has been with the courts for 28 years and is a registrar.
Athena has distinguished herself in the course of her multiple responsibilities, including docket registrar, trainer, union delegate and other associated tasks. In each role she demonstrates commitment, diligence, professionalism, integrity and many other attributes.
Athena is knowledgeable and consistently provides accurate and sound advice. She is an active listener, sympathetic of clients with special needs, easily approachable and displays professionalism and drive at all times when undertaking her different roles which she embraces with dedication.
From left: Akasha Atkinson, Chief Justice Bryant, Trent Lister and Chief Judge Pascoe
Akasha Atkinson and Trent Litster, National Support Office, Canberra
Akasha has been with the courts for six years and is the Director, Property. Trent has been with the courts for eight years and is Property Project Manager.
Akasha and Trent have provided an outstanding level of service in the area of property management for the courts. Consistently providing high quality advice and workable solutions and always maintaining a high level of professionalism in their dealings with the judiciary.
Akasha and Trent have worked tirelessly to ensure that the best outcomes possible are provided under difficult circumstances including limited budgets, the strict demands of designing space for judicial operations and, above all, with a very limited range of suitable properties.
The Honourable Chief Justice Diana Bryant AO and Ron Jarrett
Ron Jarrett, Brisbane registry
Ron has been with the courts for 24 years and is a business system development officer (BSDO).
Ron is a genuine role model and leader within the BSDO team who exemplifies dedication in the traditional model of the public service and often exceeds the defined limits of his role.
Ron applies his technical and exemplary analytical skills to his role and for this is well respected by staff and judiciary. Ron is the embodiment of continuous improvement and is attuned to applying and communicating his considered opinions in a cool and calm manner. Ron is not one to be satisfied with the status quo when there are glaring opportunities for the Court to improve its practices and procedures and links these opportunities to ultimately benefit the public.
Nadia and Michael Hristovaki
Nadia and Michael Hristovaki, Sydney registry cleaners
Nadia and Michael have been cleaning contractors for the courts' Sydney registry for 21 years.
Nadia and Michael are responsible for cleaning the entire Sydney registry, from the basement including the garage, up to Level 12, inside and out as well as the elevators. They clean around 78 bathrooms, numerous kitchens, floors and bins.
Years of service awards
Years of service awards are presented to employees who have been in court administration for more than 20, 25, 30 and 35 years. Recipients in 2014–15 follow:
- Peter Cimbaljevic – Client Service Officer, Brisbane
- Pauline Schaeffer-Steel – Client Service Officer, Brisbane
- Paula Spain – Client Service Officer, Melbourne
- Beverley Mendies – Client Service Officer, Newcastle
- Nandira Ram – Client Service Officer, Melbourne
- Georgina Barber – Client Service Officer, Newcastle
- Susan Tran – Collector of Public Monies, Sydney
- Mark Conroy – Client Service Officer, Newcastle
- Diane Lojszczyk – Family Consultant, Newcastle
During 2014–15, 86 employees and judicial officers left the Court. Of these, 45 were non-ongoing and 41 were ongoing employees, representing an annual turnover rate of 11.1 per cent against total staff numbers (772) at 30 June 2015 (see Table 8.10 at Appendix three).
This compares with ongoing staff separations of 11.5 cent in 2013–14, 10.1 per cent in 2012–13 and eight per cent in 2011–12.
At 30 June 2015, the Court had 772 employees covered by the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia Enterprise Agreement 2011–2014, common law contracts or Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), but excluding judicial officers, the Chief Executive Officer and casual employees. This was a 0.6 per cent increase compared with 767 employees at 30 June 2014. Appendix three provides a breakdown of staff by location, gender, attendance, ongoing and non-ongoing employment status.
At 30 June 2015, the Court had 33 judges, including the Chief Justice (16 female and 17 male). For further information see Table 8.8 at Appendix three which shows the number of judges by location. The remuneration arrangements for all judicial officers and the Chief Executive Officer are governed by enforceable determinations of the Remuneration Tribunal. Further details including relevant determinations are available at: www.remtribunal.gov.au
At 30 June 2015, the Court had 10 employees who identified as Indigenous (one male and nine female); 1.3 per cent of total employee numbers.
The Australian Public Service Commissioner wrote to the Chief Executive Officer seeking support to improve the representation of Indigenous employees in the Commonwealth public sector.
A single enterprise agreement for the courts
As mentioned previously, the courts' Enterprise Agreement came into effect on 1 July 2011, and although it has passed its nominal expiry date of 30 June 2014, under present arrangements, it will continue to operate until it is replaced or otherwise terminated.
