A letter to Justice Sarah Derrington - 13 Nov 2018

(Submission to ALRC Discussion Paper)

The Honourable Justice Sarah Derrington

President, Australian Law Reform Commission

Dear President,

Regarding your Discussion Paper released on 2 Oct 2018, I have some suggestions that may not interest you. So why am I writing them? I guess because when I see bad manners, for example in a child, I am inclined to point it out, even if the child is not my own. Clearly, Justice Derrington, you are not my little girl, but I still feel the need to point out some of the shortcomings in the way the Australian Law Reform Commission has conducted itself in its review of the Family Law System.

Firstly, I feel there has been insufficient respect for the terms of reference. Senator Brandis made it clear that he wanted you to look at the entire system and not just tinker with it here and there. To take just one example, he wanted you to look at how to ensure that people followed the court’s orders. Sure enough, your discussion paper has a heading entitled “Post-order conflict and enforcement proceedings” in which you suggest further education of parents. However, that service would have no coercive powers and, in any case, would not apply in cases involving “a history of coercive controlling violence”. In practice, your answer to the compliance issue is no answer.

Secondly, there was your “Issues paper” in which you asked 47 detailed questions. This had at least two unfortunate outcomes:

  1. It devalued the Attorney General’s terms of reference in favour of issues that you felt were important. That shows clear disrespect for the peoples’ representative.
  2. Ordinary citizens who did not want to, or couldn’t, read and understand the 47 questions were naturally disinclined to offer their opinions. That is disrespectful to families and the broader community the family law system is meant to serve.

Thirdly, you did not publish submissions straight away, in fact, some submissions took months to appear. I understand you felt you needed to “process” the submissions before publication, but so do government committees that receive submissions all the time - they manage to do it in days, not months. People post their opinions on Facebook and get “published” in seconds. What century do you suppose you inhabit?

Fourthly, there was your shameful disregard of submissions that did not serve your purpose. To take just one example, there was a 15-page submission from the Eeny Meeny Miney Mo Foundation.1 It was a thoughtful, respectful submission that perfectly complied with your guidelines. Their submission was focused on “Parental Alienation” which seems to happen to kids when we denigrate and remove from them a parent they once admired. You completely ignore both their submission and the idea of “Parental Alienation”.

May I suggest, Justice Derrington, that the time for disrespect for people whose views differ from your own is long gone.


Phil Bachmann

13 Nov 2018


1 https://www.alrc.gov.au/sites/default/files/pdfs/family-law-231.eenymeenymineymofoundationsubmissionamendedfor_website.pdf