children and to educate parents accordingly”.938
9.23Section 62F of the Family Law Act 1975 gives a discretion to the court, in relevant proceedings,939 to direct parties to participate in a “conciliation conference” to endeavour to resolve their differences, and to discuss a child’s care, welfare and development. It is also possible to have voluntary conciliation counselling prior to issuing proceedings. Subject to certain exceptions, a parenting order cannot be made unless the parties have attended a conciliation conference.940 The clients only have to agree that they will attend together, not that they will actually conciliate.941 However, the parties are under an obligation to make bona fide endeavours to reach agreement.942 Failure to attend a conciliation conference when ordered by the court can be regarded as contempt of court.943
9.24 If no agreement is reached, or if a person fails to attend the conference, the counsellor or welfare officer will report that fact to the court.944 Otherwise evidence of anything said at these conferences is not admissible in any court.945 However, the counsellor does send a memorandum to the court indicating the outcome of the conciliation counselling and offering guidance on future management of the case. This does not disclose privileged information.946
9.25Property matters must also be referred to a conciliation conference before a registrar, and it is possible for both children’s and property matters to be considered at a joint conciliation conference conducted by registrars and counsellors.947
9.26There are provisions under section 62G(1) of the 1975 Act for the court to order welfare reports. The court can order the parties to attend before a welfare officer for the preparation of the report. This report may be received in evidence.948 Different counsellors are used for this function, some courts going so far as to employ outside agencies to make the reports.949
938 Brown, “The Family Court’s Conciliation Programme” (1992), quoted in Davies et al, “A study of client satisfaction with Family Court Counselling in cases involving domestic violence”, Family and Conciliation Courts Review, vol. 33. No.3, July 1995, 324.
939 This is concerning the care, welfare and development of a child who is under 18.
940 Ibid at section 65F as substituted by the 1995 Act. The exceptions are orders by consent, interim or urgent orders, where attendance would be impracticable or there are special circumstances such as family violence.
941 Charlesworth, Turner and Foreman, Lawyers, Social Workers and Families, (1990), at 185.
942 Order 24 r 1(3) of the Family Law Rules.
943 R v Cook; Ex p Twigg (1980) 147 CLR 15.
944 See section 62F(5) and Charlesworth, supra, at 51.
945 Section 62F(8) and Order 24(5) of the Family Law Rules.
946Brown, infra at 17.
947 According to Brown, “Developing and implementing Family Court Services: The Family Court of Australia”, paper presented at the Second World Congress on Family Law and the Rights of Children and Youth, June 1997.
948 Section 62G(8) and Order 25(5) of the rules as amended in 1996.
949 Graham Hall, “Newcastle revisited by way of the Antipodes,” Justice of the Peace, vol. 154(24), (1990).