Offers of AWAs to court employees ceased from 13 February 2008, in accordance with government policy; however at 30 June 2015, 27 employees had enforceable AWAs in place. Table 8.12 at Appendix three sets out the AWA minimum and maximum salary ranges by classification. In some limited cases the Court has used common law contracts or individual flexibility arrangements to provide supplementary conditions of employment for individuals covered by the Enterprise Agreement and determinations made by the Agency Head under section 24 of the Public Service Act 1999, to build upon existing AWA arrangements.
At 30 June 2015, 10 employees had employment arrangements governed by enforceable common law contracts and two had employment arrangements governed by determination 24 instruments. See Table 8.11 at Appendix three for more detail.
Relationship between agreements
Terms and conditions of employment in the Court are governed by one or more of the following industrial instruments:
- the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia Enterprise Agreement 2011–2014, covering all non-SES employees except those on AWAs
- individual determinations under s 24(1) of the Public Service Act 1999, or
- individual common law contracts.
The Enterprise Agreement, like its predecessors, is a comprehensive agreement, however for some employees, it may be supported by either an individual flexibility agreement, a s 24(1) determination or a common law contract that provides additional terms and conditions (for example, as a way of retaining high-value employees).
AWAs may also be supported by individual s 24(1) determinations or common law contracts to provide for pay increases or additional terms and conditions, including non-salary benefits.
Senior Executive Service remuneration
Terms and conditions for the Court's Senior Executive Service (SES) employees are in common law contracts, AWAs and individuals 24(1) determinations made by the Chief Executive Officer. SES salaries are benchmarked against other public sector agencies and take account of the Court's budgetary position and the Government's workplace bargaining policy.
Non-salary benefits provided by the Court to employees include:
- motor vehicles
- car parking
- access to salary sacrificing arrangements
- computers, including home-based computer access
- membership of professional associations
- mobile phones
- studies assistance
- leave flexibilities
- workplace responsibility allowances (for example, first aid, fire warden, community language), and
- airline club memberships.
Performance pay arrangements
During 2014–15, the Court neither entered into any performance pay arrangements nor paid performance pay to any employee.
Training, learning and development
There have been a number of training initiatives run throughout the year. These include:
Family consultant training
- Family violence modules
During the latter part of 2014, Child Dispute Services staff at each registry completed a series of three x 90 minute models on the topic of perceptions, core beliefs and unbiased report writing. This was primarily in relation to the assessment of family violence. There were several delivery modes used for this initiative, including in-person delivery, co-facilitation with a local senior family consultant, and direct delivery by the local senior. An evaluation of this program was undertaken.
- Dyadic peer consultation
There were three x two day training sessions delivered by an external consultant to introduce Child Dispute Services clinicians to a model of peer consultation that they could use on an ongoing basis to reflect on their clinical work. These sessions occurred in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and the ongoing peer consultation framework was implemented in September 2014.
- Indigenous cultural competence
Two Indigenous cultural competence training sessions were held in 2014 in Sydney and Townsville, facilitated by Aboriginal forensic psychologist Stephen Ralph. These were attended by a representative from each registry across the country to ensure that family assessments involving an Aboriginal parent could be completed by a clinician that had undertaken the cultural competence syllabus.
- Emotional availability scales
In October 2014, 10 family consultants were selected to complete an eight day (online) training program on emotional availability scales.
- Seminar series
One hour seminars continued to run each month with the clinical group within Child Dispute Services. Judges and family lawyers attended these sessions on occasion. Speakers included a range of Australian and international experts, covering topics such as sex offender assessment, cross examination strategies, child maltreatment, psychopathology, post-separation services, children's language development, and attachment/family systems.
- Clinical induction program
In the latter half of 2014, a comprehensive (redesigned) clinical induction program was launched for all new family consultants joining the Court. This required new clinicians to become familiar with the research systems within the courts, write a summary of several empirical articles on a given topic, and present to their peers at a monthly meeting.
- Core knowledge database
In late 2014, the core knowledge database (an expansive repository of articles/chapters/papers) for Child Dispute Services was upgraded to include a rating system for materials contained on the database. This allows users to easily see how other clinicians have rated the document, with longer term implications for better filtering of documents and upgrading the materials contained on the database.
- Senior family consultant needs assessment
In early 2015 a comprehensive review of senior family consultant needs was undertaken. The resulting report outlined a series of future options to address the areas identified, which will ultimately inform the training packages offered in the latter half of 2015.
The focus on registrar professional development this year has been on the development of skills in the identification of risk of family violence and abuse cases, with a view to developing a series of diagnostic question to assist registrars in delivery of case assessment conferences and conciliation conferences. Training is also being provided to coordinating registrars through attendance at leadership expansion programs delivered through Australian Public Service Commission to support them in enhancing their skills in the management of professional staff and in service delivery.
