The Family Responsibilities Commission: Community led conferencing in Far North Queensland Indigenous communities – 8 years on

David Glasgow, AM1, Camille Banks2

1 Family Responsibilities Commissioner, Family Responsibilities Commission, PO Box 5438, Cairns, Qld, 4870, 

2 Client Manager, Family Responsibilities Commission, PO Box 5438, Cairns, Qld, 4870,

The Family Responsibilities Commission (FRC) was established as the keystone of the Cape York Welfare Reform Trial in 2008. One of its key functions, and points of uniqueness, is to restore local authority through conferences conducted by Local Commissioners; Elders and other respected members of the five Far North Queensland Indigenous communities in which the FRC operates.

The FRC’s objectives align with the criminal justice system in its aims of reducing drug addiction, violence, and child neglect in Indigenous communities. The FRC, however, differs from other justice strategies in that it embodies a community specific, socially oriented model, integrating community led conferencing, case management and referral to support services.

The premise of the FRC is simple. Community members receiving welfare payments must comply with social obligations to ensure adequate care for children, abide by the law, ensure children are attending school and pay the household rent. Where these obligations are not met, the Commission may conference clients to discuss their issues and offer support. Whilst conferences are first and foremost a support mechanism, decisions available to Commissioners include issuing orders to manage the welfare payments of clients, and requiring clients to attend support services.

This paper explains the FRC’s community led conferencing approach and outlines the challenges and successes of the model experienced since its inception eight years ago as a three year trial.

Against the current context of welfare and child protection reforms, both nationally and in Far North Queensland, the paper examines these challenges and successes in order to consider how the FRC model might evolve as a non-adversarial justice strategy and adapt to a new policy context.


Commissioner David Robert Glasgow is a proud North Queenslander, having lived all but two or three years of his life in the north. After admission as a solicitor, Commissioner Glasgow worked with the firm of Roberts Leu and North and soon became a partner. He stayed with the firm for 27 years, and in 1998 was appointed a Magistrate and served in Brisbane and the south-east for the next year. From there a placement in Cairns followed which included a year spent undertaking circuit work in the Cape York Peninsula region and on Thursday Island, where he became familiar with Indigenous communities and aware of their problems and social dysfunction. A transfer to Townsville in the position of Coordinating Magistrate followed. In that role he took a special interest in developing the Murri Court and was instrumental in preparing the functions and procedures of the Murri Court throughout Queensland. His work in the Childrens and Drug Courts in North Queensland further exposed him to the particular problems of Indigenous peoples, many quite young, who appeared before those courts in much greater numbers than those who came from the wider community.

Commissioner Glasgow’s experiences led the Bligh State Government to seek his guidance as they went about implementing the Family Responsibilities Commission model of welfare and social reform in the Cape. Commissioner Glasgow was appointed to the position of Family Responsibilities Commissioner on 25 April 2008. On 26 January 2015 Commissioner Glasgow was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).

About the Association

The Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration (AIJA) is a research and educational institute associated with Monash University. It is funded by the Law, Crime and Community Safety Council (LCCSC) and also from subscription income from its membership.

The principal objectives of the Institute include research into judicial administration and the development and conduct of educational programmes for judicial officers, court administrators and members of the legal profession in relation to court administration and judicial systems.

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