The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Division 1) and the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Division 2) (the Courts) welcome substantial funding announced last night as part of the 2022-23 Budget and the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children. The funding provides for the national expansion of the world-leading Lighthouse project to address family violence and the appointment of a significant number of Indigenous Family Liaison Officers.
The $63.8 million of additional resources (over the four years to 2025-26) will enhance the ability of the Courts to respond to family violence and other risks to vulnerable parties and children. Critically, it will also aid the Courts in improving safety outcomes for children and litigants involved in family law disputes, together with enhancing the Courts’ support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families.
The Chief Justice, the Hon Will Alstergren, said that the Courts have been working tirelessly to secure funding for the expansion of the Lighthouse Project, which is a world-first risk screening, triage and assessment process. The data from the Project has revealed that around 64% of litigants are initially screening as high risk, and 50% of high risk matters screened have four or more major risk factors including family violence, child abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, or mental ill health.
“This funding is very good news for the Australian public. The Courts have been piloting the Lighthouse Project in Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta registries, where it has not only shed light on the high prevalence of risk in family law cases, but assisted the Courts to manage those risks appropriately. The funding ensures the Courts can extend the Project nationally to all 15 family law registries, providing for risks to be identified and managed in all registries nationally, including a number of regional locations, to ensure safer outcomes for vulnerable parties and children involved in family law disputes.
“Funding provides for the roll-out of the Lighthouse Project to Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Dandenong, Darwin, Hobart, Launceston, Melbourne, Newcastle, Parramatta, Rockhampton, Sydney, Townsville and Wollongong, in both parenting and parenting/property cases.
“Senior Judicial Registrar Lisa O’Neill is to be commended for her role in the creation and development of the Lighthouse Project. Together with the Lighthouse Project team, they have demonstrated extraordinary commitment to improving the Court’s responses to issues of family violence and better outcomes for families involved in family law matters in the Court.
“Importantly, this funding will also ensure the Courts can provide greater access to justice for family law litigants who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Funding for the 11 additional Indigenous Family Liaison Officers is crucial to assist with specialist Indigenous lists and other parts of the Courts’ case management pathway, as Indigenous Family Liaison Officers undertake a vital role in building relationships between the Courts, local communities and support services.
“Securing these important resources has been a key priority of the Courts. The additional funding appropriately recognises the work that our Courts do and the critical need for further registrar, Child Court Expert, Indigenous Family Liaison Officer, and support staff resources for the Courts to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable parties and children,” Chief Justice Alstergren added.
The Lighthouse Project provides intensive case management and safety planning delivered by a team of skilled Senior Judicial Registrars, Judicial Registrars and Court Child Experts. Litigants who screen as high risk are interviewed as part of the risk assessment, referred to targeted support services to enable better public health outcomes, and cases identified as high risk are referred to the Court’s specialist Evatt List.
The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Division 2) currently runs a specialist Indigenous List, or modified case management processes tailored to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander litigants, in five locations: Adelaide, Alice Springs, Darwin, Melbourne and Sydney. Indigenous Family Liaison Officers assist the smooth running of specialist Indigenous lists, and co-ordinate the attendance of Indigenous legal, health and other support services.
Chief Executive Officer and Principal Registrar of the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, Mr David Pringle, said that the funding builds on the $100 million received by the Courts in the 2021-22 Budget for critical reforms, which was the largest single resourcing injection the Courts have received.
“This funding recognises that there has been a substantial increase in the prevalence of family violence and high risk cases in the family law system, and the heightened need for so many parts of the country to have the critical support that the Lighthouse model can provide,” Mr Pringle added.
The Courts are also pleased that the national legal aid commissions have received funding that will allow them to assist the Courts with these important initiatives, and support the most vulnerable litigants in the family law system.
Together, the newly announced and recent funding allows for:
- Expansion of the Lighthouse Project: A comprehensive funding package for family law officers to support the expansion of the Lighthouse project to 15 registries in the Courts, including funding for registrars, including Senior Judicial Registrars, Court Child Experts, and support staff for registrars and Court Child Experts. This equates to $54.9m in funding over the forward estimates, including $2.461m in capital. It provides funding from 1 July 2022, equivalent to 71 family law positions, comprising 21 registrar-related positions (at varying levels), 21 registrar-related support positions, 15 positions for Court Children’s Services plus 5 support staff, 6 case coordinators and 3 managerial/technical roles.
- Enhance culturally responsive support funding: Funding from 1 July 2022 for staffing to support the expansion of Indigenous Family Liaison Officers in the Courts. This equates to $8.85m in funding over the forward estimates. It provides funding from 1 July 2022, equivalent to 16 family law positions, comprising 11 Indigenous Family Liaison Officers, 1 registrar, 1 Court Child Expert plus 3 support staff.
The Courts will continue to discuss with Government funding to support key projects such as the PPP500 List, and broader initiatives to enhance the protection of vulnerable parties and children involved in the family law system.
Director – Media & Public Affairs, Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia
m. 0409 743 695 e. firstname.lastname@example.org