Team leader training
Following the team leader development program conducted last year, two project groups were created to develop and implement business improvements. These groups, facilitated by Human Resources, are ongoing.
Peer support officer training
The Peer Support Officer Network was introduced in 2007 following the integrated client support training that was rolled out across the country.
Late last year Human Resources conducted a review into the peer support program within the Court. The review incorporated targeted discussions and a tailored survey aimed at identifying employee perceptions of the program to date, viability of the program, opportunities for improvement and peer support officer training and support needs.
Following wide consultation, it was agreed that the program was to be refreshed and re-launched.
The peer support program was set up to provide a network of trained staff in the workplace to ensure that skilled support is available for immediate assistance should an individual experience a distressing situation or difficult event. This program is designed to complement the existing Employee Assistance Program and allows support to be available immediately should an incident occur.
Following a rigorous recruitment process, nine participants undertook a two-day workshop called the Accidental Counsellor which was conducted by Lifeline. The course focused on the importance of communication and resilience in the workplace, and how to communicate with people experiencing crisis within a court context. The attendees were provided with a solid foundation for crisis intervention, mental health awareness, suicide awareness, self-care and stress management.
Since 1994, Commonwealth departments and agencies have reported on their performance as policy adviser, purchaser, employer, regulator and provider under the Commonwealth Disability Strategy. In 2007–08, reporting on the employer role was transferred to the Australian Public Service Commission's State of the Service Report and the APS Statistical Bulletin. These reports are available at www.apsc.gov.au
From 2010–11, departments and agencies have no longer been required to report on these functions.
The Commonwealth Disability Strategy has been overtaken by the National Disability Strategy 2010–2020, which sets out a ten year national policy framework to improve the lives of people with disability, promote participation and create a more inclusive society. See www.dss.gov.au
Employee assistance program
The Family Court and its employees, through the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia and Family Court of Australia Enterprise Agreement 2011–2014, have a commitment to ensuring psychological and physical wellbeing.
The Court's Employee Assistance Program provided by Converge International, is a free, confidential counselling service for all court employees and their immediate families who are experiencing personal or work-related problems.
Converge also provide a dedicated Managers Assistance Program to confidentially discuss issues which may arise as a result of being in a supervisory position.
The creation of the new agency with all court staff working under a single Enterprise Agreement continued to produce efficiency savings for the courts through the more efficient allocation of resources, elimination of duplicated services and the rationalisation of court services. Synergies were achieved in the area of training where program delivery was made available to the staff of both courts, thus reducing cost and capturing a greater number of staff.
The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court is a non-corporate commonwealth entity under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.
Operating revenue and expenses
Total revenue for the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court in 2014–15 was $190.418 million, including appropriations from Government ($148.683 million), other revenue ($1.968 million), and other gains ($39.767 million). Other gains reflects notional revenue to pay for services received free of charge, comprised of Commonwealth Law Courts rent from the Department of Finance ($18.889 million), registry, migration and library services received from the Federal Court ($9.865 million), liabilities assumed by related entities for the Judges Pension Scheme ($10.918 million), and Australian National Audit Office audit fees ($0.095 million).
Operating expenditure for the 2014–15 financial year amounted to $205.756 million. Figure 6.2 provides a breakdown of the actual costs incurred by the courts for 2014–15. Of the total amount, 32 per cent is directly attributable to the Federal Circuit Court; 13 per cent directly attributable to the first instance jurisdiction of the Family Court; and four per cent directly attributable to the appellate jurisdiction of the Family Court. Depreciation and Amortisation, Asset Movements and Bad Debts, and property and other notional expenses not directly attributable to either jurisdiction comprise 21 per cent of the expenditure. The remaining 30 per cent of expenditure relates to services shared between the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court for Registry and Corporate Services (Family Court and Federal Circuit Court administration). A breakdown of the costs directly attributed to the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court administration is shown in Figure 6.3.
For 2014–15 the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court recorded an underlying loss of $4.735 million.
