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John Hirst
John Hirst

John Hirst is a widely respected historian and social commentator. A former reader in history at La Trobe University, he is a member of the Film Australia board and the National Museum council. He is the author of numerous books, including Australia’s Democracy: A Short HistoryThe Australians: Insiders and Outsiders on the National Character since 1770Freedom on the Fatal Shore: Australia’s First ColonySense and Nonsense in Australian History, The Shortest History of Europe, Australian History in 7 Questions and Quarterly Essay 17: Kangaroo Court – Family Law in Australia.

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Quarterly Essay 17: 'Kangaroo Court'
Family law in Australia

The Family Court was a progressive reform of the 1970s. Now it is perhaps the most hated institution in Australia. In 'Kangaroo Court', John Hirst investigates what went wrong.

This is a measured yet unsparing appraisal which interleaves individual cases with compelling legal and moral argument. Hirst takes us deep into the workings of the Court and the domestic apocalypses it sees every day.

He explores the Court's fervour to uphold the best interests of the child no matter what and traces its chilling consequence: a court where malicious allegations regularly go unpunished. He notes the Court's enormous power over individual lives, as well as its self-proclaimed status as a 'caring court', and wonders at its ability to overlook the defiance of its own authority. In closing, he considers how to reform an institution that has bred antagonism and extremism and too often entrenched paranoia and despair. Lucid and urgent, 'Kangaroo Court' is a cautionary tale about the perils of high-mindedness when it comes to dealing with the breakdown of families.