Figure 6.2 Family Court and Federal Circuit Court expenditure ($205.756 million), 2014–15 ($million)
Table 6.1 Categories of Family Court and Federal Circuit Court expenditure
|Family Court of Australia direct expenditure||Expenses directly incurred by the judiciary appointed as First Instance judicial officers within the Family Court of Australia and includes judicial salary (and entitlements such as long leave and notional pension scheme contributions), judicial support staff costs (and employee entitlements, such as annual leave, long service leave and superannuation), travel costs (for circuits, judicial calendaring/relief), and court operation expenses (Regulation 7 Family Reports, court recording, transcription, interpreters).|
|Family Court of Australia appellate direct expenditure||Expenses directly incurred by the judiciary assigned to the appellate jurisdiction of the Family Court of Australia and include judicial salary (and entitlements such as long leave and notional pension scheme contributions), judicial support staff costs (and employee entitlements, such as annual leave, long service leave and superannuation), travel costs (for Full Court, judicial calendaring/relief) and court operation expenses (Regulation 7 Family Reports, court recording, transcription, interpreters).|
|Federal Circuit Court of Australia direct expenditure||Expenses directly incurred by the judiciary appointed to exercise federal and family law jurisdiction within the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and include judicial salary (and entitlements such as annual leave, long service leave, superannuation, and notional pension scheme contributions), judicial support staff costs (and employee entitlements, such as annual leave, long service leave and superannuation), travel costs (for circuits, judicial calendaring/relief), and court operation expenses (Regulation 7 Family Reports, court recording, transcription, interpreters). Includes registry and migration services provided free of charge in federal law matters to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia from the Federal Court of Australia.|
|Family Court and Federal Circuit Court admin: employee and supplier expenses||Employee and supplier expenses incurred by registry and corporate services in supporting both the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. Details shown in Figure 6.3.|
|Property and library services received free of charge||Expenses which the courts recognise but do not require any appropriation revenue from Government. Includes services provided free of charge from the Department of Finance for courtrooms and chambers within Commonwealth Law Courts and library services from the Federal Court, and audit services from the Australian National Audit Office.|
|Shared property expenses||Rent and property operating costs the courts incur for leased and Commonwealth Law Court premises. These are property costs for which the court received appropriation revenue funding.|
|Depreciation and amortisation||Expenses which the courts recognise but do not require any appropriation revenue from Government. Appropriation funding for depreciation and amortisation ceased 30 June 2010 with the move to 'net cash' funding and was replaced with a Departmental Capital Budget to fund the replacement of court assets.|
Figure 6.3 Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Administration (FC&FCC Admin) expenditure ($62.240 million), 2014–15
Table 6.2 Categories of Family Court and Federal Circuit Court Administration expenditure
|Corporate services||Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to finance, human resources, property services, contract services.|
|Information technology services||Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to the provision of technology services to the courts.|
|Corporate costs||Corporate costs are the employee entitlements expenses (long service leave, annual leave, superannuation) incurred by the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court support staff, along with fringe benefit expenses incurred by the Court's judiciary and SES for Fringe Benefit Tax liabilities for the provision of motor vehicles and other fringe benefits.|
|Principal, Child Dispute Services||Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to the courts' Principal, Child Dispute Services.|
|CEO and support||Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to the Office of the Chief Executive Officer.|
|Registry services—client service||Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to client service staff providing front line support to both the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.|
|Registry services—registrars||Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to registrar staff providing front line support to both the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.|
|Registry services—family consultant||Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to family consultant staff providing front line support to both the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.|
|Registry services—administration||Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to administration staff providing front line support to both the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.|
|Registry services—Indigenous Family Liaison Officers||Employee and supplier expenses directly attributed to Indigenous Family Liaison Officer staff providing front line support to both the Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia.|
The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court received $58.120 million on behalf of the Commonwealth for court fees and fines. Administered revenue is not available to offset the courts' operating costs. Offsetting the administered revenue collected by the courts on behalf of the Commonwealth were refunds of fees ($0.270 million), and write down and impairment of assets ($0.382 million). The Family Court and Federal Circuit Court also receive an administered appropriation to source primary dispute resolution services such as counselling, mediation and conciliation from community-based organisations for litigants in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. In 2014–15 the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court incurred $0.291 million for these primary dispute resolution services. This resulted in a total comprehensive income of $57.177 million which was returned to Government.
Events after the reporting period
There were no subsequent events that had the potential to significantly affect the ongoing structure and financial activities of the courts.
Purchasing, consultants and contracts
The Procurement and Risk Management section assists staff undertaking procurement and manages a number of corporate contracts. The section also manages, or has significant involvement in, all complex procurement undertaken by the Court to ensure compliance with legislative obligations and the Commonwealth Procurement Rules. The Accountable Authority Instructions, the Commonwealth Procurement Rules and the Court's Procurement Framework are all on the intranet as reference material for court staff.
The core policies and principles of the Commonwealth Procurement Rules were, as far as practicable, adhered to throughout 2014–15. The Court's Annual Procurement Plan was published meeting mandatory reporting requirements. An appropriate market approach was made for all procurements covered by the rules.
All contracts let in 2014–15 had provision for the Auditor-General to access contractors' premises.
- six new consultancy contracts were entered into involving total actual expenditure of $200,574 (GST inclusive), and
- five ongoing consultancy contracts were active involving total actual expenditure of $173,988 (GST inclusive).
Total actual expenditure on consultancy contracts for 2014–15 was $374,562 (GST inclusive). The process of engagement of all consultants is required to adhere to the procedures described in the Court's Procurement Framework and is categorised in accordance with the following:
A—skills currently unavailable within the Court
B—need for specialised or professional skills
C—need for independent research or assessment.
Depending on the particular needs, value and risks (as set out in the Court's Procurement Framework) the Court uses open tender, prequalified tender and limited tender for its consultancies. The Court is a relatively small user of consultants. As such the Court has no specific policy by which consultants are engaged, other than within the broad frameworks above, related to skills unavailability within the Court or when there is need for specialised and/or independent research or assessment.
Information on expenditure on all court contracts and consultancies is available on the AusTender website www.tenders.gov.au
No contracts were let to an organisation for the delivery of services previously performed by the Court during the reporting period.
During the reporting period no contracts or standing offers were exempt from publication on AusTender in terms of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
Procurement initiatives to support small business
The Court supports small business participation in the Commonwealth Government procurement market. Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) and Small Enterprise participation statistics are available on the Department of Finance's website at
The Court recognises the importance of ensuring that SMEs are paid on time. The results of the Survey of Australian Government Payments to Small Business are available on the Treasury's website at www.treasury.gov.au
In doing so, the Court utilises some of the following initiatives or practices:
- the Commonwealth Contracting Suite for low-risk procurements valued under $200,000, and
- electronic systems or other processes used to facilitate on-time payment performance, including the use of payment cards.
Assets and property management
The Family Court of Australia is located in shared Commonwealth owned facilities (Commonwealth Law Courts) in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart, Melbourne, Parramatta and Sydney. The Court also occupies privately leased facilities in Albury, Cairns, Dandenong, Dubbo, Launceston, Lismore, Newcastle, Townsville, and Wollongong, and shares the state court facility in Alice Springs, Coffs Harbour, Darwin, and Rockhampton.
An upgrade to the subpoena viewing room was completed in November 2014. The project addressed security concerns and issues with lack of space by increasing the area available to clients and increasing visibility to staff.
The courts moved to the Supreme Court building in June 2015, co-locating with the Department of Attorney-General and Justice (Northern Territory) after extensive negotiations. The co-location endorses the Federal Government expectation to achieve accommodation efficiencies (as per the Commonwealth Property Management Framework), and in 'sharing' accommodation, where practicable. The fit out for the new location included a registry, two chambers and a courtroom. The co-location arrangement provides a central and primary location for practitioners and litigants accessing court services in Darwin.
National compactus replacement
File storage is an ongoing issue across the courts. The compactus units, especially at the Commonwealth Law Courts, are outdated and inefficient. A program to replace the compactus units nationally commenced in 2013–14, with Sydney and Brisbane both replaced. In 2014–15 the Melbourne compactus was replaced and an additional compactus was installed in Parramatta.
Additional bathroom facilities were installed on level three. The additional facilities were required to ensure that sufficient amenities were available for NEC staff located on this level, and litigants attending court.
Additional supplementary courtroom air conditioning was provided to address ongoing issues and improve amenity for judges, staff and litigants using the Court.
The Wollongong registry client and registry counter areas were upgraded to increase facilities and amenity for litigants, legal practitioners and staff, and to address safety concerns. The project delivered a safe room for clients, a significantly expanded subpoena room, an additional interview room, a dedicated child and family waiting area and updated registry counters and associated staff work area.
Works are planned to improve various areas within the registry, and the first stage delivered is the replacement of furniture. The furniture replacement also addresses the lack of seating within the public waiting areas.
A high-speed roller door was replaced in the Lionel Bowen Building in Sydney to improve security.
Correction of errors in 2013–14 report
The Court has no matters to report.
Harmony Day 2015
Image: Cairns Registry Manager, Greg Johannesen with Harmony Day award winner Mrs Akee
Harmony Day is held on 21 March each year. It is managed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
It is a day of cultural respect, widely celebrated across schools, childcare centres, community groups, churches, businesses and federal, state and local government agencies.
The courts participate in Harmony Day to recognise and celebrate the rich cultural diversity that exists in our workplaces.
Mrs Josephine Akee, Indigenous Family Liaison Officer from Cairns, was the recipient of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Courts' 2015 Harmony Day Award, announced by the Chief Executive Officer Richard Foster.